Who is Vicken Cheterian?
Few worlds about myself. My name is Vicken Cheterian, I am a Geneva-based university lecturer. I have started my professional career as a journalist first in Beirut, where I finished my initial university studies, covering post-Soviet developments. Just after leaving Beirut at the end of the war (1990), and after spending a year in Zurich, I departed for what ceased to be the Soviet Union. I visited Moscow, Yerevan, and then Stepanakert, at the height of the Karabakh war, working as freelance journalist and publishing in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Le Monde Diplomatique, al-Hayat and other papers. It was a feeling of doing avant-garde work. We did not know much about those lands, it used to be closed and far away provinces of the USSR, yet they were going through a profound change. After doing field-work for some four-five years I came to Geneva where I did my Masters and Doctoral studies to what was still the old HEI (now IHEID: The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies) . Then I worked on development projects with a consultancy we set up in Geneva, doing projects in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the MENA, mostly financed by the Swiss Development and Cooperation. I also consulted a number of IOs, from OSCE to UNEP, World Bank and ICC. I think my professional experience, in media, applied politics, but also academic knowledge of two areas the Middle East and post-Soviet space, opens up new ways in looking at various topics.
At Geneva University you give a MA class about media, technology, “color revolutions” and Arab spring. What kind of links can you make about these elements? What is the objective of your class?
The Colour Revolutions and the Arab Spring are the two contemporary waves of revolutions. To understand them we should compare, but also contrast. What strikes me is the fact that the East European revolutions were peaceful, and a decade later we see revolutions in the Middle East leading to endless blood baths. Why? Moreover, I would like to bring different approaches, and inter-disciplinary culture, to be able to debate those revolutions in a comparative manner.
Some of journalists and even politicians claim that color revolutions have been financed and organized by the USA, CIA, Russia or Soros. Can the revolution be financed and organized? What do you think about this claim?
I have done fieldwork in both East European “Colour Revolution” countries, and Middle East North Africa countries where the Arab Spring led to mass mobilization. By teaching this course what I would like to pass to my students is the complexity of the historic moment, and the ability to surpass easy interpretations like various conspiracy theories. Instead of easy answers, where we imagine that human agency could control complex social developments, we need to be humble, but also have solid methodological approach and general culture.
You give another MA class about Caucasus and Turkey, the history of their relations. How did you choose this topic? Why, in your opinion, is this topic still important?
By studying the relationship between the Ottoman Empire and the Caucasus in the 19th century, and Turkey and the Caucasus in the 20th century, we can have a fresh, critical look at the history of those two important worlds: the Russian-Soviet, and Ottoman-Middle Eastern. Both of those worlds are going through deep crisis and transformations, and we need fresh ways at looking at their past to appreciate their contemporary developments.
You are interested in the violence in the Arab world. Why this topic?
Let me first start by saying that the Arab World has had long periods of relative peace, and most horrible violent episodes in human history has been in Europe in the 20th century. Yet, today the Arab World is going through a wave of violence which in part is the result of deep socio-economic transformations, but it is also the result of huge censorship and lack of acknowledgement of the regions’ part of violence, which I treat in one of my courses: the great wave of extermination during the First World War.
You have been living in many countries. Which country (countries) are you favorite one(s)? Why?
A difficult question. I love both Middle Eastern culture, and that of Eastern Europe. I could imagine living in different places; all of them make me curious. I also like Geneva, a city that combines a city the size of small town with cosmopolitan culture.
What can you say about the new young generation of Armenians? How the new generation is different from the previous?
Since I last lived in Yerevan, Armenia, during 2002-2004, there is a new urban culture emerging in Yerevan, moving away from this post-Soviet, deeply nationalist culture. This new social movement initially started around environmental issues, opposing the destruction of city public gardens for the construction of hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. Later, they were deeply engaged in anti-mining projects that threatened to destroy national parks and cause a lot of pollution. This movement is linking environmental issues with transparency and good governance. It is their practice that will give content to what we call “rule-of-law”.
Armenia is absent in the world and European news and it suffers from its reputation of a backward country. What should Armenians do to improve its image to your mind?
I do not know whether being in the news is a good thing. Concerning Armenia, the country finds itself in a troubling geopolitical situation. To the East its borders with Azerbaijan remain blocked, in fact these are largely active war-fronts. To the West, Turkey imposes a continuous blockade since the fall of the Soviet Union. This is the last surviving piece of the Iron Curtain. Armenia has no other choice but to rely on Russian military support, with all its consequences. So, Armenia’s social, political and economic developments are largely conditioned by these forces, and I do not know whether it is possible for the new social movements to win the internal struggle for more transparency and openness under the circumstances.
What is your favorite Armenian author that you can suggest to read? Why?
Armenia has a long and rich literary culture. Let me mention just one, Yervant Odian, who survived the 1915 death marches, who produced a serie of satirical novels on left-wing revolutionary character Comrade Panchuni, writing a generation before George Orwell. He needs to be better known to the non-Armenian reader.