To the Prelates,
The Community Leaders
of the Great House of Cilicia,
and to the daughters and sons
of our people,
On the eve of 2022, from the Mother Monastery of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia in Antelias, we greet and bless the National General Assembly, the Religious and Executive Councils of the National Central Committee, the Brotherhood, the Prelates and the Community Leaders, and every union, organization and educational, cultural, and charitable structure that operates in our national life, as well as the beloved daughters and sons of our people. We pray to God Most High that the New Year that begins may be filled with health, success and joy in our individual, family, and national life.
The martyrdom of a large number of Armenians, the occupation of vast territories, the destruction of religious and cultural monuments, and the displacement of thousands of Armenians as a result of the vile attack carried out by the joint forces of Azerbaijan and Turkey on Artsakh in September-November 2020, has caused deep pain and anger among our people. Our people confronted this tragic situation in different ways and expressed its total support for Artsakh. In turn, we at the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, putting our focus on Artsakh, with our Patriarchal Encyclical proclaimed 2021 the Year of Artsakh. Our concerns and proposals found ample echo particularly in our prelacies. The President of Artsakh expressed his deep satisfaction to Us and invited Us to visit Artsakh. Indeed, our full support for the independence and security of Artsakh continues as one the national priorities of the Holy See.
In the last years, conferences have been convened, studies have been made, and articles have been written about the various problems and issues related to the Diaspora. The current situation of the Diaspora, full of uncertainties and crises, must prompt our leading bodies and intellectuals to think out, examine, and discuss, with realistic spirit and in a responsible manner, how to reorganize the present of the Diaspora and to explore new ways and means for the Diaspora.
Hence, taking into account the current situation of the Diaspora and its crucial importance in Armenian life, with this Patriarchal Encyclical we thereby proclaim 2022
YEAR OF THE DIASPORA
We have entitled the last book we have published in Armenian “Before New Horizons” (Նոր Հորիզոններու Դիմաց). We did not choose this name by chance. With its three branches—Armenia, Artsakh, and the Diaspora—the Armenian people faces many, diverse challenges and perils, and the Diaspora, where the Armenian identity is exposed to attrition, even more so. In some places, it is rocking amid waves of uncertainty; in other places, it is fighting against storms; somewhere else, it is in search of a new identity; and yet in a different place it finds itself rapidly assimilating. Hence, the reorganization and revitalization of the Diaspora is a mandatory task. This ample and multifaceted plan may have a practical application with the introspection and revaluation of the Diaspora, and the clarification of its particular place and role in our national life. Work towards this huge undertaking must begin today; tomorrow may be too late for a Diaspora that lives in the whirlpool of fundamental, fast-paced changes.
A) THE DIASPORA YESTERDAY: SUBSISTENCE AND EVOLUTION
Because of its geographical location, Armenia has often been exposed to attacks and occupation, and has lost its statehood and independence. In consequence, emigration has been a permanent feature of life in Armenian history.
Contacts between the Byzantine Empire and Armenia have been direct and constant, and since ancient times Armenians have settled within the confines of the empire. Outside Armenia, the Armenian people became a collective and organized presence for the first time in Cilicia, even attaining statehood. Following the collapse of the Armenian state of Cilicia (14th century) and of the Byzantine Empire (15th century), Armenians have successively headed to the Balkan countries, where they formed communities over time. Thanks mostly to trade, the Armenians have had relations with the Far East and have established small communities there as well. Since ancient times, large numbers of Armenians have settled in Persia, a neighbor of Armenia. After the breakup of Armenia between Persia and Turkey (16th century), Armenians have become an organized presence in those countries.
As a consequence of the Armenian genocide, Armenians living in Western Armenia and the Armenian lands of Cilicia were forcibly resettled in the Middle East and then, moved by political and financial concerns, over the years they have moved to Europe, North and South America, and as far as Australia. Armenians became a presence in Africa especially after the Second World War. The conditions created by globalization have given new impetus to relocation to other countries by the daughters and sons of the Armenian people, including transcontinental migrations. A new wave of migrations from the former Soviet republics to Western countries has begun after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Finally, the emigration from the homeland after Armenia’s independence was odd and painful.
In light of this brief overview of the evolution of the Diaspora, the following points must be stressed:
- The existence of a widespread Diaspora has its historical causes and stages. The emigration of Armenians from Armenia has often been forcible. In this sense, we must recall the great migration from Armenia to Cilicia, imposed upon them by the Byzantine Empire, and from Western Armenia and Cilicia, by the Ottoman Empire. In addition to political and security factors, economic causes have also driven Armenians to leave. This is how we can define the emigration from Armenia over the last decades.
- Wherever Armenians have settled, they have tried to form a community with its national, religious, educational and other structures, and have made the utmost effort to preserve their national identity, language, faith, and traditions. The Church has played a leading role in the formation and preservation of the Armenian identity of communities.
- The Armenians have not lived isolated in the countries where they have settled. They have participated in the social life and they have even attained high positions.
- The Armenian communities of Lebanon and Syria with their organized life and numerous structures have had a central role in the Diaspora, especially in the religious, cultural, charitable, and political fields.
- As circumstances caused them to lose immediate contact with the mother homeland, a number of communities, especially in the Balkan countries, have dissolved over time, only retaining a weak sense of their Armenian origin.
B) THE DIASPORA TODAY: CONCERNS AND CHALLENGES
We believe we have to focus on a number of special characteristics that define the Diaspora today:
1.- The present Diaspora is a motley mix of the traditional, Soviet, and Republic of Armenia diasporas. The Diaspora that came into existence with fragments of genocide survivors organized itself relatively quickly. The church, the school, and the club had a critical role in the organization and preservation of identity in the Diaspora. The Diaspora survived gathering around the structures it created and became a whole of communities that demanded justice and lived with the dream of a free, independent and united Armenia, and fought for it. Armenians who emigrated from the Soviet republics joined the traditional diaspora and, in a short time, they mingled with their conationals. With the new independence of Armenia, many thought that a repatriation might begin and that the Diaspora would soon extinguish. The opposite happened. Moved by economic reasons and attracted by the vast possibilities of the West, the depopulation of Armenia began. Along with its numeric growth, the Diaspora also expanded because of inter-community migrations. There are many causes that contribute to the continuation of the aforementioned developments. The Diaspora is not a stable reality but it is always in constant change.
2.- What does it mean to be Armenian in the Diaspora, what are the parameters for being Armenian? The traditional diaspora born with the memory of the genocide had its own particular self-knowledge. The formation of new diasporas and the development of Diaspora-Armenia relations gave a new character to the Diaspora, while globalization put new realities and horizons before the Diaspora, driving it to different approaches, concerns, and even values. Therefore, how can the diasporas be harmonized and complement each other, when they have had different historical evolutions, have been conditioned by different experiences and different mentalities and different ways of doing things and lifestyles, beyond coexisting in the same community? No planned and consistent steps have been taken in this direction. It would seem that there is a lack of will. But such an effort is inevitably required. How can the self-knowledge of the Diaspora Armenian be defined, by determining collective standards, without ignoring the new realities created by globalization and the local conditions?
3.- Staying Armenian in Armenia is a natural thing. In the Diaspora, staying Armenian is a matter of preference. Therefore, it is a daily crisis and struggle. In the not distant past, being different from someone else was a standard and effective means for preserving the Armenian identity. How can Armenians safely preserve their identity when they live in a multiracial, multicultural, and multireligious setting in a globalized world, in which the fences separating them from the rest no longer exist, where the other is their neighbor, friend, colleague and sometimes even family member? We need to be realistic. The Diaspora Armenians no longer consider themselves immigrants and foreigners. They are fully entitled citizens of the countries where they live and have adapted to the place where they are and to the local culture. The Armenian identity continues to express itself in an augmented manner wherever Armenian life exists in a collective and organized presence. In places where Armenians are not present in large numbers, however, the efforts for preservation have begun to dwindle before an increasingly assimilated identity. Hence, with a view of preserving the Armenian roots healthy, how can language, homeland, religion, traditions, key historical events, the struggle for justice be transformed into the foundations of belonging to one single nation, with a new approach, enhancing each of these factors?
4.- The structures of the Diaspora played a defining role in the organization of the Diaspora as well as the vitality of our religious, cultural and national values. Today, however, our structures are faced with the danger of losing their appeal and becoming outdated. With their inward-looking approaches, traditional behavior, and outdated agendas, they can no longer satisfy the demands of the new generations. In other words, the communities cannot preserve their organizational power and the vitality of their Armenian identity with exhausted structures that no longer respond to current realities. Hence, the renewal and modernization of structures is more than urgent, considering their central place and key role within the Armenian life.
5.- Western Armenian is falling into disuse. The decline in its use and its linguistic corruption have become widespread and obvious. The causes are obvious and the consequences, dangerous. Language is one of the strong pillars of national identity, especially for a nation that is small and lives in the diaspora. To deal with the retreat of Western Armenian, the Holy See has resorted to practical steps. Hence, how can new impetus be given to this important project and actively involve our educational and cultural structures and intellectuals who are committed to the mission of Armenian nation-building?
6.- Alongside our structure, our mentality and way of doing things have begun to rust as well. Ignoring the new developments and looming challenges around us may lead our communities to self-isolation. The Diaspora can no longer work with stereotypes. The tools and standards for the preservation of the Armenian identity, in fact, do not correspond to the conditions of the modern world and to the views and expectations of the new generation. The new generation has begun to distance itself from our structures, and even from our values and traditions which, have been preserved in these structures with huge sacrifices, but which are imprisoned there at the same time, and the youth live their Armenian identity with new perspectives and in new ways. The Armenian identity is exposed to the risk of dissolving among the new generation. This is where the crisis is, because it is the new generation that will revitalize the Diaspora with new air and forge its future. Therefore, how can the three levels of the identity of an Armenian—local, Armenian, and global—be reconciled, staying clear from mentalities and lifestyles that may lead to contradictions and polarization? We have often emphasized the importance of gathering the new generation around us and having a serious dialogue.
7.- The Diaspora is a forum for different ways of thinking, sometimes contradictory and sometimes concurrent, often determined by socio-political factors that concern both the Republic of Armenia and the local scene. This is inevitable. We must, however, take Diaspora communities out of their localized, inward-looking, and divisive mentalities and open the way to a pan-Diasporic thinking. In fact, in the last few years, thanks to the initiative of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, congresses that have been convened on the Diaspora, and sometimes on national, educational, historical, reparations and other themes, have already planted the seeds of pan-Diasporic thinking with the guidelines defined by them and their conclusions. With the representative status and quality of their participants, they can also become the platform for the creation of a pan-Diasporic leadership. Such work presupposes close and integral cooperation between structures within communities and between communities, with a pan-Diasporic agenda. Such an initiative will contribute greatly to the revitalization of life in the Diaspora, a harmonization of views existing in it and a reinforcement of its overarching importance in the Armenian world.
8.- The Diaspora must be careful to avoid being trapped in either an Armenia-centric or a Diaspora-centric mentality. Its goal must be the development of an Armenian-centric thinking, which can create an ample space for a dialogue among different viewpoints. Indeed, with its special nuances and rich experience, the Diaspora can bring its important contribution to the development of a pan-Armenian thinking, built on a pan-Armenian agenda. Therefore, how can belonging to one and the same Armenian nation be transformed into the foundation and pathway to a pan-Armenian thinking, while at the same preserving the views of a Diaspora that is exposed to local conditions and factors as well as the importance of pan-Diasporic priorities? The first is mandatory; the second is inevitable.
9.- The Diaspora has an enormous potential in terms of culture, religion, economy, expertise, relations and experience. However, adaptation and assimilation here, or indifference and oblivion there have begun to drain the potential of Armenian life. In fact, the Diaspora has not been able to hold on to its vigor and use it correctly and fully. In this sense, efforts have been made by several organizations both in Armenia and the Diaspora, but they have been partial and circumstantial. The organization and utilization of the potential of the Diaspora is a must. Such an initiative requires collective and consistent work.
10.- With the new independence of Armenia, a gradual repatriation was to be expected. The opposite happened. Armenia was not able, and could not create ample opportunities for economic development, and promote repatriation plans. Awarding citizenship to Diaspora Armenians was an encouraging step without a doubt, but it did not go beyond reinforcing the sentimental links with the homeland. In the case of the Armenians who left Armenia in the last few decades, the return to the homeland is indispensable, whereas for the traditional diaspora, at present, this is not considered realistic. But we must keep it on the national agenda as one of the essential elements of national belonging. If the idea of repatriation, reinforced with the vision of a united Armenia hosting the totality of the Armenian people, even if as ultimate goal, disappears from the Armenian life, the Diaspora will lose its guiding principle and its decline will proceed apace. Data points to a Diaspora that will continue to exist for a long time, exposed to the risk of fading. Hence, the demographic growth of the global Armenian people and the physical preservation of the Armenian presence in Armenia and Artsakh have critical importance. This objective can be attained in Armenia, with the development of the economy, guaranteeing the security of the country and directing to Armenia the little and isolated communities of the Diaspora, which for whatever reasons are exposed to the risk of rapid assimilation, while raising the birthrate in the Diaspora and resorting to other effective methods.
11.- The vision of Great Armenia-great Diaspora must become the foundation and the goal of our national strategy. More than ever, Armenia and the Diaspora need each other. In consequence, the Diaspora-Armenia cooperation must remain one of the vital dimensions in the life of both Armenia and the Diaspora. It is not correct to consider the Diaspora an annex to Armenia, nor is it right to entertain its inward-looking existence as a self-serving goal. It is not right either to consider the Diaspora just the totality of communities that promote charitable projects and develop economic plans in Armenia. The Diaspora is an indivisible part of the same Armenian nation. In fact, beyond being the homeland that fosters a feeling of patriotism, Armenia was not able to inspire confidence and hope and become the collective home for the Armenian people scattered around the world. In the last decade, the emphasis was placed on investments and tourism. The internal political problems and help for socio-economic plans figure prominently in the agenda of the Armenian Diaspora, often marginalizing the priorities of the Diaspora. Cooperation between the two poles of the Armenian people must be comprehensive, planned and consistent, grounded upon reciprocal trust. Armenia plays an essential role in the revitalization of the Diaspora, especially in the fields of culture and education. On the other hand, within the sphere of Armenia-Diaspora cooperation, we consider indispensable for the Diaspora to have an active participation in the administration of Armenia as well as in the discussion of pan-Armenian issues and plans.
C) TOWARDS THE REORGANIZATION OF THE DIASPORA: FIELDS AND COURSE OF ACTION
The concerns and challenges we have pointed out require a deep, realistic, and comprehensive assessment. For more than thirty years, Armenia and Artsakh have become the focus of life in the Diaspora. Without a doubt, these two poles of our nation, with their difficulties and imperatives, must always remain a priority for the Diaspora. The Diaspora is not a goal in itself; its vision must always be directed to Armenia, the backbone of the Armenian present and the guarantee of its future. With this deep awareness, the Diaspora is called upon to reorganize itself. Today most of our nation lives in the Diaspora. Therefore, it is time, at this moment in the history of our nation, for self-organization to become the priority of the Diaspora.
We want to especially stress that we can no longer reorganize and revitalize the Diaspora with worn structures, fossilized mentality, stereotyped views, and yellowed agendas. With its structures and agenda, its bylaws and way of doing things, the Diaspora must walk with the new times and challenges. How can this colossal work be undertaken? The realistic assessment of the current state of the Diaspora and its planning must become the linchpin and the driving force of our work. In this sense, the role of every organization and association in the community is crucial, as well as that of experienced intellectuals with expertise in different fields.
1) PRELACY STRUCTURES
The life of the traditional diaspora is organized around the church. Each community has considered the church the center of its collective life and has built its establishments with different missions around it. The church, in turn, has not been able to keep pace with the changing conditions of life. The reformation of the church is also urgent. The church-people relationship must acquire a new quality and style and the church must become a presence of service in the life of the people. There, taking into consideration the central role of the church in the life of a community, the reorganization of a community must begin with parish life.
In the last meeting of the National Executive Council (Dec. 5-8, 2017), in both our message and the meeting decisions, we have paid major attention especially to the reorganization of parishes and have defined a special roadmap. Nevertheless, the pandemic slowed the planning work that our prelacies had to carry out. Here we want to outline the work that the prelacies must undertake:
The Priest has an important role in the reorganization of a prelacy. The formation of priests who have an awareness of the vocation and have the intellectual and religious preparation to tackle the challenges of present times is essential. The Parish, as the foundation of life and mission of the church, must become the focus of reorganization activities. We must renew the bodies that work in the reorganization of the church, putting to work educated women and young people. It is indispensable to give priority to: a) Christian education, with the revitalization of Sunday schools, teaching religious subjects in Armenian schools, and the practice of spiritual and moral values in the life of Armenian families; b) social service, making it one of the essential dimensions of the mission of the church; c) the Armenian school, reemphasizing its mission in the building of the Armenian nation.
2) COMMUNITY STRUCTURES
The Prelacy is not an independent unit from the community: the prelacy are the people themselves. In this sense, the harmonic cooperation between organizations in the life of the community and the prelacy will surely contribute to the reorganization of the community. It is therefore advisable that cooperation begin while preparing plans. Community structures participate in the activity of prelacy bodies, but they have their own bylaws and priorities. Our structures have begun to lose manpower; a drop in numbers is matched by a decline in quality. New blood must be injected in them, ensuring a prevalence of young men and women, including in the leadership. The update of bylaws of structures and adaptation to local conditions, while preserving their pan-Diasporic and pan-Armenian nature and objectives, are inevitable. A close cooperation among the structures as well as creating harmony among them will contribute greatly a further blooming of community life and the revitalization of the Diaspora.
The reorganization of the Diaspora is a complex, long-term plan. The realization of such an ambitious plan presupposes collective faith and dedication, leadership and engagement. It also requires an expert view and comprehensive planning that may be implemented gradually. This work requires considering the internal situation of communities living in different environments, the peculiarities of the working structures and their setting, and adopt the required approach accordingly.
Therefore, how can this enormous task be undertaken?
1) Preparing the setting is a precondition. Our structures, their leaders and members must be ready for the urgent need for restructuring. In this sense, writing articles, public discussions and convening conferences may be useful for the exchange of opinions, predisposing minds, creating a positive climate.
2) Each structure must undertake its restructuring, taking into account the concerns and issues We have pointed out, and then, as needed, coordinating with other organizations the work it has carried out.
3) Planning must be followed by implementation. This is naturally the most difficult stage. Implementation must be carried out according to priorities and with planned consistency.
Faithful to its past, the Armenian people are called upon to permanently to revalue and renew themselves, keeping pace with the changing times, conditions, and challenges. The Diaspora must undertake its reorganization and revitalization with this vision. To leave the Diaspora in its current state means to accelerate its attrition. The reorganization of the Diaspora is the path to its growth, and the growth of the Diaspora is the growth of Armenia and Artsakh, and this is a pan-Armenian priority and challenge. We must set out to work without any delay.
We advise the prelacies of our Holy See to immediately begin planning to be able to complete it before the upcoming National General Assembly.
With warm fatherly love,
CATHOLICOS ARAM I
GREAT HOUSE OF CILICIA
January 1, 2022