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August 6, 2010


Yerevan—The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) convened a special two-day “ACNIS Youth Forum” on August 5 and 6, 2010. The first in a series of monthly events devoted to critical issues from a perspective of Armenian youth, this Youth Forum focused on Armenia-Diaspora issues, with several presentations by ACNIS summer interns and volunteers.  The two-day Youth Forum comprised over fifty participants, including representatives from the Armenian parliament, the Diaspora Ministry and several diasporan organizations.

The first day of the two-day Youth Forum, on Thursday, August 5, was opened by ACNIS Director Richard Giragosian, who welcomed the participants and explained that “this is the first of several monthly events at ACNIS that will address issues of significance to Armenia’s youth, with a separate Youth Forum planned for every month focusing on a different topic of interest.”

Giragosian explained that “the basic goal of this new Youth Forum series is to provide a platform for students, activists and other Armenian youth to engage in a positive and constructive discussion and concrete debate of the many important issues facing youth in Armenia and the diaspora today.”  He went on to explain that “unlike other events at ACNIS, the Youth Forum concept is designed to empower and inspire youth, without any formal presentations by experts or officials, but gives a voice to the youth themselves.”

The opening day of the two-day Youth Forum began with a detailed presentation by Ani Poghosyan focusing on the diaspora and the Armenian Constitution.  Poghosyan analyzed the official state view of the diaspora, as reflected by the Armenian constitution, other state-related documents and within the context of dual citizenship.  Most notably, Poghosyan explained that “according to the Armenian constitution, there is a direct reference to the Armenian people, which is an important distinction between the state and the nation.”  This point, Poghosyan added, “reflects the unique position of the Armenian nation, comprised of both the population of the Republic of Armenia and the global diaspora.”

Poghosyan concluded by “calling on the Armenian state, as well as the diaspora, to do more to bridge the divide between country and nation and to take concrete steps to build a closer and more sincere relationship between the Republic of Armenia and the diaspora.”

The second presentation of the first day was by Heghine Nazaryan, who spoke about the relationship between Armenian Culture and the Diaspora.  According to Nazaryan, the “shared perception of Armenian culture both by local and diaspora Armenians mostly coincide in the spheres like folk dance, music, food, craft, in some terms language, etc. that reflect a historical-territorial heritage.”  She went on to day that despite the shared heritage of culture, “what seems to be the major tie connecting all Armenians from all over the world is not the united celebration of Christmas, Independence Day, or other holidays, but the Armenian Genocide recognition issue.”

For Nazaryan, the challenge to “keeping our national identity and passing it onto generations to come” depends on the need “to filter” Armenian culture, by “finding the basic cultural values that determine our identity and give up those which not only keep us back from development but also move us away from our Armenian culture itself.”  She continued to add that such a process could not be accomplished “one-sidedly, but through united efforts and the frequent exchange programs,” concluding that although on the whole, the Republic of Armenia is not the birthplace of most Armenians but it is theirs, and it is our common place to build by common efforts the state our ancestors we all have dreamed about.”

Conditions facing Armenians living and working in Turkey was the third presentation, with Lilit Pepanyan provided an analysis of the defining characteristics of the traders, tourists, and both the legal and illegal workers from Armenia in Turkey.  Pepanyan stressed three main problems facing Armenian citizens in Turkey.  First, she assessed the problem of “human trafficking,” which she defined as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion.”  She noted that “in many cases, Armenian girls were victimized by criminal elements even in Armenia, who tricked them into going to Turkey for imaginary jobs.”

A second challenges for Armenians in Turkey Pepanyan noted was “the Turkish labor market, which limited opportunities for Armenians to jobs as domestic servants, nursemaids or baby-sitters, without adequate social benefits or protection.”  And third, she said that “citizenship is a big problem for Armenians in Turkey, specifically in cases where a child of an Armenian couple is born in Turkey, the parents can not apply for the citizenship for their child, making the child vulnerable because of a lack of ether Turkish or Armenian documents.”

The final presentation of the fist day was by Daron Bedrosyan, who provided a comprehensive overview of the Armenian Community of Canada, tracing its evolution and detailing the differences among the various elements of the Canadian-Armenian diaspora.  Bedrosyan noted that “the roughly 100,000 Armenians living in Canada today are primarily located in Toronto (40,000) and Montreal (30,000), with each of those communities largely consisting of Armenians originally from Western Armenia, including Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.”

Bedrosyan also cited the fact that “Canada initially opposed Armenian immigration in the early 1900’s, when Armenians were incorrectly classified as Asiatics.”  This changed, however, in 1923 in what became known as ‘Canada’s Notable Experiment,’ involving the so-called ‘Georgetown Boys,’ who were a group of some 50 orphans from the Armenian Genocide that were warmly by Canada in the wake of the genocide.”  He then traced the “political evolution of the Canadian-Armenian community, detailing the building of Armenian institutions in the communities aimed at maintaining Armenian identity and the more recent efforts to establish direct links with the Republic of Armenia.”

Following the four presentations, the first day of the Youth Forum closed with a lively series of questions and a general discussion of the different topics covered during the course of the forum.

The second day of the Youth Forum reconvened on Friday, August 6, with additional guests from the diaspora and ACNIS founder Raffi K. Hovannisian joining the fifty participants.  Welcoming the participants and guests to the second day, ACNIS Director Richard Giragosian explained that “the first day of our Youth Forum provided an impressive assessment of a wide range of critical issues related to the Armenian diaspora and its relationship with the Republic of Armenia.”

Giragosian added that “this second day will continue this work from a youth perspective, but we should also strive to come up with specific policy recommendations for both the Armenian government and the diasporan organizations and try to combine the critical thinking with the positive new ideas from this youth forum in order to bring the diaspora and Armenia even closer together.”

The final day of the Youth Forum featured another four presentations by ACNIS interns and volunteers.  Starting with two related presentations, Mikael Matossian and Nina Dangourian assessed the Armenian-American community, followed by a presentation on the Armenian-American political advocacy and lobbying groups by Sona Tadevosyan.

In their presentation, Matossian and Dangourian offered an interesting overview of the different components of the Armenian-American communities, including a look at the differences as well as the similarities.  As both speakers were from the United States, with Nina Dangourian a law student in California and Mikael Matossian a student at an Armenian high school in Los Angeles, the joint presentation offered a first-hand look at “the complexity of identity” among the Armenian-American component of the diaspora.

The third speaker of the day, Armine Galstyan, offered a unique look at the Armenians in Turkey, as a follow-up to a related presentation on the previous day.  Galstyan added new insight into “the difficulties facing the Armenian community in Turkey but noted their key role in maintaining their historic and significant place within the broader Armenian nation.”

The fourth and final presentation on the second day of the Youth Forum featured an analysis of the Armenian communities in Russia by Asya Malamyan, who detailed the “economic importance of the Russian-Armenians, as well as their growing but still secondary political activities.”  She also spoke of the “role of some of the more famous and well-known figures within the Armenian communities in Russia.”

Following the presentations, participants and guests engaged in a constructive discussion and worked on preparing a set of preliminary recommendations.  ACNIS founder Raffi K. Hovannisian also addressed the participants, drawing attention to the fact that “while the presentations each offered an insightful snapshot of various aspects of the diaspora, it is important to note that the diaspora itself is highly complex and is very much a dynamic, not static entity.”

ACNIS Director Richard Giragosian closed the Youth Forum by thanking each of the presenters and participants and reminded everyone that “this special two-day event was similar to several such activities at ACNIS that address issues of significance to Armenia’s youth, with a separate Youth Forum planned for every month focusing on a different topic of interest in order to provide an effective platform for youth.”

Giragosian added that the next Youth Forum, scheduled for September, will focus on “Civic, Political and Environmental Activism.”  The October Youth Forum is set to examine “Armenian-Turkish Issues,” timed with the one-year anniversary of the Armenian-Turkish Protocols, while the November Youth Forum will address “Economics & Business.”  The last Youth Forum for 2010, set for December, will center on “Issues of Armenian National Security.”  Giragosian then closed by saying that “each Youth Forum was designed to broaden the knowledge and deepen the experience of youth in Armenia across a broad range of critical issues facing Armenia today.”

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) is a leading independent strategic research center located in Yerevan, Armenia.  As an independent, objective institution committed to conducting professional policy research and analysis, ACNIS strives to raise the level of public debate and seeks to broaden public engagement in the public policy process, as well as fostering greater and more inclusive public knowledge. Founded in 1994, ACNIS is the institutional initiative of Raffi K. Hovannisian, Armenia’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Over the past fifteen years, ACNIS has acquired a prominent reputation as a primary source of professional independent research and analysis covering a wide range of national and international policy issues.

For further information on the Center call (37410) 52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (37410) 52-48-46; email root@acnis.am or info@acnis.am; or visit www.acnis.am.

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