Projecting Ethnopolitics of the Other by Toponymic Equals

Projecting Ethnopolitics of the Other by Toponymic Equals

The primary concern of this case study is to compare the content of the ethnopolitical discourse in the northern Armenian town of Stepanavan to the national ethnopolitical code voiced by the Armenian elite.  Stepanavan is a unique study because the local Armenian inhabitants ascribe the ethnic Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan with traits that distinguish them from their hosts.  Diagnosing the cleavage between the two ethnopolitical narratives becomes essential to apprehend a potential flashpoint at the local level, which may require attention from the state authorities.  The general assumption by foreign observers and national elites that the refugees are ethnically equal to their Armenian neighbors is challenged during an inspection of the economic and social capital associated with both groups and by exploring the politics of recognition.  Evidence is analyzed to sustain the refugees’ claim that they are “misrecognized” as the alien other in order to deprive them of equal access to employment, education, and housing.

The paper then traces the genealogy of Armenian nationalism in an effort to describe the typography of the contemporary “core nation” discourse (absent the typical right-wing association).  Armenia has undergone several incarnations during the past millennia.  It has been a vassal state, a neglected buffer zone, and an imperialistic empire.  More recently, Armenia is consolidating state power in the aftermath of Soviet ethnofederalism and other legacies that influence the reconstruction of its eponymous myths and symbols.  The texture of this narrative includes portraying the refugees as Armenia’s downtrodden brethren, the victims of ethnic persecution in an irredenta.  This national monologue does not guarantee equality for the refugees in Stepanavan.  The author argues that the rift between recognition and misrecognition, as evinced by disparate ethnopolitical codes, avails itself to influence from international organizations representing a third ethnosymbolic paradigm (i.e. minority rights and multiculturalism).

For example, as non-governmental organizations pursue a strategy of resource mobilization in the economic sphere of developing countries, the inhabitants are exposed to the notions of economic rights and activism.  This strategy is embedded in a complex matrix of democratization and liberalization techniques.  The political aspects of such techniques conjoined with competing ethnopolitical codes are assessed at the local and state level.  If resource exclusion were really linked to collective action, what would happen if international NGO’s considered the ethnopolitical code in Stepanavan a minority rights issue?  What would be the political significance of portraying the refugees as a minority group being denied its rights?  How would such a social mobilization, encouraged by resource rich organizations, impact public policy in Stepanavan and at the national level?  These questions are addressed in conjunction with a comparative analysis of other countries encountering similarly divisive issues.

Finally, the author hypothesizes whether one might be able to link the scenario described above to other countries engaged in various stages of ethnic conflict in order to make some predictive assertions regarding the development of strife or resource competition based upon ethnic identity.  After all, this paper agrees with those scholars who argue that identities are malleable and that some have been “constructed” at the cost of human lives.


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