A Wake-Up Call for Armenia and the Diaspora

Houri Mayissian
Two weeks ago a few hundred Armenian citizens and activists heeded to Shant Harutyunyan’s call for revolution. Armed with homemade explosives, batons, and rocks they started marching toward the Presidential Palace, clashing with police on the way. Harutyunyan and several of his followers were arrested and remain in jail.
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Harutyunyan had justified his call for revolution by the need to “protect dignified life.” However, in the barrage of information that has since emerged, two alarming facts stand out: Harutyunyan is the leader of a party by the name of Tseghagron and, as he has said himself in an interview, Hitler has been one of the figures who have played a formative role in the development of his ideas.
Additionally, while a peaceful change in leadership for the better would be a welcome development in the homeland, it is worrying that there are people in Armenia today who won’t shun violence to achieve this end.
Whatever your opinion of the man or the event, one thing is clear: It is a sign of desperate times when people are willing to take matters into their own hands with whatever “weapons” they find. I personally would not have followed Harutyunyan. However, what transpired in the streets of Yerevan on Nov. 5 should be a wake-up call both for Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora.
In Armenia proper, the ruling regime that has clung to power so ferociously thus far needs to understand that it must make changes if it wants to avoid potential bloodshed in the country. It is true that Armenia faces many external challenges today. However, no excuse under the sun justifies the government’s continued failures to safeguard the rights of its own citizens, let alone violate them, and to provide them with the opportunity for a decent life. Not the threat of war from Azerbaijan, not the border blockade by an uncompromising and hostile Turkey, not even a bullish Kremlin that has no lessons to provide on good governance. None of these issues are a reason for the poverty, the absolute lack of the rule of law, and the increasingly bold reign of oligarchs in the country. Armenia’s internal challenges are purely “the work” of a short-sighted, irresponsible, and morally corrupt leadership.
Even if solely out of self-interest, President Serge Sarkisian needs to finally step up and start addressing some of these challenges. First and foremost, he needs to put in check the country’s oligarchs that are shamelessly operating above the law. Next to the rule of law, the country today is in dire need of investment in industry, in infrastructure, in the creation of jobs—not investments in pretty benches and decorative flamingos that add to Yerevan’s aesthetic beauty but serve no purpose otherwise! This means an end to monopolies, a crackdown on corruption, and a transparent business environment that encourage foreign investment. An internally stronger, more stable Armenia is better positioned to face the external challenges mentioned above. It is a simple equation. Surely, even Sarkisian knows that.
In the diaspora as well we require a transformation—of priorities and mindsets. The Armenian Weekly recently published a thought-provoking article that discussed the dynamics of the relations between the diaspora and Armenia and the underlying disconnect that exists between us. It is a disconnect that is defined by the lack of knowledge and understanding of the day-to-day struggles the citizens of Armenia face, as well as a lack of involvement and contribution beyond philanthropy. Dare I say, for some in the diaspora, it is even a disconnect defined by the absence of Armenia from definitions of Armenianness and interpretations of what being Armenian involves.
Of course, it is not fair to paint such a large and diverse diaspora with one broad brush. However, many would agree that, in general, diasporans and their institutions and organizations have not been able to “catch-up” with the realities of post-independent Armenia.
One might argue that too much is being expected of the diaspora. After all, it’s been 100 years since we’ve been living outside our ancestral lands, which are not even in present-day Armenia. We now have fourth generation descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors who are growing up as diasporans. We have done a good job preserving our identity throughout the century, organizing ourselves politically to pursue Armenian Genocide recognition and yes, we have poured much money into Armenia since its independence.
Isn’t that the whole point, however? Haven’t we done too much to stop now? More importantly, weren’t all our efforts exerted because we wanted to correct the historical wrongs committed against us as a nation? We wanted to persevere as Armenians and, in time, live in a free and independent homeland.
That independent homeland is here now, it is facing many challenges, and it is high time we engage with it more tangibly. For that to happen, we first need to think of Armenia as one of our priorities. It needs to enter the diaspora’s ‘agenda’, the same way we hailed Robert Kocharian’s administration for announcing that Armenian Genocide recognition had become part of Armenia’s foreign policy agenda.
There are many things we may not be able to change in Armenia but there are many ways in which we can make a positive difference. Individual diasporans can find a way to directly contribute in their own capacities whether it is through studying and working in Armenia, volunteering, partnering with those in Armenia who are trying to make a change, or morally and financially supporting them. Having these tangible links will also be essential for the future generations to feel connected to their own roots as they grow up.
To be fair, it must be acknowledged that things are changing in the diaspora. Today there is more awareness and a stronger sense of urgency with regards to Armenia than there was last year or the year before. A debate is starting at an institutional level, at least in the U.S., and at an individual level there are quite a few examples of diasporans involved hands on in Armenia. However, we need this change to be happening at an accelerated pace. The Nov. 5 events in Yerevan remind us that as diasporans, we need to make a few changes of our own, too.
"The Armenian Weekly," November 22, 2013

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