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THE “AKHPARS”: A SOCIAL HISTORY OF THE MASS MIGRATION OF DIASPORA ARMENIANS TO SOVIET ARMENIA, 1946-49

  • Author(s): Pechakjian, Pauline Mari
  • Advisor(s): Berberian, Houri
  • et al.
Abstract

After the close of World War II, the Soviet Union sponsored a so-called “repatriation” campaign to assist diaspora Armenians in migrating to what was crafted and perceived to be their “true” ancestral homeland – the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR). Between 1946-1949, nearly 100,000 diaspora Armenians renounced their citizenships in their respective countries of residence in order to become Soviet Armenians. Although narratives of the migration, particularly those told by Soviet officials and patriotic nationals of the ASSR, depicted the campaign as a success, personal testimonies of migrants indicate otherwise. This thesis is based on a collection of personal narratives obtained by the author via twenty-five interviews with migrants or their direct descendants in the United States and Armenia. It broadens the scope of existing scholarship on the migration that focuses mainly on official, structural, or theoretical aspects of the “repatriation.” By analyzing these testimonies against a backdrop of Soviet, contemporary Armenian, and diasporan scholarship, this thesis emphasizes the complexity and variability in the experiences of the so-called “akhpars,” an often-derogatory term used to distinguish migrant Armenians from “native” Soviet Armenians in the ASSR. This social history of the “repatriation” as experienced by the migrants themselves considers the following themes: questions of belonging, cross-cultural clashes, diaspora versus “homeland” relations, and the implications of migration in a globalized world. This study highlights nuances in migrant experiences throughout and after the “repatriation,” suggesting that influences during life in the diasporan communities of origin affected the processes of acculturation in the Soviet Armenian “homeland.” Interviews revealed the notion of a certain cultural literacy, especially for diasporan Armenians raised in the idiom of a particularly nationalist discourse, that affected their ability to properly feel at “home” in the ASSR, where the very markers of their conception of Armenian identity were challenged and contested. Thus, in its attempt to bring in diasporan Armenians from a number of host countries to the Soviet Armenian republic, the “repatriation” campaign inadvertently introduced varied, and sometimes, contrasting, understandings of Armenian identity in the ASSR, leading to different interpretations and conceptions of belonging. Through highlighting these nuances and conceiving of these distinctions in identity and belonging, this thesis intervenes current research on the “repatriation” by using migrant voices to better articulate the experiences of diaspora and “homeland” relations.

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