As the title of this blog indicates, on January 26, the report of a Seminar hosted by The Armenian Communities Department of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation held between October 13-14 2014, was launched through a webcast that included some of the panelists from the participants of the seminar, and selected audience members from the American University of Armenia in Yerevan, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and London School of Economics in London.
It was an impressive presentation and I just finished reading the 46-page report an “analytical summary is meant to capture the essence of the debates”. (It is available on the Gulbenkian Foundation website in English, and Eastern Armenian). The list of the forty participants of the seminar was “representing the Armenian community worldwide and of course Armenia. Moreover, all major intellectual and community dispositions within the diaspora were present”.
The mere fact that a two-day seminar published a forty-page summary, (even over a year and a half later) and posted it on the web for anyone to access it, is a “novelty” compare to the “dime and dozen” seminars “Գիտաժողովներ” “Խորհդաժողովներ” etc, by Government Ministries, Churches, Organizations, etc, that usually at the end releases a one or two-page communique that includes a lengthy concluding remark, “Եզրափակիչ խոսք”, of the leader of the organizing institution, and you seldom hear about it again, let alone have ever-elusive “national debate” on it.
This report covered a wide range of issues that relates to Armenia and the diaspora. “Questions discussed included the diaspora’s relationship with the Armenian government and civil society; engagement with Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia; the sustainability of the diaspora communities; and identity formations” and much more.
(Some of the issues that interested me the most, I have written about in my previous blogs. Although written prior to this report, and had nothing to do with the seminar, more or less were some of the same issues. Needless to say, what I wrote is just my thoughts on issues that I observe from the sidelines that lacked the dept and the eloquence of the report. I will try to avoid the temptation to further comment and repeat myself).
What follows is a small sample of what the report says in part.
About Diaspora’s “Engagement with Armenia”.
“Thorny questions pertaining to conflicting interests, lack of trust and how to overcome it, collective psychology and cultural differences, issues of capacity and capability are rarely asked much less analyzed objectively. They need to be addressed in a non-political manner”.
“Diasporan engagement with Armenia tends to be haphazard, often reflecting the interests and impulses of diasporan organizations and individuals rather than the actual needs of the country”.
“Hanging over these specific issues is the overall strategic question: how can diaspora go beyond the charitable nature of engagement with Armenia, and be an actual partner in the development of the country?
About “The Institutional Sustainability of the Diaspora”
“Part of the necessary re-imagination of the institutions entails moving away from charitable acts and focusing more on entrepreneurship, supporting young start-ups and offering young people work opportunities within successful organizations run by influential Armenians”
About the “(Re)formulation of Armenian Identity”
“The fact of the matter is that Armenian identity in the diaspora is no longer (if ever was) “fixed,” “clear cut” or “given”, but is fluid, ambiguous, and malleable”.
About “Engagement with Turkey”
“Some possible areas of engagement include the following ten ideas”
“Fourth, civil society to civil society engagement should expand, particularly in the domain of respectful dialogue. This will, importantly, introduce diasporan agency into the equation”.
“And tenth, using the Turkish legal system to get back confiscated properties is a form of legal engagement which can be effective in some instances”.
“Goodwill is needed from all sides to put engagement ideas into practice. Armenians can use conciliatory words and actions from the Turkish government as stepping stones on which further engagement can be built, both with state agencies and the general Turkish public”.
It will be to long to list the other issues for “Engagement with Armenia’s Other Neighbours” in a blog format, but it is quite interesting and educational to read.
In the concluding part “Steps Ahead and Some Recommendations”
“such meetings, focusing on specific issues”. Two such meetings have been already “organized under the rubric of the “Armenians in 2115” seminar series. The first, in June 2015, was on the use of information technologies and the enhancement of the Armenian language (held in Yerevan). The second, in September 2015, was on innovation in Armenian education and schools in the diaspora (held in Paris). Two current issues “Աժմէական նիւթեր” that I cannot wait to read. (I hope I do not have to wait another year before it is posted on the Gulbenkian website).
Let me finish with one suggestion. The report talks about “national debates” on these issues. Maybe it will be more “authentic” (and probably less work for the organizers) to post each participant’s presentation (at least a summary of it by the author) on the internet so that an open national debate could take place horizontally with other leaders and intellectuals as well, and extensively promote it through the social media and other news outlets both, online and print, with the hope that the public at large, and especially the youth, will access it, be informed, and get engaged.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian