Alan Whitehorn
Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science and Economics, Royal Military College of Canada

Armenia is indeed at a crucial crossroad. Old paradigms and assumptions are insufficient. What is needed is a major rethinking, with many prevailing assumptions questioned. Ruben Vardanyan’s and Nune Alekyan’s “At the Crossroads” provides a critical and constructive analysis and invites frank feedback.

The manuscript’s five chapters seek to explore Armenia’s past, present and future. While the goal is a prescription for the future, significant attention is paid to Armenian history as a crossroads nation.  

The review of the global literature on development is an important aspect of this manuscript. The authors recognize that a sound understanding of the complex concept of development is key to future prognosis. However, the manuscript is much stronger on economic analysis than on sociological and political development. This is a significant issue since the multidimensional aspects of development are very much also linked to social and political factors and measures.  

What is particularly striking about this manuscript to a senior North American academic is its insufficiently addressing of the key issue of gender. In many ways, much of Eastern Europe and Armenia are lagging on awareness of and citation of a feminist framework which is crucial given the key role of women to overall development. In fact, literacy rates of women is one of the strongest overall indicators of multi-dimensional development. This is in part due to the pivotal role of women in the socialization of the next generation of any society, the key place of women for up to half of the economic (both unpaid and paid) labour force and in contributing to a more equal distribution of literacy in a society. It is also germane for democratic theory. 

History in some ways (e.g. rise and fall of empires) is cyclical, but for the most part it is not. The technological revolution, modernization revolution, global urbanization, migration, etc. are not cyclical, but more linear than not. Of course, wars, depression, and disease can reverse past changes and gains. But out of WW I came the League of Nations, out of WW II came the United Nations, and these are historic and revolutionary political changes in global governance.  

Armenia’s links to Russia, Iran and Europe are key and worthy of more discussion. Given the ostracism of Islamic Iran in recent decades, its Christian neighbour of Armenia can be a networking locale for the West and Iran to engage in deep and careful dialogue. It is easier for Iranians to visit and spend a few days at workshops in Armenia than in many countries in North America and Western Europe. We should explore this important avenue of respectful, quiet dialogue for the sake of peace in the region and the world.  

On the question of having to choose alliances between Russia, Europe and Iran, the manuscript tends at times to zero-sum game thinking. Certainly Russia and the United States historically saw the Cold War in such conflictual terms. However, with détente in the nuclear age came the realization that there could be in selected, but important areas, a plus-sum game. Nuclear non-proliferation agreements were one set of such examples. Armenia should try to reassure Moscow that greater trade and contacts with Europe and Iran can help make Armenia a more economically and technologically dynamic society. Such a situation could also be of benefit to Russia, in that Armenia would not be in need of continuing long-term financial aid from Russia, but could instead be a stronger economic partner. The high rates of literacy in Armenia mean it could once again be more of a centre of high tech industry that would be of benefit to many. 

Of necessity, many in the Diaspora are exposed to other, larger cultures. By comparison, how diverse are the experiences within the Republic? It might be useful to do a comparative survey of Armenians in several of the larger Diaspora locations and the Republic regarding attitudes to other cultures, peoples and differences, particularly as they relate to tolerance and acceptance. On the gender issue, for example, there seems to be a considerable gulf between North American norms and views in the Republic. If dialogue is to occur within the complex and varied global Armenian nation, we need to know what attitudes we share (e.g. remembering the Genocide) vs on what we differ. Given the difference in per capita income of North American Armenians vs. those in the Republic, we would expect that Armenians would differ on materialist vs post-materialist values for obvious reasons looking at a hierarchy of needs fulfillment.  

One million Armenians have left the Republic over the last quarter century and this depopulation crisis constitutes a slow death. Can emigration and overseas assimilation be reversed? The dangers of a nation’s declining population raises the question of survival and need for new immigration. To accept more and diverse immigrants does potentially alter what it means to be Armenian. In so doing, it would transform Armenia from a relatively closed nationalism defined by race and ethnicity to a more open nationalism defined by living in the country and embracing the Armenian language and values. Armenians are increasingly citizens of more than one state is an important existential fact and worth exploring what it means for identity, loyalty and commitments. This is even more so for their children.  

Conceptually, the closed vs open approach to nationalism are central to the question of what traits make someone an Armenian. Is it blood lines, religion, language, race, or something else such as shared values? Stated bluntly, it may be implausible for Armenia to survive as a viable nation, if it defines itself in the future in narrow closed nationalism terms.  

The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative was a brilliant long range philanthropic vision. If funding and intellectual support continues, its role and profile will increase. The victims of an earlier genocide become the beacons of hope and assistance for today’s and tomorrow’s victims. This international project has captured the imagination of many in the world. We have a responsibility to pass on the good deeds elsewhere in the world. 


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