Armenians around the World: Migration and Transnationality

by Artur Mkrtichyan (Volume editor)
©2015 Conference proceedings 280 Pages


This volume explores Armenian migration around the world, including the interrelation between domestic communities in Armenia and Armenian communities elsewhere. It takes a close look at the motivation to migrate and the specifics of Armenian communities in different EU countries and the United States. Authors from Armenia, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, and the US use various approaches to the subject such as case-study, in-depth interviews, surveys, comparative and network analysis, as well as migration and transnationalism theories. The collection offers new insights into local Armenian community structure, lifestyle, communication and adaptation, social, economic and gender aspects of migration.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Towards the New Armenian Networks: Theoretical Considerations
  • Armenian Transnationalism: On Some Features of Ethnic Identity Transformation in Transnational Migration Networks
  • Some Aspects of Functioning of the Armenian Migratory Networks (On the Study of Local Communities in Armenian Regions)
  • Local Manifestation of Transnationality in Current Armenian (RA) Village Communities
  • Everyday Life and Practices of Armenian Migrants in the Host Countries
  • Studying Transnational Lifestyles: Transnational Social Fields of Second Generation Armenians in Germany
  • Narrations of “Here” and “There” – Contradictions and Continuities in Identity Constructions of An Armenian-Yezidi Refugee in Germany. An Intersectional Case Analysis
  • Armenians in Connecticut: Oral History, The Long Shadow of Genocide, and The Building of Community
  • Armenian Emigration to Italy
  • The Social And Cultural Relations Between The Armenian Community of Romania and The Republic of Armenia in the Early 2000s
  • The Impact of Male Labour Migration on Women and Households in Rural Armenia
  • Armenian Labour Migration as a Phenomenon of Social Integration
  • Circular Migration: Normative and Positive View on Labour Migrants Returning to Armenia
  • Return Migration to Armenia: Lessons Learnt, Priorities and Contemporary Challenges
  • Migration Risks Influence on Human Capital Reproduction in Armenia
  • Gender Aspects of Migration Processes in Armenia: an Integrative Approach

← 10 | 11 → Artur Mkrtichyan

Professor, Dean of Faculty of Sociology, Yerevan State University

Towards the New Armenian Networks: Theoretical Considerations

The article discusses theoretical approaches to transnationalism as well as to social networks constructed on the national basis and in the certain stage of development including wider extranational space. Theoretical considerations are applied for analysis of Armenian networks around the world.

Deterritorialization and ethnonationality

Widespread estrangement occurs since, under the influence of the current world order, functional differentiations act merely as transmitters of function in our social systems. Yet to have meaning and value, functional differentiation itself needs a point of fixation to anchor itself to. For this reason, some kind of symbolic construct of a collective is needed to serve as a basis for the integrity of any functionally differentiated society. With the rise of a national identity comes a simultaneous coordination of functional identification processes, allowing for the possibility to overcome feelings of estrangement. Through the self-description of modern states as nations, universal estrangement becomes obscured, since the existence of individual and functional differences are compensated for and abolished by the ideology of common national interests. Hence, modern nations act as semantic points of fixation in the world system (Hahn, 1998, p. 178).

The modern political order of the “world system” (Wallerstein, 1974) is based on the principle of sovereignty of the nation-state. This principle presupposes the popular identification of the terms “nation,” “society,” and “territory.” Traditionally, the concept of territoriality became central when defining ‘nation’ itself, as all other attributes (language, common culture, psychological structure, joint economic activity, etc.) were considered secondary in reference to territoriality. That is, the other attributes were considered derivative and tied to specific territories, and thus viewed primarily as descriptions of a territorial community, rather than a nation itself. Hence, the endorsed definition of national sovereignty as state-territorial sovereignty views political organization of a nation as something that is realized within the physical boundaries of its own territory. ← 11 | 12 → Consequently, it appears that national society is defined by physical, territorial boundaries within which national (i.e. state) sovereignty is established.

Today, unprecedented socio-cultural progress has elevated the level of national identity of ethnic groups. Additionally, increasing world migration processes have functioned to question the meaning of territory as a primary defining factor of a nation. Territoriality is an indispensable attribute of a nation, but its component, the parametrical dominant level social system is communicative. Increasingly, ethnic groups understand their identity primarily based on communicative factors, through ethno-culturally emphasized phenomenon that constitute an ethnonationality (Mkrtichyan, 2003, pp. 112-113). Here, the contradiction lies between the communicative-borderless society and functionally-locally restricted society. In other words, ethnonational identity contradicts with the old, state-political definition of national identity.

In the modern condition, the deterritorialization of culture and the formation of global migration flows, alongside the advent of new information technologies and modern means of transportation, allow for activities on a global scale, resulting in the replacement of territorial nationalism with ethno-cultural nationalism. Migrants push the social boundaries of ethno-cultural systems far beyond the physical borders of nations. On the basis of cultural identification and ethno-national loyalty, new diasporas and “global ethnic spaces” (Appadurai, 1998) emerge, giving a new order to the world system. Thus, ethnic culture begins to function globally and provides group solidarity regardless of territorial distance.

Since national boundaries are socially constructed and depend on specific historical circumstances, they are, in principle, changeable. If they are changeable, both their form and content (which impacts form) are subject to change. Some essential attributes (for example, territoriality) could therefore cease to exist. Consequently, the social system of a nation society does not necessarily coincide with the territorial borders of a nation.

Therefore, a nation can identify itself as a world nation, which has occurred in the case of Armenians. The actualization of such self-identification stems from the current migration situation in Armenia. Armenians function on the basis of global ethnonationality, which serves the group as a new form of national self-organization (Mkrtichyan, 2004). Constantly being interwoven with cultural memory, ethno-nationality provides social coherence and allows for the formation of physical groups of new Armenian diaspora, who keep ties with the homeland. The continuous communicative practices of self-observation and differentiation from other groups lead to the self-identification of Armenians as a small world nation that has fractal social boundaries. Armenian identity is thus manifested as a symbol constructed during the historical process of tradition ← 12 | 13 → formation that, regardless of its physical location, remains stable in relation to its ever changing content. Through this, the nation is capable of stabilizing itself within symbolic cultural boundaries.

Disrupted cohesion

Ethno-cultural stability correlates with the instability of post-soviet transitional processes in the Republic of Armenia. Since the 90s, Armenian society has been characterized by a predominance of systemic and functional uncertainty. As a result, temporal differences were established between the levels of differentiation of functional sub-systems of society. We can characterize these processes of system differentiation with the term “unequal differentiation” (Mkrtichyan, 2013, pp. 15-23).

Unequal differentiation, in particular, explains the uncertainty of intra-system social processes, in which new functional contradictions cause different types of conflicts. With the establishment of essentially new socio-cultural objectives (for example, financial success), the generally accepted former soviet system of norms and behavior patterns lost its effectiveness; group solidarity and social ties which had acted as the basis of individual identity started to weaken and, due to the weakening of collective control, the scale of deviant behavior increased. As a result of the functional contradiction between the present needs and the real opportunities to meet them, normative conflict (anomie) (Merton, 1968, pp. 186-193) transpired in the cultural structure of the society since citizens could not meet culturally prescribed objectives through institutional means.

On the other hand, pseudo-competition occurs in Armenian society. Symbolic quasi-competition exists in the form of continuously increasing demonstrative consumption, which serves as evidence of financial success. However, the new social order, as a rule, is established not under circumstances of competition for limited resources, but under circumstances in which there is an abundance of resources. When such new ways of thinking clash with former ways of thinking, it becomes clear that it is necessary for such social rules to be compatible with reality in order for actualization of social rules to occur. Currently, Armenia faces a clash between old social rules, new social rules, and the reality of the social and economic landscape.

Certainly, traditions and social norms, which are nothing but repetitive applications of communication rules1, are changeable. Channeling of new information ← 13 | 14 → operates based on already existent information and the rules by which information is generated. Unlike already established components, the new components of a socio-cultural system are more predisposed to change and evolution since they are not linked to the in-place system as rigidly and are subject to more variation. For new components, the possibilities of change are numerous due to the abundance of resources available. Furthermore, possible evolution blunders are not as significant for the system, since they are merely weakly linked to the system.

If instability is inherent in communication, it follows that social expectations have properties of communication stabilization. The stable articulation of communicative processes assumes the presence of certain basic, ritual semantic structures which manifest in the form of different socio-cultural expectations. Historically formed socio-cultural expectations set the parameters of some spatial-time field of action in which social processes take place (Mkrtichyan, 2008, p. 45). Articulation of communicative processes occurs according to the parameters of this social process and action field (or socium), which includes already established rules of generation for new information. Herewith, the actualization of communication depends on the socium’s parameters, which is itself formed and transformed as a result of this articulation. New communicative events are put in order in accordance with a previously made choice.

Consequently, the formation of traditions limits the possibilities of arbitrary choice and sets a spectrum of real possible communicative events. In other words, in the level of socio-cultural processes, contingent choice between accepting or rejecting this or that communication is determined by traditions that give order to the communicative space of the socium. When a new selection is accepted by the system, relative stabilization of the socium takes place because of these socio-cultural traditions.

Thus, to give order and consistency to communicative events, it is necessary to generalize expectations, overcome their localization in space and time, and attach historicity. But historicity of a social system assumes the presence of socio-cultural memory (for example, the systemic ability to store and process information). Only with socio-cultural memory is it possible to establish and retain social order and provide the flow of communicative events according to established and establishing rules, guaranteeing to a known extent the realization of expectations. The level of this realization serves as an indicator of stability of the socium2.

← 14 | 15 → Therefore, the exclusion of absolute arbitrariness within communicative processes, which occurs through the adoption of necessary restrictions of order parameters, is a necessary condition for the self-organization of the socium. Traditionalized procedures of information channeling regulate the flow of communicative processes, as these procedures (means of transfers, manners of expressions, rituals, etc.) act as the parameters of order. That is, they act as long-term elements of communication, since the opportunity for information exchange itself emerged and evolved both socio-culturally and material-technologically in the process of the formation and historical development of human society in general and of the given socium in particular. Thus, these parameters of order sustain the cohesion of social processes.

Due to the principal semantic openness of communication, under adequate circumstances, any theme can become a structuring factor in a communicative field. In post-Soviet Armenian society, the theme of material wealth as a symbol of individual success is intensely communicated without emphasizing the legal means of its attainment, which negatively affects the level of societal cohesion. Here, the issue is not only in the psychology of people. We were also not ready for such changes socially.

The collapse of the Soviet system, which had traditionally mediated the interactions of an individual with groups and social organizations, created changes in the structure of individual identification and respectively increased the variability of social behavior. The collapse caused these changes by infringing on the stability of former social statuses as well as creating normative and structural uncertainty in the socium. An especially strong manifestation of this is seen in the economic sphere, which was mostly affected by structural changes, which meant the liquidation of traditional restrictions. The economic mode of public life, as a result of rampant privatization and the establishment of market relations, changed rapidly and drastically. However, moral-legal regulation has been lagging. Social relations in this mode are constructed merely based on considerations of technical practicality. From instrumental point of view, more effective means of action are preferred to institutionally prescribed behavior, the result and indicator of which is the large scale of shadow economy that exists in Armenia today. Furthermore, the generally low income of the population strongly limits consumer demand, which hinders the full establishment of a domestic market. This, in turn, impedes economic growth and job creation. These factors have become a vicious circle in Armenian society.

Under such conditions, serious social risks are inevitable. Violation of the equality of social exchange creates social injustice. Under the circumstances where the principle of self-interest is accepted, an atmosphere of distrust was ← 15 | 16 → formed among the Armenian people. Furthermore, low-levels of citizen trust has grown towards public institutions as well. After all, the existence of trust in a society serves as the social capital which is needed to provide normal functioning of all social institutions. Trust, in the form of social capital, is the basis of social solidarity. As American thinker Fukuyama expressed, “A low social capital country is not only likely to have small, weak, and inefficient companies; it will also suffer from pervasive corruption of its public officials and ineffective public administration” (Fukuyama, 1995, p. 358). And “in such circumstances the dissatisfaction with the present is manifested in the mistrust toward the future” (Mkrtichyan, 2010, p. 12).


Distrust towards the future and the possibility of improving one’s living conditions in the homeland catalyze migration processes. The potential risks and threats of the future dictate the content of present social processes and lend further uncertainty to the structure of social expectations. In order to regulate those risks, it is necessary to keep a close watch on the social mechanisms that deal with uncertainty. Social conditions are created in the process of this circulation, based on the “premises that Ego as if knows what the Alter expects from it, and vice versa. But they both cannot be sure about their expectations” (Küppers, 1997, p. 7). This is why the success of communication depends on the possibility to reduce, through relevant actions, the uncertainty of the future situation and to make the future socially acceptable. This is how the consequence (action) affects its cause (uncertainty), creating changes in it (decline). All social activities geared towards the reduction of threats to social safety have such a reverse relationship with their cause: the perception of communicative threats and dangers creates social activities that aim at the reduction and regulation of the threat. It is in this cyclic process, in which these interdependent causes and effects interchange with each other, that new structures are formed3.

Methods of overcoming threats are perceived as contributors to social order, in which the perceptions of threat and the rules of handling them are conditioned by each other. Distinct forms of threat differ from each other by the social practice that handles them. A certain form of threat calls for a specific form of handling it, which replaces this threat for as long as it can, until it becomes communicable and socially acceptable and relative safety and stability emerge.

← 16 | 17 → Traditions dictate the procedures of communicative handling, even reaching the level of macro-phenomena. Only through the existence of traditionalized rules does it become possible to produce meaning, which serves as a means and indispensable condition for the functioning of social systems. Traditionalization of new rules makes the return to the past impossible. But the past itself, as a construct, has to be accessible to the present. Such access is provided by the existence of cultural memory, which provides the formation of traditions and the transfer of meaning in time.

This is why Armenians, relying on cultural memory and, in contrast, not having well-established practices in the form of civil society institutions and corresponding traditions, are prone to solve the problem of anomie through traditional means of escaping the problem. They choose emigration as a mechanism for normative conflicts resolutions. In particular, many intellectuals strive to solve their problems by finding rewards for the realization of their talents and achievements abroad. “Brain-drain”, the outflow of intellectual-scientific cadres from the country, takes place. As a result, Armenian society loses highly qualified specialists, scientific potential, and opportunities for scientific-technological progress and social development. Without cultural and scientific potential, it is impossible to build an authentic democratic state; without these we are doomed to backwardness, poverty, and dependence.

Consequently, unfinished war, economic and moral decline, inner political tension, instability, and existential threat from one side, alongside fundamental changes in communicated social expectations from the other side, cause mass frustration, disappointment, uncertainty and tension. The problem becomes worse since Armenian culture is largely traditional and, other than the prevalence of direct communications, the values of family relationships, and personal involvement in social forms, the culture is also characterized by direct and rigid social control by the immediate environment. Under the condition of the previously mentioned anomie, people are expected to be financially successful. This puts them under pressure of unbearable social expectations. For some, the solution is “escape” from this pressure by permanently leaving the country and freeing themselves from the burden of direct control bestowed upon them by their immediate environment. Others choose to do seasonal work abroad to reach the expected financial success there4. In both cases, the result is emigration that reaches an unacceptable scale.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (March)
Transnationalismus Diaspora Integration Migrationstheorie
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 280 pp., 16 tables, 13 graphs

Biographical notes

Artur Mkrtichyan (Volume editor)

Artur Mkrtichyan is Dean of the Faculty of Sociology at the Yerevan State University of Armenia. He was a research fellow at Bielefeld University, the Humboldt University of Berlin, the Free University of Berlin and the University of Innsbruck. He is interested in identity, migration, conflict analysis, political transformations and sociological theories.


Title: Armenians around the World: Migration and Transnationality
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