VICKEN CHETERIAN

Vicken Cheterian

Teach for Armenia represents a dissenting set of values, and marks a departure from the generation of capitalist grab: the movement away from the capital to serve in impoverished towns and villages, and to volunteer – that is to give your time not for profit but for a social cause.

When I asked Jasem Mahmudyan whether he had been to Iraq to visit the Yazidi holly sites in Lalesh, he answered in negative. The tragic events in Sinjar had shaken the entire Yazidi community, and some families had found temporary refuge in Armenia, but they had eventually continued to European destinations. From the village of Alakyaz, Iraq seemed very far away indeed.

Why did a Turkish intellectual was suddenly interested in Armenian (revolutionary) history? The other side of the question (that I ask in my book Open Wounds) is: why was the Armenian history reduced to silence for so long? “The Genocide of the Armenians destroyed this memory, the historic experience of Hunchags and Tashnags from todays political experience,” told me Akin.

The Armenian government can learn from the lessons of Georgia and elsewhere. For three decades, neoliberal policies did not bring happiness. To imagine solving Armenia’s problems by attracting foreign investments will fail.

The fact that Salome Zurabishvili belongs to the Georgian diaspora is another positive factor. In a post-Soviet country where all foreign born could be suspected of being spies, where minorities are treated as second class, where concepts such as “the nation” or “the citizen” have a very narrow definition, to have a foreign born president who speaks Georgian with heavy accent is again positive.

If you ask me whether there is a link between the deportees walking in the hot summer of 1915 in the Syrian desert southwards, and the refugees of 2012 escaping barrel-bombs northwards, I would intuitively say yes, there should be one, but as a historian I would say “we don’t know”. We, historians, simply did not pose this question.

In Cambodia I often heard that the particularity of the Cambodian genocide is the fact that “they killed their own people”. They mean by it that Khmer Rouge killed their ethnic kin, other Khmer.