Analogy as Crystal Ball: One Diaspora Portending the Fate of Another?

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Analogy as Crystal Ball: One Diaspora Portending the Fate of Another?

By Lucine Kasbarian

The Armenian Weekly

November, 9 1991


An article by Arthur Hertzberg in the New York Review of Books (Oct 24) makes reference to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir’s refusal to be held accountable to Jewish Diasporan interests.


As I read on, I found myself drawing comparisons to the current Diasporan Armenian experience, both with regard to newly elected President Levon Ter Petrosyan’s apparent Armenian “exileophobia” and to other issues connecting Armenia with its brethren abroad.


Several paragraphs in Hertzberg’s article often paralleled issues Diasporan Armenians address. One such passage follows:


The sense that Diasporan Jews are in some sense lesser Jews than those living in Zion is explicit in prayer books and in the whole structure of traditional Jewish law. Those who dwell in Zion are, by definition, more godly. The secular Israelis of today have translated this notion into the view that the Diaspora owes deference to the Israelis because they and their children have fought the wars of Israel, while those in the Diaspora have merely provided money and political support.


Admittedly, Diasporan Armenian organizations which would like to share their standpoints on social, economic and political issues affecting Armenia are discouraged by the present Armenian government. The Armenian National Movement (ANM) Party’s myopic reply to Diasporan Armenian groups ready to become involved in Armenia’s affairs has been “bankroll us; don’t advise us.”


Is it naïve behavior when a newly emergent leadership in Armenia perceives Diasporan involvement as meddling rather than a chance to call in “Wunderkinds” to enrich the standard of well-being with vast experience in, contacts with, and wisdom about, Westernized customs and acumen? Or might unseen, guiding hands be preventing the natural synergy between these forcibly separated peoples?


As a recent participant in the Armenian National Committee’s (ANC’s) panel discussion on Armeno-Turkish relations (October 4, Fairleigh Dickinson University), Dr. Vazken Parseghian unequivocally stateed that the present government in Armenia has no obligation to Diasporan Armenians. To be considered legitimate, Diasporans should pack their bags and make a one-way Aeroflot reservation, according to Parseghian.


Could Parseghian and his advocates mean that the diplomatic experiences with realpolitik reaped through trial and tribulation along with the insights acquired over the years by Diasporan political groups should be cast off as irrelevant rather than drawn up as a feather in Armenia’s cap? Should Armenians around the world be penalized because their grandparents were forcibly driven out of their ancestral lands? Should the Armenian government be answerable to its global constituents of Armenian descent, or are Diasporan Armenians disqualified and considered “lesser Armenians” because they are not card-carrying citizens who are privy and exposed to Armenia’s day-to-day realities?


In another quote from Hertzberg’s piece, the similarities between the Jews and Armenians of the Diaspora are unmistakable:


Very soon after the state of Israel was created, its first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, insisted that true Zionists were those who lived in Israel or were planning to do so, and that all other Jews were a lesser breed, “friends of Israel,” who could earn Jerusalem’s approval by the intensity of their support.


“Support,” in Hertzberg’s context, focuses on financial aid. If Diasporan Armenians took a moment to assess their stand, their conclusions might well resemble those of the Jewish-American model. The presumption would stand that as prospective long-distance constituents, Diasporan Armenians must live up to a responsibility in accordance with the opinions and actions they so eagerly wish to voice and take. To back up one’s claims with deeds, one need only observe the methods of the Jewish-American lobby to get the idea.


Jews in America (and elsewhere) have long reaped the benefits of pursuing progress for, and control in, Israel. Again and again, they have raised funds to implement programs for aid to Israel while adroitly and simultaneously addressing their own political agenda. The lesson to learn here is one of gaining a foothold in a homeland by amassing influence and wielding political clout by means of financial contributions and political/economic activity, not to mention military recruits sent over to the homeland. While these approaches have helped Diasporan Jews attain power and prominence in American and Israeli affairs, and influence public opinion on both sides of the pond, can Armenians realistically expect to attain the same results if they apply the same strategies under similar circumstances?


With these thoughts in mind, other similarities between Armenians and Jews around the globe surfaced while reading Hertzberg’s article:


Throughout the centuries, those who provided the money for the Jews in the Holy Land were seldom given an accounting of how it was spent there. Such inquisitiveness was held to be an impertinence, for the authorities in the Holy Land knew best.


This passage reminded me of the tireless efforts of Armenians worldwide when the catastrophic earthquake struck Armenia in 1988. Also vivid was the constant reminder that with corrupt Soviet officials, trade unions and black market operatives in Armenia, Diasporan Armenians were never quite certain if the funds raised and materials donated reached their intended, promised destinations. After some initial blind faith, many organizations began to accompany the parcels and plans overseas to ensure delivery, distribution and completion.


In yet another passage, Hertzberg indicates that the obstinate Yitzak Shamir reportedly ignores majority opinion in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora on the desirability of “trading land for peace.” The continuing relationship of Shamir and his Likud party with the Jews of the world is, by no stretch of the imagination, strained. Analogous to this is Ter Petrosyan’s unbending and short-sighted decision to ignore vehement Diasporan (and in some cases, domestic) disapproval, as Armenia’s Parliament sanctions trade initiatives with a neighboring country as historically unreliable and immoral as Turkey. Are there no other economic resources available that Armenia must turn to its historic executioner, before Turkey has even been called to task for its crimes? Has the passage of time eroded the memories of not only Armenia’s government but Soviet Armenians as well regarding the threat Turkey continues to pose to Armenia? As opinions, experiences, lifestyles, dialects, and provincial origins differ, are Western Armenians and Eastern Armenians going to grow diametrically opposed as we have seen with the Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews? Such a complex issue can hardly be explored here and deserves separate treatment.


What is certain, however, is the following. With all the similarities touched upon here, the ones Diasporan Armenians certainly do not have in common with the Diasporan Jews is the acquired power they wield, and the influence they have exercised in the molding of public opinion and policy of their superpower allies over the past century. This power imbalance should remain at the forefront of our minds when Armenians address their participation in activities affecting Armenian livelihood in the homeland and abroad.


It begs the question: Should Diaspora Armenians relinquish an inherently Christian Armenian character that takes the moral high ground in favor of a hawkish and transactional approach when dealing with independent Armenia and other nations of the world?