30 July 2006
"I never abandoned Armenia, we just parted ways when my brothers began their cannibalism," says Vahe Avetian, who has lived in Sweden for 13 years
[June 1-8, 2004]
Mr. Avetian, what is the main reason that you abandoned your country to seek your fortune in distant Sweden?
To start with, your question is composed of two statements that I don't agree with. I have not abandoned my motherland, and I am not seeking my fortune. I have temporarily left my country as an ambassador does, as a soldier does. My fortune, no matter if it's good or bad, is mine, with me, no matter where I am. I left because I found myself in a situation that was "normal" for that period after the Artsakh war-that is, unemployed, homeless, without any way to make a living, and with a family and two kids to take care of. My brothers in the Republican Party isolated me from politics because I was shouting that the armory should be returned to the government, and they had started to use the weapon to make their living. It was natural that the robbers isolated the non-robbers. The ones who successfully escaped responsibility would later become Armenia's establishment, which was necessary for the foundation of the market economy.
It was also natural that the robbers isolated the founders of the republic and the army, because the presence of the last was not going to let the criminals take over.
You don't need to be very smart to understand that the matter and cause of the war changed when the names of the victorious commanders one after the other started to appear in the military cemetery, Yerablur, killed in very "strange" circumstances.
The gang became so arrogant that they even tried to disarm me, unsuccessfully of course.
I was exhausted then, both morally and physically; my spine was damaged. I realized that either I had to shoot someone and go to prison, or soon I would become so weak that those "puppies" would be able to humiliate me in the end. So I decided to leave.
Even now, after 13 years, I don't know what else I could have done.
Sweden was not chosen by intention. I went to a tourist firm in Moscow to get a visa and I got a Swedish one. I spent the first six months in Sweden only sleeping. I would wake up, drink coffee, eat something, walk around for some ten or fifteen minutes, and sleep again - six months almost uninterrupted.
Have you had any contacts with your Armenian friends, colleagues during all these years?
Constantly. As I told you above - I haven't abandoned Armenia, we just parted ways when my brothers began their "cannibalism". There were a lot of other fields of work and activities which were outside of the competition.
We gathered in Stockholm - five friends and I. My flat turned into an office. It was clear that on the one hand we were not going to participate in robbery, but on the other hand we could not avoid the internal life of Armenia, either, since all of us had friends and relatives there who were being robbed like the rest. We started four businesses very quickly to take care of our families. We took care of the ones who were left there, and we helped the ones who had migrated with their arrival, housing, employment-creating normal living conditions for them. During those couple of years, a lot of Armenian refugees were spread out all over Europe because of the migration from the country, and were moving back and forth in all European states; we were creating Armenian centers in different countries, moving people from one country to another, bringing children to their parents, wives to their husbands...
All this was not something that we had planned, we just couldn't stand it when, for example, a young woman had just given birth in the Polish forests and there was no one around to take her out of there, and an Armenian mother was weeping into the telephone, begging for help and telling that she had heard about us and knew that we could do everything. Our sisters and brothers has gone through hell during those years, we just don't talk about that, not yet. The time has probably not come yet.
I was in regular contact with my friends from the Republican Party and the Army of Independence over the years. In 1995, I met Malkhas in Moscow and Ashot Navasardyan in Yerevan. We had plans to meet again later, but it didn't happen - Ashot died.
There is almost no one left of the old, non-criminal members of the party, so I have almost no contacts now. I've sent some letters to them with some ideological remarks, but never gotten any response. I was not expecting one, either. The party is provincialized and it is natural that the ethics there are not on a high level.
You were also one of the founders of the Republican Party. How does the party look like from the side? Do you think that the party is realizing the goals you set at the beginning?
The party has not adapted to independence yet. Now something like "Taronism" has appeared among the members, invented by some Aparantsi and Talintsi villagers. They put themselves above Njdeh's "Nakhijevanism", Toumanian's and Shiraz's "Lorism" and "Shirakism". In reality such "nationalist" groups, in already nationalized nations, are always created by criminals.
I am not pessimistic. Corruption and robbery are always present when a state is being formed. The Republican Party is needed in Armenia. It has a brilliant history, with shameful pages as well. It will confess, throw away the garbage, and continue to serve the motherland.
You founded the organization 3K. What projects are you working on? Who finances your work?
3K is a multi-profile network of independent organizations. The fields of activity are
the arts, environment, social issues, human rights, and politics.
The network has given free education to some 200 people in Armenia and has made some 30,000 euros worth of investments in the country to date, in the form of computers and equipment.
The amount was collected from personal donations by the members of the network.
We have had many donors for Swedish and international projects as well, but I think there is no need to mention them because the projects were not Armenia-related.
Nevertheless we have involved Armenian citizens living in different countries of Europe in them as much as possible.
In the last five years, we founded the first permanent children's art gallery in Scandinavia, a movie hall, two film studios, one audio studio, four internet cafés, and one communication center. We produced thirty films, participated in eight international festivals, and won several awards, a first prize among them. We also produced five record albums, and organized thirty art exhibitions and fifteen concerts. Two candidates ran in local elections, two in regional, and one at the parliamentary level; we created a civil initiative center at 3K as well.
You work on issues of fundamental human rights and freedoms. What is the situation in Armenia, in your judgment? What do you think the ombudsman will do in Armenia?
The situation is very bad but not hopeless. The situation is bad in Sweden as well. One big difference is that it's mainly the rights of foreigners that are infringed here. In Armenia, it is the rights of citizens that are abused.
I think that in reality, there is no single Armenian citizen who has more working experience with the institute of ombudsman than I have. I have been doing the work for several years in the country that gave birth to the institution of ombudsman, and I know how it functions and where it doesn't work.
Armenian "professionals" have traveled around in Poland a couple of times, and rather than defending the rights of their own citizens in that country, just want to learn how to cover up widespread criminality instead of fighting against it.
An ombudsman needs to be trusted by everyone. The newly appointed one has no such trust, is not independent. The institution of ombudsman in Armenia has been a fiasco from the beginning.
It would be interesting to hear from her what she thinks about her own appointment, from the point of view of human rights. Where was the job advertised? Was there any competition? How was the decision made about her becoming the defender of human rights? How is the staff of the institution chosen?
Do you intend to launch new projects in Armenia? Do you intend to return to politics? Where do you see your role, if so?
I am already coordinating the "Democracy Support" program, implemented by the International Foundation of the Center Party of Sweden.
I have never left politics. Throughout the last 13 years, I have been studying all the information about Armenia through Armenian, Swedish, and international sources. I've given four hours minimum to this work each day, no matter what. There are also thousands of relatives, friends left in Armenia, with whom I keep in constant communication. I participate in conferences, meetings, discussions. I constantly meet established politicians on all possible levels, both in Armenia and worldwide.
I want to live in Armenia as a human being - free! I have always been successful in my life in defending my own rights but I also aim to, want to, live among free human beings in a free motherland. I am ashamed to death when someone is humiliated around me and I have neither the ability nor enough power to defend him or her.
I want to be a CITIZEN; there are many roles to play.
I can be president, prime minister, ombudsman, minister, parliamentarian, blacksmith, carpenter, builder. No matter the role, I need to enjoy the freedoms, rights and security of the citizen; if not - there are no agreements.
You meet Diasporan organizations. How are the things there? What is their opinion of the path Armenia is taking?
People who do not consider themselves citizens of Armenia, no matter if they have legal citizenship or not, have no right to be involved in Armenian politics.
Diasporan organizations are today led by pizza bakers, videotape dealers, and thieves. I have no expectations of them. I think it is worth concentrating on intellectuals who left Armenia. They are the only force today capable of consolidating the Diaspora, of directing resources towards Armenia, human resources as well.