“Armenia-Diaspora: One nation without a common vision”

“Armenia-Diaspora: One nation without a common vision”

The “Pressing” Club re-launches its debates under “168 Hours” newspaper, during which in-depth issues referring to our country, the society are being touched upon. The project is implemented in partnership with “DEPOP” Institute for Governance, “AZAD Pharma AG” ltd and “168 Hours” newspaper.

The second discussion was conducted by Tigran Hakobyan, member of National Commission of Armenian Public Television and Radio, PR and media specialist, political scientist, publicist.

Participants of the debate are: Vartan Marashlyan, Co-founder and executive director of RepatArmenia Foundation, Karen Vardanyan, Executive Director of the Union of Information Technology Enterprises (UITE), Maria Titizyan, AUA lecturer, Ashot Yeghiazaryan, Doctor in Economy, political scientist, Suren Sargsyan, Teaching Assistant, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), Areg Galstyan (Russia), PhD, regular contributor to Forbes, the National Interest, the Hill and the American Thinker.

Tigran Hakobyan: Day’s topic is “Armenia-Diaspora: one nation without a common vision”. One of the crucial issues we’d like to touch upon is repatriation: does this issue exist before Armenia’s elite, and generally, before all Armenian components? And if such exist, how can it be organized and which factors prevent launching and implementation of that process?

You’ll all agree that since gaining independence Armenia and the Diaspora attempt to seek ways for joint work—sometimes they succeed, but more frequently they fail, and currently the concept or numerous projects lack, which may help to make more productive both Armenia-Diaspora relations and engagement of the Diaspora with settlement of Armenia’s political, cultural, socio-economic issues. In this sense last year was symbolical, as different Diaspora organizations started putting forward the issue of participating in Armenia’s internal processes. Let me remind that the call of “United Armenians” organization—“time has come for global Armenians”—signed by authoritative persons (both from the Diaspora and Armenia) on establishment of a two-chamber parliament, where Diaspora Armenians will have a place in the upper house and take part in governance, and the initiative of several intellectuals—Observers Armenia, which is more linked to actress Arsinée Khanjian and other intellectuals, whose purpose is to come to Armenia and implement observation mission during elections.

However, I personally noticed that in all those calls, statements, programs, one crucial component lacks—nowhere repatriation is being touched upon, that shameful demographic condition is among Armenia’s top issues, to correct which repatriation should be recorded as well.

Mrs. Titizyan, why a clear concept hasn’t been developed throughout these 25 years among world’s various components to organize repatriation?

Maria Titizyan: Who will organize repatriation? Should it be a state program or we should leave it to different communities of the Diaspora, political parties, the Church? In 2000, when we were going to move to Armenia from Canada, many in our community said—where are you going, how about children, their education, health? The political situation isn’t stable…

The then Yerevan wasn’t like it’s today, and I said: if we all wait for those issues to solve, they won’t, we should all go there. I think, first and foremost, the Diaspora generally didn’t understand Armenia and these 25 years showed that we didn’t have that discourse—frank, horizontal. It was recorded either by the state, the authorities, or by organized political parties and communities. Suppose, we have 8 million Armenians in the Diaspora, how many percent is organized, involved in various works? There is a large number there, which isn’t at all engaged, and currently that part is in confusion regarding where its place is. We need to understand that it’s already the fourth generation in the Diaspora. And that generation has already got used to its environment, culture, country’s rules, and expectancies from Armenia are miscellaneous: Middle East Armenians have different expectations, South America, Argentina, North America, Europe…they all have their expectations and approaches. That’s why it’s difficult—they all will have one vision.

No one needs repatriation—neither Armenia’s government, nor some Diaspora organizations. We are one body, two lungs, one is the Homeland, the other is the Diaspora. The Diaspora is permanent, it’ll always be, let’s not destroy, enfeeble. Let my Diaspora friends forgive me, but this psychology exists.

Tigran Hakobyan: There are two contradicting approaches, most part states it’ll only be possible to implement repatriation flow, when Armenia will become comfortable for living, i.e. respective preconditions will be established, everybody will be equal before the law, there will be a good business-environment, new workplaces will be established, Armenia will be a very safe country. The second approach is that without engagement of the Diaspora, without the powers, which will come and live in Armenia, those reforms may last long or not to be implemented in Armenia at all. Different examples hint that the second option is working, i.e. first and foremost, we should understand that repatriation should be realized, like it happened in Israel, as when you speak of the fourth generation, people came there, who didn’t know Israel as a fatherland and their grandpas hadn’t lived there.

Mr. Vardanyan I follow your programs, you are always against the approach that lifestyle decides person’s essence, you consider that the Armenian spirit, Armenian identity, history and traditions are a pledge for our power. Is it possible to do anything so that we could motivate our Diaspora families, that Armenia, despite its reforms, is the most appropriate place for an Armenian to manifest himself/herself and living a comfortable life?

Karen Vardanyan: I don’t underestimate lifestyle, my approach is if I decided that Armenia needs return of the Diaspora, I start doing it. It isn’t interesting to me whether the government wants or no, whether it’s ready or not and etc., I consider that is the most successful way, which Mr. Vartan Marashlyan and their organization shows. Of course, they speak with the government, they say let’s help, open new roads and etc. In the period of Tsarist Russia, when there were no engineers at all, Peter or Catherine were bringing in specialists to make their country prosperous. They have spat on and they knew that that the German, who came to their country, will become Russian after 4 generations, i.e. we should also be sure that after 4 generations, e.g. a good engineer brought from Astrakhan will become an Armenian, we won’t even find the tracks.

Citizen’s issue both in the Diaspora and Armenia isn’t solved. The citizen is a human being, who, firstly protects his/her interests in that country, i.e. organizations are being established, which protect their interests and etc. Unfortunately, we don’t have those inclinations, as it was historically arranged, however, it doesn’t mean that we, as adults, don’t realize that. Of course, we comprehend that we should create a citizen. The citizen should realize it to protect his/her right, then he/she should make his/her personality consistent to the state, otherwise he/she may destroy a whole country in protecting his/her rights. That’s why I consider, we generally in the Diaspora and in Armenia need to make a citizen.

Tigran Hakobyan: Mr. Sargsyan, let’s take e.g. north of the US, which is the biggest from Armenian communities with its resources and number, where old and new Diaspora are merged, as dozens of thousands of people moved to  the USA after independence. Why the traditional priorities developed in the Armenian Diaspora in the US, i.e. lobbying of the Armenian Cause (Hay Dat), the lobbying of US presidents to utter the word “genocide”, why all that after all these processes in Armenia don’t change? I saw that they’re again going to send a document to Trump, by which they’ll demand to utter the word “genocide”. What can be done? What motivation is necessary for the very American Diaspora to feel that for Armenia pronouncing the word “genocide” by US presidents isn’t a priority, but, for instance, repatriation? Why don’t we observe such work, procedure?

Suren Sargsyan: You’re right. The big Armenian community in the US firstly has been developed from different generations, not only before independence, but after it as well. Besides that, large number of Armenians live in the US, who migrated from Syria, Iran, Lebanon and other states. In this regard, of course, approaches are also different—any community organization, any group has its own imagination on what Armenia’s future should be like, where Armenia should go, what domestic or foreign policy it needs to pursue. There is nothing negative in this, opinions, of course, may be different and contradicting. At large purpose of everyone is Armenia’s power and stability. You are also correct stating that there is a clash or certain priorities, i.e. both Armenia and Artskah, as well as the Diasporas have never discussed together and made a decision which number one challenge of our nation is. Is it international recognition of the Armenian Genocide or is that challenge of physical security of the people of Armenia and NKR? Here we have a crucial issue, i.e. total absence of national agreement regarding our challenges.

I consider, at least today, on account of the developments of previous April, we should take into consideration that the most important challenge of our nation is provision of physical security, if we don’t live in a safe environment, neither repatriation, nor economic development will be recorded. I consider this is an idea, around which we should all consolidate, from which all other concepts may be brought into life.

We can put forward repatriation as a crucial issue only in case, when we’ll solve the issue of living physically safe in Armenia. We should say from Yerevan to the Diaspora: you know, we are a living organism, today we have this issue, we have undergone Genocide, some part escaped it, however, we don’t have the right to face the same issue for the second time. We know our neighbor, we know actions it implements, we know that our state officially supports hatred and violence against our nation, encourages, makes heroes, this means that we should chose the issue of security of our two Armenian states as a first target, i.e. another attempt of our physical destruction, I consider, Azerbaijan, will implement for sure if an opportunity emerges. We have its proof: we remember Talish, murder of the couple, our beheaded soldier, and all this just after a few years from Sumgait, Baku. Thus, our physical security, should be number one issue I think. Of course, we should discuss, maybe my view isn’t correct, however, I consider, at least this one should be among the crucial ones.

When you touched upon lobbying, you noticed correctly—at the moment these priorities lack in the USA, and some organizations, political parties, citizens develop the approach that they need to write a letter to Trump and demand that he recognized the Armenian Genocide. I exclude that the federal leadership of the USA will ever recognize the Genocide. Of course, I consider our Diaspora should implement a rather active work to that end as well (there were historical developments, to which clear assessment should be given), however, it’ll never be recorded on federal level. It’s been a century that it wasn’t recorded and I don’t think in the upcoming hundred years it’ll take place. As for the first part of the question, I consider security is the biggest challenge today, however, of course, I repeat once again, everyone should have personal opinion.

Tigran Hakobyan:  Security is difficult to provide, although we always state 21st century is the era of technologies, it’s impossible without human factor and minimum number of people. What should we do to solve this demographic situation?   Mr. Yeghiazaryan, if Armenia came to a common ideology or after a while geopolitical situation urged it, and large flow of Diaspora Armenians came to Armenia, who would like to live in Armenia and really provide country’s security, what kind of Armenia should it be? What amount is necessary to transport those flows, are they available? Are there any organizations with such strategic planning or no?

Ashot Yeghiazaryan: Firstly, let me state that such situation under the conditions in which Armenia is now, it’s impossible, it’s commonly excluded. After the collapse of the Soviet Union we came across the issue of migration, and not the contrary issue. After gaining independence, Armenia, which compared with other Soviet Union countries, was poor in resources, it didn’t have gas, oil and etc., as economic growth of the Soviet Union was relying on those very resources, we gave working migrants, mainly to Russia. It had its implications and firstly it was normal, as usually migration flows are recorded from countries with low incomes to countries with comparatively high incomes. Russia attempted to brilliantly use this factor. Moreover, it used working migrants as a leverage to restore its influence in the post-Soviet space.

Not only economic, but also security, socio-political preconditions are necessary for migration. Here we deal with the issue that Armenia’s sovereignty is considerably conceded. Conceded to a country—Russia, where 1/3 of the Diaspora is located, i.e. 3 million, this number of Armenians is found in Armenia as well and 6 out of 10 million Armenians in the world are within Russian political influence. Basically 3 million Armenians in Russia, 3 million in Armenia, we are a hostage to that policy. Under these conditions, especially if we take into account the fact, that Russian capital is commonly politicized, to think that Armenia may raise the level of sovereignty, which may become an attractive factor, Armenia has deprived itself from that opportunity.

Armenia’s economy will gradually weaken, as the existent basis is being narrowed, i.e. it’s totally attached to the non-primitive structure of Russia’s economy, it won’t provide Armenia the opportunity to grow, create workplaces. Armenia should come to international platform, it should have such allies, it should comprise a part of such economic space, that will provide diversification, economy branches, which will automatically create workplaces. Armenia should be able to acquire political allies by that, with the help of which it can raise the level of sovereignty. If a state doesn’t have sovereignty, sufficient security level, it can’t become an attractive factor for compatriots on other country, no matter that they are endowed with patriotism. You brought Israel’s example, but it’s an independent, sovereign state. Here is the secret.

Tigran Hakobyan: But regarding security it was vulnerable when big flows of repatriation were being implemented.

Ashot Yeghiazaryan: It’s clear, they started and it was difficult, however, later they gradually solved those issues and reached to a security level, that investing in Israel is safe and guaranteed. Every year a big debate of the budget is held in Israel, during which it’s being discussed how much should be allotted to defense needs: the concept is as follows—as much as it’s important to consider the country safe. If the country is regarded insecure, that country will have nothing, population will migrate, there will be no investments, and generally, independence level is closely connected to economic power, economic potential. Look, the small market of small Armenia, however, is divided, and those possessing economic resources have political power as well. Markets in the world are divided as well, and more influential country gets bigger share of global economy. And big share means you’re integrated in production chains, which provide workplaces. Under those conditions, when we were attached to Russia, workplaces will shrink.

Tigran Hakobyan: Let’s avoid formulations “it must”, “it’s necessary to”, it’s even stated abroad that “there is no way out” inscription is banned in some places. From what you said, it turns out that there is no way out, and I feel that Mr. Marashlyan disagrees with you.

Vartan Marashlyan: I only want to ask: based on your logic it would turn out that Armenians should have lived today in Sweden or Norway? That is to say, the Armenian leaving for Russia, realizing that the situation is much better in Sweden and Norway, should have migrated there, as well as from the USA. But it wasn’t recorded, was it? Secondly, when Israel was being established, slightly said in 1946-47 250 thousand people were returning every year, there was no country there, it was a desert, and in any case, they built the state. And thirdly, suppose, if in the 1920s, when Alexander Tamanyan and others returned, or in 1946-47 the country you’re speaking about, didn’t exist, however, what we have today, we have due to those people as well.

Are you sure that economic basis is the main reason of repatriation’s being recorded or no, are you sure that conditions should be mandatorily created, also financial, that people came? I think just the contrary, first and foremost, people are coming, who are opportunity-creators, and not those, who are using those opportunities. And thanks Goodness, current world economy is such that there are specialists of the field. You may ask Karen Vardanyan how many programmers are necessary to the market, and they lack, i.e. can’t we organize, launch at least professional repatriation toward programmers and it’s an immense branch, which, in its turn, may lead to serious economic development?

Ashot Yeghiazaryan: Let’s not interfere programmers to this issue—they are closely integrated in American companies, and it’s one of the unique brunches which due to American companies is prospering in Armenia. You mentioned a very good point—programming or other developed directions are available in the West only, and if only Armenia could position itself in international relations, clarify its allies, Armenian political elite could be in close ties with Western political class, political system, that time those opportunities will be established in Armenia. However, I only stated that economic prerequisites are the only reason for repatriation, mentioned and agreed that security component is also very important, as well as political, socio-political, psychological ones.

All these are closely interrelated. Only these factors may become an attractive power for repatriation. When the Armenian feels sovereign Armenia in the back, he/she will feel strong and fields of activity, views and horizon will change as well and we’ll have quite a different snapshot. And what turns out today? As I said 6 million are a hostage to Russian policy, and others, basically, are the audience. The most they do is involving in the Armenian Cause issues, however, there will be no international recognition, as for that they should see the subject: the subject is Armenia, independent Armenia. In this case the situation may definitely change.

Tigran Hakobyan: In any case, I consider Armenia is much safer place to live, than Omsk or Penza. In this regard, as you are from Russia, Mr. Galstyan, having listened to us and on account of that thesis by Ashot Yeghiazaryan, that under Russian influence it’s difficult to make an attractive country for repatriation, what do you think of this?

Areg Galstyan: First and foremost, I’d state the fact that currently systemic issues, existent in Armenia, require very serious, systemic approaches. I’d start not from the issue of repatriation, but from the one keeping the citizens in the Homeland, i.e. a systemic approach is necessary, that people living here were able to realize their potential being in the territory of Armenia. However, I definitely agree that security issues are of paramount importance, regarding how Armenia appears before the international community: as a subject, or as an object, around which certain regional strategic concept is rearranged. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t insist that Armenia is considered a targeted subject in international relations. Accordingly, out of this, rather clear state posture is needed in all issues, including in repatriation. However, I didn’t notice any document or a statement, an approach linked to it, regarding how the state observes repatriation, as currently Armenia objectively needs human mass. Whether you want or no, currently people are needed, who will stand on the border, spread agricultural activity, develop high technologies.

I agree with my colleague in some issues, that Russia’s excessive influence harms Armenia, but not only in case of Russia. Excessive influence of any country on Armenia will always have a negative implication. There should be different directions, certain diversification in any dimension. It’s also in domestic policy, like in your country there is internal monopoly, which is very bad, as there is no competition, and nothing develops. The same is observed in foreign policy as well—if you are under the zone of influence of any state and practically are cut off from the world, of course, it’s bad. There shouldn’t be external monopolists either. However, it’s the issue of Armenian authorities, and not that of Russia. The latter has its interests, its purposes and assignments, if Armenia allows having such an influence on itself, it means something needs to be reviewed.

Armenia needs to cooperate with Russia as well, as believe me, there are highly qualified Armenian experts in Russia, besides, currently Russians with Armenian roots do philanthropy in Armenia, if today we look to the statistics beneficiary financial assistance coming to Armenia from Russia are more, than from Europe, USA and Latin America altogether.  This factor should be taken into consideration as well. That’s why we should take the best from different parts: do we want new technologies? Please, we apply to the West. Do we want machinery or similar experts? We apply to the Armenian Diaspora in Russia. But there is a crucial moment as well: we need to understand what the Diaspora is. Did we attempt to understand what the Diaspora is and can we generally speak of it? What is it socially and politically?  There are contestant political parties inside the Diaspora of the USA, which make other directions definite and those parties mostly don’t share the same views. And one shouldn’t think that people who day and night think over Armenia only live in the Diaspora.

In the Diaspora people with the same ambitions, assignments and clan policy are found. That policy and its interests may not coincide with Armenia’s national interests, that’s why I’m against that a chamber of Armenian Diaspora existed in Armenia, as you should take into account the fact that they should be touched upon not only as ethnic Armenians, but also as citizens of the US or any other country, whose interests contain clear risks for Armenia as a state. Thus, we should clearly understand that the Diaspora isn’t only a nice word, it should be clearly shaped with political positioning and calculation of all risks and only that time something concrete may be touched upon.

Tigran Hakobyan: I’d like our talk not be theoretical on issues, but we shared with positive examples as well, which are visible throughout recent years. In this regard I don’t think that someone would better introduce those issues and keys to their solution than Mr. Marashlyan.

Vartan Marashlyan: Of course, repatriation is taking place: we have about 100-1500 people per year voluntarily moving to Armenia. It’s mainly the youth—with good education and new ideas. In fact, changes recorded throughout the last 5 years, which we observe in social, economic and other fields, let it be high-tech, wine makings, tourism, education and some other directions, repatriates are in top positions. They are the connecting link of Armenia and the big world.

Our global issue is as follows: we have always been in the regime of existence—tactical and existence approaches are overwhelming, and we aren’t flexible, we don’t change those approaches. Let’s look to the third issue, that we haven’t covered, e.g. what is the future of the Diaspora like if everything develops this way? Let’s put Armenia aside and attempt to understand, e.g. in 2050 if everything goes this way what kind of a Diaspora are we going to have regarding quantity, type, resources? And we’ll understand if everything goes this way, in all likelihood, we’ll have serious issues both in the Diaspora and in Armenia.

What should we do to avoid this? Before physical transportation to Armenia conscious connection to Armenia and spiritual repatriation should  be observed. This means the Diaspora and we should understand: to remain Armenian outside having an attractive state is becoming number one issue. The first point of Armenian self-consciousness will be the Republic of Armenia, and not Artsakh, which isn’t a separate state, Armenia is a part, we simply readily consider it a separate state. The possibilities of building a proper country, which may be attractive even under current political situation, are available. It’s clear that the whole Diaspora can’t move and maybe that would be wrong, but professional and qualitative repatriation may guarantee that the processes will take place more quickly and correctly, and guarantee that the Diaspora was connected to Armenia also due to the flow of those repatriates.

Thus, globally we need to develop Armenia-centered self-consciousness, disseminate it abroad in any ways, develop programs—cognitive, educational fellowship, voluntary and other types, by which every year we will connect hundreds and thousands of Armenians from abroad to Armenia, including repatriation. Israel does so: Jews don’t move there only for the reason, that it’s Israel, but they move as Israel brings hundreds and thousands of people to Israel (mainly on account of the Diaspora), familiarizes with the country, branches, shows perspective directions and organizes repatriation as well, i.e. until we set that issue globally, attempt to understand what will happen in  2050, what we want for existence, reaching success, e.g. set the purpose that we need 4 or 5 million population in Armenia and Artsakh…

Ashot Yeghiazaryan: Israel isn’t in EEU that’s why it succeeds.

Vartan Marashlyan:  You know, reasons can always be found.

Tigran Hakobyan: Let me bring an example: Lithuania is a EU member, and migration temps are bigger, than in Armenia, i.e. even if we were in other political, military alliance, it wasn’t a guarantee that Armenia would depopulate. I’ll bring an example and I want to hear your opinion. In December, already after the April War, July developments, which should have become a fostering power to reply to your questions—what will be in Armenia, how Armenia should develop, very respectable people gather in Paris—priests, political figures and gather USD 3.5 million for the activity of the Armenian Cause. I wouldn’t say that it’s much money, but can you say how many people can be brought to Armenia by that amount and familiarized with Armenia? Maybe one residential district could be built and Syrian Armenians could have been invited here, who remained without a house and a job, maybe by that amount they could purchase armaments and bring two battalions to Qarvachar or Aghdam. You see, that’s the issue of priorities. We always say it’s necessary, how? How to explain?

Maria Titizyan: What do the authorities do?

Tigran Hakobyan: If we always speak of the authorities and its forthcoming steps, we’ll be defeated. We are speaking of public organizations, look, the authorities didn’t participate in fundraising, it was the public demand of many compatriots.

Maria Titizyan: Which society do you mean?

Tigran Hakobyan: Of the society, which have gone to the dinner and without any issue said goodbye to the USD 50 thousand, 100 thousand or 10 thousand. When the same dinner was launched in Paris and money was raised for the purposes I mentioned, maybe 10% of that amount wouldn’t be gathered. It’s the issue of priorities: what to do that these ideas, which will contribute to Armenia’s demographic improvement, will start becoming priorities for Armenians and Diaspora organizations?

Maria Titizyan: Firstly, let me state that Repat Armenia is one of the single organizations, which really attempts to change something. However, their accentuation is about qualified repatriation. I want to make an observation: today Armenia—Yerevan is the stone of Armenian population, isn’t it? I consider so.

Vartan Marashlyan: You’re right but not everybody will share your opinion.

Maria Titizyan: I consider Armenia is the center of our nation today, the beating heart, it isn’t necessary that there was a job, USD 2000 monthly income, the Diaspora Armenian should be proud of Armenia. Armenia shouldn’t be a failed state, it shouldn’t have widespread corruption, authority which doesn’t negotiate with the population, doesn’t discuss issues. I want to ask: qualified repatriation is very good, how about the condition of Syrian Armenians, or let’s speaks about Iraqi Armenians, as at least there were some attempts to support Armenians in Syria? If it’s the stone, as I observe, how he/she will defend, protect the Diaspora, which is in danger now in the Middle East—from Syria to Egypt? What does Armenia do? That’s why I again come to the authorities. You bring Israel’s example, I’m tired of it, I don’t want to be a state like Israel.

Tigran Hakobyan: You may bring another example.

Maria Titizyan: I want us to create our own example. That’s why I say Armenia should be the creator of the atmosphere. The Diaspora today is a multi-nature, multi-layer, multi-type unit, you can’t address one program to the Diaspora. Currently it faces the issues of keeping the intellectuals, schools, language, Western Armenian is an endangered language today. It comprises a part of our heritage.

Tigran Hakobyan: You’re are fairly right, but why don’t I want to speak of the authorities or the government? If there were political powers or organizations, which would cover these issue as a priority, in the upcoming elections we could go and call on the people to give his/her vote to that power. Any political power, neither from the opposition, intending to come to power, nor the leadership powers raise is this issue. This means, it isn’t included in the agenda. Our issue is making it an agenda. If it were, we would urge our authorities to work on it, but currently I don’t observe that demand. We’ve gathered here to touch upon it as well. We bring any argument why it lacks, but it shouldn’t stop us to solve that issue.

Karen Vardanyan: In my opinion, we aren’t sincere from the very beginning, and our issues generate from this. 1.5 people have been massacred, obviously we are the guilty. We don’t have any discussion on the reasons why the Diaspora was developed up to the Genocide, when priests in the 1800s were gathering 2000 people taking them to Dagestan, South Caucasus, we aren’t discussing it, we don’t take it on us, as we want to be pure. We constantly lie and it refers to the issue of Diaspora as well. I don’t intend to offend anyone, I’m speaking of my relatives, who migrated from 1990s, and I see that time has stopped for them, i.e. they left Armenia in the 1990s and for most of them the world has stopped on the 1990s. Even, when they visit Armenia, they don’t observe positive changes and don’t want to, not to get stressed. In this regard, I’m categorically against that it’s due to some external conditions that our economy doesn’t develop. These are just issues, which we bring forward not to work.

I, Karen Vardanyan, tell you this, whose organization today in remote villages has 6000 children aged 10-17, who know programming, 3D modeling, robotics and etc. Currently I negotiate with Germans to provide their two-dimensional drawings, so that our children turned them into 3D, sent by the internet and earned money. In this case what connection has Eurasian Economic Union (EEU)? Nowadays economy is such with its construction that EEU has very few places except secret-service sectors, what connection does EEU have in other places? One of our partners has a company in Yerevan, who is going to sell it in the US by half million dollars. What connection has EEU? It’s only necessary to work.

Ashot Yeghiazaryan: Indeed, the Diaspora was taking the Soviet Armenia as a Homeland, a symbol, a part of Armenian highland with the viewpoint “let it be kept after 1.5 million victims”. Times have changed. Collapse of the Soviet Union, acquisition of Armenia’s independence coincided with other global changes: uncertainties and instability in Middle East Diaspora hearts, which generally lived within community consciousness, mentality. As for American Diaspora, as the US is an independent country, Armenians could do politics, but it didn’t go beyond Armenian Cause protection, pursuing policy. In the period of the Soviet Union it was clear, however it isn’t clear now. Flow from Armenia to Russia was recorded as well mostly out of economic reasons, and it had its negative implication on Armenia domestic policy today.

However, the Armenian community in the US remains on the same level, which existed prior to Armenia’s independence. Again Armenia is observed as a Homeland, and not an independent state. Imagine, a representative from American Diaspora—Harut Sassounian, states in his articles that it’ll be better for Armenia to improve USA-Russia relations. This is absurd. Russia intends to seize our independence, however, current Russia appears with likewise ambitions, it doesn’t want the Armenian state to exist. Tomorrow the sector somehow connecting us to the West, American organizations, will be seized if it continues this way.

Karen Vardanyan: Harut Sassounian says if Americans are in good ties with Russian, the situation will be better. Why are you upset? Is there anything bad here?

Ashot Yeghiazaryan: As it enters in the contrast of logic. Today Russia seizes your authority. Who should help you restore sovereignty?

Tigran Hakobyan: What to do that the Armenian realized importance of priorities, which we’re touching upon. Is that possible or not? Maybe Armenia’s general identity is built on wounds of the past and it’s difficult to correct.

Suren Sargsyan: Of course, wounds of the past shouldn’t be forgotten, however, it doesn’t mean, that one shouldn’t look to the future. A very correct assessment was given, that we paid little attention to both Armenians in Iraq and Syria. We live in a historical period, when a large number of Syrian and Iraqi Armenians came to Armenia, but we did nothing, or did very little for them to stay here.

Vartan Marashlyan: A part of them—80% has been here for 5 years.

Suren Sargsyan: You’re right, I agree. By the way, let me state as compared to our state, the US Government, the EU government, UNO provide assistance of billions of dollars to Turkey, which keeps Syrian refugees on its territory. Syrian refugees, currently living in Turkey, even receive cash financial assistance, e.g. the EU provided USD 3.3 billion and I don’t know whether Armenia applied to the EU, the USA with such a request or no. I know that Rex Tillerson stated during the hearings that we should support those displaced to Armenia from Syria. For the first time I heard such a statement from the candidate of US Secretary of State. This is one of the most crucial issues, to which we didn’t attach attention. Large volumes of people return, and I consider some part will use Armenia to solve the issue of timely physical presence, and unfortunately, will leave Armenia. We should also be able to involve in these processes and ask for financial assistance from the US, UNO, which I don’t understand why we didn’t ask.

Vartan Marashlyan: Are we ready to host, suppose, non-Armenian Syrians?

Suren Sargsyan: Let me say that the main mass in Turkey, migrated from Syria, are ethnic Turks. We state what we have now. Do we now have 20 thousand Syrian citizens? Do we have support from international organizations to keep them here, build a house, provide business, money and etc. We should also attach attention to this as well. There are small, local programs, however, no one was able to implement that program from the EU.

Areg Galstyan: developing the topic of agricultural funding, let me state that America had such a program, which will be implemented this year as well. It supports democracy development, due to it some amount of money is allotted to Armenia. Separate financial means aren’t provided by the USA, Europe, however, Armenia didn’t apply to them. The Diaspora didn’t raise the issue either. The Armenians in the US raised that issue, so that certain amount was allotted, however, it’s a ridiculous amount—about USD 40 million, more money could have been allotted, like it’s in Turkey’s case.

Replying to your question let me state that, first and foremost, the issue is in our minds, as there is such peculiarity in the Armenian Diaspora, rather serious and big demands from Armenia, unfortunately. For instance, we can go to the USA or France, start everything from zero, even with hardest conditions, however, we don’t want to use those very jobs and possibilities in Armenia, as surprisingly enough, we consider everyone should be ready-made in Armenia and we should use what the other has already established. A question rises here: who should create what you want to use? Such a position, when you don’t want to take part in the process of production, and you demand the production, it’s a deadlock situation.

You pass a hard way in another country, by criticizing your country, however, you don’t want to do the same here. This is more psychological, ideological ban, from which we need to free, and that time the issue will be solved. But to get rid of that, I consider, it’s necessary that leading circles of Armenian society held a very serious ideological work. However, the authorities aren’t interested in developing that work. They have their purposes, assignments, which have solution. The same is recorded in Russia. Nobody works with Armenia’s youth to show Armenia’s acquisitions, reforms implemented in Armenia, to show that Armenia is a state and that state has passed a historical path. We shouldn’t forget in which conditions we are, with which enemies we’re surrounded with, and on account of the fact what is available, that Armenia lives and somewhat develops, believe me, any other state, if appeared in likewise conditions, won’t exist.

As for Israel’s example, experts on Diaspora issues there state that they collect money for not only from Israelis, but also for different nations living in Israel and make them Israelis. They shape a political nation, which follows Israeli laws, traditions, serve in Israeli army despite their ethnic origin.

I consider, first and foremost, we should think by political categories, and not by ethnic ones. Armenian should become a political term, political nation. And in my opinion Kurds or Greeks, serving in Armenian army and protecting the border, have more value for the Republic of Armenia, than a well-known Armenian singer, who earns millions of dollars in Los Angeles. This is my opinion. Who is more Armenian—the ethnic Kurd standing on the border with a weapon, or the singer in Los Angeles earning millions?

Tigran Hakobyan: We touched upon various initiatives. I want to remind the Citizen Observers initiative by Diaspora intellectuals. They initiated to implement observation mission in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Armenia. Personally for me that initiative seems a bit suspicious, as I consider, people with such opportunities, resources and recognition, like Arsinée Khanjian, Atom Egoyan, Serj Tankian  and others would be more useful in not Armenia’s political field, but in their fields, i.e. participated in some ideological ceremony, which would contribute to repatriation. However, their messages again don’t contain the issue of repatriation. They say: we’re coming to follow elections, and if, e.g. elections pass without any abuse, this means Armenia has done one more step forward to democracy and real independence, then we all come and stay in Armenia.

After this new Electoral Code, former possibilities of intrigues in the polling stations have been minimized, i.e. even if they undertake large-volume dishonest methods, it’ll be beyond the polling station. Those thousands of observers, who are very frank people, will come and follow the elections and by seeing nothing, they will have to legitimize that whole process not observing where that fraud is, as well as that big resource, intention to help somehow will end by that. Mr. Marashlyan, as a participant to the processes, maybe Arsinée Khanjian, Atom Egoyan, Serj Tankian and others took something more serious on their shoulders? It resembles a toy: “They offended me, used some force in July, I’m here to solve my issue from the opposition, the authorities, Armenian population.” Maybe their resources are really more to do something in Armenia and not come on the election day and again return to the Diaspora.

Vartan Marashlyan: In fact, only 4000 people are necessary to have 2 observers in each polling station, and already 2200 people have been registered, considerable part of whose are locals—local and repatriated, there is a few number from the Diaspora. In this sense this shouldn’t be introduced as an initiative by the Diaspora, or it decided that it should come and save Armenia.

Tigran Hakobyan: In any case, it was observed in Arsinée’s messages.

Vartan Marashlyan: Mrs. Arsinée’s messages weren’t such. Initially, maybe, but in the end messages have considerably changed. I consider participation of Mrs. Arsinée, Serj Tankian, Atom Egoyan and others very important, as this is a crucial particle in the development of Armenia-centered self-consciousness. You feel that this is your country, you have the feeling of possession, you want to come and participate as an observer. Tomorrow the next issue will raise: if you are a citizen of Armenia and live abroad, unfortunately, today you don’t have the right to vote if you are beyond Armenia. You may buy a ticket, come to Armenia, vote and use your right. This is also of utmost importance. In this sense, I don’t see serious conflicts here. If we are able to close the issue during the day of elections, finally record some dynamic victory, the next phase will be the upcoming stage, I mean election bribe delivered prior to elections.

There are many issues here, that one is much more complicated and repatriates and Diaspora Armenians may have a big investment, that a more proper political field developed in our country, more interesting political powers appeared, that they had more serious resources, that the discourse we’re holding here, was more seriously held in the parliament on different platforms. We came to the conclusion that organizations and groups, for which maintenance of internal status-quo is important, don’t deal with these issues. Classical organizations in Armenia, Diaspora would hardly deal with the issue of repatriation. Thus, there is another issue, that 80% of Diaspora isn’t a member to those organizations including very active and interesting mass, with knowledge, experience, interesting approaches, however, it doesn’t participate in the community life. There are also various social organizations and initiatives in Armenia which also have their positions, thus, diplomacy should be developed on that level and brought to a degree, that the state understood, that it’s beneficial for itself. At first we should, propose solution, develop perspectives as well on what will happen 20 years later.

Maria Titizyan: I believed and believe and repeatedly state that we should be Armenia-centered. We shouldn’t criticize Arsinée Khanjian and others, and say what they do is just a show, but we should say—you did it right, let’s decide together how we’re going to do it. Vartan was fairly right.  You’re correct that initially Arsinée Khanjian and others had the psychology of giving a lesson, however, now it’s felt from their posts and statements that they realized much more. I was at dinner with Arsinée, she said, “I didn’t understand much, now I do,” and she has already mitigated her rhetoric.

I’m sure, in the period of elections what happens just happens outside the polling stations, before and after elections. If we help them to correctly formulate the message not to legitimize violations, then we’d only gain from it. We should encourage those people, realizing that they may not have a great influence. We don’t have a long planning. I didn’t observe a plan for 5, 10 years from anyone. What’s our vision? We’re touching upon democracy, however, what is democracy? What does it mean—security? Staying in EEU or going to Europe? Do we know answers to these questions?

Tigran Hakobyan: No, we don’t, unfortunately, our nation doesn’t have a common vision, however, likewise visions aren’t developed by research institutes. Maybe a critical moment will come, that it was born from the elites, which may consolidate the Armenian nation. Which components of that vision do you observe, which are not only a craving, but may become a real project?

Areg Galstyan: I consider, there is no need inventing a bicycle, as after the collapse of the Soviet Union we had that idea—it’s strong and independent Armenia, it’s strengthening of Armenia and its institutes so that the state was a targeted subject in world politics, found its place under the sun and was capable of providing a worthy life for its citizens. I consider it’s senseless to invent new ideas, seek large number of ideological concepts. Americans were seeking for ideologies for the development of their nation for a lasting period. However, nothing helped until they said—you can be an Irish, French, Jew, but there is American Constitution and government.

Tigran Hakobyan: And there is the American Dream.

Areg Galstyan: Yes, there is. We should have our “Armenian dream”. I consider, it’s independent Armenia. We haven’t had a state for a lasting period, we have been under possession of different centers, we should overcome many psychological, ideological obstacles. We should realize that without a strong Armenia, the Armenian nation has no future, and the Diaspora, moreover, has no future, as the Diaspora feels itself one as long as the Armenian state exists. If not the Armenian state, we’ll appear in the status of Gypsies, at that time we won’t have any guideline. We still have it, accordingly, we should strengthen it and move toward that strategic direction.

Suren Sargsyan: Indeed, we have no vision. We touched upon our compatriots, who will come to participate in political processes as observers. Everybody’s propulsion, intention, purpose is one—having a powerful homeland and we don’t know how we’re going to reach it. Why do I stress the issue of priorities? As the priority of a one group of people is regime change, for the other—external political orientation, for one—diversion from any foreign policy direction, for the other maybe recognition of Genocide, for one—security provision. And as we don’t have a common vision on where we go, for what and what we should do to have a powerful, prosperous, developed Republic of Armenia, as long as the gap of the vision is available, we can’t record big success.

Of course, we may solve local issues, we may recognize the Genocide in 45 states, we may recognize the Republic of Artsakh in 3 states, we may interrelate our security with some factors, blocks, we may cooperate with everyone, however, at the same time, there is no nationwide super goal, to which we all strive. I consider, this is a challenge, which we should think over—what do we want? If someone asks us tomorrow what we want, what are we going to answer? Regime change? Recognition of Artsakh? Security? Recognition of the Armenian Genocide? Compensation? Return of lands? What are we going to answer? We don’t’ have it. As soon as we’ll have, maybe we’d move to that direction, as long as it lacks, at large we have failed in many fields and still do.

Ashot Yeghiazaryan: Of course, the initiative of those honorable people—Arsinée Khanjian, Atom Egoyan, Serj Tankian, is normal and appreciated, I consider it’s not a solution to the issue, however, it’s better doing something, than nothing. Thus, it creates a contact edge to better understand existent issues, and those in our political system are rather deep. The point is both our voter and the one voted have a motivation, which basically is not the one to introduce interests of Armenia, satisfy and create rather favorable conditions both for internal and external development. The issue is in lack of a political class, and it’s even deeper. In some sense we shouldn’t be afraid to say that we’re facing an insoluble issue, as our resource in this really radical stage isn’t enough that we were able to make a U-turn, solve that issue of state’s independence and sovereignty. We really need support to come out of this stagnation.

Tigran Hakobyan: Support from which side?

Ashot Yeghiazaryan: I don’t want to oppose to any part of the Diaspora, saying this is good or bad. In case of emergence of Russia’s Diaspora it was economic motivation, which is used against Armenia. That support, first and foremost, may be anticipated from the community of the USA as a big Diaspora community and that of world’s biggest power, which in some sense should be involved in our political processes. Unfortunately, we don’t see that. Maybe this is the first experience, we need that support. I’m not so pessimistic, our issues, however, aren’t in our hands only, our issues are also solved due to our potential friends and allies, and those issues will be solved, let it be a positive turning point, towards the development, as our conditions are such in the region and around Russia today. Unfortunately, our potential isn’t enough to independently solve those issues, we need support from the Diaspora as well.

Karen Vardanyan: As for the step by Serj Tankian and others, I’m sure it isn’t an independent step, respective political powers participated in it and, unfortunately, unaware of the situation in Armenia, they agreed to support their Homeland. For instance, I know who gives money in our building, i.e. they don’t receive that money right in the street, do they? I don’t consider it serious, and consider those people have been a bit “cheated” i.e. they urged saying: you don’t support your Homeland. We observed it during “Sasna Tsrer” as well, when it was an obvious Maidan attempt, they were threatening Armenia by Maidan, and we saw that many political powers were encouraged by patriotism and etc. That’s why I consider number one issue of the Diaspora should be bringing up a citizen in Armenia.

Tigran Hakobyan: You say both bringing up a citizen and look with suspicion to the action initiated by Diaspora cultural figures, purpose of which is bringing up a citizen.

Karen Vardanyan: I have my deep conviction, that a citizen isn’t developed by such actions. It’s a lasting process. I won’t believe in it. On account of international situation, when it’s obvious that the majority of Armenia’s political powers go in the same direction, even there are developing pro-American powers, which are obviously Chekist…

Tigran Hakobyan: Maybe we avoid labeling. The vision we see, and which may consolidate us all is more interesting to me, and pro-Russian or pro-American vision can’t unite Armenia. It isn’t consolidating, the vision of strong, independent, safe Armenia does, but it’s also an abstract concept, which all state that word has been depreciated. Figures from perfect bribe-takers to sincerest political figures speak of competitive, prosperous Armenia. That’s why I say exactly which components should the vision have, which may consolidate all.

Karen Vardanyan: Let me bring Gagik Ginosyan’s example: a person, who fought, is an engineer and etc., saw his mission in restoration of Armenian dances and went to that without thinking, negotiations, trivial things. I was on a concert that day, when children from remote villages of Armenia were dancing hand in hand. The same Vova Vartanov, who served in Afghanistan’s special service, doesn’t serve now and decided to teach that knowledge to the youth, currently he taught thousands of people and they would save us.

Tigran Hakobyan: That is to say, do you think that we may consolidate by song and dance?

Karen Vardanyan: No. people, who decide certain function lacking inside the state, take and do that. That function will be supporting bordering villages, changing roofs of grandmothers, teaching to dance, teaching to shoot by Vova Vartanov and etc. When a person sees all likewise processes lack inside the state, he/she does it individually and a big mass gathers around him/her, this is the “construction” of our state, it should be built that way.

Maria Titizyan: You were speaking of American Dream. Let’s formulate such a phrase—what is “Armenian dream”? As much as I understood American Dream is independence, possibility, moving forward believing in himself/herself and recording success. America reached it in the period of 250-300 years. We have a Soviet heritage, psychology. I have always said the biggest lie of the 20th century is that the Soviet Union has collapsed—it hasn’t collapsed among the people of my generation. We have heritage, which we should take into consideration. What is “Armenian dream” for me? It should be the possibility to trust yourself, your family, your community. Let’s forget Diaspora-Armenia relations for a while and speak of Armenia. What is our dream? First, we should formulate what that dream is, then open doors and say to the Diaspora: let’s build this dream together. But we haven’t said it yet.

We complain that culture isn’t developing, as the Minister of Culture is corrupt, we complain of the Minister of Diaspora, in some extent we have that right…We complain of everything, however, we don’t say to ourselves “ok, what do I do?” When I was just back to Armenia, many said: “You’re an activist Maria, it’s enough, you can’t change anything alone,” however, I change a lot, I don’t say I have changed greatly, but we don’t do. We wait for the other to do, we wait that Russia came, we wait that America saved us, we wait that some people came from the EU…What do we do? Nothing. We just wait. We don’t have enough boys to protect the border. What do we do for that? Did we have the right to record 100 casualties in the April War? We didn’t, and I don’t know how much territory we’ve lost. We won’t formulate anything by gathering around roundatbles, we need to formulate the “Armenian dream” for us.

Vartan Marashlyan: Maria Titizyan raised very important questions. Globally we can say the following: we have a crucial issue, which is as follows: greater part of nation observe themselves as an object of relations, and not a subject, and we should do our best to change that vision. True, we live in the regime of existence, we have lived with centuries, however, if we don’t quit this regime, we are doomed to staying in that regime. Identity should be developed on positive elements not to avoid issues, but to reach purposes. My dream is that a person—Armenian or not by nationality, dreamt to live in Armenia, that the Armenian remained such in the Homeland and abroad, as he/she considers it profitable and honorable.

In fact, a lot of things depend on us all. I dream that we reached to the day that, finally, we left out long-suffering, small and outdated words, as those words won’t bring anything but damage. I dream that one day we reached to the consciousness, that we are owners of our country’s solutions and no one instead of us will solve those issues, relying on others is destruction as well. There are positive things available in Armenia and the Diaspora, and we need to make them a regularity. To record this, I think, mass repatriation isn’t necessary. If 25-30 thousand youngsters move to Armenia every year, they can implement reforms much more quickly.

Tigran Hakobyan: We really have destructive words, which destroy our psychology, our essence, our readiness to do anything. Recently I read a book—“National madness”. Different examples are brought that normal nations turn mad for a while. Very often characterizing our country as ownerless, unperspective, poor, need-for-nothing…using those destructive words has become national madness. It has no connection to our economic condition, it has no connection to current blockade, war—you should love your Homeland. Making this country prosperous, safe and being a guideline for others, I consider, is one of our missions.

Ani Keshishyan

Razmik Martirosyan

Photos—“168 Hours”

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