Thoughts on the 3rd Armenia – Diaspora Conference (18-20 September 2006)

Thoughts on the 3rd Armenia – Diaspora Conference (18-20 September 2006)


Azad-Hye, Dubai, 28 Setember 2006: The 3rd Armenia ? Diaspora conference is over now and we can have a quick look at the subjects discussed during the Conference and the overall mood that prevailed during the days of this event.


The thematic panel subjects at the Conference covered a range of topics, some marked with the usual enthusiastic and optimistic approach. Generally speaking, the audience did not feel bored. 


The overall attitude of the local press was somehow positive towards the participating Diasporan Armenians. During the 2nd Conference (2002) the critics dared calling the participants as ?tourists? or people without any agenda or priorities. This year the respect was obvious towards the participants, who proved to be more mature and objective towards their goals. The ability to distinguish the achievable from the idealistic is developing in the ranks of the Diasporan Armenians. The same applies to the Armenian authorities.


The researches which were presented during the panel discussion helped to form a larger view about the fate of being Armenian. They helped to position our views on national issues within an international or global context, thus avoiding ethnocentric ideas and creating a platform for nation-wide acceptable policies.


Reference was made to the specific psychological characteristics of each type of Diasporan Armenian (Middle Eastern, Western, non-Armenian speaker, etc.), the dangers of immigrating out of Armenia and the perennial issue of the dual citizenship. It has been customary for the hosting Armenian authorities to put the issue of the citizenship on the agenda for the purpose of pleasing the Diasporan Armenians by providing them with opportunity for national rhetoric, without realizing that the real people who will eventually make use of the dual citizenship status are the ex-citizens of the Republic of Armenia who are now embracing foreign citizenships in alarming numbers.


The participants acknowledged that the subject of dual citizenship is very complicated and has positive and negative aspects. Many said that the 10 years special residence status (which is sometimes misleadingly marketed as passport) is enough for a Diasporan to live and work in Armenia and therefore he or she does not need to aspire for anything else. It seems that the citizenship factor is a psychological one: if I am Armenian, why should not I be granted citizenship, the average Diasporan Armenian argues. It is not clear why it is easy and quite normal for a foreign national to acquire French nationality after a series of arrangements and fulfilling the pre-requirements, while it becomes a real problem for a person of an Armenian origin to receive at least a clear roadmap regarding the steps of how to naturalize (especially if he or she is already living on the soil of Armenia).


The above problem is indirectly related to another distressing issue: the economic emigration. Even countries with more severe economic, political or military situation are not facing this much immigration. Some fifty thousand Armenians still leave Armenia every year, mostly traveling to Russia (now the most densely populated Armenian Diaspora community).


The Government is obviously busy with other issues and is not capable of handling this huge problem. On the other hand, only 2-3 thousand Armenians repatriate to present day Armenia. These people (as in the case of Iraqi Armenians) do not receive any substantial help. They even have to worry about obtaining residence permit in the country of their ancestors.


The Conference participants discussed the fact that Armenia is a country of exporting talents and manpower. Why the local manpower is not able to find jobs inside the country? Where are the investments? Why the attracted investments are not creating the desired jobs for the unemployed population? Do we need to discuss these issues, or it is not beyond the rights of a Diasporan Armenians to interfere or point out to such issues? Shall we talk only about programs suggested by the Armenian Government, such as the ambitious program of developing the rural areas? 


It is fortunate however that the immigrants are remitting sums from abroad to their beloved ones inside Armenia, something that could slow the wave of immigration and create opportunities for developing the local economies.


One of the participants noticed that while the Armenian satellite TV was transmitting the Armenia-Diaspora dwellings, the local Armenian national TV station was broadcasting a Brazilian serial, thus raising questions about the priorities of the Armenian population. A critic commented that the reason behind this was to divert the attention of the public from the topics of the Conference by avoiding the transmission of the critical remarks of the Diasporan participants during the Conference.


Many Diasporan Armenians assured that the Diaspora has given and is ready to give much more to Armenia if only the later becomes a State of Law and Order and the Diasporan feels really proud when Armenia is compared to other countries.


Minister Voskanian's 10 minutes speech was actually impressive and dealt with all the challenges facing Armenia. About dual citizenship he referred to a light at the end of the tunnel by the end of this year (believe it or not!). He admitted that only a strong and democratic Armenia can keep the Diasporan Armenians close to their roots and protect them from the dangers of assimilation.


An important point which was repeated several times in this conference was the necessity to distinguish between the factual and the wishful in Diaspora ? Armenia relationships.


It is important to understand the psychology and the expectations of each other. The majority of Diaspora Armenians still visit Armenia carrying with them superficial and nostalgic emotionality in their effort to embrace the motherland, but then they often face disappointments and make hasty and negative generalizations. We should strike a balance between our expectations and what can Armenia actually provide. We know that 15 years is not much for a country blocked by hostile neighbors, trying to reshape its economy from scrap, being at the same time involved in a bloody confrontation in Karabagh.  


The positive thing about the current government is the commitment to EU standards. There is now a kind of control over corruption; Monopolies are shrinking and other harmful phenomena are giving way to modern methods of business ethics and administration mannerism. Although the scale of changes is limited, nevertheless, the people are beginning to think about themselves as future European citizens.


Overall it is still hard to live and work in Armenia. Let us be realistic at least now that the Conference is over and the ?ex-tourists? are back to their countries.