BEIRUT: Interview With MP Of The Tashnag Party: Hagop Pakradounian


Monday Morning
Aug 20 2007

Since the Metn by-election, MP Hagop Pakradounian, unknown to most
Lebanese until the election, has become a focus of media attention as
a staunch defender of his Tashnag Party. A graduate of the Collège
Khanamirian, then of the American University of Beirut, where he
studied political science, graduating in 1980, he became a member
of the Tashnag Party in 1978. He successively held the posts of
head of the party’s students’ service, then of its youth service,
of the information department, eventually becoming a member of the
Central Committee, before standing as a candidate in the parliamentary
elections in 2000 and winning a seat in the polls of 2005. He has
recollections of meeting a number of senior Lebanese politicians,
notably Pierre Gemayel, founder of the Kataeb Party, and sometime
Prime Minister Sami Solh. "I was five years old when I met Sami Solh
at a luncheon at the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate in Antelias",
he told us. "I still remember him talking about Krikor Zohrab,
an eminent lawyer who was killed by the Ottomans in 1915. He held
a chair at the University of Istanbul and Sami Solh was one of his
students. We were living in Riad Solh Street, and the Solh family
marked my childhood. The leaders of those days, like Takieddin Solh
and Rashid Solh, and others, used to frequent coffee houses and smoke
narguiles, and they would visit people. Nowadays, if you want to talk
to a politician, you have to make an appointment. For my part, being
an MP hasn’t changed my way of living. I still do the shopping at
the supermarket and cultivate the garden at our summer home in Bikfaya.

Years ago my father owned a shop in the Gemmayze neighborhood where
he sold electronic equipment and also icons. He would go to church
every Sunday, rising at six in the morning. He was a very devout man.

He arrived in Lebanon in 1922 at the age of nine with his mother and
sister, after they had crossed the deserts of Anatolia. I never saw
my grandmother wear anything but black since she had lost her whole
family in the genocide. My grandfather was the principal of a school
in Diyarbekir. One day the Ottoman police arrived to question him.

They took him away, and his family never saw him again. In the
winter we lived on Riad Solh Square, and we spent the summers in
Bikfaya. My family always voted in Beirut and we always supported
the Kataeb list. A historic alliance was sealed between the Kataeb
and the Tashnag. I used to have a personal relationship with Sheikh
Pierre Gemayel, the founder of the party. He was a man of modest and
affable demeanor. I still recall, when he was driving up to Bikfaya
in his car, how he would wave to people. And we kids would sometimes
be hitchhiking, and he’d come along and give us a lift. This happened
to me several times", he recalled.

So why wasn’t this relationship followed up with the sons of Sheikh

You can’t say it wasn’t followed up. In 1975, at the beginning of the
war, the Armenian parties decided they weren’t going to take part in
the conflict since we knew from experience that nothing can be settled
except through dialogue. For our parties it was a matter of "positive
neutrality". I personally considered it "committed neutrality", since
we committed ourselves to respect determined rules and principles.

Who was advising you at that time? Was it the Armenian community in
the United States?

We lived through the experience of 1958 and that of the axes – those
of the Soviet Union and the United States. At the end of the day we
realized that we as a community had paid the price and had been unable
to be reconciled as Armenians. For us the 1975-90 war was going to
lead to our destruction and to that of Lebanon.

Is that the reason for your disagreement with the Gemayels?

We can’t speak of a disagreement, but at the beginning they couldn’t
understand our position. Kamal Jumblatt once wrote, "When the
Armenians came to Lebanon, the Christians thought their numbers would
be increased. For them it was natural to see the Armenians standing
beside them during the war".

But we didn’t do that. All the Armenian parties chose neutrality
in 1958. Subsequently we stood beside Camille Chamoun since he
represented legality, while the other two Armenian parties, the
Henchak and Ramgavar, took the side of Kamal Jumblatt. Finally, when
an agreement was reached, they dropped us, and we acquired nothing in
terms of political gains. At that time we weren’t even represented
in the cabinet. The first person to represent the Armenians in the
cabinet was Khachig Babikian, who joined the government in 1961 as
minister of reform, in the time of President Fuad Shehab. In 1975 the
Lebanese Front didn’t understand our position, but later, in 1978-79,
Bashir Gemayel was more understanding, and after 1979 there were no
more problems between us. On the contrary, in Bourj Hammoud we acted as
a buffer zone against the Palestinians, Nabaa, the National Movement
and the Christian forces. We even helped the people of Nabaa to leave
the area. Of course there were problems between us and the people of
Nabaa, the Palestinians, the National Movement and the Kataeb.

Have you ever regretted your neutrality?

No. In the final analysis, the Lebanese came round to the conviction
that we had always had. In Lebanon the solution can only be through
dialogue, and for that, there was Taef.

The problem with Amin Gemayel So what is the problem with former
President Amin Gemayel?

We were allied with the Kataeb until 2000, and even later, until 2005,
with the candidacy of Sheikh Pierre, the son of Amin Gemayel.

We voted for him on the basis of an agreement on the exchange of
votes. In 2005 the Kataeb formed a rival list and chose another
Armenian candidate, Rafi Madayan, while on our list a place was
reserved for Sheikh Pierre, whom I knew personally. He was my
neighbor. I live in Antelias and he lived up the road. He was a
straightforward and sincere young man.

We were therefore on the list of General Michel Aoun and Michel Murr,
and we won.

In Beirut in 2005, we boycotted the elections. Since 2000 we’ve been
marginalized in Beirut and no Christian voice was raised to decry
this fact. In 2005 all the Christians raised their voices, from the
North to the South, to protest against their marginalization. When
the government was being formed, Prime Minister Saniora refused to let
the Tashnag be represented in it on the pretext that we were not part
of the March 14 Forces, even though Hezballah and the Amal Movement
were represented. From then on we were part of the opposition. In the
by-election of 2007, we were no longer in the same camp as the Kataeb,
politically speaking.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t make a great effort to promote an
understanding between President Gemayel and General Aoun. We informed
President Gemayel that if there was no understanding, we would be
with General Aoun. In 2005 there was the same situation: President
Gemayel told us: "This time we can’t be together; we’ll see what
happens in 2009".

Mr. Gemayel failed because of Armenian votes, but also because of
the votes of others, so why are the Armenians being singled out
for blame? Maronites also voted for Dr. Camille Khoury, and so did
Orthodox and Greek Catholics.

President Gemayel got 2,000 Armenian votes, while Sheikh Pierre got
1,600. We were surprised by President Gemayel’s stance. For me it
was a complete surprise; I couldn’t believe my ears.

How can contact be reestablished between the Tashnag and the Kataeb?

President Gemayel took a positive step when he visited our patriarch,
Catholicos Aram I. We hope that through other initiatives, we can
settle this problem. President Gemayel knows the way to our hearts.

Our aim is to calm people’s minds; we don’t want to deepen the
disagreement among Christians and add to our internal problems.

What about the disagreement with Gabriel Murr?

We’ll let the lawsuit take its course. What he said was racist.

Why the marginalization?

What is the reason for the marginalization of the Armenians and
the Christians?

On the legal level, it’s because of the electoral law. In 2000 the
whole list that we were a part of failed in Beirut, where a number
of eminent local figures were also defeated, such as Salim Hoss,
Tammam Salam, etc. At that time the marginalization was caused by
the fact that Prime Minister Hariri wouldn’t have anything to do
with the bloc of Armenian MPs because, in his opinion, it was a
confessional grouping.

We agreed to support his bloc in regard to anything having to do
with the rebuilding of the capital and the country, but in regard to
political matters, we wanted to keep an independent decision.

So by not allying yourselves with the March 14 Forces you have been

We reproach them for not raising their voices against this


The problem lies in the electoral law. When a candidate is elected
by votes belonging to a specific political current, he no longer has
any freedom to act.

In favor of the small constituency What kind of constituency are you
in favor of?

The small constituency, with three to five MPs on each list.

What was it that most annoyed you in the statements made about the
Tashnag Party?

The tone. It wasn’t normal. We felt it was aggressive, and President
Gemayel said at the end of his speech. "We’ll hold them responsible".

That really bothered me, and the party too. Such statements cannot
be uttered among friends and partners in the same country. There is
no account to be settled between us and the Kataeb. But when matters
got aggravated, Armenians, Christians, were spoken of as if they
were intruders.

At the moment Christians think of us as second-class citizens.

Especially when Gabriel Murr said, "The Army should put these people
in Bourj Hammoud, these supporters of Tashnag, in their place", etc.

Or when others say, "Let them stay neutral and not take part in
elections", etc. But today a new page is opening, and that’s the most
important thing.

You opted for neutrality. Why then in 1988-89 did you decide to back
General Aoun?

On the contrary, the general was very annoyed by our stand during the
war of liberation and during the one against the Lebanese Forces. We
were against the Army or the Lebanese Forces coming into Bourj Hammoud
to prevent confrontations between the two sides in that region.

But you were close to the general.

Yes, because he wanted to liberate the country. But our position as
Armenian parties was that of neutrality. After the Taef Agreement,
once the war was over, one could no longer remain neutral in political
life. There were the elections of 1992 which the Kataeb boycotted. We
took part with Nassib Lahoud in 1996 and with the Kataeb in 2000. There
was an exchange of votes between us and in 2005, although we were on
two rival lists.

No presidential election would mean the end of Lebanon Is General
Aoun your candidate for president?

Yes. The Presidency is the most important post for the Christians
of Lebanon and the Middle East. If we lose it, we lose Lebanon. A
Lebanon without a Christian president is no longer the same. That’s
why I always say that we want a strong and wise president. So our
candidate is General Aoun, unless he decides not to run for this high
office. But if he maintains his candidacy, we’ll support him.

If there is no presidential election, what might happen?

It would be the end of Lebanon.

Would it mean partition?

I don’t know.

Will there be an election?

A lot of effort will have to be made if one is to happen. We still have
time. In my opinion, we have to do all we can to elect a new president.

Michel Murr has said he will continue to support the general until
October 15. If by then there is still no agreement on his candidacy,
he would be in favor of General Michel Sleiman, the commander-in-chief
of the Army. What is your view?

In the final analysis, we have to examine the possibilities. If General
Aoun withdraws his candidacy, we would envisage other alternatives.

Does that mean you have other candidates in mind?

The Tashnag Party has no other candidates.

The Bloc of Reform and Change?

Even if that bloc took some kind of decision, I’ll stick to the
decision of my own party.

Former Minister Sleiman Franjie and the Lebanese Forces have spoken
against any amendment to the Constitution promoting the election of
General Sleiman or of Riad Salame, governor of the central bank…

In principle, we would prefer that there should be no constitutional
amendment, unless failure to enact one would risk making the situation
still more grave.

What about the question of the presidential election and the formation
of a cabinet of national unity?

We’re in favor of a parallel solution according to the formula
proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri. I believe there will be a government
of national unity.

How do you see the situation of the Armenians?

After the Taef Agreement, there was a halt to emigration; some
Armenians even returned to Lebanon. There are nearly 140,000 Armenians
in this country.

What is it that gives the Tashnag Party its strength?

For each Armenian, the Tashnag is the party that has been able to
preserve the rights and traditions, the one which has been able to
defend the Armenian cause. The Tashnag Party was founded in 1904,
which makes it the oldest party in Lebanon. It emerged from the people,
and it works with them, ensuring a decent life, schools, etc.

We have no leader or president; responsibilities change hands through
democratic elections.

The Tashnag is present everywhere in the world: in the United States
from New Jersey to California; in Canada, Argentina, France, Armenia,
Greece, Iran… But each central committee reaches its decisions in
a totally independent way. In all modesty, I think I can say that
our party is the strongest in the world and enjoys enormous good
will everywhere.

Democracy is sacred for us. We have no "political families". The
people give responsibility to deputies, who change continually in
elections. We have no hereditary leadership.

What do you think of something General Aoun once said, namely that
if President Gemayel wanted to act in a truly democratic way, he
would resign?

In the West that’s what happens in general, but in Lebanon things
are different. No leader or senior official has ever been known to
resign of his own accord as the result of errors he has made.