On August 22, at 8:00 p.m. Yerevan time (GMT + 4) an online panel discussion “Transitioning from Armenianness to Armenia-centric identity” took place. The objective of the webinar served to discuss the relations between Armenia and Diaspora and current challenges it faces.
Moderator began the discussion with the question to all participants: “What do you think is wrong with Armenia-Diaspora relations today?” Panelists spoke about their thoughts and experiences of things that can be quickly changed and modified to help improve that relationship and the role of Diaspora in Armenian reality.
Summarized below are the most pertinent points from discussion:
- Although there are many good things about the Diaspora, there are certain things that hamper the relationship between Armenia and the Diaspora, one of which is the attitude and the role of the Diaspora vis a vis Armenia. Since independence in 1991 the Diaspora has participated in the life of Armenians a lot in the form of remittances, humanitarian aid, financial support, etc. During this entire 30 years, it was expected that the Armenian government along with the Diaspora would have formed some permanent structures that could develop and regulate the relationship between the Diaspora and Armenia. Such structures are very hard to find and other than some conferences, the most recent one taking place in 2013, there was no forum or structure where the Armenian government could be consulting with the Diaspora about several major projects that would solicit the potential of the Diaspora.
- Armenia has yet to tap the potential of the Diaspora, but no serious attempt has been made to tap this potential mainly because we don’t know what the potential of Diaspora is and what is the nature and the structure of that human capital. We don’t know whether it is accessible and available which makes all this hypothetical. There is no working relationship between the Armenian Government and the Diaspora.
- 30 years after the Independence of Armenia in 1991, we are in the same situation now which is even more complex. Moreover, now facing serious existential threats, the Diaspora and Armenia should ask themselves some hard questions such as “Is there any need of updating this relationship? Or should we basically continue business as usual?”. There is nothing bad about continuing the business as it is now, but it is important for us to understand what questions need to be posted and answered.
- Everyone in Diaspora needs to say, “What can I do to improve the relationship with Armenia”. Almost all panelists expressed a concern that the work of Diaspora is not organized, structured, and centralized and that’s the reason that among many good things that the Diaspora does, there is still an inconsistent approach from Diaspora which hurts both sides.
In this context, another important question brought up to panelists: “Given the current economic, political, social structure of the Diaspora prevents us from realizing Diaspora’s full potential in helping itself and Armenia?”
- Levon Afeyan began this discussion with the fundamental position which doesn’t land well with advancing the relationship between Diaspora and Armenia: Armenian centric attitude should convert to Armenia centric attitude. The fundamental issue here is that the conversations through churches, schools, media, and other channels must start considering Armenia as the pooling force that brings Armenians from Greece, Argentina, Canada, and other countries together with attachment to Armenia. If we’re able to succeed in doing this and creating ourselves an Armenia centric, then we’ll only start tapping into what is the biggest wealth Armenia has. It was always defined not just by Armenians but also by outside experts that Armenia’s biggest wealth is the Armenian Diaspora. Diaspora can only be helpful to Armenia if it considers Armenia something that needs help.
- One of the questions which is also important to think about is: “Why do we always in the Diaspora think that we should fix the problems in Armenia, instead of thinking how we should build the future of Armenia together”.
Another important question raised by moderator was: “There is a lot of talk of a new constitution in Armenia – do you think this is an opportunity to think about the constitution not just for Armenia but for all Armenians, which will involve some kind of a structure that involves Diaspora’s political, economic participation in the life of Armenia?”
- The quick answer was “this is very desirable”. All panelists highlighted the following point: Although involving the Diaspora in Armenia is very important, some fundamental changes must be made to allow this to happen. Each Diaspora representative should think about how he/she can be helpful to Armenia and express their willingness and readiness to show their unrelenting support whoever is in government. This is when we will be able to include Diaspora into the government structures.
- The panelist mentioned that it is very difficult to involve a group of “unorganized and ununited” voices to run a country, where Diaspora doesn’t contribute taxwise and the decisions taken in Armenia don’t affect Diaspora. Taking about nationalism, people in Diaspora often say that Armenians in Diaspora are more nationalistic than Armenians in Armenia and that maybe true at first side, but then people forget that people in Diaspora feel nostalgically and emotionally about Armenia.
- Panelists noted that Diaspora representatives need to give some serious thought about what it is they envisage for Armenia, what they want for Armenia. Today it would be secured borders, high quality army, but what do they want beyond that? Having a picture of what Diaspora wants Armenia to be, will help to define what approach they have and people in Armenia will see Diaspora as someone who cares and thinks strategically about them.
Key points as a conclusion to this discussion are:
- As a Diaspora we need to learn how to control, how not to be reactive and we need to have a purpose and strategy to keep going.
- The concrete steps should come from everyone, and the Diaspora collectively should discuss and decide the future for Armenia.
- For a good start, this kind of conversations and initiatives like The FUTURE ARMENIAN should continue and grow.
- The new approach should be “Diaspora is here to help build the future of Armenia. Let’s plan together and chart a course together and put the values, assets and talents together to help Armenia.” Being an Armenian by choice, decide to be an Armenian and accept that Armenia is our linking force to who you are and devote everything we have to it is the only way to start the process of advancing the relationship between Diaspora and Armenia. If we get several our Diaspora organization to switch to this approach, we’d be able to see quick results.
- Before allowing the Diaspora to make any decision in the law of Armenia, we need to make sure that they are involved and interested in every day’s activities and what more important decisions made in/for Armenia should have an effect on the Diaspora.
- In terms of concrete steps that Armenia should take to involve Diaspora in their life more actively, panelists mentioned that it is a matter of trust toward Diaspora. One of the problems that negatively affect the relationship between Diaspora and Armenia is that Diaspora face lack of information about the initiatives ongoing in Armenia, because the media of Armenia cannot take up these challenges.