Armenian diaspora studies takes a new turn

Leon Aslanov

As we began the Armenian Diaspora Survey, one aim was to uncover as much of the work done about the Armenian diaspora as possible. Material written about the Armenia diaspora is rich and diverse, but scattered all across the globe. Up until then, there was no single database of such works to which academics, students, and interested individuals could refer. And so began my endeavor to plough through university websites and academic databases, and to get in touch with various individuals in the field of Armenian studies, in order to begin forming the first collection of works about the Armenian diaspora in one place. These include academic articles, books, and dissertations (Master’s and PhD). All the works are available in PDF format. In this way we hope to make these works more accessible and useful for our own study of the diaspora but also so they can be used more easily by others as a foundation for their own work, rather than reinventing the wheel.

My knowledge of various languages finally came to be of practical use. My initial task was to find material in English, French, Turkish and Eastern/Western Armenian, moving on to Russian later on. Much of the English and French-language material was easily accessible through searches on global academic websites and university databases (despite some of the obstacles faced when encountering the protectionism of certain universities). I noticed that the English-language works touched upon a diverse range of Armenian communities, from both within and outside of the Anglophone world. The French-language research papers, in contrast, were almost entirely focused on exploring the Armenian communities of France. The resplendent diversity of the English-language research was complemented by the rich and in-depth research related to the history, culture and identities of Armenians in France.

I found the differences in approach between Armenian-American and Armenian-French researchers interesting. I came across several pieces of research from the US that employed more rigorous social science methods (quantitative and qualitative) to investigate Armenian communities there, particularly from the West Coast. The French papers, on the other hand, were more descriptive and analytical in nature; some almost read like a novel narrating the story of the Armenian communities in France.

There was also a surprising number of works that focused solely on the issue of acculturative stress among Armenians in the US. These works merged psychology and the social sciences to investigate the nature of Armenian integration into American society, and the psychological stress caused by cultural and inter-generational differences. This was a topic that seemed to be popular in the US, but was rarely touched upon in any of the other countries.

Moving on to Turkish. The Armenians of Turkey could hardly be called a diasporic group, however, they reside in a country where they exist as a small minority, and so issues regarding identity, integration and assimilation are highly pertinent, just like in Armenian communities across the diaspora. My search in Turkish brought up an astonishing number of research papers (over 65) conducted by Armenians, Turks and Kurds in Turkey. The majority of these works focused on local Armenians across Turkey, migrants who had moved from Armenia to Turkey, and also the so-called “Islamised” Armenians. Despite a number of evident obstacles imposed by universities and the Turkish state on writing freely about Armenians in Turkey (especially when it comes to mentioning genocide and the memory of genocide), the papers in Turkish provide an extremely valuable insight into what researchers in Turkey regard as important when it comes to Armenians. Memory and identity were topics that continuously came up in my search. The fact that so many students in Turkey who were not Armenians (evident from their names[1]) was in itself revealing and a significant discovery.

As for the Armenian-language works, these can be largely divided into three groups: Eastern Armenian papers composed by students at universities in Armenia, Eastern Armenian books written by researchers funded by the Ministry of Diaspora, or Western Armenian works were mostly written by students from Lebanon, especially from the Haigazian University.

Finally, the Russian-language works, naturally, explored Armenian communities in the post-Soviet space, a somewhat strange category of “Armenian diaspora” that is able to continue to feel at home away from home, in a kind of “Soviet continuum”.

This collection gives researchers access to an abundance of material that is especially conducive to comparative research of Armenian diaspora communities. The variety in the research is not only connected to the focuses on different Armenian localities, but it also consists of a variety of academic, social, and personal perspectives from which these works were composed.

I hope that this bibliography will continue to grow and incorporate more languages, more communities, and more perspectives. I believe that this collection will herald a new development in Armenian and diaspora studies. The opportunities for comparison and analysis have now been expanded.

[1] Armenians in Turkey sometimes have Turkified surnames (although not always), but they normally hold on to “Christian”, “European”, or Armenian first names (e.g. Monika or Sevan). Names belonging to ethnic Turks are often easily identifiable if the first name relates to Islamic tradition (e.g. Zeynep or Mustafa) or if both first name and surname are of Turkish origin.