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New Year’s Special Edition
1) Editor’s Note
2) And so the Adventure Begins: A Photographic Voyage into Divine Land
3) 2004 HyeRock LA Festival to Feature Charity Concert
4) HOLD THE FROTH
5) The Long and Short of It
6) Meet ‘Ardy’
7) The Armenian Youth Federation Western United States 2004 Year in Review
8) One Last Helping of ’04 with an Extra Side of Skeptik
9) Euroed Again?
10) VADIS, EU?
11) Raising Awareness of Diaspora Conditions
1) Editor’s Note
Asked at the end of 2003 what my goal for the Asbarez English section
for the coming year, I responded with “not merely changebut resurgence.” And I
jokingly added that just because Asbarez was established 95 years ago doesn’t
mean we should act our age.
I’m certain there wassomewhere among the piles of papersa “to-do” wish list
for reaching that goal of renewal, but I assume that its fate was to be buried
under the Asbarez archives (which, by the way, housed the English section at
one point last year).
Even without that list, 2004 brought to the English section new faces glowing
with sheer talent and dedication. Barely in their mid-twenties, my two
assistants, despite working part-time, have not only succeeded in literally
producing a fresh paper but also helped create an ideal environment in
And as if that weren’t fortunate enough, two innovative columnistsnamely,
Skeptik and Garen, who volunteer their effortsjust… hmm… fell from the sky.
those who know our friend Garen… know that he made a big bang indeed.
And did I mention Skeptik? When this odd creature approached me about writing
a column, I laughed in its face. After all, what could a professional basket
weaver possibly have to say that’s so important? (yes, that was a feeble
attempt at misleading you about who it is…).
I feel so lucky that I was able to overcome that momentary lack of editorial
judgment. The fervent cynic who, in his words, “lives and works in a pineapple
under the sea,” has single-handedly attracted a huge following of younger
readers, and some older ones too, to the English section.
Now the year has drawn to an end, and the preparation of a 2005 wish list has
begun. The English section appreciates the heartfelt responses and kind words
from readers, as well as the less gentle and not-so appreciative ones: we’re
more than willing to live with consequences of our actions and editorial
decisions, good and bad; and we hear youand will change when change is called
After all, that’s what 2004 was about: a new and different Asbarez English
We hope you enjoy this New Year’s special issue, which features what our
found fresh, current, and entertaining. See youagainnext year!
2) And so the Adventure Begins: A Photographic Voyage into Divine Land
By Vahé Peroomian
I have, more or less, patiently waited more than three weeks for this. Not
just to write in this “old leather appeal without the leather” journal, but to
embark on a voyage devoted entirely to photographing Armenia’s landscape.
After three weeks of waiting, what is another four hours? The formal yet
apologetic letter handed to me as I approached the Air France counter at LAX
was the harbinger of this delay. Mechanical problems…Air France has more than
made up for this lapse now. Imagine an entire audio channel devoted to
Jean-Michel Jarre, and enough bubbly to contaminate the oxygen receptors in my
brain–and you’ve got the beginnings of a happy camper. The ducking with
cranberries should erase any lingering memories of a gripe against yet another
True, I’ll arrive at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport 12 hours later than I was
supposed to. In my mind, I’ve already erased plans of a mad pre-dawn dash to
Khor Virab with appropriate plans to photograph the first of many sunsets in
How appropriate for ‘Souvenir of China,’ replete with electronically
sounds of a camera shutter, to start this very minute. I have but to close my
eyes to imagine the landscapes I’ll be photographing.
Yes, I’m nervous. So much is at stake here. My family, especially my wife
Carol, has put their faith in me, giving me the freedom to not only dream of
this journey, but to also embark on it.
Who knows what will happen in Armenia? Will it constantly rain? Will it be
and dusty as every September usually is? Will I be too early, agonizingly
early, for the fall colors?
It used to be, perhaps even as recently as a couple of years ago, that I was
mostly a “fair weather” photographer. You know the kind–visiting only as a
tourist, sticking to the beaten path, photographing in the harsh noontime sun,
only because that’s when one got to a certain destination. Thankfully, those
days are long gone. Hailstorms in Lachin, rain in Shoushi, but most of all a
stormy winter in Yosemite National Park, have cured me of this. I can
photograph in rain. I love to photograph snowfall on a meadow. Gray skies
daunt me; they light my photographs in a way no elaborate lightbox could. I am
prepared for whatever this trip will yield.
Armenia is not entirely foreign to me anymore. Visits as a young adult in
1980, 1981, and 1990 have laid the foundation for two voyages in 2003 that
opened my photographic eyes to the breathtaking landscape of Armenia. Yet,
venture into the photographic unknown. In my last (and only second)
I dared display photographs of Yosemite and Armenia side by side. The logic
being that these are two locations on this planet that are dear to me. Yet, if
I could serve as my own critic, few of my photographs from Armenia compare to
the majesty of a clearing storm at sunset in Yosemite at full moon.
Thus were born the first thoughts, the first dreams of the voyage I have just
embarked on. The photograph of the clearing storm at Yosemite is the result of
countless sunsets spent freezing at Tunnel View, hoping to catch the right
light at the right time. Yosemite is familiar to me, in no small part due to
the efforts of Michael Frye, both in person and through his comprehensive
photography guidebook. There is no equivalent in Armenia. I am on my own, with
no one to guide me to the right location at the right time of year. To be
honest, I do have the closest I can come to this in Armenia. Stepan N., my
guide and my travel companion in Artsakh, knows the country like the back of
his hand. He has already shown me brief glimpses of basalt cliffs more
impressive than Devil’s Postpile in California, churches hewn in two, more
serene perhaps than unchanging Half Dome. My mission, simply put, is to try to
capture these wonders on film, in spite of the long odds. After all, Horsetail
falls in Yosemite captures (and reflects) the fiery colors of sunset for only
one week a year, and then for less than one minute, just after sunset.
Thus is born the second purpose of this journal. These pages will become not
only a chronicle of what I’ve seen and photographed, but of notes and
directions that will allow me to return to various locations when conditions
are more ideal, in better light, in a better season, and perhaps in better
And so, the adventure begins.
October 5, 2004, Early Morning
All in all, my ‘airport hop’ lasted 36 hours. I left home at 4 p.m. on
Saturday, and arrived at home in Yerevan at 4 p.m. on Monday. I refrained from
writing since there would have been too much vitriol mixed into my words.
I have already met Stepan, and we’ve planned at least the first day of our
journey. We will head south, and spend Wednesday night in Ghapan.
I have a choice; I can head north today and head to Haghbat, Sanahin, and
Odzoun, hoping for fall colors–or, skirt Sevan Lake past Martouni. But first,
a quick return to Zvartnots Airport to pick up my bag which didn’t arrive from
Moscow with me. I don’t really care about the clothes; I have enough here left
from previous trips. It’s my tripod and my 4×5 film holder (oh, and the pound
of Peet’s coffee) that I need to have for the journey to Karabagh to even make
sense, photographically (the coffee stays in Yerevan).
I woke up at 5 a.m. this morning. I did get 8 hours of sleep, but not
continuously. I passed out soon after an early dinner (helped by the
doubt), and woke up at 9 p.m., refreshed. I decided to take a walk, which
somehow led me to ArtBridge, the expat cafe that seems to be the center of
gravity for many a visitor to Yerevan.
All in all, it’s been a good first 12 hours in Yerevan, even though I spent
two thirds of it sleeping. Sunrise is still 20 minutes away…
October 5, 2004, Part II
This was, in the end, an interesting day. The morning was spent running this
errand or that (yes, even in Yerevan, errands don’t elude me).
My cousin Mookooch and I finally left Yerevan around noon, heading north in
his trusty and noisy Mercedes van. By this time, my trigger finger was itching
with the need to depress a camera shutter. It was nearing 24 hours in Armenia
and I had not shot a single frame of film yet.
My first opportunity came right after passing Dodi Gago’s misplaced French
chateau, with its private church, no less, on a hilltop in Kotayk. Here, the
hillside to the right of the roadway is being slowly cut away in a mining
operation, turning an otherwise uninteresting hill into a multi-layered,
multi-shaded vista well-lit by the afternoon sun. The best place to stop for
photographing this is just past a big blue road sign, as the road begins to
curve left, away from the hill.
We arrived in Sevan only to find it shrouded in clouds, its surface
the gray anger of the skies above. We stopped briefly to photograph the
churches on the Sevan peninsula at a location about 100 m past the turnout to
We pressed on, aiming for Dilijan, hoping that the ‘golden autumn’ beginning
to show its colors in Sevan was in full force there. The old, arduous road
the mountains to Dilijan has now been replaced by an ultra-efficient tunnel
that cuts the travel time to Dilijan significantly. Just past the fork to the
old road, I spotted a nice sized boulder covered with orange moss. A 5-minute
wait yielded a shaft of sunlight that briefly split the clouds and lit the
to my satisfaction.
The emerald hills of Dilijan greeted our exit from the tunnel. There’s a
meadow on the opposite hill that I’ve had my eye on since my last visit in
2003. It was perfectly lit today, partly cloudy skies giving it glowing
contrast. I finally found a good spot: down the switchbacks just past an
and white painted retaining wall, almost at the same level as the meadow on
Here, the conversation turned to the butcher shop I’d photographed last time,
with its ‘tarm mis’ (fresh meat) sign accentuated with an axe buried into a
wood block. Mookooch had not seen the axe on subsequent visits, and I joked
that at least it will stop copycats. As we were chatting, I spotted a gnarled,
moss-covered tree on the roadside, near the 90 km mark. We’d have to stop here
on the way back. The axe was obviously being put to use, as its absence was
marked with two hanging carcasses near the door.
We sped by, aiming for Haghartsin Monastery, one of my (and Mookooch’s)
favorite spots in Armenia. The weather, unyielding clouds, disappointed us yet
again. Fall colors without the color. After a few futile attempts, I gave up
and we drove back, driven more so by our grumbling stomachs set churning at
sight of grazing pigs.
Dilijan is famous for its chalaghaj (pork chops), and soon a distant
the grazers was being placed on our table, along with a plate of tree
sautéed with scrambled eggs.
The gnarled tree looked even better on a full stomach. We spent about half an
hour on this branch and that, composing, waiting for her Majesty the Sun’s
approval, and then moving on.
Our return to Sevan found the peninsula bathed in golden light. We clambered
up the steps, and I decided to use the Shen-Hao 4×5 camera for the first time
on this trip. It was cold and windy, which made things difficult at best.
Sevan’s churches should really be photographed in early morning. The best
of both churches faces east, and was in shadow in the afternoon.
Tea at the Ashot Yerkat restaurant thawed us, and I soon fell asleep on the
Tomorrow, the road to the highlands of Vaik, Sissian, Goris, and Ghapan.
October 6, 2004
A bit of a delayed start this morning. Bags in the car, we headed out of
Yerevan, Stepan N. and I, began a four-day jaunt into southern Armenia and
Karabagh. As I write this, we are hurtling toward Zangakatun, 90 km from home.
I’m taking notes and writing as we drive, economically so, since I don’t want
to miss the beautiful vistas surrounding me. A recap of the morning:
Km 11: We bought two potato piroshkis each, and water. A bit down the road,
filled up the feisty Lada Niva 4×4 with gas.
Km 30.7: Just past the Khor Virap turn-off, Massis (Mt. Ararat) peeked its
head out of the clouds.
Km 70: The Sevanavan cliffs, facing 30° east of north, dominate the
Km 85: Heading through up-thrust cliffs to the east. Maybe I can catch these
with a setting sun on the way back.
Km 95: The first pleasant surprise of the day. Stepan mentions a natural lake
near Zangakatun. A dirt road turns off to the right of the main road, and
presented with a yeghegnut (reeds) surrounding a small lake. Lo and behold,
Massis hints at its presence, peeking between sun-drenched hills. There are
just enough clouds to make this the shot of the day, but it’s still early, and
we haven’t even reached Vayots Dzor (the Valley of Sighs).
Km 113: Areni village. The Vank (monastery) and cliff are not well lit in the
winter. In fact, I’m given the bad news here that Tufenkian (of rugs fame) is
building a hotel right under the cliff. The cliff itself is well-lit only
3 p.m., apparently, and faces due north. Will the new hotel ruin this view?
Km 117: The river Arpa has been following the road (or vice versa) since
Areni. The cliffs on its south side are too high, and the rapids under the
cliffs are in shadow.
A brief detour into Noravank proves futile. There is no light on the cliffs
lining both sides of the road, facing south and southwest. These should get
light during the winter, but my timing is off again, not for the first time
I know that “cliffs” isn’t a very descriptive term. For several kilometers,
we’ve caught glimpses of interesting rock formations, stone parapets, and
lining the south side of the road, on our right, as we make our way from Areni
to Vayk. There are especially nice, but barren, cliffs (here’s that word
A bit of an introduction is needed for our next stop. My parents have
throughout Armenia a lot more than I have. Stepan and my parents have a habit
of visiting somewhere, then emailing me to rub it in. Gndevank, with its
cliffs, was the one time that I actually felt jealous. We’d driven by the
turn-off last year, and I hadn’t realized what a wonder of nature lay within.
Now, 159 km from our starting point, we turned left onto the old road to
Jermuk, and were immediately greeted by the layered crags that are giant
crystals of basalt. Those near the road are sand colored; further in,
Gndevank itself, one also finds the dark gray basalt one usually sees. As we
approach a giant parapet of basalt, the cassette player, which had up to now
made its way through a medley of popular classical tunes, blasts into Carmina
Burana. Even our Niva knows majesty when face to face with it. I definitely
have to return here in the spring knowing that the hillside below the basalt
would look a lot better if it was dotted with spring flowers.
As we approach Gndevank itself, Stepan recites a poem (originally in Grabar,
traditional Armenian) written in the 10th Century by Queen Sophia, builder of
“Vaiots dzore matani er anakn,
Karutsetsi gndevanke dretsi akn”
“Vayots Dzor was a ring without a stone
I created Gndevank and set that stone in the ring.”
Gndevank is, indeed, the stone adorning the ring, the jewel in the crown that
are the hills of Vayots Dzor. The church itself is rather small, and much
chagrin, has run out of candles on our visit. The walls and parapets
surrounding the church are impressive, but need to be photographed from a
higher vantage point than ours, perhaps from the new road to Jermuk.
One brief diversion on the way back proves fruitful. There are two now
springs that used to serve travelers on the road to Jermuk. The first of these
is next to a portion of the Gndeghaz River that is relatively calm and
two boulders slowly, creating a pool ringed with moss, and bardis (poplar
trees). Not only is this a serene picnic spot, but it also makes for a good
composition with two basalt cliffs above the pool. This green patch, alive
despite the onrushing autumn, is a respite from the burnt yellow of the
Leaving Gndevank, we realized that we had little chance to reach Ghapan, our
final destination today, before nightfall. Our speed increased, until I yelled
‘stop!’ bringing the car to a screeching halt. There, to our right, was a
hilltop cemetery, silhouetted against the afternoon sun partially obscured
cloud. The Spendarian Reservoir sparkled below.
We reached Karahundj, also known as Zorats Karer, a Stonehenge-like formation
from 3000 BC. It was very cold and windy, and the grassy plain provided no
shelter from the wind that gave this place its name.
After spending about 10 minutes photographing this and that rock, I realized
that I was not alone. There, leaning against one of the rocks, was a shepherd.
His flock nowhere to be seen, his clothes the hue of the rocks themselves; he
was silently observing me. I struck a conversation, asking his permission to
photograph him. He had come to be a shepherd after a serious accident had
his career as a driver.
It was interesting. I had imagined the rocks, their formations, in my mind
over and over again; yet, despite their timelessness, they seemed different.
Perhaps it was because my attention was drawn to the shepherd, or the fog
rolling down the mountain opposite us. Perhaps it was the expediency the cold
required of me. Except for the shepherd, I only shot in black and white this
time; somehow that seemed the appropriate thing to do.
Soon after, the fog that played such an important role in my Karahundj photos
enveloped us. We had just passed the turn-off to Noravan.
Arriving in Goris, bereft of even a brief glimpse of the crags surrounding
city, we took a brief respite by stopping at a market and were on our way
again, nightfall approaching quickly.
The road from Goris to Ghapan is famous for the 42 ‘Tasi Pavarots,’ the
switchbacks of the Tas valley. The weather worsened with each switchback.
came the rain, then fog, until we finally reached Ghapan, bleary-eyed from
staring into the fog.
October 7, 2004
The day before, we had clocked 344 kilometers since leaving home. Today, our
path meandered as one could only meander in Armenia.
We woke in Ghapan to low clouds and fog, and decided to head to Vahanavank, a
10-km jaunt up the mountainside. Queen Sophia, of Gndevank fame, is buried
here. Efforts to rebuild the church have been abandoned, giving the monastery
an eerie feel. Khatchkars, some hewn in two, covered in moss. Ancient graves
strewn here and there…fog enveloping the hills…
Returning to Ghapan, a right turn brought us to the road to Kovsakan
of old), and we soon entered the liberated territories of Mountainous
Our first destination was the newly rebuilt and repopulated village of Keren.
The village leader, Valerie (a male name in Armenian) and his family
in and gave us a glimpse of village life that lasted several hours. Thus began
our meandering. The fog had lifted enough to give us a glimpse of the valley,
surrounded by towering mountains, some of which contain tombs from 5 millennia
Our meandering brought us next to Kovsakan. On the road between Keren and
Kovsakan, at 386 km, the river flows right below cliffs, which would look
perfect in afternoon light or any light other than the overcast that day.
The turn-off to Ditsmairi, at 395 km, was a breath of fresh air. We had been
delayed in Kovsakan by bureaucratic ceremonies that Stepan had been drawn
We arrived in Distmairi in bad weather and bad light, making the best of the
remaining light to photograph the 4001000 year-old trees of Toros Ishkan’s
This was to be the last time my camera came out that day. The road from
Kovsakan to Berdzor (Lachin of old) was treacherous at best, testing our Niva
at every turn.
After Berdzor, it was a 45-minute dash, in fog, to Shoushi. We were going
too fast for the conditions, but were both tired of staring into fog to care.
We arrived in Shoushi, having survived the journey, and retired, with a 6 a.m.
wake-up call to catch the first rays of sun on Shoushi’s gorge.
October 8, 2004
I woke to a sweet voice on the phone, announcing that it was 6 a.m. Though it
was still two hours to sunrise, my first glimpse out the window filled me with
Waking Stepan before 7 a.m. is a feat accomplished by no one, including
myself. We finally set out toward Shoushi’s gorge, the edge of the plateau
called Jdlduz. Ashot, originally of Karin Tak (under the rock) village, now
living in Stepanakert, joined us to eventually guide us to the slope opposite
Shoushi, past Shosh village. We arrived at 7:55 a.m., 5 or so minutes before
sunrise. The entire gorge was filled with thick fog, with nary a hint of rock
or stone. Then, as if by magic, the fog drew itself in, as if a giant had
inhaled, revealing the golden dawn on Jdlduz and the Hoontz Dzor (valley)
below. This awesome sight lasted 15 minutes. The giant exhaled, filling
everything in sight with fog, more so than before. Sounding the retreat, we
drove to Stepanakert and had our second breakfast at Ashot’s house. Who could
say no to Kelbajar honey?
We decided to brave the outdoors again, hoping for the best. We headed east,
soon passing Askeran. We gave Agdam a wide berth, swinging northward. The
odometer now read 584 km as we drove toward Vankasar, fingers crossed that the
fog would lift. It didn’t. Vankasar is quite an enigma. It was rebuilt by the
Azeris and passed off as a Muslim monument; yet, the stones themselves, carved
with crosses and Armenian script, tell the truth. I was told that on a clear
day, Vankasar gives a 360° view of the plains of Karabagh. On this day,
we could barely see in front of our feet.
Agdam is yet another enigma. As it stands now, it is a ghost town of ruins;
the only building left intact the town mosque. It is as if the ground it stood
on has finally rebelled and is swallowing the city bit by bit. What the
had not done to our mood, Agdam surely did, and we soon found ourselves
speeding away from its ruins.
Before reaching Shoushi, we took a left turn toward Karmir Shouka, a mere 648
km since we started from home. Our destination was the plateau opposite
>From about 4 km into this road onward, we were rewarded with glimpses of
Shoushi perched atop its plateau. Another 6 km, and we turned onto a dirt road
cutting through meadows and fields ready for planting wheat.
“Ho jeiran ho!” we egged on the Niva, willing it out of ditch and hole, on
toward the edge of the precipice. The view here was breathtaking. On one side
rose a forest in the first throes of autumn. Below us, the Karkar River roared
downstream, and Jdlduz rose in front of us in all its majesty, as I had never
seen it before. From the Shoushi side, Jdlduz looks like two separate crags,
joined where the town of Shoushi ends. From this side, one can clearly see the
layers of up-thrust rock, at a 30° angle, stretching from their highest,
sloping past Shoushi to the valley below. The rock itself, with its hues of
orange, gray, and brown, is truly impressive.
We spent the next several hours perched here, watching the breathing sighs of
the fog filling the valley, then receding. Shoushi was hidden from view, then
revealed, countless times. Each shift of the fog changed the light on the
autumnal forest; each tendril obscured, then revealed, one marvel of the
magnificence that is Jdlduz.
At last, with the light failing, we unwillingly left our perch. As we pulled
into Shoushi, we had clocked 688 km on the odometer. This journey, ending
tomorrow, was turning out to be one of over 1000 km.
October 9, 2004
The morning began with an interesting twist. At 7 a.m., instead of a lilting
voice on the phone gently coaxing me out of sleep, I awoke to a pounding on my
door, a pounding that Thor himself would have been proud of.
Breakfast brought another surprise. As we ate (and as I write this), the sun
began to peek through the melting fog, and, for the first time, blue
sky appeared above Shoushi.
In fact, the entire Shoushi plateau cleared, with the fog slowly receding
downward. Even delaying our departure didn’t help, though, as with the sun
rather high in the sky for 9:30 a.m., fog still filled Hoontz Dzor.
Stepan and I said farewell to Ashot, and began our drive back to Yerevan. As
we headed out from Shoushi Hotel, the odometer still read 688 km.
We stopped several times during the first 15 minutes to photograph the
fog-filled valleys west of Shoushi, then drove on; 17 km later, we found
ourselves approaching Lisagor, the second place in Karabagh named after a
Russian officer (Lachin, now renamed Kashatagh region and Berdzor town, being
the other). I had longed to see the curving hills framing Kirsasar Mountain
(one of the highest peaks in Karabagh). Alas, I could not begin to improve on
my last impression here; the hills were sun-scorched, and harsh morning light
made the scene very un-photogenic. Lisagor is at 2300 m altitude (about 7500
ft.); I would think that unless the sky was partly cloudy, even a late
afternoon sun would be too harsh to photograph this scenery. We sped on.
Another 16 km found us on the other side of Kirsasar.
For the last two days, I’ve faced a difficult choice: this evening, the
Chamber Orchestra of Armenia is having a concert. On the other hand, I’ve been
offered a ride in a proper 4×4 (with apologies to Stepan and our trusty
to Smbatabert, an impressive fortress in the mountains of Vayots Dzor. My
decision to reach Yerevan for the concert has now been continuously criticized
by my travel companion. Smbatabert will have to wait.
Passing Berdzor, we decide on a spur of the moment side trip to
14 km up the Aghavni river valley from our present location on the
Stepanakert-Goris highway, 735 km clocked since we left home Wednesday
The Aghavni River awes me. After traveling 14 km along its length, which I’m
told is the less picturesque portion, I’ve already made a promise to myself to
hike up the river, knowing that I’ll stop as frequently as my steps to
photograph the marvelous valley.
At present, on this hot October day, the valley is a contrast between the
tree-lined, green skirted Aghavni River running downstream and the barren
surrounding it, in the throes of autumn at best, scorched to death at their
worst. Rocky spires rise on both sides of the road, and are most notable on
right-hand side of the road 5 km into the valley. Dzidzernavank itself was
recently rebuilt, and sits atop a small plateau fully enclosed by the walls of
the monastery. Inside, one finds rather unique scrollwork on the ancient
stones, not typical of Armenian churches.
Finding the walled enclosure too confining, I retreated to the bridge over
river, and was immediately distracted by an odd-shaped, moss-covered
the river below.
Four kilometers from the Stepanakert-Goris highway, our number became three
again. I spotted what turned out to be a Transcaucasian land turtle on the
roadside. We gave the turtle a ride with a promise of a home in a terrarium
which would ensure protection for this endangered species. After some thought,
I named the turtle Smbat, in honor of the fortress I would miss that
Stepan saw no humor in this.
Back on the highway, we approached the roadside sign that chokes me up every
time. There, at 772 km, the sign read ‘Azat Artsakhe voghjuinum e dzez,’ (Free
Artsakh welcomes you).
One interesting quirk here is that, for some reason, the people of Artsakh
(Karabagh), and Armenia Fund, somehow disagree on the ‘border’ between Armenia
and Karabagh. We had left behind the sign announcing the Stepanakert-Goris
highway, along with its newer and smoother asphalt, a kilometer before.
We passed by Tegh village with its ancient caves, and soon spotted the ruins
of Bayandoor, an abandoned hillside village, to our right. There are several
good locations to photograph this village straddling an impressive hill. The
sunlight is almost, but not quite, perfect yet.
Soon, Goris was revealed to us for the first time. As we entered the town, at
precisely 800 km, we crossed the road we took to Ghapan. We’d just completed a
full circle over 500 km, and were still over 200 km from home.
Smbat became the fastest turtle to fly through the Sissian plains, as we
hurtled non-stop toward Areni village and the promise of a photo-op harvest
My choice to return to Yerevan from Areni meant that I had to change
here. Stepan’s odometer read 929 km as I said goodbye and hopped on a taxi
Yeghegnadzor to head home.
The taxi was much slower than my recent ride. Consulting my notes, I
instructed the taxi driver to stop when he clocked 27 km from Areni. He was
perplexed by this, until he saw the golden light on the up-thrust rocks past
Zangakatun. I’m thankful that he was a patient man as I did take my time here.
We descended into Sevakavan through cloudbursts and rain showers. Even
Ararat was obscured by its own private rainstorm.
I reached home barely in time for the concert, which was exquisite. I had
clocked 1,041 km in four days and was already planning a return trip.
October 10, 2004
Having spent the morning recovering, I grew restless again. After a jaunt to
Vernissage to buy appropriate homage to the Goddess that allowed this trip to
be possible, I placed a call to Mookooch and we were on our way again. We
headed to Lake Sevan, in the direction of Martouni.
Our first stop was the ancient cemetery of Noraduz. We veered from the
to Sevan in the direction of Kavar, and soon found ourselves skirting Lake
Sevan, its waters the emerald green of the Carribean. Here, much unlike its
western shore, there are small peninsulas, tiny isolated lakes, and marshes
dotting the shore. Passing Norashen and Hairavank, we finally reached our
destination by traversing a circuitous dirt road. The Noraduz cemetery can be
divided into two adjoining parts (if you ignore the grotesque monument to the
fallen soldiers of World War II). Nearer the road, one finds ancient moss and
lichen covered khatchkars and tombstones in a multitude of shapes, sizes and
groupings. Next door, in the new cemetery, the people of Noraduz have kept the
tradition and adorned many of the graves with newer versions of khatchkars.
From here, a local guide pointed us in the direction of Shorayol Vank, a
small, windowless church on a hilltop near Lake Sevan in view of the Noraduz
cemetery. The cramped space within this 10th Century church was filled with
scent of candles burning, or having burnt themselves out, in every crevice, on
Our first stop on the way back was Hayravank, which was now glowing in the
afternoon sun. With permission from a horse grazing nearby, we ascended a
knoll for a better view of the church. On the way down, a spring flowing
a khatchkar quenched our thirst.
The inlets and peninsulas before Norashen were in perfect light on our way
back, offering a brief pause to our journey.
While driving to Sevan, we had noted how well-lit and clear Mt. Aragats
looked, and decided to head that way before returning to Yerevan. On the way
back from Lake Sevan, we turned onto the road to Ashtarak, heading into the
setting sun. Passing through Yeghvart, we saw that late afternoon light was
best for Mt. Aragats. The four peaks of the giant shield volcano face
toward Ashtarak, and fall into shadow early.
There was still some light left as we approached Karpi. After a few
photographic experiments, we turned back. Nearing Proshian, we were treated to
a memorable sunset not far from the silhouetted towers of the Medzamor nuclear
Just past Proshian, I spotted an orchard, in the last light of the day, with
Mt. Ararat (in silhouette) rising behind. This would be an excellent spot in
the morning for a cliché (pick your favorite tree) in front of Mt. Ararat
Tomorrow, I may test Mookooch’s vast reservoir of patience yet again with a
trip to the Garni area.
October 11, 2004
Things were rather hectic on this morning of my last day in Yerevan.
meet, loose ends to tie up.
Mookooch had promised to look into driving his van into the Garni gorge, or
finding suitable transport to do so. I wanted to photograph the crystalline
basalt cliffs of the gorge, which rise up on both sides of the river there,
much closer than the Gndevank cliffs.
One of the standard, and perhaps best known, tourist excursions from Yerevan
is the Garni-Geghart trip, a 30-km journey that dead-ends at Geghart
I’ve taken this trip on many of my six sojourns to Armenia. This time, it
be the last item on my itinerary, one that would provide stark contrast from
the rest of my trip. With only three locations and the entire afternoon at our
disposal, I decided to put my 4×5 camera into the heavy use that it had
deserved for most of this trip. The tripod-mounted 4×5 instantly set off alarm
bells in Geghart. Don’t you love it when you’ve got a rather large wooden
camera pointed at the church, and are busy making adjustments, and someone of
imagined authority asks you what you’re photographing? Hmmmm…the Vank, I
answered, rather crossly. Geghart, with its unique architecture of being
into the mountain, is probably one of the most photographed churches in
Armenia, next to Echmiadzin perhaps. Like Echmiadzin, though, a new rule
prohibits photographing inside the church itself. The overzealous guard
thought that this rule extended to the exterior as well (in Echmiadzin, it
not). A visit to the Vartabed’s (Pastor) office, a bit of pleading and
appealing to tradition won me a stay, and I was allowed to photograph without
restraint on this occasion. I was, however, to be shadowed at every step by
guard, who kept interrupting with questions.
Inside the church, I found the chamber carved from solid rock and adorned by
khatchkars and other carvings to be lit by a number of candles. Here, I shot
with the 4×5 again, though my lens had a narrower field of view than I really
Having had enough of my escort, we headed out to photograph some of the
surrounding hills that autumn had so beautifully visited. Mookooch was assured
by his mates at Geghart that he’d make it down the gorge, and so this is where
we headed next. We had to ask directions several times, as the entrance to the
gorge is down increasingly narrow streets through the village of Garni. The
final descent into the valley below is on a narrow cobblestone street sloping
downward next to a bubbling stream. We made it down without incident. The
basalt cliffs extend from the end of the cobblestones, near a fishery, to just
below the temple of Garni itself. We drove the length of the valley floor,
turned our back to the setting sun to photograph the polylithic crystal basalt
cliffs. Two of the cliffs caught my eye because of their proximity to the
river. The best of these, unfortunately, faced due west, which is not well-lit
by the afternoon sun in autumn/winter.
By 6 p.m., most of the valley was in shadow, and we climbed out of the gorge,
the Mercedes van straining at every step.
The modest resistance I’d encountered at Geghart turned to complete
unpleasantness at the entrance to the Garni temple. I’d actually been looking
forward to chatting with the photographer that sells his photos of Garni at
entrance, as he has hiked the hills surrounding the temple and knows good
vantage points for photographing the temple, as well as the ruins of the
Havoots Tar monastery and its adjoining castle.
This was not to be. I was told that ‘professional’ photography was
by national decree, no less. The word ‘professional’ apparently applied to my
tripod. After futile negotiations with the Garni honcho (aka thief) in charge,
it became apparent that the issue was one of payment. Though $11 is not a
significant amount of money, the fact that this was a way to fleece tourists
irked me to no end. I refused, arguing that I was there during the wrong
(the hills behind the temple were an ugly brown), at the wrong time of day
front façade of the temple was in shadow), and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky
which was a pale blue. Aram, the honcho, refused to understand. It turned out
that there was only one good shot, from behind and to the right of the
Now, imagine, the light is failing on my last day in Armenia, and I’ve
just had my most, perhaps only, negative experience in the country. A bit down
the road, in a loose cluster of roadside stands selling varieties of jams and
pickles, I spotted a green stand decorated with squashes and pumpkins of
various shapes and colors. This would be my last photograph in Armenia this
As we descended into the hub-bub of Yerevan, I took a last eyeful of Mt.
Ararat. My pre-dawn flight the next morning meant this would be my last
on this journey.
How I long to be back here again soon.
October 12, 2004
On board the Aeroflot Tupolev-154 that is about to whisk me away from my
homeland, in the pre-dawn darkness of Zvartnots airport, I am alone to reflect
on my experience of the last ten days.
As very apparent, I’m an optimist. I have not commented on the socio-economic
situation in Armenia, on the hopelessness of some, and the wanton gluttony and
sloth of others.
I have chosen to describe, and photograph, the beautiful, the serene, and the
ageless landscapes. Countless times, though, I’ve been thwarted by the litter
clogging rivers and meadows. The idea of taking only photographs and leaving
only footprints has not permeated our culture yet.
Armenians are a proud people, and the country has made much progress in the
thirteen years of its independence. The downward spiral of the soviet and
immediate post-soviet era has been halted. It seems, though, that the country
is too dependent on trickle-down economics, an idea abandoned in the US as
as the Reagan era came to an end.
Yet, I find myself continually drawn back to my homeland. Armenia is
beautiful, and I hope to have captured some of this beauty in the last 10
With so much yet to see, with awe-inspiring and marvelous sights around each
corner, hidden in every nook and cranny, I long to be back soon to explore the
mountainous homeland that is Armenia.
3) 2004 HyeRock LA Festival to Feature Charity Concert
Artists for Kids Foundation Gathers Hot Local Bands for December 30 Benefit
By Jenny Kiljian
After more than ten years of working together in an unofficial capacity, a
dynamic team of visual and musical artists decided to form a non-profit
organization in order to better serve the international Armenian artistic
community, and children who have an interest or talent in the arts.
The Artists for Kids Foundation began with the collective vision of architect
Aram Alajajian, graphic designer and publisher Tom Hovespian, and musician
Arthur Meschian. Together with their families and friends, the group had
organized and sponsored many notable art exhibits and concerts, including a
sold-out performance by Rupen Hakhverdian at the Beyond the Stars Palace in
By early 2004, the organizing committee had grown to include Gohar
Karahagopian, Hagop Parseghian, Harry Vorperian, Anna Hovsepian, Nvart
Alajajian, Anjik Parseghian, Marina Hakopyan, Sahag Ekshian, and Jirayr
According to its mission statement, the Artists for Kids Foundation was
created to build a cultural bridge between living generations by introducing
the public to exceptional artists in music and fine arts. Those involved with
the Artists for Kids Foundation believe that through the preservation and
promotion of artistic values, a kinder society will be fostered.
It’s with this goal in mind that the Artists for Kids Foundation is hosting
the 2004 Annual HyeRock Festival, taking place on December 30 at the Henry
Fonda Music Box Theater in Hollywood. Organizers tapped In Progress. . . , Red
Snow, Aviatic, the Gor Band, and Non-Eye, to take center stage that night.
band caters to different age groups and musical inclinations.
Jirayr Habeshian, charged with producing the concert, forecasts a monumental
evening of music. “We’re bringing some of today’s youth to the concert and
having them see first-hand both the up-and-coming performers and the more
veteran rock musicians with Armenian backgrounds,” he said.
Habeshian, formerly the drummer of Red Snow, and currently working with the
Gor Band, says it was an organization such as the Artists for Kids Foundation
that was missing in his development as an artist. “I think the only thing
lacking for me, growing up as a rock musician was support. Within the Armenan
community, in general, there’s been a narrow vision of what the culture is in
respect to the arts, and I feel it’s much more broad,” said Habeshian, a real
estate agent, who has been involved in Homenetmen and Pyunic. “We have a
talented artists in all genres–music, scultpure, painting, the motion picture
industry, architecture–yet only a handful of Armenians know of the existence
of these people.”
The 2004 HyeRock Festival, according to Habeshian, is intended to introduce
the younger generations to the Artists for Kids Foundation and “to let them
know that alongside some of the existing organizations, there’s one with the
specific mission statement for youth who want to pursue the arts.”
2005 will also be a busy year for the Artists for Kids Foundation. Slated for
February is “Free Concert for Kids,” a two-night event featuring Rupen
Hakhverdian, which will coincide with the release of the renowned musician’s
new children’s album. A concert similar to the HyeRock Festival will take
in Armenia during the summer. The organization also promises assorted smaller
concerts throughout the year and, of course, the Annual HyeRock Festival.
HyeRock Festival 2004 at Henry Fonda Music Box Theater in Hollywood
December 30–7 p.m.
To reserve tickets call 818-523-9995 or 818-240-1515.
Non-Eye was formed in mid-2004, with Hayk on vocals and guitar, Chris on
drums, and Narek on bass. The influence of the Armenian culture is apparent in
Non-Eye’s music, and the band cites Aram Khachaturian as one of its influences
along with System Of A Down, TOOL, and Rush. “This is a great opportunity
to us by the Artists for Kids Foundation, for our music to be heard on a
greater stage so early in our development,” said Hayk. “We hope to bring our
music to a more diverse audience and continue our progress as band.”
IN PROGRESS. . .
In Progress. . . has been working together since 2002. The acoustic folk rock
band comprises Mher Ajamian on percussion, Ara Dabandjian on lead guitar and
keyboards, Shant Mahserejian on violin, and Jeremy Millado on bass, while Saro
Koujakian (rythm guitar) and Gars Sherbejian share vocal duties. “We feel
honored to be a part of this show, as it will feature some of the best local
Armenian bands and we’re ecstatic to be considered in such talented company,”
said Mher Ajamian. “We’re also very excited about the variety of musical
that will be on display. It’s for a great cause and produced by a first-class
THE GOR BAND
This is Gor Mkhitarian’s second collaboration with the Artists for Kids
Foundation. Mkhitarian will be performing with his new band, which is Ara
Dabanjian on accordion, Vahe Terteryan on bass, and Jirayr Habeshian on drums.
Also with the Gor Band at the HyeRock Festival will be Jay Dean on guitar.
“It’s very exciting, but difficult at the same time because ours is the only
[Armenian] folk band. We’re not sure how that contrast will play out,” says
Mkhitarian. “No matter what, we’re glad to be doing something for the kids.”
When their former bands parted ways, the members of Aviatic saw a tremendous
opportunity ahead of them. The band, with Sebu Simonian on vocals and
keyboards, Barrett Yeretsian on drums, Ryan Welker on guitars, and Clint
Feddersen on bass, has been working diligently to produce its first album.
“We’re very excited to play the HyeRock Festival and encouraged by any effort
to promote rock music in the local community, especially when there’s a such a
good cause attached to it,” says Simonian. “We’re looking forward to taking
stage at the glorious Henry Fonda Theater. It’s a beautiful piece of
architecture in the heart of historic Hollywood, and boasts one of the best
sound systems in all of Southern California. I can’t wait to blast our music
The intensity of Red Snow’s performances has been creating a flurry in the
Angeles music scene. The band, which recently released its album Showtime
Motel, is LaLa Avedis on vocals, Vahe Marzbetuny on guitars, Shant Sarkissian
on drums, Jack Kurdian on keyboards, and Zareh Marzbetuny on bass. “We would
like to express our gratitude for the opportunity to participate in such a
worthwhile event. An event like this is a dream come true, and will showcase
the talents of Armenian rock,” said Vahe Marzbetuny. “We’re confident we can
motivate the youth to embrace rock music and support such a worthy cause such
as the Artists for Kids Foundation. We’re looking forward to seeing all our
fellow Hye brothers and sisters at the show.”
4) HOLD THE FROTH
Adrift in Glendale’s Burgeoning Café Culture
By Ishkhan Jinbashian
Hollywood might have its Little Armenia, but there’s no doubt that Little
Yerevan is by now firmly ensconced in what I like to call the blessed city of
Little Yerevan, and quite a bit of Little Tehran for sure. But definitely not
Little Beirut or Aleppo or Baghdad, as a good chunk of the Western-Armenian
contingent bolted years ago. As for the remnants, sometimes it feels as though
their glaring visibility more than makes up for their diminishing numbers. Try
Glendale watering holes like Sarkis Pastry, Carousel Restaurant (a favorite
with community movers and shakers), or the editorial offices of Asbarez, and
you’ll know what I mean.
What perhaps most palpably distinguishes Glendale’s sprawling Little Yerevan
from any number of cities with a large Armenian presence is its kitschy
ostentation. Here we don’t just drive late-model German and Japanese cars, we
insist on driving them extremely fast, wearing some kind of determined
malevolence as a badge of honor. And we don’t merely put ululating rabiz music
on in our apartments and souped-up road machines; we make sure entire
neighborhoods reverberate with the stuff.
Loud and obnoxious? You already gathered as much. Glad to suffer from a
pandemic case of narcissism? Yes, sir. And habitually confusing rudeness with
Here’s a little clarification, before I get in too deep: the demographic in
question is between the ages of, say, 17 and 25, though to my knowledge the
next age bracket has so far shown no signs of significant change.
Like one’s sun and rising signs, the youth is where the energies of a
community are at their most salient. And it’s where the cultural and civic
shape of things to come is molded (so help us God). In Little Yerevan, you
would be hard-pressed to ascribe a certain collective character to the youth.
By any standard, the young here seem to be a normal bunch, despite a worrisome
knack for white-collar and petty crime in some quarters. But if you’re in the
market for some naked sidewalk truths based on casual observation, some
signposts if you will, to gauge the dynamic of the youth, then read on.
In Glendale today, by far the most public manifestation of Armenian youth
culture happens in coffee houses. And within the hierarchy of the city’s
no one has yet managed to dethrone La Goccia, Brand Boulevard’s premier
destination for ceremonious outdoor gathering. At La Goccia, as throughout the
city’s coffee houses (including some owned by Armenians and the ubiquitous
Starbuckses), Armenian dudes and dudettes do what people the world over like
doing in cafés: watch people, shoot the breeze, court one another, catch up on
gossip, watch people some more, refill the spiritual batteries following the
rigors of office or school. But the vibe at La Goccia is in a league all its
Consider the location. On any given day or night, lounging around on the
massive sidewalk stretch that doubles as La Goccia’s patio, you’re sure to be
noticed from here to eternity–that is to say, from any vantage point between
Broadway and Wilson. You’ll be noticed by pedestrians. And by people in the
cars zooming through Brand. You’ll be plenty noticed by other customers at the
café. Plus, for the more romantically inclined among us, La Goccia on clearer
evenings is a wonderful spot for enjoying the “magic hour,” that deep,
uniform blue that envelops the sky right before the sun has finally set. But
most importantly, La Goccia is where you get pretty damn close to feeling
something, at least something, akin to a sense of community.
If this sounds a tad problematic, it’s because it is. As in any other
the sense of community experienced at a crowded Glendale café can be fraught
with provisos. For instance: you love the fact that a throng of cappuccino
sippers on either side of you happens to be of Armenian descent. Yet you can
get quickly annoyed by the impertinent and lingering, sometimes lewd stares,
the shouting that passes for benign conversation, and the green house
effect-inducing clouds of tobacco smoke. You might also lure yourself into
believing that a place like La Goccia may well represent a microcosm of the
Armenian world as we know it. Yet such thoughts might quickly cede to the
realization that that microcosm has less and less space for anything
Western-Armenian these days, with entire dialects, literary and musical and
theatrical traditions dying off to our bemused helplessness, given the
hegemony of Eastern-inflected Armenia.
This last point is thus very much the point of allowing that sense of
community to seep into you. Because La Goccia and similar coffee houses, with
their sheer volume of young Armenians teeming around you, may now and again
impel you to think about your own role in, and your own position on, the
patterns of our community.
Countless times I’ve caught myself vaguely musing on a smorgasbord of
questions, mostly rhetorical, while having business meetings or tête-à-têtes
with friends at La Goccia. Questions, in no particular order, such as: How can
we, as a community, be so industrious, street-smart and resourceful, yet
continue to be considerably lacking in terms of artistic
creativity–notwithstanding our output in the visual arts? Why is it that I
have yet to catch an Armenian youth engrossed in a book (and not a textbook),
at La Goccia or elsewhere in cafédom here in Nagorno-Glendale? How come
Armenian young men in general, who were nurtured and reared by women (their
mothers for Chrissake), end up becoming misogynists of varying degrees? How
does one explain the fact that Hayastantsi guys, for all their unbending
machismo, possess the kind of mental athleticism that makes them so
astonishingly witty? Are we more like the Italians or the Jews? More “The
Sopranos” or “Seinfeld?” Why do so many Armenian young women unquestioningly
subscribe to mainstream conventions of desirability, allowing so much to ride
on physical appearance? Why do their male counterparts do the exact same
only more damagingly? If young Armenians enjoy each other’s company so much,
why is it that they’re often gripped with panic by Armenian-heavy stomping
grounds, as though the plague were afoot? How is this problem handled in
Armenia, where compatriots are to be found everywhere you look? Are the
Armenians gathered at La Goccia ultimately just another faceless crowd, or do
these people have something noteworthy to contribute to Glendale–something
thoughtful, positive, original, extraordinary even, in the spirit of building
that’s supposed to all but define us as a nation? And, all said, does anyone
care about any of this, when it’s time to go home because your friend has
started yawning like a debil and your bladder is about to burst as La Goccia
has no benefit of a restroom?
I’m inclined to say yes, absolutely, quite a few of us do care about such
matters and then some. For one thing, Glendale is fast becoming arguably the
most important hub in the diaspora, and we better remember that population
growth has the danger of not automatically translating to collective
excellence. And also because rare is the Armenian community, save the city of
Yerevan, offering the kind of bustling café culture that Glendale does, as
challenge and comfort.
Ishkhan Jinbashian is a journalist and the author of the novel Arkhiv
He lives in Glendale.
5) The Long and Short of It
By Jenny Kiljian
The 7th Annual Arpa International Film Festival took place from October 5-10,
2004 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, California. The Arpa Foundation for
Film Music and Arts (AFFMA) is an Armenian organization, but the films
participating in the yearly festival do not need to be topically Armenian.
festival has grown beyond its Armenian roots, to encompass many ethnic
said Varoujan Baghdassarian, who served in the 2004 Film Festival Committee
was instrumental in garnering the sponsorship of the International Film
and Charter Communications. “The international component of the festival has
grown tremendously. “This year, the festival showcased 63 films of various
genres from a diverse group of filmmakers representing the United States,
Armenia, Russia, Spain, Australia, Italy, Botswana, and Japan, among others.
Short films, documentaries, and feature films were screened, as were several
animated films, a new category in the festival.
AFFMA, which was founded in 1995, began hosting the International Film
Festival in 1997. Home to other notable film festivals, including the Outfest
and the American Film Institute’s AFI FEST, the ArcLight Cinemas have hosted
the AFFMA festival since 2002. “The film festival industry is very dense in
Angeles, and ArcLight hosts most of the biggest festivals,” noted Alex
Kalognomos, a member of the 2004 Film Festival Committee. “It is rewarding to
have Arpa hosted by ArcLight.”
The festival committee partnered for the first time with the Web site
withoutabox.com, a film festival submission service, and were pleased with the
results that it generated. “The site brought to Arpa filmmakers who might
have discovered our niche festival had it not been for the internet,” said
Kalognomos. “We had such fascinating films, from twenty different countries.
Withoutabox brought us a whole new audience, not to mention a new
AFFMA, named after the Arpa river in Armenia, works throughout the year,
hosting various fund-raisers in order to give grants to artists, musicians and
filmmakers. They also encourage networking by inviting patrons of the arts to
mixers. Organizers hope that, as the international aspect of the festival
grows, the Armenian community’s involvement in the organization will not
diminish. “The Armenian community can support AFFMA the way it does Homenetmen
or AGBU,” said Kalognomos, who has acted in several independent films.
“Armenian organizations could give grants to filmmakers through AFFMA. Why not
have an AGBU Film Award at our gala? The children and grandchildren of those
organizations already work tirelessly to raise funds for AFFMA.”
AFFMA and its festival, according to Kalognomos, can serve as a springboard
for aspiring Armenian filmmakers, producers, directors and actors. “Our
community’s children are beginning to feel welcome not only at Arpa events but
also in the entertainment industry, in general,” he said. “Arpa is an open
stage just waiting for our community to present itself on it.”
In fact, one of the highlights of this year’s festival was the
SilverCrest Entertainment’s latest film, Lost (2004), starring Dean Cain.
Produced by SilverCrest CEO Kevin Matossian, the film is a noir drama that
follows Cain’s Jeremy Stanton as he runs from his conscience and the
co-conspirator whom he double-crossed following a bank robbery. The film
garnered so much attention that organizers screened it twice. At the
world premiere, Cain praised the production crew for taking on the
making and promoting the independent film. “Kevin Matossian is a real
risk-taker, and his work with Lost demonstrates this,” said Cain, who also got
a glimpse of the Armenian community through Matossian. “If Kevin is any
indication, then the Armenian people must be an amazing group, and I
want to work with them again.”
This year’s festival hardly under its belt, AFFMA has already started
events for the coming year and for the 2005 Arpa International Film Festival.
For more information about the Arpa Foundation for Film, Music and Arts, visit
A centerpiece film at this year’s festival, Lost is a noir drama starring
Cain and Danny Trejo. Produced by SilverCrest Entertainment CEO Kevin
Matossian, Lost has generated considerable industry buzz since its Arpa
premiere in October.
With Arno Babadjanian’s eponymous piece as its score, Elegy is a deftly
executed animation by Nadine Takvorian about an elderly man who plays with his
marionettes, and reminisces about a lost love. Even in its brevity, the piece
is poignant and evocative, and captures the broad spectrum of the man’s
emotions–happiness, nostalgia and profound grief. “Elegy took our breath away
at our pre-festival screenings,” says Alex Kalognomos, a member of the 2004
Film Festival Committee. The film was nominated for Best Animation in this
year’s Arpa International Film Festival, having already won 2nd place at the
Urban Mediamakers Film Festival in Atlanta Georgia. Elegy is also nominated
Best Animation in the 2005 Slamdance Festival. Takvorian, who lives and works
in Northern California, also illustrated the album cover for Just Because
Woman–Songs of Dolly Parton, a tribute album to the acclaimed singer. For
information about Takvorian, visit
VAKONESH E PANJOM (THE FIFTH REACTION)
Iranian filmmaker Tahmineh Milani returned to the Arpa International Film
Festival with her controversial film Vakonesh e Panjom (The Fifth Reaction), a
story about the clashing of modernism against tradition. Recently widowed
Fereshteh, a young teacher, is disinherited by her father-in-law who,
to Muslim law, now holds legal guardianship over her two sons. Fereshteh’s
colleagues conspire help her kidnap her sons and head for the border.
Meanwhile, her father-in-law goes to every extreme to maintain custody of his
grandchildren. Milani has long been a powerful voice for feminism in Iran. In
2001, she was arrested and charged for “offense against Islam,” and condemned
to death. The sentence was overturned and Milani was set free a few months
The screenplay for the short film Color Blind began as a class project
director Shervin Youssefian, 26, made during his freshman year of college. He
expanded it into a more mature script for his senior project, which ended up
being the final version of the film. The fifteen-minute drama is a stylized
piece about a director, played by Youssefian, who casts Grace (Shannan Allyn),
the woman he secretly admires as the heroine in his film. “I was honored to
have Color Blind showcased with so many other wonderful films and to be
such a professional and respected community of filmmakers and enthusiasts,”
said Youssefian. “AFFMA seeks out films that break the mold of cinema, while
retaining the medium’s immense emotional power. It creates a nurturing
environment, especially for the beginning filmmaker.”
DAY OF INDEPENDENCE
Academy Award-winning director Chris Tashima found the Arpa International
Festival through the internet, and submitted Day of Independence because he
thought it kept with the festival’s themes, which include issues of diaspora,
exile and multi-culturalism. The film chronicles the struggle of Japanese
Americans during World War II, as they are forced into internment camps. The
characters in the film seem to flourish despite adversity, especially
17-year-old Zip (Derek Mio) and his other Nisei (second generation
Japanese-American) friends. The teenagers listen to music, dance, and play
baseball–proving that they’re American, even though the government would
sooner have them deported.
6) Meet ‘Ardy’
By Ani Shahinian
Asbarez Staff Writer
We know. . .we’re not Time magazine (although we like to believe we’re headed
on that track. . .have you seen our layout recently?). We also know that it is
not commonplace for Asbarez to have a “Man of the Year” featured in its
edition. After all, it’s never been done before and, simply put, it’s just not
about one person.
This year we, nevertheless, decided to highlight an individual who is
almost everyone in the community; yet, only a few people truly know the real
guy behind the public figure. Who could it be other than Ardashes Kassakhian?
You know you’ve at least heard his name mentioned somewhere. Whether it be as
Armenian National Committee of America Western Region Government Relations
Director or charismatic host of ANC-TV, there’s more to Ardashes than meets
His experience and knowledge in political activism is extensive. Yes, we
He has worked on local campaigns in state and federal elections and in
Washington, DC on a variety of Hai Tahd issues, including genocide recognition
and aid to Armenia and Karabagh. His dedication to Armenian issues reaches
to his activist days in college where, as a student leader at UCLA, Ardashes
led the grassroots effort to oppose the establishment of a Turkish studies
chair by the Republic of Turkey. The decision was a watershed victory for
Armenian-Americans who were concerned about the corruption of American
by the government of Turkey and its agents of genocide denials. Impressive? We
like to think so.
Yet, Ardy (as his dear friends call him) could just as easily have been a
writer for Saturday Night Live thanks to his wit and sense of humor on a
variety of topics. Whether you’re feeling down about a romantic affair gone
sour, or are demoralized about the US (once again) not recognizing the
genocide, you can always count on Ardy to bring a smile to your face and offer
a sense of hope and relief. If he sounds like a male June Cleaver, he’s even
Take away the tie and suit. What do you have? No, not the cover of Men’s
Health magazine (come on, who really is?), but someone who is on the
of not only Armenian issues, but also embraces a deep understanding of
international developments, along with local and national issues.
Not quite the halls of Congress yet, but he does grace the halls of the
Belmont building, as well as those of Asbarez and Horizon to bring an
occasional smile and the more common hearty laughter–even stiff political
conversationto those who cross his path.
We wish him success in all that he tries to achieve in 2005. He certainly
7) The Armenian Youth Federation Western United States 2004 Year in Review
The AYF is known for its commitment to political activism. In 2004, this took
the shape of protesting former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres’s visit to
Southern California for his disregard for the historical record of the
genocide and his denialist statements made to the Turkish press; a Rally
Against Genocide Denial reaffirming that the youth of today continue to be
determined in their quest for justice; its annual April 24 protest at the
Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles with close to 5000 participants; and an
informational booth at the System Of A Down Souls 2004 concert to encourage
youth to get involved in Armenian issues. It also undertook the
on several occasions, to inform the community of vital issues.
On the education front, the AYF held its Annual Educational Seminar at AYF
Camp, where members from all chapters came together in a fraternal and social
atmosphere. Aside from three in-depth educational lectures about American
grassroots political activism, an overview of the ARF 29th World Congress was
presented. The AYF’s official quarterly publication Haytoug received a boost
this year, generating a renewed interest among its young readers.
It also held many social functions including ski trips, fun camps, kebab
nights, and dinner dances. Through proceeds from those social events, money
raised for current and future endeavors.
In an effort to create a philanthropic and physical bond between the homeland
and the diaspora, coupled with the motivation to assist war-torn towns and
villages in Artsakh, the AYF created the Youth Corps program, providing an
opportunity for young Armenians to spend approximately five weeks during the
summer in Armenia and Artsakh, where they supply the much needed resources and
manpower to villages where residents are rebuilding their lives. The Youth
Corps Sponsorship Program (YCSP) was created to provide one graduating high
school senior an all expenses paid trip to participate in the AYF Youth Corps,
a five week summer program in Armenia and Artsakh providing manpower to
villages where residents are rebuilding their lives.
During the summer of 2004, AYF Summer Camp was home to more than 450 Armenian
youth. Established in 1977, it provides a great atmosphere for young Armenians
from all over to make new friends, become more acquainted with Armenian
and culture, and participate in a wide array of athletic activities. The AYF
Camp Board is currently working to remodel each cabin, the lodge, kitchen, and
Along with the old must come the new and the AYF certainly met the challenge
with innovative initiatives.
–The AYF, an international organization with over 100 chapters in more than
15 countries, has a vibrant presence in Armenia with more than 1000 members.
The AYF Western Region Central Executive has begun a campaign to help its
counterpart in Armenia in their efforts to create youth centers and new
chapters. Although this effort began in the final quarter of the year, the
Western Region has already allocated over $5000 towards this important
–In an effort to make Armenian literature accessible to both AYF members and
the youth in general, the AYF created the Armenian Literary Project (ALP),
tasked with translating important pieces of literary work from Armenian to
English. The ALP’s current project involves the translation of a publication
produced in Armenia by the ARF. The publication provides answers to common
questions about ARF ideology, platforms, worldview, and activities.
–Currently in the process of creating an AYF Alumni database through their
online Alumni Registry and chapter archives, the AYF collected contact
information for more than 2000 AYF Alumni, who are responsible for many of the
organization’s successes, the education of several generations, and shaping
–This year the AYF also created , an educational
initiative directed at educating the public about the liberation struggle of
Artsakh and the heroes that were born from that struggle.
–From over 30 applications, seven graduating high school seniors were chosen
to receive the Nanor Krikorian Scholarship grants totaling $3500.
–Through its Youth Guidance Program, the AYF continuously prepared and aired
public service announcements targeting both Armenian parents, as well as youth
who are at risk for drinking and driving, violence, and drugs in an
— AYF’s 2nd Annual Little Armenia Cleanup gathered hundreds of youth
volunteers from all over Southern California to remove thousands of pounds of
trash from the streets of Little Armenia. After the first Little Armenia
Cleanup held at the end of the last fiscal year, the AYF conducted a poll
Little Armenia businesses and found that the general consensus was for more
involvement in the community. As a result, the Little Armenia Beautification
Program was created. The program includes AYF’s participation in LA City
Council’s efforts of removing graffiti, cleaning litter from streets,
continuously adding “Welcome to Little Armenia” light-post banners, and
participating in LA City Council’s Little Armenia and Thai Town Improvement
–New websites have been created for AYF Summer Camp (ayfcamp.org), AYF Youth
Corps (ayfyouthcorps.org), Haytoug (haytoug.org), and launched the educational
–Over the past several years, the AYF has faced the challenge of providing
its novices a uniform educational curriculum. This year, the Novice
Handbook was created to serve as the uniform educational program for all
novices. The handbook consists of 17 educational topics spanning over 48 pages
and covering early Armenian history to the post-soviet Armenia.
International Union of Socialist Youth:
As a full member of the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY), the
exercised its full member status by sending four delegates to its World
Congress in Budapest, Hungary this year. The congress provided the opportunity
for the Western Region to share its mission and activities with the rest of
world’s leading youth organizations, while learning from and networking with
them. The IUSY is the youth counterpart of Socialist International,
143 socialist, social democratic, and labor youth organizations from all over
the world. It was founded over 90 years ago and is currently the largest
student and youth political organization in the world. Its purpose is to
establish bonds of solidarity between its members and promote the
democratic socialism throughout the world.
Youth & Student Conference in Armenia:
The AYF Western Region participated in the ARF Youth and Student Conference
held in Armenia, where representatives from AYF regions and ARF Student
Associations from around the world gathered to discuss their respective
region’s experiences, activities, and challenges.
Americas Social Forum:
The AYF participated in the Americas Social Forum, which is a part of the
World Social Forum, providing an open meeting place where groups and movements
of civil society opposed to neo-liberalism and a world dominated by capital or
by any form of imperialism, come together to pursue thinking, to debate ideas
democratically, and network for effective action.
8) One Last Helping of ’04 with an Extra Side of Skeptik
BY SKEPTIK SINIKIAN
The last gift hadn’t even been opened and there was still plenty of fruitcake
left in the Sinikian household on what we like to call “Fake Christmas,” when
my friend popped the question I had been dreading for 359 days. “So what
doing for New Year’s?” There was an awkward silence followed by everyone
simultaneously giving their party proposal with the hopes that their lame idea
wouldn’t be heard over all the commotion of everyone else talking.
I don’t get it. New Years is the biggest let down of the year. And it’s a
consistent letdown. Not the hit and miss kind like Keanu Reeves’ acting. I
decided to stop celebrating New Year’s five years ago after I dropped $125 at
one of the infamous Armenian parties that features a lineup of Who’s Who
amongst the Armenian Wedding Singer circuit. It’s awkward enough to try and be
suave on New Year’s Eve trying to talk to some attractive Armenian girl who’s
there to try their luck at finding a husband. It’s even more awkward when her
whole family is there watching you like a hawk. The German Nobel Laureate in
literature Thomas Mann said it best: “Time has no divisions to mark its
passage; there is never a thunder-storm or blare of trumpets to announce the
beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins, it is
mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.” I’m not packing any heat nor
going to be anywhere with bells on. This year, I will spend it indoors with
family and be in bed before midnight.
The one upside to New Year’s is that no matter how big of a disappointment
previous year was (didn’t find that special someone, didn’t win the lottery,
didn’t lose weight, didn’t get the big promotion, didn’t whatever), December
31st is an opportunity to start off with a clean slate and reflect back on
everything and everyone that had it worse than you in 2004. The whole
reflection thing is the only part of New Year’s Eve hoopla that I enjoy. So
I’ve decided to start my own “Best & Worst of 2004” list to wrap the year up.
Before I do, however, I feel the need to tie up some loose ends before we
Some of you have been wondering what happened to my friend who had been
searching for love only to find some really bizarre creep that went psycho on
her (How to Lose a Girl in 40 Days While Sleepless in the Valley–December 3,
2004). I asked readers to send in their ideas for what thought was this guy’s
major malfunction. I got some pretty creative responses including a few that
thought the guy was gay and was using the innocent love seeker as a tool in
elaborate game to fool his family into thinking he was straight. Another
suggested that the creep was a columnist for an Armenian paper, and was
undercover doing research on the Armenian dating community (I have to admit
that this explanation was my favorite as it hit so close to home, but alas, if
I were undercover, I would have picked a place way more exotic than Fresno to
claim as my hometown). The one idea I had and that some of our loyal readers
suggested actually turned out to be true. It turns out that the guy was
and this whole being single thing was a ruse. Let this be a lesson for anyone
planning on finding the ideal mate through the Internet. If you find something
that seems too good to be true, then it probably is. That’s that. Let’s
because the clock’s tickin’ faster than Dick Clark’s pacemaker.
So without further interruptions…let us commence with the fanfare and
drumroll…The Skeptik Sinikian Year in Review List ’04 Edition (in no
Worst Political Statement Award
“The US administration is committing genocide…in Iraq,” Mehmet Elkatmis, head
of Turkey’s parliament’s human rights commission was quoted in a Turkish
newspaper interview. “Never in human history have such genocide and cruelty
been witnessed. Such [a] genocide was never seen in the time of the pharaohs
nor of Hitler nor of [Benito] Mussolini.”
Well, actually Mehmet effendi, there is so much irony in this statement, that
even a smart ass like me doesn’t know where to begin. But just a few words of
caution before you decide to throw around accusations of genocide. There’s a
saying in Tennessee, I’m sure there’s a similar one in Ankara…it goes a little
something like this…”THE POT SHOULDN’T CALL THE KETTLE BLACK!”
Runner up: Bush’s April 24, 2004 Armenian genocide statement.
Worst Misguided Decision Award
Just last week, the European Union set a date for Turkey to begin accession
talks to become a part of the EU. I still get worked up over this news. I take
back all the compliments I’ve ever paid the European people during the course
of my extended stint as a half-ass columnist.
It’s not bad enough that Turkey will enter the EU in less than two decades,
but the baguette eating, wine sipping, wooden clog wearing pansies didn’t even
make recognition of the Armenian genocide a precondition!
Accession talks are slated to start in October of 2005, so here’s a
everyone in Europe who reads this column. “Put down the Mad Cow Disease
beefsteak sandwich and think about what you’re about to do!”
Runner Ups: Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Kerry’s decision to run for President.
Best Armenian Rumor Award
Mel Gibson’s next movie is going to be about the Armenian genocide. You know
how you remember where you were when you heard the OJ verdict or when you
that Geragos would be defending the King of Pop? I remember sitting in a
shop with my friend Emin when he popped what he thought was big news. Luckily
for me, I remember reading the online column by a non-Armenian who suggested
that Mel Gibson should do a film about the Armenian genocide and had received
twenty emails about it in less than 24 hours. This was, of course, coupled
the fact that he mentioned the “massacres” of Armenians during an interview
with a major TV network but it was in reference to universal suffering and not
about an upcoming project.
Since then, I have turned over every stone to find out if Mel Gibson is doing
a movie about the Armenian genocide and I can assure you that he is not.
doing a film about his post apocalyptic character Mad Max wondering around the
Australian wasteland in “Mad Max: Fury Road” as well as a film about
British warrior peasant who leads a revolt against the Romans in 61 A.D. I
didn’t find anything about the Armenians.
I have to admit that this year’s rumor wasn’t as good as the “Best Armenian
Rumor of 1999”–Armenia finds AIDS cure: Magic Johnson to travel to Yerevan
This was soon followed by the rumor that Magic would be the new Armenian
Olympic basketball team coach. How pathetic are we?
And as for the source of the Mel Gibson rumor…Emin has, since this column,
admitted that his source was his mother’s Saturday afternoon “Soorj” group–a
group of women in their 50s who sit around and gossip about everything from
Ukranian politics to the quality of basturmah at the local Armenian deli.
Runner Up: George Michael is Armenian AND gay (somehow, this rumor always
comes up every year. By the way, he is Greek NOT Armenian and gayer than a
hirsute May pole).
Best Armenian Reference in a Movie Award
When my friend told me about the plot of the new Alexander Payne movie
“Sideways,” I have to admit that I was not ready to run down to the local art
house theater to buy a ticket.
“It’s about two middle aged men who are failures in life and take off to
a week in California’s wine country before one of them gets married,” my
If it wasn’t for the great reviews that it got from all major movie
still wouldn’t have gone, but I’m glad that my friends dragged me.
The plot revolves around a guy who is about to marry an Armenian girl but
decides to have one last hurrah and cheats on her while on a weekend getaway.
This movie will do for overprotective Armenian dads who don’t want their
daughter to marry a swarthy non-Armenian–what Top Gun did for Navy fighter
It’s a great character film and is very well acted. The end scene, which
Armenian wedding, makes the film for Armenian film aficionados like myself.
best part is that the interior of the church is the Diocese church in
off of Vine and the exterior shots are of the Prelacy church in Montebello.
Diocese and Prelacy together at last? You knew it had to be Hollywood fiction
and it is!
What’s next? A movie about Armenians moving back to their historic homelands?
Quick, someone call Mel Gibson’s agent!
Well, that’s all I have for this year. I want to thank everyone who wrote to
me (even if I wasn’t able to write back right away) for your support and kind
words. I can’t think of a better group of people to write for than the
readership of this newspaper. Your comments and letters have made me laugh,
cry, and occasionally want to bang my head against the wall repeatedly. Yet
through it all, you’ve always made me want to keep writing. So I lift this
glass of Ararat cognac to you and wish you all a healthy and happy arbitrary
Skeptik Sinikian is the official Asbarez New Year’s Party “Tamadan.” He bids
you and your loved ones good bye with this following Irish toast: “In the New
Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship but never in
want.” He can be reached at [email protected] or visit his outdated blog
9) Euroed Again?
By Garen Yegparian
If Armenian media had a tradition of naming an “Event of the Year,” in the
same spirit as TIME’s “Person of the Year,” it would have to be the European
Union’s (EU) setting of October 3, 2005 as the commencement date for
negotiations over Turkey’s membership in this
Of course this selection would be much like TIME’s selections of Hitler
(1938), Stalin (1939, 1942), Khomeini (1979), and baby Bush (2000, 2004)–you
know you have to do it, but despise the selection nevertheless.
But what if we could back-date this selection process? What if we were to go
back to, let’s say 1878? What would the Armenian event of the year be?
be Khrimian Hairig’s famous “Iron Ladle” speech? Close. It would be the
opportunity that gave rise to that oration. That’s the occasion when we got
screwed over, primarily by the British, who wanted and got Cyprus out of the
deal. We, on the other hand, went from having the reforms we desperately
and sought in the Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire–with strong
provisions for enforcement by the Russian Empire–enshrined in Article 16 of
the Treaty of San Stefano, to the watered down irrelevancy that was Article 61
of the Treaty of Berlin.
Now fast-forward four and a half decades, what event do we select for 1923?
We’d just lost a third of the planet’s Armenians to the Turkish government’s
tender proclivities. Sovietized and gone our independent republic, the first
Armenian state since 1375. The Treaty of Sevres, which looked pretty good for
us, remained nominal only, a victim of Great Power and oil politics (it wasn’t
clear then whether Turkey would include some of the oil-rich provinces now
known as northern Iraq). So the victorious powers (North American and
kissed up to the murderous Mustapha Kemal Ataturk and his toy-country, by
zapping Sevres with the Treaty of Lausanne. This magnanimously granted us
minority status in the new Republic of Turkey.
Even without going into what we’ve endured at the hands of the crusaders
marching through our country or the wall of silence around the Genocide that’s
only recently started to crumble, a pattern should be obvious. We’ve gotten
should expect nothing from the Europeans (and their trans-Atlantic progeny),
unless their interests coincide.
With the EU’s surrender to Turkey, we should really take heed. What’s going
on? Huge numbers of citizens of the EU’s member states have less than zero
desire to see Turkey join their club. Yet the leadership has started the
enrollment process. Of course platitudes are heard about how the commencement
of negotiations need not necessarily lead to Turkey’s acceptance. Riiight,
suuuure. Why have rules been changed to allow Turkey’s entry unless fully
one-third of the member states object? It used to be that any one member could
veto the process. Why was Turkey let off the hook, seemingly temporarily, of
having to sign a required trade agreement with the ten newest members of the
EU. But how did Greece and Cyprus (and even Hungary) allow this to happen?
What’s going on?
The Euros are in a jam. In their hearts-of hearts, they want no part of a
merger with one of the most murderous, dissimilar countries on the planet. Yet
their talk of tolerance and a pseudo-open-mindedness compels them to take this
route or face a significant loss of credibility. Then there’s the fear (one
Turks never allow anyone to forget) that if not “in” Europe, Turkey might well
go the extreme-Islam route. Then there’s the U.S. pressure arising from an
entrenched, ossified State and Defense department bureaucracy’s unswervingly
pro-Turkey mindset. Let’s not forget the captains of European industry
salivating over the prospect of dirt-cheap workers flooding Europe’s labor
market. Also, some of the newer member states may have refrained from
out of some twisted sense of propriety.
On the other side of the scale are popular opposition, Islam-Christianity and
other culturally based incompatibility, labor fears, concerns over the
distorting weight Turkey with its massive population will carry in European
decision-making (and its being a Trojan-horse for U.S. meddling in EU
the occupation of Cyprus, the Genocide and other Armenian issues, and Kurdish
issues. There is also chatter about an alternative, “special relationship” for
Turkey with the EU.
We should prepare ourselves, starting in 2015the earliest possible date of
Turkey’s acceptance into the EU, for another nasty “Event of the Year”. If
Turkey gets in before Armenia, or even at the same time, we’re toast. As other
pundits have pointed out, that would be the death knell of our issues in
But this is not pre-ordained nor inalterable. We could work intensely,
lobbying on both sides of the Atlantic and from the Caucasus to scuttle the
process, at the very least until Turkey makes good on its obligations to the
Armenian nation. What we’d have to do in this scenario is obvious. Every
available means at our disposalmoney, contacts, moral suasion, political
i.o.u.’s called in, financial arrangements converted into political ones,
would have to be used to shape and reshape public and official opinion to our
But there is another route. What if we assume that Turkey will eventually
wangle its way in despite our best efforts, and act accordingly? What
meaningful concessions could we extract from that terrorist state?
Certainly the obvious Genocide recognition, reparations, and return of lands
come to mind. But what if other, clever, back-door, less objectionable (for
Turkey) options are proffered? What if they commit to compiling, with and
Armenian and international participation and scrutiny, a list of property
ownership in the Ottoman Empire as of April 23, 1915?
What if they are agree to documenting, rebuilding, maintaining, and properly
describing every Armenian structure within their borders? What if Armenians
accepted as those with the right of first refusal for the purchase of any
property or engagement in any economic development project within Wilsonian
What if they agree that an Armenian delegation, elected by the Diaspora, will
become part of their parliament and also part of Turkey’s representation in EU
bodies? What if Turkey accedes to co-ownership, hence oversight and control as
well, of Ottoman archives by every state that emerged from the former
territories of the empire, including as an exceptional case, the current
Republic of Armenia? What if an “Armenian Studies in Turkey” endowment is
funded by Turkey, but populated by scholars of Europe’s, the diaspora’s, and
Regardless of what approach we select, we have until that infamous October 3,
2005 date to have our plan in place, recognizing that the longer the
negotiations drag out, the more favorable the outcome likely to be for us.
Let’s get to work with a public (and more importantly private governmental
organizational) discussion of this issue.
10) VADIS, EU?
By Tatul Sonentz-Papazian
With the Turkish Republic’s entry into the European Union now a distinct
possibility–if not probability–all manner of speculation on the future of
norms that made the modern day, European-inspired civilization a desirable
alternative becomes not only possible but also inevitable and necessary. The
cultural/spiritual survival without major disfigurement, of what we have come
to know as “Western” civilization, with its ancient Hellenic and historic
Christian roots, may very well be at stake.
Those who were predicting Armageddon in a clash of civilizations based on
fundamental differences in culture and religion, are witnessing the
of a long and tumultuous courtship between fundamentally Islamic Turkey and
largely Christian Europe into an eventual marriage (or cohabitation) of
convenience, with US conferring its blessings and NATO standing as Best man.
Turkey–as the eager bride in this on-going, one sided courtship–is
large dowry to the rising House of Europe, consisting of some 70 million
and a real estate of almost 800,000 sq. kilometers. An impressive bounty,
indeed, if one chooses to ignore its questionable legitimacy, since the final
verdict on several, still pending, criminal cases involving the Ottomans and
their successors–well documented by historians of integrity and international
instruments such as the Treaties of Sevres and Lausanne–has yet to be
in terms of justice rather than expediency and false witness.
Let us take a serious look at the protagonists of this melodrama,
the international scene where most of the traditional road-signs have been
taken down and replaced with weathervanes of Globalism.
Europe, after the crucibles of two world wars, has finally come to terms with
its imperial/colonialist past, liquidated its imperial holdings and
the rights of its ethnic/cultural components, has established fair and secure
boundaries within a supra-national Union. There are still a few pockets of
tension and unrest, created by the denial of equal and legitimate rights to
people like the Basques, Corsicans and various Celtic groups; no doubt,
in a not-too-distant future, will settle these remaining cases in an equitable
Now, let us take a look at the “modern”, Kemalist version of the perennial
“sick man of Europe” whose imperial Ottoman legacy still defines and motivates
its present reality. The notion that Europe is considering the integration
“nation” of 70 million souls and a ‘national” territory of over three-quarters
of a million square kilometers, is based on a superficial evaluation ignoring
some historical facts, that are sure to surface at crucial times, causing more
than embarrassment to the proponents of this ill-suited union.
To begin with, in its Kemalist transition from multi-national empire to
nationalist state, the Turks–and their European, Soviet, and US
mentors–conveniently forgot that Armenia, Kurdistan and Pontus (not unlike
most of the Arab nations and territories) were distinct constituent national
entities of the multi-national Ottoman Empire, and were never an integral part
of a Turkish national state. This reality, fully recognized at Sevres, was
shamefully scuttled and buried at Lausanne, laying the foundations of future
crises and bloodshed.
By accepting Turkey into its bosom in its present dimensions and content,
Europe will, in fact, be accepting along with some 47 million Turks, 20
Kurds, and some 3 million Kurdified Armenians and Assyrians (along with their
usurped lands) whose human, national religious and civil rights have been
grievously suppressed by the Turks and almost totally ignored by the
both the Sevres, and the Lausanne Treaties. Is the EU ready to accept such a
challenge? The probability of such an acceptance remains highly doubtful, and
yet, not entirely inconceivable.
Alas, in today’s international political arena, devoid of genuine ideological
tenets, the circles of world diplomacy, particularly the eager champions of a
yet-to-be-established “global order,” there is a mounting concern over any
interference with questionable territorial “integrities” and the professed
“inviolability” of arbitrary, criminally drawn boundaries, an obsession most
vociferously expressed by those who find the status quo–i.e. the present
outrageous distribution of the lands and resources of this planet–most
favorable to their mercenary interests.
More often than not, those interests, remnants of defunct imperial/colonial
structures, ignore and deny the legitimacy of historically evolved national
cultural realities. Today’s political maps do not always reflect the true,
demographic distribution of national identity, evolved over countless
from indigenous ethnicity and culture.
Having lost its independence after a millennium of constructive nationhood,
conquered, colonized, and torn apart by competing imperial powers,
Armenia–following the collapse of the Soviet Empire–is gradually regaining
its independence through international recognition of its sovereignty over a
small portion of its historical patrimony and its valiant and stubborn
resistance against foreign rule in Artsakh.
Obviously, the struggle is far from over. Unfortunately, by putting the
Treaty and Wilsonian Armenia on the political back burner over the last decade
or so, the Armenians have retreated from the entrenched commitment of the
1970’s and ’80’s to a truly viable, unified Armenian state and nation within
natural boundaries that could guarantee real independence, and plot a course
for a brighter future as a truly European nation, integrated into a civilized
neighborhood of an eventually peaceful world.
Whether this pre-nuptial honeymoon between Europe and Turkey leads to a
binding union or not, we should always bear in mind, that the basic guarantee
of our true independence within secure boundaries stems not merely from
international treaties and agreements acceptable to one and all, but first and
foremost, from our own self-image as a nation, deeply rooted in history and
forever tied to the reality of our patrimony.
With that confident self assessment, we put this question with amazement and
apprehension for the future of the West: Quo vadis, EU?
11) Raising Awareness of Diaspora Conditions
By Seto Boyadjian, Esq.
Let us start with a simple fact. Armenians forcibly settled outside their
homeland to live and work in the Armenian diaspora.
Though we naturally realize this fact, it is only instinctively–and that is
not sufficient, because it lacks the practical awareness and cognizance of our
diasporan condition. There was a time–at least until the early 1990s–when
diasporan awareness was a dominant factor. In those days, the task of
overcoming the diaspora’s difficult conditions constituted the starting point
of our national agenda.
During the past decade, we developed new national priorities that demoted the
diaspora to an accepted routine. We began taking our diasporan existence for
granted. Perhaps this was a natural consequence of the new priorities. Because
the liberation struggle of Artsakh, the reestablishment of Armenia’s
independence, and later on, the new political, military, and economic
challenges of the homeland became the pivotal points of our collective
and concerns. Under these circumstances, it was natural for us to relegate the
importance of the betterment of our diasporan conditions. It is true that we
did not forget the diaspora; yet, we ignored the vital prospects of its
collective existence. We must concede that the perpetuation of such attitude
would ultimately jeopardize the very existence of the Armenian diaspora and
The liberation of Artsakh and the independence of Armenia did not bring an
to our diasporan existence. That is, they neither solved the Armenian
diaspora’s problems nor terminated its mission. It would be an unpardonable
error to be content with our homeland’s liberation and independence at the
expense of discarding the needs for the diaspora’s collective existence,
political objectives, and organizational structures.
Evidently, our national life today, both in the homeland and the diaspora,
undergone fundamental changes. Armenia and the diaspora have been encumbered
with further obligations. Both now have to carry out a dual duty. Armenia,
along with caring for our homeland and its people, has also to assist in the
preservation of the Armenian identity of our diasporan communities. The
diaspora, while lending support to the welfare of our homeland and its people,
will also have to strengthen its collective and organizational existence.
So far, the diaspora has been sufficiently fulfilling the first part of its
obligation–helping Armenia and its population. It is now time for the second
part–the task to strengthen the diaspora’s collective life, organizational
structures, and their efficient operation that has, for understandable
been discarded during the past decade.
Now we have to restart that task because it has been a fundamental source in
securing a healthy and vitalized diasporan collectivity. Should we continue to
fall behind in this task, our collectivity will gradually weaken and lose its
vitality. A weakened and inert diaspora will be unable to fulfill its
obligation to support the homeland.
The development and strengthening of the expatriate collective and organized
life depends on our daily practical awareness of diasporan conditions. This
awareness requires that issues such as the expatriate Armenian existence and
its numeric preservation–the danger of assimilation and the need for
integration–securing collective society and solidifying organized
collectivity, reorganizing our national structures and promoting their
administrative efficiency–again become part of the diasporan agenda and serve
as the bases of our national strategy.
Accordingly, such diasporan concerns and the duty to support the homeland
set on the same pedestal of our national priorities.
We must first become cognizant of the history, evolution, and objective of
modern Armenian diaspora that began its formation in the early 1920s. The
survivors of the planned Turkish genocide and deportations were forcibly
dispersed into foreign lands where they began forming separate communities. In
this respect, the creation of the Armenian diaspora was the outcome of a
historic injustice. However, its organization into unified collectivities was
the accomplishment of the elder diasporan generation’s dedication and
awareness. The Turkish state intended to obliterate the people of the Armenian
Plateau. The elder generation determined to secure the existence of the
surviving Armenians. We owe that generation the collective survival,
organization, and endurance of diaspora’s Armenian communities.
As a collectivity and organized society, the diaspora did not remain fixed
unchanged. It evolved and transformed. Throughout the years, it developed its
potential and its structures. It necessarily transformed and adapted to the
changing conditions of its surroundings. Through its inner potentials, it
preserved its existence, kept the reason for its being, and pursued its
purported mission. We should seek the explanation for this dynamic
the daily practical awareness that the members and structures of the diasporan
communities displayed for their conditions.
The development of the diaspora can be divided into three evolutionary
A. Organizational Stage, 1920 to 1970
During the early years of formation, communities initiated self-organization
commensurate to possibilities and surrounding conditions.
The main target was self-preservation (hayabahbanoom: preservation of
identity). The newly formed Armenian diaspora was viewed as a temporary
from where the expatriate Armenian would soon return to the ancestral land.
return required diaspora Armenians to maintain numeric quantity and preserve
the Armenian identity. Accordingly, these communities organized religious,
educational, political, and social structures. Their purpose was to provide
migrant Armenian a proper environment in which to learn and live out national
heritage, values, traditions, and beliefs.
In essence, self-preservation was tantamount to self-defense. To achieve
communities formed a closed-environment, aimed at inhibiting the influx of
external influences into the Armenian collectivity that might alter Armenian
processes, traditions, and values.
Communities had to defend themselves against the penetration of foreign
factors that would alienate, estrange, and disaffect Armenian traits. When a
new generation born in the diaspora faced the danger of
assimilation–self-preservation and their closed-environment policy were
further emphasized and rooted. In turn, it revealed the bitter reality that
next generations were to become more vulnerable to the current of
Consequently, the policy of closed environment left its profound impact on
these displaced communities.
The struggle to organize and to maintain identity created and fostered
diasporan communities for almost fifty years.
And though its closed-environment policy effectively secured the relative
successes of that effort, it nevertheless imposed restrictions. It did not
allow communities to benefit from the positive new trends and progress that
took place in our surroundings in the technological, political, and
We kept away from the political and social processes of the host
focused on the aspect of ethnological preservation and sufficed with minimal
expectations. In this sense, the policy of closed-environment produced two
negative consequences–collective isolationism and cautious mentality.
2. Claim-making Phase from 1970 to 1980
In contrast to the organizational stage, the phase of claim-making was
characterized by its heightened expectations. The post, 50th Anniversary of
Armenian genocide generation, claimed a more aggressive approach to the
Armenian Cause in 1965. It considered the diaspora’s national, political, and
organizational achievements insufficient. Especially after 1970, the new
diasporan generation, led by Hai Tahd claims, boldly pursued the introduction
of fundamental changes in the leadership’s already outdated isolationist
attitude and cautious mentality.
Seeking basic reformations in our collective life, the claimant generation
advanced serious justifications, maintaining that the domains of diasporan
public life were not that rosy.
It indicated that absolute stagnation prevailed on political, organizational,
cultural, and intellectual levels. Some saw exaggeration in these criticisms.
Nevertheless, the diagnoses were accurate. It was impossible to conduct
efficient work within old structures, and with outmoded style, and outdated
mentality. Diaspora communities faced new challenges that could only be
successfully overcome by existing potential and means.
Modernizing, politicizing, and revolutionizing the diaspora were the triple
directions that helped our communities to develop the necessary potential and
Our structures and style of work were losing their dynamism and efficiency;
modernization enabled them to regain their dynamism and keep pace with the
changes and progress in the surrounding. The policy of closed-environment was
turning the self-preservation of the Armenian identity into an end in
itself–replacing the premise that the fundamental objective of
self-preservation is Armenia and Hai Tahd; mental and spiritual
diaspora Armenians reestablished that fundamental objective.
Furthermore, the politicizing process brought added quality and content in
Along with modernizing and politicizing, the revolutionizing process was also
a vital. The experience of collective isolationism was causing the development
of a conservative mentality and psychology; on the other hand, economic
successes and affluence were promoting the spread of a bourgeois mentality and
erosion of idealism. The revolutionizing process attempted to halt such
negative developments and propagate Hai Tahd activism. During this period,
diaspora Armenians also resorted to revolutionary traditions to tear down the
decades old wall of silence erected by Turkey and its Western allies against
the issue of Genocide.
3. Ignoring the Diaspora since 1990
With the advent of the Artsakh liberation struggle and reestablishment of
independence in Armenia, the claim-making phase acquired new meaning.
The diaspora channeled all its means and abilities toward the homeland. After
all, preserving the Armenian identity, modernizing diasporan structures, as
well as the politicizing and revolutionizing processes, were intended to serve
the homeland. Now was the time to materialize that service. The zeal to assist
the homeland in practical terms spread throughout the diaspora. As expected,
Armenia and its people became the focal points of the active elements in the
Unfortunately, the diaspora’s needs were unwittingly ignored during this
Many factors were involved in this development. Engulfed with homeland
concerns, leading forces in the diaspora had neither the time nor the urgency
to tend to the basic requirements of communities. On the other hand, a segment
of the diaspora concluded that with Armenia’s independence, the diaspora’s
mission reached its culmination. As a result, the diaspora began to lower
expectations to deal only with its regular routine.
Ignoring the needs of the diaspora carried–and still carries–serious
damaging effects, which are felt on leadership, organization, and individual
levels. The weakening of the diaspora’s leadership is becoming obvious; it can
be strengthened by recruiting qualified, able, and knowledgeable elements to
leadership positions. On the organizational level, structures are once again
becoming stagnant–and in dire need of reorganization and revitalization. As
for people, we have to overpower the evils of indifference and passivity that
are becoming increasingly prevalent.
The situation may be gloomy, but not incurable. We possess the collective
knowledge, the wisdom, the ability–and the patience to overcome this
can circumvent it.
For starters, we must raise our collective and individual awareness of
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