The Paul Eluard Center of Francophonie in Stepanakert

Gerard Guerguerian Works to Promote Educational and Cultural Life in Stepanakert

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By Siranush Sargsyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

STEPANAKERT – It has been 10 months after the war ended last year, and Artsakh is still struggling for its existence. Uncertainty about its future and a swirl of concerns over security, social, housing and other issues seem to have sidelined all aspirations aimed at the reanimation of educational and cultural life. Nevertheless, Gerard Guerguerian, a French Armenian who has long worked in the field of international and business law, is actively working in Artsakh for this reanimation.

Gerard Guerguerian

At different times, Gergerian held the positions of president and executive vice-president in various major American and European corporations. He also lectured and published writings on international law. He is the author of the book Le Nagorny Karabakh – entre sécession et autodétermination [Nagorno Karabakh: Between Secession and Self-determination], several other volumes, and many articles.

As a member of the Paris Bar association he  has always been proactive in advancing the Armenian cause from the position of international law and the adoption of pro-Armenian resolutions, including the adoption of the resolution on the Armenian Genocide in the European Parliament.

It seems his connection with Artsakh has been connected somehow with all the recent wars of the region. In 1991, during the first war in Artsakh, he provided humanitarian assistance, medical supplies and equipment, and after the war, he made it a rule to visit Artsakh every few years. When he started writing his book about Artsakh, his  visits grew more frequent, he explained. During these visits he could not fail to note the scarcity of cultural and entertainment venues for young art-lovers in Artsakh.

The Paul Eluard Center of Francophonie in Stepanakert

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To change this situation, Guerguerian launched his “Roots” project, through which he wished to introduce the culture of European cafes, with its atmosphere of music and art. This would be the venue of small concerts, film shows and discussions, meetings and talks with various experts.

The Paul Eluard Center of Francophonie in Stepanakert

The activity of “Roots” coincided with the the April 2016 four-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, while his new initiative, the Paul Eluard Center of Francophonie, which is meant to be the ideological continuation of “Roots,” overlapped with the recent war. If previously the Francophonie Center saw its task chiefly in teaching French, now this is not enough.

Giving more details about the idea of the center, he notes: “You should first have the vision. Implementation comes next. The main idea is a mix of business and culture; they should complement each other, and evolve in tandem. It may be hard to keep such projects going only through funds and donations. The center is supposed to serve not only as a language and tourism center. It is supposed to recreate the ambience of a ‘boulangerie’ [French bakery] and  French cuisine with the best traditions of French and Armenian wineries in the KINI restaurant. Only by combining these two projects, business and culture together, can we succeed.”

The Paul Eluard Center of Francophonie in Stepanakert

Undoubtedly, the war hindered the timely realization of the project. When asked if he hadn’t changed his mind after the war, he smiles, and a little surprised, adds that the war, on the contrary, gave him a nudge to speed it up. He declares: “War is terrible, especially, in terms of human and territorial  losses, but it is not the ‘end’ in itself. This is a new reality, and if you want your projects to get ahead, you should stop getting obsessed with it. Today Shushi is not ours, but history has witnessed this more than once. We should think less about Shushi under control of the enemy, and think more about how we can turn the odds in our favor. And we will, definitely.”

Guerguerian thinks the secret of his success lies in two realities, exclaiming: “Any vision, any aspiration for the future, is doomed to failure, if you do not show enough will and determination to go all the way.” And, of course, he has more plans connected with Artsakh. He thinks that even if the Francophonie Center succeeds, it is not enough. New ideas and new projects are needed, and one is the idea to rebuild the drama theatre in Stepanakert.

“It is really important to understand why we need to rebuild it. In our post-war reality, the Azeri plans are crystal-clear. Their strategy involves terrorizing, discouraging, and squeezing us out at any cost. We have to stand up to it with an even stronger strategic plan. In this respect, the role of the theater can’t be underestimated. Not only do the locals need its reconstruction, we need to conquer the world with our culture. If culture is a weapon, then the theatre is the most mighty one. The restoration of the theater should be in line with the ideas of modernism,” he says, adding, “Artsakh needs modernism. The people don’t have to leave the country in search of it. Instead we need to bring these ideas here, and we can do it via theatre.”

In response to the question as to what he finds surprising in the people of  Artsakh, what makes them different, he replies: “The attachment that the people of Artsakh have to this land is incredible. I have never in my life seen that anywhere, in any country. Lebanese Armenians, French Armenians, even Armenians living in Armenia are not attached to their land like these people are. Elsewhere, if they have an opportunity to leave the country for education or better professional promotion chances, they never hesitate and easily settle in a new place. I have met lots of promising smart young people, who can easily find their place in life, living abroad, but they cannot imagine their life without Artsakh. People living abroad won’t understand it.”

Guerguerian wants put to use the experience Armenians obtained abroad in order to allow Armenians to live and thrive here. It is the only way to work our way back to normal.

 

Siranush Sargsyan is an expert of the National Assembly of the Republic of Artsakh’s Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture,  Youth and Sport.

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