Interview with the Chairperson of the “The Armenian Association of the Military Service Doctors” NGO M.D., Ph.D Ruzanna G. Khachatryan

-Mrs Khachatryan, our main interest lies in the NGO, which you have recently founded, which is, as it transpires from its name, intended to deal with the issues of health care in the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia and the entire spectrum of questions involving doctors wearing uniform. About “The Armenian Association of the Military Service Doctors” we will talk later on, as… we simply cannot avoid mentioning the fact that you are Defence Minister Seyran Ohanian’s wife (ignoring this circumstance would, in our view, be not really sincere). We must therefore address the interest of our numerous readers.

Why did you decide to get involved in civic activism, and, forgive us for asking such a direct question, were you not content with happiness and glory of being the wife of the national hero Seyran Ohanyan?

-Your question is indeed very sincere and direct, without the so-called “hidden meaning”, and I will answer it sicerely and directly.

The aim of creation of “The Armenian Association of the Military Doctors” was not enhancing, as you phrased it, of my own happiness and glory. I am a Medical Doctor, and, being the Defence Minister’s wife, simply could not remain uninvolved with the issues related to the health of our servicemen. When any serviceman loses his health or even dies as a result of an illness, I always find myself, as the Defence Minister’s wife, in the epicentre of pain, worry and suffering…
It is only natural that I am familiar with the issues of health care related with the Army, I have studied them for many years. I can say that the NGO I have founded aims to help the military doctors to make their work more effective, to facilitate implementation of the newest, most important innovations in order to improve safeguarding of our servicemen’s health…But all of the above would remain only half true, if I do not add that… well, I have seen on numerous occasions how deeply the loss of every single soldier affects the Defence Minister, simply wounds his heart, and this has also served as a powerful motivation for creating an NGO which will make every effort to contribute to the preservation of health of our soldiers and officers.

-The organization has only just been founded and it would make sense to discuss it when it has already done some work, when it has already left its footprint, so to speak… But we, the “Hay Zinvor” newspaper, as the mouthpiece of society, of its needs and interests, we must answer the people’s question: “Who is Ruzanna Khachatryan?”, setting aside the fact that she is the wife of Defence Minister S.M. Ohanyan, what is her background, as the saying goes – “Where does she come from?”, what values she holds dear… And what exactly guarantees the fruitfulness of her public activity and… what should we expect of her?

– I will answer with pleasure.

Both my parents are fom the Koti village in the Noemberyan region of Armenia (Currently Tavush Marz – transl.). Father’s ancestors were priests, educated and broad-minded people known by their passion for educating the masses.

And Mother’s ancestors were Meliks (land-owning aristocrats, Princes – transl.) of Shushi (Nagorno-Karabakh Republic), and the dominant characteristic of their clan, both in the past and today, was and is love of freedom and fighting spirit. Proud, brave and indeed indestructible people…

In our family there is a story, much like a folk tale, which is passed on from one generation to the next. There was an Azerbaijani (“Turkish”) village next to Koti, and in that village there lived seven Turk brothers, who terrorized the Armenian population, kept it in constant fear for their lives, forced them to pay “dues”, robbed them of their property and cattle; those who resisted were killed. They killed my grandfater’s cousin Melko. My great-grandfather Artem, together with his four brothers, decided to revenge their slain kinsman. The five brothers swore an oath to destroy all the males of the bloodthirsty Turkik clan… When it was done, and all the males of the enemy but one, Sari, were killed, Artyom called my grandfather Ohanes and told him: “Sari is yours, you must kill him”. That man Sari knew, of course, that he was the last target, and he went into hiding.
For months my grandfather waited for Sari in an ambush – he was sure that one day his sworn enemy will come to see his wife and his child.

And that day, when Sari, sneaking as a thief, approached his wife and the child still in diapers, my grandfather, looking at him through the sights of his shotgun, called out: “Sari!”. Sari turned and, with the resignation of the doomed asked: “You have come, Ohanes?” My grandfather replied: “I have come to avenge Melko”. And so shot Sari point-blank.

By the way, ours never shot Azeri Turks in the back, but, as my grandfather Ohanes, face to face, heroically exacting blood for spilled blood…

– …When I am watching you telling this tale, I can see contradicting emotions on your face – pride, pain, wrath, pity, pathos, regret…

– I have yet to tell you the end of the story… In order to comply with his oath, my grandfather had to unwrap the baby’s diapers, and if the baby was a boy…

-… I wanted it was not a boy!

– But it was. The baby was a boy… The Turkish woman understood everything and she began to wail… My grandfather looked at the Turkish baby boy and… he could not raise his gun, and then he said strange, incomprehensible words: “Let this baby grow up and take his revenge on me..”

– I think what your grandfather really wanted to say was: he was sure that the child would grow up to be as bloodthirsty as his father and relatives, but he could not turn the gun on a defenceless child, even a Turkish child…

– …You know, in my soul I cherish that lantern of the family people called “the priest family”, that light of always aspiring to knowledge of the pious churchmen, and the indomitable spirit inherited from the Meliks of Shushi.

– Did you grow up in the village of Koti?

– My father was a teacher and a scholar, and my mother was an economist. They lived in Yerevan, when me and two sisters were born (I am the second child). But it so happened that I was born in Koti, and my father took care to have that pleasant fact recorded in my birth certificate. And although we lived in Yerevan, we always had strong ties with Koti, in the mountains of which many beautiful days of my life, maybe – the most beautiful ones, have been spent… And our Yerevan apartment was in the so-called Silachi district. It was a modest home, but home full of love, warmth and harmony… I said “modest” and immediately remembered our upright piano, “Petroff”, bought by our grandmother. She saved money from her old-age pension, economizing for many months. That expensive, noble instrument was in stark contrast with the muted walls of our rooms and furniture, which was not at all expensive…

– Do you play the piano, Mrs Ruzanna?

– It is my sister who plays the piano well, as for me – I graduated with distinction from the musical school, where I attended the violin class, but I can also play the piano. By the way, my secondary school course I also finished with distinction…

…You know, I was a happy, active, bright child, I used to be the driving force of all the school events. I was especially keen on the Humanities – languages, literature, dreamed of becoming a theatre critic, expert on drama.

– Before meeting you for this interview we, as it befits, made inquiries and we know that you attended a special school with emphasis on physics and maths. How come you did not become a
theatre ctitic?

– My elder sister attended the school specializing in physics and maths, and my school was a school with profound study of the French language. One day my sister said: “How lucky you are that you are not in our school, you would find it hard dealing with our teachers…”, and referred to those teachers by name. I made up my mind that very minute and began the next term as a pupil of that very same physics and maths school.

– I see – so you are ambitious…

– You can say that again. I always set ambitious goals, but I have managed to overcome all the difficulties. Let me say it this way – I always worked with a superhuman effort, I used to give up many things which people normally take for granted, but I never stopped halfway.

– Do you refer to your studies in France?

– Allow me to begin with answering why I did not dedicate myself to theatre studies. My mother always dreamed of her daughters becoming doctors, and all of us hated to disappoint her. By the way, most of my mother’s relatives are doctors. I, too, graduated from the stomatological department of the Yerevan Medical Institute with flying colors and joined the medical profession. At that time French doctors were implementing their program of helping young Armenian doctors to receive further training. I took part in their selection procedure.

Out of seventy applicants only four were selected, including myself. You know, I have always been striving for the best and never spared any effort to achive my goal. I set high standars for myself, no difficulty can stop me if I am inspired by something. I am an emotional person, I need an impulse, an inspiration… For me life is impossible without the sense of beauty, without taking pride in what I am doing…

…I do not want to talk of the difficulties I had to overcome to study in France, and what gigantic effort is hidden behind my every success, every achievement… All the problems of everyday life I solved single-handed… I worked from morning till night so that nobody (especially my foreign colleagues) could look at me with pity or condescension. I refused free accomodation at a run-down hostel and rented at my own expense a comfortable flat with all the mod cons, my French colleagues always saw me tastefully dressed, with elegant accessories… (And this, sometimes, was not forgiven…)

By nature I am aesthetic, I love beauty, and therefore I chose implantology for my specialization. I was inspired by the prospect of giving people a gift of a beautiful, healthy and charming smile. One doctor, upon learning of my choice of specialization, literally threw me in the face:

“Implantology?! Your people have no bread, and you want to feed them with chocolate…” That really shook me. It was like a poisonous sting that penetrated to my heart… Today I understand – if not for that woman’s words, perhaps I would be unable to overcome all those superhuman obstacles that I finally conquered.

I faced a whole army of pessimists and ill-wishers. I studied with incredible single-mindedness and diligence and completed the entire course of studies, and after that I came back to Armenia for rest and recreation, and it was at that time that I met Seyran Ohanyan.

– He was at that time the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Defence Minister?

– Yes. I saw him at the French Consul’s place. He was in general’s uniform, and, it is difficult to put in words, he exuded by all his manner nobility and charm, there was something emphatically exalted, strong, reliable about him… The French gave a reception…

Seated around the table laden with exquisite dishes, the French watched with keen curiosity a young general of a country newly proclaimed independent but not yet recognized by the world, a country emerging victorious from a recent war; and that general had to be Master of the Ceremonies. My heart was pounding as I wondered if the general of my country could stand that test as well. I wanted him to be flawless. Without going into detail I must state that Seyran Ohanyan surprised not only myself, but the French hosts as well by his sophistication, easy-going manner, consummate conversation skills, intellect, sense of humour. He was magnificent. I looked at the smiling, admiring faces of the Frenchmen and my soul was filling with pride. I remember that when one of the guests asked Seyran Ohanyan if he liked the oysters served at that dinner, the general answered with a hint of a smile that yes, he did like them, and he especially liked the lemon juice squeezed onto them.

…I received such an inspiration from that heroic, noble-looking proud general, I got such inner power, that all my resentments, doubts and disappointments receded into the past. In a few days I returned to France and passed my exams with excellent results. And when everyhting was successfully completed, I made a point of thanking the lady who held the opinion that “chocolate was not for Armenia”, because, if not for my wounded national pride, perhaps, I would not be able to withstand all the difficulties.

– When I interviewed Mr Seyran Ohanyan, he said: “It is not as difficult to become a hero as it is every day, every hour to preserve the image of a hero…”; what I am interested in is this: In everyday life what the man who won his glory on the battlefield is like?

– There is a well-known saying which goes like this: “The difference between men and monuments is simple – the closer you approach a monument, the bigger it becomes, while the closer you approach a man, the smaller he seems”. Seyran Ohanyan belongs to those exceptional people who loom larger the closer you get to them.

Perhaps that is the reason why I could never relate to Seyran Oganian merely as a man, my husband.
My unconditional respect always prevailed over all other feelings.

…His courage and candour, determination and ability to forgive, intolerance and sensitivity perpetually cause inner contradicitons, worries and anxieties…

…For both of us there is no greater exploit than to sacrifice oneself in the name of Motherland, there is no greater man than a Hero ready to give his life for Motherland.

– Dr Khachatryan, you have published 20 scientific articles in authoritative Armenian and foreign periodicals, and in 2014 your monograph, “Health Care Issues in the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia” was released. You are the Health Minister’s Advisor on the health care in the military or…?

– When Dr Derenik Dumanyan was President of the Medical University, he invited me to the post of his Advisor. By the way, my thesis for the degree of Candidate of Sciences in Medicine was dedicated to the military health care and organizational problems of health care in the Armed Forces.

When Dr Dumanyan was appointed Health Minister, he again invited me to work with him. As an advisor to the Minister I am responsible for health care in the Armed Forces.

– And what objectives are set for “The Armenian Association of the Military Service Doctors”?

– The Association allows the military doctors to have their own tribune and address their target audience, in order to voice their concerns, relate their successes, find effective ways of solving their problems. It will become a meeting place for doctors of the Armed Forces, facilitating creation of new ideas. We will have an opportunity to unite our efforts with civilian doctors, to establish international ties. (Since 2003 Dr Ruzanna Khachatryan is a member of the French Association of Implantologisits, AIF). We will strive to develop the scientific aspect of the military medicine and encourage military doctors to get involved in research.

Ultimately, the main aim of all those programs – preservation and rehabilitation of our servicemen’s health. I also attach a great importance to information and propaganda activity. The people must know military doctors standing shoulder to shoulder with soldiers in the front line, doctors who are soldiers at the same time. Those doctors who saved thousands of soldiers in the Karabakh war, who performed uniques surgery in the open air, today with the same dedication do their sacred duty. It is imperative to give their due, to inspire them.

– Mr Khachatryan, we wish success to all your endeavours.

-Thank you very much indeed.