Crucial Directions In Armenia-Diaspora Relations
By Prof. Onnig Beylerian

http://www.keghart.com/op90.htm
31 July 2008
Ottawa

I should like to thank everyone who took time to reflect on the
subjects I raised in my PowerPoint presentation, which was not the
best tool to express the nuances of one's own thoughts. It is also
encouraging to see that Armenia-Diasporan relations do generate
passionate arguments and debate.

That is yet another indication there is a great future for Armenia
and its Diaspora.

To put things in their context, I was asked by Dr. Dikran Abrahamian
to present findings based on my own observations of Armenia-Diaspora
relations, as they relate with policy development. My views did not
in any way reflect those institutions I could be or am associated
with. They are truly my own contributions as a distant and admittedly
non-influential member of Canada's Armenian community.

In this response, I can only be brief and respond to what I think
are the most important issues raised by those who have been gentle
enough to consider and comment my findings and observations.

1. Undoubtedly the Diaspora is already involved in Armenia. To
say the Diaspora should not interfere in Armenia's affairs is not to
recognize reality. The main question is how the Diaspora's involvement
can be more effective. Seeking remittances and cash disbursements
or relying on the go odwill of individual Diasporans is insufficient
and misplaced in many ways.

Money is not everything; the real wealth of the Diaspora resides is
in its knowhow, cumulative experience and global networks, which are
not noticeable if one goes to a typical Armenian church on a Sunday
morning. These are the ingredients Armenia is after and which it wants
to tap. The problem is that this is a treasure chest that can only
be opened through a set of policies that provides Diasporans with
concrete incentives to participate in Armenia's development. Without
these incentives, I don't see how the Diaspora will develop its
present engagement to higher levels. Hence my suggestion that Armenia
should provide the Diaspora with means to participate effectively
in the Armenian political process and institution building, and not
necessarily in the decision-making process; even though Armenia's
foreign policy was and still is led by personalities largely supported
and well-regarded by the Diaspora. By participating in the political
process, I mean Diasporan representatives sitting in the Parliament
in some capacity, or competent Diasporans sitting on government
consultative bodies, such as commissions to fight corruption or setting
up a professional and non partisan public service. The Diaspora
could also be entrusted to set up an independent body to monitor
and report the validity of results of future elections. There are
many other20useful tasks the Diaspora could do if it was seriously
asked as a means to effectively contribute to Armenia's political
and economic development. The Diaspora may not have the experience at
first to undertake these tasks, but lack of experience is no excuse
for not trying to do the best it can.

2. Does the Diaspora possess the capacity to do all of the latter? To
answer this question one needs to make a distinction between community
organizations situated at the level of host countries and full-fledged
Diasporan organizations that represent several community organizations
at once. Forcibly, such organizations would span across several
host countries, such as the United States and Canada. Today, while
there is appreciable traffic between Armenians living in different
countries who collaborate on multiple projects and issues, there are
no permanent consultative or coordinating bodies whose mission is to
address the interests and needs of Armenian communities throughout
the world. Conventional wisdom amongst Armenians is to keep their
business low-key as there are obvious advantages to get the job done
in the traditional and time-tested Armenian way. But there are also
disadvantages in that it does not contribute to institution-building
and it leaves a lot of Armenians out of the loop.

Therefore it is not surprising that the Diaspora is not ready to play
any useful role at this moment, because it has no institutional and
organizational transnational existence and because the opportunity to
create that context was simply never attempted, despite the goodwill
of influential Diasporans very keen in creating their self-styled
personal Congresses. One would have wished that the initiative to
build the Diaspora's transnational institutions came from its own
ranks. But unfortunately that did not happen thus far. So Armenia
stepped in since it does face immediate and serious challenges even
more so that it can use state means to establish some process to have
access to the Diaspora's resources.

So far Armenia organized three conferences and despite the huge
enthusiasm generated by those venues, no permanent bodies came out
if it. Everybody returned home to continue their daily Diasporan
chores and we're still wondering as to what really happened. The
last conference looked like an academic symposium instead of being
a true Assembly of Armenians (or more aptly Hayotz Hamazhoghov --
I'm sure Viken will correct my Western Armenian); which should be
the equivalent of the General Estates where a nation takes stock of
the issues it faces but also of its strength .

It's like drawing up an inventory of one's capabilities and
ultimately power so as to address major challenges. If at the
fourth Armenia-Diaspora conference there is clear political will
to conduct the proceedings in that way and with the clear intent of
establishing permanent bodies to develop and implement major policies
and programmes, then a huge step will be taken in the right direction
as many capable and skilful Diasporans will in time step forward.

It should remain a hope that the Dialogue Committee set up by Armenia's
Foreign Affairs will broach this issue and eventually adopt practical
measures to reach out to many Diasporans.

3. Some have argued that the Diaspora is in such a sorry state when it
comes to its own internal political processes that it would be arrogant
on the Diaspora's part to claim that it can "interfere" at will in
Armenia' internal affairs. First, I do not share the dire conclusions
of the institutional state of Armenian communities. On the contrary
it is hard not to fully recognize those who did contribute to the
building of schools and churches to protect and nurture small islands
of Armenia in distant lands. It is also hard to dismiss either all
those who selflessly contributed to the genocide recognition campaigns
or those who responded to the calls of Armenians in distress in 1988,
1991 and onwards, such as Charles Aznavour who had forgotten his roots
until the earthquakes shook him up to his core. Many of the Diaspora's
efforts are those of unsung heroes of Armenian communities across the
globe and whose histories have yet to be written. In short, let u s
not short change the enormous achievements of individual communities.

However the institutional weaknesses of community organizations --and
there are many--we need to hang on to them at all costs. The only sure
way that Armenian life in the Diaspora can flourish is to modernize
these community organizations and to welcome back all those who have
left it for good or those who among the younger generation do not
see any interest in being part of it. I do not have readymade answers
as to how that feat can be realized. But I do know that exceptional
young Diasporans did not wait for that modernization to happen and
therefore moved to discover the deepest dimensions of Armenia and hence
of themselves. In this discovery, the hub is in Armenia but also in
individual communities where there is need for more transparency and
inclusiveness. Without really noticing, a new global Armenian identity
is emerging where it will be difficult to draw a clear line between
the Diaspora and Armenia. The contours of that identity remain quite
hazy, but one way to find that out is to draw together individual
communities spread across the globe in workable forums. I believe
that mustering the Diaspora's power in its own organizations or
institutions with the full support of Armenia as its base represents
one way of initiating and promoting this modernization.

However, we have to be realists and correctly e valuate the stage
at which the Diaspora and Armenia are so as to move from that point
onwards, slowly but surely. In many ways both are at same level
of political development. Therefore they are called upon to work
in tandem as the Diaspora will never disappear: it has proven it
can survive and regroup even after the worst disaster. Nor will it
dissolve in some big repatriation scheme.

Armenia has the ingredients to help the Diaspora to get its act
together and the Diaspora has the ingredients to help Armenia even more
effectively, provided that the Diaspora is given the opportunity to
do so. Both sides have everything to gain if they can only identify
what is to be done. This entails that they accept to work hard in
making this happen. It's not an easy task and it will take several
generations.

I hope I answered to some of the questions which were raised.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress