By Dania Ohanian
Operation Akhtamar, is an award-winning novel from the political fantasy genre written by the former Italian ambassador to Armenia, His Excellency Bruno Scapini. The publication that is currently available only in Italian, is set against a backdrop of imaginary yet credible characters whose motivations provide the reader with the sense of tragedy that is felt by the Armenian nation. The author’s deep knowledge of Armenia’s history and current affairs, together with his vast experience on almost all continents over several decades as a decorated diplomat, make him the perfect interlocutor in this local and global dialogue.
After the recent war in 2020, Scapini’s talent also delved into the dark alleys of Artsakh’s conflict touching upon the very humanitarian issue of hate crime. On the international stage, another political fantasy novel, Arktikos, deals with the potentially explosive environmental issue around the Arctic waters, where superpowers already compete for control, making it a realistic and scary scenario, while Fresh off the Press is the newest novel dealing with the issue of the militarization of outer space. Needless to say, we hope to see his novels one day soon in Armenian, English, French and other languages, maybe even adapted for the movies.
Horizon Weekly is grateful to Ambassador Scapini for sitting down with us to talk about his active post-diplomatic career.
- In 7 sentences, can you please describe who is Bruno Scapini?
First of all, let me express my sincere thanks to you for granting me this interview, that I deem as an exceptional opportunity to get in touch, for the first time, with the glorious Armenian Community in Canada. I appreciate the initiative very much.
Now, as far as my person is concerned, I can briefly say that Bruno Scapini is a career diplomat, who after 40 years of satisfactory service around the world decided, that during his retirement, he would turn into a novelist. Out of interest? Not at all! Out of ambition to tell stories about his unique experiences or a biography as many diplomats do as soon as they leave the active service? Possible, but not probable. Out of passion? Maybe.
The desire not to deviate from the professional attitude to write, could be a very good motivation for my new calling. But the very reason that more than others pushed me to undertake this literary experience could be certainly found in the need to denounce critical situations around the world that affect our human existence today. And just for this purpose, I decided to resort to the suggestive and provoking fictional literature genre usually set in my stories against a background of true references and circumstances. This means to construct a kind of novel, which proves to be instrumental, on the one hand entertaining the reader with an enticing plot full of twists and turns, and on the other providing him with useful information in view of a broader objective and impartial knowledge of the subject the book is meant to deal with.
However, to keep in mind, I also insert in my novels characters and scenes drawn from my personal experiences, but without any claim to present my stories as a professional biography. That is why you can find in my books descriptions of people and places written with an effective sense of realism. My sources of inspiration extend from the Middle East to the Arctic Ocean, from South America to the Caucasian region, from Northern Europe to Africa and elsewhere. It is this variety of cultural and natural contexts that I think generates a curious appeal to my novels.
- What motivated you to write a fiction on the revindication of Western Armenia?
The revindication of Western Armenia is, as you know already, the very subject of the first novel Operation Akhtamar. To explain to you what inspired me to write this work, I should go back to the personal experience I had in Armenia. In 2009, I was posted in Yerevan, as Italian Ambassador and served my Government there until the end of 2013. Well, I must say that during those years, I had the great privilege to get in touch not only with a most beautiful country-side that offers you the unique feeling to be absorbed by a mythical and untouched environment, but also with a people that for different profiles share with the Italians the same fundamental cultural ties and ethical values. But it was above all the history of this country, and in particular, the terrible tragedy of the Genocide of 1915 that struck my mind and prompted me to believe that I should do something to condemn this appalling episode suffered by the Armenian people and contribute both to its recognition as a crime against humanity around the world and awaken repentance on the part of Turkey in order to allow the country to reconcile itself with its historical, yet not admitted, responsibilities. It was in this mental framework then, that I convinced myself, after my return to Rome, to write this novel.
- Your fictional characters come to life in what seems a neo-realistic geopolitical setting. What prompted you to imagine the plot this way?
It is very clear that the plot of the book, as well as its characters, as you said, are drawn from fiction. But I think I am not too far from the truth if I say that theoretically an event of this kind, as I tried to present it in the novel, could be a possible outcome within the framework of different developments that the course of geopolitical dynamics could undertake. Maybe, one could say, I pushed my expectations well beyond the power of imagination, but let me ask: could you have imagined until recent years that the Twin Towers in New York would have collapsed in 2001 due to a terroristic attack? Or that we would have coped today with the drama caused by the Covid-19 pandemic throughout the world? After all, to make a story believable it is not necessary to provide real evidences, it is sufficient to make it appear plausible in its motivations and content. It is up to the reader then to draw the suitable conclusion. And just that should be, in my opinion, the very purpose of a literary work. And I hope that I have been successful.
- How was the novel received by the general public and what is in store for the future?
Against all expectations, I was satisfied when I began receiving positive reactions from the public. The novel was looked upon by most literary critics as a provocation, a literary “ hazard” they said; nonetheless they appreciated the plausible context of circumstances and, as they acknowledged, the novel led them to believe, that after all, the story-telling could provide them with some kind of evidence to better understand not only the width and depth of the terrible tragedy suffered by the Armenians, but also the very feelings of the people who are still aware of the risks that ghostly shadows of the old massacres remind us and, far from being definitely put to rest, are always there, ready to show up again and again at any time, as the recent war of 2020 has dramatically brought to evidence.
After all, Armenia, surrounded by most aggressive neighbours, namely Turkey and Azerbaijan, is always at risk of attacks not only on her sovereign territory, but also on her history and culture; a circumstance that should convince the international community to adopt all possible measures to avoid any further suffering for her people.
It is my opinion, therefore, that just for its capacity to recount history as a combined mix of truth and fiction, this novel can gain the appreciation of the public at-large as the many prizes and recognitions awarded by most famous and prestigious literary competitions have proven so far. What is in store for the future? Certainly, to write more and more about Armenia. The country, the people, their history, and culture are undoubtedly a great source of inspiration, and now I am just waiting for another good idea that could fit a new enticing story. I have to add that I also hope to see this award-winning novel being translated into other languages for the international audience and, why not, attract the interest of filmmakers.
- You also wrote another novel touching on the subject of the environment? Can you elaborate?
If with Operation Akhtamar I meant to attract attention on the unresolved question of recognition of the Armenian Genocide worldwide, by writing the second novel Arktikos: La scacchiera di ghiaccio ( Arktikos: The Icy Chessboard), my motivation was to draw the reader’s attention on another problem of our times: Climate change and its effects on the Arctic Ocean, such as the opening of the Northeast and Northwest Passages, exploitation of the rich natural resources and growing military competition between the super powers.
The book therefore revolves around the danger of a possible conflict between the United States and the Russian Federation for the control of the Arctic region once the ice around the North Pole disappears. The image of the polar bear dying from starvation is dominating the emotions of the reader, starting from the first pages. But the military and strategic perspectives play a decisive role in building up an international intrigue, which finds its plausibility in the context of real, political references. Due to these climatic developments, the book tells the story of a world falling into one of the worst crises of its history, where all Nations and peoples look, as a last hope to avoid the calamity of a nuclear war, at the initiative of the Holy See. At this point, we should ask if the Pope will be successful in his role as mediator, but the answer, let me say, can only be learned if you read the novel!
- You have also authored yet another political fiction titled “Artsakh: Confessioni Sulla linea di contatto” [Artsakh: Confessions On the line of Contact], printed in 2021, 278 pages. What motivated you to write about Artsakh?
Let me tell you: I always bear Armenia in my heart. After writing Arktikos, I thought to come back to her with another subject. That is Artsakh: Confessioni sulla linea di contatto. But the title may be misleading, as Artsakh and the story that takes place in this region is only a pretext to unravel for the reader another subject, that of justice. With this work, in fact, I intended to denounce a horrible crime carried out by an Azeri army officer in Hungary in 2004 at the expense of an Armenian colleague, as both were following a professional training course organized in Budapest by NATO. The awful killing was committed out of purely heinous motivations. But the dramatic profile of the episode is that the author of the crime – despite the condemnation sentenced by a Hungarian court – was later extradited to Azerbaijan, and instead of serving the sentence, was received personally by the President, and glorified as a national hero!
Well, every one of us could easily understand how obnoxious the decision made by the Azeri President could have been like. That was a real offence to the honour of the Armenian Nation, an insult to its dignity and above all an outrage to Justice itself! Today that situation remains unchanged. The crime is still awaiting punishment and its author is still enjoying his freedom.
With this book, therefore, my intention is to not let the crime go unrecorded in our collective memory, and in this regard the plot I conceived to tell the story must be looked upon as a real provocation, maybe even aimed at defying the popular common sense, but in any case with the determination to avoid any waiver of recourse from Justice!
- As a diplomat, in 2016 you stated that “If the Nakorno Kharabagh conflict is not be resolved, the Azerbaijani authorities, who have the explicit support of Ankara, can once more take the risk and restart military operations”. In 2020, the 44-days war confirms your statement. What now?
The war that broke out in 2020 is a tangible evidence of how precarious and risky the geopolitical position of Armenia has been so far. The conflict, as we know now, ended up in a defeat. A predicted defeat I would say, as many indicators lead us to believe that Armenia could in no way withstand the aggression due to the support given to the Azeri army this time, and for the first time, by Turkey and some terrorist units of ISIS moved purposely from Syria.
Yes, it is true. In the past I always assumed that the failure to resolve the Nagorno Karabagh controversy would have represented a constant factor of risk. Of course, since the 1994 conflict, it was not in Yerevan’s interest to start a new war, the Armenians being ostensibly more inclined to maintain a favourable “status quo”. Only the Azeri authorities then could have had such interest with the prospect to recover all the territories lost in the previous war. They had only to wait for the right time. That is to say until the geopolitical situation could have offered a good opportunity to attack and win the war. And that is exactly what happened in 2020.
The partial withdrawal of the American presence from the Middle East has surely boosted Turkey’s ambition to play a growing role in the Caucasian area, while the failure of the newly-established Armenian government, which ensued the so-called Velvet Revolution, to gain support from Russia resulted in Armenia being practically alone in coping with the burden of a war of unprecedented amplitude. For the time being the crisis has come to a stalemate. In the short run, there is no prospect to recover the whole of Nagorno Karabagh.
Moreover, Armenia better be careful in taking future actions. This time, what is at stake is not only the independence of what is left of Nagorno Karabagh, but also the very territorial integrity of the country. What developments can we see in the future? Despite the dramatic situation presently on the ground, I do not feel that the waiver of sovereignty Armenia is obliged to accept now as a follow-up of the last war will last forever. Knowing the temperament of the Armenian people and their determination to stay true to the historical values of their Nation, I do believe in their capacity to rise again and rebuild the Country so to enable the people to take a stand against all aggressions and look into the future with fearless confidence.
- Where do you see Armenia in the next 5-years and what can be done to resolve the Artsakh conflict and Armenia’s borders, in general.
To make a forecast about where Armenia will be in the next five years is not an easy question to comment on. The course of events is not established yet, and I feel that it is also very uncertain. One thing must be clear: Armenia today is once more faced with the imperativeness of shaping a future in her history. That is due to a geopolitical situation that could still be affected by many global factors. The future course in fact will first of all depend on the balance of influence that the big super powers shape in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. And in this context, I mainly refer to Ukraine and Syria and, to a certain extent, to Iran.
But one thing is without a doubt: should the position of Russia and NATO remain unaltered in the coming years, the current situation will persist and internally the present-day government will complete its legislative mandate. Meanwhile, we can predict that opposition parties will try to rehabilitate themselves and mount a stronger campaign in the next parliamentary elections. But they could have a chance to be successful only if they manage to meet the expectations of the people for a stronger Armenia. In this context, I would also add that the leading political class will have a restricted margin of manoeuvring abroad, depending on the security of the Armenian borders exclusively on the support of Moscow. As for the future of Nagorno Karabagh, I must say, however, the unresolved conflict will probably keep the level of tension high in the country and in the entire Caucasus. Unless Russia decides for a stronger presence in the area, the situation may remain unchanged, and consequently uncertain.
To conclude, I would add a last consideration: as far as the security of Armenia is concerned, it could be highly improbable in such circumstances to have a definite settlement of the dispute over the borders and the political status of Nagorno Karabagh. The aftermaths of the last unfortunate war have in fact deeply upset the local territorial conditions, as well as the very balance of power that is clearly now in the favour of Azerbaijan. And nothing at the moment would let me suppose that the mediation offered by OSCE, and in particular by the so-called Minsk Group, gives hope to solve the conflict in the short term. And that because the instruments put on the table by OSCE have miserably failed in reaching a workable solution for the recognition of the right of self-determination despite long-standing negotiations promoted by the Parties throughout past decades, and since the war of 1992-1994.
- What are in the plans for Ambassador Scapini?
To continue my activity as a novelist of course! Looking at the world today, I find a great deal of issues and situations that offer me a good pretext to write. But that is not sufficient to produce a literary work of success. Within the overwhelming waves of information we dispose of today, the first duty of a good novelist to comply with is the choice of a ‘workable’ subject. And by ‘workable’ I mean to refer to a subject that is able to offer the reader a strong source of inspiration touching the best of your feelings out of your innermost soul. In this perspective, I would like to announce that by Christmas my new novel will be published. The title is SOMNIUM and relates to another critical situation that increasingly affects the security of the world for the next forthcoming years: the militarization of outer space.
To conclude, if you allow me to reiterate a hope for my future activity, I’d like to say that there is a little dream I entertain in my heart, and that is to see one day, one of my novels on the screen as a film production. Many literary critics have in fact endorsed this idea in the conviction that the plots of my works and the way their setting is conceived, do comply with the expectations of an inspiring theatrical scenography. I’m afraid however that this hope will remain a dream knowing how difficult it is to move in the film industry. Nonetheless, I will keep on hoping as without hope you go nowhere!
Operation Akhtamar is now available for purchase in Italian and is already translated to Armenian with the hopes of finding a publisher. Artsakh and Somnium are published by Calibano editore. Arktikos is translated to English and awaiting a publisher. Purchase copies are available online and can be ordered from Amazon and IBS. The book is also available at Mondadori and La Feltrinelli Italian bookstores or can be purchased directly from Calibano editore through www.calibanoeditore.com.