Congress entitled “The Diaspora Facing New Horizons: The Self-Understanding of Armenians in the Diaspora” kicks off in Lebanon

July 11th marked the opening ceremony of the congress entitled “The Diaspora Facing New Horizons: The Self-Understanding of Armenians in the Diaspora”. The congress was organized by the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, chaired by Catholicos Aram I and held at the St. Mary’s Monastery in Bikfaya with the participation of Minister of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia Hranush Hakobyan, as well as intellectuals and figures from Armenia and the Diaspora.

The congress began with the Lord’s Prayer and the patriarchal blessing of Catholicos Aram I, after which Yervant Pamboukian delivered his opening remarks. Pamboukian stated that by saying “image of the Armenians of the Diaspora”, he means the classic Diaspora, which was mainly formed around the Church, the school and political and cultural organizations.

He pinpointed the fact that the fourth generation of this Diaspora has a lifestyle that is different from the lifestyle of the first generation, but it is worth mentioning the fact that it states the claims of the nation that only politicians would do in the past. Pamboukian listed several hardships such as stagnation of the Armenian language and informed that we Armenians are clashing with this situation, which is making it more difficult to disseminate the idea “return” of Armenians to their home. However, appreciating the current relations between Armenia and the Diaspora, the historian said he was optimistic and that when something is destroyed, something else flourishes. In his speech, Pamboukian also hinted the importance of a unified orthography and the need for acknowledging Armenians who have converted.

In her welcoming remarks, Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan underlined the importance of the national identity and the self-awareness of the Armenians. The Minister said the Armenian identity is of strategic significance and stated that it is always changing and is multilayered. Talking about the features of Armenian identity, the Minister stated that it is based on pain and suffering. “Compared to the diasporas of other nations, the Armenian Diaspora is the most widespread,” the Minister stated and added that the fact that the Armenian Diaspora is the most widespread has helped make it multicultural, meaning a Diaspora with several identities. Touching upon the issue of crypto Armenians, Hranush Hakobyan informed that the Ministry of Diaspora approaches this issue with a special stipulation and at the state level.

Talking about the Armenian identity, the Minister touched upon mixed marriages and their consequences, Armenians who are conscientiously detached from “Armenianness”, those wishing to become cosmopolitan, Islamized Armenians, as well as Armenians who wish to return to their roots. Alongside all this, Hranush Hakobyan attached importance to the guarantees for preservation of the Armenian identity, that is, the Armenian Church, school, historical memory, family, preservation of traditions, national and cultural institutions, the media, Armenian emblems, as well as the independent Armenia and Artsakh.

In closing, Minister Hranush Hakobyan stated that the Armenian identity, Armenia and Artsakh must be attractive for young Armenians so that Armenia becomes home for them, not the historic homeland. The Minister stressed the fact that the main objective is repatriation.

At the end of the session, Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia touched upon the organizing of the congress and stated that it is a collective effort to share experiences, worries and conceptual views hinged on reality and is different from the solidified approaches. “Our goal is not to affirm, but consider the good and bad sides of the current state of the self-understanding and self-expression of Diaspora Armenians by taking into consideration the historical reality. Another goal is to seek new approaches to identity, new standards, new boundaries and new definitions, not just describe them,” the Catholicos emphasized.

Touching upon the century-old struggle of Diaspora Armenians to preserve the Armenian identity, the Catholicos noted that, due to different reasons and various circumstances, Armenians of the Diaspora are gradually losing the courage to struggle. In this case, viewing identity as a constant process of formation and development, Catholicos Aram I affirmed that the course can change due to time and conditions, but the core will remain the same.

“If the core changes, the identity will also change,” Aram I said and added that the history of the identity of the Armenians and the citadels protecting it has started to lose their charm and power. “Our historic events and figures having played a vital role in shaping and preserving the Armenian identity have started consuming their potential and are gradually being forgotten by our people. The vision of a complete Armenia, which became the powerful ideology reinforcing the identity, has started to become a page in the past for Armenians living in the Diaspora due to the reestablishment of the Republic of Armenia,” the Catholicos stated, focusing on the diasporas of Armenia and the Soviet Union, the existence of those diasporas with different emphases and expressions that create a chaotic and troubling situation. In his speech, Catholicos Aram I touched upon the various forms of self-recognition in the Diaspora and various manifestations of the identity that make all Armenians face serious trouble.

Afterwards, the Supreme Patriarch provided details about the risks and challenges of the national identity for Armenians abroad, noting that the land, the language, self-recognition, the feeling of belonging, the value of symbols and characters, dialogue and harmonious coexistence, the presence and preservation of the national ideology play a pivotal role in this sense. He also pinpointed the fact that there are different perceptions of the identity in our reality today and the question is how one can compare them and what approach should be shown to each of them.

In closing, Catholicos Aram I deemed it necessary to repair and modernize our weapons of self-defense by organizing community life and making it viable, specifying the influential paths and methods for self-recognition and seeking new models and standards, as well as recreating self-understanding and strengthening self-awareness in line with the given environment and the current conditions.

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