Amb. Tigran Mkrtchyan

Lithuania (2005), Latvia (2021), and Estonia (?): The Story of the Baltic Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (Video Report)

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RIGA – In 2005, the year of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, five countries recognized the Armenian Genocide, with Lithuania being the last one. The parliament of this European state near the shores of the Baltic Sea adopted a resolution shortly before the end of the year. Forty-eight deputies of the Seimas (parliament) voted in favor of “marking the 90-anniversary of a genocide of the Armenian nation, condemning a genocide of the Armenian nation accomplished by Turks in Ottoman empire in 1915, calling Turkish Republic to recognize this historic fact.”

From left, Ilze Paegle-Mkrtchian (ambassador’s wife), Amb. Tigran Mkrtchian, Dagmara Beitnere-Le Galla (Deputy Speaker of Latvia’s Parliament), and her husband

Three legislators chose to remain absentee with nobody opposing. Considering the high degree of the integration between the three Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia), this historical decision paved way to expectations that the other two Baltic “cousins” would follow Lithuania’s lead. The author of this article was covering the news working in Yerevan back then. I recall how almost immediately after the resolution of the Seimas, talk about Latvia’s similar move surfaced. However, it took 15 years before the acknowledgement process started and another year before it was finalized.

In April 2020, Latvia’s parliamentary leading groups adopted declarations on the Armenian Genocide. A few days ago, the Seima finally joined nearly 30 other international legislative bodies which have condemned the Armenian Genocide. The 1.5-decade-long struggle highlights how difficult the path to the truth was. It also raises another question: when will the last Baltic country of Estonia take action?

Tigran Mkrtchyan worked as Armenia’s ambassador to the Baltic states between 2016 and 2021. Before him Armenia’s top diplomat to all Baltic countries was Ara Ayvazian, the current minister of foreign affairs, during whose tenure the process of the recognition was already in place. The residence of the Armenian diplomatic mission to all three countries is in Vilnius (unlike Turkey and Azerbaijan, which have individual embassies in all three capitals), which adds an extra layer of challenge for Armenian diplomats to oppose the lobbying activities of the two Turkic states aimed at preventing the adoption. The lobbying efforts and Turkey’s leverage which its participation in NATO enables, in contrast to Armenia’s lesser material resources, were among the key reasons that complicated the recognition in the remaining Baltic countries.

“In Latvia, two parallel resolutions were drafted: one by the Foreign Affairs Committee and one by the Armenian-Latvian Friendship group committee. They were very similar yet different in terms of emphasis. Eventually the Foreign Affairs Committee’s proposal passed,” Mkrtchyan said via Zoom. He highlighted his embassy’s active political dialogue with Latvia’s MPs and politicians that was in place during the recent years.

Among other issues that contributed to the Armenian Genocide resolution were cultural and academic grassroot activities. The director of the Washington-based Armenian National Institute Dr. Rouben Adalian spoke remotely to the Latvian audience, Turkish-American historian Taner Akcam lectured at Latvian University, and the director of the Aram Khachaturian museum, musician Armine Grigoryan, visited Vilnius several times.

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In 2019, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh of Franz Werfel, a novel dedicated to the Armenian self-defense battle near the Mediterranean Sea, was published in translation in the Latvian language. The translator was the ambassador’s wife. Latvia’s Academy of Sciences supported the publication and Latvian MPs posted on social media about Werfel’s novel. “This should not be forgotten! Thanks to the Armenian Embassy for the gifted book, an excellent yet difficult message to remember Armenian genocide victims!”, Linda Medne from the Conservative Party wrote on her Facebook page.

The same year, at one of the churches the critically acclaimed Latvian Radio Choir with guest soloists from Armenia featured Gomidas’s “Divine Liturgy.” A year after, the CD-recording of this performance was released by a Latvian company, which was covered by Latvian and the international media (including the Armenian Mirror-Spectator).  Often the stories related the background of Gomidas Vartabed, one of the Armenian intellectuals arrested on the eve of the Armenian Genocide in 1915, and this became part of the news.

Per Mkrtchyan, these activities and the engagement of small, but vibrant Armenian community all contributed to the final result. US President Joe Biden’s April 24 statement is described as a timely and positive push as well. Although Latvian Minister of Defense Artis Pabriks criticized Biden for his statement, this politician is often noted for his pro-Turkish and pro-Azerbaijani public statements. Interestingly, in March of this year, he tweeted about commemorating the fallen Turkish soldiers of World War I and World War II, although Turkey never fought in World War II. Pabriks made no tweets commemorating the victims of the Armenian Genocide last month.


“There was broad political support in Latvia for a resolution on the Armenian genocide. The debate was over timing and wording. We felt it was important to distinguish between the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey. I was not aware of heavy lobbying against it,” MP Ojars Eriks Kalnis, a supporter of the resolution said to the author via electronic communication. Kalnis was born in Germany’s Latvian refugee camp but grew up in the United States.

Latvia’s Conservative Party commemorates the Armenian Genocide

Now all eyes are on Estonia, the last Baltic country where Genocide recognition might eventually take place.

The following video segment presents an interview with Ambassador Tigran Mkrtchyan who has finalized his diplomatic tenure in Baltic countries and returned to Armenia recently.

 

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