Armenian News Network / Groong

Armenia-Diaspora Conference Report

Culture, Identity and Relations Between Armenia and the Dispersion

Prepared for the Armenia Diaspora Conference
Yerevan, September 22-23, 1999

What brings us together here in Armenia, is the realization that relations between Armenia and the Armenian Dispersion could be markedly improved if the nature, scope and means of accomplishing such relations were to be clearly understood and defined in the best interests of both entities. This initiative by the government of Armenia is a timely response to growing desires and needs, concerns and uncertainties, and a welcome opportunity to ponder, explore and perhaps plan meaningful and practical relations. I have been given the privilege of reporting on cultural relations - a formidable task as I discovered while preparing this report. I am grateful to those of my friends, colleagues, and students, who at very short notice shared some helpful ideas with me. They may not, however, endorse the views I express here, since, due to time constraints, I had no opportunity of holding final consultations with them before forwarding the final version of this report to the Organizing Committee.

My report is necessarily brief and is intended to be an honest and open discussion of a number of issues, mainly cultural, and some hard and harsh realities, many of which may be painful and hurtful. I offer no apologies for my forthright approach as I know of no other way of tackling such vital issues as the ones covered by this report and of identifying problems in a dispassionately and lucidly defined context and perspective. For the purposes of this report, the word culture is used in its broader sense; and while emphasis is on culture, many other aspects intricately and inextricably interwoven with the concept of culture, and which for some may not fit the narrower definition of the term, have been incorporated into this report.

There are three parts to this report.

The first is a background to Armenian realities in the 19th and the 20th centuries and traces the evolution of the Eastern and Western Armenians into two distinct halves. The second is made up of conclusions derived from the first part and of the premise I suggest as the basis for relations between Armenia and the Dispersion. The third part enumerates a number of concrete plans and proposals for such relations.

I. Background

Dispersion, whether voluntary or involuntary, has been a way of life for the Armenians, especially after the fall of the Bagratid Kingdom. The rise of Armenian Cilicia was the most eloquent expression of such dispersion. In the wake of the collapse of the Cilician Kingdom, as you know, there emerged a belt of Armenian communities, old and new, extending from south-east Asia to western Europe. By the turn of the 19th century, some of these communities had dwindled or disappeared, and some had grown larger acquiring greater significance. When Russia annexed the Khanate of Erivan in 1828, a process of separation or almost polarization, that had been noticeable for some time, accelerated to an unprecedented degree. Two urban communities, those of Constantinople and Tiflis, emerged as focal centers for the Western and Eastern Armenians respectively. If the designations "eastern" (or "Russian") and "western" (or "Turkish") are relatively new, the distinction they signified mirrored the age-old confluence of eastern and western elements in Armenian culture. This is not the place to expand on this, but it is very important to remember that the early influence of Persian civilization on Armenia was tempered with elements of Hellenism contributing to the distinct blend and character of Armenian civilization; and that throughout Armenian history, this duality was reinforced, and manifested itself, in many forms and ways political, cultural, religious and otherwise.

Such distinctions came into very sharp focus in the nineteenth century. The overwhelming majority of the Armenians were now subjects of either the Ottoman or the Russian empire, two implacable foes and rivals, two deadly tyrannies with different civilizations and political systems. Apart from the geographic divide, the wars and antagonism between these two empires precluded direct and active contact and communication between the two halves of the Armenian people and forced, particularly the Western Armenians, to proceed with great circumspection. The so-called "millet" system, despite its deficiencies and the serious disabilities it imposed on the Armenians (and other Christian and non-Christian minorities) in the Ottoman empire, in general proved to be an effective factor contributing to the distinctness of the Armenians. The formal bureaucratic machinery (the National Assembly, the various councils, etc.) sanctioned by the so-called Armenian "constitution" (the Turkish designation was "regulations"), gave these authorities the semblance of a central Armenian "government" in Constantinople. This emphasized both the separation of the two halves and the focal importance of Constantinople as an "administrative", religious, social and cultural center for the Western Armenians. Despite its unambiguous recognition of Ejmiatzin's spiritual supremacy, and despite the existence of the catholicosates of Sis and Akhtamar within the boundaries of the Ottoman empire, The Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople emerged as the supreme political and religious authority for the Armenians of the empire.

The basis for the recognition extended to the Armenians as a separate entity was religious affiliation. Legally, the sole determining factor was their membership in the Armenian Church. This policy in effect promoted and enhanced the oneness of Armenian identity with that of the Church -an image accepted by most Armenians but rejected by some. Mekhitar Sebastatsi, for instance, whose Congregation was to play a very influential role in Armenian realities particularly in the 19th century, firmly believed that he could owe religious allegiance to Rome and national loyalty to the Armenian people.

By the 1870s the consolidation of Western Armenian identity was in full swing. Religion and education as significant factors shaping identity; new ideas flowing from Europe; recovery of the Armenian past through old Armenian historical texts published mainly by the Mekhitarists; and, perhaps more important still, the eventual triumph of the constitutional movement, injected political elements into Armenian identity, aroused a sense of pride and unity and inspired some as yet dim and distant aspirations, especially when complaints began to pour into the Patriarchate about misgovernment in the Armenian provinces. One development of cardinal importance deserves special attention here: the dispute (known as "grapaykar") that revolved around the national standard. The conservative and religious circles (including the Mekhitarists), sought to revive Classical Armenian as the national standard. There are many intriguing linguistic, historical, cultural and political-ideological aspects to this issue, but what is of direct relevance to our topic is the fact that the supporters of Classical Armenian considered the ancient tongue as a traditional, religious and cultural abode, an end in itself, and possibly a language that could unify the speakers of various Armenian dialects. Those who supported the cause of modern Armenian considered it as a means of expression and a tool of communication with the largest possible number of Armenians. Life dictated its own, and modern Western Armenian triumphed as the national standard, and as the symbol and expression of Western Armenian identity.

Up to the 1890s, when the Armenian political parties began their activities marking a new phase in Armenian realities, the Western Armenians continued to consolidate their cultural structures and accomplishments. An extensive network of schools was set up, often supported by cultural and similar societies that also engaged in charitable and social work. Numerous printing presses and libraries attended to the needs of a cultivated readership. Translations were made, particularly from French. The theater played a vital role in recovering the Armenian past and nurturing patriotism. A large number of periodicals raised topical issues and kept their readers abreast of developments in Europe. Western Armenian literature flourished acquiring its distinct features and very own canon. Armenian authors by their work generated patriotism and tackled a wide range of issues social realities in Constantinople and, a little later, in the Armenian provinces. Although the community was fragmented along religious lines (the Catholic and Protestant communities had been recognized as separate "millets") and there was a large number of Turkish-speaking Armenians in communities to the west of Erzurum and in Constantinople itself (which gave rise to a vast corpus of literature in Armeno-Turkish), the Armenians were able to solidify their unity and maintain adequate channels of communication with the Armenian provinces. But most of all, such sense of unity, solidarity and distinctness, was apparent in the pursuit of reform in the provinces. Certainly, the idea of making Cilicia home flashed through the minds of certain intellectuals but the regeneration of Western Armenia was the overall goal and thrust of the Armenian Question.

Relations with the Eastern Armenians were restricted in nature and scope. On occasion, the method of electing the Catholicos of All Armenians became a source of disagreement and friction. There was short-lived tension in the early 1870s amid rumors that the Catholicosate of All Armenians was trying to reduce the Catholicosate of Sis to a bishopric. But writers such as A. Arpiarian made tremendous efforts to extend bridges between the two halves of the Armenian nation. Some Western Armenian writers (e.g. Baronian and Tzerents) were very popular among the Eastern Armenians and some contributed to periodicals in Tiflis, Moscow and St Petersburg. Many students studied and many teachers taught in Western Armenian schools and vice versa. Collaboration in the field of theater was particularly active. None the less, such relations were far from satisfactory and ignorance of one another, arrogance, a sense of unfounded linguistic or cultural superiority or authenticity gave rise on the part of some on both sides to stereotypes, nihilistic attitudes and even contempt.

The Eastern Armenians were not recognized as a separate community in the Russian empire. The "Polozhenie" ("Statute") was intended to regulate the affairs of the Armenian Church, not the community, and matters of personal status were dealt with by the Russian bureaucracy. The Russian authorities severely limited Church's authority, depriving her of her traditional role as the leading Armenian institution within the Armenian community. The Eastern Armenians set up institutions and societies similar to those established by the Western Armenians but developed more secular, liberal and anti-clerical tendencies. The Eastern Armenian mind was shaped primarily in Russian and northern European universities and under the heavy impact of social, economic and political movements and turmoil in Russia. This and the leading role the Eastern Armenians had played in the liberation movements gave rise to more radical traditions in Armenian political thought. Eastern Armenian literature, that had been flourishing in very close proximity to Armenia with a greater emphasis on social issues and utilitarian aspects of literature, gave impetus and expression to such trends. There was, for instance, more to Raffi's historical novels than just concepts of self defense, social-political aspirations and selfless patriotism. Raffi strove to render the abstract notion of an old Armenia into a real, breathing entity with its geography and topography, historical landmarks and institutions, society and culture, customs and collective experiences, defeats and triumphs, and traitors and saviors. All this in sharp contrast to a misty and mystical, pious and providential Armenia invented by Bagratuni, Alishan and others. Charents would later, in a different context and in a very different style, wage the same battles in his Erkir Nairi. But this debilitating malaise of an idealized, abstract Armenia afflicted and still afflicts many Armenians. The Eastern Armenians expressed much concern for the plight of the Western Armenians in the provinces. They considered Western Armenia an indivisible part of Armenia and, until the rise of the parties, had a simple solution to the Armenian question: the annexation of Western Armenia by Russia. Most certainly, due to the cautious and gradual approach dictated by the political circumstance, the Western Armenians focused on reform in the Armenian provinces.

This and a host of objective factors accentuated the growing differences in outlook, goals and attitudes between the two halves of the Armenian people. This was reinforced by the emergence of Modern Eastern Armenian as the national standard for the Eastern Armenians. Of course, this bifurcation was noted and attempts were made to find remedies to those aspects of the problem that the Armenians themselves could resolve by common consent: spelling. At the end of the nineteenth and the turn of the twentieth centuries, and long before the Soviet orthographic reforms, there was a protracted and passionate, but fruitless, discussion in the papers for a uniform spelling system and for unifying bridges between the two standards.

In the wake of the Genocide and the rebirth of statehood in what was left of Armenia, the two halves of the Armenian nation drifted farther and farther apart. My focus will be on culture, identity and relations between the two entities at this stage. I will begin with the Soviet side first. The October Revolution promised to fashion a new way of life, and a new society. One of the guiding principles of the Revolution was that the new culture had to be national in form but socialist in content. Many Armenian intellectuals realized the absurdity of this principle but defying the dogma proved to be a fatal challenge. This prescription implied a number of implications. The past could not serve as an inspiration let alone as a model, for it belonged to the odious old world. Church and religion would play no role in the new culture, yet the Armenian tradition was forged and fostered by Armenian monks for the better part of its long life. With some ideologically motivated exceptions and similarly inspired reinterpretation, modern Western thought was blocked off.

The new ideological creed, the fraternity and solidarity of the "family" of peoples making up the USSR were to be the main sources of inspiration in the realm of culture. The past, including history and all other fields in the humanities and culture had to be reinterpreted or reinvented from a Soviet Marxist viewpoint, though some topics such as the Genocide for long remained taboos. Folklore and folkloric arts (e.g. dance ensembles) were promoted as the traditional and purest expression of Armenian culture. Armenian allegiance to the might rather than the spirit of the Union was fostered by historical experience and security concerns. A vast infrastructure of cultural institutions such as the Academy of Sciences, the Matenadaran and the Opera, to mention but a few, helped accomplish fabulous achievements. Generations of brilliant writers, nearly always rebuked into conformity or under the threat of annihilation, wrote, despite ideological prescriptions, some of the brightest pages ever in Armenian. Stalinist terror dealt a terrible blow to Armenian culture, but slowly and steadily and with splendid resilience, the Armenians reclaimed many of the cultural components denied to their corporate self. The historical novel, in particular, kept the lifelines open to the old roots and helped fortify the identity of the Soviet Armenians -avid readers all, of books. One might say with confidence that the impact of ideology on Armenian identity was formal and limited. Armenian allegiance was to the might rather than the "spirit" of the Union and was fostered by historical experience and concerns for physical security. One of the sorely lacking aspects was the absence of meaningful communication with the Armenians of the Dispersion.

Armenia's relations with the Dispersion were governed by politics and ideology and evolved through a number of phases. The twenties were a somewhat lax decade and many intellectuals responded to the appeals made by the authorities to return to Armenia and participate in the rebuilding of the country. Although the Committee to Aid Armenia (HOK Hayastani Ognutean Komite) continued to function to 1937, and although most Armenians of the Dispersion generously responded to appeals made to help the Red Army war effort, the period from the 30s to the late fifties was the bleakest era in Armenia's relations with the Dispersion. The repatriation, its impact both within and without Armenia, and on relations between the two entities still await a dispassionate, comprehensive and meticulous study. It was a major and ambitious experiment the study of which should shed much light on the future relations between Armenia and the Dispersion. A thaw that began in the 1960s saw the formation of the Committee for Cultural Relations with the Armenians Abroad. But again, the nature and extent of the relations, if somewhat more flexible, was superficial, restricted, selective and politically motivated. While this Committee played a very important role under the circumstances, the advantages and disadvantages of a controlled apparatus should be taken into account when considering structures to regulate Armenia-Dispersion relations.

From the very outset, the Dispersion made extraordinary efforts to recover from the trauma of the Genocide. In general, it maintained, with little change, the old structures and models set up in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. The Catholicosate of Cilicia (Sis) assumed the role of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, with its jurisdiction initially confined to Middle Eastern communities. The parties resumed their activities political, social, cultural and athletic. Churches and schools were built. Economic recovery, in due course, provided a great impetus to cultural activities. Beirut in the 60s and 70s, for instance, with its periodical press, schools, clubs, literary, theatrical and athletic activities, reminded one of Constantinople a century or so ago. Armenian literature flourished, but the most intriguing and soul-searching literary experiments were carried out in France. Frequent demographic displacement due to political upheavals in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Cyprus and Iran drove large numbers of Armenian to the Gulf, Australia, Europe and the US. Then there came waves of immigrants from Soviet Armenia, a trend that still continues bringing not only former repatriates but also native Armenians.

The Dispersion then, is made up of a string of communities scattered throughout the world. These communities are subject to the linguistic, cultural, social and political influences of their host societies and certainly owe genuine loyalty to their countries of residence. Some of these communities are Armenian-speaking (both Eastern and Western, or both), most are not. Very many Armenians are affiliated with the Roman Catholic, Protestant and other churches. There are very many who are the children or grandchildren of mixed marriages. Very few belong to the political parties. The Church commands a much larger following but nowhere near a majority. There are other traditional organizations such as the A.G.B.U., compatriotic societies, etc., and newly-formed organizations (NAASR, ALMA, AAA), and smaller groups such as health and professional alliances. All these communities are bedeviled by a number of problems. Initially, the conflict was fueled by attitudes toward Soviet Armenia and intensified in the context of East-West rivalry and the cold war. The parties did not shy away from hostility.

The overriding sense of purpose for the Armenian Dispersion has been perpetuating its identity. This purpose was and is inextricably related to the Genocide and attitudes toward Soviet Armenia and now the third Republic of Armenia. Maintaining Armenian identity was indeed the best response to the monstrous attempt to annihilate Armenia and the Armenians, but the Dispersion was unable to fashion a single, uncontested identity; it was complex and contradictory, and much too contested a problem. Two crucial questions must be posed here. Firstly, what are the values making up the Dispersion Armenian identity and who defines them? Secondly, what is the ultimate purpose of the Dispersion or what is the purpose behind perpetuating Armenian identity? As said, given the multitude of definitions, there is no satisfactory answer to the first question. Is language, for instance, or religious affiliation, an essential condition for being Armenian? The definition of Armenian identity has always varied widely within each community and from one community to another.

As for the second question, is there or will there be an "Armenia" where the Armenian of the Dispersion will strike roots some time in the future? What about contemporary Armenia, is it or is it not a "homeland"? If there is an `Armenia' which will materialize in some future date, one must realize that the road to all such dreams, fantastic or otherwise, originates in Yerevan. I know of many Armenians who have steadfastly refused to visit Armenia for fear of having their image of an idealized Armenia shattered. I know of many Armenians who consider themselves very good Armenians but have no wish to live in Armenia. The concept of "Armenia" then, like that of "Armenian identity", conjures up varying and sharply contrasting definitions. For some, it is an idealized entity, a figment of the imagination; for some it is Western Armenia; for some it is a united Armenia; and yet for some it does not exist at all and is replaced or epitomized by a grandmother, an aunt or some artifacts such as a rug.

The two questions posed above reveal some of the problems afflicting the Dispersion and the futility of imposing pre-determined patterns of Armenianness and identity or a similarly unrealistic agenda. In a word, the Dispersion has multiple identities and speaks in multiple voices, despite the existence of all-Dispersion structures such as the Church, the parties and many other organizations. The parties, as partisan groups, have their own well-known agenda and concepts of Armenia. The Church, though still the oldest and strongest institution, has been in relative decline. The Church has been politicized and divided. Both the parties and the Church have failed to grasp fully the serious challenge posed by the independence of Armenia to their standing, status and role in both the Dispersion and Armenia. In view of their small following, neither the parties nor the Church nor any other organization, whether individually or collectively, can speak for the Dispersion as a whole. The suggestion that only "active" Armenians rally round the parties (implying that "non-active" members of the community are apathetic and therefore useless), is baseless. Looking at the problem from a different perspective, one can reasonably claim that the majority of the Armenians have remained aloof simply because the values and policies of these structures may not measure up to the principles, values and expectations of the non-affiliated Armenians. The earthquake and the independence of Armenia showed, very clearly, that the Dispersion can be a dynamic force and has much to offer to, and receive from, Armenia.

We all know that local forces led Armenia to independence, and that these forces adopted new approaches in their efforts to shape a viable present and future for Armenia. The Dispersion spontaneously extended a helping hand. But we all know how certain important elements in the Dispersion failed to reckon with the enormous gulf separating the Dispersion and its organizations from newly-born Armenia and its new perspectives and prospects. We all also know what followed and hope and expect that certain conclusions were drawn from this pernicious clash of contradictory and conflicting concepts of Armenia.

II. Observations and Conclusions

Having said all this, I must unambiguously emphasize the undying spirit of solidarity, the old, common background, the historical experiences, and shared values and ideals, concerns and aspirations that bond the Armenians together and have brought us here today. It is in this spirit and in the light of all that was discussed above that I suggest the following as the premise for healthy, solid and meaningful relations between Armenia and the Dispersion.

  1. Armenia is not an abstract, misty homeland yet to come. Today, it's the Third (one hopes the "perpetual") Republic of Armenia; a real, ordinary country faced with myriad problems, difficulties and uncertainties.

  2. The Dispersion is made up of fragmented societies that speak in multiple voices and have different mentalities and attitudes, and different expectations both from the Dispersion itself and Armenia. In the absence of elected, over-all Dispersion structures, no organizations can speak, whether individually or collectively, for the Dispersion.

  3. One of the important tasks before both Armenia and the Dispersion is to pave the way for a better understanding and acquaintance of one another. Stereotypes, prejudice, an unfounded sense of superiority, cultural and otherwise, ideology and politics, misconceptions, and a host of other factors have created a lingering atmosphere of ignorance, confusion and distrust, that must be diffused and dispelled.

  4. Armenia and the Dispersion are not equal partners. Armenia is home to a homogeneous population, on a stretch of land where material culture and collective traditions endow Armenian civilization with continuity and distinct features.

  5. Armenia and the Dispersion are equal only as independent parties. Their relations must be based on mutual respect for one another's independence and no attempt should be made to interfere in one another's affairs. Tact, respect, and mutual consent and trust should form the bases of such relations.

  6. Armenia cannot rely on the Dispersion to resolve any of its problems. Both entities must realistically recognize that the Dispersion can only play an auxiliary role. Armenia is a sovereign state, whose government runs the country on its own agenda, attends to its needs and prosperity by conducting business on a state to state, government to government level.

  7. Armenia cannot resolve the Dispersion's problems. The Dispersion might rethink and reinvent itself to keep pace with changing times and changing needs of both the Dispersion and Armenia.

  8. The Armenians share a common history and background, historic experiences, many concerns and aspirations, a spirit of solidarity, speak languages belonging to the same family, and many other bonds that result in a partly shared, diverse culture. But the illusion that they are one country, one language, one culture, one church, must be discarded if we are to plan realistic goals in the interests of both parties.

  9. The enormous task of fostering meaningful and practical cultural relations between the two entities, cannot be handled by the government, or by organizations of the Dispersion, or by some proposed super-structures. Neither the government nor any other organization should encumber this effort with bureaucratic procedures and pre-determined programs. This would be best achieved by delegating responsibility and by engaging not only organizations but also the vast number of unaffiliated or independent individuals. This approach would increase accountability and efficiency, widen the scope and number of participants, and dispel stereotypes through direct relations.

III. Proposals

How, then, can one find ways of fashioning mutually beneficial cultural relations? Two general issues must be dealt with in the search for a more or less adequate answer to this question: a) cultural activities and institutions in Armenia and the Dispersion; b) cultural needs of both sides.

Owing to its very nature, the Dispersion has no cultural institutions and structures corresponding to those of Armenia. The Dispersion promotes culture through the Church, cultural societies, charitable organizations, the political parties, schools, the periodical press, books, literature and literary gatherings, marking various anniversaries and social gatherings, theatrical activities, athletic clubs, and some other activities of local or sporadic nature. Cultural relations between communities are far from satisfactory. But the Dispersion can proudly boast of very many preeminent figures in all fields of the cultural realm, many of whom have attained international fame. The multifaceted and sophisticated expertise of such individuals is an invaluable resource and both Armenia and the Dispersion would stand to gain infinitely if such experts were to forge links among themselves and with their professional colleagues in Armenia.

The needs of both entities are dissimilar too. If maintaining identity, for instance, is a cardinal concern for the Dispersion, it is not a significant issue in Armenia. As I see it, the paralyzing factor in Armenia in the past decade or so has been the lack of adequate financial means to sustain and support, or reinvigorate the cultural mechanisms and institutions as well as to enable the intelligentsia to function normally. The introduction of the very best elements and aspects of Western accomplishments into public life in Armenia would be an advantageous and stimulating factor. Armenians of the Dispersion, as carriers and agents of the civilizations of their host societies could partly meet this need and could certainly play a larger and far more active role in linking the cultural institutions of their host countries directly with their counterparts in Armenia.

How would Armenia reciprocate?

Armenia would offer its tradition, experience and expertise in Armenian culture. There are at least two principle ways of accomplishing this. Local programs is one way, and joint programs and ventures is another. I will mention a few examples to serve as models rather than try to exhaust the range of such vehicles and fields of collaboration. The major cultural organizations in Armenia could launch local programs for the Armenians of the Dispersion with a view to promoting both learning and social acquaintance. The professional content and cultural context are of utmost importance to render such programs attractive. Thus, the State University of Yerevan, for instance, could organize (jointly with local, or Western institutions such as universities with Armenian programs) in Classical, Eastern and Western Armenian, Armenian history or civilization. The idea, as said, is to offer expertise and help establish and foster direct contact with the people of Armenia and its culture. A summer course on history, for example, could be organized jointly by the History Department of the University and the Museum of History of Armenia. The former would cover the academic aspects of the topic, the Museum would provide artifacts and objects documenting realities of the period, and excursions to relevant historical sites would breathe life into the subject matter. Discussions and social evenings with local students and families would promote acquaintance and familiarity. There are endless possibilities and combinations of similar programs, short and long, that institutions such as the Matenadaran, the National Library, the Art Gallery, the Children's Museum, Armenfilm, the Opera, the Conservatory, and many other fine institutes could bring to life. Particular programs could be tailored for the youth. Volunteer work, training and internships in various fields in various parts of Armenia should be attractive to them. Women's issues are in the wind, and profound economic changes in Armenian society are bound to propel them to the forefront of social issues soon. The status of women in the Armenian family, society, church, professions, family planning, etc. should make for interesting and useful seminars, conferences, or lecture series.

Equally important as the local programs, is the collaboration of Armenian institutions with counterparts abroad, be it with universities or institutes, Armenian studies programs or schools, with a view to exchanging students, scholars and publications, and exploring subjects of mutual interest. Obviously, the Internet offers vast opportunities for most creative and unrestricted communication, cultural promotion and learning and teaching. It would be essential to undertake joint scholarly projects (e.g. ethnographers, historians) to record and study the lingering remnants of Western Armenian culture as recalled by survivors (dialects, folklore, etc.) and to write histories of particular communities or organizations. Highly professional and selective exhibitions of Armenian arts and artists (all fields) at prestigious museums or musical events, etc. would not only promote Armenian culture it would also enhance images of local Armenians. Similarly, exhibiting holdings of Dispersion museums and archives of special projects (e.g. Armenian Library and Museum of America; Project Save for photographs) would explore old, common bonds. Enrolling young people from Armenia in internship programs in the United States organized by the AGBU, the Armenian Assembly of America and other organizations would be an illuminating and edifying experience. Last but not least, the publication of a biennial multilingual journal dedicated to the comparative and interdisciplinary study of the Dispersion and Armenia, jointly edited by experts from both sides would provide a valuable forum for theoretical, historical and contemporary issues of vital importance.

Apart from this general framework and specific initiatives and programs, there are three issues of vital importance that could lead either to fruitful cooperation or acrimonious disagreement: language, the Genocide and Karabakh.

The Armenians will have to learn to communicate in a number of languages: Armenian standards, English, French, Russian, Spanish and soon, perhaps Arabic, Persian and some other languages. My immediate and sole concern here though will be Armenian as it seems to pose, ironically, more problems than the other non-native languages. I need not elaborate nor emphasize the central, irreplaceable role of language as a cultural tool of communication and expression; it is too obvious. What needs to be explored here is the clash of Eastern and Western Armenian tongues. More specifically, the renewed calls for restoring traditional orthography to Eastern Armenian. Due to misunderstandings and misinterpretation, the issue has acquired emotional, political, cultural and gravely inimical undertones. Reduced to its simplest definition, the question of orthography is a formal and symbolic issue, but one that has been projected as an obstacle to the putative unity of Armenian and to communication. In fact, the root of the problem, in the spoken form, lies principally in the phonetic system of both standards, their vocabulary, grammar and syntax. As for the written form, the reformed orthography is easier to read as it conforms to pronunciation. Philologists, linguists and other experts, like their colleagues in fields such as English or French (Old English, Old French which, true, changed through an evolutionary process rather than mandated reform) know or are supposed to know classical orthography. Given the technological advances, it should be easy to devise software for communication on the Internet. The question of reverting to traditional orthography must be shelved. It is for the users of the reformed system to decide, and they are overwhelmingly opposed to it. The issue, if it lingered on, would continue to be utterly divisive.

The Genocide has at once been an inspiration and an obstacle to Armenian realities, including culture, especially in the Dispersion. There are many aspects to this unspeakable crime and any possible solutions should be pursued and engineered in such a manner as not to jeopardize the viability and prosperity of the Republic of Armenia, the sole and last anchor of existence and prosperity and of all Armenian hopes and dreams. I believe that Armenia and the Dispersion have somewhat different if complementary roles to play in this regard and that securing universal recognition of the Genocide is a vital first step. External pressure might, perhaps, be of some use, but the key to certain success lies in bringing down the wall of denial that the Turkish state has erected. Many Turkish scholars acknowledge the Genocide and are willing to assert their views publicly. Efforts should be made to engage such individuals and widen their circle as an effective force counterbalancing and eventually overwhelming Turkish state propaganda. This approach would spare the Armenians much frustration and effort, emotional, financial and otherwise, to secure external assistance of highly dubious practical value.

Karabakh is dear to all Armenians.
They unanimously agree that the Armenians of Karabakh are entitled to one of the most fundamental human rights: self-determination. It is not my intention to discuss solutions to the problem, but I believe that it would be wise for the Armenians of the Dispersion to support the course of initiatives and plans adopted by the leadership of both Karabakh and Armenia. Sadly, there are no intensive cultural links between Karabakh and the Dispersion. Although Karabakh lacks most of the cultural institutions and structures of Armenia, some of the local programs I outlined above could also be implemented in Karabakh. Direct contact is simply indispensable to promote understanding, culture and communion. A student of mine who took part in the University of Michigan Summer Institute in Yerevan, eloquently illustrated the point as his group left Karabakh, after spending an entire evening in Stepanakert and the next morning in Shushi with students from Karabakh. Before his visit, he said, Karabakh was an Armenian region of some abstract importance. But now, Karabakh was a living entity, personified by the wonderful and unforgettable students he had met. He would be dearly concerned should there be any threat to them.

Based on the preceding discussion, I also suggest the creation of an Information Centre in Armenia, with a professional, multilingual staff and equipped with state of the art technology. The mission of the Centre would be twofold. Firstly, the gathering, processing and classifying of information on individuals and organizations, in the Dispersion, Armenia, and Karabakh, and passing this information on to interested and involved individuals, entities and organizations in all three entities. Secondly, acting as a mere facilitator, and on the request of organizations, ministries and other bodies, official and unofficial, as well as individuals, whether in Armenia, the Dispersion, or Karabakh, the convening of symposia, conferences, colloquia, consultations or meetings of experts chosen from the database at the Centre. The Centre would be overseen by a joint committee made up of professionals and able administrators on a rotating basis and staggered terms. Although supported and sponsored by the Armenian and Karabakh governments and the Dispersion, this body should be completely independent of all three. In due course, the data collected and analyzed here would indicate and help identify certain patterns of varying nature and significance that would lead to more practical, achievable and fruitful practices and collaboration. Information can be gathered from Armenian organizations, churches and individuals abroad, through direct contact or the Internet or announcements. Armenian embassies and consulates can compile such local and regional lists and forward them to the Centre for processing. All this while relations between Armenian organizations abroad and their counterparts in Armenia continue to develop along the same principles of mutual respect, independence and benefit.

I sincerely hope that this gathering will be able to lay solid foundations for harmonious communication and communion between Armenia, the Dispersion and Karabakh.

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