Diaspora Politics

Leon Aslanov

Aside from institutions such as the Church and schools, political parties have generally represented one of the key institutional actors that aim to “preserve Armenianness” (hayabahbanum) in the Armenian diaspora. Their roles have mainly been limited to preserving communities and the Armenian identity through social and cultural endeavours. Their political activities have largely been restricted to genocide recognition, apart from in Lebanon, where the parties are involved in national politics. The three main parties in the Diaspora continue to be the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF – Dashnak), the Social Democrat Party (SDHP – Hnchak), and the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADLP – Ramgavar). One simple question in the ADS survey asked respondents what political affiliations they had to Armenian political parties or movements. The overall results from the 4 communities in the study came out as follows:

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A very low rate of Armenian political affiliation indeed. And this low rate was reflected across all 4 cities. The rate of “No Armenian political affiliation” was higher in the Western locations (US and France), as it hovered around the 75% mark for Boston, Pasadena and Marseille. Cairo, the smallest and only Middle Eastern community in the survey, was home to a stronger political party presence as it recorded a rate of 63.6% for “No Armenian political affiliation” and registered a higher rate of political affiliation to all 3 political parties than in the other cities.

The ARF, unsurprisingly, came out on top in all of the communities and it recorded a significant presence in Cairo with a 19.2% rate of political affiliation. Some respondents commented that although they do not officially belong to the ARF, many of them are former members with continuing sympathies or have a family legacy attached to the party. The continuing attachment to the ARF despite the lack of official affiliation represents the socio-cultural nature of the party in that its traditions and organisational structure have left behind a legacy that is not outwardly political but has formed bonds between those with connections, however distant, to the party. One respondent from France described themselves as “"dachnakoïde" (de culture dachnag non miltante)”.

Interestingly, when respondents were asked about what activities were needed in their communities, political activism (e.g. Genocide recognition or lobbying for aid to Armenia) was deemed relatively important in the French context of Marseille, but it scored rather low in the American context. Nevertheless, this sort of diaspora political activism was not considered anywhere near a top priority as was language, education and cultural activities.

The term “progressive movement” was added to the list of the abovementioned question despite the lack of a concrete political party to represent it. There is also no cohesive “progressive movement” in the Armenian diaspora. However there are Armenians who define themselves as “progressive” and we felt it important to find out whether anybody would affiliate themselves with such a movement. In the end, only Boston saw a rate worth mentioning, with 4.3% saying they belong to the “progressive movement”, while the term scored 1% or less in the other locations. Another question was asked in the survey about respondents’ general political orientations (Conservative, Liberal, Progressive etc.) in which the score for “progressive” self-identification was relatively much higher than the score for “progressive movement” in the question discussed here. This difference will be discussed in more detail in a future blog post.

With the influx of immigrants from the Republic of Armenia into diaspora communities, it is likely that the relevance of Armenian diaspora political parties will continue to diminish. Immigrants from Armenia are detached from the historical importance and dynamics of the traditional political parties in the diaspora and so are unlikely to be involved with them. The only party to exist both in the diaspora and the Republic is the ARF, however their following in Armenia is minute and, apart from a common nationalist ideology, the “homeland” and “diaspora” versions share little with one another on a socio-cultural level. The other two parties in the diaspora seem to be breathing their final breaths…