We glorify our past in order to define ourselves; we honor our identity to preserve a civilization; we extol a culture to qualify our uniqueness; and we fight historic injustice because we represent the Cause. We suffer the burden of being Armenian in a non-Armenian world. We are the Diaspora.
The immense devotion to Armenianness within the Diaspora is inherently indisputable; that the Diaspora has been vital to the preservation of the Armenian identify, that the Diaspora has been crucial to the proliferation of the Armenian Cause, and that the Diaspora has been vital to the survival of the Armenian homeland is quite simply beyond question. There would not be a cogent concept of an Armenian nation without the Diaspora. But this also introduces a very important question, one that may seem controversial on the surface, but in reality, is a very honest one: is the Diasporic Armenian patriotic? The answer to this question, that is, unraveling this question, remains the foundation upon which the future of Armenia-Diaspora relations lie, and just as importantly, the very subsistence and continuation of the Diaspora.
At the basic level, this question will illicit much confusion, for the Diasporan conflates one’s love of Armenianness and one’s Armenian identity with being patriotic. And therein lies the problem. The Diaspora incorrectly equates its immense nationalism with patriotism, and this lies at the heart of two vital disconnects between the Armenian Homeland and the Armenian Diaspora. In this context, the two complications become present: 1) the views and interests of Armenia and its Diaspora are not entirely aligned, and as such, it is essential that we address the inherent disconnect between what the Diaspora wants and what Armenia needs; and 2) Armenia-Diaspora relations have not developed in a vacuum, and the diverging views of the two realms are much larger than meets the eye. The conceptual disconnect between patriotism and nationalism precisely diagnoses this problem, allowing us to understand why the Diaspora’s obsessive love and devotion to Armenianness has not translated into concrete patriotism?
The reigning discrepancy between Diaspora’s devotion to Armenianness and the Republic of Armenia’s vision for the Armenian world is the differentiation in the worldview of the two realms: Diaspora is nationalistic, while Armenia is patriotic. The inherent distinction here is extremely important if we are to develop and build a functional relationship between the two that is conducive to longevity. Nationalism is loyalty and devotion to a nation (the Armenian nation), and more specifically, to the Armenian national identity. Needless to say, in the case of the Diaspora, this makes all the sense in the world; the diasporan is devoted to the abstract concept of Armenianness (culture, language, identity, history, etc.). Nationalism is quite different from patriotism; patriotism, unlike nationalism, is not abstract, but rather, it is pragmatic and concrete: devotion to one’s country or state, that is, the Republic of Armenia. These two conceptual frameworks have always been conflated, which has puzzled most observers: how can the Diaspora, with its intense nationalism and a century of perseverance, not be as bound or devoted to the Republic of Armenia as one would expect? The answer is patriotism (or the lack thereof): Diasporan Armenians are intensely nationalistic (they love Armenianness and the Armenian identity), but they are not as patriotic (they are not as devoted to the Armenian state).
Gauging this paradigmatic split is crucial in being able to understand why the goals and interests of the Diaspora are not aligned with the goals and interests of the Armenian homeland. Furthermore, it will be argued that this paradigmatic split is not sustainable; unless the two realms align their goals and interests into a single paradigm, the long-term trajectory of the entire Armenian realm appears bleak.
To strengthen the Armenia-Diaspora partnership, and to strengthen the Diaspora itself, Diaspora’s nationalism must be reconfigured into a transnational form of patriotism! This is precisely what Israel has done: the Diasporic Jew is defined just as much by its devotion to the State of Israel as they are to the Jewish identity. In the case of the Armenian world, we have not attained this: hence the discrepancy. The Diasporan Armenian is not defined just as much by its devotion to the Republic of Armenia as it is by its Armenian identity. For many, the Republic of Armenia is either a secondary priority, or in all honesty, an externality; the Armenian state is not perceived as being inherent to their Armenian identity. For many diasporans, the Republic of Armenia is a peripheral phenomenon; they are aware it exists, they might even visit it someday for leisure, and in cases of war or tragedy they may even contribute, but as far as their Armenian identity is concerned, as far as their worldview is concerned, Armenia is not really their country. Namely, they do no conceive the concept of loyalty or devotion to the Armenian state as having anything to do with their Armenianness.
This, of course, is not a claim that seeks to fault anyone; to the contrary, it is purely an objective observation. Recognizing this is fundamental to a healthy understanding of the Armenian world: we cannot proceed under the assumption and take for granted that the Diaspora’s nationalism automatically translates into patriotism. It is essential that we become conscious of this discrepancy and begin formulating approaches that fuse nationalism and patriotism as equally crucial for the Diasporan Armenian. Until the Diasporan Armenian becomes as patriotic as he/she is nationalistic, the sustenance of the Armenian nation, as a global phenomenon, will neither have longevity nor effectiveness. The argument here is quite straightforward: the heart and soul of the Armenian realm remains the Republic of Armenia, the only sovereign entity in the world that is not only intrinsically Armenian, but has the ability to reproduce Armenianness. Both as an idea and a concrete reality, the Armenian state represents the future of what Armenianness will become. As such, the Armenian homeland embodies both patriotism and nationalism. The need for transnational patriotism, then, presupposes the alignment of Diaspora’s goals and interests with that of the Armenian Republic, so that the continuation and reproduction of Armenianness proceeds in a unified, singular fashion.
The burden on the Diasporan Armenian, without a doubt, is lot heavier than that of the Armenian citizen. Whereas the Armenian citizen is born into one’s own society, the Diasporan Armenian has to fight every day to preserve one’s Armenian identity. Simply put, it is not easy being an Armenian in a non-Armenian world. For the Armenian citizen, being Armenian is a given; for the Diasporan, it is a noble struggle. This burden, therefore, could exponentially be decreased by re-aligning the two differing paradigms into a single Armenian worldview: transnational Armenian patriotism. The Diasporan Armenian must no longer view his/her reality as being defined singularly by an abstract identity (that of being Armenian); the Diasporan Armenia must also define his/her reality in concrete terms: they possess a home in this world that is theirs, and this home is the Armenian Republic. The Diaspora reality can no longer be separate from the reality of Armenia, and unless this becomes entrenched in the worldview of the Diaspora, the disconnect between the two realms will continue, with uncertain and concerning outcomes for both.
The discourse here isn’t if one is more Armenian than that other; that, in of itself, is an ignorant and ridiculous discussion. Rather, the discourse at hand seeks to clarify the underlying and fundamental objective: what is the ultimate goal of the Armenian universe? Unless the interests and goals of the two Armenian realms, the Homeland and the Diaspora, are aligned, the sustainability of the Diaspora becomes highly questionable, while, at the same time, the prosperity of a burgeoning Armenia also becomes questionable.
Is the Diaspora Sustainable Without this Alignment?
The perseverance of the various Armenian Diaspora communities, both before and after the Genocide, have been crucial to the formation of a world-wide Armenian nation. This perseverance, however, must be qualified by recent empirical developments and the restructuring of the Diaspora communities themselves. For this reason, we can no longer take it for granted that Diaspora communities will continue to sustain themselves; contemporary developments are actually pointing at the other direction. Diaspora communities are shrinking; Diaspora institutions are in decline; and the sustenances of these communities remains highly questionable. What explains these developments, and how is this crucial to the proposed discourse of aligning the Armenian realms?
Diaspora communities that developed in closed, non-democratic societies were extraordinarily successfully in sustaining themselves. Just as importantly, these communities reproduced themselves; they reproduced the Armenian identity, preserved the culture, language, and history, and raised entire generations through this self-reproduction. In this context, the Diaspora was able to preserve itself through self-reproduction. This self-reproduction of Armenianness is no longer tenable; the shrinking and restructuring of the Diaspora communities has led to stagnation, only to be followed by regression. The restructuring referred to here pertains to the migration of Armenians from the Diaspora communities of closed, non-democratic societies to open, democratic societies. This restructuring of the Armenian Diaspora has created a serious sustainability issue, that is, the inability to combat assimilation. The sociological developments here, without requiring dense academic discourse, are quite evident. In closed, non-democratic societies, such as Lebanon, Syria, or Iran, Armenian communities functioned as closely-knit, exclusive social groups that formulated a robust concept of Otherness: the “Odar.” By virtue of qualifying non-Armenians as Odars, and conceptualizing a cultural taboo against the Other, Diaspora communities not only successfully combated assimilation, but also succeeded in self-reproducing the culture. The restructuring of the Diaspora resulted in mass migration of Diasporans from these closed, non-democratic societies to the open, democratic societies of U.S., Canada, France, and other Western democracies. In open, democratic societies, the closely-knit, exclusive social group is not sustainable. At best, it is sustainable for a single generation; developmental patterns clearly demonstrate that after the second generation, assimilation supersedes ethnic preservation within open societies. Thus, whereas the Armenian identity was preserved and reproduced in Beirut, Tehran, or Aleppo, for example, through three or four generations (if not longer, especially if we look at the communities in Isfahan or Kessab), this has not been the case with the communities in democratic societies. Odarness, the concept of the Other, does not have the same weight, relevance, or respect in the Western Diaspora communities as it did in the “traditional” ones.
One, of course, may pose the argument that the Diaspora communities in Western democracies have been around almost as long as those in the Middle East following the Genocide, and as such, they are still prevalent and quite strong. How can this be explained, considering the analysis provided above? The answer is simple: replenishment! Diaspora communities in Western democracies have not preserved themselves through the self-reproduction of Armenianness; rather, they have sustained themselves through replenishment with the restructuring of the Diaspora. The migration of Armenians from the Middle East replenished these communities, thus allowing for subsistence for a generation or two. This is precisely what developed in the 1970s and 1980s. This allowed for temporary self-reproduction; but in the face of assimilation, this self-reproduction soon became stagnant, and then slowly regressed. The second batch of replenishment also temporarily solved this problem, as huge inflow of Armenians from Armenia proper migrated into the diaspora communities of the West in the 1990s. This, as well, has resulted in a temporary self-reproduction of the Armenian culture. As such, when observing patterns of development, Western Diaspora communities have not been able to self-reproduce Armenianness; they have only been able to sustain themselves with the replenishment of Armenians migrating from communities that succeeded at self-reproduction. But as those communities have dwindled, due to such migrations, the Armenian Diaspora no longer will be receiving any replenishments. And considering the fact that it has not been able to consistently self-reproduce, the future remains extraordinarily bleak. The fight against assimilation is simply not sustainable. Hence the essential need to strengthen and reinforce the bonds with Armenia: the Diaspora has no other source of cultural nourishment.
The further reification of the Diaspora’s struggle with assimilation may be qualified with the hyphen problem. The “traditional” Diaspora communities, as they existed, did not struggle with the problems pertinent and widespread in Western Diaspora communities: chastising your children daily so that they speak Armenian; forcing Armenian values in the face of assimilation; hoping that Armenians will marry Armenians as a form of cultural preservation; and consistently struggling against the hyphen problem. The hyphen problem has never been an issue within the Diasporas of closed societies; in these communities, you are simply Armenian. In the communities within democratic, open societies (Western Hemisphere or Europe), you are not simply Armenian; you are hyphened. You’re Armenian-American, or Lebanese-Armenian, or Canadian-Armenian, or French-Armenian, or Syrian-Armenian, or even Armenian-Armenian! The hyphen problem is quite straightforward: it is the mark of assimilation. We have falsely thought that it was simply a form of community identification. Not any more. The hyphen is indicative of the infringement and imposition of Odarness. It is the symbol of the Armenian identity struggling against whatever identity it is hyphened against. Whatever the country that is hyphened next to Armenian, the hyphen is the battle line. The concern with the hyphen problem, of course, is that it is not sustainable. It is a matter of time before the hyphen is overwhelmed: the Armenian-American becomes simply an American; the Canadian-Armenian becomes simply a Canadian; the French-Armenian becomes simply French, so on and so forth. As the hyphen is erased, so is the Armenian!
Armenianness can no longer survive and reproduce itself if the two realms do not become aligned. The Armenian identity, as both a historic and ontological phenomenon, must be reconfigured in a fashion where it is commensurate with the construct of Armenianness as reproduced in the Republic of Armenia. Armenianness must now be understood and recognized as being an extension of the Armenian homeland. Defining, or conceptualizing Armenianness separate from the homeland lies at the heart of the problem, and we are now recognizing that this “model” is no longer sustainable. The Diaspora is no longer able to reproduce an Armenian culture; the focal point of Armenianness has become the Republic of Armenia, the only sovereign entity that is intrinsically Armenian. For this reason, Armenian should no longer only be an abstract concept that one self-identifies with (that’s one aspect of it); an Armenian should also be one who has ties and is devoted to the Armenian state. In the Diaspora, this form of identification does not fully exist (it exists selectively, but it is the exception, not the norm). This needs to be profoundly altered. Simply put, we need to bring back the Armenian state into Armenianness; for the sake of sustainability and longevity, Armenianness must become Hayastan-centric. If we are seeking to strengthen Armenian identity, this identity should not be singularly formed in a historical vacuum, but rather, should be formed in a concrete reality: an Armenian as an extension of the State of Armenia.
Finally, and at the same time, the Republic of Armenia cannot, by itself, thrive and achieve its potential without the support, guidance, and wisdom of its powerful Diaspora. To this end, absent a massive alignment of mutual goals and interests, we face a serious conundrum: the Diaspora will continue to assimilate and shrink, while the Republic of Armenia will stagnate and remain a victim of geopolitics. If the Armenian nation is to have any serious chance of flourishing, then the nationalistic has to become patriotic, and the patriotic has to become nationalistic. The stagnation of the Armenian realm is no longer tenable; either we have a renaissance or we flounder.