On the right side, first at the front, Anaïs Astarjian and third, Zareh Sinanyan, at a consultation meeting and dinner with the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party Ardag Tarpinian Chapter, on Thursday, February 8, in Sydney, Australia

By Vahe Artinian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

SYDNEY, Australia — Representatives of the government of the Republic of Armenia dealing with the Armenian diaspora are visiting Australia this February. This is the first such visit since the time of Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobyan, and of course the first visit by High Commissioner of the Diaspora Zareh Sinanyan.

Zareh Sinanyan, first row, third from left, with the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party Ardag Tarpinian Chapter members and some spouses on Thursday, February 8 in Sydney, Australia

Armenia has changed so much in the last five years or so and too many tragedies have been recorded in our nation’s tragic history. During this latter period, the previous governmental structure for diasporan relations has been changed, with budget reduction and alterations to the previous ethos. Understandably the needs and priorities of Armenia have also changed, with much greater defense needs and 125,000 Artsakh refugees, so local budget needs correspondingly shifted. The diaspora keeps sending aid via traditional organizations, and sometimes privately; but it’s never enough considering the needs.

From our meetings, it became clear that the main focus of the new representative is in the youth programs and exchange of talent. These areas can bring strength to both entities (diaspora and Armenia). The education portfolio, including preparation of teachers and student exchanges, seem to have been either changed or discontinued by this department. This alarms us in the diaspora, with hundreds of schools, especially after the weakening of communities in Syria and Lebanon and closures like that of the Melkonian Educational Institute in Cyprus, as to how and where the future teachers in the diaspora will be trained, and the much-needed modernization of Armenian integrated language programs will be conducted.

The youth exchange and other professional exchanges are useful; but to me it represents a definite cut in the budget and reduction in the portfolio. As for the visit, it was explained that it’s two pronged: first, to strengthen relations and programs, and second, to nominate a local community member as representative of the Office of the Diaspora High Commissioner in Australia, as has already been established in certain countries. Sinanyan also spoke about two new initiatives in Armenia, “mapping” the diaspora, and a repatriation integration center.

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I like the fact that the Armenian government perhaps started to think that diasporan Armenians could be trusted as its direct representatives in governmental issues. Am I stretching my imagination? Let’s wait and see! On the other hand, communities need to mature and find this as a common ground to have representation. Just as Armenia is raising the flag of democracy, so should the diaspora; i.e. we need proper elected representatives for which the community votes, with time limits, etc. Otherwise, the same old same old.

By no means did I represent our community, but I attended one meeting during the visit and listened to the impressions of others from different meetings, as Sinanyan met separately with each group, except at a forum with New South Wales youth. We await the official report about this visit from Armenia. The situation worldwide is fraught and our enemies are at the door with eager appetites. Let’s organize our communities to forge forward for Armenia and its diaspora alike.

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