I have read the book with great interest. My review will be focused on the challenges related to the diaspora, science and education. However, I would like to start by discussing a global challenge – and to overcome this challenge is the highest priority for Armenia.
Our population is dramatically decreasing, approaching the limit below which it is impossible to successfully reproduce ourselves and to pass on our genetic diversity to the next generation. When a particular threshold is crossed, the population degenerates irreversibly and ceases to exist.
A large population has higher potential for bringing into the world more individuals possessing intellectual and spiritual uniqueness, ability for creative thinking, capable of generating innovative ideas and offering novel ways to address challenges. Only a critical mass of such people could generate and maintain the necessary intellectual, creative and spiritual energy in the society, without which reforms are impossible.
Emigration from Armenia is not random in terms of its social and psycho-typical profile. People, who leave their homeland, are confident that they will be quickly able to get their feet back on the ground, solve professional and household problems, and take care of their children’s future. Those who in terms of physical and mental health parameters, generally exceed the average population indicators.
This “brain drain” segment sadly comprises young talented scientists, representatives of creative professions who are in high demand abroad. Over the past decade, all my male graduate students left for the Western countries after defending their scientific dissertations. I did not hinder their departure; I helped them build rewarding careers abroad. Free movement of scientists is the most important stimulus for their professional growth and a necessary factor for the development of global science. Armenia today is just a donor, not a recipient in this process.
Emigration has left a deep scar on the age and gender structure of the Armenian population. A significant portion of migrants are young and unmarried men who go for seasonal work to Russia. Many of them acquire a home and family in a foreign land and do not return to their homeland. The resulting demographic gap makes itself felt by the “freedom of morals” and a disproportionally low birth rate – for the lack of men of marriageable age.
The population, enfeebled in terms of these circumstances, is not able to implement the proposed program of transformations. It is necessary to significantly improve the demographic situation – to attract young talented Armenians from the diaspora, as well as representatives of other nations, for whom Armenia should become a desirable country for living due to a range of amenable characteristics.
What can be offered to young people from other countries that are significantly ahead of Armenia in terms of social and economic development?
First, is a new non-state university that meets high international standards. (The authors of “At the Crossroads” have extensive experience in this field, bearing in mind the UWC Dilijan international school. The apparent success of the project inspires optimism regarding establishment of a similar university in Armenia.) If the idea of such a university comes true, hundreds, and then even thousands of young people from various countries will be staying in Armenia for four to six years or even longer; some of the young people will start families and settle in the country. In addition, young Armenians from abroad will help strengthen Armenia’s ties with the diaspora.
Second, is the establishing of a pan-Armenian foundation to support local scientific teams conducting research at the international level. Armenian foundations located abroad allocate miserly grants to scientists in Armenia and do so very reluctantly. New grants, comparable with national grants in industrialized countries, could become a powerful impetus for productive research groups that would be able to invite foreign postgraduate students and those who have achieved Ph.D. status. Armenian science needs to become part of an international postgraduate education network and participate in the exchange of experts. We have options to offer young people from different countries in several areas of expertise.
The country needs a sensible repatriation strategy (at least a psychological and spiritual repatriation strategy, in cases when physical repatriation does not take place) for bringing back fellow countrymen into the Armenian unity. The recipes should be proposed by experts, since amateurs would only aggravate the situation.
Twenty-five years ago, Armenia and Artsakh supported by the diaspora successfully started “collecting domains” of Armenia. However, after the country became independent, we failed to unite around a nationwide idea. One could condemn the former authorities of Armenia for this, but not only they are to blame for the disastrous result. To entrust the solution of this important task to the state, including present day officials, is extremely naive and an unforgivable error of the intellectual elite of the nation. The Jews, for instance, owe their great sons and daughters, born on different continents, the creation of the ideology of Zionism and the rebirth of Israel.
I am strongly against the term “ghetto” for diaspora-confined groups. It is perceived as painful, since people are most sensitive to it. This term harmfully affects our enfeebled national self-identity. This “labeling” of Armenian immigrants in Russia was recently voiced by an editor at a Russian TV channel, who is our compatriot, and immediately acquired super-negative connotation.
I would hope that the authors will continue their development; gain ardent followers, active supporters and implicit adherents! Otherwise the program will turn into another still-born ‘pie in the sky’ that will frustrate our expectations and further aggravate the crisis in the Armenian world.