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Mikoyan’s Surprising 1959 Comments to Richard Nixon about Armenian Rights in Turkey

Recently I came across a document from the United States National Archives that describes the fascinating conversation between First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union Anastas Mikoyan and U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon, on July 25, 1959, during the latter’s visit to Moscow. The two had met earlier, during Mikoyan’s historic visit to the U.S.

A scene from the Mikoyan-Nixon Washington meeting (Photo: AP)

The discussion between the two rival leaders at the height of the Cold War was polite, but animated. Nixon praised Mikoyan, “who had left in the United States many friends who admire him for his stamina and agility in expressing his views.” Nixon also stated, “Mikoyan’s visit to the U.S. had broken the ice not only officially but also privately, regarding the respective points of view of the two countries.” The archival document noted that Mikoyan “returned the Vice President’s compliments in kind and added that the Vice President is a great debater who never leaves anyone in his debt.”

The conversation quickly turned political when Mikoyan complained about the inappropriateness of a recent congressional resolution on captive nations—states subjugated to Communist rule, including Armenia. Mikoyan felt that the resolution was intended to undermine Nixon’s visit to the Soviet Union. Nixon gave the excuse that the U.S. Congress is an independent body and not even the President can control its decisions.

Vice President Nixon went on to explain: “There are in our population elements, whether Mr. Mikoyan believes they are wrong or not, who feel that governments in their former homelands should be changed. Our Congress often passes resolutions representing the views of those elements, who include such nationalities as Polish, Hungarian, etc. The resolution, and particularly the proclamation of the President, had made a point that it was only an expression of the opinion of American people and the American Government and that they are not attempting to engage in so-called subversive activities.”

Surprisingly, Mikoyan, one of the highest ranking Soviet officials, then brought up his Armenian heritage. “[He told Vice President Nixon] he was an Armenian, and that although he is not active in the government of Armenia proper, he knows some 30 Supreme Soviet Deputies of that Republic and all of them have been wondering who gave the American Government the authority to act in their behalf and why the American Government is not doing something for the liberation of really oppressed peoples, such as the Armenian minority in Turkey,” it wrote.

Mikoyan’s statement was surprising because he was speaking with Vice President Nixon as a Soviet leader, not as an Armenian. Furthermore, Mikoyan was not known as an Armenian nationalist. In fact, he had been blamed for the deaths of many Armenians during the infamous purges under Communist rule. Mikoyan also had not supported the reunion of Karabagh (Artsakh) with Soviet Armenia. These are some of the reasons Armenians were unhappy with the recent decision of the Yerevan City Council to erect Mikoyan’s monument in Yerevan.

A further indication of Mikoyan’s anti-nationalist views is his statement of Dec. 1919, during the short existence of the first independent Republic of Armenia (1918-1920): “Armenian chauvinists relying on the allies of imperialism push forward a criminal idea—the creation of a ‘Great Armenia’ on the borders of Historic Armenia. The absence of Armenians and the presence of an absolute Muslim population there does not concern them…. Our [Communist] party cannot support the idea of either a ‘Great’ or ‘Small’ Turkish Armenia.” The reality is that the Soviet Union did not defend the rights of the Armenians in Turkey.

However, Mikoyan rightly pointed out that the U.S. is against “the liberation of oppressed peoples” when “the peoples in question are oppressed by its friends and allies,” such as Turkey, and many others.

Mikoyan also questioned whether the Soviet leaders should pay attention to the positive gestures of the White House or the more hostile reactions of the State Department. Mikoyan “wondered whether the Soviet Union should believe the pronouncements by the President or the Vice President or whether it should regard this statement by the State Department as a direct expression of American policy.” Mikoyan explained that “the President had instructed the Department of State to work out measures for the development of foreign trade [with the Soviet Union]. In view of the actions taken by the State Department it appears that the President wants one thing and the Department of State another.”

Mikoyan’s meeting concluded on a conciliatory note with Vice President Nixon, promising that “upon his return to the United States he would work on the problem of trade, but that one must realize that difficulties cannot be resolved by a stroke of pen.”

The above conversation shows that Mikoyan was in fact as “wily” as described by Western officials. He had survived for several decades at the highest echelons of the Soviet Union, ending up as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, the nominal Head of State, from 1964 until his forced retirement in 1965.

15 Comments on Mikoyan’s Surprising 1959 Comments to Richard Nixon about Armenian Rights in Turkey

  1. was mikoyan not also the originator of the russian MIG fighter plane which is the front line fighter in the russian arsenal. it is a shame that these great, powerful armenian men could not do more for the recognition and reparations of the genocide.

    • His brother, Artem Mikoyan, was one of the founders of Mikoyan Gurevich Design Bureau, of MiG for short.

  2. Mikoyan certainly called out President Nixon for not liberating all of the oppressed, and it’s interesting to see how President Nixon skirted around the issue, stating that the United States wouldn’t engage in those “subversive activities”. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to look back at past interactions between world leaders, and compare it to where we are today as a society. I’m sure if I shared this interaction on other social media websites, it would get people talking about such historical times, and how they have shaped the world we are in today. I appreciated how “wily” Mikoyan was as a leader, making his and Nixon’s interaction that much more interesting!

  3. avatar Sassoon Kosian // February 6, 2018 at 9:49 pm // Reply

    Mikoyan had a unique talent for surviving such a long time at the top of USSR leadership, while many of his peers had been victims of Stalin’s purges and assassinations. Unfortunately, Mikoyan’s talents served only himself, not the Armenian people. He does not deserve to have a statue in Yerevan.

  4. Mikoyan used the subject of Armenian oppression (Genocide) as a means to put Nixon on the defensive in this conversation. As you pretty much explain, his first loyalty was to the Soviet Union – Armenia maybe second, if that (as was naturally required for his position). the double standard that Mikoyan exposed, by the way, continues to this day sadly.

  5. avatar Bedros Shetilian // February 7, 2018 at 11:26 am // Reply

    Very interesting!

  6. would u rather have Mykoyan as we have him now…….or nobody would even know such a great name…..including his brother……..as other millions unknown to us bec of Stalin?

  7. Thanks for keeping us updated with Armenian news.

  8. Anastas Mikoyan was one of the greatest Armenian leaders of modern times. He is not well understood/appreciated today only because of the decades long anti-Soviet propaganda put out by Dashnak and Western powers. It is due to men like Mikoyan, and the realpolitik they pursued, that we have an Armenia today.

    • avatar Zartir Lao // February 8, 2018 at 2:57 pm //

      I’m not surprised that you praise an Armenian loyal to a foreign state before his own, since this is perfectly in tune with your other anti-Armenian rhetoric and “Russia is the beginning and end to all” loyalty. People like you who talk about “Dashnak” are no different than what type of rhetoric Turks and Azeris make, but with a Russki twist this time. And BTW Getse Tashnagsoutioun for CREATING Armenia for the first time in 500 years and pissing your Russia off for doing so! No Russian Bolshevik in a MILLION YEARS would have created Armenia for Armenians. Thank God for our REAL heroes like Antranig who saved what was left of Armenia from Bolsheviks and Turks and Karekin who saved Armenia from Bolsheviks and Azeris.

  9. “The reality is that the Soviet Union did not defend the rights of the Armenians in Turkey.”

    Furthermore, Soviet Russia certainly did not defend the rights of the Armenians in Artsakh, Nakhichevan, and Javakhk, when it illegally gave away these three Armenian provinces in a failed attempt to persuade Turkey to become a Soviet republic.

    And almost a hundred years later, Russia (who pretends to be Armenia’s ally) is again not defending the rights of Armenians by selling four billion dollars worth of military arms to Armenia’s mortal enemy (Azerbaijan), with many more military arms to be sold to the Azerbaijanis within the near future.

    As for the Yerevan City Council’s extremely absurd decision to erect a statue in honor of that anti-Armenian of Anastas Mikoyan, it’s quite obvious that they are attempting to please Russia, who happened to be so extremely displeased with the erection of Garegin Nzhdeh’s majestic statue, in the center of Yerevan, back in 2016.

  10. Uncle Joe, who never forsake his beloved Georgia beside his Bolshevik ideologies, took friendly stupid comrade Mykoyan’s territory named Javakht, with entire Armenian population, where numerous Armenian noblemen born and died there, annexed to his beloved homeland, now people like you praising him because he had an Armenian surname! Shame on you! The only person as a tue Armenian, that I appreciate his brother, who created MYG fighter jets for USSR, brainer, who never failed in his field!Now you can blame Dasnaks and West, for your stupidness!
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artem_Mikoyan

  11. avatar HARRY MARDIROSSIAN // February 12, 2018 at 3:40 pm // Reply

    Mikoyan placed his personal interests above his ethnicity, many times he executed reckless orders from above at the expense of Armenians and his native land just to secure higher powers in the Supreme Soviet. Sadly, this is how he is remembered and his memory is tarnished within Armenia and its people.

  12. avatar Bedros Zerdelian // February 14, 2018 at 11:30 pm // Reply

    Mikoyan was a selfish politician, what he did to keep himself in his high governmental position. He never cared for the Armenians. In 1918 our great dignitaries and personalities established the Armenian Republic with their clear mind, speech and hard work with dignity, integrity and devotion they put the base for free, independent Armenian government. Unfortunately In 1921 the bolsheviks destroyed it. And now we see the fruits of the bolsheviks.

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