Gérard Chaliand: From “masochism of the vanquished” to the roots

Gerard Chaliand
Gerard Chaliand

Photo: Roc Chaliand

In December 2017 French-Armenian writer and analyst Gérard Chaliand introduced his “Mémoire de ma mémoire” book in Yerevan. This is his first and so far the only book, which has been translated into Armenian. 

84-year-old Gérard Chaliand is a legendary person. He has traveled around the world since 1964, writing stories of various revolutionary and national liberation movements in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Salvador, Angola etc. 

In an interview to Mediamax, Gérard Chaliand  told about the importance of his “Mémoire de ma mémoire” book and his return to the Armenian roots.


Toy soldiers and extreme sadness


For me it is a very important book. In some sixty books that I have written two are most important to me: this one and my poems. “Memory of My Memory” (“Mémoire de ma mémoire”), tells about the Armenians. It tells about the shock for a child to hear an old woman mourning about the past, about the slaughter, about what has been lost. 


When I was a child and my family took me to some friends, I was playing on the ground with toy soldiers and I just listened. I heard those women half-weeping and talking about how they lost their brother, their father, their mother. It is an extreme sadness, which you absorb, willingly or not. That is a very strong impression that, in fact, you never forget.


From masochism of the vanquished to the roots


At sixteen years old I decided that all that, what I called the “masochism of the vanquished”, is over. I don’t want to hear any more about it, goodbye. I’m going to have my own life, completely different. A life of adventure, life of something completely new, so whatever was Armenian for me was finished. And it was finished for me from the age of sixteen until, probably, the age of forty or less. I had very few Armenian friends, just the ones left from the past. 


Gerard Chaliand Gerard Chaliand

Photo: Stephane Burlot/Ballast


And I traveled. I discovered the world of my days, which was a world of movements, of the national liberation. I wanted to testify about their fight: the Algerians, the Vietnamese and the Palestinians, others in Latin America or in the Far East. 


Then I heard about the man in Los Angeles, who killed the [Turkish] consul, if my memory is correct. Then, in 1975 or 1976, it was the beginning of the group of the Dashnak and others, ‘justiciers du génocide’. In 1977, for the first time I wrote something in Le Monde. It was a big tribune called “The Armenian Genocide never occurred”, saying that yes, I agree that we can call what is going on with these assassinations of Turkish diplomats ‘advertisement terrorism’. In other words, in the world we live in, only hot news get reported. You can send a big report to the United Nations every year, they would put it somewhere and it is forgotten. You kill someone, who is supposed to be important, and you are on the front page, so that was the only way Armenians had found to make their cause known again. To a certain degree, it was coherent, because they were killing the very representative of a state that negated realities. 


Then I started rereading the documents, all the testimonies of those days. In the meantime, my father was dead, my mother was dead, I was the last one and I said to myself, “You’ve got to do something for your own people. You fought a lot for people from Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia. You should do something for the Armenians, you’re of the Armenian descent.”


Big-big-big breakthrough


When I was working in Vietnam, I testified in front of the Russell Tribunal. I said, “Let’s try to make a tribunal for the Armenians.” I knew some people who had worked with the Russell Tribunal. I knew some of them, so I said, “Let’s try to organize something historical. Most of the time you speak about the things which are going on, such as the Argentinean dictatorship or the slaughter of this or what, let’s go back.” They said, “Alright, you’ve got to find some money to finance the problem.” I went to the church and all the Armenian organizations. It was easier for me because I did not belong to any of them and nobody could say, “Ah, he’s a Dashnak!” or anything, I was nobody. I was just Chaliand, a French writer. 


Gerard Chaliand Gerard Chaliand

Photo: Stephane Burlot/Ballast


Rather well-known, because the year before I had published a “Strategic Atlas” which was a fantastic success. I mean, about not far from two hundred thousand copies, so I was well known. They said, “We will march with you. Go on.” We organized a few people, like Alice Samuelian, Isabelle Kortian and some others, and generally speaking, more Armenian women than Armenian men. For me, it was a rediscovery, because I knew no one. 


We had the permission by the Sorbonne to make the demonstration there. That enraged Turks more than anything. They paid for a whole page in Le Monde, saying it was all lies, but we were able to get about 250 signatures of very well-known French and European intellectuals. It was a big-big-big breakthrough. 


“Hey, uncle! You’re alive, it’s incredible!”


I started to write this book in 1978 and it took me twenty years to write it, although it’s a small book. Why? Because when you write a book like that, it must be perfect. You can’t make it a ‘rather good’ book. You know, you shut up or you make something real good. 


Gerard Chaliand Gerard Chaliand

Photo: Stephane Burlot/Ballast


At the last chapter, which was the chapter of the massacre, I stopped for ten years. I stopped for ten years, because how do you convey the cruelty of the massacres? It is something tragic. Not just a mourning, but a tragedy, like Greek tragedies. I stayed for about a month in my house alone, rereading all the testimonies of the witnesses. A German priest. Scandinavian nuns. U.S. witnesses, etc. Then I decided I had to write those pages and I wrote them in three days. Just immersed in it. When I finished, I reread it once and I cried, and I felt that I did succeed. That was it. 


In the book, there is a mixture of the massacres, the extermination of the people and, at the same time, the fight of those who fought up to the last - the Fedayeen. It is also a reminiscence of my own uncle, who fought in the battle for Hachn. 


Two years ago, I received an email from someone telling me, “Hey, uncle! You’re alive, it’s incredible!” It was in Spanish. He told me they had discovered my existence on Facebook and Wikipedia and that his mother was the daughter of my father’s older brother, the one who had died arms in hand, in Hachn. “She’s an old lady of 70, can I come and see you?” he wrote. I said, “Of course!”. 


Gerard Chaliand Gerard Chaliand

Photo: Stephane Burlot/Ballast


I liked him. Forty years old, IT specialist. He invited me to Argentina for ten days, where they organized for me two conferences at the university on the situation in the Middle East. I went to Buenos Aires and they took me to the house of quarantine. They showed me the first of my family, who came to Argentina in 1926. Then I met with my cousins. In the end, they gave me the Spanish translation of ‘The Memory of My Memory’, which is a great gift! Fantastic! That was 97 years later. I had been to Argentina three times before and I never knew there were people from my family there and nor did they know that I was alive as the heir of my uncle.


Ara Tadevosyan talked to Gérard Chaliand


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