Yasser Arafat In Soviet Armenia

Father of Palestinian nationalism dies


Nubar Chalmian Recalls Palestinian Leaderâ[email protected]~Ys 1979 and 1980 Yerevan Visits

12 Nov 04

Few people today know that Yasser Arafat visited Yerevan in 1979 and
1980 on his way back to Beirut from Moscow. Nubar Chalmian, professor
of oriental studies at the Yerevan State University, accompanied
Arafat during both visits as his interpreter. What is the impression
the late leader of Palestinian nationalism left on Chalmian?

“In 1979 I was told to accompany Yasser Arafat. I met him at the plane
ladder. Everyone knew that Arafat is the leader of the Palestinian
Liberation Organization (PLO) and that he is a real warrior. He was
young at the time. First thing I noticed was his pistol chained to his
side. He was in a military uniform spick and span”, Chalmian recalls.

Arafat was heading to his occupied fatherland via Yerevan
and Beirut. His two bodyguards tried hard to cram into the most
representative Soviet car of “Chayka” brand but after Arafat was told
that Armenia is a safe country the bodyguards left him alone.

“I was his interpreter. Levon Manaserian, head of the Department
of International Relations of the Central Committee, his deputy
Henrik Liloyan and minister of foreign affairs John Kirakosian were
accompanying Arafat. They were put to take Arafat sightseeing around
Yerevan. During our trip through Yerevan I noticed that Arafat peers
at our buildings. Then he said that he is a builder and looks at the
buildings with beautiful stones by builderâ[email protected]~Ys eyes. We told him that
the stone is tuff, where we mine it and other details”, Chalmian says.

Arafat spent few hours of his visit observing Yerevan behind the
window of his “Chayka”. After the trip across Yerevan he returned
to the VIP lounge of the airport were Armenians had set a rich table
for the dear guest.

“It was during the days of Ramadan. Arafat immediately said that he
is fasting and has no right to eat. We tried to convince him telling
that he is in Armenia. Nothing helped: Arafat was inflexible. His
bodyguards refused to sit at the table too”, Chalmian recalls.

Situation was embarrassing. “Suppose you invited someone to your house,
and he eats nothing. There was everything on the table: barbeque,
cognac, Armenian fruits. We decided to put everything in a basket
and give him to take with himself”.

Arafatâ[email protected]~Ys second visit to Armenia was in 1980, again on his way
back from Moscow to Beirut and again only for few hours. This time
again Chalmian interpreted him. “I clearly remember that day. It
was a delegation of 11 representatives of the PLO headed by Yasser
Arafat. They were negotiating with Brezhnev in Moscow. If I am not
mistaken, Soviet Union promised to provide Palestine with the next
weapon supply against Israel”.

This time Arafat was hosted at the Hrazdan hotel. Foreign minister
John Kirakosian gave lasting toast, spoke of the Armenian Cause
and drew parallels between the fates of Armenian and Palestinian
nations. Arafat said a toast in response.

“I remember few interesting instants from the second visit. As an
interpreter I again met Arafat at the ladder. The Russian guard asked
Arafatâ[email protected]~Ys bodyguard what was in his case. The bodyguard explained
that he cannot open it as there were guns that shoot bullets if
opened”, Chalmian recalls.

The plane transporting Arafat had also on its board few dozens of
Armenian children from Diaspora who spent summer holidays in their
homeland and were going back to Lebanon. “While the plane was getting
ready for take-off an airport security official came to our leader
and asked whether it was save to transport our children in the same
plane with Arafat. Only fancy, people were thinking of terrorism at
that time”, Chalmian says.

The press did not cover Yasser Arafatâ[email protected]~Ys first Yerevan visit. His
second visit was covered by Sovetakan Hayastan newspaper which shortly
informed that Arafat was in Yerevan for 1-2 hours.

By Tatoul Hakobian


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