Iván Gaztañaga

Gomidas and Other Armenian Materials in Spanish Archives: Interview with Iván Gaztañaga


By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to Mirror-Spectator

MADRID/YEREVAN – Iván Gaztañaga is young Spanish political scientist and PhD in international law and international relations (University of Granada) and expert in Middle East Studies (Hebrew University of Jerusalem). The subject of his research is “The Genocide Against the Armenian People in Diplomatic and Consular Letters (1914-1925).” His article on the Armenian Genocide was published in the April 24 issue of the major Spanish newspaper El Pais.

We met in 2017, during his first visit to Armenia, during which he conducted research at the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute as a  Lemkin scholarship winner.

Dear Iván, as far as I know you are the first Spanish scholar the studying Armenian Genocide.

To be honest, I don’t really know if I am the first Spanish scholar researching this topic, but I think I was the first researcher discovering and analyzing the Genocide against the Armenians from this perspective: diplomatic letters in our national Historical Archives. Here we have documental resources dating back to at least 1915 which are witnesses of the massacres from Young Turks.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

The Armenian Genocide in Spain has been treated very vaguely, possibly like the aftermath of the Great War or even like regional conflict inside Ottoman and Russia Empires. This is one of the reasons why the Armenian Genocide is not taught in university and is not yet relevant for International Relations or International Law disciplines here: does not exist. We have excellent literature and research in the Spanish language from Latin America because of the large Armenian Diaspora.

The awareness of Spanish society on the Armenian issues is connected to two books by Gonzalo Guarch and José Antonio Gurriarán.

Gonzalo Guarch’s book El Testamento Armeni is a historical novel, not scientific research. He writes it as fiction and it helps the reader a lot to learn and understand the atrocities against the Armenians by the Turks.

José Antonio Gurriarán passed away the last year and it was very sad because despite he was a direct victim of the terrorist attack in Madrid done by ASALA in 1979, he wrote an essay about the Armenian Genocide. He paid attention to “why an Armenian terrorist group exploded a bomb in Madrid? What are they objectives and why?” Despite his trauma he went to Armenia and Lebanon to understand why 1.5 million Armenians vanished from the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

There’s another journalist-ethnographer, Virgina Mendoza Benavente, who published a book, Heridas del Viento, about her travels and experiences in Armenia. She writes from the Armenian perspective; she has, for example, a conversation with Armenian Genocide survivors who are not alive anymore.

You study diplomatic and consular letters. Are there many such documents in Spanish archives, if yes, so what kind? In his study “The King of Spain and the Armenian Intellectuals Victims of the Genocide,” Vartan Matiossian has mentioned petitions that some Armenians addressed to Spanish King Alfonso XII, asking for his intervention to save deported Armenian intellectuals.

There are at least 20 documents which describe the gestation, growth and the impact of the Genocide. Already in the beginning of 1915, the Spanish Consul at Jerusalem, Jose A. de la Cierva y Lewita, advised Alfonso XII about the fears inside the Christian and Jewish populations because of the Muslim demonstrations and violence against them. In September, Julian Arroyo, Consul in Constantinople, informed regarding the Tehcir or Temporary Law: the looting and robbery of Armenian properties and the death marches into the desert. Between September 1915 and February 1916 the consul introduced in his letters and “secret” telegrams terms and definitions of crimes that will be then used as defining elements of Genocide: xenophobia, hatred, persecution and elimination of minorities, slaughter and extermination of people. He wrote about the massacre of Adana and also how later two million people succumbed. In the summer, Spain was informed about the new Turkish regulation against the few Armenian and Greek survivors in Anatolia and the hard life they will expect.

You told me there are some Spanish documents that mention the name of Gomidas Vartabed.

There’s a special folder with the name “Procedures in favor of Father Gomidas, 1915.” It contains 8 letters requesting Spanish protection in Constantinople for the musician and folklorist Gomidas Vartabed. Julian Arroyo wrote that he personally had an interview with Gomidas and asked him what Julian could do for him. Julian clearly said that Gomidas was expelled from Constantinople during the first massacres and slaughters against the Armenians. Later, he came back because of United States diplomatic protection. Gomidas said that he needed to go to Vienna with his books and writings. Julian met the United States Ambassador and he said that there was nothing more he could do, so, Julian must request the protection of Gomidas under the Spanish Embassy in Vienna. Julian met Halil Bey and begged for Gomidas’ life. He could not wait any longer and directly asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs, he said to Julian that Taalat Bey (while smiling) denied Gomidas’s freedom because “they” want to preserve his music inside Constantinople. The end is very sad. Julian wrote his opinion telling the truth: “Turks want intellectual Armenian hostages because if they leave Turkey they can talk about the horrors and massacres against the Armenians, and at the end Turks can satiate the hatred against them.”

You live in a country with a strong Turkish lobby. The Spanish government has not recognized the fact of the Armenian Genocide. Do you think after the recognition of Genocide by Germany and the US, recognition by other countries is still important?

Four autonomous regions in Spain (Catalonia, Navarra, Basque Country and the Balearic) have recognized the Armenian Genocide in their regional parliaments. The Spanish government, president, the crown or the parliament has never pronounced any word regarding the Armenian Genocide. Sometimes this question was on the agenda, proposed by some political parties, or by singular deputies. But, always the proposition was rejected. I consider no one from the Parliament could show in a map where Armenia is and what happened with Armenians 100 years ago. Simply, it is not interesting.

Germany and the US are powerful allies of Turkey in international panorama; they recognized the Armenian Genocide and no single American-Turkish or German-Turkish citizen protested. The same happened in France. The proofs are irrefutable. Spain must be next among the states which have recognized the Genocide. Otherwise, it is understood as a denial. The problem is not the Turkish lobby, but the lack of an Armenian lobby. During February 3-6, we hosted an international seminar in Camilo José Cela University in Madrid, titled “Europe Against Genocide: 1915-2015,” bringing together international experts on six of the world’s major genocides, particularly the Armenian, Jewish and Gypsy genocides. We invited some politicians to speak.

Are you in touch with Turkish scholars who study Genocide?

Before begining to research the Armenian Genocide, I was advised by Taner Akçam, the Turkish Scholar based in the US and one of the most prominent scholars of the Armenian Genocide. He motivated me and gave me many indications regarding how to treat and analyze historical documentation. He is the only one.

Was your stay in Yerevan as a Lemkin scholar productive for your research?

Of course, I was in Armenia in September 2017 because I obtained this scholarship and also a grant from the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR, in Belmont, US) and the Knights of Vartan. I worked along with Dr. Robert Tatoyan who gave me a lot of bibliography, explained Armenian history and drew a “map” for my research. I was also in touch with other researchers at the Genocide Museum. In Yerevan, I enjoyed visiting everywhere. I traveled a lot in Armenia and I learnt another way to measure the time. I still have friends who helped me a lot in my research, such as you, Artsvi Bakhchinyan, or showed me Yerevan’s attractions as Ashot Parsyan. I even saw again my best Armenian friend who came from Jerusalem, the writer Anoush Nakashian.

While in Yerevan, you told me about a personal connection to Armenia.

Certainly! My connection with Armenia or with Armenians is special. I was born in Moscow in 1990 and one year later I went to Spain and I became the first Soviet child adopted by Spanish parents. In 2014 after more than 10 years of research by myself I found some relatives in Moscow. Once there, I was told my biological maternal line was Greek, Jewish and Russias and my paternal line was Armenian. I was looking for this man some years ago with only a name and surname without success. I could not find him in Armenia at all. Thanks’ God the last night of 2017 I found a sister, other relatives, and finally father who I did not meet in person. My research is a gift for letting me live in 1915 and in 1990.

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: