When will the Diaspora and the Homeland embrace interdependency?
Posted on October. 20. 2022
BY Stepan Piligian | The Armenian Weekly
I am not sure about you, but I for one am frustrated with the inability of the diaspora and the homeland to build a strong interdependent relationship. In this time of crisis, it is particularly disappointing. There have been moments where we were on the cusp, only to let short term issues block our vision of a prosperous Armenia. It is a fruitless exercise to assess blame because it has been our collective problem and thus far our collective failure. Of course, there are thousands of success stories, but that should not be the barometer for our nation. The only measurement that counts is the actual performance versus our global potential. We have understated our potential in the last 30 years. My perception is that the negativity has grown in the diaspora over the last several years. There are two major emotions that we see in our communities toward Armenia: disappointment and fear. These are dangerous responses for the diaspora because they can lead to inaction and aloofness. The euphoria of 2018 has settled into disappointment and in some cases cynicism over the internal strife and the disastrous 2020 war. Unfortunately, instead of reaching deep within us to increase our advocacy, many Armenians in the diaspora have taken a step back. The compounded impact of that behavior has been visible. We seem to take the idea of a sovereign nation lightly.
In the first decades of the United States, founded on the principles of equality and democracy, only land-owning white men were allowed to vote in national elections. This was hardly aligned with the stated principles in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution for that matter. Yet the country continued to improve its identity and over time has built a democracy remarkably close to the founding principles. The point is that nation building is a difficult task and always a work in progress. Why should we judge Armenia so harshly with only a 30-year base? This is particularly important when you consider that the foundation was 70 years of authoritative communism which was preceded by decades of Czarist repression. There has been precious little opportunity for Armenia or any of the former Soviet nations to build a culture of participative inclusion. I realize that we want results, yet the maturation curve is dependent on how we work together to advance society. There has certainly been cause for concern, but our commitment must focus on the vision, not the current state.
The concept of a global nation consisting of an active diaspora with a sovereign homeland is a complex undertaking that requires serious collaborations on a common vision for this nation and the role of members in the diaspora. The diaspora supports the nation emotionally, financially and economically, but may not reside there as citizens. What are boundaries that embrace these “global citizens” but allow the nation to function as a sovereign state? Who has the responsibility to establish a mechanism that welcomes all to the country, yet differentiates between roles and responsibilities? Certainly Armenia has welcomed those who invest in the country and those who choose to repatriate as citizens. Frankly, those are the least complex options. The more challenging areas are how the relationship between the citizens of the nation and their diaspora brethren function for the betterment of the homeland. We have completed very little of this essential work. For many who were born and raised outside of Armenia, the absence of an independent homeland prior to 1991 was always an awkward moment. Our pride was tempered by the lack of a nation state taking its place on the world stage. I remember engaging in a debate as an eighth grader over the existence of Armenia because it was not included (until 1991) on the list of sovereign nations. I recall the sinking feeling when staring at the global map that did not include the tricolor flag. It is puzzling that our commitment can be so shallow given the life experiences of anyone over 40 with Armenian sovereignty. The gift of a free Armenia is a welcome status from our earlier years. We must never take the independence of Armenia for granted. It may be a “right” of all peoples, but the reality is that it must be earned and defended.
The other emotion that has engulfed our thinking is the fear of political and military activity that threatens our national security. Fear is also an emotion that can freeze people from taking action when it is most needed. The mantra in the diaspora for decades has been that we must retain our heritage or we will finish ourselves, through assimilation, what the Turks started. With the same danger today from the Azeris and Turks, why are we not all in? Has this challenge become a distraction from our comfortable lives? When I go to Armenia, I am reminded that the only important difference between our brethren in the homeland and those of us in the diaspora is where our ancestors were at the time of the Genocide and how they responded to the catastrophe. Some were able to migrate east toward the Russian border or today’s RoA, while many in the western area of the highlands were driven into Syria and eventually western nations. In its simplest form, that’s it. Just as it has been their burden to hold the homeland together, it is our burden to use our good fortune of education and wealth for the homeland that our ancestors were forced to abandon.
Certainly, part of the challenge in connecting with the diaspora is the convenience of the term. We refer to it as if it were a homogenous intact grouping. It is quite the opposite as it is geographically and culturally diverse. Armenians in the Middle East have been influenced by their host countries, and the same holds true in western nations. There has been no integrated approach to connecting the diaspora communities with Armenia. Attempts have been made, but it is a daunting task when you consider that our communication mechanisms in the diaspora are usually through organizations, individuals or foundations. It seems that everyone carves out a niche and does their utmost to help. There are many successes and failures with this approach. With the failures also comes withdrawal from the playing field. This must be prevented.
Let us take a closer look at the US community. There have been several proposals over the last several years about creating some form of a representative body of the diaspora to prioritize resources and focus on the needs outlined with the Armenian government. This would reduce the risks of the inefficiencies from a lack of integration and improve the quality of the relationship with Armenia. If we stayed with the organization model that is ingrained deeply in the diaspora culture, we can easily define the major players: AGBU, Prelacy, Diocese, ANCA, Armenian Assembly, Armenian Relief Society and AMAA. If we identify a few major foundations, the majority of Armenians in America would be represented in one form or another. This reasonably-sized group could engage with the RoA to establish a vision, establish priorities and create functioning protocols. Most importantly, it would improve the credibility of sustainable support by limiting the “silos.” Perhaps what could emerge would be a vision where Armenia truly became the center of the global Armenian nation and where all Armenians can establish an identity. The collective mission would then be to use the combined and integrated resources for a prosperous and sustainable Armenia. Similar models could be used in Europe, Russia and the Middle East. At the end of the day, it requires the diaspora to respect the boundaries of sovereignty and for Armenia to respect the rights of global Armenian identity with the homeland. It can be a very powerful formula.
The sad irony of an understated relationship between the diaspora and the homeland is that each is distinctly dependent on the other. Until 1991, the diaspora operated as an island of sorts without an independent nation state and individual diaspora communities. They were bound together with our common heritage and organizations that operated across geographies. The presence of a sovereign homeland presents the diaspora with a new opportunity of identity. It can be the fulfillment of our dreams and perpetuation of our civilization. We can invest in that future with pride and joy. Our children, who are subject to the impact of assimilation, can find an emotional connection with their heritage in the homeland. Some will move there and others will return with a profound level of sustainable identity. The homeland must find a way to bring the resources of the diaspora for the betterment of the homeland. For a nation of three million citizens with twice that many in the diaspora, it is a necessity. The talent exists in our global nation, and we must find practical ways to release it. That process can accelerate when both parties recognize and embrace their mutual dependency. It could create a natural state of unity as each trusts their reliance on the other. In a democratic society, we should not confuse this with the absence of debate and political conflict. Democracy can be messy, but patriotism should always be our priority. I find that when solving problems, it helps to understand the perspective of the other party. As members of the diaspora, we should consider the concerns of the homeland in building a better relationship. Armenia rightfully does not want their country run by remote control from the diaspora, and they need more practical methods to communicate with this large semi-organized portal called the diaspora. The Armenians in the diaspora want to find their identity between being tourists and organizational investors. If we address these concerns from both perspectives, a brighter future awaits us.