Mediamax continues a series of interviews with the intellectuals of Armenia and the Diaspora. It is an attempt to collect opinions as to whether the Armenian Genocide Centennial will serve a certain “New Beginning” for Armenians or not.
Our today’s interlocutor is His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia.
-Your Holiness, this year marked the centenary of the Armenian Genocide. Some people believe the struggle for the Genocide recognition, condemnation and reparation will enter a new phase after the centennial, while others express the concern that it will no longer be a pivotal issue for Armenia and the Diaspora.
-First of all, I avoid giving interviews as I believe in actions and not words. I do my best to do what I have faith in and what I think will be beneficial for our motherland, nation and church. There might be much to speak about but what matters is what we do. As a nation, church and community we should today plan our activities.
We should specify the top priorities for our people and nation and together and united clearly and realistically define our further actions maintaining and respecting our peculiarities, our varying views but it all should be done based on the common interests of our nation and homeland and not on self-centered, highly emotional and one-sided approaches. We should always be ambitious and committed.
The Armenian Genocide Centennial is not just about a series of events even if those events are consonant and coordinated. The events are not an end in itself, nor do they terminate in themselves. All the events aimed at the centennial pursue the goal to commemorate our martyrs. To remember means not to forget the past and to “mend” our faithfulness, strengthen it towards the testament of our holy martyrs and look to the future with that spirit.
Second, the Armenian Genocide is to remind people and the international community of that Armenians have undergone genocide – the past cannot be passed. Woe to the nation that strikes out its history. History represents integrity of events and developments and their continuation. Thus, we should always remind both our youth and the international community of our being demanders. Our rights yet remain raped and with dedication and faith, we, as a nation, should continue to demand our rights from genocide perpetrator Turkey and the international community.
Third, we should reinforce our cause. How can it be done? We should not only remember the past and remind of it, but also demand. We have lost lands, we have had one and a half million martyrs, the estates and properties owned by our church, nation and individuals were confiscated and they now lie in front of us – Gaziantep (Antep), Kahramanmaras (Marash), Suleymanlı (Zeytun), Kars and Cilicia. We cannot get oblivious of it and visit those places simply as tourists.
Thus, I believe the centennial was a challenge for us. It was not just for remembering and commemorating the victims. It was a challenge. It was a call for revival. It was the Unsilenceable Belfry of our nation and as a nation we, our fatherland and our Diaspora should continue our struggle for cause.
-Can we use the centennial to reevaluate the past and cast a new look at the future? After all, what role should the genocide play in our lives after the centenary?
-As a challenge and as a call for revival and cause the Centennial should not be enclosed and confined to 2015. It’s a process that should cross 2015. Our struggle for demands should be contained in our every day and every year. Every Armenian should live being conscious of the fact that he is the son of a nation that was deprived of rights. Our self-knowledge will crystalize by our self-awareness of “who am I?” I belong to a nation deprived of rights and what can I do as an individual? We should continue to struggle for our cause after 2015. How? This is the question. Should we continue struggling in the way we did before? No! To a certain extent repetition is sometimes positive, but along with repeating certain things we should also come up with a visionary plan for the struggle of our people. Our people’s struggle for cause should not be treated with such a general, double-tongued and cautious approach.
We are DEMANDERS. This word should be written in capital letters. We should not receive such a lukewarm attitude when we incurred enormous and huge losses. We should cast a look at the past and evaluate it with a self-reflection in order to understand where we failed, where we succeeded and how we should plan our next actions.
Over the 100 years of our struggle we had certain achievements but we more focused on the relative, preaching aspect. A number of countries recognized the Armenian Genocide, and others might recognize in the future. The bodies of the Armenian Cause have done a great job to this end. The authorities of free and independent Armenia more or less joined the work the Diaspora was carrying out over the past 20 years. We should keep up this work.
This year Armenia reiterated with the Pan-Armenian Declaration that our national cause is part of its foreign policy. Thus, Armenia, Diaspora and the church – we all joined our efforts around our struggle, marked the Armenian Genocide Centennial in 2015 and reasserted our nationwide will of cause and commitment. I’ll ask again “then what?” We should undoubtedly go on with the efforts aimed at the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide, but it’s high time that we placed a special emphasis on the legal aspect of our struggle without disregarding the issue of recognition. Previously we would often touch upon politicizing, internationalizing and modernizing the Armenian Cause when talking about it. Huge efforts have been committed to these three ends, but we should launch a planned work on the legal aspect. The Armenian Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia was the first to act boldly and demand that Genocide perpetrator Turkey returned Sis Catholicosate.
-It’s actually the first legal claim to return the properties of the Armenian Church. What progress has been reached?
-For some reason, the legal field of our struggle was a closed door for us. It’s high time that we knocked at that door and tried to open it little by little. We should be realistic. It cannot be done at one stroke. We can deliver nice and emotional speeches but we should be realistic and study our opportunities in the legal field. To this very end we organized an international conference around three years ago and invited topnotch foreign experts in international law and genocide studies and I asked, “What does the international law say about our issue?” During the past three years we and personally I as a Catholicos studied the legal aspect of this issue to understand our opportunities and challenges. We should be brave enough to take our cause to the legal field based on the possibilities the international law grants. But prior to that we need to plan, coordinate and study our cause. This is a long process but we should undertake that commitment after 2015 in order to comprehensively pursue our cause in promotional, legal and political fields. We should carry on this work and struggle together. By together I mean all our forces – the Republic of Armenia, the Diaspora, the Armenian Church, the bodies of the Armenian cause and the parties.
-How can it be done when we don’t have a common plan for reparation and when there are varying approaches on this?
-The structure bringing together joint efforts has already been founded in Armenia (State Commission on Coordination of the Events for the Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide – edit. Mediamax). But I believe this structure should be reviewed in the light of our plans. In my opinion, acting together does not imply uniformity and sameness. We should keep our diversity. It’s what the success of our work requires.
As a country Armenia should have a different approach. The Diaspora, the church and the political parties should also have different approaches. It wouldn’t be right if Armenia as a state demanded our lands from Turkey, as it would mean declaring war to Turkey. But it’s what the Diaspora can do, especially of we consider that the Diaspora represents the people deprived of their rights. The church should have its own modus operandi in this regard, and the parties, especially the Diaspora parties should have their own. Obviously, we should keep these varieties but they should be in consonance. This implies proper division of roles with a further clarification of what’s not been done to date. I would like to make this clearer. We committed maximum efforts in organizing events for the Centennial, juxtaposing, etc. This was easy but our cause and our demand are political and legal and not just legal. It’s precisely why we should start this legal and political process having studied it clearly. Today we no longer have to allude to the studies of historians. The genocide is a fact and it has been studied in almost all languages. Let’s not waste time on it. Let’s focus on the legal and political aspect. The genocide recognition has already found its course. The countries, even the Unites states, should one by one acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Today everybody knows that what happened in 1915 was genocide. Historians have already done their grateful work and much work lies ahead of us in the legal and political field.
First off, we should make it clear what we are demanding from Turkey. Armenian authorities say one thing, the church says another thing, and the parties say a completely different thing. Obviously, the things said and offered do not conflict with each other, but it means that we don’t have a cut and dried, comprehensive and holistic idea of our demands. Another question arises here, “Do we need it?” Should we publicly state our demands? What implications might it have?” This issue should be studied and discussed. I am just putting the questions. All these questions with regard to how our cause should proceed and what milestone it should reach are overly grave and sensitive and need to be discussed. If the Commission is just to organize events and issue statements, then I believe we will not be able to give a new impulse to our struggle. After 2015 we should shift to joint work in the political and legal field with Armenia’s participation, sponsorship and leadership.
-The Pan-Armenian Declaration was exceptional in our history. How realistic do you find the realization of the provisions in the Declaration?
-We more focused on the events in the frames of the Commission’s activities but the adoption of the Pan-Armenian Declaration was a turning point. Apparently, the Declaration does not say it all, but it does involve the basic principles. I believe it should serve as a starting point for upcoming works. I hope the Commission’s upcoming meeting due this September will sum up the works done and will specify the works to be done. Armenia and Diaspora tend to see everything through rose-colored glasses – we organized this, it was successful, etc. This is not right. What’s been done should be viewed through reflecting on where we failed and where we succeeded. I have always expressed my views on these issues. The legal and political aspect of our struggle should touch upon sensitive issues, thus the Commission’s members should be reconsidered. It should be more representative and include certain specialists keeping in mind our upcoming works. There is need for specifying and distributing the collective work and harmonizing the standpoints. We should clearly know when Armenia should speak and when the Diaspora should keep silent and vice versa.
-Didn’t 2015 teach us how it should be done?
-No, we didn’t reflect on these issues this year and it’s high time that we spoke about them. Our approaches should comply with our present conditions.
-The organizational work of the Armenian Genocide Centennial was carried out as a result of Armenia-Diaspora close cooperation. Did it result in reevaluating and reinterpreting those relations and their entire potential?
-Armenia-Diaspora unity is the inexhaustible source of consolidation of our nation. By unity I don’t mean uniformity. It’s harmful. To cooperate means to keep and respect each other’s differences. They should not drive us away from each other, lead to confrontation or spur internal tension. It can be destructive. The differences should be in harmony. Armenia-Diaspora cooperation sometimes gets formal and touristic. We should shun those formalities. Mutual visits are really important but those works should be planned in a way as to strengthen that cooperation in the daily life of our people.
We should stay away from touristic and emotional initiatives. We should understand what Armenia can offer the Diaspora and vice versa. Armenia-Diaspora-Artsakh trinity should be carried out in harmony. In the past 20 years we had significant achievements to this end, but I have higher expectations from Armenia, Diaspora and Artsakh.
-The Armenian Genocide was committed when Armenia had no statehood. What lessons should we draw from our past today that we have statehood?
-We should first of all rely solely on us and never expect any foreign country to come and save our nation. Sometimes certain countries offer their support for our cause, but they are conventional, temporary and speculative. History has shown that we have stood the storms of history owing to our internal unity, steadfast faith and firm will. We should keep our homeland strong, and it’s the nation that makes it strong. Armenia is today losing to its own people as there is emigration. No matter we speak about it or not the emigration is real. Sometimes we should not clam up. I don’t want to express any opinion regarding Armenia’s domestic affairs but I have things to say and things to do within the limits of the possible when things get of pan-Armenian importance. Emigration is presently one of the issues causing major harm to Armenia. I have spoken about it both in Armenia and in Artsakh. What should be done to keep our people in Armenia? As in all communities, there are party and political differences in Armenia as well. It’s natural. However, security and enhanced economy are crucial for Armenia. Not only the army makes our motherland strong, but also its people, its economy and unity. The Diaspora also plays its role in this regard. The issue of Artsakh is the issue of each of us. We should understand what the Diaspora can do to make Artsakh stronger. Our rival, Azerbaijan, is watching us. We are surrounded by enemies and it has been so during our entire history. Armenia’s geographical location has always made it a bone of contention for various countries. The same is today; it’s just the forms have changed. Thus, what can Armenia-Artsakh-Diaspora do today? We are not separate from each other. It’s the genocide perpetrator that forced us to divide. It was not our personal decision to be a Diaspora. We belong to the same nation and that belonging should be visible for our people, friends and enemies.
-Your Holiness, which is your message to our people?
-No Armenian should ever forget that he is the son of a nation that went through genocide. Our cause is the call of our blood. It is inseparably cemented with our mental and spiritual essence. Every Armenian should strengthen this consciousness inside himself. We came to have free and independent Armenia, which was an everyday vision for the Diaspora and which became part of our national and Christian education. We should always keep alive the vision of holistic Armenia. It should always be present in our life. Woe to the nation that has no dreams. We have dreams and those dreams should be fulfilled with values and alarms. We are demanders and it means we have dreams. Today we have the piece of Armenia that we should strengthen for it to serve as an anchor for our dream of holistic Armenia. The harmony of the reality and the dream should have a special place in the life of our people. This is what I expect and demand from our nation. Today and everywhere in the world we should unite around our nationwide values – around Armenia, Artsakh, our cause and our greatest aspirations.
Yekaterina Poghosyan talked to His Holiness Catholicos Aram I
Noubar Afeyan’s interview
Vicken Chiteryan’s interview
Aram Mehrabyan’s interview
Ronald Suny’s interview
Fr. Mesrop Aramian’s interview
Mark Grigoryan’s interview
Ralph Yirikian’s interview
Avetik Chalabyan’s interview
Ruben Vardanyan’s interview
Razmik Panossian’s interview
Gerard Libaridian’s interview