On Armenia, fisheries and acknowledging grievances / by Francisco Blaha

In 2004 I did one of the most strange missions of my career, I went to Armenia, a landlocked country in the crossroad of the Caucasus. 

It felt at the time like it was kind of the Atlantis (a place we all know about, but nobody knows really where it is). I really didn’t know anything about the country and besides finding in a map it exact location, learned about his geography and history.


I heard before about Armenia, as most people in the world, because its surviving diaspora of which a substantial part settled in Argentina and Uruguay after escaping Turkey in what was called the 1st genocide of the 20th century. (I’ll come back to that). 

Still, what doe s a fisheries guy does there? Over 5 % of the country’s surface is covered by Lake Sevan  and the lake host an active fishery of the very valuable narrow-clawed crayfish (Astacus leptodactylus) that is  indigenous species of Armenia that initially inhabited freshwater habitats of Ararat Plain, but in the 1980s it was introduced into Lake Sevan, and fairly soon its population and distribution throughout the Lake started to grow. 

The northern European market had a strong affinity to this fresh water crayfish, as similar species used to abundant there in the past, but the local populations have decreased and a potential market was open, so my job was to create and strengthen the regulatory avenues for the country to be able to export their crays to the EU and in a completely unrelated fashion develop a (immediately doomed) fisheries management plan.

One part of the job really worked, the export volumes increased during the twelve-year period, 2000-2011 from 20 tons per year to 1120 tons per year. Not surprisingly, in comparison to 2004, when the industrial stock was estimated at 1800 tons, it decreased by 52% in 2011 to about 860 tons. At current, chances are that the population of crayfish may have declined to a level making self-reproduction nearly impossible. 

In any case, besides the challenges of work, the place itself was a revelation… not many places in the world have such a old, convoluted and complex history as Armenia. The wikipedia link above is illustrative enough.

The issue of the genocide still awkwardly diputed by Turkey (which at the time was the Ottoman empire). This weekend marked the 100th anniversary the initial actions that set up the events, on April 24th 1915, scores of Armenian intellectuals were rounded up in Istanbul and most were later murdered. But as the centenary approaches, what followed is still bitterly contested by the present Turkish government. To the point that in previous years Turkey has commemorated the allied landings at Gallipoli in 1915 on April 25th. This year it is shifting events to April 24th, some say to distract from the centenary of the Armenian massacres.

Scars of the event run so deep in the country that the genocide is integral part of the Armenian’s identity.

Turkey’s position is increasingly unattainable… recognising what happened is not going to debilitate its international “reputation” if anything it will enhance it. They are not alone in that club… any imperial power and colonizing country is guilty (i.e. is estimated that 90% of the original inhabitants of Central and South America died in the first 100 years of Spanish and Portuguese colonization, the atrocities of the UK extended over 5 continents – and I’m not including slavery)…. So no moral high ground there.

For most Armenians I know, just a formal recognition of their grievances would do, and allow them to move on into the next steps of their history. They have never used their tragedy as tool for subjugation of other races or as a turn around tool to claim those who criticise them are xenophobic. Even their conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh run among other lines (most of the time at least)

People sitting together and recognising each other grievances has amazing effects, is not about changing the past, of trying to convince you otherwise. Even at very simple level of conflict around work. The sitting of people with grievances about each other’s actions or writings can have amazing soothing consequences (I had such an event last Friday for example)

Surely no Turkish leader read this blog (however I was amazed how many people in the Brussels Seafood Show told me they do!)… but is time to just sit and acknowledge each other grievances with Armenia, is really the only way forward.

Until then my Armenian friends will keep holding to this event as the key unresolved issue in their existence as people, as country and a culture, which believe me is much richer that that.