Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte’s mission can simply be referred to as patriotism

Many years have passed since the Armenian pogroms in Baku and Sumgait, but the wounds of our compatriots having escaped that modern-day genocide are not healing…Some of them have settled in foreign countries, become self-established and become people and professionals, and one of them is the virtuous, U.S.-based Armenian writer, professor, Candidate of Legal Sciences and author of the book “Nowhere: A Story of Exile” Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte. Astvatsaturian Turcotte was recently hosted at the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia, and this served as an opportunity for me to sit down for an interview with her for Hayern Aysor.

Karine Avagyan: Where are you originally from, Anna?

Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte: I was born in Baku, but my roots trace back to Nakhichevan, Kirovabad and then the Khndzoresk village of Goris. My parents were born in Baku.

Karine Avagyan: When did you last visit Armenia and Khndzoresk-the land of your ancestors?

Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte: I visit Armenia often. We have relatives here, but the main purpose of my visits is to be involved in community service for Artsakh. I visited Khndzoresk in May of this year. Khndzoresk is indescribably beautiful. Unfortunately, we have no more relatives there.

Karine Avagyan: Anna, I know this is a painful issue, but I have to ask when and how you were compelled to leave Baku.

Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte: We left Baku on September 18, 1989. It was a horrible period. It was no longer possible to stay in Baku. Almost all Armenians were leaving. We came to Yerevan and lived there for two-and-a-half years. We were staying in the Kanaker district where I was attending the local Russian school #132. I was never able to fully learn Armenian, even though I know how to read and write in the language. Later, we moved to the United States where I graduated from school, received a higher education and grew as a professional. I am a lawyer and work as a vice-president of a bank. I am also involved in community service (I am a member of the “For Artsakh” Public Council). I have graduated from the University of North Dakota with degrees in English Language and Literature, Philosophy, Religion, Russian Language and Literature. In 2003, I was qualified as a lawyer and became one of the first U.S. secretaries of the International Criminal Court of The Hague. We have been living in a city near Boston for the past 25 years, but I never forget my hometown and the horrible years that I experienced as a child.

Karine Avagyan: As far as I know, you have written a book about your memories of those days…

Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte: That book is my diary. The story starts from Sumgait. My paternal uncle lived there and had seen a lot. When the atrocities against the Armenians of Sumgait began, everything sort of changed drastically in Baku. Azerbaijani children would no longer play with us, our neighbors wouldn’t interact with us, and I would ask myself why…It was not clear as to which neighbor would call and inform the Azerbaijanis that there were Armenians living near them, or which neighbor would hide and save us. There were also remorseful foreigners. When the Azerbaijanis had come to our yard in search of Armenians, one of our neighbors almost kneeled and swore that there were no Armenians in that neighborhood, and this is how that neighbor saved us…Now I will talk about the book. I was 15 and was writing a book (I had been keeping a diary since I was 10) when we moved to the United States. I wrote it in English for my future children. I thought my children might suddenly forget about what had happened. It was very important for me to tell my children and the world how the Armenians were treated in Azerbaijan and about their share of destiny in Baku, a city in which Armenians had made so many contributions and where many great Armenians shone in different spheres. I wrote the book and published the first version n English so that people would read it and know what had happened in Baku and Sumgait and so that whatever the Azerbaijanis are doing to Artsakh today (continuously disturbing the peace) never happens again, just like the crimes, massacres and atrocities that were committed against the Armenians in Baku and Sumgait. The next publication of the book will be in Russian. I also want and plan to publish the book in Turkish.

Karine Avagyan: Have you added any episodes in the book?

Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte: Yes, I have made additions. They are mainly descriptions of my grandparents and friends, Artsakh and our home. We had two apartments in the same building, and there was a beautiful garden…We left all that to the Azerbaijanis.

Karine Avagyan: Do your children and husband speak in Armenian?

Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte: My husband is non-Armenian. My children know the history of the Armenian people. They also know about Armenia, the Armenians of Baku, the history of Western Armenia and the Armenian Genocide. They have a great understanding of what their mother is doing and what she has written about.

Karine Avagyan: I am sorry, I wouldn’t like to cause you pain by reminding you about the past with my next question, but I would like to ask you to share a thought that you have reinterpreted as a mature person and professional after all these years.

Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte: The 30th year anniversary of the Sumgait pogroms is approaching…During the days of the Sumgait pogroms, I was 10 years old. The events were taking place in a place that was very far from me, but the wave also reached us…The normal relations that we had had with neighbors and acquaintances until then, were ruined…Frankly, the Azerbaijanis of Baku have always hid and restrained their hatred and evil against the Armenians. We Armenians were considered a different kind of people. The Karabakh movement became a motive for them to burst like a volcano and show their hatred and inimical attitude towards the Armenians through the perpetration of a horrible crime. For me, it is very important for us Armenians to never forget about the Sumgait pogroms. Although I lived and live far away from my hometown and my Homeland, the important thing is for us Armenians to support Armenia and our Artsakh no matter where we live…When I retire, I plan on spending half of the year in the United States and the other half in Armenia.

Karine Avagyan: Anna, your first book is a book of sad memories. What will your second book be about?

Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte: My second book is not about memories. I describe the impact of the conflict on ordinary people and not only on the Armenians, but also all nations living side-by-side.

I want all Armenians to never forget the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and the Armenian massacres in Sumgait and Baku so that they never happen again. If we forget our past, then foreigners will not remember it at all. This is our wound and our pain. We don’t want to cry. We simply want respect towards the history of the Armenian people.

Karine Avagyan: Thank you for this interesting interview, dear compatriot! May the books presenting your hometown, Sumgait and the sad memories of your childhood be translated into different languages and be disseminated across the world so that progressive mankind of Earth is always alert and never allows the repetition of such crimes and so that nobody ever tries to commit violations against the rights and territorial integrity of other nations.

…Anna was modest and didn’t say that she was elected a member of Westburg City Council in Maine, receiving 64 percent of the total votes, was awarded the Mkhitar Gosh Medal by the President of the Republic of Armenia in 2013, was awarded the Medal of Gratitude by the President of Artsakh and received the Vahan Kardashian Award from the Armenian National Committee of America in 2014. Anna Astvatsaturian has played a major role in recognition of independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic by the State of Maine in 2013. Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte very actively continues to speak out about the resolution of the Artsakh issue at the international level. This is Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte’s mission, which can simply be referred to as patriotism.

Karine Avagyan

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