What is the role of the Armenian Diaspora in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

The Armenian Diaspora is estimated to number around seven million people worldwide, but the more politically and publicly active groups are in the USA and France.[1] These have been actively involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from the beginning, and together with the so-called Armenian Genocide, have included this issue in the core of their lobbying activities.[2]

The Armenian Diaspora in the USA is very effective in sourcing suitable opportunities in the country’s political environment. There are estimated to be over one million Armenians in the USA, most of them living in California and Massachusetts. Like diasporas of other ethnic groups in America, such as the Jewish, Irish and Greek ones, the Armenian Diaspora benefits from laws that allow lobbying in favor of interesting groups.[3] There are a number of Armenian Diaspora organizations that engage in lobbying in Washington, D.C, notably in the Capitol to get the “Armenian Genocide” recognized and to establish a position that is advantageous to the Republic of Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, the most effective Armenian Diaspora organization is the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA). Generally, when a homeland is involved in a conflict, diaspora support is a crucial factor in the survival of the state. The Armenian Diaspora supports the Armenian state in the conflict with financial and weaponry assistance and by recruiting additional sources, acting as a platform for propaganda, and lobbying host country governments and international institutions.[4] It is a fact that the Armenian Diaspora in the USA was Armenia’s main source of funding in the conflict.[5] Moreover, it was by lobbying that the Diaspora succeeded in getting one of the biggest aid budgets allocated by the US government through its Freedom Support Act (FSA), which targeted financial assistance to newly independent states of the former Soviet Union for the establishment of democratic institutions and a free market economy.[6] The Diaspora also supported Armenia in the conflict by supplying weapons and providing fighters from the community so the war could continue.[7] The main achievement of this lobbying by the Armenian Diaspora was getting Section 907 approved, which deprived Azerbaijan of direct US government support via the FSA program.[8] Indeed, Azerbaijan was the only Former Soviet Republic due to the perception on the “isolation” of Armenian as result of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, didn’t get direct US government financial aid till 2002.

The Armenian Diaspora has also been the major source of propaganda in favor of Armenia’s position in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It has not restricted its activity only to its host country, but has influenced the political structure of Armenia since its independence and played a crucial role in the decision-making process on the conflict. When the diaspora’s position on how the dispute should be resolved was contrary to that of Armenia’s former president, Levon Ter Petrosiyan, the president was forced to resign from his post.[9]

The Armenian Diaspora in France has been established for a much longer time than its counterpart in America, which moved to the USA from Turkey and other Middle East countries in the early 1900s, notably during and after WWI. The Armenian Diaspora in France, despite preserving its ethnic identity, is highly integrated into French society and is accepted as one of the active ethnic groups that is capable of influencing its host country’s foreign policy toward its home state. In 1988, after the earthquake in Soviet Armenia, the Armenian Diaspora in France was mobilized to send aid and money to Armenia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, mobilization efforts were strengthened and were not restricted only to providing financial aid but also to gaining political support from the French government for Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[10] Indeed, getting the so-called Armenian Genocide recognized by the French Parliament, despite protests by Turkey, one of France’s NATO partners was obviously achieved due to the Armenian Diaspora’s lobbying efforts in the country.[11]

It is clear that the Armenian Diaspora plays a very important role, since it is capable of influencing the conflict regulation process. This major economic and political role in Armenian society allows diaspora organizations, especially the US-based AAA, to be directly involved in the decision-making process for peace building. The Diaspora has a strict attitude to settling the conflict, one based on no compromise in the possible “independence” of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

[1] Cohen, Robin, Global Diasporas: An Introduction (New York: Rutledge, 2008), p. 53.

[2] Shain, Yossi and Barth, Aharon, “Diasporas and International Relations Theory”, International Organization, Vol. 57, No. 3, 2003, pp. 468-471.

[3] Shain and Barth, “Diasporas and International Relations Theory”, pp. 455-457.

[4] Shain, Yossi, “The Role of Diasporas in Conflict Perpetuation or Resolution”, SAIS Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2002, p. 109.

[5] Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction, p. 57.

[6] Heather, Gregg, “Divided They Conquer: The Success of Armenian Ethnic Lobbies in the United States” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston Marriott Copley Place, Sheraton Boston & Hynes Convention Center, Boston, Massachusetts, Aug 28, 2002, p. 36.

[7] De Waal, Thomas, Black Garden (New York University Press, 2003), p. 207.

[8] Heather. “Divided They Conquer”, p. 27.

[9] Shain and Barth, “Diasporas and International Relations Theory”, p. 470.

[10] Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction, p. 55.

[11] “How will Armenian genocide bill affect France-Turkey relations?”, CNN, January 24, 2012; https://edition.cnn.com/2012/01/23/world/europe/turkey-france-genocide-bill-q-and-a/. Accessed on October 5, 2020.