BY NORA VOSBIGIAN
Vahagn Vardanyan is a dynamic political geographer who teaches at Han Academy in Hong Kong and holds a senior leadership position there. Working with Armenian communities for nearly two decades in Singapore, Hong Kong, Kolkata, and especially Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth, he has introduced a whole new perspective – even language – in Armenia and Diaspora Studies. Furthermore, in a more practical mode, he has applied his knowledge and worked with Armenian authorities to pave a new avenue in Armenia’s relations with diasporan communities.
One of the critical concepts Vardanyan introduces in his new book, “National Identity, Diaspora, and Space of Belonging” (Gomidas Institute, 2021), is the definition of diasporan Armenians as a group of people who share a critical notion of “diaspora return” in their everyday lives. These are people who relate to modern Armenia as an actual or surrogate homeland: Many visit Armenia, some move there, but most relate to it symbolically in their everyday lives. They care about Armenia. This defining characteristic excludes Armenian non-diasporan “ethnies,” that is, people who are ethnic Armenians who live their lives outside Armenia with no reference to a homeland.
Vardanyan then makes the two-fold case for engaging diasporan Armenians, as he defines them, in an informed and sympathetic manner to strengthen both the Armenian homeland and diaspora communities. He makes practical suggestions and advocates major changes for Armenia to become more accommodating and inclusive of diasporan Armenians. As the second side of the inclusion, Vardanyan calls for setting a strategy to transform non-diasporan ‘ethnies’ into diasporans.
Over the years, Vardanyan has written on these issues, usually in the Armenian popular press. He has also liaised with Armenian authorities to nurture Armenian national identity, both in Armenia and the diaspora.
Vardanyan’s work is bold and to the point. It deserves proper engagement and reflection.
Bibliodetails: Vahagn Vardanyan, National Identity, Diaspora, and Space of Belonging – An Armenian Perspective, London: Gomidas Institute, 2021, viii + 266 pp, maps, tables, illust, ISBN 978-1-909382-69-5, pb., UK£25.00/US$30.00. For more information contact [email protected] or visit www.gomidas.org/books