Song and dance moves to Armenia
BOSTON – There has lately been some activity surrounding the cause of what’s called “repatriation”, of having Diasporan Armenians move to the Republic of Armenia or to Artsakh. Not that that cause is new by any means, it’s just that a couple of concerted efforts over the past months has highlighted some points that seem worthy of reflection.
A youth group in the Los Angeles area, for instance, held a seminar recently that brought together interested parties and organisations that do work in Armenia. Such activities are truly informative and helpful to the community out there. But the sort of effusive representation of life and times in Armenia that comes up and of “repatriation” can sometimes be a little over the top.
It’s essential to note that many Armenians could never be “repatriates”, really; they would not be “moving back” to Armenia at all, but simply “moving to”. Many Armenians trace their ancestry to homelands – patria in the form of cities, towns, villages, regions – that lie outside the borders of today’s Republic of Armenia and Artsakh. So the kind of connection that has to be made with that country would in many ways be the same as the kind of connection one would have to forge when moving to a whole new country anyway. Of course, being Armenian, considering one’s self Armenian, speaking the language (whatever the form), and the ideological and emotional drive that goes with moving to Armenia is well-placed and meaningful. It’s just that there is the danger of it being overwhelming to the detriment of appreciating the realities on the ground in Armenia, especially from afar.
Consider the case of the Armenia 3500 Project. It is a movement spearheaded by some Diasporan Armenians who have made the move to Armenia, aiming at attracting three thousand five hundred “Armenians from the West (AFWs)” to pledge to move to Armenia and Artsakh in the next three years. An “AFW” is “any Armenian from the European Union, the United States, Canada or Australia/New Zealand”. The anonymous people behind the idea state on their FAQ page that, “Having lived in Armenia ourselves, we’ve seen the impact a few people can have, and are convinced a larger group would create a butterfly effect that would help create jobs, connections and better governance. We believe an infusion of AFWs would be a rich contribution to the fabric of Armenian society”.
I couldn’t agree more. It would be excellent to have all sorts of Armenians living and working in Armenia. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it would be excellent to have all sorts of people in general living and working in Armenia. And I imagine that that will happen some day. Even a generation ago, one would have been hard-pressed to find an Irishman expecting an influx of immigrants from Nigeria or Poland on the streets of Dublin. But the economic boom and liberal policies of that country resulted in a more cosmopolitan society. I think – I hope – Armenia is headed down that same path.
For now, though, the opposite is the case. A lot has been made of emigration from Armenia, in the past year or two especially. If the government itself has brought it up, then surely it has reached a significantly higher rate than before. How could well-meaning Diasporan Armenians expect anyone to pledge to move to a place that is facing so many difficulties? What is more, who is to stand in the way of the Armenian of Armenia who has received a job offer elsewhere, whose career has the potential to encompass wider horizons, whose children could end up with a much broader worldview than what Armenia can currently offer? To give another example, wouldn’t it be great if the Armenians of Syria moved en masse to Armenia tomorrow? It certainly would. Could the Republic of Armenia handle it? Not in the least. Not right now anyway, as the handful of Iraqi-Armenians could testify.
Of course it would be helpful to move to Armenia and help surmount the country’s difficulties. Who can deny that? More power to those who already have and more on the way. But the onus of creating attractiveness to move to Armenia lies with Armenia, with the people of Armenia, with the leadership and policies of Armenia. The truth is that there is a lot of corruption in that country. The truth is that there is immense ineptitude. Videos that set aside these facts and instead focus on how happy some immigrants to the Republic of Armenia have been risk characterising themselves as one-sided.
There are indeed a lot of Armenians from the Diaspora who have made it and who are really happy in Armenia. A lot of Armenians from the west, north, south, and east have come to Yerevan and elsewhere, have set up businesses, have dealt with whatever they have had to deal with, have settled in, and they are leading successful, meaningful, even enviable lives. It’s serious work, though. It’s not all the song and dance that certain videos might make it out to be.
As of this writing, the Armenia 3500 Project has had twelve people take the pledge since September. Its Facebook page has 165 “likes”. No-one is denying that it’s a good idea, only that it is perhaps a little unrealistic or misdirected. Diaspora youth in the United States and elsewhere, and even older folks, can be enthusiastic about Armenia, they can visit, they can participate in Birthright Armenia or other programmes, all of that is sincerely welcome and very encouraging. But to make the move – make no mistake – is to move to a whole new country, to get used to a whole new set of circumstances.