Nicola Migliorino. (Re)constructing Armenia in Lebanon and Syria:
Ethno-cultural Diversity and the State in the Aftermath of a Refugee
Crisis. Forced Migration Series. Oxford Berghahn Books, 2007.
Tables. 256 pp. $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-84545-352-7.

Reviewed by Ahmet H. Akkaya
Published on H-Genocide (November, 2009)
Commissioned by Elisa G. von Joeden-Forgey

Armenian Communities in Lebanon and Syria: The Same Origin, Two
Different Paths?

In _(Re)constructing Armenia in Lebanon and Syria_, Nicola Migliorino
provides a comprehensive narrative of the formation of Armenian
communities in Lebanon and Syria (the Levant) while tracing the
political development of these two intertwined colonies during the
Mandate period. Migliorino situates these narratives within a broader
analytical framework that deals with the question of cultural
diversity and incorporation, particularly the various options that
immigrants may have aside from simple assimilation and exclusion.
Migliorino asks, "Does the case of the Armenians in Lebanon and Syria
tell us a different story, of how a community of 'different' people
can successfully 'find its place' in the contemporary Middle East
without being either assimilated or excluded?" (p. 4).

Migliorino explores this question from three main perspectives. The
first focuses on the historical background of the formation of
Armenian communities in the Levant, which Migliorino calls a "refugee
story" (p. 2). The second discusses the different dimensions and
meanings of the presence of those communities, namely, "nationalism
in exile" and "diasporic transnationalism" (p. 3). As part of this
diasporic perspective, Migliorino compares the host states, Syria and
Lebanon, in terms of their approach to ethno-cultural diversity. Up
to this point, he notes, diversity in the Middle East generally has
been analyzed "with the tools of ethno-politics and ethnic conflict
theory, and mostly from the perspective of the state, the political
system, or the regime" (p. 3). Migliorino points out that the
Armenian communities in the Levant present an interesting case in
that they are neither a threat to nor a primary strategic resource
for those states. At this point, he proposes a different
ethno-political approach as a third perspective. His new approach
entails the study of the Armenian communities in the Levant on the
basis of their distinctive cultural identity and their interaction
with the broader social, political, and cultural structure of the
host societies.

Within this framework, this book is composed of five main chapters in
addition to an introduction and conclusion. The first chapter
discusses mainly the historical background of the origins of Armenian
presence in the Levant. The Armenian community grew rapidly during
the First World War, when there was a mass exodus of Armenians to
Syria and Lebanon brought about by the genocide in the Ottoman
Empire. Nevertheless, Migliorino notes that "the migration and
displacements seem to be a distinctive feature of Armenian history
from old to modern times" (p. 9). As a direct consequence of the
ongoing waves of Armenian refugees after the genocide of 1915-16, the
modern Armenian community in the Levant was formed. Migliorino
discusses this process rather briefly and does not go into any
details about the genocide and its impacts on the refugees.

In the subsequent four chapters of the book, he traces the
development of the Armenian community in the Levant in conjunction
with the political history of Lebanon and Syria, that is, from the
years of the French Mandate to the present. Migliorino's
periodization marks the common turning points of both Lebanese and
Syrian societies, namely, the French Mandate (1920-46)=3B the
postindependence phase until the end of the 1960s (1946-67)=3B the
period between 1967 and 1989=3B and lastly the period since the 1990s.
A chapter is devoted to each period, allowing Migliorino to discuss
continuities and changes in community-state relationships between the
Armenians and government authorities by analyzing six dimensions of
these relationships. These include "religion and the religious policy
of the state=3B the Armenian participation in public life=3B the
production and diffusion of Armenian culture and cultural policy of
the state=3B Armenian education in the context of national education=3B
Armenian associations and the state policy on the civil society=3B and
the economic and class dimensions of the Armenian presence" (p. 5).
In each chapter, Migliorino evaluates the Armenian communities on the
basis of these six dimensions. It is interesting to note that in each
chapter he changes their ordering according to the importance of the
role that dimension played in that period. In this sense, in terms of
the formation and preservation of a distinct community identity, the
religion/church and the political structure have played the most
decisive roles in each period. Among them, he notes that the
political bodies, namely, Armenian political parties, have gradually
surpassed the church, which, however, has maintained its traditional
position as the representative of the Armenian people. Armenian
educational institutions and associations that have been tied either
to the church or to political parties have also played a very
important role in consolidating Armenian communities in the Levant.

Throughout these chapters, Migliorino makes an argument concerning
the divergent approaches of Lebanon and Syria to this culturally
distinct Armenian community. In this sense, he discusses the
political development of both countries, which diverges especially in
the postindependence period. Since the 1950s, Syria has followed a
much more authoritarian statist path, while Lebanon has adopted a
"power-sharing, consociational political model" (p. 4). This
divergence has led to two different paths of development for Armenian
communities in each country. On the one hand, the Armenian community
in Lebanon has flourished on many counts, including all dimensions
that Migliorino analyzed in this book. In his words, "from an
Armenian point of view, Lebanon could be undoubtedly regarded as a
success story" (p. 147). On the other hand, the Syrian case presents
a different and much more disadvantageous path for the Armenian
community, namely, the virtual disappearance of Armenians from public
life in Syria. These two paths changed the development of the
character of the Armenian community within each society as well as
between them. In the immediate postindependence period we see the
beginnings of a migration wave from Syria to Lebanon. After the
1970s, however, the direction was reversed: the achievements of
Armenians in Lebanon were significantly damaged due to the civil war,
which resulted in the exodus of almost half of the Armenian
population "to the countries of the Western world," whereas the
Armenian community in Syria has enjoyed a relatively stable period
since then (p. 165). As the title of the fifth chapter summarizes,
the Armenian communities in both countries has faced a "difficult
recovery and uncertain future" since the 1990s (p. 179).

In sum, Migliorino gives a detailed picture of the experience of the
Armenian communities in Lebanon and Syria from the 1920s to the
present. In doing this, he answered his main question, posed at the
beginning of the book, in the following way: "The Armenians appear to
have successfully maintained, for more than eight decades since their
mass-resettlement in the Levant, a distinct identity as an
ethno-culturally diverse group, in spite of being a relatively small
minority within a very different, mostly Arab environment" (p. 221).
At the same time, he offers a vivid analysis of the evolution of two
post-Mandate states, Lebanon and Syria, concerning primarily their
approaches toward ethno-cultural diversity wherein he sees the main
possible deadlock for the future of Armenian communities in the
Levant. In his words, "this book suggests that neither in Lebanon nor
in Syria does a sustainable or consistent model for the accommodation
of ethno-cultural diversity appear to be in place" (p. 222). In light
of this, Migliorino argues that it is mainly within the framework of
such concepts as "cultural rights" or "rights to diversity" that a
sustainable approach can be genuine.

Migliorino's book includes numerous detailed tables pointing to
various aspects of the Armenian presence in the Levant, ranging from
the number of refugees, to the number and location of schools,
churches, Armenian members of Parliament, associations, journals,
etc. These tables make it possible to trace changes in Armenian life
in both countries over time. Such socioeconomic data are also
complemented by the "impressionistic and anecdotal material collected
through interviews and personal visits" (p. 198). Migliorino also
consulted a broad literature on Armenians as well on Lebanon and
Syria, in English, French, Arabic, and Armenian. However, he would
have done well to translate the French quotations into English.

The main criticism I have of Migliorino's book lies in the author's
"conceptual analysis," which proves unconvincing in a sense that it
is very much confined to an analysis of the political history of the
host countries. Regarding the development of the Armenian communities
in those countries, the book lacks any rigorous conceptual tools.
This is surprising, since the concept of diaspora as an analytical
tool has been developed quite intensely in the humanities and social
science disciplines over the last decade. It has been used for a much
longer time with reference to traumatic experiences of Jews and
African slaves. Later on, new cases of genocide and expulsion, like
Armenians during World War I, and the waves of millions of other
people displaced by forced and voluntary migration, have increased
the number of diasporas. It has been argued that "the term [diaspora]
has lost its stigmatic connotation and on the contrary it turned out
to be a resource for identity politics."[1] The Armenian case has
occupied a critical role within diaspora studies, first as an example
of "Victim Diaspora" and then as a resource of identity. Therefore,
the experiences of the Armenian community in the Levant would have
been an interesting case for the studies of diaspora and
transnationalism. Although Migliorino makes some references to the
study of Khachig Tölölyan, a prominent scholar of diaspora studies,
and discusses the shift of the Armenian community's self-perception
from a "nation in exile" to a "permanent transnational diaspora," he
does not employ these concepts in detail (pp. 124, 180). This main
deficit also weakens his claim to be studying the Armenian identity
as a distinct identity in the Levant.

Nevertheless, in spite of these critical remarks, this book makes
useful reading for those who are interested in Armenian communities
dispersed around the world and in the Levant specifically. It would
be my hope that Migliorino and other interested scholars will
continue to follow through on the important themes addressed by this
book.

Note

[1]. Rainer Münz and Rainer Ohliger, eds., _Diaspora and Ethnic
Migrants: Germany, Israel and Post-Soviet Successor States in
Comparative Perspective_ (London: Frank Cass, 2003), 3.

Citation: Ahmet H. Akkaya. Review of Migliorino, Nicola,
_(Re)constructing Armenia in Lebanon and Syria: Ethno-cultural
Diversity and the State in the Aftermath of a Refugee Crisis_.
H-Genocide, H-Net Reviews. November, 2009.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=3D2503 1

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