Preserving national identity is a national ideology itself
Hovik Musayelyan’s interlocution with the RA Public Council Chairman Vazgen Manukyan takes us back to the Soviet times, to the environment of youth longing for independence. The breakthrough of the Kharabakh movement turning into all-Armenian movement was no accident – from 1965, it had been a secret dream of the Armenian youth to rebel. In Vazgen Manukyan’s biography, it had been a conscientious activity, and finally he became the ideology leader of the movement, thereupon, the first Premier of the Independent Armenia, a candidate to President, an active politician, not standing aside but still proactive and doing his utmost for the improvement of the social life.
Hovik Musayelyan – Our meeting is dedicated to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, but I would like to go 50 years back, to 1965, when the Communist Party of Soviet Armenia decides that an event dedicated to 50 years of the Armenian Genocide should be held in the opera hall. As far as I remember, not many people knew about the massacre. Today, the situation is totally different. Seems like a newborn already knows what a genocide is. Nevertheless, although 90% of the population did not know about this, a miracle happened in a few days – flyers were distributed, people went out and a meeting happened. Nowadays, it is not that difficult to arrange a demonstration and probably people won’t adequately assess this breakthrough and the risks that this brave demonstration implied. Since you personally participated in this historical demonstration, and following this, a group of dissidents was formed, you were one of those… Let us go 50 years back…
Vazgen Manukyan – If we go 50 years back, we will definitely appear in a very good period from the age perspective. I would not say the citizens, but most of the youth hardly knew about the genocide. The elderly ones of course knew, but told nothing to their families as a rule – nothing compromising safety should have been disclosed to children during those days. The genocide topic was one of those. I was slightly aware, since on our way to the kindergarten my grandpa was telling me about the genocide, religion, Bible; however, nor could I imagine the real scope of the tragedy. Now I think it was good that we did not know about the genocide, knowing about it would be a huge stress. Realizing that you have lost your land and people is a not that easy. It may sound surprising, but I think it was good to an extent that the youth did not know about the genocide. Forbidding for decades to speak about the genocide, the Soviet Union, in fact, helped and enabled us to meet the 50th anniversary more recovered. From this perspective, we differed from the diaspora also. Their sense of patriotism was stronger thanks to the instillation, but we were healthier. It was at that time that the youth understood what had happened. After April 24, 1965, seven people were arrested, several secret societies were established. I remember us calling during the demonstration “Return the land, return the land” and “Free the 7 patriots”. In the State University, we had a highly reputable professor, Torgom Khachatryan if I am not mistaken, who had returned from exile. He had lost both legs, but lectured nevertheless. He established a secret group comprising lecturers and students, who would gather and discuss the April 24. We studied with Moukuch (Mkrtich), he was the leader of our university group, now in the composition of the alliance. So, on April 24, we were told that we were heading to the Republic Square, and the University was the first to go out. First, we went to the Republic Square. Many did not understand what the matter was, but joined the crowd. I clearly remember people telling each other “do not trample on the grass, this is our grass”, “do not throw cigarettes on the ground, it’s our ground”. Our ideology was very strong, an amazing feeling toward the mother land was revealed. Today’s people hardly imagine what it means to organize a demonstration in the Soviet era. Demonstrations were abolished by tanks, and suppose such a demonstration happening in Armenia.
Later, I had conversations with some concerned people to find out what the government felt like during those times. It appears they were very anxious, totally ignorant of what to do. It was very important that the Prime Secretary Yakov Zaroubian was a very good man surrounded by several other good persons.
H.M. – True, in Khrushchov’s times the country seemed to have freedom to a degree; however, a person like Zaroubian did a heroic action indeed, when he escalated the issue up to the Central Committee. Did we have such people indeed, who had put their political weight in a state that could bring to big losses?
V.M. – Yes, there were some. Myasnikyan, Grigor Harutyunyov, Zarobyan. By the way, all three of them had a common feature – none of them was raised in Armenia, they were not afraid of what the local people were afraid of. For example, Harutyunov raised the issue of Karabakh for Stalin’s consideration economically justifying the annexation of Karabakh and Armenia, raised the issue of Matenadaran construction, cut twice the list of the people sent to exile after the war, explaining that they are needed for the developing economy of Armenia. I met with Zarobyan during the years of my study in Moscow, he was a very interesting man. In 1967, I transferred to the Moscow State University. Hamo Harutyunyan was quite known in Moscow – he had been the Ambassador of the Soviet Union in Canada, – meeting him proved to significantly influence my and my friends’ lives. They wanted to send him as the General Secretary of the Central Committee Communistic Party; however, Suslov objected saying he is too “succulent” for Armenia. His wife was Toumanian’s granddaughter, he was a relative of Mikoyan, we became close with Baghramyan thanks to him. He did not know Zarobyan, but we wanted to get to know him by all means, so we found an interesting way to do so. We knew the building he lived in, so we entered it and rang all bells one after another. None of them opened the door, they just replied that no such person lived there. All of a sudden one of the doors opened, and we saw Zarobyan in a shirt and a training suit. He asked if we were Armenians. There were three of us. He invited us in, told his wife to bring some brandy and lay on the table, and he told us much about the years he spent working in Armenia. He was committed to Armenia to the core. Apparently, he regretted deeply that he had to leave Armenia. Seemed like the most important part of his life was the years spent in Armenia. He was a very honest man, therefore brave. A corruptor cannot be brave. He will never take a risk to make a step. Both were honest men having come from overseas, committed to the state ideology and considering it absolutely normal to serve to it.
So we are in the Republic Square for a demonstration. People from the Central Committee came, invited Victor Hambardzumian, Silva Kaputikian. On Lenin’s monument platform, Victor Hambardzumian raised; the demonstrators were unique in their decisions. When Victor Hambardzumian started speaking, everybody turned around and stood silent, their backs towards him. Or, they used to suddenly squat, thus expressing their attitude towards the speaker. Then, we moved towards other institutes so that more people come out to join us. The doors of the Polytechnic Institute were closed. We would shout “shame on you, shame on you!” Then, since we were brought up in the spirit of proletariat, we decided to send another group to “Armelectro” to inspire the workers and bring them to the manifestation venue, but unsuccessful.
Then Zarobian applied to Moscow, and here I want to understand the state Moscow was in at that time. Allowing a demonstration was harmful to an extent. It would raise the nationalistic feelings in the Armenian people, which would not be welcomed by the country. On the other hand, it was useful, as it would show the Turkish that the Armenian people are hard to restrain. When necessary, this could be used against both countries. And this is what he later did in the context of genocide. They found a correct diplomatic solution for tehmsleves.
Secret societies started to be set up, flyers were printed. Initially, the spirit of retaliation was ruling. Very promptly it transformed to the independence idea. We understood that we cannot resolve our issues unless we reach independence. I was against the published press, because KGB would immediately catch and arrest. Some of our guys lost years in the prison. And we during our gatherings, discussed various subjects, like whether Armenia should have capitalistic or socialistic economy after acquiring independence. My close friend and I even had considerable misunderstanding because of this, and did not communicate for 10 years as a result. I was supporting the capitalistic development, and he advocated for the socialistic progress. We addressed Armenia’s energy issues as well. Afterwards, when we used to discuss such issues after acquiring independence, I used to smirk because we had already gone through all of those discussions. During the sixties, a group of people was shaped who I also saw at the first protests in 1988.
H.M. – I was a head of the manufacturing department in Etchmiadzin and had 350 people under my supervision. I guided them to Yerevan on foot every day. My case was on the agenda of the meetings of the regional committee. The issue of excluding me from the party was considered. I never got to know whether they excluded me or not, though the party pass is still with me. During the meetings you spoke in a very balanced way, feelings yielded. People preferred to listen to expressive and pathetic speeches. They just got electrified by Ashot Manucharyan’s speeches, the same was later with Levon Ter-Petrosyan. However, after cooperating with you within the scope of the Public Council, I cannot help asking myself what would happen should you not yield to the opportunity to become a president. Or, should you have been elected, should the results not be falsified. Seems like everything would have gone a different way.
V.M. – It was during that period that it became clear that there were many patriotic unions in Armenia, and each of them was sure it was surrounded by non-patriots, and that they were the only one to possess the monopoly of patriotism. I have to confidently say that during that time I was the most prepared indeed. Why I am saying so is because in 1967 in Moscow we organized the first manifestation in front of the Embassy of Turkey. We owe much to the acquaintance with Hamo Harutyunyan. I started reading specialized literature. For instance, I purchased the book “US Stock Companies”. In fact, I realized that American economy is something to study thoroughly. Economics and the national issue. I used to teach applied math in economics; I went to Novosibirsk, learned much especially from Kandarovich. He moved to Moscow – I remained with his deputy. I was preparing to the re-organization of the independent Armenia. I read the first Armenian Premier’s, Kajaznuni’s book. I was heavily influenced by Rafael Ishkhanyan, he urged me to examine the republic’s first materials. I read Kajaznuni’s famous address, where he raises the question of our guiltiness, where he questions whether or not we were right when we signified Russia so strongly. What if we should have negotiated with Turkey directly? And so, questions requiring answers were cropping up. I had old magazines at my place. There was an author, Chilingaryan. He used to be published in the press, make prognosis that became true. This man became a prophet to me. I was astonished at his ability to foresee developments; he even predicted the revolution. I understood the harm the Russians, Mauserists and group leaders did. When I became Prime Minister, one of my first instructions was to remove armed forces. This gave a ground to the thesis that there are no friends or enemies forever. We did not need to study Armenia under Tigran the Great; rather, we needed to do a study of the century beginning and the practice of the first republic. I was telling we have national issues and there is a global process in place. If we raise a question that does not fit a global process, the question is doomed to a failure. The issues of our independence and Karabakh conflict suited into the global process at that time. Everybody thought that Karabakh Committee was too emotional, whereas the Committee was making rather pragmatic decisions. Vital discussions were happening, the situation was analyzed, and realistic decisions were made. Whatever, I apparently do not know the answer to your question, but there are two perspectives. First, what should have happened – happened; second, everything could go another way. I prioritize the individual’s role. It was at the beginning of the nineties, when I spoke to an American diplomat, I expressed my opinion that for a country like America, for instance, the President’s personality is not that important, because everything is very definitely regulated. And for our country, it is vital who the President is. He agreed that it is important for Armenia, but added that it is of no less importance for the US, because it impacts the country’s character. Later I realized that indeed, Reagan’s America differed from Bush’s America, and Clinton’s US were also different. Even a country like America is influenced by this. America is a very sensitive state. America does not fight against Iraq – the US fight against Sadam Hussein, America does not advocate for the Soviet Union – America supports Gorbachev, Yeltsin. America is in war with Gaddafi, Putin. From this point of view, indeed, whoever was Armenia’s first, second, and third President, I believe, was dependent on an individual, but it is not provable, because the reality happened, and the “if” did not. Currently, a number of interesting theories is developed, books are written about “ifs”. What would have happened if… History does not have “ifs”, but these people analyze what would have happened had something in history gone in a different way. For example, recently, I was reading a very interesting research of what would have happened should Hitler take different steps; he may have won the war and the world would have adopted the American and also other types of Fascism.
H.M. – We all know that you have been the advocate of the national ideology, some have been against it. What is the situation today, do we have a national ideology?
V.M. – It is not right to have any ideology similar to the communistic one. Ideology is something that has not been registered anywhere; however the entire nation knows it. For instance, does USA have an ideology? Of course it does. It is democracy, moreover, the way it is in the United States. That kind of democracy proves their lifestyle and America has a mission toward the world that should be spread worldwide. The 2nd is that an ordinary shoemaker can become a president. Well, this is impossible now. This ideology is being spread via culture, films, literature. I think we also have our ideology. First, we say that we differ from the others. Each of us explains in a unique way, however each of us has that in our feelings. We feel that we are different from others. I am against it, as if allegedly there is a book about the Armenian ideology, and if some accept it, are true Armenians those who do not, are betrayers. However keeping the Armenian identity is already a national ideology. We have entered the international competitiveness, aside from the state competitiveness; we have entered the national competitiveness. Keeping the national identity has become a serious challenge.
For instance it is precisely mentioned in the Judaic ideology that they are smart and higher than the others. But in the 20th century it is not the religion that spread that ideology, images are shaped via literature, movies, and those are the heroes to resemble. The Jewish do it quite well. We do not lack the ideology, rather the real people and the artistic images, that carry the ideology characteristic to us.
We lack those people who may carry the ideology.
H.M. – Don’t you think those should be such people who will lead during hard times and will be heard. It is hard for the youth to mention a specific name, who is an authority for them.
V.M. – Truly it is hard to find authorities, who will be heard by the people. Those were scientists, the writers, painters, composers during the soviet times. Today’s political field is not one of the bests. Once we had the motto of “rise and raise”, now a contrary of this is happening.
- M. – Every nation a, to survive the competition, should have a vision about the future. However, who should be talking about this vision? You have hopes with the youth, however, by partaking in different campaigns, the youth may not shape the vision of the state’s future, whereas there is a gap between the youth and the older generation. The path of the youth and the older generation should be aligned. It seemed the group of the elders could be the public council, however there is no harmony here either, we mainly discuss local questions, there is no team to discuss global issues. Those are good people, honest, experienced, however they cannot lead.
V.M. – There was a team of youth in Chile, discontent from the country’s situation. They had designed a program called “pragmatic nationalism”. Pinochet was an ordinary person, however when he emerged into the ruling power, he took the vision developed by the youth, and led it forward. For instance, I can write down our vision, deliver speeches, however it will not come true, since there are no conditions for this. The people gathered in public council have a general experience, however not a general ideology. We were talking with a few businessmen a few years ago, and while talking about such kinds of issues, one of them said: “People do not have money, how should they think about vision?” There is another opinion, that vision encounters during chaos, and the vision resembles the light at the end of the tunnel. It is interesting, that every Armenian has that latent vision in his thoughts; we have the same outline in us for the future of our country. And when the time is right, it will emerge.
H.M. – When a few Jewish arrange a breakfast, they discuss national issues, and gather much more money than we do it nationally. There is no use in a sleeping feeling. Who should wake it up? A fundraising is conducted, people do not trust one another, meanwhile diverse programs require funds for the army, you have got a huge input in the establishment of the army, the diaspora has supported, has not it? A huge contribution should be done in the educational sphere. There are 20 universities in Armenia, with the budget of 62 million US dollars in total. Churches are built everywhere. Why? Moreover, amounts are spent on diverse meaningless things, whereas the purposes should be selected wisely, education should have investments.
V.M. – The army has been shaped mainly via state means. There is no developed program either via the state or via Panamanian organizations that will support the educational sphere. Why should anyone invest into it? By the way, the Jewish have not reached that consolidation easily. Their Prime Minister Golda Meir takes 2 packages to the US, gathers a hundred of million dollars from the US Jewish Community. Trust is a very important factor, and here it was guaranteed by the modest lifestyle of their first authorities. Whereas the first financial support was given by Rotshildt. It is not for anyone to raise funds.
H.M. – There are different models of economic development globally. Is there a preferable model for Armenia?
V.M. – There is a very good phrase on this, which is much articulated by the Chinese and the Singapore famous Prime Minister, which is. Learn, but take your own path. I would say, all paths should be walked. One part of the economy should be absolutely free; one part should be much aided by the state, find investments. The world has become amazingly scattered, we cannot integrate into the world’s economy, hence it should be brought to us, and here we can integrate into it. Big countries pass the entire industry into the hands of other countries. For instance, with our example we can also see the regional features, for instance Nagorno Karabakh population are skilled at the military activities, Gyumri is strong with its culture, Gavar is good at Mathematics. Armenians were known with their honesty, which was shattered during the soviet years. They are known for the special behavior. And the third- it is necessary to have a vision on future, to which everyone’s united efforts should be directed and around which the nation should be consolidated.