The Organisational Crisis of the Armenian Nation
With the wonders of modern technology, I managed to follow the symposium held recently at the University of Southern California on the potential of a trans-national, democratic Armenian Diaspora body. The six-hour long event can be viewed at http://capture.usc.edu/mediasite/Viewer/?peid=555571291d934fcfb6650cb76ebe456d1d.
Let me confess at the outset not to have listened word-for-word to each presenter. I did go through the entire proceedings, however, and my reaction is a reflection of the same general concerns expressed early on this year, when Harout Sassounian published a piece proposing such a body, as did Policy Forum Armenia, a Washington, DC-based think-tank led by David Grigoryan. (Mr. Sassounian was himself a presenter at this symposium, while Mr. Grigoryan, following it online, managed to have a proxy express his thoughts at the event.)
In my opinion, there were two, somewhat minor, aspects of the symposium which were disappointing. For one, although most of the speakers were not American-born and were well-versed in the Armenian language, the presentations and most of the question and answer period, with some exceptions, took place in English. I realise that not all those present knew Armenian, and that it would have meant extra cost and trouble to have a simultaneous translator, but, all the same, I felt it lent an air of artificiality to many of the speakers, especially to those who had trouble with English as well. Simultaneous translations, by contrast, are available at most such public events in Armenia. I know that English is not current in the Republic, but I am not sure how current it is in the Diaspora, either.
Secondly, as one of the speakers herself commented, there was a lack of youth at this event. Again, I am not sure what exactly could be done about it, but it was disheartening to see that most participants were of the older generation. In fact, most participants were well-meaning and interested Armenians from the Greater Los Angeles area, and it is nice to see them come out and follow or express themselves on an issue such as this, but it seemed that there was a qualitative disparity between the speakers and the audience. Most of the presenters were accomplished scholars or public figures, while the views out of those present were much more on the emotional side. They did not respond to the speakers adequately, I found, and brought down the general level of discourse.
The conference itself notwithstanding, the idea of a democratic, trans-national Armenian Diaspora body remains fraught with two main problems which were left unaddressed by the symposium for the most part. The fact that the body must be “democratic” – “one person, one vote” – seems out of place to me. There isn’t a single Armenian organisation, and there never has been one, which has worked on this principle. From the Armenian Church to Armenian political parties, it has always been charismatic leaders who have directed them, or those providing the financial backing. The best case scenarios have been organisations which have had far-sighted and mature leadership, functioning with the consensus of its membership. For whatever reason, we have a great lack of experience in realising democratic principles – not the least of which in our country, in the Republic of Armenia – and I therefore cannot imagine an Armenian Diaspora body with the sort of democratic elections foreseen.
Much more significant are the logistics. How would the elections take place, anyway? The only possibility to my mind is the use of information technology. Having voters register and cast their ballots online makes perfect sense to me, only, for such a process to be truly representative and legitimate, one must wait a generation before most Armenians of the world have regular access to the internet. This, I feel, is a real feasibility over the course of the next few decades.
Most pertinent of all, in my opinion, is the standing with regards to the Republic of Armenia herself. What bothers me in these efforts being made towards such a trans-national Armenian Diaspora body is how the Republic is being set to one side. What we really need to focus our energy on is fixing our country. If we have a true democracy – with free and fair elections, rule of law, and respect for human rights – in Armenia itself, a pan-Armenian body would naturally follow, in my opinion. The Republic of Armenia is the way we present ourselves to the world, for better or for worse, and therefore the state of our state requires top priority.
A few Armenia-Diaspora conferences have taken place, mostly in the 2000s. Why can’t we have regular pan-Armenian conventions? They don’t always have to take place in Yerevan, but representatives from the government of Armenia ought to be present. One every three or four years, with delegates from various Armenian political, cultural, religious, artistic and athletic organisations, discussing the sorts of issues which the trans-national Armenian body would discuss might get things started, at any rate. In the future, when we have a Republic of Armenia with a legitimate and worthy domestic and international reputation, a body formally bringing together all Armenians under the aegis of the state would be a natural extension of our nationhood.
The Zionist example is often brought up and, truly, what the Jewish people accomplished starting from the late nineteenth century was remarkable and impressive. However, the details of their circumstances were and remain very different from ours. Most of those involved in the Zionist movement were in Europe, and so they were more concentrated and bore, at least to some degree, a similar cultural background. Their numbers were greater, and they were richer and far more influential. They worked towards the establishment of their state, and the resurgence of their language. Again, all very well and good. We are fewer, however, and our range of influence far smaller and more spread out. What is more, our state was thrust upon us in a much less expected manner. It is great to look to the Jews to admire their efforts and to learn what we can from their experience, but our situation calls for something different, and I feel like a pan-Armenian body ought to spearheaded by the Republic of Armenia as a natural extension of the Armenian state.
I doubt that there is any Armenian who does not wish to see a better-organised, more co-ordinated and effective nation. The details of how we go about it, though, are just as important, if not more, than our good intentions and passions for a greater Armenian nation.