05 March 2007

1466) The Armenian Diaspora ( Spyurk)

Historical Background
Due to its strategic geopolitical position, Armenia has throughout its history served as a stage of confrontation between the leading powers of the Western Asia . The long-winding military conflict between the Roman and its successor Byzantine Empire and Persia culminated, in 387 AD, with the loss of the Armenian statehood as Armenia was for the first time in its history divided between those two states. The date can be conditionally set as the beginning of the Armenian Diaspora as hereafter the mass emigration from the homeland would come to be one of defining factors of the history of the Armenian people. . .

In centuries since, just like any other people anywhere in the world, the Armenian emigration from their homeland would be caused by three main factors: economic, religious, and political. In addition to these, the Armenian people, left without an independent government of their own, were also driven out by the foreign potentates' policy of ethnic persecution and oppression. Consequently, the mass migration of the Armenians had occurred in variety of directions and forms, whether voluntary or forced, by way of deportation and repatriation, across many states or even continents.

Already in 3rd and 4th centuries AD, during the reigns of Persian Sassanian Kings Ardashir and Shapur II, the first recorded mass deportation of the Armenians took place. The Armenians were forcibly relocated in the Khuzistan and other regions of Persia . The Byzantine policy of displacing the indigenous Armenian population was of more consistent nature: for several centuries the Armenians were forced to relocate to the western regions of the Empire, including the Balkan regions of Thrace and Macedonia . The emigration of the Armenian nobility and military elite resulted in their diffusion into the highest ranks of the Byzantine government system, culminating in the establishment of the Macedonian or Armenian imperial dynasty (867-1057).

The Armenian emigration from the homeland increased dramatically in the 7th – 14th centuries, spurred by the incursion and infiltration into Armenia by the different nomadic elements, including Arabs, Seljuks, and Mongols. The Armenians dispersed in many directions, such as Cappadocia , Syria , Mesopotamia, Crimea , Romania , Poland , Hungary , Bulgaria , Kievan Russia , coastal regions of Asia Minor etc., and formed communities in these countries.

Of historic significance was the mass immigration of the Armenians into Cilicia, which had began even before the first division of Armenia . The migration from Armenia to Cilicia increased markedly in the 10th and 11th centuries, when the Seljuk invasion displaced numerous large-scale manor chiefs, heads of princely families with their retinue, and military leaders with their soldiers. Before long, the Armenians gained dominant positions in many areas of Cilician society and eventually established their own principality and, later, the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia . The Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church moved to the Cilician capital of Sis as well, staying there until 1441. Although a great number of Armenians migrated from Cilicia to Italy , Syria , France , and elsewhere after the fall of the Armenian kingdom there in 1375, Cilicia would remain home to a significant portion of the Armenian people until late 1921, and would remain an important part of the Armenian polity and integral part of the homeland for the Armenians.

The dispersion of the Armenians in the Middle Ages was greatly influenced by the increasing involvement of the Armenian merchants, beginning in the 16th century, as facilitators and carriers of the East-West trade. Their commercial activities and interests arced from India and Persia to Portugal and France , while the Armenians residing in southern Russian regions of, among others, Astrakhan and Nor-Nakhijevan, played an important role in the establishment of Russian-Persian commercial relations and organization of trade transit routes through Russia . In these localities, the Armenian merchants formed commercial companies and houses that served as the nuclei of the new Armenian communities.

After the conversion to Christianity in 301 AD, the Armenian Apostolic Church became the most significant institution for self-preservation and development of the Armenian people against the aggressive cultural and political encroachment by Iran and later, after the Church refused to negate its allegiance to the doctrine of Monophysitism at the Dvin Church Council of 554, against similar policies of the Byzantine Empire. Throughout its history, the Church would continue to carry out its role of ethnic preservation both in Armenia and beyond its borders.

The invasion of the Osmanli Turkish nomads proved to be of crucial significance for the history of the Armenian people as these tribes, unlike their predecessors, settled permanently in our region and eventually established a state of their own. The Turks then began to carry out a hitherto unprecedented and consistent campaign to persecute and Turkify the indigenous Christian population living in the far-flung Ottoman Empire , including the Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarians, and others. In this period, the Armenians emigrated not only from their homeland but also from other countries conquered by the Turks where they had earlier established Armenian colonies. Thus, the large Armenian community of Crimea was greatly reduced after the Ottoman conquest of 1475, with the Armenian population dispersing to Poland , Russia , and elsewhere. At the same time, the Persian shahs, especially Shah Abbas I, forcibly relocated hundreds of thousands of Armenians from Armenia and other Armenian communities to Iran in the 16th-17th centuries where they established new cities, e.g., Nor Jugha.

As the economic, political, and cultural oppression of the Armenians inhabiting the Ottoman Empire began to increase, the movement for national liberation grew a foothold among the Armenian people. To uproot this movement, the Turkish authorities during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II organized massacres resulting in deaths of some 300,000 Armenians in Western Armenia and other parts of the Ottoman Empire in 1894-1896. This inevitably spurred the outflow of the Armenians in various directions, including towards the countries of North and South Americas .

The centuries-long continuous emigration of the Armenians from their homeland predetermined their view of the outside world. Increasingly, a unique philosophical perception grew hold that viewed living in foreign countries as a less than desirable but, at the same time, a pre-ordained and providential outcome. Continuous life in foreign countries led Armenians to develop traits and traditions that accommodated the societies and cultures while preserving their ethnic and cultural identity.

Before the outbreak of World War I, the Armenians living in foreign lands, such as Egypt , Iran , Lebanon-Syria , India , Russia , France , Bulgaria , the U.S. , engaged in activism facilitated by a host of community institutions, including religious, charity, educational, cultural and compatriotic groups. Of particular importance were the Armenian communities of Constantinople ( Istanbul ) and Tiflis ( Tbilisi ) that had evolved into cultural, political, and financial centers of the Western and Eastern Armenians, respectively. Other prominent communities where cultural life boomed were Smyrna , Moscow , the Mekhitarian Monastery in Venice , Baku , and Calcutta .

It is important to note three main characteristics of the Armenian migratory patterns in this period. First, despite the permanent and mass migration of Armenians from their homeland, the absolute majority nevertheless continued to live in their ancestral lands, Western Armenia, Armenian Cilicia, and Eastern Armenia . Second, the emigration flows had largely been of forced or involuntary nature, and on only few occasions were the Armenians deliberately deported from their homeland. Third, the émigrés and their immediate progeny almost always had an opportunity to return to their homeland.

During the First World War, the Ottoman Turkish authorities decided to put a permanent end to the national liberation movement of the Armenian people so as to permanently end the international diplomatic efforts to resolve the Armenian Question. The Genocide and deportations they organized against the Armenians living in Western Armenia, Cilicia , and other parts of the country caused almost 1.5 million Armenians to perish. After the Turkish defeat in war in 1918, some of the Armenians who had survived the forced deportation began to return home, primarily in the liberated Cilicia region. However, the Armenian population was forced to leave Cilicia permanently after the French government had withdrawn its forces from Cilicia in late 1921 and turned the region to the control of the Kemalist government of Turkey .

Thus, the years 1915-1922 marked a new era for the Armenian people when, for the first time in their history, the Armenian population of the larger part of the historically Armenian territories ceased to exist. Furthermore, the majority of the Armenians began to live outside of the remaining Armenian lands in Eastern Armenia (where the three Armenian republics were to be established successively). Finally, the deported population and their descendants would no longer have an opportunity to return to their ancestral lands in Western Armenia .

The Armenian deportees, barred from returning home, were forced to establish a permanent home in different countries of the world thus giving birth to the modern-day Diaspora. The very use of the Armenian term for Diaspora, Spyurk, became indicative of the realization by the people of the cataclysmic importance of this historical change: this term had never before been applied to describe the Armenian dispersion and Armenian communities in foreign lands established in previous centuries.

Already during the First World War various Armenian communities around the world hastened to assist their ethnic brethren from the homeland. It was therefore natural that the new deportees would settle primarily in the countries with some Armenian population, hoping for support from their compatriots. In the years to come, the migration of the Armenians established many more Armenian communities in greater number of countries. Today, more than 60 countries host significant Armenian communities although the bulk of the Diasporan Armenians reside in two countries only, Russia and the United States .

The living conditions of the Armenian Diasporan communities – like those of any ethnic minority – are a function of the host country's social, political, economic, and cultural attributes. Thus, the Armenian communities can be classified – by the general characteristics of those countries – into four large groups: communities living in the Orient [Middle East], the West, South America , and the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union (NIS). The general classification can hardly express the situation of each individual community in a member of the group of countries since they are conditioned by the distinct nature of each country.

Armenian Communities in the Middle East
The first wave of the deportees settled in towns large and small, and generally lived in dire social-economic conditions. Having left behind their properties and devoid of any financial or material resources, the Armenian refugees were forced to build a new life from scratch in new countries.

The major portion of the Armenians deported to the Syrian and Lebanese regions of the Ottoman Empire chose to settle there after the end of the war. Another part migrated to Greece , Egypt , France , the U.S. , Argentina , and other countries. A large number of charity organizations continued to exist until the end of 1920's, catering to the needs of the orphaned population and the refugees in general. There were both Armenian organizations, e.g., AGBU, and non-Armenian groups, e.g. the Near East Relief of the United States . After the French administration of Syria transferred the district of Alexandretta to Turkey in 1938-1939, the local indigenous Armenian population was forced to relocate to other parts of Syria and Lebanon .

The Armenians living in the backward and agriculture-dominated countries of Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and other Middle Eastern countries, were primarily engaged in artisanship and trade and only partially in agriculture. Their skills and the generally welcoming attitude of the local indigenous population were major factors in rapid accommodation of the Armenian population in their new communities. In post-World War II period, the number of Armenian merchants, professionals, public servants, and especially students expanded dramatically. By 1960's, the Armenians owned some 18% of the large industrial enterprises in Lebanon and 43% of cottage industries. To this day, the Armenian communities in Lebanon and Iran have a special social-legal status in that they are recognized as an ethnic religious minority, which entitles them to representation in the host country's legislation and government.

Another major peculiarity of the Armenian communities of the Middle East is that, unlike almost any other Diasporan community, they reside in Muslim countries. The significant differences in Christian and Islamic cultures and lifestyles help the Armenians preserve their ethnic identity. An important effect of their religious and cultural isolation is the relatively low intermarriage rates between the indigenous population and the Armenians. The ethnic homogeneity of the Armenian families allows for giving Armenian education to successive generations and reinforces their distinct ethnocultural identity.

Armenian education has always been an important concern of these communities, and a large network of Armenian elementary and secondary schools have been established in Lebanon , Syria , Egypt , and Iran , where they coexisted with hitherto established schools. The Armenian language continues to be a primary and natural medium of communication for the local Armenian population, and it is no coincidence that a large number of Armenian newspapers and periodicals have been published and the Armenian literary tradition has been preserved and developed in these countries. The existence of numerous national and cultural organizations, educational institutions, and the Armenian-language press have created a distinctive Armenian atmosphere in the primarily Armenian-populated districts of Allepo and Beirut . The Armenian communities of Lebanon , Syria , and Iran had remained the cultural and political centers of the Armenian Diaspora well into 1980's. The cultural and educational progress of the Middle Eastern communities have been greatly assisted by the consistent financial support of the Armenian communities in the Western countries, primarily the United States . This assistance made it possible to establish schools, youth centers, and clinics, and to disperse scholarships funds.

The natural development of the Armenian communities in the Middle East was interrupted in 1950's. The escalation of nationalist movements in Egypt , Syria , Lebanon , Iran and other countries in the region, restrictions placed on the rights and activities of the ethnic minorities, the political instability (the civil war in Lebanon , the Islamic revolution in Iran , the Iraqi-Iranian war etc), low standards of living forced the Armenian population to emigrate. This pattern of inter-Diasporan migration that is unprecedented for its scope and durability has negatively affected the inner life of the Armenian communities in the Middle East , stripping it of its status as the center of the worldwide Diaspora.

The absolute majority of the Armenian emigrants from these countries chose to move to the developed Western countries, choosing to live in democratic societies under conditions of political stability while fully realizing the challenges of carving a social-economic niche and preserving the ethnic and cultural identity in their new home countries.

The Armenian Communities in the Western countries
Initially, the Armenian emigrants in the rapidly industrializing countries of the West lived in especially difficult conditions. Without specialized labor skills and sufficient knowledge of the local language, the Armenian refugees were forced to perform menial, poorly remunerated and hard labor. The Armenian immigrants were poorly informed of the lifestyle, moral, and cultural norms in their new host countries that frequently seemed alien and unacceptable to them. The local population, in turn, was by and large unaware of the Armenians and predictably extended to them the entrenched stereotypes of ‘Asiatic' people. One manifestation of such attitude was, for example, the severe limitations on the right to choose residences, change jobs, or use public transportation imposed on the Armenians in the U.S. State of California in 1920's. It was the Armenian industriousness and respect for law that earned them the full citizenship rights. The Diasporan Armenians who grew up and received education in Western countries rapidly joined the middle and upper ranks of the social and economic hierarchy in their home countries. Among them were successful entrepreneurs, public and civil servants, scientists, professors, skilled professionals and specialists, and students.

The Armenian citizens of Western democracies were further integrated into the society after so many of them fought valiantly on the battlefields of the Second World War. Some 18,500 young Armenians enrolled in the U.S. Armed Forces, and almost 10,000 Armenians fought on the British and French sides each against the Nazi Germany and its Axis allies. The Armenian population of France , Greece , and Bulgaria joined the ranks of Resistance in the Nazi-occupied regions of their host countries.

The preservation of ethnic identity against the permanent and strong influence of the Western culture was and remains the most difficult and complex task for the Armenians in the West. The Armenians, especially the first wave of immigration, wanted to integrate quickly in the societies that accepted them and sought to adopt the lifestyle and social-cultural values of the majority group in their host countries, while limiting the manifestations of their traditional ethnic culture. For a long time, the only means of Armenian education and edification were Sunday Armenian schools that could not rise to the task satisfactorily.

The life of the Armenian communities in the West was reawakened after the inflow of new Armenian immigrants from the Middle Eastern countries since in 1960's and from Armenia proper since late 1980's. The new wave of immigration augmented the existing communities in the United States, Canada, England, and France and established or re-populating the extinct communities in Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Belgium. The new immigrants infused a greater zeal for community life into the Diaspora, revitalizing the cultural institutions. Establishment of first full-time Armenian schools in the United States during 1960's owed to the activism of the new wave of Armenian migrants. These, just like other Armenian schools operating in foreign countries, are private, rather than public schools, and charge tuition. The course of studies in such schools is typically based on national curriculum of the host country and is taught in the local language, since both criteria are essential for accreditation and acceptance of school's certificate of graduation by the national authorities in host country. The salient feature of the Armenian schools is that in addition to general curriculum, the students take course in the Armenian language, literature, Armenian history and the history of the Armenian Church, Armenian dance and music, etc. Another key element of such schools is the peculiar Armenian environment, where the Armenian students study and interact with one another, which contributes to strengthening their ethnic identity.

The Christian affiliation of the Armenians has always been an important element in the role of the Armenian community in Western countries. During the early years of formation of the Diaspora, this helped developed a positive perception of the Armenians by the local population, which was also predominantly Christian, and promoted faster adaptation of the Armenian migrants to their new environment. At the same time, the role of the Armenian Church as unique defender of the ethnic identity has been somewhat curtailed, leading to gradual assimilation of the Armenians within their new home countries. Increasingly high rates of intermarriage are indicative of this trend: in the countries of Europe, North and South Americas , intermarriage rates are as high as 60%.

The development of the Armenian communities in Latin America, mainly in Argentina , Uruguay , and Brazil , has proceeded similarly to the Western countries. Unlike the Middle Eastern communities, there has been practically no emigration of the Armenians from Latin America in post-WWII period. Conversely, few Armenians from the Middle East or the Republic of Armenia have immigrated to Latin America , and consequently, there has been no surge in ethnic and cultural Armenian activism in these countries.

The Armenian Communities in the Former Soviet Union and Successor States
The conditions of the Armenian communities in the former Soviet Union were unlike those in the Western Hemisphere or in the Middle East . The ethnic policies carried out since 1917 by the Soviet government in Russia , and subsequently in the Soviet Union, have overall negatively affected the Armenian population living beyond the borders of the Armenian Soviet Republic . While the Soviet Government acquiesced to the establishment of ethnic republics based on ethnic principle, the rights of ethnic minorities living beyond their constituent republics were severely curtailed. Thus, the transfer of some Armenian-populated lands to Azerbaijan led to tragic consequences: the Armenian population of the Nakhijevan Republic disappeared completely, while the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) were forced, after the collapse of the Soviet Union , to take up arms to defend their right to live and govern themselves freely. Also, the Armenian population of Crimea, together with the Tatars and Greeks, as exiled to Kazakhstan and Siberia in 1944, during the height of the Second World War.

It is typical of this approach that in official and academic publications the term ‘Diaspora' was never applied to the Armenians living beyond Soviet Armenia but within the confines of the Soviet Union, since the official position was that the Armenians residing in Soviet Armenia and other constituent republics live in one country – the Soviet Union – and, irrespective of their place of residence, enjoyed full citizenship rights as a component of a new supra-ethnic entity, the Soviet people. This ideological position had been so fully ingrained in the people's mentality that even in the period of ‘perestroika' and after Armenia's independence in 1991, one could still encounter the completely nonsensical term ‘inner Diaspora' in reference to the Armenian communities of the former Soviet Union.

In the absence of religious or cultural institutions in the Armenian communities of the former Soviet Union , any commonality in ethnic or cultural activities was by and large rendered impossible. Consequently, the policy of Russification carried out by the central Soviet government greatly affected the Armenian communities. Another critical factor in this process was the high (close to 50%) rates of intermarriage between the Armenians and the local Slavonic peoples in Russia , Ukraine , and Belarus . The prevalence of dominant culture and nonexistence of the Armenian institutions practically guaranteed that most children of mixed marriages would be alienated from the Armenian culture. However, the cultural interaction between the Armenians and the dominant culture in the Muslim republics of Azerbaijan , Uzbekistan , and Tajikistan was (and still is) little pronounced.

One of the largest Armenian communities in the former Soviet Union lived in Georgia , where to this day Armenians mostly populate the regions of Akhalkalaki, Akhaltsikhe, and the capital Tbilisi . Ironically, Tbilisi was rightly considered a major cultural and political center of Eastern Armenians well into 1920's. During the Soviet period, the ethnic and cultural life of the Armenian population in Georgia was subject to limitations and occasional repressions, the frequency of which was directly proportional to the rise of local nationalist movement. Nevertheless, the ancient history of the Armenian community of Georgia , their great contribution to the development of Georgia , the size and compact demographics of the community predetermined a special, privileged status in ethnic and cultural activities.

The final years of the Soviet Union are marked by several tragic events in the life of the Armenian communities. The government-sponsored massacres and ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population in Azerbaijan , carried out in 1988-1991, resulted in the mass exodus of the entire Armenian community (almost 400 thousand people) from that country to Armenia , Russia , and other parts of the world. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, political instability prevailed in parts of the North Caucasus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan , and Turkmenistan , leading to outflow of the Armenian population from these countries.

The Armenian community of Russia increased substantially in 1990's, as Armenian migrated there from the newly independent Republic of Armenia , mostly due to economic reasons, to escape unemployment and poverty. Most migrants established residents in the hitherto Armenian populated regions of Russian, including Krasnodar and Stavropol Provinces , Rostov District, and the City and the Province of Moscow .

The former constituent republics of the Soviet Union have adopted new policies on ethnic minorities after their independence. Armenian community organizations were established in practically all Armenian-populated regions, and as a result, religious, education, and cultural institutions have been established, and Armenian periodicals are being published, albeit typically in the local language. Just as the Armenians immigrating to Western countries from the Middle East did, the Armenians migrating from the Republic of Armenia infused new life and vigor into the cultural life of the existing Armenian communities in Russia , Ukraine , and other republics, and established new communities in various regions.

As fully-fledged citizens of the former Soviet Republics , the Armenians have played a prominent role in various areas of the political, intellectual, and spiritual life in their host countries, and the Armenian communities of the newly independent states continue this tradition. The permanent and innumerable ties between the citizens of the NIS countries and their ethnic kinsmen in the Republic of Armenia greatly assist the preservation of their ethnic identity.

Armenian Organizations in the Diaspora
Coordinated and targeted ethnic activities in the Diaspora are carried out by various organizations of different scopes and mandates, and a broad distinction can be made between Diasporan institutions, i.e., those groups operating in practically all communities, and localized institutions.

Among the Diasporan institutions, the most prominent is naturally the Armenian Apostolic Church , to which the absolute majority of the Diasporan Armenians adhere. During the Cold War, the Armenian Churches of the Diaspora were unfortunately caught up in the political and ideological confrontation, with some dioceses refusing to acknowledge the supreme spiritual and administrative authority of the Holy See of Ejmiatzin and affiliating themselves with the See of the Great House of Cilicia in Antilias , Lebanon . This has negatively affected the effectiveness of pan-Armenian activities of the Armenian Church in the Diaspora, and can ultimately be addressed by the re-unification of two Sees of the Armenian Apostolic Church . In addition to the Armenian Apostolic Church , most Armenian communities have a number of practicing Armenian Catholics and Evangelicals.

Other pan-Diasporan organizations include the political parties, such as Social Democratic Hnchak Party (SDHK – Hnchaks), Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF – Dashnaks), Ramkavar Azatakan Party (Ramgavars), cultural groups, such as Nor Serund, Hamaskayin, Tekeyan Unions, and youth groups – Armenian Youth Federation, Armenian General Athletic Union (Homentmen), Armenian Athletic Association (Homenmen). Compatriotic unions are also widely represented in the Diaspora. In the conditions of the Diaspora, charity and relief foundations and endowments played an important role as well; the most prominent among them are the Armenian General Benevolent Union and Armenian Relief Society (HOM).

The Armenian communities of the NIS countries stand out in this regard, since most pan-Diasporan charity and cultural organizations are not represented there, since these organizations have either been established prior to WWI to assist the population of Western Armenia (AGBU, ARS), or took root in the Western and Middle Eastern Diasporan communities in 1920's through 1940's. The Soviet policy on ethnic minorities precluded the existence of such groups (or, moreover, the political parties) in the Soviet Union . Consequently, the Armenian communities of NIS countries, unaware of the activities of such groups in the West and more familiar with the traditions of Eastern Armenia , have started to developed organizations and institutions of its own.

In addition to the above organizations, almost every Diasporan community is home to numerous cultural, educational, youth-oriented, women's, and professional unions, whose scope is limited to one country, geographic locale, or profession, e.g., the Union of Armenians of Russia, Union of Armenian Physicians of France, Canadian Armenian Council of Commerce.

Practically all the Armenian organizations in the Diaspora devote a significant part of their efforts to promote a just solution of the Armenian Question. Beginning in 1960's, organizations such as Armenian National Committees or the Armenian Assembly of America have been established to specifically address such issues in host countries. Consistent and extended lobbying by these organizations have succeeded in securing recognition of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire by many countries (France, Russia, Switzerland etc.), U.S. states, and international organizations. In the wake of the catastrophic 1988 earthquake in Armenia , and especially after the establishment of the newly independent Republic of Armenia in 1991, these organizations re-directed their focus by assisting their historical homeland in a variety of ways.

Armenia – Diaspora Relations (1918 – 1980's)
Permanent and wide-range relations with the homeland Armenia are essential to the ability of the Diaspora to preserve its ethnic identity. During the First World War, around 350 thousand Armenians migrated to the Armenian regions of the then Russian Empire, establishing new homes primarily in Eastern Armenia and becoming a prominent part of the Armenian society.

The restoration of independent Armenian state – the First Republic that existed from May 1918 to December 1920 – was accepted by the foreign-born Armenians with great hopes and enthusiasm. Many scientists, high-class professionals, ethnic Armenian officers serving in the Russian Imperial Army repatriated to the homeland to take part in rebuilding the Armenian state.

The attitude of the Armenian Diaspora towards the Soviet Armenia that succeeded the First Republic (and lasted from 1920 to 1991) greatly complicated the relations between the two parts of the Armenian people. Under the Soviet regime, all contacts between the Soviet Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora were programmed and controlled by the central Soviet government which strived to exploit such contacts to pursue political and state objectives. The Diasporan organizations, especially political parties, were declared to be sworn enemies of Soviet Armenia and ‘the Armenian proletariat' of the Diaspora, and consequently were deemed targets of relentless class struggle. This ideological position was introduced after establishment of Soviet regime in Armenia , greatly increasing in scope in the wake of the anti-Bolshevik uprising of February 1921, when nearly all prominent opposition members and Dashnak party were forced to evacuate Armenia . Consequently, the ARF remained an anti-Soviet force and shortly re-constituted itself to wage anti-Soviet struggle in the Diaspora as well. This gave rise to a critical political confrontation in the Diaspora between supporters of diametrically different criteria for relations with Soviet Armenia: those for whom all that mattered was the ideological affiliation of the Soviet Armenia and those who believed that existence of an Armenia per se was important. One part of the Diaspora, led by the Dashnaks, chose to look at the Soviet Armenia through the ideological prism, and consequently, abjured neutrality in the global confrontation of two political and social systems that was the Cold War by taking the Western side. The other part of the Diaspora – those affiliated with the Ramgavars and the Hnchaks – looked upon the Soviet government of Armenia as the proverbial ‘lesser evil' from the Armenian perspective, stood in soft opposition to the Soviet regime, and attempted to build contacts with the Soviet Armenia. This split established a relative political balance of power in the Diaspora, allowing the Armenian people at large to adapt to the Cold War conditions of the two opposing political camps in which they lived.

Repatriation into Soviet Armenia
While the Soviet authorities of Armenia clashed ideologically with the political and other organizations in the Diaspora, from the very first years of their regime they also adopted the policy of encouraging repatriation of the Armenians in the Diaspora to the Homeland. The methods, scope and conditions of implementing such policies, controlled as they were by the central Soviet government, differed greatly throughout existence of the Soviet Armenia.

Already in December 1921, the Soviet government of Armenia interceded with the British colonial authority in Iraq to arrange repatriation of some 3000 Armenians who were living in refugee camps in Mesopotamia ( Iraq ). The British transported the Armenian refugees by sea to the port of Batumi , from where they proceeded to Armenia . Only 20 days later, on January 10, 1922 , another group of 3000 Armenian refugees from Iraq arrived in Batumi . The same year, 3500 Armenians migrated from Iran and Istanbul . This was the beginning of the Armenian repatriation, a process that would continue with some interruptions in the decades to come.

About 1000 Armenians repatriated to Armenia in 1923, mainly from Van (city in Western Armenia) and Iran, 4167 immigrated in 1924 from Syria, Greece, France, and Istanbul, Turkey, and another 5016 Armenians emigrated from Greece, Iraq, and Istanbul in 1925. In the following decade (1926-1929, 1932-1933, and 1936), almost 23 thousand Armenians were repatriated to the homeland, bringing the total number of repatriates (hairenadardzner) since 1921 to 42,000. Given Armenia's difficult economic and social conditions at the time on the one hand, and the growing number of repatriates to Armenia, some Armenian organizations, such as AGBU and some compatriotic unions, allocated moneys to finance construction of new towns and villages for the immigrating Armenians. These settlements, Nor Arabkir, Nor Butania, Nor Sebastia, Nor Malatia, Nor Kharberd, Nubarashen, and Nor Marash, would later be absorbed by and incorporated into Yerevan , as the Armenian capital grew in size and population.

The repatriation process slowed down to a trickle in late 1930's and during the Second World War. The government of the Soviet Union made public its decision to permit repatriation of the Armenians again in November 1945, and already six months later, in June 1946, the first group of repatriates reached Armenia . In the following three years, almost 90,000 Armenians were repatriated, including 32,000 from Lebanon and Syria , 21,000 from Iran , 18,000 from Greece , and 5300 from France .

The government of the Soviet Union permitted repatriation of the Armenians after the WWII out of political expediency, although there were concerns that Armenia, even though largely unscathed by the war, might not be able to absorb such a large number of immigrants, given the chronic shortages of housing, food, clothing, and other necessary items in the Soviet Union. However, the political benefits to be reaped led to downplaying such concerns and ignoring the reality, sometimes by deliberate disinformation targeted at the soon to be repatriated Armenians.

Meanwhile, the majority of the new wave of repatriation, unlike those who had come in 1920's and 1930's, were not destitute or impoverished. With the exception of some rural Armenians from the villages in Iran , most post-WWII repatriates were urbanized people living in cities small and large, craftsmen, merchants, physicians, scientists, and other professionals who had already achieved a certain level of success in their societies. Arriving in Armenia , they found themselves in difficult, if not alien social – economic conditions. The repatriates had to live in an environment of permanent mistrust, common during the Stalinist era, and some of them had to endure the notorious label of ‘enemy of the people' and were exiled to remote regions of the Soviet Union in 1949. The Soviet authorities perpetuated the invisible yet present wall of misunderstanding between the repatriates and indigenous population of Armenia , a condition that continued to exist long after the repatriates arrived in Armenia .

The repatriates' dream to achieve freedom of action and thought came to fruition beginning in 1975, when the Soviet Union signed the Helsinki Final Declaration and the Treaty on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and permitted limited emigration of the Jewish, German, and Armenian population for ‘reuniting with the family.' Despite this negative trend, the overall balance of repatriation remained positive as another 32,000 Armenians immigrated to Armenia in 1962-1982. The repatriates and their children have made their sound contribution to the development of Armenia , especially pronounced in the areas of culture and science.

Homeland – Diaspora (1980's to present)
Nevertheless, the two parts of the Armenian people continued to live in separation as long as the Soviet Union existed. Deprived of opportunity to communicate and exchange information with the homeland freely, the Diaspora Armenians were left alone even as they had to cope with the pressure to adopt within their societies, a trend that was stronger in Western countries. The magnitude of cultural assimilation threatened whole communities. At the same, separate existence of two segments of the Armenian people during the Cold War further increased and deepened the historical dissimilarities between the Western and Eastern Armenians, and perpetuated among these two segments stereotypical, mutually misinformed, and unrealistic perceptions of ethnic and political life of Armenians on the opposite side of the dividing line.

These walls of separation started to come down in late 1980's, and in the wake of the catastrophic Armenian earthquake of 1988, all the Diasporan organizations and many individuals hastened to assist and provide relief to the victims of that tragedy. Again, after re-establishment of the independent Republic of Armenia , the Diaspora extended enormous assistance to alleviate the acute social-economic crisis in Armenia and Artsakh, re-building hospitals, schools, paving new roads, establishing joint ventures and restarting industrial enterprises. This assistance has been extended by organizations, including the AGBU, Lincy Foundation, Fund for Armenian Relief, Armenian Relief Society, Hayastan All-Armenian Fund, Aznavour pour l'Armenie, and by countless individual benefactors.

As the first decade of Armenia 's independence drew to a close, the Armenian government put forth an initiative to reinvigorate, deepen, and make more effective the relations between Armenia and the Diaspora. Two Forums on Armenia-Diaspora relations were held in Yerevan in 1999 and 2002. Also, Armenia hosted Pan-Armenian Olympic Games in 1999, 2001, and 2003 that brought together athletic teams from all the communities of the Diaspora. Beside that, several TV marathons and business forums were jointly organized by the Diaspora and the authorities of Armenia .

Eduard Melkonian, PhD
Senior Researcher, Institute of History ,
National Academy of Sciences,
Republic of Armenia , Yerevan

Armenian Embassy in the United States - .


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