Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Armenia: Troubled Diaspora Homecoming

Diaspora Armenians returning to their homeland are not always welcomed with open arms
By Petr Magdashian

Back in September, tears flowed in living rooms across Yerevan as television screens broadcast the legendary entertainer Charles Aznavour performing an emotionally charged Ave Maria.

The event was being relayed from a memorial service held for the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide, and brought together local Armenians and members of the diaspora largely made up of those who fled Turkish persecution.

"Our shared pain and our shared hope for rebirth was in that song," said Canadian Mane Sarkisyan, 17, referring to Aznavour's aria.

The service, held in the cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in the presence of Pope John Paul II and the head of the Armenian Church, Garegin II, highlighted the emotional bonds between the two communities. There's no doubt that they enjoy close ties, but relations have not always been thus.

When Armenia gained independence in 1991 opinion was divided over what role the disapora should play in the new republic. While some had hoped that their kith and kin around the world would help the post-Soviet state, the country's first president thought otherwise.

Syrian-born Lev Ter-Petrossian, despite being a product of the diaspora himself, dismissed any offers of help from Armenians abroad, believing that they had no role to play in the political and economic life of the country.

With the diaspora twice the size of the Armenian population, he may have feared the republic would end up being run by the