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Diaspora Commissioner Buoyed By Status, Powers


ARMENIA -- Zareh Sinanyan pictured in Yerevan on May 9, 2018.

Zareh Sinanyan, Armenia’s newly appointed commissioner general of Diaspora affairs, has insisted that his office has a higher status than the Ministry of Diaspora abolished by the Armenian government earlier this year.

Sinanyan and his office will be tasked with coordinating Armenia’s relations with its worldwide Diaspora, a function which was performed by the ministry. Some Diaspora figures have expressed concern at the Armenian government’s decision to close the ministry, saying that it could hurt Armenia-Diaspora ties.

Sinanyan sought to allay those concerns in a weekend interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The office [of commissioner] will have a much higher status, it is directly subordinate to the prime minister, it is part of the prime minister’s office,” he told “The prime minister [Nikol Pashinian] is thus showing the Diaspora just how important the Diaspora is for the Republic of Armenia and the prime minister.”

“The Ministry of Diaspora carried the old reputation and therefore had to be rebranded a little,” said Sinanyan. “I will make every effort to ensure that my office works with great efficiency.”

“Honestly, at first I will concentrate on Russia a little because it has a very large [Armenian] community, it’s very important and it’s also our strategic ally,” added the Armenian-born U.S. national.

Sinanyan, 43, is a former mayor of Glendale, a city in Los Angeles County with a sizable ethnic Armenian population. A vocal critic of Armenia’s former government, he strongly supported last year’s “velvet revolution” which brought Pashinian to power.

Some of Pashinian’s political opponents have criticized his choice of the commissioner of Diaspora affairs, saying that Sinanyan’s American citizenship will make it hard for him work with the Armenian communities in Russia and Iran.

“If they are worried about Russia, I must say that I am very fluent in Russian and very familiar with Russian culture because I grew up under the Soviet system at a time when Russian culture was more present in Armenia.”

The official said he also sees no serious obstacles to his dealings with Diaspora structures in Iran. “We should be very careful not to breach any laws and create any problems for Armenia and our community,” he said.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service a year ago, Sinanyan suggested that many Diaspora Armenians will be ready to move to their ancestral homeland after the revolution. He claimed on Sunday that such “repatriation” to Armenia has already begun from western parts of the United States, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Armenian Americans.

“I’m saying this not because I know of people moving here with their families but because I know statistical data,” said Sinanyan. “For example, if you talk to cargo firms operating both in Yerevan and there, [they will say that] that there has been a sharp rise in cargo shipments for families relocating to Armenia. People really have high hopes for today’s Armenia and see themselves as actors in the building of the new Armenia.”

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