The French Armenian Development Foundation (FADF) was founded in 2004 by Association Armenienne d’Aide Sociale with the purpose to contribute to the sustainable development of Armenia. Since its creation, the FADF has implemented more than 300 development projects with international, European, and local partners, such as the European Union, World Bank, UN agencies, OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration), BAMF (German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees), Veolia Foundation, Fondation des amis de l’atelier, British Embassy, Czech Embassy, Polish Embassy, German Embassy and others.
Repat Armenia Foundation sat down with the man behind FADF Mr. Alain Touhadian to talk about his life choices, Armenian identity and the importance of getting engaged with the homeland.
-Thank you Mr Touhadian for your time. It may sound strange, but I would like to start with this question. Who are you as an Armenian?
-That’s a very good question, actually. My father was an Armenian from Western Turkey, my mother was French. I’m French, born and raised in France, lived a long time in the United States, worked for 20 years outside of France; I have an open mind and can see what is happening in the world. The Armenian side is like the cherry on the cake. It gives you an added perspective, an openness to see the cultures of other people. Most Armenians had contacts with Turks, Russians, Arabs, Iranians; it’s a summary of the region. When you come to Armenia as a foreign Armenian, you immediately feel like you belong to it. The culture is different, the mentality is different, but the links are so strong that you feel you are at home. I came for the first time 20 years ago when Armenia was in a very bad condition. When I stay in Armenia for too long, I want to leave. When I leave, I want to come back. It’s an interesting paradox. Hope this answers to your question.
-What made you dig deeper into your roots?
-Mostly the relationships with Armenia and Armenians. Throughout my work, I was involved with Armenians from time to time but not on a permanent basis. I had contacts, I had neighbors from Lebanon that were Armenians while in Africa, and when I was in Singapore, I was asked to be the Treasurer of the Armenian Church. They called and asked, and I thought ‘Why not?’ It was all very sporadic, nothing permanent. It was only after retirement, where I became interested in an organization very close to where I lived in Paris. When the time came, I started wondering where I could be active and they became my first choice. Not too long afterwards, I was offered to take the position of president; I’ve been there ever since. It is the AAAS - oldest Armenian organization in France, established in 1890 and still operating. It is 128 years old. We have retirement homes that used to be only for Armenians but now we accept everybody.
-Should every Armenian be involved with Armenia and Armenian organizations?
-It depends on the level of the awareness of the Armenian nature. The main goal of previous generations was to integrate, and they integrated very well. But the new generations are in a world where origin counts, especially in the Western World where you have so many immigrants from so many countries. At one stage somebody must say - I am of Armenian origin and this is a value added to my personality. And for this, in my opinion, they have to establish a link with Armenia, because there is no other way. There are so many organizations which are still operating in the same manner they did before we saw an independent Armenia. They demonstrate for the 24th of April but do not realize that their only survival is through that link with Armenia.
The new generations do not understand what the difference between Eastern and Western Armenian is; they don’t speak the language. When they come here, they integrate better with the local speaking and writing system. In America, it’s easier to retain your origins – you are an Armenian-American, African-American, French-American, etc. In France, you have to be French, in Germany, German. That makes a major difference in developing one’s identity.
-Repat Armenia Foundation raises awareness about the bonds you can create with the motherland and supports the professional repatriation. What should the Diaspora expect from Armenia in order to be engaged and establish permanent links with it?
-Your organisation does an amazing job, but there should be action from the government as well. There should be a cultural attache in the embassies to create close links with the Armenian communities, organizing trips and programs. There are programs like Birthright Armenia and Ari Tun, but such things should increase and encourage those who have never been to Armenia to at least visit and immerse themselves culturally. It is more important to establish the permanent links with the diaspora. This, in turn, will allow for more people to consider living in Armenia. There are many positive changes and we hope corruption will disappear completely. Once there are mostly only good sides to Armenia, it will be easier to promote both visits and repatriation.
-Speaking about the positive, Armenia hosted the Francophonie this year. What direction do you think we will be taking in the future?
-The Francophonie in Armenia was beautifully organized, which is not easy with so many delegations and events happening. This was very positive. The image of Armenia has really been promoted because of that. What is going to happen now, I have no idea. Theoretically it should help with forging ties, with investments, but we have to wait and see what the real outcome will be. It showed Armenia’s capabilities, which I believe was very good.
-Mr. Touhadian, FADF is an amazing example of involvement in the Armenian community abroad and in Armenia. Can you tell us the reason behind its inception and its scale?
-We are an old Armenian organization with its mission being to help Armenians in France. For example, when all the refugees came from Turkey, they received basic help, food, clothing, and housing. After the Second World War, there were many Armenians aging but with no resources. At the time, there was no real source of help from the government. We set up the retirement homes where we provided basic shelter, care and general needs. At this stage, we realized the older Armenians do not need extra help any longer with a prosperous second generation full of lawyers and doctors, etc. At the time of the earthquake, we sent help to Gyumri; we discovered the best way to help Armenians was from within Armenia itself. We have been operating since 2005; we help people resettle and start micro businesses.
The foundation itself was established in 2004 and we’ve been developing programs to help the disabled. Funding has become more difficult to obtain; as such, we have a commercial business which helps finance the foundation. We have a hotel and restaurant in Nork Marash established in 2017, while an outlet also provides necessary funds, operating on Tumanyan Street. The purpose of this is to create jobs and to have excess funds that we can channel back into the foundation.
Last but not least, Mr. Touhadian, what makes you happy and what inspires you the most?
-*Laughs* I’m an old man now so that is an interesting question. What makes me happy is that I keep myself busy, always doing something, being useful to society and helping Armenia. I’ve had a fruitful career. Whatever ideas I may have, I would be happy to see them come into fruition and that something good will come out of it for future generations.