By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Not everyone agrees whether Diaspora Armenians should meddle in the Armenia Republic’s internal affairs. Perhaps ‘meddle’ is not the right word, but getting involved and caring deeply about developments in the homeland should be of great interest to all Armenians, since that is their country of origin.
Diaspora's role in Armenia was raised last month when 20 prominent Armenians, mostly from the Diaspora, issued a petition titled “Justice Within Armenia” on the Change.org website, calling on the Armenian government to implement radical reforms in the political, social and economic policies of the country. Since Sept. 19, close to 3,000 Armenians and non-Armenians from various countries have signed the petition.
Among the initial signatories of the petition are Serj Tankian, Atom Egoyan, Arsinee Khanjian, Alex Ohanian, Chris Bohjalian, Eric Bogosian, Hasmik Papian, and Sebu Simonian. The petitioners are asking for an end to “corruption, monopolies, judicial inequality, police brutality, partisan politics, unequal rights, national depopulation, and elections tainted by fraud.”
The signatories also stated that they stand for “the equality of all people, the fundamental preservation of human rights, direct engagement in fair and transparent elections, respect for the rule of law, fair wages, separation of powers, a free press, and advocacy for the disenfranchised.”
The petitioners are further demanding that “Armenia’s political leaders embody integrity, accountability, wisdom, intelligence, diplomacy, compassion, effectiveness and visionary thinking in addressing the pressing needs of the people of Armenia, thereby securing an egalitarian, just and constructive path towards real democracy where every voice matters.”
As a concrete next step, the signatories are asking Armenians from around the world to be present as witnesses and observers at next spring’s parliamentary elections in Armenia.
One of the initiators of the petition, Canadian-Armenian actress Arsinee Khanjian, who was arrested during last July’s protests in Yerevan, circulated an open letter on the internet, calling Diaspora Armenians to action. Khanjian raised serious concerns about the current conditions in Armenia: “The country has major internal problems due to systemic corruption, nepotism and an oligarchic economy, where power and wealth remains in the hands of a few. Absence of equitable rule of law and upward social mobility combined with the suppression of freedom of speech and thought as well as civil liberties and rights have all further exacerbated an already intolerable situation in the Republic.”
Not surprisingly, some in Armenia resented the petition issued by the Diaspora Armenians and urged them to move to Armenia if they are truly interested in reforming the country.
While every Armenian should support the lofty goals expressed by the petitioners, some of their ideas are clearly wishful thinking. Not all of the proposed reforms are implemented even in the United States. But, I agree that Armenians should aspire to gradually achieve these objectives, although one has to be careful not to set impossible goals to attain, to save citizen of Armenia from further frustration and disappointment.
In my view, Diaspora Armenians should be involved in all aspects of life in Armenia, beyond signing petitions and making suggestions from afar. They should not be mere tourists in the homeland. One way to strengthen the bond between Armenia and the Diaspora is to allow Diaspora Armenians to vote and run for office in the Republic of Armenia. As is the practice in France and some other countries, several seats should be allocated in the Armenian Parliament to Diaspora Armenians who should be more than donors of funds or “milking cows!” Although Armenia’s constitution permits dual citizenship, very few Diaspora Armenians have taken advantage of this special privilege which can create another important bond with the homeland!
Gradually, as the rule of law is firmly established in Armenia and social inequalities become less pronounced, Diaspora Armenians will gain the confidence to invest in the homeland, which will result in creating jobs and reducing emigration. There may even be some immigration to Armenia from the Diaspora. The improved living conditions would also reduce confrontations with the authorities that could potentially destabilize the country at a time when neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey are threatening Armenia’s security!
To make the Armenia-Diaspora relationship reciprocal, no one should resent if Armenian officials also ‘meddle’ in Diaspora Armenian communities. After all, it is of little importance who is meddling in whose turf, as long as the end result is in the best interest of all Armenians!