War In Armenia: The Role Of The Armenian Diaspora – Analysis
By Observer Research Foundation
By Ani Yeremyan
Throughout history, Armenia was always subjected to foreign invasions. Being at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, the country has always been at the epicentre of conflicting interests thus losing its autonomy a few times in history. Eventually, Armenians were either exiled from their homeland or had to migrate for a better future.
Over time, various Armenian diasporic communities emerged as stateless social formations; they developed unique elements of their identity in relation to their homeland to preserve their language, religion, and traditions in the host land. In this respect, the Armenian trade diaspora in India played a significant role in nation-building by printing the first Armenian political tracts in the early 18th century.
However, the relationship of the Armenian diasporas with the homeland was re-shaped after the Independence of Armenia in 1991. This also marked the period of renewed conflict and the first Artsakh (Nagorno Karabagh) war between Armenia and Azerbaijan at the onset of the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Artsakh had been included in the territory of Soviet Azerbaijan as an autonomous region against the will of the people living there. In view of this, the role of various diaspora communities became significant in international politics.
Eventually, political and economic aspects also turn to be prevalent in the diaspora-home land relationship for the security of the nation-state and the promotion of its interests in the host country. Some governments granted permission to these communities for promoting their interests within their respective host countries in an institutionalised manner. In this respect, the significance of Armenian diasporic communities established in Western countries will be examined amid the vulnerable peace pact and the unstable situation in the region.
The emergence of the Armenian diaspora saw several push and pull factors, but the genocide in the Ottoman Empire was one of the main reasons for the Armenian diaspora to be considered ‘classic’, ‘victim’ and ‘archetypal’ one. The deportation and mass murder of non-Turkic ethnicities (such as the Armenians and the Greeks), resulted in the creation of a relatively homogenous population of Muslims including Turks, Kurds, and others. Thus, the massacres of the Armenians in the late 19th century caused forced displacement (1.75 million people) during 1915–16 by the Ottoman Turks to Syria and Palestine. Many Armenians subsequently migrated to western countries such as France and the United States (US). The genocide forced Armenians worldwide to carry out a “struggle” for preserving their national identity by establishing churches, schools, and other organisations.
As a matter of fact, consciousness of home and belonging became prevalent in the construction of the Armenian diasporic identity. Though the idea of “home” remained ambiguous, as many identify it with their lost homeland in the Ottoman Empire, others with their history and culture, and the rest with the Republic of Armenia, they show solidarity with their home state when it faces a challenge.
The recent 44-day war that broke out in 2020 attests to the significant role played by the worldwide Armenian diasporic communities in raising awareness about the war and in sending humanitarian aid to the affected. This war coincided with the COVID pandemic making it twice as hard to mobilise people. Armenian diasporic communities worldwide utilised the digital space as a meeting platform for a common cause.
The Armenian communities worldwide continued raising awareness about the existential threat against Armenians at home by organising protests under the aegis of organisations like the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The significant role of the worldwide Armenian diaspora was stressed at Global Armenian Summit also. It highlighted that the existence of both the diaspora and Armenia stemmed from one another. On balance, when there is an existential threat against Armenians, diaspora plays a significant role both in the domestic affairs of the home country and international affairs in promoting the national interests of the home state by drawing attention to the major issues. Protests by the Armenian diaspora organisations and communities in various countries resulted in calls by higher officials of their host countries for sanctions against Azerbaijan.
Apart from lobbying in host countries, organisations like Hayastan All-Armenia Fundand Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) raised funds for the displaced and the affected. The vision of the Hayastan All-Armenia Fund is to have a global Armenian network that will support Armenians in Armenia and Artsakh through projects aimed at healthcare, social welfare, infrastructure betterment. Their objectives also include sustainable development of Armenia and worldwide Armenian diasporic communities based on a common identity.
Lobbying efforts by the Armenians worldwide for the Armenian cause does have an impact; this is best reflected in the strong reaction by the Turkish and Azerbaijani governments. Silencing the voice of diaspora, especially in France and the US, has been part of Türkiye’s foreign policy and has turned violent in many cases under the Erdogan regime.
The message of violence is also propounded by other higher officials. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu , the foreign minister of Turkey, showed the symbol of Grey Wolves—the armed wing of the MHP (Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party)—in April 2022 to the Armenian community members in Uruguay who were marching before the 107thanniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The Grey Wolves sign could also be seen during the Lachin corridor blockade by Azerbaijani military personnel. Targeted anti-Armenian propaganda and anti-Armenian hate posters by Turkey and Azerbaijan have increased in the recent times in several Turkish and Azerbaijani diasporic communities .
In conclusion, it may be noted that amid the dire situation in Nagorno-Karabagh and considering the changing world order, the Armenian diaspora may be considered one of the primary strategic partners of the Armenian State. Despite the fact that the Armenian diaspora is heterogeneous with different ideas of home and homeland, it may be a significant transnational actor in the international arena to raise awareness about the existential threat faced by Armenians in their homeland.