Commentary: To ‘Come Home’ or ‘Stay Home?’


By Edmond Y. Azadian

The newly-formed Ministry of Diaspora has a very creative minister at the helm, namely Hranoush Hagopian, who develops many innovative programs, or puts into practice ideas long discussed but never acted upon.

Ever since Hagopian took over the ministry, several world conferences have been held in Armenia (architects, medical professionals, educators, lawyers and journalists) to tap into the diaspora resources to benefit Armenia.

Recently, a new initiative was launched to lure young Armenians living abroad to settle in Armenia. It is a worthwhile project, which caught the imagination of some Diaspora-Armenian youth. But the idea also touched some raw nerves and triggered a hot controversy. One of the soul-searching and pertinent articles was signed in the daily Azg in Yerevan, by Varoujan Sirapian, founder and director of Chobanian Research Center in Paris, France.

The program announced by the Diaspora Ministry is called Ari Tun (come home). The writer has reversed the title and renamed it Mena Tun (stay home); the upshot of this reversal is that Sirapian asks the authorities what incentives they are offering to the diaspora youth to come and stay in the homeland and second, he suggests, shouldn’t we find ways to keep the Armenian-born youth at home, before inviting the diasporan youth to come? And he offers some disturbing statistics. A recent poll conducted among the youth in the three republics in the Caucasus region has revealed the following sad picture: 40 percent of the young people polled in Armenia have expressed the desire to leave the country permanently, whereas in Georgia 14 percent have expressed the same desire and in Azerbaijan, only 12 percent.

In the young people’s perception, Armenia remains a less desirable country to live in than its two neighbors.

Then comes the perennial question: what the hell is possessing Armenians to leave their homeland and disperse around the globe and then stubbornly continue struggling with their national identity? E. Agnouni has well said: “The Armenian seeks haven anywhere, except the location called Hayastan.”

As the Byzantine Empire was shrinking, Armenia could not sustain its statehood on its ancestral territory and the nation collectively moved west to establish the Kingdom of Cilicia, which was eventually overrun by the Memluks in 1375, with King Leo Lousignan taken as prisoner to Egypt.

Armenians dispersed again always singing Tzangam desnel zeem Giligia (I wish to see my Cilicia).

Then Khrimian Hairig’s battle cry of “back to the land” did not materialize because the Ottoman Turks took away that land from under the very feet of the Armenians, after trying first to wipe them off the face of the globe.

The first Republic at the turn of the 20th century was short-lived and the 70 years of the Soviet misrule was tolerated, with the people always yearning for a free homeland. After a million-and-a-half victims at the hands of the Turks, and 300,000 Armenian youth lost as Stalin’s canon fodder during World War II, one would think that Armenians would treasure the Third Republic, yet they are voting with their feet and running out of the historic land. The logic of every departing Armenian is “let someone else build the country, defend its borders and we will love the homeland from a distance.”

The irony is that Armenians are law-abiding citizens. They are fiercely loyal to their adopted countries and they contribute tremendously to those governments; beginning with the Byzantine Empire, where they produced kings, princes and army generals, all the way to Czarist Russia and even the Ottoman Empire, where Armenian ministers, armiras, scientists, jurists and linguists were trailblazers, and the elite served bloody sultans with unwavering dedication.

Even in the West, in Europe and the US, Armenians have distinguished themselves with their loyalty and genius — both in politics and in science.

Once they are back in their homeland, they cannot stand a ruler who is their kin and they begin the process of self destruction — a stage in which we find ourselves now. Armenians take refuge in the comfort zone of victimhood. Had we taken responsibility for our own failings, maybe we could turn out to be a stronger nation.

Armenia is surrounded by enemies, yet people don’t recognize the dangers threatening the historic homeland.

Of course there are objective reasons for internal divisions and cut-throat animosity which has gripped the populace. The most disheartening factor is the situation in the army. We won a historic victory against the stronger Azerbaijani army, and rather than savoring that victory and glorifying the armed forces, there is army bashing, sometimes rightfully. Given the rate of hazing, beatings and killings of young recruits, the youth has begun to question why it should defend a country when his only reward from them is beatings, maiming and killing?

Fortunately, parliament has sobered up recently and new laws are being drafted to change that atrocious culture prevalent in the armed forces.

Capitalism has infected the country in its ugliest form; the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and the unemployment is being “solved” through depopulation.

Any Diaspora Armenian willing to invest in Armenia is either cheated, beaten or found dead near Lake Sevan.

Of course there is a free press and journalists are writing about all these shortcomings courageously, yet nobody cares; the trend is continuing.

Many writers in the diaspora are cautious about touching these sensitive issues for fear of being labeled a traitor or a collaborator with the opposition, which, in its turn, has only gloom and doom to spew through its media. Even the most positive projects are given a negative spin. A case in point is the skyline cable car built near the monastery of Tatev through the generosity of a Russian- Armenian benefactor. The idea was to spur tourism in that historic region. While the state media was hailing the longest skyline cable in the world, the opposition was thriving on a glitch, which stopped the cars in mid air for 40 minutes.

Similarly, when Ukraine donated animals and habitat for a large aquarium to be built in Komitas Park to protect dolphins, the opposition media said the government was using the drinking water meant for people. Later on it was revealed that only irrigation water was being used for the project, but they could not be bothered to run a correction.

The Medicare scandal in the US offered a treasure trove of political capital to the opposition to link it to the current rulers in Armenia, desperately seeking ties between the arrested ex-pats and the relatives of the officials in Armenia.

The opposition is dead set on overthrowing this government (“kleptokrats”) in the name of democracy, but deep down the resentment is that the present rulers benefited too much from the gravy train. The opposition is aspiring to take over that favorable position, and no wonder people are confused and disheartened.

Armenia’s land is sacred, every youth in the world must touch it to be in communion with the soul of its ancestors.

But how can we entice the youth to “come home,” when there is a problem of “staying at home” for the indigenous youth?