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Thursday, December 21, 2006
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HO, HO, HUMBUG!
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A gentle reader insults me on an open Internet discussion forum. Being human I am not always successful in ignoring such abuse: I return the compliment. No harm done. A minor scribbler in the middle of nowhere and a faceless anonymous denizen of an unidentified suburban gutter somewhere call each other names. Not the end of the world. So what if we both lose? As for Armenian image: what image? No one gives a damn about our image except perhaps our phony superpatriotic propagandists and pundits whose empty verbiage impresses no one but themselves. What about Armenian honor? No such thing. There are only good men and bad men. Why shouldn’t we, like the rest of mankind, have our share of bastards?
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Another one of my gentle readers once remarked that I deserve to be insulted because everything I write is an insult to the Armenian nation. A statement worthy of a commissar of culture who views literature as a collective effort on the part of writers to kowtow and say “Yes, sir!” to our semi-sultans, mini-Stalins, and dealers of verbal manure like himself, who operate on the assumption that all it takes to be a concerned citizen is to assess oneself as one. Zarian is right: we do with words what the Turks did with yataghans, except that we use our tongues, which happen to be sharper and cut deeper. There you have it, the Armenian identity. Even as we die the death of a thousand self-inflicted cuts we speechify, sermonize, and editorialize about justice and patriotism, God and Country, martyrdom and survival. God help us, if there is a god and we deserve his help.
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Friday, December 22, 2006
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PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE
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We like to say that Germans are more civilized than Turks because they admitted and apologized for the Holocaust. We forget that, unlike Turks, Germans lost. Had they won, there would have been neither admission nor apology.
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Even when you do the right thing you may be penalized because of someone else’s blunders, as when you are hit by a drunk driver or massacred in time of war.
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I don’t mind testifying against myself. Some may call this low self-esteem. But what if the alternative is to sound like a self-satisfied pompous ass?
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The past is as incomprehensible as the future is unpredictable if only because once upon a time the past was also the future, and whenever in our narrative we make the past predictable, we ignore the fact that at any moment in real life things can go wrong in a million directions.
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When I think of all the wrong turns I could have taken, I feel as though I were the luckiest man on earth simply because I am alive.
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Whatever wisdom I have acquired I owe to my enemies. Ever since I have gained that realization I have been wondering why is it that we Armenians collectively have become one of the dumbest nations on earth instead of one of the wisest.
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Mistakes make us humble, unless they are of such colossal magnitude that admitting them would mean committing political suicide.
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Saturday, December 23, 2006
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PAVLOV’S DOGS
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It took me many years to admit that which seems obvious to me today, namely, that I was a product of systematic indoctrination and all my convictions and actions were not mine but someone else’s. In short, the fact that I was more of a robot and less of a human being. And when faceless readers insult me anonymously on the Internet today, they do so in the name of a belief system that is not theirs but someone else’s, a belief system moreover that they will reject if and when they discover its nature and origin.
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When Saroyan said he felt sorry for the Turks he was not only rejecting our collective and instinctive hatred of them, he was also saying, to think that the only solution to a political problem is the wholesale massacre of innocent civilians is to react not as human beings but as animals, Pavlovian dogs that salivate on hearing a bell.
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It is interesting to note that the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” is translated into Armenian, as “Thou shalt not behave like a dog.”
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In his sympathy for killers Saroyan was not being a good Christian by turning the other cheek; he was simply asserting his own humanity by rejecting the kind of indoctrination that legitimizes and promotes instinctive reactions, that is to say, the introduction of the law of the jungle in human affairs. He understood that the worst thing your enemy can do to you is not to kill you but to lower you to his own level. Is this not what our religion teaches us too? – not to hate our enemy but to love him, to ignore the animal in him but to recognize the fact that his convictions and actions are not his but products of an evil belief system that has been rammed down his throat at a time when he was powerless to resist it. And in that sense, is he not a brother?
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A brother: this is what Thomas Mann called Hitler (who had tried to have him assassinated). And this is how he described Hitler as speechifier: “It is oratory unspeakably inferior in kind, but magnetic in its effect on the masses: a weapon of definitely histrionic even hysterical power, which he thrusts into the nation’s wound and turns it round.” Isn’t this what our own Turcocentric pundits and speechifiers do too?
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Here is more of Thomas Mann on Hitler: “A brother – a rather unpleasant and mortifying brother. He makes me nervous, the relationship is painful to a degree. But I will not disclaim it. For I repeat: better, more productive, more honest, more constructive than hatred is recognition, acceptance, the readiness to make oneself one with what is deserving of our hate…” And: “Thanks to his own baseness, he has indeed succeeded in exposing much of our own.”
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