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Connections and Disconnections in the Armenian Transnation: the Case of Armenian Americans and Armenia

Accords et désaccords dans la transnation arménienne : le cas des Arméniens-Américains et de l’Arménie
Anouche Der Sarkissian

Résumés

La dispersion arménienne est souvent abordée comme un cas d’école de diaspora, avec une origine commune, une mémoire partagée, des intérêts convergents et un sentiment de co-responsabilité. Au sein de la « transnation » arménienne, les Arméniens Américains occupent une place de choix. L’histoire longue et continue des migrations arméniennes vers les États-Unis a donné naissance à une « communauté » ethno-culturelle visible et dotée de ressources multiformes qu’elle mobilise pour la conservation de sa culture ancestrale, l’aide à l’Arménie et la diffusion de revendications, dont la reconnaissance du génocide de 1915 est l’une des plus emblématiques. Malgré cette « relation spéciale » qu’entretiennent les Arméno-Américains avec la République d’Arménie, depuis plus d’un siècle, les rapports sont complexes, oscillant entre dépendance, désaccords, rivalités et rêves déçus. À cela s’ajoute un autre phénomène qui mérite d’être exploré. À partir des années 1960, l’afflux de migrants arméniens issus de pays différents a fait émerger une présence arméno-américaine composite qui a de plus en plus de mal à entrer dans la case diasporique classique. Ces fragmentations internes se traduisent par des pratiques transnationales hétérogènes et des formes d’engagement très diverses avec l’Arménie. À partir de l’exemple des Arméniens Américains, cet article montre que la relation entre une diaspora et le pays dit d’origine ne suit pas un cours lisse et tranquille. Au gré de l'histoire, l'État-nation et ses expatriés subissent des changements qui agissent sur la nature et la qualité des liens mutuels.

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The Armenian diaspora(s)

  • 1 While there is no accurate census, most scholars agree that of the 8 to 10 million ethnic Armenian (...)
  • 2 The diaspora’s engagement is illustrated by its presence in Armenia’s economy, with 90% of foreign (...)

1For scholars interested in diasporas, the Armenian experience provides a fertile research ground because of the demographic prominence of the dispersed members. Today there are more Armenians living outside than inside the Republic of Armenia,1 which explains the extent of the diaspora’s involvement in Armenia,2 as well as Armenia’s efforts to formalize and institutionalize the Armenia-diaspora partnership.

 

 

Screenshot by author of a map created by The Guardian in Ian Black, “The Armenian Genocide – The Guardian Briefing”: <https://www.theguardian.com/​news/​2015/​apr/​16/​the-armenian-genocide-the-guardian-briefing>, accessed September 7, 2023.

  • 3 After maps were redrawn following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the Russian revolution (...)
  • 4 Razmik Panossian,"Between Ambivalence and Intrusion: Politics and Identity in Armenia-Diaspora Rel (...)
  • 5 Idem, 160.
  • 6 For purposes of clarity, scholars now distinguish between the “historic” or “old diaspora”, which (...)
  • 7 While the 1915 genocide is the cataclysmic starting point for the large-scale and multidirectional (...)
  • 8 Certain studies have focused on the trajectories of Armenian diaspora communities on a national sc (...)

2Two points are important to note in order to better unpack the dynamics at work between the Armenian diaspora and Armenia. While the Republic of Armenia3 embodies a “tangible homeland,”4 with all the attributes of a nation-state and a “bastion of Armenianness,”5 for the bulk of the “historic diaspora,”6 which includes genocide survivors and their descendants, it represents a makeshift homeland in absentia of the genuine homeland which was absorbed by Turkey. Second, it would be wrong to assume that the Armenian diaspora was – and is – a monolithic unit whose constituents have engaged in homogeneous relations with the so-called homeland. Owing to the specificities of the regions where Armenians sought refuge,7 each Armenian cluster has produced its own set of social, cultural, linguistic, and organizational distinctions, which have been scrutinized by a wealth of scholarly monographs.8

  • 9 The word “transnation”, which I borrow from Khachig Tölölyan refers to a homeland and its diaspori (...)

3Armenian Americans occupy a very special position within this composite diaspora, and more broadly within the Armenian transnation.9 They have played a key role in the social and economic development of Armenia since the early 20th century, and especially since its independence. However, despite the substantial engagement of the Armenian American diaspora towards Armenia, and Armenia’s efforts to harness the potential of the diaspora, the relationship between Armenian Americans and Armenia has never “run smooth.” Although both parties have common goals on the surface, the strategies to achieve them have differed at times. In some instances, these contradictory standpoints have been so irreconcilable that they opened a rift between Armenia and the diaspora, and even led to internal conflicts within the Armenian American community.

4To gauge the variety of links that can emerge within a transnation, this article focuses on the relationship between Armenian Americans and Armenia. The first part describes the tangible and symbolic influence of the Armenian American diaspora within the Armenian transnation. Then, based on secondary sources, the following part provides a historical overview of noteworthy episodes when disagreements surfaced between Armenia and the Armenian American diaspora. The third and final section draws on ethnographic fieldwork conducted among Armenian Americans in California between 2017 and 2019, to map out the heterogeneous nature of the Armenian American diaspora, and to show how intragroup distinctions translate into multiple forms of diaspora engagement towards the “homeland.”

The symbolic and tangible influence of the Armenian American diaspora

5Both observers and insiders portray the Armenian American diaspora as an influential group within the Armenian transnation. The primary factors accounting for this central position include the demographic prevalence of Armenian Americans within the global Armenian diaspora, their conspicuous presence in certain US localities, their sizeable economic contributions to Armenia and the Armenian transnation, the noted successes of the so-called Armenian American lobby, the level of engagement of certain individuals, and the symbolic clout of high-profile Americans who publicly claim Armenian descent.

  • 10 2015 American Community Survey. While the ancestry question added in the US census in 1980 can be (...)
  • 11 Robert Mirak, “The Armenians in America”, in Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.), Armenian People from An (...)
  • 12 According to the 2020 American Community Survey, today the Armenian presence is concentrated in Ca (...)
  • 13 One illustration of the local influence of Armenian presence is how some Armenian foods, such as l (...)
  • 14 For a history of California’s Armenian settlements, see Aram Serkis Yeretzian, A History of Armeni (...)
  • 15 As far as the Armenian presence is concerned, Southern California is today the most densely concen (...)
  • 16 Borrowing this concept from Wei Li (see “Anatomy of a New Ethnic Settlement: The Chinese Ethnoburb (...)
  • 17 Idem, 1242.
  • 18 There is an actual “Little Armenia” in Hollywood, in a neighborhood that was once a favored destin (...)
  • 19 Among other services, authors mention the development of parks and playgrounds, affordable housing (...)
  • 20 Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, “Glendale leaders vote to honor Armenian American community with new stre (...)
  • 21 Arin Mikaelian, “Glendale Unified officially adds day off to commemorate Armenian Genocide,” Los A (...)
  • 22 See the museum’s website: <https://www.armenianamericanmuseum.org/about/, accessed 1 March 2021. T (...)
  • 23 Such as the large gatherings in 2018 before Glendale’s City Hall in support of the anti-government (...)
  • 24 Just a few weeks after the Velvet Revolution in May 2018, two members of the newly-appointed gover (...)
  • 25 Interestingly, Rep. Adam Schiff called Los Angeles a “diaspora capital” during Prime Minister Niko (...)

6The United States is today home to the second largest Armenian diaspora after Russia, with 500,000 residents reporting Armenian ancestry in the census,10 and scholarly estimates varying between 800,000 and 1 million residents.11 Although Armenian Americans are statistically invisible nationwide (accounting for about 0.1% of the US population), their concentration in a number of pockets12 has lent it a multifaceted visibility in the urban landscape, and the economic, political, and cultural fabric.13 California is a telling example, with more than half of the total Armenian American population living in the Golden State,14 where certain areas register a high percentage of residents self-identifying as Armenian.15 The most emblematic case is Glendale, an “ethnoburb”16 of Los Angeles County where 40% of the population declares Armenian ancestry and 70% of elected offices are held by Armenians.17 This relatively high number of residents claiming Armenian origins, combined with an overrepresentation in local politics, has contributed to making Glendale – and by association Greater Los Angeles – a megalopolis of the Armenian transnation. As the world’s second city in terms of Armenian speakers after Armenia’s capital, Glendale has become a major hub of Armenophony, and a full-blown “Little Armenia.”18 It features Armenian schools, language programs, ethnic stores, businesses, media outlets, and churches, along with a dense network of community organizations consisting of compatriotic societies, local branches of Armenian political structures, cultural and recreational institutions, professional groups, etc. This salience is enhanced by the city’s efforts to cater to its Armenian population, and to be responsive to its concerns. The type of public services developed also reflects this,19 as do a series of decisions made by the city including toponymical choices (changing the name of “Maryland Street” to “Artsakh Street” in 2018),20 school curricula (such as the introduction of a dual immersion program), and the “politics of memory” by making the Armenian Genocide remembrance day an official holiday,21 and by approving the project to build an Armenian American Museum to “educate the public on the Armenian American story.”22 In recent years Glendale has become a hotspot of protests23 for Armenian Americans reacting to Armenian issues occurring at home or in Armenia and other regions of the transnation. The city’s status as a critical outpost of the Armenian transnation has been implicitly acknowledged by visits from Armenian government officials.24 Glendale’s symbolic position as a “diaspora capital”25 was recently bolstered when its former mayor, Zareh Sinanyan, was appointed commissioner of Diaspora affairs in Armenia.

  • 26 Armenia’s systemic rent-seeking behavior is a well-documented phenomenon which is denounced by man (...)
  • 27 As an illustration, 40% of households received remittances in 2013. See Gagik Makaryan and Mihran (...)
  • 28 According to the World Bank, the share of remittances accounted for 8.9% of the national GDP in 20 (...)
  • 29 According to the World Bank, the share of Russia and the USA in remittances sent to Armenia were 6 (...)

7The economic impact of Armenian Americans in the Armenian transnation is another distinctive characteristic worth noting. Since its independence, Armenia has experienced numerous challenges – an earthquake causing 25,000 fatalities and massive destruction, an unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan, an economic blockade imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan, the economic and social disruptions of the post-communist transition, rampant corruption, as well as the increasing clout of oligarchs and clans26 – that have had devastating social and economic effects including massive unemployment, poverty, and large-scale emigration. In the face of these difficulties, and against the backdrop of a drastic retrenchment of the State, the diaspora has emerged as a major source of assistance. The contributions of Armenian Americans have been a central component in this regard. While money transfers sent by the diaspora to friends and relatives in the homeland have long existed in Armenia, starting with the dislocation of the USSR, Armenian households have steadily and increasingly relied on remittances.27 Due to the large share of remittance in Armenia’s GDP, Armenia is among the top 20 remittance-receiving countries.28 While sources vary regarding the exact nature and amount of the remitted sums, the available data is clear on their origins, with Russia and the US being the two main remittance-sending countries.29

  • 30 The Armenian-populated territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh in Armenian, is a self-declared a (...)
  • 31 In 2020, the Fund raised $152 million for humanitarian aid for war-torn Karabakh. The data release (...)
  • 32 Jonathan Kandell, “Kirk Kerkorian, Billionaire Investor in Film Studios and Casinos, Dies at 98,” (...)
  • 33 Lawrence Van Gelder, “Alex Manoogian, 95; Perfected Design of Single-Handled Faucet,” New York Tim (...)
  • 34 The AGBU was created in Cairo in 1906. It is now headquartered in New York City. Today, the AGBU h (...)

8In addition to interpersonal money transfers, diaspora charities and the non-profit sector have played a crucial role in assisting Armenia and the Armenian transnation economically. One of the main channels for the diaspora’s contributions has been the government-sponsored organization Hayastan All Armenian Fund, which has implemented $400 million worth of projects in infrastructure, healthcare, social welfare, arts and sports in Armenia and Karabakh.30 Since the creation of the organization in 1992, Armenian American donors have emerged as key drivers. Every year the Fund’s international campaigns show the significant share of US donations, which often if not always, make up half of the total sum.31 By the same token, private foundations have acted as major pillars of the transnation. In the diaspora they have been the backbone of community organizations, funding the creation and preservation of schools, churches, art centers, youth programs, and study programs. They have launched and supported wide-ranging development projects in Armenia and in Karabakh, especially from the late 1980s onward. Some Armenian American philanthropists are even treated as transnational heroes honored with streets, buildings, and monuments being named after them both in the diaspora and Armenia. The casino and entertainment tycoon Kirk Kerkorian, who was born in California to Armenian immigrants, one of the world’s richest people and ranked the tenth largest philanthropic donor in the US by Time Magazine in 2000, was a major benefactor of the Armenian transnation in his lifetime. He founded the Lincy Foundation, which developed $1 billion worth of projects in Armenia.32 In 1998 he was granted honorary citizenship by then-President Kotcharian, and in 2005 he was awarded the highest distinction in Armenia. Alex Manoogian was another prominent Armenian American philanthropist whose legacy lives on both in diaspora communities and Armenia.33 In addition to his substantial donations to charities and contributions to Armenian institutions worldwide, he is especially remembered for presiding over the AGBU,34one of the oldest US-based Armenian transnational philanthropic organizations. In 1993, he became the first diaspora Armenian to receive the title of “National Hero” in Armenia, and in 2007, more than a decade after his death, his remains were reburied in Etchmiadzine, the Holy See of the Catholicos of Armenians in Armenia – an official Church recognition akin to canonization.

  • 35 See Heather S. Gregg, “Divided They Conquer: The Success of Armenian Ethnic Lobbies in the United (...)
  • 36 In 2006, Zbigniew Brzenzinski, President Carter’s former national security advisor, placed it amon (...)
  • 37 In 2020, Armenia was granted a total economic assistance package worth $43 million. However, the a (...)
  • 38 Julien Zarifian,“La Politique étrangère américaine en Arménie : Naviguer à vue dans les eaux russe (...)

9An additional element to take into account when assessing the economic importance of Armenian Americans in the transnation involves the noted successes of lobbying efforts.35 Although limited in terms of size and resources, the Armenian American lobby is often described as a disproportionately influential ethnic lobby.36 One of the most tangible signs of its potency and achievements is the substantial foreign aid granted by the US Congress to Armenia annually,37 as well as the aid provided to Karabakh every year since 1998. Even more crucially, when assessing foreign assistance per capita, Armenia is ranked among the top 10 recipient-countries and the top beneficiary in the region, which shows the disproportionate aid allocated to this relatively small country supported by a relatively small minority group.38

  • 39 Carey Goldberg, “Armenian office has an American accent,” Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1992. A (...)
  • 40 Razmik Panossian, “Between Ambivalence and Intrusion: Politics and Identity in Armenia-Diaspora Re (...)
  • 41 Several scholars have argued that while Armenian Americans have been enlisted at the highest level (...)
  • 42 In the history of the Armenian transnation, the word “repatriation” has referred to the migration (...)
  • 43 Mark Arax, “The Riddle of Monte”, Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1993.
  • 44 During my fieldwork, I met three young children named after him, two in California and one in Arme (...)

10The role played by some Armenian American individuals actively engaged in “home-state politics” is another factor explaining the influence of Armenian Americans in the transnation. This was especially true in the early days of post-Soviet independence. In 1992, a Los Angeles Times article focusing on Raffi Hovanissian, a California-born lawyer who became the first Foreign Minister of post-Soviet Armenia, mapped out American presence in the Armenian government, and listed eleven positions held by Armenian Americans, including two ministers, two presidential advisors, and seven employees of the Foreign Ministry – a level of diaspora involvement deemed “unsurpassed in the former Soviet Bloc.”39 Despite the initial “honeymoon period,”40 the interference of diaspora members in Armenia’s politics has more often than not raised qualms and criticism in Armenia, as well as concerns about the growing Americanization of Armenia’s government and civil society.41 On the other end of the spectrum, “repatriates”42 serving the “homeland” have been occasionally recognized as embodying admirable loyalty and sacrifice towards the transnation. The glorification of Monte Melkonian, a native of Visalia, California, who was among the very few diasporans to take part in the Karabakh conflict, ultimately becoming a revered military commander, is an apt illustration of this view. When he died in combat in 1993, his funeral resembled a national day of mourning in Armenia.43 To this day he is regarded as a transnational martyr, for whom countless children in Armenia and the diaspora have been named.44

  • 45 In Armenia and the transnation, Charles Aznavour is “more than a legendary singer.” After the 1988 (...)
  • 46 Strangely enough, according to Marc Mamigonian, the most oft-cited passage found on numerous plaqu (...)
  • 47 In November 2020, the band released two new songs to increase public awareness about the ongoing c (...)
  • 48 Rachel Lee Harris, “The Kardashians Show Support for Armenia”, New York Times, April 13, 2015.

11Renowned American artists and celebrities claiming Armenian heritage represent another source of multidimensional influence unmatched within the Armenian transnation – with the noted exception of French Armenian singer Charles Aznavour.45 Their visits to Armenia, endorsement of causes célèbres, public declarations, participation in campaigns and fundraisers, and meetings with high-ranking officials have provided greater visibility for Armenia, Armenians, and Armenian issues through wider media attention. They have in turn become heroes acclaimed in both Armenia and the diaspora: their words and actions are extensively commented upon in community media and Armenia-based outlets; they meet with Armenian government officials; and they are honored and awarded in multiple ways. The Armenian American Pulitzer-winning writer, William Saroyan, is a towering figure omnipresent in Armenia and the diaspora. The cultural productions of and in the Armenian transnation are replete with references to his legacy, and some passages from his writings or his interviews are well-known by Armenians worldwide.46 He is ubiquitous in Armenia, a country that he visited four times during the Soviet period: a statue was erected in the capital in 2008, stamps were printed with his portrait, a street was named after him in Karabakh, etc. A more recent illustration of high-profile Armenian Americans capitalizing on their fame to spotlight Armenian matters and support the “homeland” is the singer Cher (born Cherilyn Sarkisian), who took part in a relief mission in Armenia in 1993, amid the so-called “dark and cold years,” and who has since made public declarations about Armenian issues such as the 2020 war in Karabakh. Serj Tankian, the singer of System of a Down, is another interesting case, as he and the other members of this heavy metal band, all of Armenian descent, have used their songs and concerts as a platform to express their political ideas, heighten awareness about Armenian genocide recognition, and raise funds for Armenian charities.47 Similarly, the socialite Kim Kardashian who has become more politically involved, has taken a number of public stances on Armenian matters. In 2015 she publicized her tour in Armenia during the centennial of the Armenian genocide,48 and recently revealed her $1 million donation for the Armenia Fund encouraging her fans to support Armenians in Karabakh.

12Notwithstanding the multifaceted forms of diaspora engagement by Armenian Americans, as well as their influential position in the Armenian transnation, the relationship between the state of Armenia and American diasporans has been unstable and contentious throughout history.

“Where is the center?” The complicated relationship between the diaspora and Armenia

  • 49 Razmik Panossian, “The ‘Drunkenness’ of Statehood”, Études arméniennes contemporaines 3, 2014, 119 (...)
  • 50 Razmik Panossian, “Between Ambivalence and Intrusion: Politics and Identity in Armenia-Diaspora Re (...)

13Razmik Panossian, an author who has written extensively on how the state of Armenia and the diaspora “relate” to each other, has argued that their rocky relationship stems from the haunting issue of the center. In one of his essays, he articulates the core question with a deliberately provocative simplicity: “where is the center of the nation?”49 For some, the obvious answer is Armenia because the state concentrates the most tangible, legitimate, and potent producers and products of ethno-national identity; for others Armenia is just another “locus of national identity”50 after centuries of stateless existence. Drawing on this issue of centrality, one could read the history of the diaspora-Armenia relationship of the past 100 years as a perpetual effort by each party to assert its legitimacy, exert influence, undermine the other’s centrality, and achieve a sustainable, albeit fragile, balance. This section will throw light on this continuous strife and uneasy equilibrium. Two preliminary remarks are called for before proceeding. First, as mentioned earlier, the diaspora is not a monolith, and is not even a body with a single overriding regime of representation. In the following lines, the expression “the diaspora” will be used for the sake of conciseness, but the demonstration will actually focus on a “vocal minority,” consisting primarily of diasporic political parties whose viewpoints circulate and reverberate the most conspicuously through the diaspora. Second, while this analysis can apply to the dynamics at work in most diasporic communities of the Armenian transnation, the section will hone in on the relationship between the state of Armenia and Armenian Americans, because the latter have exerted great influence in the diaspora, and because some events have been specific to this diaspora community.

  • 51 In Armenian, Hay Heghapokhagan Dashnaktsutiun is often referred to using its shorter version of Da (...)
  • 52 The delegation was headed by Boghos Nubar Pasha, a prominent Armenian Egyptian, who had been appoi (...)
  • 53 Benjamin F. Alexander, “Contested Memories, Divided Diaspora: Armenian Americans, the Thousand-Day (...)
  • 54 One of the most striking incidents took place at the Chicago World Fair, when the archbishop refus (...)
  • 55 Panossian, “Between Ambivalence and Intrusion: Politics and Identity in Armenia-Diaspora Relations (...)
  • 56 Benjamin F. Alexander, “The American Armenians’ Cold War”, in Ieva Zake (ed.), Anti-Communist Mino (...)
  • 57 Razmik Panossian, “The ‘Drunkenness’ of Statehood”, op. cit., 119-126.
  • 58 In the words of Anny Bakalian: “Thus, the Armenian church is united on religious doctrine, but it (...)
  • 59 Several Dashnak-leaning American-born Armenian respondents I interviewed told me that the first ti (...)

14The relationship between the state and the diaspora has never been a bed of roses in the history of the Armenian transnation. As early as the establishment of the first Armenian Republic in 1918, conflicting views on the event and its consequences emerged, which are still echoed in the present-day context. Three years after the Armenian Genocide, and in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, a complex sequence of events brought the Republic of Armenia into existence. Formed from provinces of the former Russian empire, and sometimes dubbed the “thousand-day Republic” for its ephemeral existence, the first Republic of Armenia was for the most part governed by members of the Dashnaktsutiun, i.e., the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF),51 a political party created in 1890 in Tiflis with the goal of achieving emancipation and political autonomy from the Ottoman rule. However, in the diaspora the proclamation of the Republic was met with contradicting reactions. As the ARF affiliated press and clubs celebrated the creation of the first independent state since the collapse of the last independent kingdom five centuries ago and extolled the realizations of the elected government, the non-Dashnak press soft-pedaled the news, instead emphasizing the failings of the fledgling state. This downplaying of the first Republic of Armenia is best exemplified by a non-Dashnak coalition52 at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 which was negotiating the terms and borders of a future Armenian state, while for Dashnak leaders an independent Armenia already existed.53 As a consequence, two diverging visions on the Armenian state existed concomitantly, with each faction claiming that it spoke on behalf of the Armenian nation. Shortly after, the diaspora’s internal division over the homeland issue found its most extreme expression in its response to the Sovietization of Armenia. In 1920, under the dual pressures of the Soviet Army and the Turkish nationalists, the isolated and Dashnak-led Armenian republic surrendered to the Soviets, with Armenian territories being further reduced as a result. This led to an enduring chasm within the diaspora. While Dashnak and pro-Dashnak advocates developed a pronounced anti-Soviet narrative, which resulted in stark opposition to Soviet Armenia and a refusal to cooperate with the Sovietized homeland, non-Dashnak partisans, media, and organizations, including the Armenian Apostolic Church, accommodated themselves to the situation, arguing that a Soviet Armenia was preferable to no Armenia at all, or to a Turkish Armenia. Although the polarization of the diaspora along the lines of anti- and pro-Soviet rhetoric was paradoxical and incongruous – because Dashnaks, who were members of a socialist party, found themselves in the anti-Soviet bloc, while the conservative and liberal bourgeoisie of the Ramgavar party which represented most of the non-Dashnak faction sided with the Soviet government – this intra-group division left a lasting mark on diaspora politics. One of the most emblematic and traumatic events of this intracommunal schism was the stabbing of Archbishop Levon Tourian by 9 Dashnak members in New York City on Christmas eve of 1933, following a growing controversy over the clergyman’s overly explicit pro-Soviet stance.54 The archbishop’s assassination caused an irreconcilable rift, “the founding myth of the North American diaspora.”55 This scission went as far as causing a Cold War-like dynamic within the Armenian American community, with the establishment of parallel diasporic institutions, and the duplication of Dashnak and non-Dashnak versions of each community structure.56 This “intra-community Iron curtain”57 was further materialized by the partition of the Armenian American Apostolic Church in 1956, between a pro-Dashnak Church (called the Prelacy) under the jurisdiction of the Catholicosate of Cilicia in Antelias (Lebanon), and a non-Dashnak Church (called the Diocese) affiliated with the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin (Armenia), a situation that has remained unchanged to this day even though theologically nothing distinguishes the two Sees.58 The formalization of this split within the Armenian American Apostolic Church reinforced the fragmentation of the Armenian American diaspora community, because it contributed to the maintaining of two distinct networks, namely two separate diasporic worlds that may potentially never meet.59

  • 60 Although the term is a translation for the Armenian words often used to describe the phenomenon, t (...)
  • 61 Hazel Antaramian-Hofman, “From James Dean to Stalin. The Tragedy of the Armenian Repatriation”, Os (...)
  • 62 Several million dollars were collected in the USA, according to Maike Lehmann. Maike Lehmann, “A D (...)
  • 63 In 1921, crippled by the repercussions of the genocide and wars, as well as the famine devastating (...)
  • 64 Alternatively called the nergaghtsi or nerkaghtsi (“in-migrants”/ “returnees”).
  • 65 Joanne Laycock, “Belongings: People and Possessions in the Armenian Repatriations 1945-49”, Kritika (...)
  • 66 In January 1948, the committee in charge of repatriation reported a total of 86,364 returnees, of (...)
  • 67 According to Susan Pattie, up to one fifth of the repatriates were sent to Siberia. Susan Pattie, (...)
  • 68 The New York Times, for instance, covered the departures of the convoys, the denaturalization of t (...)
  • 69 See Hovhannes Mugrditchian, To Armenians With Love. The Memoirs of a Patriot, Florida: Paul Martin (...)
  • 70 For an overview on Soviet emigration, see Sidney Heitman, “Jewish, German, and Armenian Emigration (...)

15Another episode in the history of the Armenian transnation epitomizes the shaky relationship between the homeland and the dispersed members. Following World War II, it is estimated that 100,000 diaspora Armenians “repatriated”60 to Soviet Armenia. Although some “returnees” were drawn by Soviet ideology, most “repatriates” were driven by the dream of coming home and helping build what remained of the “fatherland” (hayrenik). This large-scale migration originating from all corners of the world – Syria, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Iran, Romania, Greece, France, Egypt, Palestine, Romania, Iraq, USA, China, Sudan, India, Uruguay, Argentina61 – was orchestrated by a state-run repatriation committee, which relied on local committees in the diaspora tasked with promoting Soviet Armenia, raising funds,62 and coordinating logistics for convoys with the help of other established organizations. This was not the first time Soviet Armenia presented itself as the homeland and called for the “return” and assistance of its compatriots living abroad,63 but the 1946-1949 nergaght (literally “in-migration”) was the largest repatriation movement. Although the campaign was framed in nationalist terms, the chief issue was the development of Armenia, as demonstrated by the background of the hayrenadarts64 (“returnees to the fatherland”) who were selected, along with the equipment and resources they brought with them.65 While there were significant influxes of “repatriates” hailing from the Middle East, Iran, Greece and France, only a handful of American residents took the leap.66 In total only 311 Armenian Americans “repatriated” in two “caravans” in 1947 and 1949. Once in Armenia, disillusionment and bitterness were the common lot of “repatriates,” who were faced with the challenges of Soviet life – poor housing, underdevelopment, shortages of all kinds, poverty, political repression67 – a far cry from the rosy picture that had been presented. Another prevalent aspect of this experience was the difficult integration of the hayrenadarts and their encounter with intragroup diversity. Although the repatriation campaign tapped into patriotic and nationalist feelings and imagery, such as loyalty, moral duty, and brotherhood, the reality of the situation eventually called into question the very idea of an Armenian nation, because it underscored internal differences, created new boundaries, and caused social alienation. While each national group of repatriates tended to stick together, the main line of demarcation distinguished the teghatsi (“local[s]”) from the norek or norekogh (“newcomer[s]”) often called akhpar – a derogatory and condescending moniker meaning “brother[s]”. The memory of this failed repatriation is still vivid, and has been passed onto the next generation within families of repatriates both in Armenia and the diaspora. Among US Armenians the legacy of a disappointing and estranged homeland seems reinforced because, in a Cold War context, the phenomenon did not go unnoticed in the American press, and assumed a special resonance.68 Furthermore, once they were allowed to leave the USSR, mainly beginning in the 1960s, some Armenian American repatriates published their memoirs, which contributed to the epicization of their experience.69 Finally and more importantly, when the USSR eased its policy on exit permits in the 1980s, and the USA opened its doors to Soviet refugees, the great majority of the Soviet Armenians who settled in the US were former repatriates or descendants of repatriates, which helped shape a shared memory of a homeland that had failed to live up to its promises.70

  • 71 While analysts distinguish between different stages of diaspora-state dynamics based on each presi (...)
  • 72 Vicken Cheterian, “Histoire, mémoire et relations internationales : la diaspora arménienne et les (...)

16The more recent period offers further examples of cracks in the diaspora-Armenia relationship.71 The dislocation of the USSR and the establishment of an independent Armenian Republic in 1991 ushered in a new era for both parties. “The center of gravity of Armenian politics”72 shifted from diaspora communities to Yerevan. However, the terms of the partnership, in addition to a combination of structural, political and circumstantial factors, triggered divergence regarding the legitimacy of each entity. Issues such as the Karabakh question, relations with Russia and Turkey, recognition of the genocide, and dual citizenship crystallized the underlying cleavages. By the same token, the 1988 earthquake, coupled with the blockades imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan, dealt a massive blow to Armenia’s economy, which led the diaspora-Armenia pendulum to swing, with the diaspora becoming the aid-provider and serving as a new de facto source of centrality.

  • 73 The 1995 Constitution banned dual citizenship.
  • 74 Salpi Ghazarian, “A Man and a State. A Conversation with the President”, Armenian International Ma (...)
  • 75 “An Interview with President Ter Petrossian”, Armenian International Magazine, January-February 19 (...)
  • 76 Razmik Panossian, “Between Ambivalence and Intrusion: Politics and Identity in Armenia-Diaspora Re (...)
  • 77 In 1998, 2002, and 2006. For a presentation and analysis of the first two conferences and their im (...)
  • 78 Dual citizenship was legalized in 2007, but dual citizens have restricted political rights.

17The first major disagreement predated Armenia’s formal independence. In February 1988, a secessionist and nationalist movement erupted in Armenia over the issue of Karabakh. While the movement led by the soon-to-be first President of the post-soviet Republic expected support from diaspora parties, and especially the Dashnaks, who were the representatives of a century-long struggle for independence, the three main diaspora parties (Dashnaks, Henchaks and Ramgavars), were caught off guard, and issued a joint statement calling for moderation. According to several political analysts, this triggered a major breach of faith, and paved the way for a total “delegitimization” of diaspora parties, who proved unable to grasp the extent and substance of the movement in Armenia. The rift continued under the presidency of Levon Ter Petrossian. The president and his administration were criticized by Dashnak leaders in Armenia and the diaspora for their overly conciliatory approach to the Karabakh question, their attempt to normalize relations with Turkey at the expense of genocide recognition, their economic reforms in favor of liberalization and privatization, and their opposition to dual citizenship.73 In return, on many occasions Levon Ter Petrossian articulated his view regarding diaspora parties: deemed “unnatural”74 because they are “governed from the outside,”75“they should not meddle in [Armenia’s] internal affairs.”76 Disagreements reached a climax when the leader of the Dashnak party was expelled from Armenia in 1992, followed by the banning of the Dashnak party in 1994, and the arrest of Dashnak members accused of conspiracy. When Robert Kocharian, Armenia’s second post-Soviet president, took office, he immediately tried to re-establish ties with the diaspora. He lifted the ban on the Dashnak party in 1998, freed political prisoners, organized three major diaspora conferences,77 and aligned his foreign policy with the diaspora’s positions, especially with genocide recognition. However, in the eyes of many analysts, such efforts remained cosmetic and symbolic, and were primarily aimed at “courting” the diaspora’s investment, while limiting its participation in the political sphere.78 The last significant showdown occurred under Serge Sargsyan’s presidency in 2009 against the backdrop of the Zurich Protocols, agreements intended to normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey. As a sign of disagreement, Dashnak members of the government resigned and protests organized by the pro-Dashnak bloc took place in major diaspora communities around the world. However, non-Dashnak institutions issued a statement to support the protocols and the president’s policy, yet another sign of the fractures and divergences of diaspora representatives over the homeland’s politics. The following section will be devoted to the heterogeneity of the Armenian American diaspora, and how this impacts the types of engagement towards the transnation.

A fragmented diaspora with different types of engagement towards the “homeland”

  • 79 Tomás R Jiménez, Replenished ethnicity: Mexican Americans, immigration, and identity, Berkeley, (...)
  • 80 David W. Haines, Safe Haven. A History of Refugees in America, Sterling, Virginia: Kumarian Press, (...)
  • 81 It is not uncommon to find immigrants who have lived long periods of time in various countries pri (...)
  • 82 Rogers Brubaker, Rogers. “Ethnicity without Groups”, European Journal of Sociology / Archives Euro (...)
  • 83 Comaroff and Comaroff, Ethnicity, Inc., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009, 56.
  • 84 For my doctoral research, my ethnographic immersion ran over the course of three years and include (...)
  • 85 I interviewed both native-born and foreign-born residents. To analyze the trajectories of immigran (...)

18The arrival of new waves of Armenian immigrants after 1965, and especially during the 1980s, has given rise to a paradox in the Armenian diaspora of the United States: the “replenishment”79 of communal representation but also the fragmentation of a multilayered aggregate. This dual process pitting a distinguishable entity – often approached as a cohesive unit called “community” – against growing internal diversity is even more conspicuous in California, which serves as the epicenter of Armenian American life. With the country’s highest concentration of people claiming Armenian ancestry, as well as the densest network of communal structures in a spatially bounded area, California has become a magnet for Armenians hailing from elsewhere in the United States and abroad. This has transformed California and more specifically Greater Los Angeles into a diaspora of Armenian diasporas, where cohorts of coethnics from a wide range of backgrounds converge. They come from many places with distinct historical and political contexts and bring varying levels of socio-economic and educational capital; they settle at different times encountering “different Americas”80; they hold diverse immigrant statuses, speak dissimilar linguistic variants, cling to diverging political and religious loyalties, and maintain uneven ties with their home regions(s)81 and Armenia. Notwithstanding these disparate profiles, they cluster in and around the same localities and interact in everyday life – and at times in communal organizations – with varying degrees of intensity and results. Despite the significance of internal diversity, the “groupist”82 approach is predominant among Armenian American “ethno-activists and ethno-preneurs”.83 Although most scholarly portrayals of Armenian Americans underscore the existence of intra-community differences, the impact of these boundaries has received little attention. To gauge the nature, forms, and effects of this intra-group diversity, I collected data using ethnographic research methods,84and conducted over one hundred in-depth interviews with representatives from Armenian American organizations, as well as rank-and-file residents of California self-identifying as Armenians.85 What emerged from this work is a multifaceted and protean Armenian American landscape.

  • 86 For example, Hayastantsis, Parskhahay, Lipanatsis, Bolsahay respectively refer to the Armenians fr (...)
  • 87 For instance, Armenians who arrived in the post-World War II era as Displaced People are called “D (...)

19Interestingly, the vast majority of the respondents spoke spontaneously about internal differences and cleavages. Expressions such as “cliques”, “little islands”, “borders”, “separation” (bajanootioon), “division”, “segregation”, “split”, “competition”, “schism” and “clashes” were widely used to describe the disparities, and lack of socialization between the “sub-groups”, along with the conflicting nature of their copresence. By the same token, the subcategories used by participants to refer to their coethnics mirrored these internal boundaries. The most frequent subdivisions included distinctions based on geographic origin86, but references to migratory status and historical background were also common.87 Distinguishing one’s group (“we”) from other coethnics lumped together in an indeterminate “they” or “them” was another chronic sign of demarcation, as was mocking the accents and dialects of “other” coethnics in order to delineate cultural, linguistic and socio-economic specificities. Whether explicitly or implicitly, a hierarchical system of “Armenianness” emerged from the interviewees’ mapping of the Armenian American “community”, with a classification of good versus bad Armenians and true versus unworthy Armenians, based on a host of criteria as various as ability to speak the language, engagement in community structures, endogamy, capacity to retain and pass the heritage culture onto the next generations, assistance to the homeland.

20One of the findings of my qualitative research concerns variations in diasporic practices, in terms of frequency, size, and modus operandi, as well as great ambivalence about what “Armenia” stands for. While many respondents support community structures, and at times inaccurately equate their participation to Armenian American organizations with assistance to Armenia, others are absent from those organizations – whether they are oblivious of them or kept at bay – and rely solely on informal networks and inter-personal ties. Similarly, among those involved in community structures, some exclusively operate through the traditional organizations while a substantial number of individuals have founded their own non-profits or joined recently created organizations with specific Armenia-oriented goals such as humanitarian assistance to children.

21For a long time, the traditional institutions such as the Church and the established community structures (schools, the media and philanthropic and cultural organizations) played a major role in Armenian diasporic communities. However, a growing number of Armenian Americans, just like their ethnic counterparts in other regions of the world, seem to increasingly distance themselves from them. Among the many factors that contribute to the situation the lack of representativity of those organizations has been repeatedly foregrounded by the respondents.

  • 88 Anahide Ter Minassian, Histoires croisées, Marseille: Éditions Parenthèses, 1997; Khachig Tölölyan (...)
  • 89 Many of the established organizations have gender-separated activities or branches. The churches, (...)
  • 90 Among the foreign-born population, which accounts for 61% of California Armenians, the main groups (...)
  • 91 Such as the Union of Iranian Armenians, the Iraqi Armenian Family Association of Los Angeles, or t (...)

22As many Armenian American organizations are direct or indirect byproducts of the main diasporic political parties that predate the genocide, they are administered in a “conservative” manner inherited from the past.88 The central committees of these organizations are based on a vertical model and are sites of pronounced gendered divisions.89 They are run by individuals who exhibit the traditional markers of social and professional success, and root their legitimacy in their family’s reputation and past service to the community. Above all, as repeatedly expressed by the respondents, traditional community structures produce social differentiation and exclusion because participation to their activities requires financial contribution and time that only a minority can afford. One tangible sign of the discrepancy between the representational regime and the constituents of the ethnic and/or immigrant community is the underrepresentation of Armenians from Armenia. While they are the most significant group in California among foreign-born residents claiming Armenian ancestry,90 they are practically absent from the community’s organizational landscape. For instance, there is – to my knowledge – no compatriotic association explicitly for Armenia, contrary to other “national” groups, which have a number of clubs or groups based on geographic origins or alumni associations.91 The phenomenon was abundantly noted by my interviewees, who suggested various explanations: distrust of official structures spawned by the Soviet mentality; insufficient diasporic experience; the fact that Armenians from Armenia have not faced the threat of losing their identity markers (most notably the language), as opposed to diaspora communities; and practices of co-optation that prevent newcomers from integrating the established institutions.

  • 92 The information provided refers to the interviewees’ gender, age, country of origin, and date(s) o (...)

23Even though (post-)Soviet Armenians are evidently underrepresented in diasporic structures, they are active on the individual level and in informal networks in which social media plays a paramount role. Many interviewees from Armenia support their homeland without any institutional intermediary and rely exclusively on informal person-to-person ties. They provide assistance to their extended family, former colleagues, and neighbors; sponsor needy families identified by their acquaintances; and send supplies to educational, medical, social and cultural facilities in their hometowns with the help of their personal contacts. Although the impact of such monetary and in-kind support may seem limited, the degree and frequency of commitment is often remarkable. Arevik (woman, 49, Armenia, 1995)92 publishes Facebook posts several times a week regarding struggling compatriots and coordinates assistance on the ground through her contacts. Arshalouys (woman, 60, Armenia, 1992) detailed how she and her Armenia-born neighbors organized a collective remittance system to help their countrymen during the “dark years”. Each household gave a set amount every month, and in turn decided who would benefit from the collected sum, with priority being given to families with no relatives abroad, and hence no outside help.

  • 93 Sossie Kasbarian, “The Myth and Reality of ‘Return’ – Diaspora in the ‘Homeland’”, Diaspora: A Jou (...)

24The trip undertaken to the homeland or the “step-homeland”93 emerged as another recurring differentiator in diasporic practices. For some diasporans who were not born in Armenia, travelling to Armenia can take on a symbolical meaning akin to a pilgrimage or a rite of passage. My interviewees frequently asked me whether I had been to Armenia myself and spontaneously talked about their first trip as a crucial moment that had an intense effect on them – from acute disappointment to extreme enthusiasm with many viewing it as a life-changing experience.

  • 94 According to Tsypylma Darieva, these forms of “return” allow Armenian Americans to connect with th (...)
  • 95 The residential complex Vahakni, built by the Armenian American real estate tycoon Vahakn Hovnanni (...)

25For some, especially the young, Armenia can be a destination for voluntourism, where they connect with their heritage culture, hone skills, feel useful, and connect with the world at large.94 In the spirit of Peace Corps volunteers they spend a few months, sometimes a year or so, and work for local civil society non-profits or international non-governmental organizations. In recent years, a small number of Armenian American diasporans have taken the leap and settled permanently in Armenia, but the phenomenon has remained rather limited. A steady number of professionals have developed programs aimed at assisting the local population, training the youth and fostering exchanges with their Armenian counterparts – this is especially the case in the medical field or in education – but such efforts too often dependent on a personality or circumstantial synergy lack sustainability and consistency in the long run. Armenia can also be a repeat tourist destination, where diasporans spend their vacation and reconnect with friends and relatives from other countries, all while enjoying the satisfaction of supporting the country’s economy. Investing in real estate and purchasing property has become a growing practice among the most affluent segments of Armenian American diasporans, who “import the American dream” with residential infrastructure and norms that replicate the aesthetic and spirit of the American way of life.95 The “westernization” and especially the “Americanization” of the (step-)homeland’s urban and social landscape may trigger mixed feelings both among diasporans and local Armenians.

26However, in some cases Armenia is just one tourist destination among many others. For instance, Razmig (male, 82, Iran, 1957-1964, 1979) iterated how he does not feel a connection with Armenia and deplored how his friends visit Armenia without grasping the country’s social reality.

My mind is not like people who love Armenia. Armenia it's not important for me. I wasn't born in Armenia. Our culture is even a bit different from Armenia. My country after America is Iran because I grew up there, went to school there. Their culture is very close to us but a lot of Armenians they will bullshit and say “Armenia first!”. Ok, you keep Armenia first. I don't care. […] I have to be very honest: “which one is your country Armenia or Iran?” Iran! I've never been to Armenia.

You've never been to Armenia?

We went a couple times to visit. That's all we did. I know people look at me and think “oh! He's Armenian and he says he's Iranian!” That's the way I feel. You want me to lie? […] A lot of friends from Iran they like Iran very much but they're also involved with Armenia, like every year they have to go and visit, but see the problem is this: Yerevan has become like a tourist area. They don't know what's happening in Armenia! What is good about Armenia? Look at all those poor people in villages! They don't care about that. If you really love Armenia, why don't you go live there? People are getting out of there. My family we are not defending Armenia…not that we don't like Armenia. It's not our country!

  • 96 “Les voyages d’Armen Aroyan, l’archéologue du génocide” in Laure Marchand & Guillaume Perrier, La (...)

27Similarly, Gina (female, in her 60s, Lebanon, 1970s) vocally expressed her disinterest in the Republic of Armenia and her passion for “Historic Armenia”, which is to say present-day Eastern Turkey, the real homeland of her ancestors. Along with other diasporan Armenians, she often visited Turkey to explore the villages of her ancestors. Armen Aroyan, an Armenian from Egypt residing in California, who has been organizing these “heritage tours” since 1987, has taken thousands of such “memory travelers”. 96

  • 97 Etymologically patriarchy is a social organization controlled by fathers, while viriarchy refers t (...)

28On the other end of the spectrum, the homeland can represent a major obstacle or a burden in the lives of some diasporans. Several Armenians from Armenia said they can no longer return to their native country. One common reason was the trouble feared by young men for having avoided the military service. Another oft-cited hurdle was economic. A number of respondents explained they could not afford to go back to their home country because of the “gifts” (nverner) added onto the trip. For example, Arevik (female, 49, Armenia, 1995) is the only person in her family to have left Armenia. Despite being a single mother, she is expected to send money to her family back home to cover expenses, such as the education of her nieces and nephews and her mother’s medical fees. She rarely goes back to Armenia because when she does, she has to buy costly presents for everyone, estimating the amount of gifts purchased for her latest trip at $6,000. Her role as the family’s transnational breadwinner has overturned the traditional patriarchy or more specifically viriarchy.97 She is now consulted on important matters before her uncles and brothers are. “I have become the man of the house” she concludes, half-jokingly. Arsen (male, 24, Armenia, 2010) calls this type of in-kind remittance the “tax for leaving the country.” He cannot return to Armenia either for the time being, as between “the cost of the ticket, what you pay at customs for military service, and gifts for the family, it will cost [him] about $12,000.” These examples show that there are numerous motives behind diaspora-homeland ties, ranging from altruistic behavior to systems of social arrangements and obligations. More broadly, these personal experiences illustrate the limits of the “groupist” approach to a diaspora because it fails to capture the multilevel factors shaping transnational practices and views. The intersection of personal and structural components, such as economic opportunity, age, gender, and intra-family dynamics, also affects the type of bonds established between diasporans and the “homeland.”

Conclusion

29As highlighted in this article, the diaspora-homeland partnership cannot be taken for granted or overestimated, for the very legitimacy of each component can be mutually contested throughout history. Likewise, one cannot assume the unidirectional process of the relationship, for several historical, political, and structural determinants within the host country and the homeland influence the substance and quality of the ties.

30More importantly, the Armenian case is instructive because of the polycentricity of the Armenian transnation, with diasporic hubs (in the US, Russia, the Middle East, and Europe, among others), a surrogate homeland (the Republic of Armenia for the descendants of genocide survivors), an ancestral homeland (historic Armenia), territories triggering strong emotional attachment (such as Artsakh/Karabakh), and for those who are immigrants, a variety of countries of origin that can represent actual homelands, and concurrent or competing loyalties. These multiple “centers” are shifting entities with respect to their resources, as well as their willingness and capability to interact with, recognize, and influence other nodal points of the transnation. Such a configuration brings nuance to the simplistic view of the diaspora-homeland relationship, and should be given more systematic consideration.

31As I write these lines, Armenia is in the midst of a major political and diplomatic crisis, which has once again underscored the contentious nature of diaspora-state relations. In the wake of the 2020 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan – which led to thousands of casualties on both sides, territorial losses for Armenians, and a dramatic humanitarian emergency in the disputed territory of Karabakh – the lack of consistent diaspora-Armenia relations has been extensively discussed among the media, activists, and observers of the Armenian transnation. Against the backdrop of mounting distrust of the Armenian government’s ability to contend with such a high-stakes situation, some lament the absence of a concerted voice for the transnation, as well as the lack of a formal representational regime for diaspora communities in Armenian political life, which limits diaspora’s impact over Armenia’s future. Others stress the irreconcilable priorities and interests of each stakeholder, with the diaspora being more concerned with redressing historic wrongs than addressing the challenges of a country located in a turbulent region. The symbolic – if not fantasized – connection that diasporans nurture with Armenia is also blamed on both sides, as it prevents diaspora actions from having any meaningful impact, apart from wishful statements, digital militancy, and humanitarian assistance. Such opposing judgments are far from new in the history of the Armenian transnation. What may be novel is the diaspora’s internal diversity, which is dramatically exemplified by Armenian Americans. US Armenians, and California Armenians in particular, now constitute a visible center of the Armenian transnation, with significant material and non-material resources. However, they are also a “diaspora of diasporas” marked by a variety of transnational practices and loyalties, a series of networks that sometimes do not join together and collaborate, and diverse ties with Armenia ranging from indifference to active engagement, themselves motivated by a similarly large number of factors. The effects of such heightened intragroup heterogeneity have not been sufficiently examined by diaspora scholars and call for more quantitative and qualitative studies in order to better grasp the nature, direction, and size of connections within a transnation, beyond impressionistic views and declarations about the so-called powers of diasporas.

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PANOSSIAN Razmik, “Between Ambivalence and Intrusion: Politics and Identity in Armenia-Diaspora Relations”, Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, University of Toronto Press, vol. 7, no 2, Fall 1998, 149-196.

PANOSSIAN Razmik, “Courting a Diaspora: Armenia-Diaspora Relations since 1998” in Østergaard-Nielsen E. (eds.), International Migration and Sending Countries, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

PANOSSIAN Razmik, “The ‘Drunkenness’ of Statehood”, Études arméniennes contemporaines, vol. 3, 2014, 119-126.

PATTIE Susan, “From the Centers to the Periphery: ‘Repatriation’ to an Armenian Homeland in the Twentieth Century” in Fran Markowitz and Anders H. Stefansson (eds.), Homecomings: Unsettling Paths of Return, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004, 109-124.

REMNICK David, “The Lobby”, New Yorker, August 27, 2007.

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Notes

1 While there is no accurate census, most scholars agree that of the 8 to 10 million ethnic Armenians worldwide, about 6 million live outside of Armenia. With estimates ranging from 1.2 and 2.5 million Armenians, Russia is home to the largest Armenian diaspora, followed by North America.

2 The diaspora’s engagement is illustrated by its presence in Armenia’s economy, with 90% of foreign-funded companies being connected to the diaspora in 2009, and remittances accounting for an estimated 17-20% of Armenia’s gross domestic product (GDP) between 2011 and 2015 according to World Bank data. See Aleksandr V. Gevorkyan, “Development through Diversity: Engaging Armenia’s New and Old Diaspora”, Migration Policy Institute, 23 March 2016. <https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/development-through-diversity-engaging-armenia%E2%80%99s-new-and-old-diaspora>, accessed April 8, 2021. The diaspora’s prominent role in philanthropic projects is another conspicuous manifestation of this trend, as well as its massive humanitarian and financial contribution after the devastating earthquake in 1988.

3 After maps were redrawn following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the Russian revolution, the first Armenian state – which was created in 1918 and later was integrated to the Soviet Union – was not established on the real homeland of the diaspora which for the most part hailed from historic Western Armenia or present-day eastern Turkey.

4 Razmik Panossian,"Between Ambivalence and Intrusion: Politics and Identity in Armenia-Diaspora Relations", Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998, 154.

5 Idem, 160.

6 For purposes of clarity, scholars now distinguish between the “historic” or “old diaspora”, which originated from “historic Armenia” in the Ottoman Empire and spread after the Armenian genocide, from the “contemporary” or “modern diaspora,” which refers to streams of more recent emigration including Armenians from the former Soviet Union, those who left the Middle East in the 1970s and 1980s in the aftermath of upheavals in countries such as Iran or Lebanon, and current refugees fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq.

7 While the 1915 genocide is the cataclysmic starting point for the large-scale and multidirectional displacement of Armenians, and while it ushered in a lasting division of the “primary group” into two distinct bodies, the motherland and the diaspora, the Armenian diasporic experience has a much longer history. As early as the 5th century waves of forced and voluntary migration contributed to the settlement of communities in regions as diverse as Cilicia, Crimea, Poland, Persia, India and Europe.

8 Certain studies have focused on the trajectories of Armenian diaspora communities on a national scale. For France see Cyril Le Tallec, La Communauté arménienne de France. 1920-1950, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2001 and Claire Mouradian and Anouche Kunth, Les Arméniens en France. Du chaos à la reconnaissance, Toulouse: Éditions de l’Attribut, 2010. For the United States see Robert Mirak, Torn Between Two Lands: Armenians in America, 1890 to World War I, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983 and Annie Bakalian, Armenian-Americans: From Being to Feeling Armenian, New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1993. For Ethiopia see Boris Adjemian, La Fanfare Du Négus. Les Arméniens En Éthiopie (19e-20e Siècles), Paris: Éditions EHESS, 2013. For Turkey see Nazli Beyleryan Temir, “Arméniens en Turquie : entre déni ordinaire et pluralité des mémoires”, Études arméniennes contemporaines, 12, 2019, 67-90, 2019. For Canada see Isabel Kaprielian-Churchill, Like Our Mountains: A History of Armenians in Canada, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005. For Iran see Naïri Nahapetian, “République islamique et communautarisme : les Arméniens d’Iran”, Cahiers d’études sur la Méditerranée orientale et le monde turco-iranien, no 24, 1997. For Russia see Tamara A. Galkina, “Les Arméniens à Moscou depuis la dissolution de l’URSS”, Hommes & Migrations, vol. 1265, no 1, 2007, 138-51. For Lebanon see Christine Babikian Assaf, Carla Eddé, Lévon Nordiguian, Vahé Tachjian, Les Arméniens Du Liban. Cent Ans de Présence, Beirut: Presses de l’Université Saint-Joseph, 2017. Other studies have examined Armenian settlements at more micro levels. See James R. Kirkland, “Modernization of Family Values and Norms Among Armenians in Sydney” in Journal of Comparative Family Studies, vol. 15, no 3, 1984, 355-72; Roger Bastide, “Les Arméniens de Valence”, Revue Internationale de Sociologie, no 1-2, January-February 1931, 17-42; Martine Hovanessian, Le lien communautaire. Trois générations d’Arméniens, Paris: Armand Colin, Coll. “L’ancien et le nouveau”, 1992; Boris Adjemian, Les petites Arménies de la vallée du Rhône : Histoire et mémoires des immigrations arméniennes en France, Lyon: Lieux Dits, 2020; Berge Bulbulian, The Fresno Armenians: History of a Diaspora Community, Fresno: The Press at California State University, 2000; Frédéric Bourgade, Les Arméniens de Valence. Une Intégration Réussie, Valence: Les Bonnes Feuilles, 1991; Arpena S. Mesrobian, Like One Family: The Armenians of Syracuse, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Gomidas Institute, 2000; Ulf Björklund, “Armenians of Athens and Istanbul: The Armenian Diaspora and the ‘Transnational’ Nation”, Global Networks 3, 2003, 337-54.

9 The word “transnation”, which I borrow from Khachig Tölölyan refers to a homeland and its diasporic communities. Khachig Tölölyan, “Elites and Institutions in the Armenian Transnation”, Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, vol. 9, no 1, 2000, 107-36. The concept of an “Armenian transnation” can be likened to the term “Armenian World”, which is increasingly used by scholars and observers of Armenia-diaspora interactions, to refer to the Republic of Armenia and the wide range of diaspora stakeholders and representatives. Rob Kitchin and Mark Boyle, “Diaspora Strategies in Transition States: Prospects and Opportunities for Armenia” (working paper), National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis, 2011.

10 2015 American Community Survey. While the ancestry question added in the US census in 1980 can be useful for capturing changes in ethnic membership, we are well aware of this tool’s limits in measuring demographic compositions. In practice it is an open-ended question, allowing respondents to report (or not) up to two ancestries.

11 Robert Mirak, “The Armenians in America”, in Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.), Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, New York: St Martin’s Press, 1997, 389; Robin Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction, New York: Routledge, [1997] 2008, 62; Khachig Tölölyan, “Armenian Diaspora” in Melvin Ember, Carol R. Ember & Ian Skoggard (eds.), Encyclopedia of Diasporas: Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World, 2 vols. New York: Kluwer/Plenum, 2005, 45.

12 According to the 2020 American Community Survey, today the Armenian presence is concentrated in California (54%), and to a lesser extent in Massachusetts (6%), New York (6%), New Jersey (3%), Michigan (3%), and Florida (3%). Historically, cities in the Northeastern US (such as Watertown or Worcester in Massachusetts) were a favored destination for Armenian immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Robert Mirak, Torn Between Two Lands: Armenians in America, 1890 to World War I. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983.

13 One illustration of the local influence of Armenian presence is how some Armenian foods, such as lavash bread, have entered the mainstream and become a staple for Californians. Another example is Armenian-owned ethnic businesses whose clientele extends beyond their coethnics, such as the Zankou Chicken restaurant chain well-known by Angelenos, or the supermarket chains Jons and Superking Market.

14 For a history of California’s Armenian settlements, see Aram Serkis Yeretzian, A History of Armenian Immigration to America with Special Reference to Conditions in Los Angeles (Master’s dissertation), University of Southern California, 1923; Richard Tracy LaPiere, The Armenian Colony in Fresno County, California: A Study in Social Psychology (PhD dissertation), Stanford University, 1930; Charles Mahakian, History of the Armenians in California (PhD dissertation), University of California, 1935; Berge Bulbulian, The Fresno Armenians: History of a Diaspora Community, Fresno: The Press at California State University, 2000; Daniel Fittante, “But Why Glendale? A History of Armenian Immigration to Southern California”, California History, vol. 94, no 3, 2017, 2-19.

15 As far as the Armenian presence is concerned, Southern California is today the most densely concentrated area and especially the San Fernando Valley (Glendale, Burbank, Calabasas and parts of the city of Los Angeles) and the San Gabriel Valley (Pasadena).

16 Borrowing this concept from Wei Li (see “Anatomy of a New Ethnic Settlement: The Chinese Ethnoburb in Los Angeles”, Urban Studies, vol. 35, no 3, 1998, 479-501; 2008; Ethnoburb: The New Ethnic Community in Urban America, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008), Daniel Fittante argues that this model in which the urban ethnic settlement replicates features of the “ethnic enclave” applies to Glendale, and helps illuminate the trajectories of San Fernando Valley Armenians. Daniel Fittante, “The Armenians of Glendale: An Ethnoburb in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley”, City & Community, vol. 17, no 4, 2018, 1231-47.

17 Idem, 1242.

18 There is an actual “Little Armenia” in Hollywood, in a neighborhood that was once a favored destination for Armenian immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s, but the naming of the district is paradoxical, for it became official only in 2000, when Armenians had already relocated to other surrounding communities, Glendale in particular. Sarah Mekdjian unveils the symbolic, economic, and political stakes at work behind this designation, and suggests that “Little Armenia” is a showcase for Armenian presence amid competition with other ethnic communities. Sarah Mekdjian, “Tension entre centralité et fragmentation : les quartiers arméniens à Los Angeles” in Diversité urbaine, vol. 8, no 1, 2008, 54-61.

19 Among other services, authors mention the development of parks and playgrounds, affordable housing for senior citizens, and the availability of information in Armenian such as voting materials. Sarah Mekdjian, De l’enclave au kaléidoscope urbain. Los Angeles au prisme de l’immigration arménienne (PhD dissertation), Université Paris Nanterre; Daniel Fittante, “The Armenians of Glendale: An Ethnoburb in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley”, City & Community, vol. 17, no 4, 2018, 1231-47.

20 Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, “Glendale leaders vote to honor Armenian American community with new street name – Artsakh Street”, Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2018; Lila Seidman, “Artsakh Avenue named in honor of city’s Armenian community,” Los Angeles Times, October 2, 2018. Artsakh is the Armenian name of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated breakaway region in Azerbaijan which self-proclaimed its independence in 1988, sparking continuing tensions in the region, with full-fledged wars (1992-1994 and 2020), sporadic clashes, periods of “frozen conflict”, and currently a humanitarian crisis. After imposing a ten-month blockade, Azerbaijan launched a lightning offensive in September 2023, prompting more than 100,000 Armenians to flee.

21 Arin Mikaelian, “Glendale Unified officially adds day off to commemorate Armenian Genocide,” Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2016. 

22 See the museum’s website: <https://www.armenianamericanmuseum.org/about/>, accessed 1 March 2021. The groundbreaking ceremony for the complex took place in July 2021.

23 Such as the large gatherings in 2018 before Glendale’s City Hall in support of the anti-government protests taking place in Armenia in April and May 2018; the marches in October 2020 in protest of the Azeri attacks on the Armenians of Artsakh. On a smaller scale, the Americana at Brand, Glendale’s flagship shopping mall, has been the site of controversies on Armenian-related issues.

24 Just a few weeks after the Velvet Revolution in May 2018, two members of the newly-appointed government from the Ministries of Culture and Diaspora affairs, visited Glendale to connect with their American co-ethnics. See Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, “Armenia begins reconnecting with its diaspora, starting in Glendale”, Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2018 <https://www.latimes.com/socal/glendale-news-press/news/tn-gnp-me-minister-of-culture-20180628-story.html>, accessed February 7, 2021 and Aram Arkun, “New Diaspora Minister Visits US”, The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, August 11, 2018.

25 Interestingly, Rep. Adam Schiff called Los Angeles a “diaspora capital” during Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s first visit to Los Angeles in 2019. Marian Sahakyan, “Armenia’s Prime Minister Pays a Visit, Promotes Investments and Repatriation”, Los Angeles Times, September 26, 2019. <https://www.latimes.com/socal/glendale-news-press/news/story/2019-09-26/armenias-prime-minister-pays-a-visit-promotes-investments-and-repatriation>, accessed February 7, 2021.

26 Armenia’s systemic rent-seeking behavior is a well-documented phenomenon which is denounced by many domestic and international NGOs and met with great cynicism and resignation among the local population. Although diasporans are wary and weary of this endemic corruption at all levels of society, for a number of complicated reasons, diaspora’s financial and political support for Armenia has by and large remained pro-regime and has led to a status quo.

27 As an illustration, 40% of households received remittances in 2013. See Gagik Makaryan and Mihran Galstyan, “Costs and benefits of Labour Mobility between the EU and Eastern Partnership Countries. Country report: Armenia”, Case Network Studies & Analyses, n°461, 2013, 48.

28 According to the World Bank, the share of remittances accounted for 8.9% of the national GDP in 2020, peaked in 2004 (22%) and fluctuated between 17 and 20% between 2011 and 2015 <https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/migrationremittancesdiasporaissues/brief/migration-remittances-data>, accessed February 5, 2021. Roughly, remittances grew by 20% every year between 1998 and 2003, except in 2000. Bryan Roberts and King Banaian, “Remittances in Armenia: Size, Impacts, And Measures to Enhance Their Contribution to Development”, Working Paper n° 05/01, January 2005, 7.

29 According to the World Bank, the share of Russia and the USA in remittances sent to Armenia were 63% and 13.8% respectively in 2017, and 70% and 14% in 2020.

30 The Armenian-populated territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh in Armenian, is a self-declared autonomous republic, that is officially part of Azerbaijan. For Armenians, Karabakh, or Artsakh in Armenian, is a historically Armenian province with Armenian heritage that was unjustly integrated to Azerbaijan in 1921 by Stalin. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, the ethnic Armenians of Karabakh, who constituted a demographic majority, campaigned to secede from Azerbaijan. This claim for self-determination escalated into an outright war between Azerbaijan and Armenia that lasted 6 years until 1994. For three decades, the status of the region remained unsettled because Nagorno-Karabakh had not been recognized as an independent country by other states and because the cease-fire had not led to a formal peace agreement. Due to this protracted diplomatic deadlock, skirmishes sporadically erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan, mounting into a deadly 4-day clash in 2016 and a 44-day all-out war in 2020, often described as one of the most brutal wars of the 21st century. After months of intimidation, a blockade causing serious shortages in food, medical supplies, and energy, along with a military assault in September 2023, the Artsakh officials were forced to surrender and sign a decree stating that the Republic of Artsakh would cease to exist in January 2024. In less than a week, more than 100,000 Armenians, almost the entire population of the enclave, left their homeland fearing ethnic cleansing.

31 In 2020, the Fund raised $152 million for humanitarian aid for war-torn Karabakh. The data released by the organization shows that donations came from 73 countries and that the US was the largest donor, accounting for more than 45% of the total amount raised. In 2018, the Telethon campaign for the Fund raised $11.1 million internationally. Half of the donations ($5.5 million) were from the US.

32 Jonathan Kandell, “Kirk Kerkorian, Billionaire Investor in Film Studios and Casinos, Dies at 98,” New York Times, June 16, 2015.

33 Lawrence Van Gelder, “Alex Manoogian, 95; Perfected Design of Single-Handled Faucet,” New York Times, July 13, 1996.

34 The AGBU was created in Cairo in 1906. It is now headquartered in New York City. Today, the AGBU has chapters in 31 countries and 74 cities around the world. It operates 47 Community Centers located in the US, Europe, the Near East, South America and Australia, administers 25 schools, and finances educational, cultural and humanitarian programs that benefit hundreds of thousands of Armenians around the world each year <https://agbu.org/>, accessed February 5, 2021.

35 See Heather S. Gregg, “Divided They Conquer: The Success of Armenian Ethnic Lobbies in the United States”, The Rose Mary Rogers Working Paper Series, Inter-University Committee on International Migration, August 2002.; David C. King & Miles Pomper, “Congress and the Contingent Influence of Diaspora Lobbies: U.S. Foreign Policy toward Armenia”, Journal of Armenian Studies, 2004; Julien Zarifian, “La Politique étrangère américaine en Arménie : Naviguer à vue dans les eaux russes et s’affirmer dans une région stratégique”, Hérodote N°129, “Stratégies Américaines Aux Marches de La Russie”, 2008. < https://www.herodote.org/spip.php?article337>, accessed March 8, 2021.

36 In 2006, Zbigniew Brzenzinski, President Carter’s former national security advisor, placed it among America’s top three most influential ethnic lobbies: “In my public life, I have dealt with a number of [lobbies]. I would rank the Israeli-American, Cuban-American, and Armenian-American lobbies as the most effective in their assertiveness”, cited in “The Lobby,” David Remnick, New Yorker, August 27, 2007.

37 In 2020, Armenia was granted a total economic assistance package worth $43 million. However, the average amount of assistance over the past 20 years has been more than $91 million, with peak years in the first decade of the 2000s. See US aid website: <https://explorer.usaid.gov/reports>, accessed February 5, 2021.

38 Julien Zarifian,“La Politique étrangère américaine en Arménie : Naviguer à vue dans les eaux russes et s’affirmer dans une région stratégique”, Hérodote N°129, 2008 <https://www.herodote.org/spip.php?article337>, accessed March 8, 2021.

39 Carey Goldberg, “Armenian office has an American accent,” Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1992. Among the appointees were Matthew Der Manuelian, Gerard Libaridian, Vartan Oskanian, and Sebuh Tashjian.

40 Razmik Panossian, “Between Ambivalence and Intrusion: Politics and Identity in Armenia-Diaspora Relations”, op. cit., 165.

41 Several scholars have argued that while Armenian Americans have been enlisted at the highest levels of the government, since independence there has been a continued expectation in the executive for the diaspora to stay out of politics and limit its involvement to humanitarian and economic assistance. Some have interpreted the appointment of diasporans as a pragmatic strategy to attract talent rather than develop ties with diaspora.

42 In the history of the Armenian transnation, the word “repatriation” has referred to the migration of diasporans settling in Armenia. Whether they were born inside or outside “historic Armenia”, they have been called “repatriates,” though more often than not they were not returning to their actual country of origin.

43 Mark Arax, “The Riddle of Monte”, Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1993.

44 During my fieldwork, I met three young children named after him, two in California and one in Armenia. One of them was called Avo, his nom de guerre.

45 In Armenia and the transnation, Charles Aznavour is “more than a legendary singer.” After the 1988 earthquake he created a non-profit to provide aid and relief in Armenia, and donated the profits from a song to raise funds for the country’s reconstruction. In 1995 he was made UNESCO’s ambassador and permanent delegate for Armenia. In 2004 he was named a “National hero.” When he died in 2018, a day of national mourning was declared in Armenia. “Aznavour: A Legend in the Worlds of Art and Humanity Dies,” Armenian Mirror Spectator, October 2, 2018.

46 Strangely enough, according to Marc Mamigonian, the most oft-cited passage found on numerous plaques and monuments, as well as in the prefaces to countless publications, is a misquotation <https://www.creativearmenia.org/the-misquotation-of-william-saroyan>, accessed February 5, 2021.

47 In November 2020, the band released two new songs to increase public awareness about the ongoing conflict in Karabakh, and raised $600,000 in two weeks for aid in the region. Kory Grow, “Serj Tankian Doc ‘Truth to Power’ Will Focus on System of a Down Singer’s Activism”, Rolling Stone, December 16, 2020. <https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/serj-tankian-truth-to-power-doc-1104395/>, accessed February 15, 2021.

48 Rachel Lee Harris, “The Kardashians Show Support for Armenia”, New York Times, April 13, 2015.

49 Razmik Panossian, “The ‘Drunkenness’ of Statehood”, Études arméniennes contemporaines 3, 2014, 119-126.

50 Razmik Panossian, “Between Ambivalence and Intrusion: Politics and Identity in Armenia-Diaspora Relations”, op.cit.,154.

51 In Armenian, Hay Heghapokhagan Dashnaktsutiun is often referred to using its shorter version of Dashnak (or alternatively Tashnag/Dashnag).

52 The delegation was headed by Boghos Nubar Pasha, a prominent Armenian Egyptian, who had been appointed by the Armenian Apostolic Church.

53 Benjamin F. Alexander, “Contested Memories, Divided Diaspora: Armenian Americans, the Thousand-Day Republic, and the Polarized Response to an Archbishop’s Murder”, Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 27, no 1, 2007, 36-37.

54 One of the most striking incidents took place at the Chicago World Fair, when the archbishop refused to speak until the tricolor Armenian flag was removed. For Dashnak members the flag represented the short-lived Armenian Republic and the struggle against the Soviets, whereas for non-Dashnaks it was seen as an anti-Soviet statement that would create problems and irritate Yerevan and Etchmiadzin, the center of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

55 Panossian, “Between Ambivalence and Intrusion: Politics and Identity in Armenia-Diaspora Relations”, op. cit., 186.

56 Benjamin F. Alexander, “The American Armenians’ Cold War”, in Ieva Zake (ed.), Anti-Communist Minorities in the U.S.: Political Activism of Ethnic Refugees, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, 67-86.

57 Razmik Panossian, “The ‘Drunkenness’ of Statehood”, op. cit., 119-126.

58 In the words of Anny Bakalian: “Thus, the Armenian church is united on religious doctrine, but it is administered by two separate bodies”. Bakalian, Armenian-Americans: From Being to Feeling Armenian, New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1993, 97.

59 Several Dashnak-leaning American-born Armenian respondents I interviewed told me that the first time they met or befriended a non-Dashnak was in university. Until then, they had remained within the confines of the Dashnak universe, with a “Dashnak Church” and its auxiliary organizations (youth programs, summer camps, social activities, etc.).

60 Although the term is a translation for the Armenian words often used to describe the phenomenon, the idea of “repatriation” is inaccurate, since most of the so-called “returnees” were not from the region. According to Razmik Panossian, 90 to 95% originated from Western Armenian, i.e. present-day Eastern Turkey. Razmik Panossian, “Between Ambivalence and Intrusion: Politics and Identity in Armenia-Diaspora Relations”, Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, University of Toronto Press, Vol. 7, No2, Fall 1998, 156.

61 Hazel Antaramian-Hofman, “From James Dean to Stalin. The Tragedy of the Armenian Repatriation”, Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa, 2012, <https://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Armenia/From-James-Dean-to-Stalin-the-tragedy-of-the-Armenian-repatriation-121168>, accessed May 20, 2019.

62 Several million dollars were collected in the USA, according to Maike Lehmann. Maike Lehmann, “A Different Kind of Brothers: Exclusion and Partial Integration After Repatriation to a Soviet ‘Homeland’”, Ab Imperio, 2012, 185.

63 In 1921, crippled by the repercussions of the genocide and wars, as well as the famine devastating the Soviet Union, the newly Sovietized Armenian state created the Committee to Aid Armenia (in Armenian Hayastani Oknutian Gomideh/Komiteh), an organization seeking to encourage and channel diaspora aid. Operating with local branches in the primary diaspora outposts, HOG or HOK became the primary agent of the diaspora-Armenian relationship until its dissolution in 1937. The funds it raised allowed for the construction of agricultural, industrial and transportation infrastructure, as well as the creation of cities. One of its chief objectives was the “relocation” of diaspora Armenians to create an ethnically homogeneous country and consolidate its borders. It was also and especially a large-scale instrument of Soviet propaganda under the cover of patriotism. Claire Mouradian, “L’Arménie Soviétique et La Diaspora” in Les Temps Modernes, no 504-505–506, “Arménie-diaspora. Mémoire et modernité”, September 1988, 281; Taline Ter Minassian, “Erevan, ‘ville promise’. Le rapatriement des Arméniens de la diaspora, 1921-1948”, Diasporas. Histoire et sociétés, Terres promises, terres rêvées, n°1, 2002, 71-87.

64 Alternatively called the nergaghtsi or nerkaghtsi (“in-migrants”/ “returnees”).

65 Joanne Laycock, “Belongings: People and Possessions in the Armenian Repatriations 1945-49”, Kritika: Exploration in Russian and Eurasian History, vol.18, no 3, 2017, 511-37.

66 In January 1948, the committee in charge of repatriation reported a total of 86,364 returnees, of which 32,238 came from Lebanon or Syria, 20,997 from Iran, 18,215 from Greece, 5,260 from France, and only 151 from the US.

67 According to Susan Pattie, up to one fifth of the repatriates were sent to Siberia. Susan Pattie, “From the Centers to the Periphery: ‘Repatriation’ to an Armenian Homeland in the Twentieth Century” in Fran Markowitz and Anders H. Stefansson (eds.), Homecomings: Unsettling Paths of Return, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004, 109-124.

68 The New York Times, for instance, covered the departures of the convoys, the denaturalization of the departees, and their subsequent efforts to return to the US.

69 See Hovhannes Mugrditchian, To Armenians With Love. The Memoirs of a Patriot, Florida: Paul Martin, 1997; Sonia Meghreblian, An Armenian Odyssey, London: Gomidas Institute, 2012; Tom Mooradian, The Repatriate. Love, Basketball, and the KGB, Seattle: Moreradiant Publishing, 2017. While these accounts have not attracted a wide readership, they have been popular in the Armenian diaspora. Since they were written after the “repatriates” left Soviet Armenia, these testimonies are usually very critical of Soviet life and display deep resentment.

70 For an overview on Soviet emigration, see Sidney Heitman, “Jewish, German, and Armenian Emigration from the USSR: Parallels and Differences” in Robert O. Freedman (ed.), Soviet Jewry in the 1980s: The Politics of Anti-Semitism and Emigration and the Dynamics of Resettlement, Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1989, 115-38; Anatoli Vichneksi and Jeanne Zayontchovskaia, “L’Émigration de l’ex-Union soviétique: Prémices et Inconnues”, Revue Européenne Des Migrations Internationales, L’Europe de l’Est, la Communauté européenne et les migrations, vol. 8, no 1, 1992, 41-65.

71 While analysts distinguish between different stages of diaspora-state dynamics based on each presidency, with varying phases of rapprochement and disjuncture, Kristin Cavoukian notes that the post-Soviet Armenian government made continuous efforts to centralize presidential power, which has inevitably involved both harnessing diaspora and keeping it at bay. Kristin Cavoukian, Identity Gerrymandering: How the Armenian State Constructs and Controls “Its” Diaspora (PhD dissertation), University of Toronto, 2016, 80.

72 Vicken Cheterian, “Histoire, mémoire et relations internationales : la diaspora arménienne et les relations arméno-turques”, Relations internationales, vol. 141, no 1, 2010, 32. Translation mine.

73 The 1995 Constitution banned dual citizenship.

74 Salpi Ghazarian, “A Man and a State. A Conversation with the President”, Armenian International Magazine, March 1994, 32.

75 “An Interview with President Ter Petrossian”, Armenian International Magazine, January-February 1997, 30.

76 Razmik Panossian, “Between Ambivalence and Intrusion: Politics and Identity in Armenia-Diaspora Relations”, op. cit., 171.

77 In 1998, 2002, and 2006. For a presentation and analysis of the first two conferences and their impact, see Razmik Panossian, “Courting a Diaspora: Armenia-Diaspora Relations since 1998”, in Østergaard-Nielsen E. (eds.) International Migration and Sending Countries, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

78 Dual citizenship was legalized in 2007, but dual citizens have restricted political rights.

79 Tomás R Jiménez, Replenished ethnicity: Mexican Americans, immigration, and identity, Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2010.

80 David W. Haines, Safe Haven. A History of Refugees in America, Sterling, Virginia: Kumarian Press, 2010, 37.

81 It is not uncommon to find immigrants who have lived long periods of time in various countries prior to coming to the US, which explains why they sometimes consider having multiple homelands.

82 Rogers Brubaker, Rogers. “Ethnicity without Groups”, European Journal of Sociology / Archives Européennes de Sociologie, vol. 43, no 2, August 2002, 163-189 <https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003975602001066>, accessed March 29, 2019

83 Comaroff and Comaroff, Ethnicity, Inc., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009, 56.

84 For my doctoral research, my ethnographic immersion ran over the course of three years and included three stays totaling almost nine months. During this period, I visited Armenian schools, language classes, churches, media outlets, cemeteries, elderly homes, cultural and recreational centers. I relied on participant observation: I hired an Armenian babysitter and frequented an Armenian preschool on a daily basis; I shopped at Armenian stores as often as possible, I participated in social gatherings, joined private groups on Facebook, and attended family events. However, my exposure to Armenian Americans in general and California Armenians specifically dates back to more than thirty-five years. Most of my relatives—all of whom of Armenian descent—reside in California. Since my childhood I have regularly spent time in California in stays ranging from a few weeks to one year. I have therefore spent extensive time with and among California Armenians. This experience has offered me a unique vantage point of insider and outsider, which has eased, accelerated and enriched my research.

85 I interviewed both native-born and foreign-born residents. To analyze the trajectories of immigrants from different regions, I targeted respondents from Armenia and Iran, the two primary sending nations, as well as a third group of sundry national origins including countries as diverse as Argentina, Azerbaijan, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Russia, Sweden, Syria, and Turkey. The date of arrival was an additional variable for my sample, with interviewees settling between the 1940s and the 2000s. Parenthood was another key criterion because it allowed me to collect information on the transmission of ethnic heritage over the course of at least two generations.

86 For example, Hayastantsis, Parskhahay, Lipanatsis, Bolsahay respectively refer to the Armenians from Armenia, Iran, Lebanon and Istanbul. Interestingly, members of the second generation, though born in the US, can be associated with the origins of their immigrant parents.

87 For instance, Armenians who arrived in the post-World War II era as Displaced People are called “DPs,” as are their descendants. Similarly, diaspora Armenians who “returned” to Soviet Armenia in the 1940s and eventually settled in Armenia are still referred to as Hayrenadarts (“returnees”). Finally, mentions of the pre-genocide background and the ancestors’ hometowns (like Hajin or Marash) are not uncommon.

88 Anahide Ter Minassian, Histoires croisées, Marseille: Éditions Parenthèses, 1997; Khachig Tölölyan,“Elites and Institutions in the Armenian Transnation”, Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, vol. 9, no 1, 2000, 107-36.

89 Many of the established organizations have gender-separated activities or branches. The churches, for example, have distinct cultural clubs, such as Ladies’ Society or Men’s Forum. Some organizations are exclusively operated by men or women. The Armenian Relief Society, formerly known as the Armenian Red Cross and the Daughters of Armenia, is a large scale social and humanitarian structure that has been female managed since 1910.

90 Among the foreign-born population, which accounts for 61% of California Armenians, the main groups are Armenians from Armenia (41%), followed by Armenians from Iran (29.9%) and Armenians from Lebanon (7%), according to the 2015 American Community Survey.

91 Such as the Union of Iranian Armenians, the Iraqi Armenian Family Association of Los Angeles, or the Organization of Istanbul Armenians.

92 The information provided refers to the interviewees’ gender, age, country of origin, and date(s) of immigration to the US.

93 Sossie Kasbarian, “The Myth and Reality of ‘Return’ – Diaspora in the ‘Homeland’”, Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, 2009, 358-381.

94 According to Tsypylma Darieva, these forms of “return” allow Armenian Americans to connect with the “sacred” or “ancestral homeland,” as well as to acquire a sense of cosmopolitan incorporation, as they act on global issues such as development and democracy. She calls this phenomenon “diasporic cosmopolitanism”. Tsypylma Darieva, “Rethinking homecoming: diasporic cosmopolitanism in post-Soviet Armenia”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2011, 492.

95 The residential complex Vahakni, built by the Armenian American real estate tycoon Vahakn Hovnannian, resembles the gated communities of suburban America, and is an emblematic example of the “American paradise with view onto the Ararat,” to borrow an expression from Taline Ter Minassian. Taline Ter Minassian, Erevan, la Construction d’une capitale à l’époque soviétique, Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2007, 246.

96 “Les voyages d’Armen Aroyan, l’archéologue du génocide” in Laure Marchand & Guillaume Perrier, La Turquie et le Fantôme arménien, Arles: Actes Sud, 2013, 45.

97 Etymologically patriarchy is a social organization controlled by fathers, while viriarchy refers to a system in which men hold the power.

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Anouche Der Sarkissian, « Connections and Disconnections in the Armenian Transnation: the Case of Armenian Americans and Armenia »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol 22. n°57 | 2024, mis en ligne le 15 février 2024, consulté le 23 février 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/15816 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.15816

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Anouche Der Sarkissian

Anouche Der Sarkissian is a graduate of Sciences Po Paris and a “professeure agrégée” at the University of Paris Nanterre, where she teaches English and American history. She is currently completing a Ph.D. in American studies under the supervision of Prof. James Cohen (Sorbonne Nouvelle) and Prof. Taline Ter Minassian (Inalco). Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork carried out among Armenian American residents and organizations of California, her research investigates the forms, causes and impacts of intra-group fragmentations within an immigrant and ethnic community. Her work has received support from various institutions such as the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the Fulbright program and the Institut des Amériques.

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