This interview with Seta Melkonian was conducted on the occasion of the English translation and publication of Monte Melkonian’s book “A Self-Criticism.” The translation was made by his widow, Seta Melkonian.
By Nora Vosbigian (London)
Q: How do you feel now that “A Self-Criticism” has been published in English for the first time?
A: I feel that I have fulfilled an important responsibility. As the reader will know, Monte wanted to present his “A Self-Citicism” to the general public since he wrote it in 1990. For twenty years this exceptional piece of writing has been kept away for reasons that were out of my hands. Some parts of it had been published before in the media and his biography “My Brother’s Road.” Now that it is being published in a format that this writing is worthy of, I feel that another one of Monte’s wishes is being realized.
Q. What can you say about the timing of this publication?
A: While the timing was a coincidence, it seems everything happens for a reason. When one considers what is happening in the world generally and in Armenia specifically, it is clear that the timing of this publication could not have been better. People who work in the name of nations and countries, ought to take an example from Monte. Stop look and analyze the work they are doing and the impact they are having. Self Criticism leads to accountability, which every responsible person should have, especially when they are acting in the name of their people. I believe there should not be any top secrets which will put officials out of work or defame them, unless they are doing something very wrong. It is likely they make mistakes, like everyone else, but accepting the mistakes and correcting them is the key. That is what Monte’s A Self Criticism is about.
Q: What are your memories of Monte writing “A Self-Criticism”?
A: We were living in Budapest, Hungary at the time. We had rented a small room at a middle aged couples’ apartment. Since Monte did not like being inside especially after prison, we spent most of our time outdoors. We usually took the bus and then walked to Margaret Island on the Danube. It was a beautiful place with thermal baths, Japanese garden and ponds with beautiful big fish and turtles swimming in them. We would choose a comfortable spot in the sun and read, write and converse. One rainy day we were in our little room, where there was a small, square shaped table. Monte was at the table. He put the full stop on his writing. “Done!” he exclaimed and then handed it to me. He had finishes A Self Criticism.
Q: How do you feel about the attempts to besmirch Monte’s reputation by both Turkish circles and some Western press?
A: That is what some circles are about. Besmirch good peoples’ reputation when it does not suit them politically. I know Monte was part of a minority who deals with politics and manages to remain honest, which is not very characteristic in those circles. I can say one thing: Monte did not have hatred in him, especially toward nations. He loved fellow human beings, hated discrimination and exploitation on all levels and fought for a just world. We know that justice is not what many politicians want.
Q: What do you consider to be Monte’s central message in“A Self-Criticism”?
A: The central message in this writing is that the first step to correct ourselves is admitting and accepting our mistakes. It is choosing the right path by looking back, analyzing and taking responsibility for our deeds and most importantly moving forward with a constructive attitude.
Q: In his writings Monte was often critical of the Armenian Government and especially so during and following the collapse of the USSR. What do you think he would make of the current situation?
A: He would be very disappointed. Monte was not scared to point out the mistakes that were being made and hoped they would be corrected. He was also against capitalism. He believed that mistakes could be corrected and a fair and just country could be built. A country where there would be no room for corruption, discrimination and unaccountability. A country where justice, fairness and equal rights would rule. Sadly, all these are nowhere to be found in the current Republic of Armenia.
Q: Can you tell us about other projects in the pipeline? I know “Reality” is due for release in the New Year, but what other projects are being mooted regarding Monte’s rich legacy?
A: Reality, which was written by Monte and a group of friends is the next project we are looking into. There is a large number of personal letters that have been preserved and it is a huge task that I feel I need to do, if I want to create the full picture of who Monte really was. And of course there is his website, on which I already am working with a friend. We would like to create a kind of virtual museum, where people could get reliable and authoritative information about Monte.
Q: Finally, what do you hope people will take away from “A Self-Criticism”? How do you think Monte should be remembered?
A: As I said above, each and every one of us should take an example from “A Self-Criticism” to do the same. It is something that can help us even in our everyday life. It is something that Monte himself was hoping we would do, as he says “I hope that my self criticism will encourage other comrades to write their self criticisms too. This process will only strengthen us and make our future work healthier.”
I think Monte should be remembered for his honesty, for his high regard towards life and the world. He should be remembered for his modesty and his disregard for material possessions.