by Lilit Hovhannisyan
Armenian journalist Lilit Lalayan has been living in Germany for two years. Lilit moved to Germany through a volunteer program and would never imagine that coming to this country would be crucial for her. Here she met her future husband and made up her mind to finally settle in Germany. In spite of the fact that she possesses a valid residence permit, Lilit confesses that she has faced a number of problems. “Initially everything reminded me of a labyrinth. I tried to get out of the situation myself. When changing the apartment, for instance, there were a lot of questions because of ignorance”. According to Lilit, there is no Armenian organization in Germany to support with integration, legal issues, or at least provide some consultation. “Unfortunately, there is no body, which could help the newcomers. It would be good if there was a union of Armenians, and everyone would be united, because now the Armenians live separately from each other in this country. There is no unity in the Armenian community of Germany. Even Syrian Armenians are distanced from the Armenians from Iran or the Republic of Armenia. Armenians are scattered over Berlin: even the victims of the Genocide are commemorated separately”. Lilit notes that the Armenian organizations are very weak, and there is no association that would deal with the problems of Armenians. At best, Armenians appeal to media representatives to solve them. In Germany many asylum seekers have legal status problems. If families are in danger of deportation, local newspapers often refer to history to pressure politicians to resolve the issue.
There is also a German language quarterly magazine titled “Armenian-German Correspondence” (Armenisch-Deutsche Korrespondenz) published in Germany. It is a 60-page print media for the German-speaking community, whose separate sections are presented both in Armenia and Germany. The magazine covers a variety of topics related to Armenia, such as the Karabakh issue, international recognition of the Armenian Genocide and so on. According to the Editor of the magazine Raffi Kantian, the magazine does not cover the problems of Armenians, who have moved to Germany. “The issues of Armenia (domestic and foreign policy developments) are very important to us, and people will immediately understand them following our magazine”.
Referring to the activities of Armenian NGOs in Germany, Raffi Kantian, who is also the Chairman of “German–Armenian Society” association, emphasizes that Armenian NGOs are quite limited in number and mostly focus on Genocide recognition issue. “They do not paprticularly deal with the problems of those coming from Armenia, for example the right to residence and many others,” Kantian says. Magazine editor and NGO chairman, who is a native of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), but has been living and working in Germany for a long time, is well aware of the reasons why Armenians that moved to Germany from different parts of the world cannot communicate with each other. “Armenians from Turkey, for instance, have little knowledge of Armenia. They have not learnt Armenian in Turkey and they have language problems. In Germany they speak in broken German with most of them speaking Turkish. And that is frustrating to Armenians from Armenia. The latter insist that Armenians from Turkey speak Armenian. But these people talk in Turkish not because they hate Armenian, but because they don’t know any other language. They are good Armenians, but they don’t speak Armenian, and this gives rise to a problem between the Armenians from Turkey and Armenia,” says Kantian, adding that Armenians, who moved from Armenia, try to connect with the community mainly composed of Armenian migrants from the Republic of Armenia.
Raffi Kantian underlines that despite little impact of NGOs on the integration of Armenians, the new generation solves this issue independently and easily. In his words, lots of Armenians are quite well-integrated into the German society and even participate in the political life of the country. “There are no members of Parliament, but we have young Armenians working as assistants to parliamentarians in Bundestag”.
Kantian emphasizes that Armenian NGOs in Germany might not have great capacities to support Armenians with legal and other matters, but thanks to the activities of his organization, they have been able to attract politicians to the magazine. “Tens of thousands of people are following our magazine. Among them there are politicians and media representatives. However, it is hard to say to what the extent they transmit our information”. Nevertheless, Kantian stresses that German–Armenian Society is a German-Armenian organization and tries to be a bridge in Armenian-German relations. Without giving an assessment on the level of success of his organizations, he only adds: “Sometimes a lot depends on the passer-by”.
Approximately 80-100 thousand Armenians live in Germany, and nearly 5000 of them live in Berlin. The Armenian community of Berlin is already 95 years old. It was established and officially registered in 1923 as the first Armenian community in Germany. Nowadays, Armenians are moving to Germany for various reasons – social, economic, health, problems, etc. However, there are also positive motivations especially connected with the opportunities to continue university education, as well as to find a job in international organizations. The Armenian community of Germany, which was naturally formed by immigrants of different years, is a multi-layered body. Thus, based on this important circumstance, you can never insist that Armenians have a clear view on this or that national issue. In this regard it is important to use all the leverages of homeland-community relations.
Lilit Hovhannisyan is a journalist by profession. She earned her graduate degree in Journalism from Yerevan State University in 2007. Since then she has been writing articles for different media outlets. Between 2015-2018 she worked at Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression (CPFE), where she covered issues related to the violation of journalists’ rights. At present she cooperates with various media.