Understanding Ourselves: Questions of Genocide, Independence and Identity

Lorky Libaridian
The implication of the title of the April 27, 2013 conference held at USC (“Independence and Beyond: In Search of a New Armenian Diaspora Post – 1991”) is that because there now exists an independent Armenia, the Diaspora must change. This is obvious. What is not as obvious, but goes to the core of the matter, are the realities and underlying assumptions that were highlighted by Dr. Stephan Astourian’s presentation in the last panel, “(Re)Defining Diaspora and Nationalism.” His main argument was that by not pushing a Genocide based agenda, the first administration of Armenia undermined that which is so fundamental to the Diaspora, subsequently the Diaspora itself, and thus Armenia’s relations with it for years to come.
Much of the Diaspora had been dreaming of a free and independent Armenia for decades, whether as an immediate necessity or as a longed for ideal. Yet when the dream finally became a distinct possibility and then a tangible reality, — that at a time of war and blockades and when the country was reeling from the disintegrating Soviet economic system—the fact that Armenia gave priority to its survival and survival of its own people, was, and continues to be interpreted as a rejection of the Diaspora, and a serious problem. Such people expected that this new state, facing existential challenges, give priority to the issues that topped the diasporan agenda: Genocide recognition and issues of Diasporan identity. This has always seemed quite strange to me, to say the least. Why didn’t the Diaspora support the Republic of Armenia as the core of its identity instead of Genocide? Why couldn’t it make that shift…? And why did the Diaspora feel the new Armenia owed the Diaspora the adoption of the latter’s agenda, why did and does the Diaspora feel entitled?
Now that’s not quite how it happened, and I said “much of the Diaspora” because while for decades the call for a free and independent Armenia was its motto, by the 1980s, the largest Diasporan political party, the ARF, had changed its position. While still espousing and preaching the ideals of a free and independent Armenia to its lower strata and the public, the party policies had in fact taken a major shift toward supporting a Soviet Armenia, as evidenced by arguments presented by its leader in official ARF publications in the late 1980s. In this case, then, I must also ask, why did this happen? And why did the Diaspora, or at least a great portion of it, then give itself the right to feel that Armenia owed it anything when it became independent, if not the other way around?
I asked a few people after the conference why it was that once a free Armenia existed, the Diaspora was, and is, still questioning and in some cases refusing the idea that Armenia should be the core and center of the Armenian nation… why a state-centered nation is even a question. I received two answers: “because it is not the state they wanted,” and, “because they did not lift a finger to help create it.” If that is indeed the case, it is quite sad. The first speaker of the panel, Dr. Asbed Kotchikian suggested that perhaps the Diasporan fixation on Genocide is holding it back. I will go further, and suggest that while Armenia is rife with problems: if one is to argue that the first administration of newly independent Armenia is at fault for tainting Diasporan-Armenia relations by refusing to take on Genocide issues as many Diasporan organizations expected, then truly, in this matter, the main pathology lies within the Diaspora, and its own identity issues and insecurities – at least that portion which feels that argument has any merit. That is, many Diasporans did understand the situation in the new republic and provided help in many ways, and others came to understand the situation with time. But there still remain those who seem unable to recognize that Armenian administrations have primary responsibility for the people who live on Armenia’s territory and that the republic was not created to resolve the problems of the Diaspora.
If we do indeed want to move forward, towards a stronger Armenian Republic, a stronger Diaspora (whatever that may mean), and a stronger, unified Nation, then we must address these problems directly. I hope that future such conferences tackle the issues of Diasporan genocide-based identity and self-entitlement, and perhaps even the malignant effect they have had on relations with the independent republic, directly. To that end, I have titled this piece with a suggestion for the title of such a conference.

"Asbarez," May 3, 2013

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