Les Réverbères de la Mémoire – Interview with Mr Khachatourian, President of the Armenian Union of Switzerland

Q: Are you responsible for the Armenian Cultural Centre?
No, I am not responsible for the Armenian Cultural Centre but I am the President of the Armenian Union of Switzerland. These are two completely different associations. There is actually a committee that manages the centre and we are, in fact, one of the users of it. That’s where we organize our meetings, events, and everything else that happens in the community.
Q: Why did you accept the position of President of the Armenian Union in Switzerland?
I have been sitting on the committee of the Armenian Union of Switzerland for more than twenty years. I’ve been the treasurer, an ordinary committee member, the vice-president, but three years ago there was nobody to take over the position of president, so I was encouraged to assume this function. I have now been the President of the Union for two years and I still have one year left. Next year, elections will take place and we will see what happens, either I will run for re-election or somebody else might covet this position. It is a democratic organization and it is the community who vote.
Why do I want to be involved in this? I am Swiss citizen, but my roots come from elsewhere. Personally, I believe that we should never forget our roots ‒‒ you should never forget where you come from. If we forget that, we are a little lost, because the future is built on what we are. So for me it is very important, and I try to give it back to the community, and also to my family, my daughter and my wife.
Q: Can you tell us about the Armenian community in Switzerland?
The Armenian community consists of families who arrived in the nineteenth century, fleeing the persecutions of Sultan Abdul Hamid of the Ottoman Empire. These Armenians settled primarily in western Switzerland, and particularly in the Geneva area. Later, a second wave of refugees came to Switzerland after the Genocide of 1915, while other refugees arrived in the following years.
In the 1920s Pastor Kraft Bonnard created an orphanage at Begnins in the canton of Vaud, where more than 200 orphans, mainly Genocide survivors, found refuge. Once they finished their studies, the majority of them remained in Switzerland.
At the end of the Second World War, the Armenian community consisted of about 300 people in Switzerland. Since then, this figure has been increasing due to people fleeing the situation in the Middle East, the USSR and Armenia. The number is currently estimated at 6,000 people living all over Switzerland.
Q: If I have understood correctly, it is because of this historical link that you wish to erect the monument Les Réverbères in Geneva?
The links between Geneva and the Armenians, in particular, have a long history. An idea came to the Armenian community to offer a token of friendship to Geneva, to build something together that does not necessarily mark the Armenian Genocide but rather all genocides, and to ensure that anyone who sees it may one day say ― “never again”.
Q: Do you think Les Réverbères will soon be completed?
Hopefully. The city of Geneva has already given us the location, the artist has already modified his design. Initially, it was thought that it could be installed in the old town, but this became a politically sensitive issue. Then, the city proposed the Park Ariana near the United Nations. Currently we are discussing with the Technical Services of the city about obtaining the necessary permits.
Q: It seems that the Armenian community is very active and dynamic.
This is a very active community, and also very active politically in Geneva and elsewhere. It is very interested in politics, and is well integrated in Switzerland and I think it is recognized as such.
Q: One tends to believe that you are a relatively closed community.
I cannot say that we have many contacts, but we do work willingly with other communities. We try to reach out to others, and this monument is a sign of that. We cannot forget the past, but we have to move ahead and find a common ground, so as not to perpetuate this vicious circle.