Yesterday two statues were unveiled in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. I saw one about to be erected as I walked to a meeting. When I came out of the meeting it was in place but shrouded, with workmen putting the finishing touches to its installation:
The subject is Garegin Nzhdeh, born Garegin Ter-Harutyunyan, an Armenian national hero, soldier and statesman who took on the Ottoman and Russian Empires and the Soviet Union during his 69-year life (1886-1955). The photo below (which I borrowed from that admirable fount of knowledge Wikipedia) shows him as a proud, armed and decorated warrior.
But there were two unveilings yesterday. The other was a seated statue of Marshal Hamazasp Babajanian, an acclaimed tank commander for the Soviet Union in the Second World War. It has been criticised on aesthetic grounds. Judge for yourself:
When I first posted on this topic I mistakenly reported that the second statue depicted Anastas Mikoyan, known in Armenia as ‘the executioner’. A proposal to erect a statue of Mikoyan provoked such negative public reaction that it did not go forward. My original text is reproduced below in italics.
The other was a statue of Anastas Mikoyan. He was Armenia’s highest profile Soviet politician, serving under Lenin and all subsequent leaders up to and including Brezhnev. He was instrumental in carrying out Stalin’s bloody orders in his homeland, earning him the nickname ‘the executioner’.
Predictably, many people have been surprised to see Mikoyan honoured with a statue, albeit in a less central location than Garegin Nzhdeh’s. The most plausible explanation that I am aware of is that it is a sop to Russia, on whose good will Armenia depends, neatly balancing the honour given to a nationalist who tried to liberate at least a part of Armenia from Soviet rule.
Armenia is a small, poor, landlocked nation with two hostile neighbours: Turkey and Azerbaijan (with whom shots are being exchanged on the border as I write). Armenia cannot afford to anger its one powerful friend.
As a postscript, Anastas Mikoyan had a famous brother Artem, an aircraft designer. The ‘Mi’ in Mikoyan combines with the ‘G’ in the name of Artem’s partner Mikhail Gurevich to make the famous acronym ‘MiG’.