The Burden of Memory | The Nation


The Burden of Memory

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When Robert Kocharian became president in 1998, he immediately sought to reel in an alienated diaspora. Kocharian has not insisted on genocide recognition, but in a nod to diaspora demands, he has put the issue on the negotiating table. He has also welcomed the ARF back to Armenia, and established more formal relations with other diaspora organizations.

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Meline Toumani
Meline Toumani is a writer based in New York City.

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An Armenian-American writer asks if the Armenian obsession with genocide recognition is worth its emotional and psychological price.

Kocharian's approach is not surprising, considering that diaspora Armenians currently provide about one-third of Armenia's GDP by way of donations, investments and development programs of every imaginable variety. Walk around Yerevan with locals, and they will readily tell you which diaspora billionaire built that new road up ahead, or the new museum that will tower over the city, or various new schools, hospitals and homes that gleam against the capital's crumbly backdrop. In summertime, repatriates and visitors from the diaspora fill the streets and spend money on a healthy quantity of crafts and jewelry, not to mention food, hotel rooms and services.

Analysts in Armenia and the diaspora are divided into two camps: those who believe Armenia can build a sustainable economy based solely on diaspora support, and those who believe an open border with Turkey is critical to a functioning economy. But would the diaspora keep sending money if Armenia didn't indulge its quest for genocide recognition? And if it weren't for the diaspora's demands, might Turkey long ago have opened its border and allowed for the kind of long-term economic development that Armenia needs? Turkey's official stance now is that the opening of the border is tied to resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; but over the years diaspora activities have shaped the diplomatic environment in which the negotiations have taken place.

In the battle for the soul of the republic, Kocharian's administration is in an awkward bind, forced to seek diaspora funding and thus obliged to tolerate the diaspora's unique psychological demands--which, though they are born of good intentions, are not necessarily in Armenia's best interests. Indeed, according to Libaridian, officials in Armenia would rather not encourage a nation of victims. "What is this?" he asked in a recent interview, adopting the perspective of an Armenian official. "We respect, we mourn, but we don't want a bunch of citizens who live for and identify themselves as victims in history. We have won a war."

What, then, does a disgruntled diplomat offer as an alternative? "The best way to commemorate the victims of the genocide is to live, survive and progress, to give an opportunity to the new generation in Armenia to live better than their parents," Libaridian says. "Then, if they have the means to do something more than we could do to gain recognition, let them do it. But give them that opportunity." Armenia's supporters in America should keep sending money--but in the political arena, they should step aside and allow Armenia's officials to develop economic relationships that will insure the country's stability, so that the era of tragedy that began with the genocide does not continue indefinitely, sustained by the age-old hatred that makes less and less sense as time goes on. The truth will no longer set anybody free. Armenia has suffered enough.

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