Notes from the Armenian Town Hall Meeting
9 February 2017 – London School of Economics
The Town Hall Meeting was instigated by the Armenian Institute to discuss challenges facing Armenians and Armenia today. The goal was to find viable ways to come together, provide an opportunity to connect, consider possibilities and inspire action together. The evening was organised and moderated by Dr. Armine Ishkanian and Dr. Susan Pattie.
The objectives of the Town Hall meeting were:
- To be an inclusive and participatory space for discussion
- To raise awareness of existing projects and initiatives
- To share experiences, good practices, and lessons learned
To explore ways of connecting and harmonising existing and future approaches
We hope this will be the first of a series, each building on the other.
Armine Ishkanian welcomed those attending and noted that this forum aims to discuss contemporary situations in Armenia, relations between the diaspora and Armenia and the future of each/both. This forum takes a bottom-up approach rather than focusing on community elites as we hear common refrains of Armenians within both the diaspora and in Armenia with people saying they feel they are not being heard. This is an attempt to draw in more diverse voices, opening up the discussion. Susan Pattie added that the evening would be split in two halves, one hour devoted to how we might support and encourage a vibrant diaspora and the second hour dedicated to a discussion of useful and long-lasting ways to contribute to improvement of life in Armenia. She and Ishkanian would introduce each half with a 5-minute outline.
Summary of Presentation by Dr. Susan Pattie
Diaspora, Diversity, Connection
In her talk, Pattie spoke briefly about concepts and realities of diaspora, noting that the original homelands were not homogenous, nor should we expect today’s Armenia or the diaspora to be. She urged the participants to explore our connections – discuss our shared “master narrative”, share memories but also consider our visions of the future. She asked, “How will we create that together? How are the stories passed between generations as our “local” contexts change radically?” Pattie argued that we should not be afraid of cultural regeneration, creation and elaboration and she characterised the diaspora as a different kind of “social capital” which can provide options and resources for people in trouble or transition. She posed several questions to kick start the discussion. These were as follows:
- Is the diaspora simply a support system for the State? How do we support the diaspora(s)?
- How does the diaspora regenerate itself, accommodate change and attract new generations?
- What does it mean to share identity? Does it have to be identical with all Armenians everywhere?
- How does the “master narrative” change and get passed on?
- How is diversity and creativity supported as essential to growth and strength?
CLICK HERE for summary of discussion points
Summary of Presentation by Prof. Armine Ishkanian
Challenges facing Armenia
In the second presentation, Ishkanian discussed four interconnected challenges: national security, demography, socio-economic development and governance. Primarily focusing on the latter three, she discussed how high rates of poverty, inequality (of incomes, gender, etc.), coupled with high rates of corruption and the absence of rule of law in Armenia are impeding the country’s development. She identified the risks of the demographic decline and emigration from both a social as well as political/national security perspective. She argued that while Armenia has signed up to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, it remains unclear how, without significant changes in socio-economic policies and governance, these goals are to be achieved. She ended by posing several questions to the audience including:
- Where Armenians want to be in 10, 50, or 100 years?
- What is stopping us from getting there?
- What steps can be taken (and by whom) to get there?
CLICK HERE for summary of discussion points
The lively discussion ended at 21:00. While many challenges and difficulties were discussed in the previous two hours, many of those present agree that there is some room for optimism. One of the areas of optimism was that a more active civil society was emerging in Armenia and that young people in particular were becoming more aware of their rights and also that young people in Armenia and the diaspora were connecting with each other.
As the evening drew to a close, several people mentioned that they would like to continue these kinds of discussions. The participatory and inclusive format was truly appreciated by all those present.
Prof. Armine Ishkanian, an Associate Professor and Programme Director of the MSc in Social Policy & Development at the London School of Economics. Her research examines the relationship between civil society, democracy, development and social transformation. She has published numerous peer reviewed academic articles on Armenia and is the author of two books, including Democracy Building and Civil Society in Armenia (2008).
Dr. Susan Pattie is an Honorary Senior Research Associate at University College London and former Director of the Armenian Institute. Currently Program Manager for Engaging Refugee Narratives (UCL), she has served as Director of the Armenian Museum of America and Program Manager of the National Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial (Washington, DC). Her many publications include Faith in History: Armenians Rebuilding Community and a children’s book, Who Are the Armenians?.