Only 21, Yura Movsisyan has already played on two MLS professional soccer teams, competed with the best players in Europe, and is being sponsored by Adidas. But he did not reach his goal of becoming a professional soccer player by just wishing for it.
Movsisyan was born on July 6, 1987 in Baku, Azerbaijani SSR, Soviet Union. As a boy he learned to play soccer on the streets of his hometown and grew to love the game. Unfortunately being in Baku as an Armenian was not safe, especially during the pogroms of the late 1980s and 1990s.
Armenians generally were not respected or tolerated in Baku and, in 2000, Movsisyan and his family fled Azerbaijan to come to the United States. They were blessed enough to move to Pasadena, Calif., where they started a new life, with new hopes and dreams. This is where his dreams truly started to come true.
He quickly joined an organized soccer club called Lazio FC. When asked what drew him to join the team, he replies, “I had a lot of love for soccer ever since I was a child. I wanted to be a professional soccer player and I felt proper training was key.” He joined two more club soccer teams: Flyers FC and Arsenal.
Movsisyan explains that maintaining his Armenian identity was initially a daunting task, but he vowed he would never forget where he or his family came from. “Soccer did help me feel more comfortable to be in the United States,” he explains, “and it was a way for me to get away from the rest of the world, it made me feel really happy.” Even though Yura’s life is and was completely surrounded by soccer he didn’t forget about his roots. He maintained his culture by doing what he knew best: every year he would play Forward for the Homenetmen “Azadamard” soccer team at the Navasartian Games.
The young Movsisyan also attended Pasadena High School (PHS), playing for his school and his future mentor, Cherif Zein. He shattered the PHS goal record by seven goals, making 32 goals in 13 games. “Breaking the record in high school was nice,” recalls Movsisyan. “During the season it wasn’t the amount of goals I wanted to make, for me it was just making goals till the end and it was nice to have it on my resume.”
While living in the United States and even in Baku, Yura did not attend any Armenian Schools. “The other day, I went to Pilibos Armenian School to speak,” says Movsisyan, “and that is the only time I have ever been inside an Armenian School.” Yet, to this day, he knows how to read and write fluently in Armenian.
After high school Movsisyan moved on to college soccer. While, at first, he was not very interested in attending college, his mind was quickly changed after his mentor Cherif told him that if he played for Pasadena City College (PCC) for one season, he would guarantee that professional coaches would see him. Yura played his heart out, becoming the MVP of the Pacific League, scoring 18 goals in 19 games, and accounting for half of his team’s goals for that season. Cherif’s promise proved to be true as Yura was pronounced eligible for the MLS draft within three months of playing for PCC.
Movsisyan’s dream had finally come true. He was a professional soccer player playing for Kansas City. “It was a dream come true playing for Kansas City. It was the best feeling actually attaining my goal,” says Movsisyan. He admits, however, that, “I did feel out of place being in Kansas City, not being with my family or other Armenians.”
Since then Movsisyan has moved on to play for the MLS soccer team, Real Salt Lake. This past season he scored eight goals and assisted one goal. When asked what his goals are for the upcoming season his answer was, “to score more goals and be healthy.”
This past summer, Movsisyan was invited to play at a tournament hosted by Adidas called “Generation Adidas”—where the best in the MLS are asked to compete. For the future, Movsisyan has his sights set on one day playing for a soccer club in Europe. “Eventually I want to end up playing in Europe whether its next year or in the next five years, I really want to go,” says the ambitious Movsisyan. “Any good team in Europe is fine with me; any good team would be good.” Currently, he is also hosting a soccer camp in Arcadia, Calif., where he is teaching and training many young athletes. Movsisyan will also continue to play for Real Salt Lake this upcoming season.
The Armenian presence on Hellenic ground dates back to antiquity. In fact, many villages and areas in Greece are named after the Armenian communities that lived there in ancient times. Until 1890 though, Armenians in Greece counted less than 1000 people. They only took the character and feeling of a Diaspora after 1921-1922 due to the Asia Minor Holocaust, when close to 80,000 Armenian refugees fled the area along with 1,000,000 Greeks.
Before their mass arrival in Greece, some Armenians, particularly those who had fled the 1894-1896 massacres, managed to establish the first Armenian church in 1905. Some years later, in 1921 Dikran Chayan became the first ambassador to represent the Republic of Armenia in Greece. During that same time, from 1921 to 1923, the two countries established proper diplomatic relations, with Armenia opening up two consulates in Athens and Thessaloniki.
A Refugee Community
By 1923, Athens had 26,000 Armenians refugees, with thousands more spread throughout the rest of Greece. But the number of Armenians on Greek territory began to shrink soon after, as more and more sought asylum in other parts of the world. By the end of the 1920s, the Armenian population in all of Greece totaled only about 42,000 Armenians. In the years that followed, the number of Armenians in Greece continued to decrease as they immigrated to Argentina, Canada, and the U.S. A large portion of the community also left in 1947 during the repatriation drive to Soviet Armenia. Ever since, their number has remained more or less steady; around 18,000-20,000 people, most of them residing in Athens, Thessaloniki and northern Greece.
The Armenian Blue Cross, with financial help from their U.S. chapter, as well as members of the community, was able to establish Armenian kindergartens, elementary schools and high-schools throughout Greece. Until the Armenian community was able to stand on its feet, those charitable organizations undertook the task of feeding, lodging, clothing and offering health services to the refugees and orphans.
These organizations also dedicated themselves to maintaining strong cohesion within the community, encouraging the teaching of the Armenian language and history, and preserving the Armenian culture and tradition. The community was built in large part through the work of Armenian schools, financial support to Greek-Armenian press, the issuing of grants and scholarships to Greek-Armenian students, the establishing of a blood-bank, the hosting of camps for poor children and adolescents, as well as through cooperation with many other Greek-Armenian foundations.
As the years passed, the community found itself less and less in need of philanthropic contributions. The economic boom of the 80s and Greece’s membership in the European Economic Community- the precursor of the European Union- enabled Greek-Armenian businesses, along with the rest of the population, to flourish. The vast majority of Armenians own businesses that can be described from successful to very successful, while many occupy themselves in administrative positions within the community and artistic professions. Only recently, have Armenians begun to seek careers in academics, entering the social sciences to study fields such as political science, history, public administration, psychology and journalism.
A Cause to Rally Behind
Prosperity offered the community the opportunity to help Armenians elsewhere; funds were allocated to face the difficulties that tormented then Soviet Armenia and still torment the Republic of Armenia. On numerous occasions throughout the 90s, the Greek-Armenian community mobilized to assist the emergent Republic of Armenia, contributing greatly to relief efforts after the 1987 earthquake.
But it wasn not until the outbreak of the Karabakh conflict that humanitarian aid to Armenia became a systematic effort adopted by the Greek Armenian community. Greece was one of the first countries to offer asylum to Armenian refugees fleeing Azeri aggression. The community mobilized itself along with the Hellenic State to address the difficulties Armenia faced during its first years of independence, mobilizing aid to combat famine, the lack of fuel resources, the stranglehold caused by the Turkish-Azeri blockade. Two kindergarten schools were also established in Nagorno-Karabakh due to donations from the Armenians of Greece.
After 2000, financial aid to Armenia also took on the character of investments in Armenia’s economy from Greek corporations. Unfortunately, such ventures are still limited due to the difficulties investors face in Armenia’s market. There have, however, been examples of successful cooperation such as the launch of a Hellenic Aid Chapter. The chapter, managed in collaboration with the Greek ANC, is responsible for collecting fruit crops and pushing them in other European countries’ markets.
Despite these accomplishments, the community finds itself facing some serious challenges. Years of prosperity have created an environment of political and cultural apathy among the community’s younger generation. A very serious generational gap also exists in the community. The older generation, in a sense, retired from cultural and political life after Greece recognized the Armenian Genocide in 1996. While the younger generation, born into assimilation, is largely apathetic to pan-Armenian issues outside their own community. Traditionally, the majority of the community had supported the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and thus, participated in the activities of the Greek ANC. But having grown up in a prosperous environment, the younger generation had very little incentive or encouragement to become active in Armenian issues. Although integration is very important for an ethnic community’s ability to thrive in a host country, the fact that Armenians did too well within Greek society, may eventually cost them their identity.
One could expect that residing in a more than friendly state would have led Armenians in Greece to fight harder for Armenian interests and set grander goals than simply providing humanitarian aid to Armenia in times of need. This not being the case, the outside observer is led to the conclusion that social success, as well as success in the genocide recognition issue, may have given reason for the community to rest on its laurels.
Even though political parties have expressed their support on Greek-Cypriot issues and have urged the Hellenic state to act in the case of Karabakh, there has not been much done other than verbal expression. Cooperation between the community and the Greek government in common areas of interest is nonexistent, while representation of Armenians in the Greek Parliament has been limited to one single occasion, once when Kevork Papazian was elected to the Parliament for the 1920-1924 session.
When observing the community one is presented with an image of older members idly watching the course of events, void of ideas that will rejuvenate the political will and movement of a younger generation. Despite the existence of an Armenian Youth Federation chapter, Greek-Armenian youth seems to mobilize itself only once a year in the month of April, with the organized events receiving minimal media coverage and the attendance of people decreasing each year.
It was only 20 years ago that the Greek-Armenian community presented a more vivid and militant image of Armenian activism, now the political element is steadily wearing off.
The community seems to be active only through holding cultural events; the quantity of cultural, athletic and educational associations shows the great tendency and talent of the community towards the arts and letters.
Each year, many dance, music and theater performances are held, usually organized by the Hamazkayin Association, while the Homenetmen Association has a soccer, basketball and volleyball team under its wings along with the Armenian Boy Scouts. In addition to that, the charity foundations mentioned above organize bazaars and camps, where children and youngsters from Armenia participate in cultural activities.
Since 2001, there has been an exchange of cultural groups between Greece and Armenia through the Sister Cities Association. The Halandri municipality in the greater Athens area is now sister-cities with Noyemberian. Through this relationship, the aforementioned municipality has been able to offer assistance for the renovation of Noyemberian’s main square, the set-up of a public computer and web classroom and the reconstruction of public streets. On a similar base, the Nea Smyrni municipality donated medical machinery and street-cleaning vehicles to Sissian while the city of Korinthos is now connected to Vanatsor.
Thanks to cultural events, the few Armenian schools left in Greece and the existence of two newspapers and a periodical, the majority of Greek-Armenians are still able to speak their mother language. Unfortunately, the importance of the written language has also been neglected by a large part of the community and gradually fewer and fewer people know how to write in Armenian.
Another matter of concern is the influx of economic immigrants from Armenia in the past years; their numbers are estimated around 20,000 people. That means that they count almost the same as the traditional diaspora in Greece, even though they find themselves in a significantly worse position. Most of them do not speak Greek and have a hard time integrating into Greek society. However, the community has exerted much effort to helping them in any way possible, offering work positions and providing for their education. It is of great interest whether newly arrived Armenians will trigger the inactive and indifferent community to take action in a more meaningful way, thus ensuring, for the new generation of Greek-Armenians, a more sustainable community.
Will the community be able to preserve its Armenian element in 20 years from now? Chances are gloomy. Being an active and informed citizen within one’s community is no easy task. It takes time, effort, knowledge and passion. And if there is no passion, then the community is bound to lose its character and motivation. The only solution would be for the younger generation to wake up, realize the favorable position in which it has evolved all these years and take advantage of it to pursue Armenian interests more effectively.
Unfortunately, the Greek-Armenian community has failed to do that partially because it did not entrust its organization and management to professionals. That is Armenians with a background in history, politics and the social sciences–people who would make the pursuit of Greek-Armenian interests a profession and not a once-a-week activity by people passionate, but nevertheless unable to thoroughly occupy themselves with the needs of the community and the Armenian state.
The community, as it grew, became too comfortable and did not make use of its prosperity the way it should have. It has also shown stubbornness in changing its ways when the need for evolution was evident. One can only hope that the new generation of Armenian scientists and students will aspire to bring about a much needed change.
Armenian varbeds (masters) dominate the silver trade in Turkey. Photo by Clement Saccorrani.
By Maro Siranosian
36 churches, 15 schools, 18 choirs, 3 newspapers, and a handful of dance groups. This is the answer you will likely get from an Armenian living in Istanbul if you ask the question: “How many Armenian [insert institution name here]’s are there in Istanbul?” If you asked a similar question to an Armenian in Beirut or Los Angeles, chances are, you would not be satisfied with the answer you received.
The Armenians of Turkey, mostly located in the city of Istanbul, do not like to be referred to as a diaspora. After all, they are living on their ancestral lands and, along with the Armenians of Iran, represent one of the oldest Armenian communities outside of Armenia proper. Prior to 1915, there were over 4,000 Armenian churches in Turkey and an estimated 2 million Armenians. Today, the churches which remain are centered in Istanbul, with some others partly scattered across eastern Turkey, including a church in the village of Vakif (the only remaining ethnic Armenian village in Turkey) located in the province of Hatay near the Syrian border.
The Armenians in Turkey can be found in almost any commercial sector and are well represented in most trades, and even dominate in some, like the silver trade in which Armenians have been working for over 600 years. They are well integrated into Turkish society and generally enjoy the same rights as the average Turkish citizen. Of course, there are some exceptions to this, as the community does not have the right to teach Armenian history at their parochial schools.
This past November, I had the opportunity to travel to Turkey with a photographer to work on a photo project about Armenians living outside the Republic of Armenia. Almost every Armenian with whom we spoke in Istanbul expressed very positive feelings towards their Turkish compatriots. They seemed not to hold grudges and recognized certain events of the past as “history”; which, though they believed should never be forgotten, they also felt should be disregarded when dictating current relations.
Having been active in the Armenian community of Los Angeles, I had strong notions about what it meant to be Armenian. Those ideas changed when I moved to Yerevan two years ago, and traveling to Turkey to meet with the Armenian community has added yet another layer to this understanding.
The Armenians of Turkey approach the issue of the Genocide, the most salient issue for most diasporans, with much caution and prefer to live without drawing unnecessary attention to their community. Although not a single one of the Armenians we spoke with mentioned outright repression, they are well aware of the subjects which they are to avoid if they wish to live in relative peace and keep their churches and schools open. The murder of Hrant Dink, editor of the Armenian newspaper Agos based in Istanbul, is all too fresh in their memories. Dink, who was convicted by the state under Article 301 and targeted by Turkish nationalists in January 2007, played a big role in chipping away at the taboo surrounding the topic of the Genocide and awoke people’s interest in the subject.
Living in Turkey as an Armenian seems to require somewhat of an intricate balancing act. Oftentimes, efforts to simultaneously be “good citizens” of Turkey while still preserving their Armenian identities counter each other and something has to give. In certain cases what gives in the end is the former, but, according to the Armenian school principals we spoke to, accepting that Armenian history will not be taught is a relatively small price to pay to ensure that Armenian children have a school to attend where they can learn the Armenian language with their peers.
Though I cannot speak for them, it seems that the Armenians of Turkey find themselves in a paradoxical situation, struggling to preserve their Armenian identities, while at the same time being forced to sacrifice parts of that identity to be able to remain Armenian.
Unlike the Armenian communities of Los Angeles and Beirut, the Armenians of Turkey need to strive for balance while still dealing with the same issues of assimilation faced by diasporan Armenian communities. Although some may criticize the Armenians of Turkey for what they have seemingly given up, it is important to realize that they are driven by a deep understanding of what it is they stand to lose and it is only to preserve this that they sacrifice so much.
Statues of Ataturk and Turkish flags, required by Turkish law to be displayed in every room and corridor, are ubiquitous and adorn the walls of all the schools in Turkey, including the Getronagan (Central) Armenian school. photo credit: Clement Saccorrani
Currently, estimates place the number of Armenians in Turkey between 55,000 and 75,000. While most of them belong to the Armenian Apostolic church, a small portion of these Armenians are Catholic or Protestant. The Armenian community is concentrated in several districts in Istanbul including Bakirkoy, Sisli, Kurtulus, and Samatya.
During Ottoman times, Armenians who obeyed the law got by as long as they accepted a legal and social code that was different than that which was applied to their Muslim countrymen. However, harsher methods–such as outright killings and deportations–were employed as the empire neared its end, especially during the Hamidian and later transition years (the Young Turk era) towards the new republic.
Things changed following the creation of the Turkish Republic. One can say that the government followed a certain “path,” rather than the institutionalized segregation reminiscent of Ottoman times. In other words, the Ottoman-style discrimination became much more discreet, yet was nevertheless still prevalent. This newer “path” can be described as an accumulation of methods, such as: indirect intimidation of the minorities; arbitrary laws that create and support legal uncertainty; and policies that aim to create weariness among the Armenian population to pass on its religion, culture and language to the next generation.
In 1942, along with the other non-Muslim minorities, Armenians in Turkey were forced to pay a wealth tax which was arbitrarily imposed to bring about the impoverishment of non-Muslim segments of Turkish society. As an open example of the impetus behind such discriminatory measures, the then Prime Minister Sukru Saracoglu delivered a speech on August 5, 1942, where he described the Turkish administration’s program and stated that his nation is, “Turkish, pro-Turkish, and will always remain pro-Turkish. As much as being a blood matter, Turkishness is also a matter of conscience and culture. We want the authority of neither monarchy nor capitalism, nor the authority of classes. We only want the dominion of the Turkish nation.”
Slain journalist Hrant Dink's grave at Balikli Armenian Cemetery in Istanbul. photo credit: Clement Saccorrani
Later, in the mid-1950s, Armenians and Greeks in Istanbul became the victims of Turkish mobs, inflamed by the issue of Cyprus, which rioted through their communities destroying personal property churches and cemeteries with the indirect help of the military.
Today, although Armenians do have a legal minority status in Turkey, their religious leadership organs are not recognized in the same way. For instance, the Armenian Patriarchate continues to this day to seek legal recognition of its status as patriarchates rather than foundations. This particular problem prevents it from having the right to own and transfer property and train religious clergy.
Outright killings of Armenian civilians do not occur anymore, as far as we know; however, the intensive anti-Christian (or, more broadly, anti-foreign) propaganda by the media outlets–which are heavily influenced by the government–do result in attacks by nationalists on Armenian individuals, churches and cemeteries. This is especially true since the Armenian community represents the largest non-Muslim element in Turkey. Even though it may not be appropriate to blame the entire Turkish government for these attacks or for the recent murder of journalist Hrant Dink, powerful elements within the government are certainly responsible for them.
Furthermore, the Armenian community in Turkey faces the burden of often being blamed for the country’s image problems abroad. International Genocide recognition efforts create resentment and public anger towards the Armenian community. This active anger is fueled by active propaganda which results in the creation of a society where the average Armenian living in Turkey feels like a stranger–despite the fact that he or she is born in that country, and is supposed to be a part of the fabric of Turkish society.
It is worth mentioning here that Hrant Dink’s murder, along with other developments, created a slight ripple of change in public opinion in Turkey during recent years. More and more intellectuals have publicly recognized the Armenian Genocide. Furthermore, a group of intellectuals started an apology campaign. However, it is too early to say that the Turkish government or the people are ready to do what is right. Apology campaigns and seminars that shed light on the Armenian Question are not taken seriously by the authorities, and are resented by the vast majority of the general public.
The problem seems to be that the Turkish government is still extremely worried about the Armenian Question; even an insignificant minority population that has no right of association is recognized as a “potential threat to the national security” by this government. This fright leads the government to create an environment in which the average Armenian will feel so uncomfortable that eventually they will end up emigrating or losing their identity and assimilate.
The Genocide and the events that led up to it caused the disappearance of a significant portion of Armenian existence. In addition, after the World War I, the political, cultural and financial harassment led to the present situation of Armenians in Turkey. The Armenian community will not have much left to recover if Armenians abroad do not act to do something to protect their compatriots from this new way of oppression.
They’re Armenian, They’re Argentinean; They’re Los Armenios. They’re the Armenian music sensation coming out of South America.
This exciting new band is made up of Mariela Moumdjian, Pablo Kaloustian, Jacqui Boghossian, Gabriel Giogourtzian, and Juan Abadjian, all of whom met as youth in the Armenian community of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Each one of them came from a different area in this community and grew up listening to different styles of music.
The bandmembers all attended separate Armenian schools where they forged their passion for Armenian culture early on. Pablo and Gabriel went to St. Gregory School, Jacqui went to AGBU, Mariela attended the Mekhitarian School of Buenos Aires and Juan, the Tertzakian Institute. In addition, they stayed active in the Armenian community through such organizations as the AYF and Homenetmen, competing regularly in sporting events and various community activities.
Naturally, with such an upbringing and circle of friends, the band members had a great sense of Armenian pride; they felt the need to combine this pride with their creative talents and form an Armenian band.
Los Armenios has achieved a great deal of notoriety since the release of their first album in December 2006 and when they were nominated in 2007 for an Armenian Music Award for best alternative album. When asked if there was one piece of advice they would give to the Armenian Diaspora, Mariela urged the following: “Make an effort to keep the traditions and, what is really important, keep on speaking the Armenian language.”
Indeed, this is one of the main goals of Los Armenios itself, whose original compositions are penned and performed in their native Armenian. As artists, they hope to make Armenian culture better known in Argentina. “What’s more,” adds Gabriel, “we consider that through music we can awake the Armenians of the new generation to do something for Armenia and for the Diaspora, just the same thing that our exiled Great Parents did for us.”
For countless centuries Armenia’s have migrated to various parts of the world, seeking a safer environment to conduct business and live their lives in relative peace. Especially after the collapse of the last Armenian kingdom in Greater Armenia, Armenia’s were left defenseless against barbaric hordes that ravaged our country and forced thousands to seek refuge in foreign lands. The 20th century in particular was unmerciful for the Armenians, when one million and a half million Armenians were massacred by the Turks and the rest left to wander to distant corners of the world.
We are all aware of the Diaspora communities that formed as a result of the Genocide, as most of us can trace our roots back to Western Armenia along with the migration of our surviving relatives to countries like Iran, Lebanon, France, Argentina, etc. These communities have since flourished, and many Armenians have rooted themselves in all aspects of life in those countries. Many have preserved their culture, language and family name, by interacting with fellow Armenians through community and social organizations.
Although these developments tend to be associated with the ‘traditional’ Armenian Diaspora communities, my interest here is to focus on the newer generation of migrants from Armenia.
Armenians from Soviet Armenia began immigrating to the West as early as the 70’s. Larger waves of migrants followed soon after in the 80s and 90s. For example, between 1980 and 1988 it is estimated that 112,000 people emigrated out of Armenia. From 1991 to 1996, another 667,000 Armenians, 18 percent of the population, left the homeland. A large number found themselves in places such as the United States, one of the traditional Armenian Diaspora communities.1
For the older communities, Armenians from Armenia seemed different, speaking a different dialect and having mannerisms almost alien to them. As wave after wave moved to various parts of Europe, and the Americas, we witnessed some resistance from the traditional communities towards the recent immigrants. Communication was the major barrier, as the older communities adapted words from the host country whereas the Armenians from Armenia, under Russian influence, frequently utilized Russian words. For instance, the word tomato for an Armenian from Armenia is a “pamidor”-Russian, and for a western Armenian, a cart is an “araba”- Arabic. Unfortunately, a host of minute problems such as these created rifts among the community, especially in the Los Angeles area.
While some may choose to focus on these trivial differences and seek to exacerbate stereotypes, it is important for us as a people to rise beyond these minor obstacles and take a practical look at the very serious challenges facing our nation. It is a fact that the majority of Armenias currently live abroad, making the imperative for us to unite in the Diaspora even more critical. We should acknowledge our commonalities and common interests as a people exiled to foreign lands. Given our situation, we simply cannot afford to be divided.
Furthermore, we should seek to utilize the advantages our position presents for our nation. Unlike other ethnicities, Armenians speak countless languages and have a keen understanding of the mindset of various cultures worldwide. These skills can help us build Armenia’s economy and political ambitions in today’s increasingly globalized community.
Let us look beyond the differences and realize that one type of Armenian is not superior to the other. We must embrace our differences and utilize all available resources to further our interests.
Speaking from my experience as an Armenian who moved from Armenia to Los Angeles in the early, I have accepted all Armenians as my equals and actively cooperated with all organizations–traditional Diasporan and the ‘new’ Armenians from Armenia–to push our cause forward. I would like to see all of us work more cooperatively in the future and pool our collective resources for our nation’s common interests.
The days of division and alienation within our community must come to an end if we want to see a strong and prosperous Armenia. We have several challenges to overcome as a nation and we cannot be hampered by petty, antiquated differences. We must embrace our commonalities and organize together, around our points of unity. This is the only way our people can move forward.
1. Stephan H. Astourian, “Armenian Demography, the Homeland, and the Diaspora: Trends and Consequences,” in Bruneau Michel, Ioannis Hassiotis, Martine Hovanessian, and Claire Mouradian, eds. Arm?niens et Grecs en diaspora: approaches comparatives. Athens: ?cole fran?aise d’Ath?nes, 2007. p. 191-210.
Led by Hranush Hakobyan since its inception in October of 2008. Its mission: to preserve, utilize and repatriate the Diaspora.
By Tamar Yardemian
Diasporan people have become increasingly common in the 21st century, as people immigrate into more economically advanced countries in search for better opportunities of living. Yet it is quite uncommon for small republics to dedicate a ministry of their government to the Diasporan entities of that country. Does Armenia’s bold move of dedicating an entire Ministry to Diasporan Affairs in October 2008 illustrate the importance of Diasporans to the vitality of the Republic of Armenia?
Either way, this is an unprecedented opportunity to fully engage Diasporans in reconnecting with the homeland both physically and emotionally. The opportunities of the Ministry are endless: an organized method of connecting the Armenian government with its people abroad.
The general goals of the Ministry have been emphasized through interviews with Hranush Hakobyan, the newly appointed head of Diaspora Affairs: (1) Preservation of Armenian identity – culture, faith and language; (2) Utilizing Diasporans to empower the homeland in progression; (3) Repatriation – return to the homeland and to one’s roots. These goals are quite general and can be pursued through many avenues. Thus far, Mrs. Hakobyan has made several visits abroad and has been speaking publicly about newly initiated programs.
‘Ari Tun’ (Come Home) is the name of the campaign being launched to encourage Diasporan tourism into Armenia, and thereby instigate spiritual and financial efforts into the development of Armenia. Another project has been titled ‘Days of Honor’ where famous and influential Diasporan Armenians will be celebrated in Armenia through specified days in their honor. Among these names are Charles Aznavour, Kirk Krikorian and Alek Manookian. More substantial examples of launched programs are the building of ties with Armenians living in Latin American because they have been identified with the danger of alienation. The Ministry is facilitating educational programs to exchange teachers and enter Diasporan youth into Armenian universities. Educational programs and technological opportunities have taken the forefront of all news related to the Ministry of Diasporan Affairs.
Are these programs nearly enough to fulfill the goals of preservation, utilization and repatriation of the Diaspora? There are continuing conversations about long-term implementations of these objectives. But the true question lies in the selection the goals themselves. What if all efforts were geared towards the broader objective of securing the existence and future of Armenians at home and abroad? As we enter the era of globalization in the 21st century, it may be more realistic to work towards the unity and continuity of the Armenian people across the world. Unification not only by language and culture, but united as well through citizenship, paying taxes, full cooperation in lobbying efforts, and undenied opportunity for employment of Diasporan Armenians in the private, public and nonprofit sectors of Armenia and Kharabagh.
As the Ministry of Diasporan Affairs works to engage us who live outside our homeland, we should take the initiative to respond with opinions about our destiny as Diasporans.
Armenians from the Eastern USA visit Khor Virap as part of the 2008 AYF-YOARF Summer Internship
By Sossi Essajanian
“There once was, and there once was not…” This sentence has served as the beginning to many Armenian fairytales as they weave stories about the handsome prince, the peasant girl, or the poor beggar who sings beautiful songs to lour the animals to feast with him. With such a standard commencement, the listener is left wondering if the entire world just described really existed or not. Unlike “Once upon a time…” that assumes a moment once did exist, the Armenian version leaves one in doubt if such a place existed. These questions are familiar to Armenians in the Eastern USA in cities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Providence as we think about where we live and how much we consider “home” as tied with our identity.
Three generations removed from their ancestral lands and living in the Eastern USA, Armenian youth still learn about the ancient city of Ani and the Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island as great cites of Armenian history as well as places of trauma and death. They also use names of cities and villages employed during Ottoman and pre-Ottoman times to refer to these locations even though today many are not used in Turkey as the actual city names. Frequently when asked “Where is your family from?” many use these old city names to establish relations creating the sense that they still exist. But establishing a historic connection to these places is not merely an end it itself.
Anthropologist Susan Pattie discusses the various conceptualizations of diaspora that might be applied to the Armenian case. She refers to William Safran’s understanding of diaspora as an eventual return to the homeland, as well as Robin Cohen’s counter argument against the concept of homeland that there may be positives for living in the diaspora. However, in the Armenian case Pattie concludes that “this tangled mass of approaches to the question of ethnic identity and diaspora/homeland relations is highly appropriate.”[i] Adding to this complexity for the recent generation is the opportunity to visit the Republic of Armenia. Through the help of various internship and volunteer programs Diasporans from the East Coast have joined others around the world in visiting Armenia and returning to the homeland. But how many consider moving there for good?
Thus for many Armenian-Americans living in the Eastern USA the idea of home and homeland seem to differ making the diaspora here so grounded. Pattie notes that “with each generation in place, diaspora becomes more comfortable and a home itself.”[ii] In conversations with diasporan Armenians about culture Pattie writes that for them homeland is implicit; it is a group of behaviors and traditions that when changed, “the culture is lost or in danger of being lost.”[iii]
In the Eastern USA Armenian youth grow up with the option to be Armenian or not. It seems as though the Armenian culture of community directly collides with the American mentality of individualism. Thus, many cities’ Armenian “areas” do not exist where one can find all Armenian churches, stores, and businesses within walking distance of each other; one has to commute via car, bus or train in order to reach either an Armenian Center, club, or church. Thus Armenian identity seems to be one of choice; it is not imposed and one has to seek out those places to find things that will make them Armenian.
In her recent essay “Learning to be Armenian: Understanding the Process of Ethnic Identity Development for Armenian Adolescents” Ani Yezedjian echoes these sentiments when she says that “Although the existence of cultural markers can provide tools for individuals and institutions to manipulate, their existence alone will not ensure the persistence of the ethnic group.”[iv]
So let us no longer say “there once was and was not;” let us make our home and homeland one and flower Armenia with our talents, passion, and humanity.
Sossi Essajanian is an AYF Alumnus from the New York “Hayortik” Chapter
[i] Pattie, Susan, “Longing and Belonging: Issues of Homeland in the Armenian Diaspora,” Department of Anthropology, University College London, p.3.
This summer, Armenian President Serzh Sarkissian met wiith his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul in Yerevan amid a sea of demonstrators in the background calling on Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide
When asked in 2007 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC why he thought the “historic issue” of the Armenian Genocide continues to come up again and again all over the world, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan responded by saying:
“This is a problem of the Armenian Diaspora. The Armenian Diaspora is looking for a way to create some sort of benefits for itself and this is what they have found. If it works, then they look to achieve some gains from it. If not, the world will have lost a lot of time.”[i]
A few months later, on the eve of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee’s adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106), the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Eurasian Affairs, Dan Fried, called for the defeat of the measure so that “Turkish-Armenian relations will move ahead strongly and in a positive way.” He added, “There are many people in Armenia who also, obviously would like to have better relations with Turkey. These are serious people and I think good partners for Turkey if we can get past this resolution.”[ii]
So, the argument goes, the issue of the Armenian Genocide is simply a concern of the Armenian Diaspora and those living in Armenia are more interested in forgetting the past and gaining Turkey’s friendship. This line has been parroted ad nauseam, at least, since Armenia’s 1991 independence. Ankara and Washington, among others,[iii] have gone to great lengths to paint the Diaspora as “extremists” obsessed with the Genocide, as opposed to Armenia which is much more “reasonable” and willing to “move forward from its past.”
This article will attempt to show that, especially when it comes to the issue of the Genocide, this notion of diverging interests between Armenia and the Diaspora is utterly and ridiculously false. The fact that it is repeated so often has more to do with a political desire to divide the Armenian nation than with any factual grounding in reality. Indeed, if anything, Armenians living in Armenia are just as equally, if not more, adamant about achieving justice for the Genocide than those in the Diaspora.
History as a Guide
Those who are serious about evaluating the argument that the Genocide is an issue exclusive to the Diaspora would do well to take a brief look at history.
First of all, more than half of the current citizens of Armenia trace their family roots to Western Armenia and have relatives who were direct victims of the World War I Genocide. These families fled to Armenia either as survivors during the massacres or later as survivors and children of survivors repatriating to Armenia during the waves of nerkaght immigration from the Diaspora. Those who ended up in Soviet Armenia held on to a very strong identification with the culture, life and history of their ancestral towns and villages in Western Armenia.[iv]
Similarly, it is worth remembering where the modern international campaign to attain recognition and justice for the Genocide was initially sparked. It was in Yerevan in 1965—on the 50th anniversary of the Genocide—where the people took to the streets, in an unprecedented display of defiance to the Soviet state, and held mass demonstrations calling for “Our Lands! Our Lands” and “Justice! Justice!” This was a major wake-up call to the entire Armenian nation and, in Armenia itself, forced the Soviet authorities to allow the building of the Tsitsernakapert Genocide Memorial in 1968, as a way to appease the growing wave of nationalist sentiment.
However, this sentiment did not die but only resurfaced in the form of underground organizations and groups such as the National Unification Party (NUP), which called for the return of Western Armenian lands and reparations for the Genocide, among other demands. By 1974, there were some 80 Armenian activists imprisoned for such nationalist activity in Soviet Armenia.[v]
As another indication of the attachment Armenian citizens always held for the Genocide, one of the most striking factors of the movement for Artsakh’s independence in the late 1980s was the prevalence of similarities and connections made to the Genocide of 1915. From the slogans used in mass demonstrations to the accounts of those involved in the movement, it has been shown that the tragedy which befell Armenians at the hands of Turkey was fresh on the minds of those suffering and resisting Azeri occupation and oppression.[vi]
Aside from the historical record documenting the centrality the Genocide has always played in the politics and life of Armenians in Armenia, let us come more up to date and see what Armenian citizens have been expressing in public opinion surveys over the course of the last decade.
In a 2003 survey of both Armenians in the Diaspora and Armenia conducted by the Aslan Group and Arlex International, nearly 80% of Armenians in Armenia said they believe that “international recognition of the Genocide should be one of the top priorities for Armenia’s leaders.” This was in comparison to their counterparts in the Diaspora, only 70% of whom shared the same view.[vii] Thus, we see in this case that the Armenians living in Armenia actually had a more steadfast approach to the Genocide than those in the Diaspora.
A similar finding occurred on the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, when a poll was carried out by the Armenian Center for National International Studies which found 93.5% of respondents in Armenia saying that their government should claim reparations from Turkey and another 80% insisting that it was the role of the government in Armeniato actively push for Turkey’s recognition.[viii] This clearly illustrates an Armenian citizenry that wants to see its leaders not only more engaged on the international recognition front, but also to move further into securing proper restitution for the crime that was committed against it.
One year later, a 2006 Sociometer Poll found that 90% of young Armenian citizens were against normalization of relations with Turkey if this required giving up Armenians’ territorial claims or came without Turkey’s recognition of the Genocide.[ix] Again, rather than seeing a passive or indifferent population in Armenia, we see one that is overwhelmingly in agreement—one would probably be lucky to get 90% agreement on this in the Diaspora—about the need to resist Turkey’s efforts at denying and avoiding the consequences of the Genocide it committed.
More recently, an October 2008 survey was carried out bythe Gallup Organization in which respondents were asked about the overtures from Armenia and Turkey surrounding the so-called ‘soccer diplomacy’ process. The results were that 47.3% of respondents felt that “Armenia should be very careful in its relations with Turkey” and another 25% expressed opposition to establishing any sort of relations until Turkey recognized the Genocide.[x] Do the math and you can see that the vast majority of Armenians in Armenia, again, are not eager to forget the past and place heavy emphasis on achieving justice for the Armenian Genocide.
Chart A: Armenian Public Opinion on Genocide Recognition and Relations with Turkey, 2003-2008
Aslan Group, Arlex International
80% of Armenians in Armenia and 70% in the Diaspora believe international recognition of the Genocide should be one of the top priorities for Armenia’s leaders
“The Armenian Genocide: 90 Years and Waiting”
Armenian Center for National and International Studies
93.5% of respondents in Armenia believe their government “should claim reparations from Turkey” and 80.8% believe it is “the role of the Republic of Armenia to contribute to the recognition of the Genocide by Turkey”
Poll of Armenian Youth
90% of respondents said Armenia should not normalize relations with Turkey if this requires giving up territorial claims or without Turkey’s acknowledgement of the 1915 Genocide”
“Armenian National Voices”
USAID, Baltic Surveys/The Gallup Organization
51% of Armenians said that the border with Turkey “should not be opened” unless Turkey recognizes the Genocide
“Prospects for Armenian-Turkish Relations”
Armenian Center for National and International Studies
76% of Armenian respondents believe reconciliation with Turkey is either impossible or unlikely unless Armenia capitulates to Turkey’s preconditions
“Political Segmentation in Armenia”
Baltic Surveys/The Gallup Organization and IPM Georgia
46.3% of Armenians polled say “Armenia should be very careful in its relations with Turkey” and another 25% believe “We should not cooperate with Turkey until the Armenian Genocide is recognized”
These same basic results are seen over and over again in countless other public opinion polls and surveys (see Chart A). Whenever Armenian citizens are asked such questions they actually tend to take a more assertive position on the Genocide than many Diasporans would. Aside from whether or not this consensus in Armenia gets fully translated into government policy,[xi] the simple fact of the matter is that Armenians living in Armenia care deeply about the Genocide and share a similar, if not higher, level of support for recognition and reparation efforts as those in the Diaspora.
For those who still might not be convinced by the historical record and public opinion data, it is worth pointing out a few other key observations from recent developments that further reveal the nature of Armenia’s stance on the Genocide.
In October 2007, when the US House Foreign Affairs Committee passed H.Res.106, government and opposition politicians alike in Armenia openly welcomed the passage and gave a standing ovation in the parliament. Despite pressure from Turkey and the US, these parliamentarians went on record calling for a full official recognition vote by the entire US House. Similar support and elation was witnessed all throughout the press and society in Armenia.[xii]
Armenian youth protest Abdullah Gul’s visit to Armenia
More recently, when the head of the Armenian Football Federation, oligarch Ruben “Nemets Rubo” Hairapetyan, decided to remove the image of Ararat from the logo of Armenia’s team in the run-up to their soccer match against Turkey, citizens throughout the country raised such an uproar that the Federation was forced to reinstate the logo. Hairapetyan himself publicly admitted, “We could not imagine that the change of the Football Federation’s logo could elicit such a wide response and become a politicized matter.”[xiii]
Finally, on December 9, an open letter signed by over 300 of Armenia’s leading academics, artists and intellectuals was sent to Turkey’s President, Abdullah Gul, calling on him to recognize the Genocide as a necessary condition for Armenian-Turkish relations. The letter insists that the crime of Genocide “has no statutory limitation” and states, “We should all accept the fact that Ottoman Turkey is responsible for the genocidal crime against Armenians, while today’s Turkish state has inherited this responsibility. The current Turkish diplomacy and propaganda cannot cover up this macabre page of our history.”[xiv]
All three of these examples are recent expressions of the Armenian people’s determination to ensure proper recognition and restitution from Turkey on this matter. These are expressions originating from within the mainstream of Armenian society and reflect the reality that the centrality of the Genocide is anything but a strictly Diaspora concern.
Facts in Perspective
This cursory review of some of the vast body of evidence debunking the myth that Armenia and the Diaspora have conflicting interests on the issue of the Armenian Genocide should be enough to put to rest this silly notion once and for all. Nevertheless, we can expect that the agents of Ankara and Washington will find it in their interests to continue ignoring the facts and parroting this myth in the hopes of dividing the Armenian nation in its struggle for justice.
Unfortunately, it is also likely that officials in Yerevan may continue to succumb to certain geopolitical and economic pressures to stay pliant over this issue. Hence, we can expect that the overwhelming consensus of the Armenian citizenry for proper recognition and reparations for the crime of the Genocide will not be adequately reflected in Armenian government policy anytime soon.
It is in this light that the role of the Diaspora in the overall struggle for recognition and justice becomes all the more critical. Those of us who live in relative freedom, economic prosperity, and comfort in the West have a special obligation to be the torchbearers of the Armenian Cause throughout the world. We must represent the interests of our people in national and international circles with an understanding that we have certain privileges in the realm of political and economic activity that our brothers and sisters in Armenia do not.
When it comes to the importance of achieving justice for the Genocide, there is absolutely no difference between an Armenian in Armenia and one in the Diaspora. The only difference lies in the resources, advantages, opportunities and institutions available for each actor to make this goal a reality.
Let us never forget that, as Armenians, we share the same interests in the Armenian Cause no matter where we may be in the world. With this reality in mind, we can more effectively move forward, united and working together to achieving all of our just aspirations.
[i] Tayyip Erdogan, “US-Turkey Strategic Partnership,” National Press Club, Washington, DC, November 5, 2007
[iii] Armenians have by no means been immune from adopting this line of thinking. For an analysis of how the first president of Armenia, Levon Ter Petrossian, turned his back on the original principles of the movement which brought him into power and sought to abandon the issue of the Armenian Genocide in hopes of winning favor with Turkey and the West, see Stephan H. Astourian, “From Ter-Petrosian to Kocharian, Leadership Change in Armenia,” Berkeley Program in Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies, Working Paper Series (2000). For a similarly defeatist display by the man currently serving as Armenia’s Secretary of National Security, see Artur Baghdasaryan, “Armenia is Trapped in its Past,” Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2007. In the arena of Armenian scholarship, see Asbed Kotchikian, “From Vertical to Diagonal Interactions: The Multidimensional Aspects of Armenia(n)-(Turk)ey Relations,” The Armenian Weekly, April 21, 2007, wherein it is argued that the Genocide is much more important to diasporan identity whereas it “seems not to be focal in the minds of the citizens of the [Armenian] state.”
[iv] For example, this attachment is difficult to miss when one travels to the outer districts of Yerevan, where communities are named after the Armenian areas decimated during the 1915 massacres. These include Yerevan districts such as Nork-Marash, Malatia-Sebastia, Kanaker-Zeytun, Arabkir, and so on.
[v] See Ronald Grigor Suny, “Soviet Armenia,” in Richard G. Hovannisian, ed. The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, Volume II (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997) and Nora Dudwick, “Armenia: The Nation Awakens,” in Ian Bremmer and Ray Taras, eds., Nation and Politics in the Soviet Successor States (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
[vi] See Robert Evans, “Armenian Protestors Also Recall ‘Genocide’,” Washington Times, April 25, 1989; Donald E. Miller and Lorna Touryan Miller, Armenia: Portraits of Survival and Hope (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); and Haroutioun Maroutian, “Hay Poezian Vorpes Inknoutyan Patkeragoutyoun (est Kharabaghyan sharzhman tseghaspanoutyane nvirvats tsoutsapastarneri),” cited in Astourian, “From Ter-Petrosian to Kocharian,” p. 22.
[x] “Political Segmentation in Armenia,” Baltic Surveys/The Gallup Organization and IPM Georgia, November 2008.
[xi] Although the Republic of Armenia’s declaration of independence itself clearly states, “Armenia stands in support of the task of achieving international recognition of the 1915 Genocide in Ottoman Turkey and Western Armenia,” successive Armenian governments have often taken a much more passive, if not appeasing stance.
[xii] See Avet Demourian, “Armenian Eyes, Ears on US Genocide Vote,” The Associated Press, October 19, 2007 and “Armenia Hails U.S. Vote Recognizing Genocide,” RFE/RL, October 11, 2007
[xiii] Suren Musayelyan, “Back to Ararat?: Football Chief Reverses Course in Logo Controversy,” ArmeniaNow, October 10, 2008
[xiv] “Open Letter to the President of the Turkish Republic, Abdullah Gul,” December 9, 2008