Two Solitudes Reborn

Editorial, 30 July 2016

The split began when large numbers of Armenians left Armenia to settle in Cilicia as they fled the 11th  and 12th century Seljuk invasions. From 16th century on Turkish/Persian hostilities further split the two segments of the nation as the occupying empires fought for dominance over Armenia. The disconnect between eastern and western Armenians became more severe with the arrival of the Russians who challenged the Ottomans and Safavids. The two solitudes of Armenians became even more extreme when Armenia was Sovietized. For the next 70 years Armenia was on the dark side of the moon for many Diasporans.

The separation of the two arms of the nation created different dialects, mindset, folklore, priorities, music, and literature. The two cultures were also impacted by odars—Russian and Iranian in the case of eastern Armenians and Turkish, Arab, Western European and American for western Armenians.

But despite the Iron Curtain, Diasporans rushed to help Armenia during the 1988 earthquake and the Artsakh War. The Diasporans and citizens of Armenia hugged and behaved like long-lost brothers and sisters after Armenia and Artsakh gained independence. Euphoric Diasporans rushed to the homeland, thirsty for Hayastan’s water and air. They wanted to see Holy Echmiadzin, Mt. Ararat, Keghart, Lake Sevan, the Opera… and they wanted to talk in the mother tongue with bus drivers, policemen, store salesmen and bank tellers. They wanted to hug Yerevantsis on the street. For the first time in their lives they felt the exhilaration of truly being at home. The Armenian victories against the Azeris added spring to the Diasporan psychic uplift. The children of the Diasporans, living thousands of miles away from the homeland, began to connect with their parents’ “mythical” Hayastan. They were proud of Artsakh War heroes and the recovery of Armenian lands. They wore the tricolor on their lapels and adorned their cars with the flag. The Diaspora –individually began sending aid (money, equipment, expertise) and open businesses. Fundraising global telethons were organized, Diaspora professional groups held meetings in Yerevan to explore ways to contribute to Armenia. Eventually, all three Diaspora-based political parties moved their headquarters to Yerevan.

But the heady days didn’t last long. There was a viper in the garden: in fact, many vipers. Diasporans began to hear of corruption, arbitrary rule of law and the callow regime’s indifference to the widespread poverty. They became aware of vanishing Diaspora donations. They heard about donated medical equipment winding up for sale in Moscow. They heard about the fraudulent elections, the oppressive government bureaucracy and monopolistic oligarchs who conspired to bankrupt Diasporans who had launched businesses in Armenia. Betraying the attitude that Diasporans are cash cows, the Levon Ter-Petrossian government charged Diasporans $1,000 to grant them passport. The Diasporans saw the miserable conditions their compatriots lived in Hayastan. They heard of the excesses of the oligarch-Catholicos Karekin II. Diasporans learned that it didn’t matter whether the country was ruled by Ter-Petrossian, Kocharian, or Sargsyan: all three leaders headed undemocratic governments.  The problem was systemic, cultural, and deeply ingrained. Body politic was sick.

Diasporan warmth towards the homeland began to cool. The All-Armenia Fund barely raised $10 million in the past year. That’s less than half of what it raised in the halcyon days. Revulsion with Yerevan authorities set in and transformed into indifference towards Armenia because Diasporans—three-quarters of the world Armenian population–could see they had no way of making a difference in Hayastan. Diaspora’s disgust with Armenia’s authorities further “enhanced” the two solitudes.

Again and again Armenia sought Diaspora’s assistance but not its views. After a while the Diaspora refused to be taken for suckers, in the graphic North American parlance. Some Diasporans continued to assist but bypassed the heavy-handed, bureaucratic and corrupt authorities. It was a difficult option but the only way donors could be certain aid would reach its target.

The Diaspora/Armenia relationship became more complicated as a result of the three Diaspora political parties’ reluctance to criticize the Sargsyan regime in the misguided belief that the Diaspora should support Armenia no matter what. Meanwhile, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the biggest Diaspora political party, joined Sargsyan’s coalition government. The “indifference” of the Diaspora parties to the plight of the citizens of Armenia widened the fissure between the citizens of Armenia and the Diasporans.

Thus the Two Solitudes drifted even more. Diasporans continue to be interested in what’s happening in Armenia: they want to help; some still own apartments and have minor investments; they visit Hayastan, but, as the song says, “the feeling is gone”.

Diasporans have concluded that peaceful reform is impossible: elections, rallies, demonstrations to bring about democratic change have been met by repression. The weak state has a strong government.  Until recently many Diasporans believed citizens of Armenia—cowed and weakened by the authorities—didn’t have the gumption and leadership to bring about democratic change after all many citizens, who could have made an impact, had left the country in disgust and despair.  Thus it is no surprise that despite their revulsion of domestic violence, many Diaspora were encouraged by the Sasna Dzrer action.

No one knows how the Erebuni police station crisis will impact on how Armenia is governed. Sasna Dzrer has tapped the vein of discontent but were it to succeed in toppling Sargsyan, it wouldn’t necessarily mean Armenia would be on easy street: Sasna Dzrer and others who oppose Sargsyan have not shown that they’re capable of tackling Armenia’s economic, social and foreign policy challenges. But one thing is certain: continued Sargsyan rule will guarantee further misrule, economic paralysis and emigration. How can Armenia defend itself when the population is thinning? How can Yerevan support a credible army when it doesn’t have the manpower and the tax base?

The 40 or so oligarchic families have no intention to change their ways. As long as the invalid is breathing, the leeches will hang around. They have charted their future: some have dual citizenship/landed immigrant status in faraway countries; money and property in foreign lands; some family members are already overseas…buying $45-million villas in Southern California. If their situation becomes untenable these plutocrat clans have probably arranged safe passage for themselves and for their ill-gained wealth to Moscow, Dubai, London, and Los Angeles.

Zareh Sinanyan, former mayor of Glendale, is advocating constructive dialogue between Armenia and the Diaspora. Sinanyan believes Diaspora’s power (financial, human, knowledge, know-how) is limitless and that it can have a huge and positive impact on Armenia. He says Diaspora support is “limited, reactive, not systematic, and at the spur of the moment.” Meanwhile historian Knarig Avakyan of Yerevan is advocating mass migration of the Diaspora to Armenia/Artsakh. The ex-mayor and the historian ignore two facts: unless there is concrete improvement in Armenia’s governance and a diminution of the oligarchic regime, the Diaspora will maintain its distance. Yerevan’s scattering medals to every other Diasporan Tom, Dick and Harriet will not reverse the confidence tide. And unless the Diaspora is assured that Sargsyan will not hand Artsakh to Azerbaijan, there can be no rapprochement between the two solitudes and emigration to Armenia will remain a dream.

Earlier this month Ashot Grigoryan, president of the Forum of Armenian Associations of Europe declared there’s a secret deal brewing between Aliyev and Sargsyan whereby Armenia will give parts of the liberated territories and Artsakh to Azerbaijan for a few billion dollars. Anti-Sargsyan activist and Artsakh hero Jirayr Sefilyan has expressed similar views. For doubting Sargsyan’s intentions and for demanding the president’s resignation, Sefilyan was put to jail. That action precipitated the armed occupation of the  police station.

Unless there’s a radical improvement in Armenia’s governance and Sargsyan declares Artsakh is not on the negotiation table, it’s possible that Armenia—to paraphrase T.S. Eliot (“The Hollow Men”)–will die not with a bang but with a whimper. If it dies, it will be murder, not suicide.

  1. Armenia-Diaspora Divide

    Thank you, Keghart, for reporting on the realities factually, soberly and eloquently. I only wish more media outlets would do likewise to accurately inform, educate and mobilize the Diaspora.

    Unfortunately, many such outlets are the organs of the very political parties that are collaborating with the ruling regime, so that wish appears futile.

  2. Hetq: Armed Group to Surrender; Popular Struggle to Continue

    Varuzhan Avetisyan, a member of the Sasna Dzrer armed group, in a telephone conversation with the 1IN.AM news outlet said they have decided to lay down their arms and surrender to law enforcement starting at 8 p.m today in order to avoid further bloodshed.
    Avetisyan said that due to repeated assaults by police snipers, there are only twenty members of the Sasna Dzrer group left in the police building seized on July 17.
    Avetisyan said that losses on both sides have been great and taking into account that the main objective of the armed group has been achieved, namely spurring a popular revolt amongst the people, the group has decided to surrender and continue the struggle for real change in Armenia as “military prisoners”.
    Avetisyan called on the people of Armenia to continue their revolt against a regime he labeled as “bloody and anti-Armenian”, assuring them that final victory was a foregone conclusion.
    He labelled the current struggle as a “war of national liberation” so that Armenia does not become a vassal state of Russia.
    In conclusion, Avetisyan called on the people to heed their instructions, from behind the prison walls, regarding the struggle to come.
  3. East was West

    Certainly Eastern Armenians were and remain under Russian influence but prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, "Russian influence" also meant Western European influence because most educated Russians followed closely and emulated European trends (the Petrine legacy). And sometimes they followed these trends a little too closely–Marxism itself was a Western European ideology and was supposed to take root in the advanced economies of that region rather than the comparatively backward Russia where it was applied by (it must be said) Russians who had received excellent educations where they were introduced to all those European Enlightenment values that most Russians in the countryside (to say nothing of Armenians in the countryside, whether in the Ottoman, Persian, or Russian empires) would never encounter.

    And so most of the pre-Soviet and early Soviet "Eastern Armenian" intellectuals (Avetis Aharonian, Simon Vratsian, Mikael Nalbandian, Khachatur Abovian, and others) looked to the Occident just as much as any Western Armenian did, perhaps more so. This generation either fled after the Soviets took over Armenia or perished in Stalinist gulags. Since then, an anti-progressive, orthodox, and largely insular Stalinism/Sovietism has shaped the minds of most of the people in "Eastern Armenia," an ideology skeptical of new ideas and committed to an ossified, prescribed, strictly top-down culture and politics.

    1. Nit-picking

      The letter by "H" re Western influence upon Eastern Armenians ("Two Solitudes Reborn") is nit-picking and a bit of show-off. One could also say that Western Armenians read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, enjoyed Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakoff.  The overall point of the editorial is clear: Eastern Armenian culture was, to some extent influenced by Russian culture just as Western Armenian culture was influenced by Western European and American cultures.


      1. Showing-off Again

        All of the authors and artists you listed are considered part of the Western canon so what exactly is your point? Did you think I was attempting to slight Western Armenians? Anyway, if that is the "overall point" then I am happy to have posted my nit-picking comment because it is less simplistic and more accurate.

        1. To “H”

          I don't know whether you misunderstood my point or choose to do so. The point I made is that OVERALL Eastern Armenians were far more influenced by the Russians than, say, they by the British. Likewise, Western Armenians were far more influenced by France and Italy and Britain than by Moscow. These are facts.

          Armenians from the Ottoman Empire went to St.Lazaro in Venice, to Paris, to Geneve, and to London to study. They didn't go to Moscow or to St. Petersburg. While Eastern Armenians were familiar with Shakespeare and Western Armenians with Tolstoy, Gogol, the fact remains Western Armenians were far more influenced by the West and Eastern Armenians by Russia. Remember that the Hnchags were founded in Switzerland and the Tashnags in Tiflis. I know Eastern Armenians translated Shakespeare and "Hamlet" was popular in Tiflis. That fact doesn't change the big picture. That's what I meant by nit-picking. You seemed to throw exceptions to disprove the overall observation. By the way, the trend continues to this day.


    2. Insular Soviet Mentality

      Armenia, Artsakh and all other Armenian Populated areas like Krasnodar, Javakhk, etc., need western entrepreneurial know-how, more than even capital. Unfortunately, we have not been encouraged to participate, and our advice is taken with a cynical smile. Our money though is welcome.

      We learned not to interfere. It's their loss.

  4. The Diaspora can help, but Hayastan must do the hard work

    The Diaspora has been very generous over the past nearly 30 years. It has pumped billions into Armenia and Artsakh.  Money still flows in significant quantities.

    But Armenia's leaders take it for granted, because for the most part they are either corrupt, clueless, hostile, or incompetent.  The lingering Soviet mentality is also a significant problem.

    In terms of the oligarchs and their families buying property overseas with stolen money: These people and their bratty, lazy kids need to be publicly named, exposed, condemned, and shunned by the Diaspora.

    They should all be deported and their bank accounts confiscated.  

    In fact, why do countries let these corrupt people in, in the first place?  Illegal Mexican immigrants are preferable to this trash.  If they are not deported to Armenia they should be sent to someplace else, such as Somalia.

    Strikes should be conducted in Armenia, targeted at corrupt businesses and oligarchs. 

    Diaspora organizations – all of them – not just the political parties and the Armenian Assembly – as well as AGBU, ARS, AMAA and the like – must publicly and with one voice condemn the corruption in Armenia. 

    Diasporans are particularly sickened and disgusted by the silence of the ARF.  Many ARF members in the Diaspora know quite well that there is something very rotten about the ARF in Armenia.  Yet they remain largely silent.  This is a disservice. 

    Finally, the way that parts of the American Diaspora lauded and kissed the feet of President Sargsyan a few months ago during his visit was a disgrace.  The political parties, the clergy, and  community institutions all made fools of themselves.  And they uttered hardly a word of criticism. 

    Sargsyan was introduced to American political figures who were probably more disgusted with Sargsyan than were many Armenians.  And the Armenian American newspapers went along with the charade with glowing articles. Pathetic.

    However, in the final analysis, it is up to the people of Hayastan to create the conditions for new leadership in their country.  The Diaspora can help, but Hayastan must do the hard work.  No excuses.

  5. Just Another Excellent Analysis

    Just another excellent analysis by Keghart of the critical situation in Armenia today.

    If anyone thinks that this criminal regime will go down the road of real reforms they need to have their brains examined. All Diaspora parties have proven how badly they are misinformed of the catastrophic situation in Armenia today. Instead of being with the people they are with sultan Serjik and his criminal thugs. All these parties' reputation with the electorate are now in tatters as they can never be trusted again.

    ARF Armenia is pedaling the false narrative that they can change things by being inside the regime. I say to the ARF, you were also in the SS regime after the murder of ten Armenians by this regime. You are just a passenger in a coach driven and directed by these criminals you will never be able to change tangibly. You are only there to get business quotas for the leadership of the ARF and make money. This is what the people think and rightly so. You have also dragged down the whole ARF worldwide in dirt and mud.

    The ARF in Armenia is not the same as we know it in the Diaspora. It's as bad as the ruling RPA party which is the root of all evil in Armenia today. ARF Armenia has hijacked the whole party and directing it to oblivion. This needs to stop.

    I would also like to point out that the Diaspora media is deliberately not informing its readers with what is going on in Armenia, along with A1 TV, Shant TV, Armenia TV and some others.

  6. European human rights convention dismally broken

    Armenia now is a police dictatorship.

    The police have dismally broken articles 1,3,5,6,7,8,10,11,13,14 of the European human rights convention which Armenia had signed.

  7. More Sargsyan Games

    As if to further the two solitudes, thick-headed and obdurate Serge Sargsyan stated after the termination of the police station episode that Yerevan is not Beirut or Aleppo (hotbeds of civil war/strife). It sounds like he is targeting Sefilyan and Yenikomshian by blaming the two Diasporans for being solely responsible for the unrest of the past two weeks.

    Is SS blaming the Diaspora for the opposition to his criminal regime? Doesn't he know he is insulting "native" Armenians when he implies that they're sheep who wouldn't protest no matter the provocation? And what about the thousands of Armenians who have been demonstrating against his regime since he climbed the throne?  Are they all from Bourj Hamoud? Suleymaniyeh?


  8. State Run by a Thug

    In his latest pathetic speech criminal Sargsyan is thanking his thugs for their brutality against the people. This is Armenia since March 1st and getting worse by the day so much so that we have now a state run by a thug for the benefit of his thugs that also includes corrupt oligarch Catholicos Karekin II and his Bentley bishops. This is the face of sultan Serjik and his ruling RPA party joined in crime in partnership with another corrupt party–ARF Armenia–in order to shut the voice of the Diaspora.

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