Gerard Libaridian: “The new chance should serve a certain purpose”
January 13, 2015 10:16
On the threshold of the Armenian Genocide Centennial, Mediamax starts
a series of interviews with the intellectuals of Armenia and the
It will be an attempt to collect opinions as to whether the Armenian
Genocide Centennial will serve a certain “New Beginning” for Armenians
or not. This series also aims to analyze the relations between Armenia
and the Diaspora and understand the opportunities and challenges.
Our today’s interlocutor is historian Gerard Libaridian, senior
advisor to first President of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosyan in 1990s.
(The interview with Gerard Libariadian was orginially held in Armenian
and was then translated into English by Mediamax).
– Mr. Libaridian, what will happen on April 25? Do you think we have
exaggerated expectations from the Armenian Genocide Centennial?
– I fear we will wake up slightly disappointed on April 25. The state
and various organizations speak about large-scale programs and events
the niceties of which are not clear yet, but I am inclined to think
they will do what they have been doing over the past years. It will
simply be done in a larger scale, which however, will not lead to a
There is also an impression we do all that for the foreigners in the
first place, and act ignorantly toward the issue itself. And this
spurs concern. In reality, much lies ahead of us with regard to the
Armenian Genocide, but we psychologically focus on the international
recognition. There will be a qualitative change only when we make
institutional changes in the Genocide issue and forget about the
international recognition for some time.
I personally no longer care much whether Obama or Merkel will
recognize the Armenian Genocide or not. I find it insulting that
having suffered the massacres and the Genocide we should beg for
To be contingent on international recognition means to be a hostage to
what they say and what they do not, and thus link our future,
psychological and intellectual independence to others.
Do you think I should be happy if Obama utters the word “Genocide” or
spend another unhappy year if he doesn’t? What matters is not to
forget the genocide but at the same time, not to be dependent on it –
to act as people with independent thinking and valuing the development
of the intellectual potential.
I really do not attach importance to the views other people hold on
this important issue of my history and my nation. They are not the
ones to decide the history of my people and my political maturity does
not hinge on them.
We should think of what omissions there are in Genocide Studies and
what we do not know. How many genocide experts are there in Armenia
and the Diaspora who know foreign languages, including the Ottoman
Turkish? We need experts who will give an answer to not only how the
genocide was committed but also to why it was committed and what made
it possible. In the course of history, there were and there are
regimes which are trying to exterminate people under their control in
order to settle a certain racial or religious issue. Nevertheless,
they do not have means or conditions to commit such a thing. Why did
the Ottoman Empire succeed in the last few years of its life?
There are young people engaged in Genocide studies but their number is
small and the majority of them have insufficient level to properly
present themselves on the international scene. It should be noted that
sound and invariable science will facilitate the international
recognition. It’s what happened with the previous generation –
initially at amateur level, the genocide issue ended up in the hand of
historians and scientists. It was the first generation, while now we
should prepare the second and the third generations but I don’t see it
Photo: Wilson Center
We also need an international level scientific institution that will
be solely engaged in genocide studies. Unfortunately, we don’t have
it. There is the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in Yerevan but it
has limited financial resources and a small number of scholars. It is
essential to engage Diaspora scientists who have advanced in this
field more than the Armenia-based scientists.
I believe we owe it to the victims of Genocide to use the centennial
to make a step forward in qualitative terms.
-There are two opposite views in Armenia and the Diaspora. Some people
believe that we live clinging to the “victim psychology”, which cannot
pave the way for a better future. Others think if we get oblivious of
our past we won’t have any future at all.
– First of all, we should understand the role of genocide in the
policy of our present day and tomorrow. This is the main question to
What do we want for our future? This is what needs to be decided. Do
we want to know the history of the past, draw lessons from it and
carve out our future, or do we want to remain committed to finding out
what role genocide plays in our relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan
and consequently, confuse or equal the past and the future.
Thus, we should determine the role of genocide in political discourse.
We have yet not even tried to find out the link between thoughts
oriented toward genocide and loss of independence. They are bound up.
-It is often stated that the Genocide is the “cement” around which the
Armenian Diaspora is established and this factor will gradually lose
its significance. Do you agree with it?
– I do not agree with it. There does exist such an erroneous opinion
that the Diaspora structures are united around the genocide. But there
was Armenian Diaspora prior to the genocide as well – it existed in
the U.S., Russia, Iran and the Middle East. In certain countries,
four-five generations of Armenians have already reared their children.
Obviously, Genocide survivors were the largest wave, but the Genocide
did not act as an identity determining factor. Our parties and
political structures were attempting to convince us of it, but I can
assure you that identity was not linked to genocide until 1950-1960s.
During my school years in Lebanon in 1950s, there was just a liturgy
served in the memory of Genocide victims on April 24 and it bore no
political constituent. Our families used to talk about it and everyone
had their stories but it was not politicized and it was not what
united us. Issues related to preserving our identity – the existence
of schools and churches – were the cement. At the same time, the
Diaspora was facing a “big question” until 1960s – are you with Soviet
Armenia or against it, do you accept the ideas of communism or not?
Linking the genocide to the identity became easier in the next years.
In my opinion, it was a tragedy because alternatives arose – Karabakh
movement, 1988 Earthquake and Armenia’s independence.
Undeniably, independent Armenia did way more to preserve the Armenian
identity than all the previous efforts the Diaspora committed to this
end. We have quite a different Diaspora today and Armenia is committed
to preserving the Armenian identity and uniting people. I hope Armenia
will persist with it despite the fact the state will conduct relevant
policy toward the Diaspora or not.
The question of identity is constantly changing. The new generation
always finds a new way to express it. Some people think Armenia might
“perish” but the Diaspora will continue to exist. I don’t agree with
this – the Diaspora might continue to exist but without Armenia it’s
just an ethnic minority in various countries. Diaspora means not to be
where you once were or were to be today. Thus, there is a link between
your fatherland and you. It means juxtaposing values – if the Diaspora
develops, Armenia will also develop. If we don’t assume Armenia as a
basis, the Diaspora will have much to lose.
– Which is currently the main omission in Armenia-Diaspora relations?
What should be done for Armenia to become such a promised land for
Armenians as Israel is for the Jews?
– I wouldn’t say for sure that present-day Israel is a promised land
for every Jew. Many American Jews are against present-day Israel. They
are against the policy carried out towards millions of Palestinians.
Those who do not support this government and see no hope, leave
Israel. But the fact Israel has a more organized policy is out of
As to Armenia-Diaspora relations, the Diaspora is not united and it
does not need to be so as everybody should not share the same opinion.
However, there should be a certain mechanism or platform presenting
the Diaspora opinions. The Diaspora should be organizing discussions
leading to a united representation through which it would maintain a
dialog with the Armenian leadership. Certain attempts were made, but
they were of no effect as our Diaspora organizations believe the
Armenian identity, culture and even the genocide are a privatized
commodity. Thus, organizational identity dominates here.
The Armenian leadership has difficulty telling the Diaspora what to
do. During Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s presidency I was working in Armenia
and within just a day various leaders came to him on behalf of the
Diaspora saying “the Diaspora demands this be done” and each one’s
idea conflicted with that voiced by the other one.
The present-day Armenian government seems to have returned to the
Soviet era policy – if you are with me, I will award you a medal. They
think they will award Diaspora entrepreneurs and artists a medal and
that’s it. In the Diaspora, you might graduate from the university
living from hand to mouth and become a great artist, but nobody will
pay heed to you until you obtain foreigner’s recognition. Then they
will award you a medal and will use your capital without adding
And the Diaspora has a corresponding psychology.
Armenia can create values and establish institutions wherein this
cooperation will be achieved. During Robert Kocharyan’s presidency a
famous businessman told him: “I would like to invest in Armenia but I
am not sure about the guarantees there are”. Kocharyan answered: “I am
the guarantee”. But it’s not a statesman approach. It’s the law and
institutions that should be the guarantee. Today you are a President,
but tomorrow you are not. Or, if that person says something bad about
you, you might take away his business. Institutions that will not
depend on the President should be established.
During Armenia-Diaspora conferences, Armenian authorities fear putting
those questions pointblank and invite those people who stand ready to
lend an ear to their speeches without radical debates.
-It is sometimes said that over these years the Diaspora could have
its input in Armenia’s democratization by making investments to this
end, just like the U.S. or European governmental and non-governmental
structures were doing.
-I have a counter-question – which Diaspora structure is democratic?
Although they operate in democratic states, they are not democratic in
their core and so they cannot teach Armenia in this regard. There is
another question as well – the U.S. and Europe have allotted Armenia
huge amounts to ensure the independence of the judiciary in Armenia.
But what results has it yielded?
There is a generation in the middle sections of Armenia’s executive,
legislative and judiciary powers, which has impressed me. However,
this generation is not able to climb up as there is a “ceiling” and as
soon as they reach it, they fall down.
Democratization can be a success only when there is a domestic demand
for it. Armenia showed the strongest aspiration for democratization
through the 1988 movement and it was driven from within.
– Are there intellectuals in Armenia and the Diaspora who can discuss
the “New Beginning” and the “Second Chance” that will enable most use
of the Armenian potential to settle nationwide issues?
– First of all, we should realize why we need the “second chance”.
During talks with Turkey in 1990s I was adhering to this approach –
should we sacrifice the new generation and new Armenia to commemorate
the genocide victims?
Is there a goal for which strong Armenia with strong economy and
public system where people feel their being strong is not a
prerequisite? What would the 1915 victims want? Would they want us to
commemorate them by remaining a poor state and cursing Turks time and
The new chance should serve a certain purpose. Which is our aim? Our
actions and our value system are presently scattered. It’s hard to
clarify a purpose in the Diaspora. Although there are certain goals
set, they are not well-thought-out. They want Armenian Genocide
recognition, but what will come next? Will it ensure prosperity and
security for our country and will it bring about a viable society,
justice, effective relations with neighboring countries and economic
development? Will we claim our lands? But what have we done with the
lands we own?
Armenia might have its aim but our current authorities have no
forward-looking goals. We are now entering the Eurasian Economic Union
and they explain it saying we “don’t have any alternative”. Perhaps,
we really don’t have. But why don’t we have it? Why did we have an
alternative back in 1993, 1996 and 1999 but we lack it today? I do not
refer to only the authorities but also to the process which, in these
20 years, has come to a point at which it hit a brick wall. Along with
this, we have an alternative, however…
Thus, we should importantly define the purpose – where should Armenia
head to? It’s where the answers to the rest of the questions will
Ara Tadevosyan talked to Gerard Libaridian
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress