The Armenian face of Facebook
Published: Friday December 04, 2009 in Living in Armenia
Yerevan - Every time something controversial happens in Armenia, people in the diaspora have a variety of reactions. These reactions range from support to disengagement and apathy to extreme anger and expressions of discontent at the way things are being handled in the homeland.
In recent memory, this happened after the February 2008 presidential election, after the events of March 1, 2008, and after the unveiling of the Armenia-Turkey protocols. The swift reaction of a large segment of the diaspora in opposition to the protocols was exercised through a variety of means, including the pages of Facebook, which made it all come alive, in your face 24/7.
Reading the comments on Facebook from my diaspora compatriots left me befuddled, if not outright confused, sometimes frustrated, delighted, mystified, and then enraged. And finally the only thing left was the feeling of being somehow abandoned. Let me explain by quoting some of the comments left here, there, and everywhere via the Internet. (Spelling and grammar have not been corrected.)
"It's funny how hayastancis are so supportive of giving up Artsakh and neglecting their ancestors for potatoes...funny how easily they can forget all the support the diaspora had provided in the times of need." Where do I start on this one? First, public opinion polls conducted in Yerevan showed that 52 percent of the people were against the protocols; in a nationwide public opinion poll, 50 percent were opposed to the opening of the Turkey-Armenia border. Second, how can one say the people of Armenia are supportive of "giving up Artsakh" when those who are supportive of the protocols emphasize that the protocols do not contemplate any concessions in Artsakh? Third, why bring up diaspora support? Is it only the diaspora that has suffered from Turkey's bad behavior? Aren't the people of Armenia still dealing with the blockade - in addition to the memory of their ancestors?
In response to the above statement, someone else wrote: "Be careful of the words you are using, hayastanci or whatever it may be, we are all armenian, and you are fueling the type of rhetoric that has divided us for such a long time, I think the protocols are a terrible idea, but you don't live in armenia and you don't live under those socioeconomic conditions, so what you say is taken quite offensively. who are we to generalize and judge others, especially our own people."
In another Facebook comment, this person said: "All that money poured into Armenia by the diaspora and we have no say in the protocols. Mekhk. ...our annual Telethon should be used for the empowerement of all our organizations that are ready to fight the protocol. No one should underestimate the diaspora."
This comment was posted about those repatriates who had had negative experiences in Armenia: "And for your information, many Armenians left their successful, comfortable lives in diaspora, went to Armenia established business, opened hospitals, and when work was done, they were no longer welcomed, there business were taken away, and they were threatened to leave, and keep silence, or lose there lives...I hope you know that too...." This person went on to say: "But that will not stop us from supporting Armenia, and Armenians living in Armenia. I know some of them are victims too. They just don't know any better, they will learn and change one day...Then, we will be accepted..."
Commenting on the opening of the Cafesjian Center for the Arts as a tourist attraction, another Facebooker wrote that he is "not going to step foot" in Armenia "till that government shapes up!!"
The worst thing would be if as a result of the protocols, or any other decision of the Armenian government, we allow homeland and diaspora to be driven apart.
Controversial events in Armenia allow people in the diaspora to express freely how they feel not only about the leadership in Armenia but also about the homeland itself. From the comments being made it has become obvious that some people are failing to make a distinction between leaders and policies on the one hand and the homeland and its people on the other hand.
All of this puts people like us, i.e., modern repatriates, in an awkward position. We simultaneously understand the concerns and frustrations of the diaspora and those of the homeland, and trust me, we don't like to take sides.
I have tried to avoid this subject for a number of years. I was always concerned about the reactions of my diaspora friends, many of whom are torch bearers for the Armenian Cause. Many of them have spent a lifetime, at the expense of their personal lives and at the expense of their families, to dedicate themselves to their respective communities. There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of Armenians in the diaspora who have worked endlessly to ensure the empowerment of the Armenian people. They have built community centers, churches, and schools; they have organized picnics, fundraisers, dances, round tables, and lectures; they have established Armenian chairs in some of the most influential universities around the world; they have inspired generations of young Armenians not only to retain their language, culture, and religion but also to give back to their communities.
But since so many of you have been freely expressing how you feel about the homeland and taking the above quotes as a sample, there are some things I would like to say to you.
There are so many things that are wrong in Armenia. Starting with a value-system, which is in need of not only some tweaking but of a major overhaul; the concept of statehood has not been fully integrated into the minds of the body politic; civil society is still struggling against a bureaucracy that continues to thwart any grassroots movement; injustice is prevalent; the fair and equal application of the law is absent; the benefits of the economic system of the country are controlled by a few wealthy families.