The problem of co-ordinating Armenian efforts
SANTA FE, N.M. – There has been talk over the past year of creating a pan-Diaspora body for the Armenians, a representative organisation which would act as an umbrella group for the various political, cultural, educational, athletic, and perhaps even religious establishments of the organised Armenian Diaspora, taking on political and outreach activities as well as other efforts on a wider scale, alongside generally serving as a forum for the Armenian Diaspora and the world.
Though encouraging to think about, I have found most of the ideas expressed in this regard to be unfeasible. It would be logistically impractical, in the first place. Perhaps in a generation or two – when one may be assured that a majority of the Armenian people have access to the internet, for example – a website or portal may serve indeed as a conduit for a truly representative body for Armenians. But for now, any pan-Diaspora initiative would be lacking in the degree to which it could be truly representative.
The democratic component of a pan-Diaspora body also seems illusory to me, especially as most Diaspora organisations have never functioned on any such principle as “one person, one vote”. I suppose it is never too late to start, but one must bear in mind that most Armenian Diaspora establishments are run by passionate people in their spare time, and there often isn’t much of a democratic running or real elections for most offices and responsibilities to be undertaken in Armenian schools or newspapers, for example, or church-affiliated organisations.
What is most disconcerting to me is that the proposed pan-Diaspora body seems to be purposefully leaving out our state, the Republic of Armenia. Ineptitude and corruption notwithstanding, Armenia is what we have today, and the very fact that we have a state – recognised internationally, with embassies around the world, seats in the UN, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and elsewhere – is an immense advantage, offering a qualitatively much more powerful point of leverage for our entire nation, which we cannot neglect. The Kurds and the Assyrians, for example, to name just two peoples with whom we share some similarities, have much to be envious of the Armenians in this regard.
In the efforts of the organised Armenian Diaspora to, primarily, accomplish official recognition of the Armenian Genocide by government bodies around the world, we have had much to struggle against, not the least of which are our small numbers and limited influence. Indeed, ever since the Republic of Armenia became independent in 1991, ever since this country appeared on the map, and diplomats were sent there from various capitals, and our embassies built a presence in those capitals, the success rate of resolutions recognising the Armenian Genocide and such documents being passed by legislatures and local government councils has seen a tremendous increase. I doubt that there is no correlation between the two.
Even with our small numbers and limited influence, we have achieved a great deal, and we are right to be proud as Armenians of what we have managed to accomplish in our organised Diaspora. But I fear we are losing out on capitalising on our state, the Republic of Armenia, and that purposefully leaving out the Republic in future efforts would only serve as a hindrance, one way or another.
Instead of more or less disparate activities in various Diaspora communities, and instead of an impractical pan-Diaspora body, why not create mechanisms for co-operation and co-ordination among all Armenian efforts, including those of the Republic?
Three Armenia-Diaspora conferences have taken place in Yerevan since independence. If nothing more, they were forums for official Armenia to interact with various organisations in our Diaspora, and for those various Diaspora organisations to interact and network with one another. The Hayastan All-Armenia Fund, for its part, is the primary and perhaps the only example of bringing together pretty much all the major players and factions to carry out truly necessary and tangible work in the Homeland.
But I believe we are capable of coming together to do more than collect money to construct roads, schools, and hospitals. Not that infrastructure is unimportant, but work can be done towards Armenian Genocide recognition, or investment in Armenia, or funding for schools in the Diaspora, for example, which may come out of Yerevan just as well as it does out of Los Angeles, or Sydney, or Moscow, or Buenos Aires.
The creation of the Ministry for the Diaspora is also a welcome development, but I am thinking of co-ordinating efforts which would benefit the Armenian people as a whole, focussed neither exclusively on the Diaspora, nor on the Republic alone, directed by players from all facets of Armenian life in the world.
A convention which met once every two or three years, for example, might go far to redouble our efforts. It could start as a solely political forum, inviting representatives from the government of Armenia, alongside Armenian lobbyists and members of Armenian political establishments from various communities.
I imagine the political dimension as the most urgent, so a first item on the agenda for discussion would have to be the efforts in the Armenian Cause, to define and clearly declare what we want, to begin with. What are our exact demands from Turkey, for example? I realise that there are differences of opinion in this regard, which is exactly why we need a healthy debate among the key players with clear-cut, well-defined goals. The decisions and actions of the Republic of Armenia as a state would be of a different nature than those of any lobby group, but to have those decisions and actions based on the same premises, with the input of the organised Diaspora, moving towards the same end, would only be helpful in our efforts.
Such a regular Republic-Diaspora convention doesn’t even have to be only about Turkey, or national security issues such as Artsakh, or even just our foreign relations. Agenda items could include human rights issues, corruption, education, healthcare, or even such issues as Armenian orthography, the status of the Church, double citizenship and service in the armed forces. I imagine it would end up extending to other spheres such as the arts, and certainly business and investment, etc.
Very open discussions of policy issues pertaining to the Armenians by the decision makers of the Armenian world may seem imprudent to some, but it would in fact send the clearest signals of the intentions of the Armenian people, providing calculable, predictable courses for Turkey, Russia, and the West to take. One of the greatest hindrances for various governments to such steps as recognising the Armenian Genocide has been the unpredictability and uncertainty of how far-reaching such a measure might be with regards to Turkey, but even with regards to Armenia or Armenian communities, for that matter. Such fears would dissipate with the presentation of formal, established principles and set goals agreed upon by all the players of the Armenian world, in a declaration, resolution, or some such document. Conversely, any disagreements among Armenians and within our various groups would also be made clear, and working through them towards a common end would become more possible because of that clarity.
Moreover, certain embarrassing situations could be avoided if the Republic and the Diaspora discussed and co-ordinated their policies beforehand, such as took place when some Armenian-Americans objected to a nominee for ambassador in Yerevan a few years ago, while the government of the Republic of Armenia itself tacitly agreed. The Armenia-Turkey protocols were another example of undesirable, avoidable discrepancy between the policies of the Republic of Armenia and many groups of the organised Diaspora. A good, consistent working relationship among the various Diaspora groups and the Republic would go far in this regard, and a regular convention would act as just the right sort of mechanism to get such a relationship going and to maintain it.
There could be an Armenian convention committee which would be responsible for putting the convention together, including members from the Republic and the Diaspora. This would probably serve as a more efficient and meaningful group, as opposed to a pan-Diaspora body. The convention would not even have to take place in Armenia. All of this would cost money, of course; the funding I imagine would be partly by the state budget of the Republic of Armenia, and partly by various Diaspora groups and individual donors.
I imagine the initial work to organise such an Armenian convention would be marred by ineptitude and corruption, as well as a lack of trust and goodwill. It isn’t as if any Armenian organisation in the Diaspora or any agency of the government of Armenia has ever displayed itself to be flawless, after all. However, even with these obstacles which would inevitably arise, what is most important is that we understand one-another and know where we are coming from, and equally important to know where we are going.
After taking place over the course of, say, a decade or more, when the key players and decision makers have established a working relationship with one another, a regular Armenian convention could have the potential to exponentially increase the efficacy of our efforts.