The Diaspora’s Voice in Armenia’s National Affairs

By Prof. Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian, Los Angeles, 14 July 2021

“The Jewish people can do a lot of good if we stay united and strong — Israel and
the Diaspora working together. If we don’t, I always worry about the continuation of
the Jewish people in Israel and abroad.”
Charles Bronfman

What prompted me to write this off-the-cuff commentary is when I recently came across a new political cartoon by Ms. Lucine Kasbarian, centering on the criticality of Diaspora’s participation in Armenia’s national affairs. I wrote about the synergistic necessity of collaboration of the two populations extensively some ten years ago. I even wrote a book on the dynamics of organizing a diaspora to facilitate Armenia’s initiative to establish a robust relationship with its vast diaspora.

Although the theme of the cartoon was provocative and directed at the powers to be in Yerevan, I could not help but feel green with envy, even bordering on jealousy.

You see, what Ms. Kasbarian said in a nutshell (via the cartoon, see below), it took me a number of articles and chapters to write in 2009. She is talented in the law of parsimony (in the principle of economy) and in expressing her observations sugar-coated in satirical humor. She happens to be one of the rare intellectuals to enrich our arts and literature for generations to come.

Ms. Kasbarian’s thesis is that Armenia should allow its diaspora to participate in its national affairs. Such a proposition would require the spirit of unity, of getting along with one another, and the dire need for teamwork to forge ahead in solving national problems. Now, more than ever before, there is a critical need to collaborate, to let the Armenian Diaspora participate in important decisions in the capacity of a homeland advisor.

When I was in college, I read in a book that the Greeks, the Bulgarians, the Serbians gained independence from the Ottoman Empire, but, — the Armenians had failed! Despite confused as though hit by a freight train, I asked myself: Why? Why? Three main reasons were written in the book and I quote them verbatim:

“There was no organization that bound all Armenians together”.

“They were scattered communities with no bond of union, except their language and church creed”.

“These communities were ignorant of each other and they were jealous of each other’s prosperity”.

It was painful for we could have most likely saved lives from perishing in the Genocide had the Armenians been organized like the other three nations.

When were these sobering words written, one may ask? One hundred twenty-five (125) years ago by a fellow called Edwin M. Bliss. Dr. Bliss was an American who was born in Turkey, worked and lived there for most of his life. In 1896, Dr. Bliss wrote a scathing account of the Hamidian massacres in a book titled Turkish Cruelties upon the Christian Armenians: A Reign of Terror.

After 125 years since Bliss’s keen observations, we still do not have an organization to bind us together. Then as now, we fail to enjoy the power accrued from building critical mass by virtue of establishing a worldwide Armenian organization, by working together, and by pooling our resources for the advancement of our homeland.

Dikran Metz (Tigran the Great) and King Ashod (Yergat) are the two heads of state who succeeded to form a united and a formidable nation by creating an Armenia from sea to sea, an empire to be admired and even feared by the mightiest Rome at the time.

Since Armenia is a mountainous country, it has created many independent principalities, fiefdoms, kingdoms which were most of the time at odds with one another. That disunity mentality seems to persist today through their social genes, even though most of the Armenian Highlands are gone now.

In modern times, David Marshall Lang wrote in his classic book “Armenia: Cradle of Civilization” about the lack of harmony in the Armenian character by stating that “Armenians are argumentative, quarrelsome, and great ‘know-alls.’”

Know-all or know-it-all” in American English means a person who acts as though he or she knows everything and who dismisses the opinions, comments, or suggestions of others. This is how the Armenian Diaspora is being largely treated by the people of their homeland.

Since Armenia’s independence in 1991, the Diaspora has not been deeply tapped into as a precious resource, as also being an intellectual, experienced, knowledgeable mine for the advancement of national affairs. Instead, the Diaspora has been treated as a proverbial cow, good only for its milk. There is a need to change this kind of outlook on an “alley” (as Ms. Kasbarian states), which has been a true friend of Armenia and Artsakh, which has kept a long link of friendship with various administrations even when rampant corruption had engulfed the country.

Throughout the long history of Armenia, they seem to have been “quarrelsome” back then and still are “quarrelsome” now. Disunity is a likely characteristic of the Armenian people. Through a serious soul searching, perhaps we learn how to get along with one another for the benefit of all. Perhaps the lessons learned from the Second Artsakh War will guide us in the right direction this time.

In the vicissitudes of its long history, the Armenian nation has often found itself divided against the enemy. Then as now, prudence dictates that Armenians should organize on a large scale for the sake of all Armenians around the globe.

The Republic of Armenia, Artsakh, and the Diaspora Armenians suffer from micro fragmentation; they have divided themselves into numerous organizations of any persuasion imaginable. Such a state of affairs of internal disunity weakens rather than strengthens their position in regards to external pressures to acquiesce concessions such as coming from Azerbaijan’s imperialist dictator.

The Republics of Armenia and Artsakh cannot afford to lose the Diaspora. Their economy is already strapped with its severest downturn since the Second Artsakh War of 2020. With a rising unemployment, with the vast loss of farmland to Azerbaijan, an unrelenting exodus of young men and women seeking better opportunities outside the country, the onerous burden of COVID-19 pandemic, and to add insult to injury, the nation is caught in a state of social upheaval, playing the blame game to advance their personal agendas.

Let us take Israel for an example for social, political, and economic success. Israel has a robust population of 15 million. In 2024, the population will increase to 20 million due to immigration. The single most important factor behind its economic success is the involvement and participation of its vast diaspora. Without the diaspora, Israel could not have become a mighty power in the entire Middle East. Despite the fact that only 17 percent of the world Jews has thus far visited Israel since it was established in 1947 as their homeland, the Jewish Diaspora has never ceased its involvement (i.e., contributions towards the homeland) and participation (i.e., engagement in decision making process) in the national affairs of Israel.

Much of Israel’s success is attributable to three major factors: population growth, diaspora involvement/participation, and a generous loyal ally (i.e., USA). Let us look at Armenia and Artsakh: dwindling population, diaspora nonparticipation in the national affairs, and lack of a generous loyal ally (i.e., Russia).

President Levon Der Bedrossian has discouraged the enlistment of Armenia’s diaspora’s brain power in solving national issues and problems. Sadly enough, let us take a mundane example to explain how Armenia and Artsakh have the “buns,” but unfortunately they lack the “beef” (i.e., the vast, generous, and loyal Armenian Diaspora’s participation, if not as well involvement).

In foreign affairs, Armenia and Artsakh are faced with the insatiable imperialistic duo of Azerbaijan and Turkey. Both of these sworn enemies are pressing Yerevan and Stapanakert for land concessions. Diplomacy would not be sufficient to stem their inroads. Anything short of strong national defense will not deter them a bit. As a result, the Armenian Diaspora has to be invited to flex its muscles to counter Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s unjust and cruel tactics to have their way at every turn.

Armenia is already bleeding due to the continuing brain drain, which will eventually have debilitating repercussions for all concerned. Since the beginning of history, Armenians seem to have found themselves fragmented in the face of national trials and tribulations.

The Armenian Diaspora, the exiles with mettle, have survived the odds in foreign lands is ready, able, and willing to help the homeland. They are ardent patriots who will show their spirit of loyalty when opportunities are created for them –for each and every one of them is a live wire when it comes to serving the homeland.

How can Armenia and Artsakh reach out to them and solicit their non-monetary assistance? Ideas have changed the world, here are some ideas to advance Armenia and Artsakh in their quest for recovery from the devastating Second Artsakh War of 2020:

  1. Of crucial importance is the staffing of a Diaspora Relations Department of the Republic of Armenia (RoA), with impartial personnel who will communicate and solicit assistance from all Diaspora Armenians and not just from a few “select” individuals or organizations.
  2. The embassies and general consulates of the RoA should designate an active special office to interact with diaspora individuals and organizations that can contribute to national progress. Word-of-mouth communications and local notices of needs and plans of national stature require official methods to communicate with the vast Armenian Diaspora.
  3. The RoA should appoint Diasporans to key positions to share their vast experience and knowledge gained by having lived in long-standing democracies such as in the USA, UK, France, etc.
  4. The RoA should annually hold conferences and invite the Diaspora to attend and participate in discussions of special areas in business, science, and technology. All, not just a select number of individuals based on their economic or political orientation, should be invited to attend or participate.
  5. Publicity materials, announcement, call for papers, etc. of the RoA should be sent to many diaspora publications’ founders, publishers, managing editors, etc. such as of USA Armenian Life Magazine, Keghart.org, The California Courier, etc. who are known to be solid homeland-oriented people.
  6. The RoA’s Diaspora Department should obtain a recent listing of diaspora’s professional organizations and establish links electronically to keep all concerned abreast of future needs and plans of national importance.
  7. The RoA must let Diaspora’s VOICE be heard in critical national matters. After all, Armenia does not just belong to those who live there. Patriotism has no physical boundaries. Love of country can be achieved within or without being present in one’s country or homeland. Birthright rules for the diaspora members as well as for the citizens of a country as long as the aim is to advance the homeland.

As Ms. Kasbarian’s insightful and discerning cartoon suggests compellingly that Armenia is surrounded by “enemies, frenemies, bystanders, Allies”. In “Allies” she has centered the Armenian Diaspora as though saying “Armenia, listen to your Diaspora, the only true friend you can justifiably claim to have”!

Lucine Kasbarian
1 comment
  1. This is a well-written analysis and call to action by a leading Armenisn scholar-activist, Dr. Demirjian. I wish more academics specializing in Armenian topics (Demirdjian’s professional specialization is NoT Armenian in nature) were as outspoken and righteous on Armenian topics as they are on the “acceptable ones” so deemed by the university establishment.

    We only take issue with Prof. Demirdjian’s comparison to the Israeli community and Jewish diaspora. Jewish and Zionist unity, solidarity and ambition is built upon contempt for all other groups, races, religions and ethnicities. Thus, it is impossible for Armenians to emulate them or even aspire/ desire to! These comparisons are not productive. We look forward to more insightful commentaries from Prof. Demirdjian.

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