The significance of the international diaspora in the return process
In order to understand which role the diaspora plays or could play within the return process, at first it has to be noticed in which context the term “diaspora” is used because for the word “diaspora” until now there is no strict or universal definition.
Sometimes this term is interpreted very diversely. For instance, the diaspora is meant to be a part of the people that is living outside it’s country of origin.
Sometimes, however, the diaspora simply becomes a synonym for migrants or minorities.
In this lecture we will use this term in its most spread interpretation among sociologists today: diaspora (greek: διασπορά - distraction) as part of a nation (ethnos), which lives outside its country of origin, creating solid and cohering ethnic groups and social institutions for the support and the development of the own identity.
The diaspora plays an essential role in the upkeep of the national culture and in the development of the national conscious. The relationships with the diaspora are for many countries an important direction of foreign politics. For some countries like Israel, Armenia or India, the diaspora plays an important role with its huge political and economical support. Unlike to other countries for Indians, Jews and Armenians, the term ‘diaspora’ with all its complex questions is a part of the national mentality.
The Armenian diaspora (Spürk) exists since Armenia lost its independent state entity in year 1375 after the fall of the Armenian kingdom Kilikia. It contains at the moment about 7 million people. The Armenian diaspora tends towards a dissemination because of the emigration from the traditional residential areas (Armenia, Iran, Lebanon, Syria) to Europe - there: the Netherlands, Belgium, Bulgaria, Poland, Greece. Many emigrants from Armenia choose the nearby Russia and take it in consideration to return to their home country. Everything depends on the socio economic changes because the majority names as a reason for their migration unemployment, low salaries and social problems. The characteristics of the Armenian diasporas in different times and countries differ between each other in their own characteristic and their position within the community. Therefore, conclusions in this work are not generalized and are limited to diasporas in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands that have a lot in common.
The Armenian diaspora in Germany is one of the youngest in the history of Armenia. Apart from the rare exceptions, like for instance the founding of the Armenian community in Berlin in year 1923, the first social institutions and structures of the Armenian community in Germany were just established in the 70’s of the past century. Although, the Armenian students already came to Germany since 1830 and established their first student’s union in Leipzig in 1885, it is common to structure the history of the Armenian migration to Germany in the following waves and stages:
- Refugees of the genocide in the time 1915 - 1923
- prisoners of war from the former Soviet Union who stayed in Germany after World War II. (The last camp for prisoners of war was closed in year 1952)
- guest workers from Turkey in the 60’s
- refugees from the revolution in Iran (1978 - 1979) and from the civil war in Lebanon (1975-
- emigrants and refugees from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the war in Berg-Karabach (1988 - 1995)
- refugees from the civil war in Syria (from 2011)
Over the course of the implementation of our project “RECEA” and because of contacts with the representatives of Armenian communities and organisations of the Armenian diasporas in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, it has come out that different Armenian diasporas have different values in the focus which are often contradictory. In the following also their meanings and role within the returning process are absolutely different.
In order to understand which role these from each other differing diasporas play or could play, we will select and illustrate them on the base of some Armenian organisations.
- Representatives of the ‘old’ Armenian diaspora, emigrants from Turkey and Iran who speak the Persian, Turkish and Western Armenian languages. An organisation of this group, for instance, is the Armenian cultural association Abowjan (Abovian Armenian Cultural Association) in the Netherlands, that leads an active public and cultural life. Representatives of this group also create the heart of the Armenian church communities in Germany.
- Humanitarian, business and artistic intelligence, which unites mainly because of the opportunity of a fuller professional self realisation. This group consists also mainly of representatives of the ‘old’ diaspora. One example for the organisation of this group is the Union of Armenian doctors in Germany e.V. mainly consisting of Iranian emigrants.
- Emigrants from the Armenian Republic and from other countries of the GUS from Soviet and post Soviet times, representatives of the ‘new’ Armenian diaspora, who speak Russian and Eastern Armenian languages and have a citizenship or an unlimited permission of stay in the EU. The biggest part of this group originates from Armenia and has emigrated from GUS countries in times of Perestroika and the Berg-Karabach war. An example for organisations of this group is the Armenian association ARDIA in Belgium. Representatives of this group form the heart of the Armenian worldly communities in Germany.
- Armenian youth and students, who speak German and Western Armenian languages. An example for the organisations of this group is the German Armenian Student club. The biggest part of this club is represented by young people, mostly students from the German universities who came with their parents from the ‘new’ diaspora in the childhood to Germany as well as students who came recently from Armenia.
At the moment there are about 65 Armenian diaspora organisations registered in Germany.
Each of these can be considered among one of the four groups mentioned above. And though the doors of every organisation are open for every Armenian regardless of his origin and language there is a strict separation taking place between the two Armenian diaspora groups, between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Armenian diaspora. Often there are coming parallel organisations coming into existence, that implement the same tasks. So Armenians visit the ‘old’ and others the ‘new’ diaspora.
To understand the difference between both these diaspora groups and their values and also with it the difference in the role that they play in the return process of the Armenians, we quote an article from the magazine HAYsociety | The Armenian magazin in Germany for the month April 2012, : Diaspora & Return - Saying Goodbye to an Illusion? http://www.hay-society.de
“I see the Armenian diaspora characterised in this way that a return in the lost home country is basically refused and this not as a single fate but as a collective one. Seen that way, however, Armenians from the Republic of Armenia, insofar they are or have been citizens of the Republic, are in the stricter sense not in the Diaspora. When they don’t live in Armenia, they are foreign Armenians. This is because a return is not refused in general…”, and further; “ Reconstructed that way only the Armenians of Western Armenia form the ‘Armenian Diaspora’, and this happens to be independent from it, whether they live in Europe, in America or in current Turkey. Why? Because on the one hand there exists no sovereign state for them, that represents the needed, through modern age just into conscious coming link between state and nation; because on the other hand a sovereign state would be the political appropriate answer to the lost home.”
We won’t analyse the dispute of the above mentioned statement of the editorial staff on the pages of the Armenian magazine concerning the discussion about the possibilities of a return of the Armenians to the home of their ancestors in Turkey. Above all, because not all emigrants from Western Armenia share this view and, for instance, the head of the German Armenian Society (DAG) Raffi Kantian says in an interview from the same magazine that the migration to the Republic of Armenia is seen as a serious alternative. However, this opinion is characteristic for the representative of the “old” diaspora. So they see the emigrants from the soviet and post soviet Armenia and from the GUS countries not as a part of the Armenian diaspora and consider the return or the move into the Republic of Armenia not as a real possibility. The role social institutions of the “old” diaspora play within the return process into the Republic of Armenia thereby is very small or is missing at all. Unlike to the “old” diaspora which thinks that it has no “own” state, the “new” diaspora is “ethno national”. A characteristic feature of such a diaspora is the feeling of having the invisible presence of the ”own” state. “New” Armenian diasporas and their social institutions play a bigger and more active role in the political and social life in the country of establishment. They keep a regular contact with Armenia and the question for the return to the Republic of Armenia always stays up-to-date for the members of these ethno social groups. In this aspect, special emphasis has to be put on the Armenian youth organisations which are most active. The members of these organisations have a European style of thinking, education and working habit. They are not bearing the negative burden of the past, which their parents often have, and think that the change of the politic, economic and social life of the Republic according to the European example is only a question of time. The question towards the return or the move into the republic of Armenia is a topic of permanent discussions among these young people. The role of the youth organisations in the return process of the Armenians to Armenia is exceedingly huge.
A special place in the row of the Armenian organisations in Germany is belonging to the Central Council of Armenians in Germany (ZAD). This council tries to coordinate and to unite the activity of all ethno social Armenian institutions in Germany, apart from their affiliation to the “old” or “new” diaspora and their church, worldly or professional direction. The council tries as well to serve as a link between these organisations and the foreign representation of the Republic of Armenia in Germany. Currently it reckons about 20 Armenian organisations its members. If the Central Council manages to fulfill these goals and to become a linking and coordinating organ for all ethno social groups of the Armenian diasporas in Germany indeed, it will be difficult to underestimate its role in the return process to Armenia.
From the 1st October 2008 in the Republic of Armenia there works a department of the government: the ministry for diaspora. Under the leadership of the president it has to support the relationship Armenia - diaspora in all directions. The return of the Armenians is one of the most important directions in the activity of this ministry. Therefore our analysis can be useful for the elaboration of the right directions in the activity of this ministry for the work with the Armenian diaspora in Germany, without raising claim of universality.
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Saying goodbye to an illusion ?
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