By Orkhan Amashov
Armenia and its expatriate diaspora are in an existential crisis. The national identity which has historically been based on carefully cultivated myths is on the verge of losing its structural oneness. Salvation may still be within reach, but that will require painstakingly arduous and excruciating self-contemplation. The Second Karabakh War and its devastating results have given Armenia a fresh chance to reflect on its past and present, and rethink its vital priorities.
Armenian Parliament Speaker Alen Simonyan, if to put it mildly, was not well-received by his compatriots in Cyprus. In fact, the Armenian politician, as evident from the video posted on social media by a certain Akop Manukyan, found himself a recipient of insults and vociferous accusations. "Traitors" and "murderers of Armenians" were some of the words the Armenian politician heard.
Heckling is a universally accepted form of expressing one’s indignation through impertinence, but what happened to Simonyan is not noteworthy in that sense. What matters here is the message itself and the concern ingrained in its substantive core. It can be inferred from the incident that Armenians of Cyprus, or at least some of them, are deeply unhappy with the present state of affairs in their home country. They view the incumbent Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his government as the emblematic representation of perfidy, as a bunch of opinionated and self-righteous traitors who "surrendered" Karabakh to Azerbaijan.
Diaspora designs vs homeland realities
The reception to which Simonyan was subjected is indicative of something considerably more pervasive. In fact, the view held by Cypriot-Armenians is echoed throughout the whole diaspora. The fatal ambition that lies at the heart of the worldwide Armenian outlook is based on "victimhood" and "mythological predestination", and each of these linchpins gives rise to maximalist objectives.
"Victimhood", coupled with an imagined past, necessitates an obsession with the idea of making the whole of humanity accept the Armenian version of the events of 1915. "Mythological predestination", on the other hand, envisages an unrealistic future in which Armenia recovers its "rightful possessions" from Turkey and Azerbaijan. And it is under the strain of these enormous impossibilities that modern Armenia has been cracking since its birth.
The diaspora feels it is entitled to a special privilege and therefore claims the status of an ultimate arbiter in Armenian affairs. This could be partly explained by the fact that, until 1991, the diaspora members perceived themselves as the sole representatives of their nation. Subsequent to the formation of the modern Republic of Armenia, the diaspora redesignated itself as the representative of Armenia abroad with plenipotentiary prerogatives. But they have never lost the sense of primacy and that still feeds their fatal ambition.
It is a well-known truth, accepted in academic circles, that the policy priorities pursued by diaspora members are not always in line with the priorities of homeland state policy-makers. This is particularly true in the case of conflict-generated diasporas, and the worldwide Armenian community is a very good example of that.
First of all, since Armenian diaspora groups do not live in their homeland and therefore do not suffer the consequences of the absence of peace and lack of economic prosperity, which is largely due to the problems that Armenia has had with Turkey and Azerbaijan since 1991, they prefer to keep their emotional attachments to that homeland and make the conflicts even more protracted by refusing to sacrifice their "sacrosanct" objectives on the way to a peaceful settlement.
In his academic work dedicated to conflict-generated transnational diasporas, an eminent scholar of conflict analysis and resolution, Terrence Lyons, stated that diaspora groups of this kind are less likely to support reconciliation efforts and, when it comes to exchanging part of what they perceive to be their homeland for some instrumental end, they are expected to be reluctant.
Secondly, Armenia, on an economic level, needs the diaspora’s resources more than the diaspora itself needs the homeland. As Shain Yossi, a distinguished expert specialising in this area, articulated, the more the homeland is in need of diaspora, the more united the diaspora will be, and a stronger and unified diaspora community will be in a position of exerting considerable influence on the affairs of the homeland.
Raison d’être and fear of losing it
Armenia, a nation the identity of which has largely been based on carefully cultivated myths, is now experiencing an existential crisis and the diaspora feels every bit of the pain. The latter is hopelessly determined to ensure that any attempt to get rid of the shackles of the invented past and imagined predestination is to be foiled. Its members prefer the imagined threat of "genocide" to loom over the nation constantly, and that is why the Second Karabakh War was described as a “new phase of the ‘Armenian Genocide'” by them.
If to follow the main dictum of the theory established in this field, when a homeland government is in the process of pursuing reconciliation with a sworn enemy, diaspora communities are bound to feel their identity as historical victims of the self-same enemy as being under threat. Therefore, in the wake of a possible peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the diaspora is expected to wage perhaps its last war so as to save that very purpose that has long been at the heart of its self-constructed existential meaning.
The accumulated impact of the circumstances that form the crux of the present reality is of such a nature that it gives the present Armenian government a historic chance to free itself from the shackles of the powerful lobby abroad.
Pashinyan was the first leader of modern Armenia who came to power with an agenda in which Karabakh was not a central theme. As Alexander Iskandaryan, director of the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan, wisely summarised, for Pashinyan, Karabakh has been a problem, whereas, for his predecessors and present internal detractors, it has been the cornerstone of their political agendas.
Such an outlook, combined with the facts on the ground, which present Armenia with limited choices regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, mean that with an application of common sense and by acting upon urgent needs, Armenia may have a chance to evolve into a healthy and prosperous entity, peacefully coexisting with its neighbors. The sooner the nation gets rid of the myths long held dear, the quicker its "wounds" will be healed.
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