The Homeland as a Broken Bus: Soviet Heritage and the Armenian Diaspora
(University College London (UCL))
Paper short abstract:
Young diasporans from the Global North who move to Armenia as volunteers and flexible laborers often find the country's socialist heritage unsettling. Through a range of participatory media practices and the use of irony, the undesired Soviet past nevertheless becomes a source of identity.
Paper long abstract:
For much of the 20th century, the nature of the Soviet republic of Armenia was hotly disputed by the nation's global diaspora. For many, the socialist republic could not qualify as an authentic homeland for a combination of historical and geopolitical factors. To this day, the country's omnipresent socialist architecture and industrial ruins rarely feature in the heritage imaginaries of the diaspora. In my paper, I explore how young diasporans from the Global North who 'repatriate' to Armenia for indefinite periods cope with this undesired Soviet past. I examine how the collapsed Soviet state and its material remnants are signified in the everyday practices of social media-savvy youth, who use hashtags, humor, filters and irony to transform the socialist past into a source of identity on par with traditional homeland images of ancient monasteries and folk arts. On the one hand, social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram serve to reimagine the locals as folklore-like figures and to aestheticize industrial ruins. At the same time, the belief in a persistent 'Soviet mentality' spawns developmental visions of Armenia's future, in which young diasporans help to inculcate civic virtues and improve aesthetic standards.
Heritage geographies in the age of mobility