Repatriation: Mitigating Reverse Culture Shock

Prof. Z. S.  Andrew Demirdjian, Monarch Beach CA, 5 June 2024

Out of fear of war, violence, and persecution, a few months ago the entire Armenian population of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) fled from their homeland and about 100,000 sought sanctuary in the Republic of Armenia.

In addition to the obvious challenges they face in Armenia, many of them would suffer from Reverse Culture Shock (RCS). Basically, RCS is the psychological condition materialized when a refugee repatriates. When a person flees his or her homeland and begins to live in exile, he or she would be adapting to the new environment consisting of physical as well as social-psychological milieu. In other words, the refugee will try to adjust to the host country’s culture by overcoming culture shock.

When this same refugee decides to repatriate, he or she faces the challenge of adjusting back to their former physical and social-psychological environment, namely to their native culture. During the transition, a cultural shock takes place and makes life difficult for the returnee to cope with life.

The repatriation of the forcefully displaced persons, their former government, business, and society including international refugee organizations have the moral and legal obligation to make life easier for the returning of those who want to go back home. Business is no longer for profit only; it has also social responsibility toward the people it serves within a community.

Look homeward Armenians of Artsakh! All over the world, some of the refugees return home and others decide to stay in exile so to speak, but for both, wherever they decide to stay, the honeymoon will be over after a while. Also, to bear in mind that culture shock will be longer in a foreign land than experiencing RCS in one’s own native land.  As a refugee, it is your choice to stay abroad or return home, and it is for your conscience to consider because your homeland needs you.

To repatriate or not to repatriate? The answer depends on the refugee’s mindset as well his sense of patriotism. The refugee should be cognizant of the fact that the price of staying away from one’s homeland would be too high. One obvious problem would be loss of homeland for the empty homeland would be filled by foreigners.

Another problem is that he or she would be a “marginal man” torn between two cultures; sometimes acting according to the adopted country’s mores; the other times reverting to native cultural and traditional ways. Besides, patriotism demands repatriation, provided it would be safe and secure to do so, to avoid later the compunction of conscience for abandoning one’s native land.

Based on an extensive research, I shall present some strategies to mitigate the RCS of the refugee returning home. Should the former government of the refugee fail to provide some of the strategies to alleviate the arduous journey back home, the refugee should ask for help from his or her government, business, NGOs,  international refugee organizations, and one’s diaspora.

Here are research-based strategies for repatriation:

The first strategy is to make the returnee feel safe and secure from violence and persecution. This is the most crucial strategy: the returnees should not be treated as traitors, but victims of war between two countries or nations and those bygones are bygones.

The second strategy is to give to returnees their properties and possessions. If their homes were destroyed during the war, the government should grant them the money or charge them a very low interest on loans to rebuild their homes.

The third strategy: the government and business create jobs for them. Ideally, they should be rehired where they had been working prior to the outbreak of war and displacement.

The fourth strategy is for the government to offer subsidy. For example, if a refugee had a business such as a farm, the government should subsidize it until it operates successfully. The government aid to the farmer should include providing the farmer with seeds, machinery, livestock, feeds, etc.

The fifth strategy is to ask the government to provide the refugees certain things. Remember the proverb that the squeaky wheel gets the grease? Also note that the government may be anxious to please the returning citizens for the sake of propaganda.

The sixth strategy is for the refugees to become familiar with their rights by studying the international laws governing the repatriation of displaced persons and refugees.

The mitigating the challenges of the returnees is vital for their psychological wellbeing. Perhaps many refugees had nothing to do with the political conflict between warning countries.

Here is one caveat: The case of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923 in Soviet Armenia should teach us to avoid dealing with Armenians from Artsakh who decide not to return home and remain in Armenia.

Here is what happened according to a popular narrative: During Joseph Stalin’s time when Armenians repatriated from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Ethiopia, France, Greece, and so on in 1946 and 1947, they were warmly welcomed by the local people of Soviet (aka Eastern) Armenia. Later on, however, the honeymoon eroded when the locals found out the immigrant Armenians were given by the Armenian government free houses, land, stores, stipends, etc., they became jealous and gave rise to interpersonal friction and ostracism.

After some time, whenever immigrants approached local Armenians and said: “We are brothers. We need your help,” the locals dubbed them “Akhpars” (“brothers”), which to some became a pejorative word.

When the Soviet Union dissolved, the so-called Akhpars left their homes in droves and moved to various parts of the world, mainly to U.S., Canada, and France. The moral of this sad story is that the honeymoon will be over for those Armenians from Artsakh who decide to stay out of their homeland.

Finally, the refugee should bear in mind that he or she can’t have the best of both worlds. If a refugee truly loves his country, he or she has to make many sacrifices to live, work, and die on one’s own native land: they cannot have it both ways.

Patriotism is love of country, which demands a high price to be paid if one wants to practice it. Unfortunately, there is no two ways about it. Some Armenians are conditioned to be patriotic and others are self-centered from infancy.

If repatriation fails, the children of the Artsakh refugees will become subject to assimilation when their parents are dispersed in the diaspora. Besides, these impressionable kids are the future population of their native land; without their presence, their country becomes a vacuum to be filled by the plundering enemy. Therefore, repatriation is the essence of the survival of Artsakh.

To keep the enclave of Artsakh Armenian, repatriation is essential. Every Armenian around the world has to assist, advise, and encourage the refugees of Artsakh to repatriate. Otherwise, Artsakh will become a tiny footnote in the history of Armenian territorial loses.

Ms. Muriel Talin Clark (the one in black sweater), a volunteer who speaks Armenian, is sitting with young refugee children from Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) in Vayk, Republic of Armenia, in September 2023. Repatriation would give these children the privilege to grow up in a country where they would proudly call Motherland, the land where they were born. Armenians around the world should facilitate the return of the natives to Artsakh while it is still possible to do so. The leaders of Artsakh, Armenia, diaspora, the international refugee organizations including Azerbaijan should work together to mitigate repatriation of the refugees of Artsakh to go back to their homeland. Photograph: Muriel Talin Clark/Guardian Community.


Prof. Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian In addition to his active academic pursuits, he has devoted his time since high school to researching ideas on how to advance Armenia. Among his published works,  he has two books on Armenian unity and hundreds of articles. Since just July 2019, over 105 articles have been published on Armenian affairs. To access his previous articles open the search engine of the website and insert his name.


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