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Diaspora 9:1 2000 Elites and Institutions in the Armenian Transnation Khachig Tölölyan Wesleyan University 1. Introduction1 The sun never sets on the Armenian diaspora. Its constituent communities include—in a descending order that reflects population and not cultural, political, or economic importance—communities in Russia (nearly 2 million), the United States (800,000), Georgia (400,000), France (250,000), the Ukraine (150,000), Lebanon (105,000), Iran (ca. 100,000), Syria (70,000), Argentina (60,000), Turkey (60,000), Canada (40,000), and Australia (30,000). There are some twenty other communities with smaller populations, ranging from 25,000 down to 3,000, in Britain, Greece, Germany, Brazil, Sweden, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, the Gulf Emirates, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Romania, Bulgaria, Venezuela, Hungary, Uzbekistan, and Ethiopia. Distinct and heterogeneous as these communities are, three generalizations can be ventured about them and the global diaspora they constitute. First, communal elites, along with the diasporic institutions, organizations, and associations2 they lead, have been unusually important to them for an unusually long time. These institutions and elites have always done work that is simultaneously philanthropic, cultural, and political. This work has required material resources and communal hierarchies, and has combined selfless voluntarism with organized persuasion and socially coerced participation, all in the name of the nation-in-exile. Second, this diaspora is undergoing an accelerating transition from exilic nationalism to diasporic transnationalism. And, third, this transition is challenging the agendas, discourses, and resources of existing institutions, causing changes and occasionally leading to the creation of new organizations. This essay will narrate the Armenian diaspora's shift from exilic nationalism to diasporic transnationalism, both because the change is interesting for its own sake and because it may offer a demonstration of the importance of institutions, elites, and material resources to other conceptualizations of diaspora. To acknowledge that importance entails a rethinking of the place and role of cate107 108 Diaspora 9:1 2000 gories such as leadership, the exercise ofpower, and the mobilizing potential of nationalism, within actual diasporas as well as in the theory of diasporas. In addition, attending to such factors may also inculcate a certain attentiveness to currently neglected categories such as the sedentariness ofdiasporas and the impulse towards reterritorialization , as well as to their political practices. The process of transition in the Armenian diaspora is not synchronized . It began at different times and proceeds at different speeds. Nor are its urgencies felt and responded to uniformly. The factors that influence the pace and shape of the transition in each diaspora community include its past history, its relation to the "host" nation-state in which it is situated, the extent to which transnationalism and globalization penetrate that state, and the material and institutional resources available to each community. Of necessity, this article neglects much of the detail, variety, and texture of the passage out of exilic and into transnational diasporism . Instead, it offers an overview ofsome persistent structures and processes that govern both past and current transformations in the Armenian diaspora. Unfashionably, I will emphasize the role of the communal elites and the institutions they develop in the precarious conditions of diasporic existence. I will argue that organized, institutionally mobilized and sustained connections, combining material and cultural exchange among diasporic communities as well as between the diaspora and the homeland, are key components of a specifically "diasporic" social formation, one that is not only a renamed ethnic group. In the wake ofthe contemporary transformation, which is framed by and within globalization, the Armenian diaspora no longer consists of a series of exile communities, fragments of the nation awaiting real or even symbolic repatriation. Rather, diaspora is, and is regarded by an ever larger majority of its members and of its contentious leadership as, a permanent phenomenon. This global Armenian diaspora is made up of communities that have necessarily and inevitably developed local, host country-specific, "ethnic" features.3 Each is organized, though not to an equal degree, and each develops institutions to address local needs. While largely locally oriented, a few ofthese institutions—religious, philanthropic, political—also retain explicitly transnational agendas and seek to foster shared, multifocal, and therefore properly "diasporic" values, discourses, ideologies, orientations, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 107-136
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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