What follows is a translation of the recent interview given by the famous singer/songwriter and Armenian Ambassador to Switzerland, Charles Aznavour (Shahnour Vaghenag Aznavourian) to the French-Armenian magazine Nouvelles d’Arménie.
Editor – On September 4 of this year, Charles Aznavour was interviewed on the popular “Vivement dimanche” French TV talk show by host Michel Drucker.
Drucker asked Aznavour about his views on the 1915 Armenian Genocide. In response, Aznavour said – The word itself (genocide) is disruptive and it upsets me as well. What I am saying here can be used against me by some Armenians, but I believe that’s not important. If the Turks are sincere enough to say that the word ‘genocide’ prevents them from doing anything, then let us come up with another word; just as long as the border between Armenia and Turkey is opened and the Turkish government thinks about starting a dialog with us.”
When the host observed that 1.5 million was a considerable number for such a tiny country, Aznavour responded: “2 or 1.5 million. It’s the same. Whether they murder 2 children, 1.5 million Armenians or 6 million Jews. It’s the same. They killed and wanted to kill. That’s what is important.”
Nouvelles d’Arménie – The “Vivement dimanche” interview also made a number of enemies for you; no?
Charles Aznavour – I’ve grown tired of all that. We will never realize our goals. Our enemies are waiting for those Armenians with any memories of the Genocide to die so that this matter can be put to rest once and for all. What country has ever helped us? Not a one. France recognized the genocide but will not do anymore. No country will ever come to our aid. Never.
Furthermore, the Arabs now carrying out revolutions want to create governments on the Kemalist model. This is a feather in the cap for Turkey that is growing richer and more influential. Turkey is already a member of the G-20. Turkey is no longer concerned that much about becoming members of the European Union.
And where are we going? In this process, Armenia is suffering. Each day the country is being emptied. In the near future it will resemble an empty snail shell. And who profits from this? Three Mafiosi families? All the while hundreds of thousands of poor people will be dispersed throughout the world. All this troubles me greatly. In the meantime we remain transfixed on the word “genocide” and the Turks use this to their advantage.
Thus, I ask the Turks the following – If those events weren’t genocide that what do you call the extermination of an entire people? What did you call it at the time? How did Ataturk describe that situation? What was it called prior to the coining of the term ‘genocide’? At least we should confess that those events constituted a massacre. If we get to this point then it will be a huge victory for us.
Armenia faces a huge threat and all linger on the word ‘genocide’. I don’t see how this helps the advancement of the country. Where is such logic taking us? Where are those people who criticize me for such views? What are they doing to help Armenia? When do they send money? Should I be taking lessons from these people? I was the first to give them such lessons. I discussed this with an Armenian lawyer in the U.S. whose office employs about 300 lawyers and legal people. He was thinking like the others. But when I explained my viewpoint, he saw that I was correct.
I am not a politician and don’t understand anything about that field. I only know one thing. We have a tiny and unfortunate country that is almost dying off for the second time. And we are still talking about other things.
NA – But you were always engaged in the genocide issue, especially when it was debated in the French Senate. You even spoke before the Senate…
CA – And what did it all accomplish?
NA – You participated in demonstrations and rallies…
CA – And what good did it serve?
NA – Do you really believe that we are not moving forward?
CA – We haven’t been advancing either back then or now. Never. I am periodically invited to Turkey. Once, the Turkish foreign minister even invited me to spend my vacation there. He wanted to reach an agreement on what the Armenians were demanding. But let’s not play political games for partisan interests.
I am not interested who becomes the next president of Armenia. All I want is for the border to open so that this country can catch its breath a bit.
NA – So, you are sending messages in bottles out on the water.
CA – Yes, I always say good things about Turks. I think they are an interesting nation. There’s not one Armenian in Turkey that doesn’t like the Turks. Perhaps they don’t like their manner, their politics…but not the people themselves. My aim is to move forward just a bit.
NA – Aren’t you disappointed regarding the failure of the 2009 Protocols signed in Zurich?
CA – They were signed in the evening but the next day they were made meaningless. I wasn’t disappointed because I suspected that would happen. No such treaty was ever signed with the Turks in such a manner. A moment always arises when either they compromise or we aren’t capable of doing anything. Such an inclination benefits their strategic position. They feel their strength and are more disinclined towards compromising. So, what should we do? I hope that we do nothing more. There is no need to place any more hope on me. It has tired me out. I don’t want to waste my energies on senseless matters.
NA – So we have to be smart on both sides?
CA – Yes, in a word. In all cases we must act and come forth with initiatives. I would like to ask you the following – How long have the Turks lived on our lands? And I’m not even talking about the fact that they seized those lands from us. I’m talking about prior to that.
NA – Centuries, About 1,000 years.
CA – The Germans no longer demand Alsace-Lorraine and we French no longer think about the Ruhr. We should at least get smart. We must understand the reality of things. All this has ended. I’ll say more. Even if they return those lands to us, who will go there and live? No one. Let’s get real.
NA – But don’t you think that the Armenian authorities have a good mastery of the issue and that steps are being taken in the right direction?
CA – I know nothing about that. We speak to the authorities regarding this the next time. I do not want to take any steps without getting their opinion. All I know is that their priority is the opening of the border. It’s the outside world that is based on this war of words. Domestically, they are suffering from it.
NA – Don’t you believe, however, that the basic reason for the exodus from Armenia is the domestic system which offers no hope to the population? And we are not even taking into account the military situation in Karabakh. So must we compromise in this issue as well?
CA – Yes. This is how it is. We are doing nothing to help the people living there. Just the opposite. I know awful stories about the Mafiosi who are literally devouring the villagers on their lands. Those Mafia members must be executed. Things cannot continue like this. Those who want to become the Mafia should go live in other countries, not in Armenia. For the love of God, don’t fight against your own people.
NA – What’s your priority regarding the Armenian Question?
CA – I want agreement. I want the Turks to recognize that which happened. For me it’s the same; genocide or another word. Even if they use that word, what will it give me?
I want them to recognize the massacres. That’s the description they used at the time. The entire world spoke of the massacres. And all of a sudden, starting in the 1950s, we got transfixed on the term ‘genocide’. Even though it equates with the reality, it’s a tough pill to swallow.
NA – In any case.
CA – They don’t want to accept the fact that they took a decision to wipe a people off the face of the earth. Thus, we cannot forget what happened. But we must advance towards hope.
The Turks along the border aren’t opposed to Armenians. The mayor of Diyarbekir has openly stated that such recognition must happen. But there are also those who state the opposite. The Turkish nation is moving and moved at the funeral of Hrant Dink.
NA – And what is your opinion on Karabakh?
CA – It’s part of an overall program. At a minimum, it must be made clear whether Karabakh belonged to Azerbaijan prior to Stalin presenting it to Baku. Is Karabakh a part of Armenia? No, it’s a sovereign country.
NA – Do you seek agreement with the authorities in Armenia before making such pronouncements?
CA – Whenever I discuss my positions with them, they always say that I am correct. But they do nothing. The same in France. It’s not possible to talk with the authorities whoever they are.
I do not believe that France will do anything for us. Turkey is very important for France and we can’t overlook this. France always presents itself as powerful but come decision time it’s another matter. France will never do anything for the Armenians. We have been in a waiting mode for the past 90 years.
And today you are waiting for miracles even though the odds are stacked against such a thing. I do not dream. My life is proof. I have worked. I might not possess the mental prowess to effectively articulate what I believe but I say it nevertheless because it’s what I am thinking.
NA – Have you always been interested in politics?
CA – I am interested in politicians, both male and female. I want to wait and see what they will do. Promises, promises. Yesterday, I hosted my friend Besancenot. (Olivier Besancenot – French far left political figure and trade unionist). I respect the man for his sincerity.
NA – So, in reality, you wish to help Armenians?
CA – We must help them and the Turks. This issue between us must be resolved is we are people with the will to do so.
NA – But the Armenians? Aren’t you plundering them just a bit? Do you hold yourself accountable?
CA – I have spent my life plundering society. Wouldn’t I do the same with Armenians? One day my sister said to me – Do you believe that the Turks can kill you one day?
The Armenians can do the same for the same reasons. I am a risk taker. This is how I see reality. Will I suffer as a result? Perhaps. But let the others show me a resolution and not just protestations.
I discussed the plight of Islamized Armenians with the RA President. I told him something must be done because these people are neglected. They must be helped.
We are not opposed to Islam. There are six wonderful mosques in Armenia that were ‘saved’ despite orders by Stalin to destroy them. Iran is doing what it can to renovate them.
We are a nation and a nation is comprised of all different sorts; the very good and the very bad, and all religions. It is normal that we have Christians, Jews and Muslims. Armenia must move in this direction, just like Europe.
NA – You have known all three presidents of Armenia. Can you tell us your impressions?
CA – No, that’s not my job. They are all men of goodwill. But sometimes circumstances get in the way. In any case, none of the three presidents has ever said ‘no’ to me. Perhaps they should have on certain occasions.
What does it mean to be Armenian today? I would like to know. What does a diaspora Armenia mean? To eat and drink well? To own a store and rattle on about the genocide? Is that what being an Armenian is all about? It is just not enough.