Editor’s Note: Dr. Shahe Yeni-Komshian was invited to be the keynote speaker at St. Andrew Armenian Church for the 104th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. The event took place in Cupertino, California on April 27. Participants included: Homentmen “Ani” Chapter, AGBU of Silicon Valley, Armenian Relief Society “Agnouni” and “Sardarabad” Chapters. Below is Dr. Komshian’s speech.
Three factors shape today’s Armenian nation. First and foremost, the historic reality of the Genocide, a planned and premeditated act to annihilate an entire nation. When a nation loses 65% of its population to planned killings by a government, and when the remaining population of that nation is forcefully deported, there is no other word to describe such an act other than genocide. Those who say “turn the page and forget” are simply wrong.
Secondly, a resurgent nation, successful individuals, and the rebirth of a nation starring individual Armenians who are highly successful. We are now an 8 – 10 million strong nation and have our own free, independent and democratic country. Third, a challenging future. A small minority of Armenians, less than 15%, is engaged in “Armenian” life, concerned about the long term. Armenia and Artsakh are experiencing significant economic and geopolitical challenges.
All three factors impact our national agenda. Until the independence of Armenia, and for many decades, our national agenda was strictly defined with our quest to seek justice to the Genocide. The just resolution has historic, political and judicial components that include admission of guilt by Turkey with recognition of the genocide as a historic fact of crime against humanity, followed by reparations and fair compensation for acts committed.
The reparations and compensation portfolio includes the following: Reparation and compensation for lost lives; compensation for lost community and church property; compensation for lost individual/family property; compensation for losses incurred to the Armenian culture and cultural identity, and compensation/return of Armenian lands. We should be cognizant that the complete resolution of our genocide portfolio will take decades, highly dependent on geopolitical factors. Hence, we need to keep the political and public relations pressure ongoing.
Where are we today, in the pursuits of genocide recognition? The USA and the European Union continue to be the 2 main international political targets for genocide recognition. France held its first Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day in 2019. We are quite successful at the US state level, mostly a moral victory not legal. We are still working at the US federal level, the more relevant target.
Something that we don’t articulate much, by today’s value estimations, the value of genocide era confiscated Armenian properties in Turkey, based on the Paris Peace conference assessment of financial losses and Talaat Pasha’s private documents of the Tehcir law amount to an incredible number, many trillion dollars. Where are we in the pursuit of Genocide compensation? Nowhere, as far as Genocide confiscated properties and a small victory re: properties seized and confiscated during the Turkish Republic, after the Genocide. Under pressure, turkey has begun to return some of the post Genocide seized Armenian community landmarks to our community.
But Turkey will always remain a genocide denialist. Why? Because it can. As a regional power, Turkey feels stronger than us Armenians, and at the present time, there is no effective political or economic international pressure on Turkey. And because Turkey will never admit guilt and its government will pursue the Genocide denialist policy, Armenian grass roots political activism is so essential to keep the political and public relations pressure on.
What will tilt the balance to our favor? The participation of the Armenian state in the quest for genocide justice. It is critical for the Armenian government to make the genocide a foreign policy priority and engage politically. That is the vehicle for legal action.
Although we have 3 concurrent important national agendas, namely, the just resolution of the genocide, a sustainable and vibrant diaspora a secure and a prosperous republic of Armenia and Artsakh with strong regional geopolitical presence, and as important as our quest for genocide justice is, at this juncture in history, the national priority agenda #1 has become the republic of Armenia and Artsakh. The fact is that even the path to achieve justice for the genocide goes through a more secure and strong Armenia and Artsakh.
What is the common denominator for all 3 national goals? A stronger Armenian nation, starting with a stronger state. So, where does the solution lie? Who shall we depend on to solve our national challenges and the priority agenda of stronger Armenia/Artsakh, in particular? Naturally, first and foremost the government of the Republic and secondly, the infrastructure and leadership of the Diaspora.
The Armenian government has a most daunting responsibility, particularly in the following 2 domains: The progress of the economy, GDP growth and debt repayment, and the security issues and the OSCE- Minsk Group led Artsakh negotiations. As for the Diaspora, its potential strength is truly underestimated. All Diasporan forces, organizations such as ARF and AGBU, more recently formed groups, professionals and specialists, as well as influential and rich individuals, are committed in the economic prosperity and security of Armenia and Artsakh.
Everybody agrees that Armenia and the Diaspora need each other and a symbiotic relationship will lead to the best outcome. But this is still work in progress. The present relationship is not based on any synchronized agenda and plan. There is no strategic collaboration between the Government of Armenia and a representative force representing all of the diaspora.
The role of government and leadership cannot be underestimated in nation building. However, we will not have a detailed analysis, neither of the government’s nor of the leadership’s role. Instead we will focus on the third force, ourselves, the people, the collective force of individual Armenian citizens and Diasporans.
The strength of our nation is in its people; There is no Armenia or Artsakh without the physical presence of its people on its land. There is no Armenian army, if the exodus of the youth from Armenia persists. There is no future Diaspora, if assimilation takes over.
We will not focus on what the role of the Armenian citizen ought to be. Our focus will be the individual Armenian in the Diaspora and its collective force. So, what is expected from us, ordinary Armenian – Americans living in the US Diaspora? A complicated question indeed which has a rather simple answer, to make our best effort” to live our everyday American life as more engaged Armenians”: Engagement with the community and a strong bond with Armenia.
Here are the 10 concepts of becoming more engaged Armenian, while living in the US:
1. Become a respected and valuable American citizen but stay engaged and proud of your Armenian identity.
2. From early age, find a balance between your American and Armenian identities and transform that duality into a distinct advantage.
3. Go to church. Make the church your community. The church is essential for our nation’s longevity
4. Learn the Armenian language; speak in Armenian, enjoy and live our rich culture. Speaking the language may not be a precondition for being a “Good Armenian” but it does help with cultural socialization and preserving Armenian identity.
5. From early age, enroll in Armenian organizations. The offered cultural socialization and the peer interactions/friendships that you would develop are so essential in future life․ Organizations also teach individuals to work together in communities, for a common cause.
6. Please pay attention to this one: Make every effort to bring young Armenians who are away from Armenian life and culture and perhaps do not speak the language, into our community. It is essential that we reach out to the disengaged not the other way around.
7. Become financially secure and successful in life but circle back; use your status and connections to the betterment of the Armenian nation.
8. Develop a solid bond with Armenia, the Republic. Early on visit the country. It is often said, that for a Diasporan Armenian, repatriation with physical translocation to Armenia is the highest level of engagement with one’s Armenian identity. But “Repatriation to Armenia” can also happen through modern flexible, often virtual ways; it does not have to be permanent and doesn’t have to include translocation. In this global age, one could study in Armenia, open a bank account, invest and or buy a house and spend time there. As a global citizen with many home addresses, make sure to have a home address in the Republic of Armenia.
9. As an Armenian-American, use your expertise to help create new business and educational opportunities in Armenia.
10. And finally to the young generation, come and take charge of your community, as leaders.
As Winston Churchill once said: “A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”.
The solution to solve our 3 national agendas will take time. Let’s remember the national strategic goal: To become a stronger nation. Hence, solutions to our 3 national challenges, be it the security and prosperity of the citizens of Armenia and Artsakh, the realization of a Just resolution of the Genocide or efforts to sustain a vibrant and healthy Diaspora, will not be easy.
We are in a race, competing with time. But this race neither consists of a 100-meter dash nor of a marathon. We are in a relay race, which implies a set of several stages. At this current phase of history, we have to do our share in the progress of our national challenges and deliver the fruits of our efforts to the next generation. However, we need to mentor and prepare the fertile soil for the relay.
As Diasporan Armenians, let us not just be mere observers, instead see the opportunity offered to us. Let us shrug the ongoing indifference and do our part. Let’s make a true effort to live as more engaged Armenians – keep our identity, preserve our culture and language, and develop a personal bond with our motherland Armenia. All good things will follow.