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Armenia and Karabakh Are more Democratic than the Diaspora

  Standpoint of Diaspora

Armenia and Karabakh Are more Democratic than the Diaspora

Appo Jabarian


Appo Jabarian

Executive Publisher & Managing Editor of USA Armenian Life Magazine

In this piece published on the USA Armenian Life website, Appo Jabarian claims that Armenia and Karabakh are more democratic than the Diaspora since the latter has no organized democratic system of election by universal suffrage. He criticizes the fact that leaders of political and religious organizations are self-proclaimed "representatives" of the Diaspora although all the members of these organizations put together do not total more than 5 percent of Diaspora Armenians. The author also stresses that the "millet system" (religious organization of Armenian subjects in the Ottoman Empire) is still in place among Armenian organizations in the Diaspora. Jabarian observes a drain of forces as well as aging among Diaspora organizations, who struggle to renew and revitalize themselves. He calls on the Diaspora to reinvent itself by building a democratic structure on the scale its whole community.

If you’re wondering if the twin republics of Armenia and Karabakh are more democratic than the Diaspora, the short answer is a resounding “yes!”

Ironically, as many of us living in western democracies know it, democracy does not exist in the Diaspora.

Although democracy in Armenia is not fully functioning and somewhat corrupt, Democracy in the Diaspora is virtually none-existent! As is the case of Armenia, a broken democratic system can be fixed; whereas a non-existent system is nowhere to be found in the Diaspora.

Barely 5% of Diaspora Armenians are members of all religious, civic and political organizations, while a whopping 95% are not members anywhere.

A major issue: Despite the fact that there is no popular mandate for representation, many organizational leaders misrepresent themselves as “community leaders.” Currently there isn’t — and from time immemorial, there has never been an electoral system voting key individuals into leadership positions as elected representatives through universal suffrage based on “one person, one vote.”

How could it be that an Armenian civil society that is socially and economically advanced lacks basic democratic processes coordinating the civic life in the Diasporan communities?

The answer is clear to those who are well-informed of the inner workings of many of the Armenian faith-based and community-based organizations: The Diaspora’s social, cultural, political as well as religious organizations individually have mostly dysfunctional systems that outwardly seem like democratic but in reality many of them do not foster democratic processes within their ranks.

Even if the existing Diaspora organizations maintained functioning democracies, their collective membership is so marginal (5%) compared to the wider Diaspora Armenian population (95%), they would still not be able to legitimately claim to be authorized representative(s) of the Diaspora.

Let me elaborate. The combined total of all members of the entire Diaspora civic and religious organizations barely constitute 5% of the entire population of Diaspora.

A sizable segment of the members in political and religious organizations claim to be “sole” decision-makers on behalf of all Diaspora. They usually categorize themselves as “insiders.” They think of non-members as “outsiders.” Secretly, they categorize non-member fans and supporters as “second class citizens.” In many instances, arrogantly, they even label certain non-member donors as “karnougner” (“sheep” in Armenian). Their corrupt leaders preach, “Give, but don’t meddle in our internal affairs” which really means, “Don’t dare to criticize our (corrupt) way of doing business.”

Just like I have outlined in previous articles, Diaspora is still maintaining the outdated and counter-productive Turkish Ottoman-imposed “Millet” system of internal autonomy.

During Ottoman rule, under the so-called “Millet” system, succeeding despotic Sultans officially ‘recognized’ Armenians as an Ottoman subject faith-based community. Sultans and their viziers covertly and very often overtly appointed their ‘favorite’ religious individual as the ‘leader’ of the Ottoman Armenian “Millet.” Sultan’s functionaries ‘advised’ the hand-picked religious leader to appoint co-opted “Aghas” (“Lords”) as members of the Armenian “National Assembly” (Azkayin Ishkhanoutyoun) hijacking the sacred title of “National Assembly.”

Up until today, the “National Assembly” title unjustly continues to be used. But that’s misleading. Members of the past and current “National Assemblies” have never been voted in by universal suffrage which would justify the title “National.”

In the 19th century, at a time when most European nations along with the United States constituted their National Assemblies – such as a Parliament, a House of Lords, a U.S. Congress, through universal suffrage, Ottoman Armenians were forced to accept their internal “National Assembly” that was handpicked by the Armenian religious leader who very often acted as the Sultan’s proxy.

One would hope that after freeing themselves from Turkish Ottoman yoke, Armenians in dispersion would also free themselves from bad Ottoman habits imposed on them by despotic Turkish rulers – namely the Ottoman-imposed “Millet” system.

I am sad to report that to this day, the dysfunctional Ottoman-imposed “Millet” system is still in existence throughout the Diaspora. It has simply changed hands and degenerated into today’s set of major religious and political dysfunctional organizations.  As a result of the absence of a democratic electoral process, major religious and political dysfunctional organizations’ representatives cannot cooperate as they’re competing.

There is no such framework. There is no Diasporan system that can sustain both cooperation and competition. To Armenia’s and Karabakh’s credit, both states maintain a democratic system (a Parliament) that serves as a structure for both cooperation and competition.

Despite the fact that these dysfunctional organizations claim to be strong, they’re no more than paper tigers. Why? Because of major erosion of healthy-, independent- and impartial-thinking members by way of purging committed by corrupt and co-opted leaders of these organizations.

So going back to the task of comparing democracy in the twin republics of Armenia and Karabakh with the Diaspora, it is safe to say that the Diaspora lags far behind Armenia and Karabakh because of its non-existent democracy!

The current dysfunctional situation has already triggered widespread exodus from several organizations.  Many of these organizations, that used to be vibrant, are rapidly aging. These organizations must be re-energized and repopulated with contingents of youth. Many of these organizations must be saved from themselves.

How to remedy this dire situation that constitutes an existential threat to Diasporan communities?

Establish regional and Diaspora-wide democratically elected representation with sound popular mandates; and empower our elected representatives to steer our nation and its cause toward promising horizons. As a millennia-old people we must re-invent ourselves as a renaissance nation.




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