On the threshold of the Armenian Genocide Centennial, Mediamax starts a series of interviews with the intellectuals of Armenia and the Diaspora. It will be an attempt to collect opinions as to whether the Armenian Genocide Centennial will serve a certain “New Beginning” for Armenians or not.
Our today’s interlocutor is Head of the Armenian Communities Department of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Razmik Panossian. Razmik Panossian is a Canadian-Armenian who holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author of “The Armenians: From Kings and Priests to Merchants and Commissars” book published by the Columbia University Press in 2006.
Upon the initiative of the Armenian Communities Department of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, several dozens of Armenian intellectuals from around the world came together in Lisbon in October 2014, to discuss what awaits Armenians in 2115.
- What will happen on April 25? Can it stand for a “New Beginning” through which Armenia and the Diaspora will attempt to cast a new glance at their future?
- April 25 will be both a continuation and a new beginning.
By continuation I mean Genocide Centennial will leave us with the same questions and challenges. On the other hand, it will be quite different: “what now?” – if asked this question, neither Armenia, nor the Diaspora will today be able to give a precise answer to it.
The symbolic significance of April 25 is to think of 2115.
Indeed, there will be various approaches and opinions. I believe the leadership and people should jointly discuss the next step. Where should we head to as a state and as people? Obviously, various Armenian and Diaspora structures and parties will have varying opinions but at least the main issues that have long been on-wait for a solution should be agreed on. It will be so much the better if it is possible to find basic points for a consensus. The answers might differ but we should at least try to agree on the issues our nation is concerned about.
- But no intellectual debates are carried on over these issues in either Armenia, or Diaspora. Everybody seems to focus on short-term issues and there is no discussion over the vision for the future.
-I don’t think it right to seek a single and common vision. We might have several visions – we are versatile people. But we should really be able to look into the future and think about it. It’s what our initiative craves for – to assist in creating those visions.
Apparently, we will be hearing about the Armenian Genocide time and again in coming three months. But we should think of where we will head to afterwards. Some of the Diaspora organizations are committed to finding choices. I hope the Armenian government also works on it and is discussing projects to this end.
- Do you find it possible to set up a non-official platform for regular debates between Armenia and the Diaspora?
- I think Diaspora organizations should engage in this process in a decentralized way and present their vision for 20-30 years. After that, a debate should carry on. But those should not be just formal talks – they should be concise and substantial.
- The Armenian Genocide is said to be one of the elements uniting the “traditional” or “classical” Diaspora and its significance is believed to dwindle after the Centennial.
- The Armenian Genocide is the pivotal reality of Classical Diaspora’s identity but it is not represented as merely a historic reality but also in the context of Turkey’s denial of the Genocide. Denial also plays a huge role in the mobilization and unification of the Armenian Diaspora.
Will this loosen in the course of years? There does exist such a risk when the link with Genocide survivors or their memories is cut off in the kin. My generation was the last to hear about the genocide from their grandfathers or grandmothers. The next generation lacks the direct link. For them, Genocide appears as a concept, which does not relate to a particular person.
- Wasn’t independent Armenia to become a uniting force for the new generations of the Diaspora?
- It might be one of the vision constituents but not the sole one for the Diaspora.
To the Classical Diaspora, the lost lands and ancestral villages and cities “incarnate” their motherland.
As an independent state, Armenia plays a significant role in the formation of identity but we should not forget that the cultural roots of the Classical Diaspora – its language and mode of life – lie in the Western Armenia.
The Armenian national identity has always been Eastern and Western. Indeed, Armenia’s role as a cultural and national center cannot be undermined but the Diaspora’s identity and the idea of being Diaspora Armenians – generations succeeding Western Armenians – is equally important.
How the connection to historical lands will move on in coming decades also represents interest. We should see whether Turkey will become a democratic state within the next 20 years or not. If it does become a democratic state and Armenian has its role in it, the Armenian culture might reinstate its place in Istanbul or historic Armenia.
I believe this consolidation should have its pivotal and main place in the vision for future.
- Will your initiative oriented toward the 2115 be ongoing, and what outcome do you expect to receive? Do you plan to devise a certain document on the results of Lisbon discussions?
- I hope the report will be ready by late January, and we will start distributing it.
We have two programs for 2015 and 2016 – one is related to IT and Armenian culture. We have good IT specialists but we are not able to juxtapose IT and culture and bring them side by side. For instance, the number of Armenian, especially Western Armenian e-books and network resources is very sparse.
Lisbon meeting participants
The second program refers to reconstruction of education sector in Diaspora schools. We have placed the emphasis on the enhancement and progress of the Western Armenian.
- Why does Armenia not appear implicitly attractive for the Diaspora? Where does the main issue lie? Is it the internal situation, monopolies or absence of independent judiciary? Or, are there any issues in the Diaspora which impede the strengthening of ties with Armenia?
- Apparently, there is some distrust. However, there is a graver issue. Soviet and post-Soviet Armenia was attempting to control the Diaspora – I have touched upon it in my studies.
The Diaspora is often viewed as the continuation of Armenia that should be controlled or ruled. This circumstance has fomented an uprising in the Diaspora.
The other important point is that our national identity has always had two most important centers strongly dependent on Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian and thus, on two cultural spheres and viewpoints. The first center was Tiflis, which also involved Saint Petersburg and Moscow. After the establishment of the USSR, Yerevan came to be that center. The second center was Polis incorporating European and Western quality. Our present-day identity was formed within these two centers.
The Genocide almost completely razed the center. But it does not mean we should have only one center. It is highly important to realize this. Both should be kept, shielded, strengthened and developed. Both should carry on a dialog without obliging one another. As soon as the Western no longer exists, we will then know that the genocide has served its purpose.
The future should not be based on statements claiming Yerevan is our only center and neither on those stating Yerevan and Armenia do not matter for us.
Armenia is the motherland and it does matter, but the Diaspora is the post-genocide reality. We have a challenge and it is to maintain that equilibrium, and to do our best to find a right way between those two.
Ara Tadevosyan talked to Razmik Panossian