What was the role of the Armenian Diaspora in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

The Armenian Diaspora is estimated to be around seven million people worldwide and lives in more than 100 countries. However, politically and publicly, the more active groups are in the USA and France.[1] These groups have been actively involved in the process since the outbreak of the conflict and, together with the so-called Armenian Genocide, included the Karabakh issue at the core of their lobbying activities.[2]

Currently, as indicated in the sources, over one million Armenians live in the USA, mainly in California and Massachusetts. This Diaspore group is effectively sourcing suitable opportunities in the country’s political environment. Like other diaspora groups of ethnic minorities in the USA, such as Jewish, Irish, and Greek ones, the Armenian Diaspora benefits from laws that allow them to lobby in favor of interest groups within the country.[3] There are several Armenian Diaspora organizations in the USA. These organizations engage in lobbying in Washington, D.C, notably in the Capitol, to get the “Armenian Genocide” recognized and to establish an advantageous position for the Republic of Armenia regarding the conflict with Azerbaijan. However, the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) is the most effective Armenian Diaspora organization. Generally, it is an accepted notion in academia that diaspora support is crucial for the state’s survival when a homeland is involved in a conflict. Thus, in this regard, the Armenian Diaspora supported the Armenian state in the conflict with financial and weaponry assistance by recruiting additional sources, acting as a platform for propaganda, and lobbying host country governments and international institutions.[4] It is a fact that the diaspora organizarions of Armenia in the USA were Armenia’s primary sources of funding in the conflict.[5] Thus, it was the result of lobbying activities that the Armenian Diaspora succeeded in getting one of the most significant aid budgets allocated by the government of the USA through the Freedom Support Act (FSA) of 1992, targeted financial assistance to newly independent countries of the former Soviet Union for the establishment of democratic institutions and a free market economy.[6]

The Diaspora also supported Armenia in the conflict by supplying weapons and providing fighters from the community so the war could continue.[7] The main achievement of this lobbying by the Armenian Diaspora was getting Section 907 approved, which deprived Azerbaijan of direct US government support via the above-mentioned FSA program.[8] Indeed, Azerbaijan was the only Former Soviet Republic that did not get direct US government financial aid until 2002 due to the perception of the “isolation” of Armenian as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The Armenian Diaspora has also been the primary source of propaganda in favor of Armenia’s position in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It has not restricted its activity only to its host country but has influenced the political structure of Armenia since its independence and played a crucial role in the decision-making process on the conflict. When the diaspora’s position on how the dispute should be resolved was contrary to that of Armenia’s former president, Levon Ter Petrosyan, the president was forced to resign from his post.[9]

Compared to the Armenian Diaspora in the USA, which moved there in the early 1900s, especially after World War I from Turkey and other Middle East countries, the Armenian Diaspora in France has a much longer history of settling in France. Despite preserving its ethnic identity, this diaspora group is highly integrated into French society. It is accepted as one of the active ethnic groups capable of influencing its host country’s foreign policy toward its home state. Thus, in 1988, after the earthquake in Soviet Armenia, the Armenian Diaspora in France was mobilized to send aid and money to Armenia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, mobilization efforts were strengthened, which were not restricted only to providing financial aid but also to gaining political support from the French government for Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[10] Indeed, achieving the recognition of the so-called Armenian Genocide recognized by the French Parliament, despite protests by Turkey, one of France’s partners within NATO, was due to the Armenian Diaspora’s lobbying efforts.[11]

Generally speaking, the Armenian Diaspora was playing a significant role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict since it is capable of influencing the development of the processes. The economic and political role of diaspora organizations, especially the US-based AAA, in Armenian society allows them to be directly involved in the decision-making process for peacebuilding, which has a strict attitude to settling the conflict based on no compromise in the possible “independence.”

[1] Cohen, Robin, Global Diasporas: An Introduction (New York: Rutledge, 2008), p. 53.

[2] Shain, Yossi and Barth, Aharon, “Diasporas and International Relations Theory,” International Organization, Vol. 57, No. 3, 2003, pp. 468-471.

[3] Shain and Barth, “Diasporas and International Relations Theory,” pp. 455-457.

[4] Shain, Yossi, “The Role of Diasporas in Conflict Perpetuation or Resolution,” SAIS Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2002, p. 119.

[5] Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction, p. 57.

[6] Heather, Gregg, “Divided They Conquer: The Success of Armenian Ethnic Lobbies in the United States,” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston Marriott Copley Place, Sheraton Boston & Hynes Convention Center, Boston, Massachusetts, August 28, 2002, p. 36.

[7] De Waal, Thomas, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War (New York University Press, 2003), p. 207.

[8] Heather, “Divided They Conquer,” p. 27.

[9] Shain and Barth, “Diasporas and International Relations Theory,” p. 470.

[10] Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction, p. 55.

[11] “How will Armenian genocide bill affect France-Turkey relations?” CNN, January 24, 2012; https://edition.cnn.com/2012/01/23/world/europe/turkey-france-genocide-bill-q-and-a/. Accessed on December 5, 2022.