LAVROV, KHUDYAKOV, AND SHALIKASHVILI: THREE STORIES, TWO PARALLELS
On the cover from left to right: Sergey Lavrov, Sergey Khudyakov, John Shalikashvili
The Armenians have such a common personality trait: to look for an Armenian trace everywhere, beginning with a simple search for Armenian surnames in the film credits, finishing with a search for all sorts of people of Armenian origin. This national hobby has taken on extreme forms: the society is engaged in that, people do that around the table, in mass media , everywhere. Sergei Lavrov - Foreign Minister of Russia - is an Armenian, and that's it - it's pointless to argue, because there are strong facts from his biography: his surname is Kalantarov, more precisely, Kalantaryan, his father is an Armenian from Tbilisi. That’s it, nothing else necessary, and it doesn't matter that Lavrov positions himself as Russian at all official venues - we, Armenians, know better who he is.
It is interesting that for some part of the Armenians kinship and origin are the determining factors, and for some - on the contrary, they have nothing to do with self-consciousness and self-perception. Lavrov himself, for example, commented on his Armenian origins only once, and that was because the question was directly asked to him, of course, in Yerevan. With inherent self-confidence, the Armenians asked if his Armenian roots helped him in his work. “My roots, in fact, are Georgian,” Lavrov cut off, “my father is from Tbilisi, but the blood is really Armenian,” and such an exhaustive answer involuntarily makes you want to formulate the question differently, namely: “Do Armenian roots interfere with his work? ”
Such a contrast, namely between:
- people who ascribe being Armenian to everyone who has Armenian blood,
- people who do not care about their Armenian origin,
creates quite awkward situations.
We can observe how people in Armenia are proud of Sergei Khudyakov, the Soviet Marshal of Aviation, who not only gave up his real name - Armenak Khanferiants - but also came up with a fake biography, according to which his mother was Georgian and his father was Russian. It is noteworthy that Khanferyants’s son learned about the Armenian roots of his father only at the age of 14.
According to one of the stories, it seemed to young Armenak that the change of the name would give him the green light in his career in Soviet Russia, and that was what happened in reality. At 43, Khudyakov was already a colonel general: he coordinated military actions in important theatres during the World War II, was responsible for the transportation of the delegation to the Tehran conference, which speaks for the important role in the state, that he occupied, and for high confidence that Stalin had in him.
However, the name change turned out to be a fatal decision: when his real name and origin were revealed, Khudyakov was accused of treason and abuse of power and executed. Unlike Khudyakov, in Armenia and Artsakh, where he comes from, people are proud of the fact that he is Armenian and of his merits: books and monographs are written about him, streets, avenues and institutes are named after him.
John Shalikashvili, an American General of Georgian origin, was actually the third most important person in the US after the President and the Secretary of Defense, as claimed by one of his quotes: “Wherever I am in the world, I must keep in touch with the US President and the Secretary of Defense of America every second. If necessary, only the three of us can decide on a nuclear attack. "
John's story is notable for the fact that, despite being a high-ranking official, a US statesman, he adamantly retained his Georgian surname which was difficult to pronounce, especially for English-speaking people. He was offered to change or at least shorten his surname to four letters - Shali - to make it more convenient to pronounce more than once. Even Bill Clinton asked for it. It is worth noting that in the family of John Shalikashvili, who lived in the Russian Empire, there were people who changed their surname following the Russian manner - Shalikov, Chalikov, etc., but, as the story goes, John categorically disagreed with this and was more ready to leave his position sooner, than to change at least one letter in his last name.
One of the main reasons of this disagreement is found in the following story from the General's childhood:
When John was little, one of the representatives of the Andronikashvili princely family came to visit them. During a conversation with John's father - Dmitry Shalikashvili - it turned out that Andronikashvili had changed his surname into a more Russian-like one - Andronnikov. John's father flew into a rage, jumped up and put the guest out of the house with the words: "What kind of Georgian are you if you failed to keep your father's surname?!" And this scene came before John’s eyes as a flashback everytime he was offered to change his last name.
John Shalikashvili earned great respect and recognition both at home, in Georgia, which he dearly loved and visited, and in the country in which he served - in the United States, and the “problematic” surname did not prevent his success in any way. He is a vivid example that you can be an important person in another state, but at the same time you can not only stick to your origin, but also be proud of it. We would like people, who are not only of Armenian origin, but who also have Armenian self-consciousness and a sense of belonging to the Armenian people and state, to be appreciated in the Armenian reality.
Authored by Eleonora Sargsyan
Translated by Margo Sargsyan