Notes from the Diaspora Conference

February 19, 2010 at 4:22 pm (Armenian-ness, diaspora) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Last weekend, I attended Boston University’s first International Conference and Student Workshop on the Armenian DiasporaAcademics, students, community organizers, artists, and activists  converged to discuss the latest research in the field and to mull over old issues together.  Over the three-day event, a number of provocative points were raised by attendees, some of which I would like to share with you here. 

1.  Normalization between Armenia and Turkey does not mean reconciliation – and one should not prevent the other. 

2.  The Armenian diaspora is both heterogeneous and cohesive and can’t be one without the other.   This sameness and difference are in constant dialogue with each other. 

3.  Using the word “diaspora” for the Armenian case is problematic, and becoming more so.  If an Armenian from Istanbul is not part of the diaspora, then what happens when that Armenian moves to Berlin?  or Glendale?  What about post-Soviet immigrants with every intention of returning to the Republic of Armenia in a year, or five, or twenty?  Are they part of the diaspora if they reside in Los Angeles?  How about in Moscow?  Furthermore, should people studying a diaspora acquiesce to how individuals self identify?  In other words – who gets to decide who is a diasporan? 

 

4.  Another tricky word is repatriation because it is not sufficient to describe the types of settling and re-settling that Armenians do.  For example, if my family moved to Armenia, it is not truly repatriation because, firstly, my family is from the eastern Anatolia and, secondly, after living for generations in the states, how can we re-patriate anywhere?  Nevertheless, a diasporan like me might be considered a repatriate in Armenia but not in Turkey.  What about Armenians from the Middle East who move to Armenia…are they repatriates?  How about an Armenian from Moscow whose family was relocated during the Soviet period – when this person moves to Armenia, is he/she a repatriate?  What do you make of this: one researcher at the conference noticed a phenomenon taking place among diasporan tourists in eastern Anatolia.   While visiting their parents’ hometowns, they would be sure to grab some soil.  They brought spades and ziploc baggies with them precisely  for this purpose.  When they returned home, some would put the soil on their mantels, others would give some to friends, and some would sprinkle it on the graves of their parents.  Is that repatriation? 

[Points 3 and 4 make me jealous of the Germans – with their lego-block-style language. ] 

Purgatory by Anatoli Avetyan

5.  Who gets to own a memory?  If a memory is passed down through generations, does the memory-maker have a greater claim to the memory than the person who keeps the memory alive?  Are memories real – or are they always re-imagined events?  God knows I’ve embellished some memories of my own – and I prefer them that way.    

 6. Race vs Ethnicity vs Citizenship vs Religion vs Heritage vs Community vs Self Identity vs Social Network  

7.  We need better archives – and we need those archives to do more and better research!  Where are the primary documents of the political parties?  Why can’t we watch any Armenian films online?  Likewise, we need more translators!  It is going to take me eons to read all of this stuff!  A translation institute was suggested by one professor, which brings me to the next point. 

8.  The diaspora needs patrons and practitioners.  Our wealthy retirees have more options than building churches or supporting genocide recognition bills.  They can establish chairs at universities, support artists and exhibitions, sponsor musicians, fund a film archive or a translation institute, support teacher/professor/student exchange programs.  There is a lot already being done – but there can be a lot more. 

9.  So long as the diaspora’s biggest enemy is genocide denial they will not stand up as a unified mass against other injustices (such as human rights violations or corruption in Armenia) because such action will be perceived as diverting attention, and unity, from the true enemy. 

credit: Carlos Chavez, Los Angeles Times

10.  We must not be fearful that our work hurts the “Armenian Cause,” or that critiquing someone else’s work is tantamount to an attack on the credibility of the Armenian nation.  We owe it to ourselves and our peers to challenge assumptions and embrace the truth.  Several cautionary tales were raised over the course of the weekend that made me cringe.  In one instance, a photograph of severed heads on shelves, commonly used to illustrate the barbarism of the Ottoman authorities, was revealed to actually be from an uprising in Iran.  Shoddy scholarship has inserted this photo into the cannon of Armenian genocide images – where it has no right to belong.   As for embracing the truth – that can also be bitter-sweet.  An artist at the conference told me about her experience bringing Armenian poetry to the US.  A crowd of (aging) diasporans gathered in NYC were horrified to hear a young Armenian citizen’s very raunchy verses.  It takes courage to break through assumptions.

My expectations for the academic rigor of this conference were far exceeded.  Not only were the presenters and discussants compelling, but the attendees managed to sustain a dialogue throughout the conference.  The issues above jumped out at me as ideas and problems that I would like to continue exploring in my own research and on this blog, and I welcome your own observations in the comments section to keep the dialogue alive post-conference.

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Charlie Rose Drama Alert

December 10, 2009 at 10:36 pm (Armenian-Turkish relations, media) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Barely had my disappointment faded after the Armenia-lite Erdoğan talk when Charlie Rose stirred up some dark, rich diplomatic drama on December 8th – from an armchair, no less. 

Charlie Rose

The spicy soujuk of the interview is this bit:

CHARLIE ROSE:  …There is now an agreement between Turkey and Armenia.     What is necessary in order to — what more evidence does history need with respect to the genocide? 

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN:  Let me first of all say that you say of
genocide, speak of genocide.  I would be sorry to hear you say that.  I can
say very clearly that we do not accept genocide.  This is completely a lie. 

I invite people to prove it.  I wrote a letter in 2005, and I said
that this is not up to politicians.  It is up to historians to look into
this.  We have opened our archives.  We have all the documents there.  And
in our archives more than one million documents were already looked at. 
Today it’s even more than that.  And we have opened the archives of the
military.

And I asked the Armenian side to open their archives and let third
countries have documents.  We made a call for that too so that people could
look into all of these documents and we could all decide and see what’s
going on.

But it’s — this is not about lobbying and going to politicians and
asking them to take certain decisions.  This is not really the way to go. 
Something like this is really not possible, and there is no truth to it. 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Did President Obama bring it up with you?  Has he
discussed it with you? 

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN:  I have spoken with him, yes.  Of course, this
most recent normalization process between Turkey and Armenia was important. 
This was the context in which we discussed these issues.

And let me say to the normalization process.  It was Turkey that
initiated the normalization process.  It was Turkey that took upon itself
the risk. 

We believe in ourselves.  What we would like to see is for this
normalization process to go forward.  And in that it’s important that we go
into that and the Karavak (sic) issue between Azerbaijan and Armenia be resolved. 
There is an occupation.  We have to solve that problem.

There are three countries involved — United States, the Russian
Federation, and France.  The Minsk (ph) group, why hasn’t it solved the
problem in the last 20 years?  The problem has to be solved.

And once that problem is solved then that region will be a region of
peace.  Why?  Because once the problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia is
solved, that hatred is going to dissipate.  There is the decision of the
United Nations Security Council which will be implemented.  And the
problems between Turkey and Armenia will definitely be resolved.  I believe
in it. 

But at the moment, you have the U.S. Congress here, and the U.S.
Congress doesn’t have direct relations with our region.  We are there in
that region.  We have direct relations.  We have direct issues.  And it’s
the Turkish parliament who has to make a decision on this agreement between
Turkey and Armenia.  They have to approve it. 

And of course, the Turkish parliament too is very sensitive about this
issue.  And if the positive developments that we would like to see do not
come about, then I do not believe that our parliament will have a positive
result as a result of its deliberations.  We will have a secret ballot, but
I don’t believe that without any other positive developments there will be
a positive outcome.  (Entire transcript here.)

BAM – Turkey inserts NK as an official precondition – in English – on prime time TV.  I didn’t know that Sargsyan watched Charlie, but he surely caught wind of Erdoğan’s flaunting their agreement, and issued the following statement on Thursday, December 10th:

Serzh Sargsyan

I am stating again that the Republic of Armenia is prepared to properly honor its international commitments.  Namely, to ratify the Turkish-Armenian protocols.  But you will recall that I have also stated before that if Turkey drags out the ratification of the protocols, then Armenia will immediately make use of possibilities stemming from international law

And so I am declaring now that I have instructed relevant state bodies to prepare amendments to those of our laws that pertain to the signing, ratification and abrogation of international agreements.

Turkey’s objective is to link Turkish-Armenian relations with the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.  I must once again repeat that those attempts are a priori doomed to failure.

Obviously, the deadline for ratifying these protocols is approaching.  While there is some leeway (the protocols need to be ratified in a “timely manner”) the window of opportunity to normalize that has eluded Turkey and Armenia for nearly twenty years may slowly be closing.

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Roadmap to Protocols: Armenian Turkish Diplomacy within 2 months?

August 31, 2009 at 10:06 pm (Armenian-Turkish relations) (, , , , , , )

Very exciting news today, courtesy of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey.  Armenia and Turkey have agreed to two protocols to be mediated by the Swiss.  The protocols are expected to be signed within six weeks.

The “Protocol on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey”emphasizes their commitment to open the border, recognizes that border as it is, agrees to establish diplomatic missions in each other’s country, and generally promotes peace, trust and neighborliness.  The “Protocol on Development of Relations between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey” identifies the mutual interests of both countries to enhance bilateral relations and the countries AGREE TO OPEN THE BORDER WITHIN TWO MONTHS OF SIGNING.  They even have a time-line.  Read the texts of both protocols here.

Armenian-Turkish border - credit: evrimnazli

Armenian-Turkish border - credit: evrimnazli

Armenia and Turkey announced a vague roadmap on April 23rd, 2009 but, to date, these protocols have been the greatest strides towards diplomacy.   The 1.5 million dollar question thrown around between April and today was how the genocide would play into the diplomatic process, even though Serge Sargysan has said for over a year that Armenia has no preconditions to normalizing relations.  The only nod to the genocide comes in the Protocol on Development of Relations, in which both countries agree to “implement a dialogue on the historical dimension with the aim to restore mutual confidence between the two nations, including an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations.”

No doubt this is going to please some and horribly upset others, namely the Dashnaks.  I, for one, will be keeping an independent watch on that two month deadline.  It’s time for some action.

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