DE GAULLE SAVES TROYANOVSKY, AND KHRUSHCHEV SAVES ARAKELYAN
ARMAN NAVASARDIAN
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, YEREVAN

 
 
 
 
 
Synchronous interpretation is a difficult job; it is much more than having an excellent command of a foreign language. It goes without saying that an interpreter must have strong mental, ethical, and physical capabilities. Synchronous interpreters usually work up to the age of 30-35. There are exceptions, of course. A professional interpreter must have a strong nervous system, the ability to control himself, and focus the attention as well as orient himself quickly in any situation and never panic. On the one hand, interpreting inspires, on the other, it straines the nerves. And the job of an interpreter at the Foreign Ministry is twice as hard and demanding. It is not always recognized at its true worth. Many politicians, especially those who don’t know any foreign languages, look at the interpreters from above, as if they are members of a service crew. 

But the task of Stalin’s and Khrushchev’s interpreters, for example, must have been tortuous. They had to deal with fear in the first case, and non-regulated language in the second. 

Charles de Gaulle visited Stalin during World War II to have a secret conversation on military actions. The interpreter was a young diplomat named Aleksandr Troyanovsky. De Gaulle stresses at the end of the conversation that it is extremely important that no one apart from him and Stalin should know about the subject of the conversation. Troyanovsky interprets the general’s statement and then, completely terrified, interprets Stalin’s reply:
"There’s only the two of us, anyway.” 

De Gaulle thanks Stalin for his assurances and notices that Troyanovsky is greatly enhancing the exchange of ideas. 

"I would be pleased if we could use the services of this interpreter in our future meetings,” he prudently adds.
De Gaulle’s cautionary request wasn’t unwarranted and it is not excluded that it saved Troyanovsky’s life, who would go on to become a prominent diplomat. 

Arabic is one of the toughest languages to translate from not only because, as scholars of Arabic claim, "it resists the learner for twenty years,” but also because those who learn standard written Arabic cannot understand spoken Arabic, because it is different in every country. As a result, when representatives from different Arab countries meet, they become deaf and dumb. 

There were only a few Arabic-speaking diplomats in the Soviet Foreign Ministry who were unrivaled interpreters. One of them was Sergei Arakelyan who came to Moscow by miracle from the village called Tegh in Zangezur. He interpreted to and from Arabic for state heads and the President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser wouldn’t accept any other interpreter but him. 

After graduating from an institute, Sergei Arakelyan worked in Aswan as vice consul. He was the only interpreter who understood Egypt’s southern dialect. 

In May 1964, Nikita Khrushchev and all the heads of Arab countries arrive in Egypt to participate in the ceremonious opening of the Aswan Dam. 

Before the opening ceremony, finding himself next to the President of Iraq and enemy of the Iraqi communist party, Abdul Arif, Khrushchev gets angry:
"Tell Nasser that I won’t even piss next to Arif!” 

This "delicate” mission falls on Arakelyan, who, unlike Khrushchev, was a diplomat and a far more civil person. He probably gets the message across to Nasser in a more polite language. 

"Khrushchev can do as he pleases. I was simply trying to reconcile them,” Nasser replies. 

When Arakelyan interprets Nasser’s explanation, Khrushchev waves down his hand: 

"He can get the hell out of here . . . Tell him, I don’t want to reconcile. Period!”
But the real test for Arakelyan was ahead of him. 

Khrushchev greets the country heads with the exception of the President of Iraq. Arakelyan promptly interprets Khrushchev’s greetings and adds Arif’s name. Why? Was that diplomatic etiquette or an interpreter’s slip? It’s hard to tell. But what was said, was said, and there was no taking it back now. And the military intelligence interpreter of the Minister of Defense, Andrei Grechko, who was standing a few steps away from Khrushchev whispers in the minister’s ear that Arakelyan willfully greeted "our enemy.” 

Without turning around the marshal orders his soldiers to "put the interpreter under arrest.” 

Half a century later, this scene on the bank of the Nile would probably make the reader smile. However when the delegation arrives in Alexandria, according to the program of the visit, Arakelyan and his friends are in a terrible state. Bored in the palace of the overthrown King Farouk I, Khrushchev takes off his suit jacket, puts on a Ukrainian style embroidered shirt and goes out for a walk. 

Seeing in the hallway the embassy’s third secretary Poghos Hakobov standing on duty, Khrushchev inquires about the engraved inscriptions on the walls. 

Hakobov either can’t interpret the inscriptions or he wishes to help his friend and calls Arakelyan, glumly standing nearby. The latter does an excellent job at interpreting and commenting on the complex and philosophical content of the Surahs. 

They go into the courtyard. Curious Khrushchev starts asking the Arab gardener questions about the lush greenery in the garden. Khrushchev notices that the gardener doesn’t really talk that much, while Arakelyan makes long comments about every shrub and tree, offering scientific explanations to every question. When Khrushchev asks Arakelyan how he knows all of this, the latter humbly explains that he has been working in Egypt for a long time. 

Then Hakobov tells Arakelyan to leave in Armenian and then proceeds to tell Khrushchev that the diplomat with a future and whom Khrushchev likes so much has been summoned to court by Marshal Grechko. 

"What nonsense!” Khrushchev exclaims. 

Nikita Sergeevich dismisses Hakobov, then calls the Editor-in-Chief of Pravda, his son-in-law Aleksei Adjubei, who followed him everywhere like a shadow, and tells him to ask Grechko to join him on the balcony. Nobody knows about the details of their conversation, but fifteen minutes later everyone is informed that the question has been resolved.
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1007 reads | 05.04.2014
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