Minister of Foreign Affairs Launches Nansen Exhibit at the CoE

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Minister of Foreign Affairs Launches Nansen Exhibit at the Council of Europe

Minister Oskanian inaugurated an exhibition of documents and photographs on
Fritjof Nansen, the Norwegian humanist-explorer, who established the first
High Commission for Refugees, under the League of Nations. The passports
given to Armenian refugees of the Genocide of 1915 bears his name.

The Nansen exhibit was sponsored by the Armenian delegation to the Council
of Europe, on the occasion of Norway’s taking on the presidency of the

Present at the opening were the Secretary General of the Council of Europe,
Walter Schwimmer, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Parliamentary
Assembly, Peter Schieder, Norway’s Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and
President Robert Kocharian.

The text of the Minister’s remarks appears below.

Minister of Foreign Affairs
Vartan Oskanian
On the Opening of the Nansen Exhibit
At the Council of Europe, Strasbourg
June 23, 2004

Mr. Schwimmer, Mr. Schieder, Mr. Prime Minister, and Mr. President,

Armenians have long been fascinated by and grateful to the Norwegian
Fridtjof Nansen. And not because he could ski 50 miles in a day or because
he explored Greenland and survived the North Pole.

As great as Nansen┬╣s interest was in adventure and the sciences, following
the first World War, he became deeply engaged in international affairs. And
this bore great significance for Armenia and Armenians. He supported the
Covenant of the League of Nations and advocated the rights of small nations.
He repatriated hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war. He mustered help
for millions in Russia dying of famine.

And, he helped establish and lead the office of High Commission for
refugees. In that capacity, Nansen tried to solve the problem of Greek
refugees and arranged for an exchange of 1.2 million Greeks living on
Turkish soil for about 1/2 a million Turks living in Greece. Nansen invented
the Nansen Passport, a document of identification which was recognized by
dozens of governments and which provided an identity to hundreds of
thousands of refugees, including great numbers of Armenians rendered
homeless by genocide, massacres and deportation, at the turn of the 20th

He helped the stateless and homeless whose causes appeared politically
intractable. He helped the human victims on both sides of political and
military conflicts.

Before the creation of international aid and development programs, he drew
up a political, industrial, financial plan for creating a national home for
Armenians. He did this at the invitation of the League of Nations. And
although the League failed to implement the plan, Armenians and others
interested in justice and equal rights believe he accomplished a great deal
– by putting on the international agenda the rights of peoples to their own

This man, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was a Norwegian from a well
to do family. Perhaps it was because he never had to struggle to assure his
own survival, that he had the time and the wherewithal to take on the
struggles of others.

The same can be said for the country and people of Norway who have been
blessed with natural wealth, and the wisdom to use it wisely. From the work
of the Nobel Committee to that of Transparency International, Norway has
found ways to encourage and reward those who make efforts to truly integrate
human rights and democratic values and good governance in their own
societies. With Norway at the helm of the Council of Europe, we look forward
to working together to follow Fritjof Nansen┬╣s example: to recognize that
which is good and right in society, and to work to improve those aspects
which are still incomplete.

In Armenia, we are thankful for the work of the Norwegian Refugee Council,
and we recognize that today┬╣s refugees are more fortunate than those whose
fate Fritjof Nansen tried to affect. Yet, judging by the number of those who
still regard the Nansen passports with pride, we can justifiably say that
Nansen gave documents and a sense of belonging to one generation, but his
legacy to succeeding generations is the recognition of a universal
responsibility to acknowledge each individual┬╣s right to live not as victims
but as equals, in charge of their own lives and their own destiny.

So we offer this modest exhibition, moved by the commitment of this great
humanist, and are proud that it is presented here, in the halls of the
Council of Europe, an organization which espouses the ideas and principles
around which Fridtjof Nansen lived his life.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress