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Armenians in Russia: Why the Biggest Community in the World is Not able to Manage the Assimilation Threat?

Armenians in Russia: Why the Biggest Community in the World is Not able to Manage the Assimilation Threat?

The history of Armenians in Russia dates back more than ten centuries and its pages have the names of representatives of   influential noble-born, public officials, military officials, intellectuals, scientists and philanthropists. To define the role of the Russian Armenians in different spheres of the state, one will have to write a series of books.

However, it was not until fairly recently that the Armenian community became this large (almost 1.5 million people – the seventh largest national community after the Russians, Tatars, Ukrainians, Bashkirs, Chuvashes and Chechens). The biggest influx of population that constitutes the backbone of the current community comes on after the collapse of the Soviet Union: 1990-2000. By and large they were the economic emigrants who left Armenia in search of a better life. 

Shall we say that the biggest influx of migrants to Russia falls on one of the most difficult periods in Armenia: the political and economical blockade of the country after the collapse of the USSR and the war in Nagorno Karabakh plunged the country into darkness, the locals called these years “dark and cold”. There was no electricity, light and heating.

Armenians who moved to Russia during this period were mainly engaged in finding ways to feed their families: they were looking for jobs, building up businesses, investing money in businesses. Indeed currently the Russian Armenians seem to be rather successful layer of the society, especially if we consider the fact how far they have gone in big media and business areas. 

The tendency that comes from the 1990s still persists: traditionally the Russian Armenians prioritize the personal and family welfare, businesses, but not the preservation of national identity: the complex category including both knowledge of language and history and attaching themselves to the Armenian community/organization.    

The illustrative examples of not preserving the Armenian identity include such famous people in Russia as Russian billionaire Sergey Galitskiy (the real last name: Harutyunyan), who took his wife’s last name, the minister of international affairs Sergey Lavrov (real last name: Kalantarov), who considers himself a Russian with roots of Tbilisi Armenians, and the Silver prize winner of the Olympic Games Yevgenia Medvedeva (the real last name Babayan)who took her mother’s last name, because she feels more like  a "Russian". The list can be filled in continuously.

What is it connected with?

First of all it is worth to mention that there is no integral Armenian community on the vast territory of Russia, there are unions in different regions, cities that most often do not co-opt even the tenth of the active Armenian population especially in large cities.  Consequently, the reason for assimilation is in its integrated nature. 

One of the roots of the problems is the image of Armenia engrained in people’s heads, which continues to be a poor, unsuccessful country and accordingly one wants to have as little in common with it as possible. The Armenians have willingly switched into the Russian language and integrated into the Russian society and the decision of those rare Russian Armenians to return to their homeland is perceived with utmost bewilderment by their Armenian relatives and friends.  It is worth to draw parallels of assimilation in "the country of the Third Rome" with the processes of assimilation of Armenians in the Byzantine Empire: the orthodox culture soaked up the Armenians, by gradually erasing their self-identity of Armenians and making them Byzantines, which actually denoted a representative of Greek people.

With each generation the ideological and cultural fundament on which the Armenians away from the homeland may rely on, fades away more and more.   The insecurity of a small country (people) is actively fuelled by the Russian society that refer to Armenians either as "Caucasus natives" or "coreligionists".  Consequently one of the ways to adapt in the society, where the Armenians live, is ascribing themselves to the "macro societies" of Caucasians and Christians, and no wonder that the amount of intermarriages grows at an exponential rate.  In such families as a rule the priority is given to the Russian as a language of interethnic communication and a local lifestyle that inevitably leads to assimilation. According to the enquiries conducted by "Kamourge" team among Armenians in Moscow and Sochi, 48% of Armenians support the intermarriages, which is significantly higher when compared to other minorities of Russia.  The Russian society being close in conception and perception easily assimilates the Armenians, which may be also reckoned as a genocide, only it is done bloodless and on voluntarily basis. 

The Armenian population in the southern regions of Russia (Northern Caucasus Republics, Krasnodar and Stavropol regions, Rostov region and etc.)despite its close territorial disposition to Armenia, distances itself from Armenia more and more.   For example, the Armenians living by the Black Sea in Krasnodar Region affiliate themselves to the Russian Orthodox Church and live as per its canons.   So, Armenia celebrates holidays one day and the Armenians in the South of Russia celebrate them a different day.   And this is only one of the examples of cultural assimilation.  Also the youth has a very weak knowledge of literary Armenian language which means that people cannot read in their native language and follow the Armenian mass media.

Assimilation contributes to the lack of vibrant, competitive cultural life.  Yes, a huge number of events and concerts are held, however the most popular and major ones are the performances of Armenian show business singers, that intrigue certain groups of Armenians in Russia, and the intelligent sector of the society despises and refuses the low quality music. This situation is mostly due to the modern music industry of Armenia where the quantity has gained upon the quality long time ago. Consequently, the Republic of Armenia does not stand out as a high quality cultural orienting point:  the Russian Armenians are left to themselves when it comes to the Armenian culture and orient themselves on their own rough ideas of what Armenian culture is and what is needed to preserve the Armenian identity.  It is worth to mention that the image of Armenians formed on the territory of Russia also exerts resentment of a large stratum, that are tired of stereotype jokes about barbeques and funny accents. It turns out that the amount of Armenians in the mass media does not reflect upon the quality of presenting the Armenians.

All these problems are wound up by the poor organization of community structures: dozens of organizations and minimum efficiency.   They are either headed by businessmen of Soviet generation (e.g. Union of Armenians of Russia) that hold the position for many years and are not able to give solutions to strategically important tasks and create semblance of activities, or by the group of students (e.g. Association of Armenian Youth of Moscow), who has to implement activities on free-will principles, without funding, which will affect the quality and the productivity of the implemented activities. Very often these organizations do not unite anyone but their founders and their relatives and friends. Practically all the organizations lack professionals, who can undertake the activities in a professional manner. In view of lack of systematic work there are many fundamental “holes” that impede the organizations and communities to develop productively.  

The assimilation process started long time ago and it is a big one and hard to keep up with and in this case to preserve the Armenian community in Russia we should rely not on the quantitative majority but on the high-quality minority. The Armenians of Russia and the future generation will have a chance to prevent the danger of extinction, if they manage to develop in Russia not only a union based exclusively on enthusiasm and patriotic feelings but a serious organization with professionals, where the priority is the culture, education and also the Armenian businessmen support with the financing by providing the members of organization with freedom in their activities within the limits of their knowledge and professionalism. If adhering to these terms, it will become possible to see vibrant and dynamic community that attracts and unites people who are not indifferent to their ancestry and descent. 

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