John Harker
Chair, Independent Advisory Panel of the Development Corridors Partnership

Having read, with interest and care, the English version of the paper from cover to cover, I first have to congratulate the authors on what is clearly a labour of love, and of scholarship.

The choice of Crossroads as the title of your discussion paper seems very apt, from all sorts of perspectives but particularly in light of the recent political changes in Armenia. Armenia does face challenges and choices, as actors are forced to face realities, and not ignore them, not let inertia triumph.

I must say, I don’t know Armenia well enough to generalize much, but I have spent a life grappling with complex situations, and I have been drawing on my lessons learned as I’ve been studying your paper.

I will offer here a few comments and most of them will relate to points made in the later pages of the paper, which is not to say that I did not find the early ones to be compelling.

For example, just a few paragraphs in you introduce “the very concept of the Armenian nation”, encompassing both those Armenians living in the country today and members of the numerous diasporan communities. And, much later, on page 173, you assert that independent Armenia has not become a focus of vital interest for the Diaspora. Between these two references, much has been said which warrants commentary, and I will turn to this shortly.

I was pleased to note that, on page 8, you refer to the serious crisis in the “world order”, pointing both to the declining trust in global elites, authorities, and key public institutions, and the shifting concept of national identity.

Armenia is not insulated from any of this, of course, and I can well understand your compulsion to stimulate or engender serious discussion of the “horizon of possibilities” facing Armenia.
The Canadian poet Louis Dudek wrote that Canada’s future need not be a dark prospect but a broad horizon of possibilities, and I think your paper should encourage Armenians to think the same of their country.

I won’t comment on Chapter 1, mostly because I knew very little of the history of Armenia, though I now know a lot more!

I gained a useful appreciation of the origins of the various diasporas, and was pleased to see that you ended the chapter with a series of questions. This itself reinforced one conclusion I reached when I had digested the paper as a whole.

It is not a stretch to say it is magisterial, and should be widely read, but it should, I think, also be seen as a primer, a backgrounder to a much shorter prospectus for Armenia’s future, built around your questions.

This is not to say that the thrust of the early chapters is in any way unnecessary. I would argue that in their later school years, Armenian children should encounter this paper, and teachers be encouraged, and trained, to use it as a tool.

I thought about this when I flicked through a book I recently bought for an Armenian friend. It is written by Avedis Hadjian, and its title is Secret Nation: The Hidden Armenians of Turkey.
It contains a few photographs, and the first shows residents in an Armenian village in Sasun, Turkey. It was taken in 1973, and the villagers asked the photographer to advise the Armenian king that there are still Armenians in Sasun.

Apparently, they did not know, as I do now, thanks to Avedis Hadjian, that the last Armenian king, Levon V, was overthrown in 1375!

I was glad to see that you are, in fact, concerned about how the young see things. I note your observation, on page 62, that the young want to see themselves not as victims but as a “victorious nation with a heroic past.”

Yes, perhaps, but hopefully balanced somewhat. Being born and raised in the UK, I find myself these days really regretting that too many Britons of my age think only of a “victorious nation with a heroic past”.

It seems to me that how Armenian children come to know their country, with its history and its diasporas, is vital, and challenging. I note that on page 69 you assert that Armenia is no longer of interest to the majority of diasporan Armenians.

Obviously, I accept this, though I recall that when I first flew from Canada to Armenia via London, I went to the Air Canada lounge, and the agent asked where I was flying to. When I said Yerevan, he said he was Armenian though he was born in Britain and had never been to Armenia. Not uncommon, I guess.

The matter of Diaspora is, of course woven completely through the whole cloth of your stimulating paper.

While appreciating all of the complexities, I have to face my own realities.

Earlier in life, I was much involved in ‘conflict resolution’, and ‘post-conflict reconstruction’—of values, practices, and so on, not roads or buildings.

And I closely followed work being done by the UNDP and other elements of the UN system which suggested that countries with large diasporas were more likely to be re-drawn into conflict than those without.

Another dimension, which may have little to do with Armenia but a lot to do with me, relates to my work, some twenty years ago, on Sudan and its civil war. On behalf of Canada, I led a team to undertake a study of the impact on the war of Canadian oil investments.

On my return, my report was tabled in Parliament and discussed widely across the country. I remember being accosted at one public meeting by diaspora Sudanese who felt I had paid too little attention to their diasporan community or tribe, and too much to some of the others.

So I am of mixed views concerning Diasporas, but I impressed at how you both are focused on all aspects of this Armenian reality.

And this obviously relates to something very necessary to address—your point on page 89 where you say that “Today, it would seem that two different Armenias exist.” I take your point that islets of creative innovation are insufficient for a change in the overall paradigm. But they can impact in ways we might be surprised at.

When I arrived at the university I was to lead, I quickly learned that the prevailing culture, on campus and even more so beyond it, was one of traditional ways, and traditional expectations. I fought against this, often by stealth, and by exhortation. I was often heard to say we had to “Sustain tradition and Foster innovation. I think this gained traction, and led, in turn and time, to a broader commitment to necessary innovation.

I think I recognize your problems, and have, indeed, discussed these issues with Daron Acemoglu, whose “extractive” notion you have built strongly into your paper.

Maybe this is the crux of the matter for Armenia. And for you in your determination to have Armenians share perspectives and make choices for sustainable futures.

I confess, I don’t really know how things worked, or did not, before the ‘Pashinyan Spring’, but I suspect you are more right than you would like to be when you assert, on page 97, that “today’s Armenia appears to be a country detached from the world and withdrawn into itself.”

Actually, the focus on a new kind of nation-state, resident and diasporan, where blockchains and all manner of new technologies might be a force for good, is the necessary one. Though stating it could annoy many people.

You discuss fears and what can be done, admitting that you particularly fear the cultural extermination of Armenia, the triumph of an existing systemic threat.

I was interested in your presentation of the mechanisms that transform a society, concluding that neither revolution nor reform can guarantee prosperity for Armenia, all the while recognizing that prosperity is not enough.

I was interested in seeing that this is what lead to your taking up the presentation by Daron and James of the ‘Glorious Revolution’.

I have always identified with this event but not because of any awareness of ‘extractives’ or ‘elites’. For me, the great achievement of the age was the Mutiny Act of 1689, “Whereas the raising or keeping a Standing Army within this Kingdome in time of Peace unless it be with the consent of Parlyament is against the Law.” A world-first, I think.

But in your situation, different needs must be addressed, as you demonstrate on page 113, asserting that Armenia must connect and unite the Armenian world through a multilateral creative partnership of all its parts. Maybe this is now possible, if these parts understand the need.

You devote much space to the technologies which might enable the transformation, and rightly, through looks at other societies, including Singapore, show readers what might be possible.

Some of this is both salient and appealing. ‘Glocalization’, dealt with on page 131, is one such item. But I wonder if this section could be reduced in size without detracting from the paper as a whole. However, if it is your intention to produce a slimmer “Action Plan”, I withdraw this observation.

If you do produce such a plan, I certainly hope you emphasize the point you make at the foot of page 143, when you ask “How can we integrate the nation and the country into the global environment, where competition is extremely intense and not lose our national identity in the process.” Actually, you will be re-defining it.

This re-definition is clearly important to you, existentially so, witness the passion you have put into page 145, where you urge on your compatriots a shared and optimistic future. This is key to creating a network nation which you describe on page 157.

This, of course, you will all have to build, together. You are right, of course, to stress, as you do on page 149, the principle of maximum inclusion.

I hope that this can be reflected in local meetings as well as elite gatherings, meetings looking at the broad outlines and others focused on the narrow specialities. These can be organized through, delivered by, all kinds of entities, including your own initiatives, and those open to embracing the challenges you have articulated.

And these are rightly understood, in the paper, as platforms, and through them many visions can be aired or expounded. It seems to me essential that the vision of a ‘global network nation’, figures strongly, and this also speaks to the imperative of reaching school-age children, now.
They deserve better than they are getting. I was disturbed by the World Bank picture you resent of page 178, showing how poorly Armenia fares on important indices such as Happiness or Income, indeed, on the Human Development Index reproduced on page 179.

It is right to worry about systemic threats, for sure, but a better deal for today’s children should get their parents exercised, not to mention engaging the children themselves. A children’s strike for climate change AND a rally for Armenia becoming a global network nation!


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