Trudeau Revisited

Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau landed in Yerevan for what turned out to be the second time in his life. This first official visit by a Canadian Prime Minister took place on the occasion of the 18th Francophonie Summit hosted in Yerevan.

Hours after his plane touched the tarmac at Zvartnots International Airport, the Armenian Weekly published my research into his first trip to Armenia as a teenager along with his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau back in the 1980s. The days which followed were filled with enough updates to merit a follow-up piece.

As it turns out, the original photos that my uncle helped uncover were not hard to find. Nikol Pashinyan, a man with a lot of experience as the target of government surveillance, assumed that the KGB would have been keeping track of Western public figures, even in retirement, visiting the USSR. Pashinyan’s hunch turned out to be correct when the National Security Service (Armenia’s successor to the KGB) managed to unearth the very same photographs from the KGB’s old archive. These photos were then framed and presented to Mr. Trudeau at an official ceremony commemorating this visit, along with designer Armenian socks of course.

National Ethnography Museum of Armenia, Sardarapat Memorial

One particularly astute reader of the Weekly, Dr. Davit Poghosyan pointed out in the comments that given the archways in the background, the photos in my uncle’s possession may not have been taken at Tsitsernakaberd, but rather the front entrance to the National Ethnography Museum of Armenia located at the Sardarapat Memorial. Though the photos were in black and white, the mass and color of Armenian red tuff divulge the unmistakable work of legendary Armenian architect Rafael Israelian. This would make sense since Dr. Lavrentiy Ashoti Barseghyan was the then director of that museum. (The Genocide Museum was still under construction at the time.) One point for you, Dr. Poghosyan.

I was also contacted by a representative of the Armenian Museum in Moscow, which had apparently translated my article into Russian for their newsletter. One of their readers recognized her grandmother in the photo. Mrs. Nora Hakobyan, the cultural attachée for Soviet Armenia was responsible for maintaining relations with all foreign dignitaries visiting Armenia at the time. She can be seen at the far left of the photo.

Newly retired Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau with Professor Lavrentiy Ashoti Barseghyan and Nora Hakobyan, Yerevan 1984

My article was also referenced by Eurasianet and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), both of which cited the date of his visit as 1988. Added to this the previous Georgian News article placing Justin Trudeau’s visit to Tbilisi (as part of the same trip to Armenia) in 1982, we now have three  different dates to contend with: 1982, 1984, and 1988.

But Trudeau added a fourth contender. At a private meeting with Canadian expats living in Armenia, which I attended, Trudeau addressed the date controversy (apparently in direct reference to my previous article) saying: “As most of you will have heard by now, I did come to Armenia, back in the 1980s. There is a little bit of an argument because there are pictures of my father from 1984, but I am almost 100% certain that I was here in 1986.” Now, I would venture to guess that Mr. Trudeau would never have taken his children anywhere near the USSR just months after the April 1986 Chernobyl Disaster. For this reason, I’ll conclude that this trip really did take place in the summer of 1984.

I’ll take my Pulitzer Prize now please.

Raffi Elliott

Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. A former correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, his focus is socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia.

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