Living On

Armen is heavily missed. His absence left a hole in independent observation of the political and economic risk situation in Latin America. Beyond the merely analytical though his work was wide-ranging from Armenian philanthropy and social observation of Latin and European lifestyles through to being a "fly on the wall" at the Cannes Film Festival every year and reporting back on the more exotic foibles of the international jet-set.

We miss his wit, his sense of history and his bon mots (in French, Armenian and, even, Turkish). Armen was very much a product of the Levant but then, like so many other Levantines, converted to an international stage where they offer insight into all around them. This record tries to humbly accumulate his collected writings for public consumption so they can be preserved and appreciated for the urgency of the moment in which they were written to the timelessness of the observations.

How best to categorise the uncategorisable? Maybe Armen could be described as an Armenian/Anglo/Franco Samuel Pepys for our times.....

It is ironic that ultimately it was the very mediocrity and self-satisfaction of the Chilean "system", which he documented so thoroughly, that brought about his tragic end.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why I Am No Longer Allowed to be Armenian


Half way through my 63rd year, I have realised I cannot be an Armenian any more.

Of course, I cannot change the genetics or the character; though I could do something about the tell-tale name. I cannot erase my knowledge of the language as if it were a file on a hard disk. In a way, I may have started my mutation earlier by marrying a non-Armenian, and then realising my children had no interest whatsoever in that side of their roots.

I find it impossible to be an Armenian because Armenians are their own worst enemy. This is why I think they will never achieve neither a dynamic modern homeland, nor an unconditional recognition of the Genocide, nor the survival of the Diaspora beyond an academic and folkloric community of limited following.

Those who know me may find these affirmations surprising, as I have dedicated some 45 years, since my late teens, to Armenian causes. I fought, with mixed success, with media misrepresentation, joined non-political organisations, stayed away from divisive groups, and did such diverse things as promoting the Armenian presence at the Cannes film festival by sinking (the word is used advisedly) more than a quarter of all my savings into helping people in Armenia with a cultural sponsorship and individual assistance.

Though I found it ridiculous, I learned to live with the divisions and subdivisions of the various communities who spent more time fighting each other than pursue common aims. I accepted, with some exceptions, the idiosyncrasies of Armenia itself, thinking that they have had a hard time and deserved some positive discrimination and patience.

In less than one year, all my dreams and ideals came apart.

In late 2009, I realised that financial circumstances would not allow me to pursue my sponsorship in Armenia, and advised the 40 or so people involved of the fact. Most said that they understood and it did not matter, as I had done enough for 13 years. They insisted that their love and gratitude would endure whatever. “Parole, parole, parole”, as the Italian song went.

After sending my last contribution, I never heard from them again; even when I pursued them. Not even an Armenian Christmas greeting. Much later, I asked a member of our community in Chile visiting Armenia who had been instrumental in my initial involvement, to find out why I was so ignored. He did not even bother to report back.

I resigned myself to try to help our small and struggling community in Chile, where we have no embassy, school or church; just a rundown old clubhouse where we meet up three or four times a year . The Armenian ambassador, serving Chile from his post in Argentina, had asked me to be his informal liaison man. I can say without false modesty that I leaned over backwards to comply. We managed to have a Genocide resolution passed unanimously by the Chilean Senate, and have been omnipresent in the local media whenever the need or occasion arose.

I liaised with friendly embassies and reported on the activities of the Turks. I sent a weekly situation report on what was going on in all aspects of the country and also maintained contact with Armenian communities in Latin America and beyond.

I visited Armenia 13 times, met up with the Foreign and Diaspora ministries, and wrote papers ranging from geopolitics to diplomacy. On several occasions I was asked to lecture on aspects
of Armenian affairs both in Chile and abroad.

Suddenly, in March 2010, all communications to me from official Armenia stopped. Messages were not answered or even acknowledged, and no explanation given. Last week, I learned that a Chilean lawyer with no link to or knowledge of Armenia had been formally accredited two months ago as Honorary Consul in Santiago. I was never advised in advance. This happened despite my supposedly being the “Embassy Liaison” and “Community International Adviser”

Not just I, but the community in general was never advised. Nor did the appointed person make contact with his newly acquired flock. When I complained, I got a purposely distorted “explanation” that made no sense.

Forgotten in Armenia and thrown away by the Diaspora, there is nowhere left to go in my being an Armenian. Continue to behave like that ‘Oh Armenians’, and see how far it will get you.

An apology to the memory of my maternal grandfather Lev√≥n Hazarabedian, whom I never met, but who, on his deathbed, advised his family – “never become involved in Armenian affairs”.

I am sorry not to have listened to you, medz-baba.

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