Sven-Erik Rise

Sven-Erik Rise: Creating His Own Armenia in Norway


YEREVAN / OSLO — Sven-Erik Rise is Norwegian expert of Armenia, an author of articles and op-eds about the country and the Armenian genocide in Norway’s national and local newspapers. He also has published two books — Hayastan – Why I love Armenia (in Norwegian and English) and 44 days in Artsakh (in Norwegian). Rise has led numerous public lectures about Armenia for varied audiences. He has also been a tour leader for numerous tour groups from Norway to Armenia. Sven-Erik Rise proudly calls himself an “Armenian-by-choice” and dreams of having an Armenian passport.

So, how shall I call you during our interview – Sven-Erik or Tigran Van?

(Laughing). I am always happy when Armenians call me Tigran, it makes me feel Armenian — or gives me a feeling of Armenians respecting that I can be an Armenian by choice

 Perhaps you also have special feelings for Van as I do?

I sure do. I read a lot about the Armenians of Van and the surrounding area. I was fascinated by the resistance of the people of Van when the genocidal Turks attacked Van. Many heroes did everything in their power to fight off the Turks. I am also very interested in the saltwater lake, Akhtamar and, of course, the Armenian Vana katu (Van cat). I know many Armenians, who have their roots in Van, and so I want to contribute that we never forget that this town and this lake were stolen from Armenia – but everybody knows that this area actually belongs to Armenians.

The relations between our countries started already in the 14th century, when in 1313/1314, Cilician Armenian king Oshin sent envoys to Norway with treasures to King Håkon to ask for military assistance. Yet for Armenians Norway is associated with Fridtjof Nansen’s name, whose assistance to Armenian Genocide survivors was tremendous. And now we have Sven-Erik Rise. Why did this pro-Armenian movement started by Nansen not continued in Norway, as Armenia remains unknown for most of Norwegians?

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One of the great heroes of the Armenians is Fridtjof Nansen who saved a lot of Armenians during and after the genocide by offering then Nansen passports and making sure they had a safe place to go. Another one is Bodil Biørn, who saved tens of thousands of orphans. Armenia does not ask much of Norway, maybe only to officially recognize the genocide — which the Norwegian politicians are very hesitant to do — whereas the Norwegian people, if they have learned about, would do. I have never met a single person who does not support the Armenian Cause. Norway does not support Armenia very much, and I am ashamed of my country. There is no embassy in Yerevan, there is very little trade with Armenia, and we do not support Armenia with any funds. During the war in Artsakh, Norway was shamefully neutral and did not condemn the Azeri and Turkish atrocities. Norway has big investments in oil and gas in Azerbaijan, so is very careful to criticize this regime which is seen as one of the worst by Human Rights organizations. My opinion is clear. As a country responsible for handing out the Nobel Peace Prize, Norway should be first in line to recognize the Genocide and strongly condemn Azerbaijan and Turkey for their atrocities against the Armenia and Artsakh. Armenia is a country sandwiched between enemies, and therefore must seek partners further away. I do no find it strange that Armenia has trade and good relations with Iran and Russia and other regimes, since the West does not really support Armenia when this support is really needed.

Tigran, once you called Armenia one of the best-hidden, yet most intriguing countries on earth. What radical steps should be done that it does not remain well-hidden anymore?

Yes, and I meant it. Every person I bring to Armenia loves the people, the sights, the language and culture, as well as the food and wine. They all end up as real friends of Armenia. Since then Armenia has become better known, and more tourists are actually coming to experience Armenia. I think Armenia should continue promoting tourism, offer more packages also in winter months, create ski-resorts, sports-trips, homestays and so on. The wine and the brandy are really quality products and should be promoted more, maybe with the aid of spyurk (Diaspora) communities around the world. I know that many Japanese come to Armenia for plastic surgery. This could easily be promotes in more countries. And I dream of the days when investments can be made in areas like Vanadzor and Alaverdi to make these towns beautiful and attractive to tourists and investors. With Armenian salaries, Armenia should be a heaven for people who want to start businesses. If creative Armenian people could manage to make a TV-series about the history of Armenia and today’s Armenia with intriguing stories — sell it to Netflix — that’s one way of creating more knowledge and interest in Armenia.

You do your best to raise this awareness, having created your own Little Armenia in your yard with Ararat and khachkar, small Artsakh with its flag, plants from Armenia, mini winery, memorial with the flags of the countries that recognized the Armenian Genocide, as well as posters with information about Armenia and Artsakh. Can this place one day become an Armenian cultural center in Oslo?

This place is actually my dacha (summer house), but I am planning on moving here permanently. Many people come to see the garden, and to buy my books; even a school class from Yerevan came here this summer. The tourists I take to Armenia always visit after the trip, and the garden is situated on a very popular walking track, so many people learn about Armenia and the history. A cultural center would probably need to be bigger with conference rooms and so on, so I think my Pokr Hayastan (Little Armenia) will remain as Pokr Hayastan.

We know how strong Turkish-Azeri propaganda and pressures are today in Europe. I assume you also encounter this.

Yes, many times. They contact me,| they want to discuss and they get very angry when they fall short. I now have so much knowledge on Armenian issues that they have to stop their lies and their propaganda. Some Azeris went to the police to press charges because I had written the truth about the war in Artsakh in a Norwegian newspaper. Of course, there is democracy in Norway, so the police got a good laugh and dismissed the case. (The Azeris claimed my article to be hateful). I have also had a row at the Turkish embassy here in Norway, where a Turkish student threw an iphone at the back of my head, and an Azeri threw a nour (pomegranate) in my face when I said I support the people of Artsakh’s right to self-determination

You often take Norwegian tourists to Armenia. It would be interesting to know what they dislike and would like to be changed in Armenia.

There are very few dislikes and negative comments about Armenia. The only thing that they say repeatedly is that there is too much garbage floating around in the nature, like plastic bags, cans and so on. We had a beautiful trip around Lake Sevan, and the wind had left lots of blue plastic bags trapped in trees, which kind of ruined the beauty of the area a little. Some people think Armenian food portions are overwhelmingly large, but most people love all the food they get.

And finally, what are your upcoming projects?

I am trying to find a publishing house in Armenia, and maybe get my books translated into Armenian language and I will keep taking tourists to Armenia. I am also trying to take a large group of students to Armenia — my own students — to learn about Armenian history and society. I have scheduled several lectures about Armenia and my books in the coming months.


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