Russell Pollard

Russell Pollard: Instrumental in Armenian Genocide Recognition in Derby

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By Dr. Hratch Kouyoumjian

DERBY, UK — Russel Pollard is a photojournalist with close ties to the British-Armenian community since the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. He is member of HMD and has been instrumental together with the other Derby City Council members in recognising and remembering the Armenian Genocide. Herewith excerpts of an interview with him on January, 28 in Derby City Hall.

Mr. Pollard thank you for being here for this interview on this day full of emotions. Can you tell us when and why you got involved with the remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.

When I first went to the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan about 10 years ago I noticed that there was no plaque for the UK government and I subsequently found out that we don’t formally recognise it. In my subsequent visits to Armenian and Artsakh my connection with people there evolved through my writing and photography and that gave me an opportunity to communicate through to the non-Armenian community about Artsakh, and the Armenian Genocide. It was clear to me that whilst it was important to recognise the Genocide as part of a healing process, it had serious, present day consequences, with the conflict with Azerbaijan and it is because of that that I wanted to speak about the Armenian Genocide and to become involved in opportunities to further the cause of recognition…and to avoid any further escalation of the Genocide.

Derby City is now the torch bearer in England in recognizing the Armenian genocide; can you tell us how this came about? I point out that there are only a handful of Armenians in Derby?

I joined the Holocaust Memorial Day in 2015. This is an independent group of volunteers who decided 20 years ago to properly remember the Holocaust and other Genocides. Through that work the group gained a lot of respect and credibility within Derby. In parallel, and quite separately, I developed my own network of political contacts within Derby through my journalism work. There was a change of political leadership in the Council in May 2018 and it felt that the time was right to approach them on the recognition issue of 2 Genocides – the Armenian, and the Holodomor in Ukraine. Largely due to personal contacts and the history of individuals’ work in the City this was met with no resistance. A motion was drafted by myself, and a colleague which was put forward at the next available Full Council meeting. I spoke to a number of political contacts to ensure that there was support and it was pleasing to find that they were all very supportive. This meant that, on the night, it was passed unanimously.

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Was there any outside pressure to block this resolution the way it happened in Edinburgh in 2005-2006?

There was no pressure from anywhere to block this resolution despite the fact that we had been approached by the Turkish Embassy in 2015 to avoid the use of the term Genocide in Holocaust memorial Day events. As we did not feel the need to publicize that this motion was about to happen there was no reason that any outside party would have been aware of it.

I understand you have visited Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh or we Armenians call it Artsakh, over 10 times; can you tell us more about this and aren’t you worried about Azeri blacklists?

I’ve visited Artsakh about 15 times, and I usually spend about 3 weeks there at a time. Given the perception of the UK Foreign Office – they tell travelers to avoid going to Artsakh and, as such, it is impossible to get travel insurance. I was pleased to have been given the “honor” of being black-listed by Azerbaijan. It doesn’t present me with any concerns, in fact it is a help in giving me credibility within Artsakh – there are people who are unsure about my motives as I travel alone. Fortunately I have some good friendships there so, for me, when I visit, it is like visiting my second family, and I have the privilege of being welcomed into people’s houses, attending events and being part of the community. 5 years ago, I was awarded a medal by the Prime Minister of Artsakh for my work there. We regularly visit the border areas to support work in the more impoverished villages.

Thank you, Mr. Pollard, for being the catalyst to this recognition. Any advice to the British-Armenian Community?

That’s a hard question for me to answer. My observation is that the Armenian community in the UK is a very “broad church” and for many people they seem to have very little in common other than, possibly, a shared perspective on the Genocide. I have met Armenians in the UK whose ancestry is firmly routed in the customs and traditions of Western Armenia, and their subsequent homelands following the Genocide. Others, in Armenia or Artsakh, whose history has always been in the South Caucasus and have been influenced by the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, or even Azerbaijan. This does make any form of inclusive cohesion in the UK very difficult. I am not sure whether the British Armenian Community would wish to have a shared objective to communicate about themselves and their history – perhaps there is more of an opportunity to be active in the UK outside of the main centres, like London?

Thank you Mr. Pollard for the interview. If Derby is the torch bearer among the English cities for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, you certainly are the engine and the catalyst behind all this.

 

 

 

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