“A most productive diplomat”

Diplomats of the“old school” with their most valuable experience gained during the Soviet period have played a major role in the making of the diplomacy of independent Armenia. One of such professionals was Ashot Melik-Shahnazaryan, who returned to Armenia from Moscow in 1992.

Text: Arsen Melik-Shahnazaryan / Photos: Melik-Shahnazaryan Family Archive

45 years of service
After graduating from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 1956, Ashot Melik-Shahnazaryan started his career as an interpreter to the Soviet diplomatic missions in Vietnam and in Belgium (1956-1958). Since 1959 he started working in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), holding different positions in central office and in foreign missions in Africa, Asia and Europe.
In 1960s Melik-Shahnazaryanwas involved as a top level interpreter thanks to his fluent command of French. People like the president of Guinea Ahmed SékouTouré, President of Congo Alphonse Massamba-Débat, Anastas Mikoyan, Vladimir Voroshilov and even Leonid Brezhnev, then still young, were among his “beneficiaries”.

Ashot Melik-Shahnazaryan was on diplomatic mission for almost half a century. He worked in the Soviet MFA for 33 years and in the MFA of the Republic of Armenia for 12 years. During the period of work at the Soviet MFA he held positions in the directorates on African Affairs (1964-66), General International Issues (1969-75), on Press and Information (1975-81), on Assessmentand Planning. Melik-Shahnazaryan was on missions in different embassies of the USSR in Guinea (1960-64), Senegal (1966-68), Zaire (1968-69), Cambodia (1982-87) and Mali (1989-92).
Melik-Shahnazaryan was also Chargé d'Affaires in Zaire, Cambodia and Mali. During the Soviet period in 1989 he was assigned the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. During the period of his diplomatic career in the MFA he worked at all levels of diplomatic services, graduating from the Diplomatic Academy of the USSRMinistry of Foreign Affairs (1971) and to completing an executive training course for the MFA senior officers (1981).
The dissolution of the USSR coincided with the completion of his mission in Mali and his retirement age, so he returned to Moscow. On January 17 1992, just a day before his arrival, Melik-Shahnazaryan`s father Zare Samson passed away. He was 88 years old (my grandmother had passed away a few years earlier). Melik-Shahnazaryan learned about that sad news the moment he landed in Moscow, so he immediately took a plane to Yerevan to attend the funeral. It was in Yerevan that Ashot Melik-Shahnazaryan made a decision to continue his diplomatic career in his homeland, Armenia.

Back to roots
Melik-Shahnazaryan worked at the MFA of the Republic of Armenia for 12 years. He wasMinister Counsellor at the MFA (1992-94), Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organizations based in Geneva (1994-95), Director of MFA Department of International Organizations (1995-98), Ambassador-at-Large (1998-2000), Armenian Ambassador in Mexico and Cuba (2001-2004).
In September 1997 Melik-Shahnazaryanby a decree of President Levon Ter-Petrosyan was promoted to the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. Why so late? Just after the dissolution of the USSR and the sudden independence of Armenia the government of the young country was almost exclusively in the hands of “young reformers” from the Armenian All-National Movement shaped during the last years of the USSR and headed by first president of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Meanwhile Melik-Shahnazaryan`s professionalism played an important role in Ministry’s shaping. The most important part of his activities was the involvement in shaping main directorates and structural subdivisions of the MFA putting into effective usehis great experience and knowledge. No country could have a competent foreign policy without such tools.
His skills of establishing close contacts with the Russian MFAand the Russian embassy in Armenia, the successors of the Soviet MFA, were also significant. However, it was quite natural as Vladimir Stupishin, the first Russian ambassador in Armeniaover the period from 1992 to 1994 was Melik-Shahnazaryan`s years-long friend, associate and neighbor in the apartment block on Chaykovsky street in Moscow as well as acolleague in the MFA of the USSR.

Defending rights of Nagorno-Karabakh
For Melik-Shahnazaryan Karabakh and Shushi have always been a part of his soul that was why he was so deeply touched by the dramatic events that occurred from 1988 to 1994. In 1988 during a general meeting at the Soviet MFA Melik-Shahnazaryan was not afraid to call anti-Armenian pogroms in Sumgait a premeditated massacre based on ethnic hatred aimed to intimidate the Armenians of Karabakh and to blackmail Moscow, despite the official version of Kremlin reading the occurrence as “violence from hooligan motives”.
During the Karabakh war from 1992 to 1994 Melik-Shahnazaryan had several trips to Stepanakert. In July 1993 he helped to the young Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to shape its own MFA. It was of vital importance for the people of Karabakh to be able to negotiate competently on the settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within the framework of OSCE Minsk Group and other formats, as well as to cooperate with international organizations and funds, supporting Karabakh to overcome the consequences of the war, imposed by the government of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In all diplomatic positions and missions at the Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh MFAs Melik-Shahnazaryan vigorously defended the rights of the young republic on the international stage.

A Pan-Armenian diplomat
Melik-Shahnazaryan was fond of sports since his preschool age. He went in for sports when he was a school and as well as university student continuing his hobby throughout his diplomatic career. During the last years of his life Ashot Melik-Shahnazaryan, besides his professional career, he was actively engaged in the sphere of sports, particularly in the Olympic movement. Melik-Shahnazaryan spent his childhood and youth years in Baku, an international city in that period. As early as in the pre-war years Baku journals and newspapers had records about “young sniper Ashotik”, as well as on his father, a shooting instructor and his mother and younger brother. Those paper and journal clippings were kept in Melik-Shahnazaryan’s personal achieve.
Melik-Shahnazaryan in different years was elected Vice President of the Federation of Modern Pentathlon and Fencing Federation of the USSR. He was appointed advisor on developing countries to the Soviet Olympic Committee; he took part in the preparation and organization of the XXII Olympics in Moscow.

After moving to Armenia, he was also elected in different years president of the Fencing Federation of Armenia, chairman of the National Fair Play Committee, vice-President of National Olympic Committee, the member of Bureau of Sports Development Committee of the Council of Europe, as well as he was national ambassador for Sports in that European institution. Melik-Shahnazaryan had many friends and acquaintances among sports officials, including the President of International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Melik-Shahnazaryan became a well-known figure in Armenia and in the worldwide Diaspora as the founder, mastermind and the organizer of Pan-Armenian Sports Movement. For the first time Ashot Melik-Shahnazaryan announced publicly the idea of holding Pan-Armenian Games in 1996 in Paris and next year he became the first president of World Committee of Pan-Armenian Games. The games successfully took place in Yerevan in 1999, 2001 and in 2003.
Within the framework of those sports events thousands of Armenian young people arrived in Yerevan from scores of countries worldwide. Many of them visited their historical homeland for the first time, bridging the modern Armenian state with Armenian colonies, spread worldwide. Melik-Shahnazaryan also authored the music and lyrics for the march and the farewell song of the Pan-Armenian Games.

Last days
Ashot Melik-Shahnazaryan continued to work up until his very last days of his life. He was Yerevan-based Armenian ambassador in Mexico and in Cuba, continuing also his activities within the framework of Pan-Armenian and International Sports Movement, meanwhile inspiring also a movement of the Francophonie Armenia, gave lectures in Slavonic (Russian-Armenian) University in Yerevan.
In 2003 Melik-Shahnazaryan underwent an extremely complicated and a risky heart surgery. It seemed that the surgery would restore his former previous working ability for at least a decade. In the same year Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian handed him an award of “the most productive diplomat”.
Melik-Shahnazaryan passed away on January 18, 2004 in Yerevan. His grave is located in Sovetashen graveyard in Yerevan, next to his parents Zare and Anaid.

During his active and productive life Ashot Melik-Shahnazaryan received a number of governmental and public awards, including the Movses Khorenatsi medal, which is considered to be the highest award in the Republic of Armenia for contribution in culture and the Medal of Gratitude of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
But beyond all those awards and ranks he had, a most important thing about him that deserves highlighting, was his greatest love towards the life he had, as well as his avid desire and ability to work towards and to achieve success in quite a number of different challenging goals.
Punctuality and self-discipline that he developed in himself during his diplomatic career, as well as sport activities, giving him endurance and helping him to keep fit until the last days of his life, played an important role in all spheres of his activities.

PanArmenian Games
Melik-Shahnazaryan first conceived the idea of organizing universal games for all Armenians while he was on a mission in 1965 to Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, which was getting ready to participate in the first Pan-African Games. However the idea was dismissed by central government in Moscow as “nationalistic”. He gave a second chance to the idea after Armenia gained independence. In 1995, Ashot Melik-Shahnazaryan for the first time publicly announced his intentions to create Pan-Armenians Games while he was in Paris attending World Games of the AGBU (Armenian General Benevolent Union). He quickly gained the support of the Armenian Diaspora figures and in 1999 Yerevan hosted the First Pan-Armenian Games with 1141 athletes from 63 cities of 23 countries of the world.