AWOL (Armenian Weekly On-Line), Volume 73, No. 7, February 17, 2007
The Armenian Weekly On-Line: AWOL
80 Bigelow Avenue
Watertown MA 02472 USA
1. The Role of the ARF in the Diaspora
By Hayg Oshagan
2. Post-Assassination Con Games
By David B. Boyajian
3. Students Coming Together for Armenia
By Serouj Aprahamian
4. From Lebanon to the World, and Back
An Interview with Harut Sassounian (Part 1)
By Khatchig Mouradian
5. The Hairenik Weekly United the Chakarians
By Gregory Arabian
6. Sweet Basil
By Grigor Zohrab
Translated by Tatul Sonentz
7. Poet of the Month: Joumana Haddad
8. Three Poems by Shushanik Kurghinian
Translated by Knarik O. Meneshian
9. Murad of Sepastia
By Isabel Kaprielian-Churchill
10. Music of the Spears
`Skylark Farm’: A Poetic Journey into Hell
By Andy Turpin
11. `Lusin’: A Full-Moon Avant-Garde Project
1. The Role of the ARF in the Diaspora
By Hayg Oshagan
In this part of the world, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation is
over 110 years old. It came ashore with the earliest immigrants, was
established and worked and helped to maintain a small part of our
nation on faraway shores. Our Lowell, Mass., chapter, the oldest, was
established in 1894, and our Armenian-language newspaper, the
Hairenik, is the longest-running Armenian newspaper we have. The
Armenian Revolutionary Federation today is a presence in most every
city in the U.S. with an Armenian population.
We have to remember the past because here, as in most every corner of
the Diaspora, the history of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation is
the history of our people. And the struggle of the Armenian
Revolutionary Federation has been the struggle of the Armenian nation,
the struggle to liberate our people and to ensure their future. For
the Diaspora, this effort has meant two things: building for our
national survival and working towards Hai Tahd.
When you stand up for your rights, you have freed yourself from years
of persecution, oppression and the lingering shadows of a
genocide. The work which the Armenian Revolutionary Federation pursues
in the political arena, our Hai Tahd, is an assertion of our rights as
a nation, is a statement to all that Armenians not only survive, but
lay claim to justice as citizens of this world. This effort has
defined an entire generation of our youth, has created a political
identity in all of us, and has helped invigorate our communities. We
have risen to this challenge not alone, but with the support of our
entire community. It has been possible to lead, because this nation
trusts the Armenian Revolutionary Federation to pursue these goals. It
is the trust which you have in the Dashnaktsoutiune which enabled us
to establish ourselves in the center of Washington last year with the
purchase of our new ANCA building. It is this trust which brings a
Senator like Menendez or Biden to work with us, and not only for our
financial support only, but for the grassroots and shared ideals which
we represent. It is the fact that the Armenian Revolutionary
Federation feels the pulse of our nation, and that the Armenian
Revolutionary Federation is accountable always and only to the
And so we have worked hard to support our friends in the American
political system, supporting people like Congressmen Schiff, Pallone
and Knollenberg in their election campaigns. We have also worked with
Sen. Menendez to put a hold on the nomination of Mr. Hoagland as
U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, because we, as our friends, believe in
truth and in a cause that is just.
We are making every effort now to realize the Genocide Resolution in
Congress with our friends on both sides of the isle. The Genocide
Resolution is not only a condemnation of Turkey’s crime committed over
90 years ago, but is also a condemnation of its reluctance to come to
terms with its past, a condemnation of the kind of oppression and
limits on speech that foster hatred and racism. A poisoned public
opinion fueled by years of lies which results in desecration and
attacks against Armenian churches and cemeteries, destruction of
symbols of Armenian cultural heritage, and even assassinations’like
that of Hrant Dink.
Whether it is in Washington or in the Illinois State House, whether it
is a genocide resolution or aid to Armenia, or a high school Genocide
curriculum, we never tire of these goals because we bear the trust our
nation has in us to defend our political and human rights. And we know
that in this effort, together we will prevail.
But this is only part of what the Dashnaktsoutiune does.
For any political effort to succeed, you first need to establish
vibrant, viable Armenian communities. Ten or 20 or even 80,000
Armenians in an area such as New Jersey do not become an Armenian
community just by being there. A community needs centers, it needs
churches, it needs schools, it needs cultural activities, it needs
newspapers, it needs to see each other, to gather together, to learn
of each other, to share lives with one another. This is what a
Diasporan community is about. And this is the work, the supreme effort
which the Armenian Revolutionary Federation has engaged in from the
beginning, the struggle, which has meant really the survival of a
When you establish an Armenian Revolutionary Federation chapter in New
Jersey, it means you are forming, organizing the New Jersey
community. It means one day you will build a church, and one day you
will open a school, and then a center, then youth clubs and cultural
associations and newspapers and picnics and dances, and you have given
space for a fragment of our nation to breathe and to prosper. It is
the same story in every community. And it is this same effort the
Dashnaktsoutiune has always been engaged in. In the Diaspora, our
struggle has been one of national survival, not just as individuals,
but as Armenians. It has been to create the conditions for generations
of Armenians to retain their identity, to realize their dreams and to
come to the aid of Armenia.
And so we have the Hairenik Building, the Hairenik newspaper, the
Armenian Weekly, the Armenian National Committee of America, the local
Armenian National Committee chapters, the local Armenian Revolutionary
Federation chapters, the Armenian Youth Federation, the Armenian
Relief Society, the Hamazkayin, the Homenetmen, the Prelacy and the
parish churches, the schools and the community centers, and all the
activities in our communities across this region that have allowed us
the freedom to stay Armenian.
Dozens of people have joined the ranks of the Armenian Revolutionary
Federation recently in this region, and many hundreds
internationally. They join because they see the Armenian Revolutionary
Federation as the organization that has for over 100 years struggled
to secure a future for the diaspora and for Armenia, and they see the
Armenian Revolutionary Federation as the embodiment of the most noble
ideas in our national character, of sacrifice and of dedication to a
But whether it is in Hai Tahd, in community building or securing and
helping Armenia, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation has never been
alone in its efforts. Just as we share the stage every day with those
joining to help us, we share our work also with all the churches and
our entire community. And it has always been so. It is only in that
spirit and together that we have succeeded and prevailed in the past,
and it is the only way we will ever succeed and prevail in the future
as a nation.
Hayg Oshagan is the chairman of the ARF Central Committee, Eastern USA.
2. Post-Assassinatio n Con Games
By David B. Boyajian
Make no mistake: Turkey and its friends are turning the assassination
of journalist and human rights activist Hrant Dink to their advantage.
With few exceptions, the international community and media have put
most of the blame on the destructive atmosphere created by Turkish
`nationalists’ and `ultra-nationalists.’
True, Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and his Islamic AKP Party came in
for some criticism, but only because these allegedly `moderate,’
`reformist’ sweethearts were supposedly not standing up to the big,
bad `nationalists.’ It’s the old `good cop-bad cop’ routine: We’re
now all supposed to trust the `good cops,’ Erdogan and the AKP.
Never mind that the AKP is a strongly conservative,
right-of-center’hence nationalist’political party. Never mind that it
was an AKP-majority parliament that enacted Article 301, the law
against `denigrating Turkishness’ under which Dink was convicted.
Never mind that Erdogan has called for a beefed-up campaign of
Genocide denial. Never mind that he’s dispatching AKP member and
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and AKP parliamentarians to the U.S. to
demand that Congress defeat the Armenian Genocide resolution.
Another con game that Turkey’s friends are playing goes like this:
`Yes, Dink’s murder was unfortunate. But it’s just a bump in Turkey’s
road to reform. The Turkish government needs your sympathy and the
help of the European Union (EU) more than ever.’
That’s no exaggeration. Read part of the EU’s reaction to the
slaying: `Turkey will steadfastly continue along the path
towards¦freedom of expression.’
And like much of the media, the Wall Street Journal Europe remained in
a state of denial: `Turkey’s democracy is as healthy and vibrant¦as
never before.’ Fascinating. Assassinations and prosecutions of
dissidents are apparently signs of political health.
Count on the West to continue babbling about `reforming’ Turkey while
providing it ever more political support, money and weapons.
Not Just 301
Governments and media worldwide are attempting another
post-assassination con job by calling for the repeal of Article 301,
as if that would be a cure-all. As if prior to 2005, when 301 was
enacted, Turkey was a shining example of freedom. Turkey has long had
numerous laws that stifle dissent. Laws against separatism, for
instance, are used to prosecute Kurdish political activity. And
Article 216, which outlaws `enmity¦towards another group,’ is
currently used against those who acknowledge the Genocide. Even Turks
point out that the government has plenty of laws it can use if 301 is
For some Armenians, Dink’s huge funeral march of Turks, Armenians,
Kurds and others stirred hopes for cooperation and reform.
The march was mainly about Turkish civil rights in general, however,
not necessarily Genocide acknowledgment or Armenia. Moreover, nearly
200 years of Turkish `reforms’ have proven disastrous for Armenians.
Turkey’s Tanzimat decrees of 1839 and 1856 promised equality for all
Ottoman citizens, including Armenians. They were largely failures.
The Ottoman Armenian National Constitution, approved in 1863, did
little to improve the lives of ordinary Armenians. The Turkish
Constitution was suspended soon after it was proclaimed in 1876.
The Treaty of Berlin (1878) promised European oversight of reforms in
the Armenian provinces. It, too, failed. Continuing `reforms’
culminated in the 1890’s massacres of 300,000 Armenians.
In 1908, the empire’s Armenians, Turks, and other ethnic groups raised
banners hailing the `reformist’ Young Turk revolution and literally
embraced in the streets’somewhat like the Dink funeral procession.
The following year saw 30,000 Armenians slaughtered in Adana. Eerily
similar to what Erdogan would do 98 years later, the Young Turks
apologized’insincerely’but blamed ultra-nationalists.
A European plan to supervise reform in the Ottoman Armenian provinces
in 1914 never got off the ground. Under the cover of WWI, Turkey then
used genocide to `reform’ the Armenian provinces.
After the war, Kemal Ataturk, the well-known `modernizer’ and
`reformer,’ massacred and expelled most remaining Armenians and
attacked the just-born Armenian Republic.
`Modern’ Turkey continued mistreating its remaining Christians using
discrimination, labor camps, riots, and confiscation, down to the
present day. Imagine that each of the foregoing example of `reform’
were to take place in today’s Turkey. The world’including some
Armenians’would stand up and clap. As we can now look back and see
that tragedies have followed each Turkish `reform,’ it might be wiser
to hold the applause.
Nevertheless, will the EU successfully reform Turkey, and might Turkey
then amend its policies toward Armenia?
The EU Looks East
Though the EU has affirmed the Genocide, it has rejected any
requirement that Turkey itself must do so before joining. That shows
bad faith towards Armenia. Reforming Turkey isn’t the EU’s primary
interest anyway. Rather, the EU’pushed along by Washington and
London’wishes to use Turkey to reach into the massive oil and gas
reserves of the Middle East, Caspian Sea basin and Central Asia, and
to surround Russia.
The EU will subsidize and re-invigorate the Turkish economy. Turkey’s
value to the West, as well as its military power and belligerence, can
But might Turkey, as an EU member, orient itself to Europe and thus
turn away from adventures to the east that could harm Armenia?
Probably not. As the West wishes to dominate the Caspian, Turkish
policy will necessarily be directed even more assertively to the east,
where sits Armenia. Such an eastern orientation bodes ill as the West
has always, in the final analysis, sided with Turkey against
It would be tragic if the prospect of Turkish reform, and the hope now
felt by some Armenians over the amity displayed during Dink’s funeral,
made them forget the hard lessons of history.
David Boyajian is a freelance writer based in Massachusetts.
3. Students Coming Together for Armenia
By Serouj Aprahamian
Students have historically played a critical role in movements for
social change. In the United States, students were at the forefront
of the civil rights movement and the ferment of the 1960s. In other
parts of the world, from Hungary to Indonesia, students often paved
the way for the collapse of dictatorial regimes. In modern Armenian
history, students were a pivotal force in the 19th century national
movement and the struggle for liberation which emerged from it. Armed
with knowledge, idealism and the willingness to challenge the status
quo, students make up a segment of society that normally has a high
potential for activism and involvement.
Thus, when I heard about an event being held at Columbia University
titled `Armenia’s Development: The Students’ Role,’ I hoped it would
be an opportunity to harness some of the untapped potential students
possess and direct it toward the development process in Armenia. The
conference was held on Feb. 3 and 4 under the auspices of the Columbia
Armenian Club. Its two main sponsors were the Armenian General
Benevolent Union (AGBU) and the Armenian Center at Columbia
University. The first day featured a host of guest speakers, while
the second day was made up of workshops where participants were to
devise projects aimed at improving specific sectors of Armenia’s
As a participant in the conference, what I enjoyed most was getting to
meet other motivated young people with an interest in Armenia. There
were over 150 people in attendance, many of them with different
backgrounds, experiences and levels of involvement. The informal
discussions and connections that were made among the attendees stood
out as one of the most beneficial aspects of the two-day gathering.
However, some of the other aspects of the conference fell short of my
expectations. For one, most of the speakers had very little to say
about the specific role of students in Armenia’s development.
Although hearing about such things as the hotels being built by James
Tufenkian, the activities of Armenia Fund USA or developments in the
field of information technology was certainly interesting, these are
all topics that could have just as easily been addressed to a
gathering of Armenian investors or retired people. There was very
little information or analysis dealing with what role students can and
should play. The underlying assumption seemed to be that we should
simply assist developments already taking place, exert influence on
policy-makers and anticipate the day when we too can have a career and
invest in Armenia.
Interestingly, several speakers took it upon themselves to suggest
that we must move beyond `old’ diaspora organizations and unite around
new institutions. According to this argument, Armenia is facing new
obstacles and challenges that are outside the scope of `traditional’
Armenian organizations. Unfortunately, proponents of this argument
fail to realize that these `old’ organizations have a long history of
accomplishments for our people that cannot simply be disregarded.
They have withstood the test of time, established their credibility,
demonstrated an ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and
continue to play a vital role in both the homeland and Diaspora.
Those concerned with Armenia’s development would do well to learn from
and support such organizations rather than attempt to write them off.
Another topic that was brought up more than once was the need to mend
differences within the community and work more collaboratively
together. Of course, the principle of collective unity is an
important one. However, the question is not whether we need unity
but, rather, just exactly what principles must we unify around? Once
we all come together, where will we go from there? This is where
vision, principles and platforms come in. In this respect, the issue
of bringing us closer to uniting around a specific set of goals did
not find much articulation at the conference. Indeed, it was somewhat
amusing to hear people talk about unity at a conference where
significant segments of the Diaspora were not properly represented.
As for the workshops on the second day, they were well-intentioned but
too constrained by time restrictions and differing perspectives among
participants. Not only had most of us in the workshops never met each
other before, but it was unclear how we would sustain whatever
proposal we came up with. At times, it seemed we were going through
the motions of a classroom exercise rather than planning sustainable
ways of improving Armenia’s economy.
To be fair, any time students are brought together to think
constructively about the role they can play for Armenia’s future, I
think it is a positive thing. In this sense, the conference helped
provide a venue for us to do so. Yet, beyond this, what is needed are
strategies for activism on campuses, building bridges with fellow
students in Armenia, and initiating critical, long-term projects that
reflect the initiative of students themselves. Ultimately, students
must understand the importance of organizing and joining with others
around clearly defined principles and goals. This is the formula
students have historically used to affect change and the same holds
true for today. If more steps are taken in this direction, students
will have much more potential of playing a pioneering role in
Armenia’s future prosperity.
Serouj Aprahamian is a graduate student in comparative politics at the
American University in Washington.
4. From Lebanon to the World, and Back
An Interview with Harut Sassounian (Part 1)
By Khatchig Mouradian
When I read the press release issued by the United Armenian Fund (UAF)
saying that $4.5 million would be allocated to the Armenian schools in
Lebanon, my mind went blank for a while. I had left Lebanon shortly
after what became known as the `34-day War’ in the summer of 2006, and
I was deeply concerned about the economic hardships the Lebanese in
general and the Lebanese-Armenians in particular were facing.
This intervention by the UAF could not have come at a better time.
Six months later, the political and economic situation in Lebanon
remains unstable, to say the least. A community that was once the
jewel on the crown of the Armenian Diaspora is now facing serious
In this interview, conducted by phone from Watertown, Mass., I talk
with Harut Sassounian’journalist, activist and president of the
UAF’about some of his memories of Lebanon and impressions from his
most recent visit, when he delivered the first half of the $4.5
million in financial assistance to the Armenian schools there.
Armenian Weekly’In your column `Lebanon: the Revival of a Vital
Armenian Community,’ you write: `I am confident that Lebanon will rise
like a phoenix from the ashes and take care of not only its own needs,
but also reach out to those in other Armenian communities throughout
the Diaspora and Armenia.’ From where do you derive this confidence?
Harut Sassounian’For a long time, Lebanon was the center of the
Armenian Diaspora, the heart and soul of the Diaspora, providing many
teachers, artists, intellectuals, clergymen, etc., to different
Armenian communities in the world. Lebanon is currently in dire
straits. It is my honest belief that once the political and economic
problems in Lebanon are resolved, the Lebanese-Armenian community will
bounce back and resume its role as the provider of the needs of the
Diaspora’s various Armenian communities.
A.W.’You spent your entire youth in Lebanon before leaving for the
U.S. in 1969. Did your emotional attachment to Lebanon have any
bearing on your decision to provide financial assistance to Armenian
H.S.’As an Armenian, I care about all Armenian communities. However,
I’ve lived in Lebanon, I went to school there, and those years have
great emotional significance to me. Therefore, the developments in
Lebanon particularly attract my attention. For a long time, I have
been hearing stories about Armenian schools shutting down or joining
other schools, etc. So when the opportunity came to do something, I
was all for it.
A.W.’Share with us your memories of Lebanon.
H.S.’Teenage years are the best times, because we don’t have to worry
about financial burdens, community affairs or other matters. We are
just growing up and learning. I will recount one memory that is very
relevant to the subject matter of this interview. One year, when my
parents could not afford to pay the tuition for my high school in
Lebanon, I was sent home’even though I was the top student in my
class. That left a scar on me, and I learned early on how money could
derail a young person’s educational pursuits. Fortunately, I was asked
to return to school a few days later and was told that an anonymous
donor paid my tuition. I insisted on knowing the identity of that
person in order to thank him or her, but my request was refused.
Years later, I found out that my tuition was paid by my English
teacher, Miss Olivier Balian, who cared so much about my education
that she took a cut from her measly salary to pay for my
tuition. During my recent visit to Lebanon, I visited her, accompanied
by several classmates of mine, and thanked her. She was very touched
by the fact that I remembered her gesture some 40 years later. She
thought that it was very fitting for a student who was unable to pay
his tuition to return years later and provide financial help to
Armenian students unable to pay theirs. Visiting her was one of the
highlights of my Lebanon trip.
A.W.’The United Armenian Fund provided $4.5 million in financial aid
to Armenian schools in Lebanon. How was this money allocated?
H.S.’The sum of $4.5 million was calculated based on the specific
needs of each of the 28 schools in Lebanon. We tried to cover the
needs of schools in three different areas: 1) Tuition. We contacted
the schools and asked about the amount of tuition for each class as
well as the number of students who were unable to pay their tuition
fully or partially. Based on that information, we allocated about
$3.25 million for tuition. Five thousand out of the 7,000 students in
Armenian schools benefited from this amount. 2) We obtained from the
schools the amount of the salaries of the teachers and other staff,
and the number of months they hadn’t been paid. The amount needed to
cover these salaries’for more that 500 teachers and staff’was around
$750,000. 3) We provided an additional $500,000 to the schools for
general expenses. The money was allocated based on the number of
students. Each school received $10,000-50,000.
A.W.’What steps were taken to ensure that these funds serve the
H.S.’Once we had all of the details, we issued a press release
announcing that we were providing financial assistance, so that the
Lebanese-Armenian community would be aware that there was a sum of
money with which student tuition would be paid and teachers would
receive their back pay. Then I flew to Lebanon for the first time in
37 years, met with the leadership and staff of all schools, explained
what were doing, and handed the checks personally to the principal and
board of each of the 28 schools (24 in the Beirut area, 1 in Tripoli
and 3 in Anjar). I also asked for a full report. We paid the tuition
for the first half of the year, and the second half will be paid in
the spring of 2007, just to make sure the funds are being used
appropriately before providing the second half. I did not want to take
any measures beyond that because that would have indicated a lack of
trust in the Lebanese-Armenian community. I did not, for example,
interview teachers and ask them whether they got their salaries. I did
not visit students’ homes and ask whether their tuition was paid. Just
because a community is in a crisis because of war and economic
problems, they should not be treated as if we are doing them a
favor. These are hard working and proud people. They have done a lot
for Armenians worldwide for decades and we ought to treat them with
trust and respect. If anybody shows any signs of have done something
wrong, we can deal with it accordingly later on.
A.W.’After leaving Lebanon, you obtained two Masters degrees (in
international affairs from Columbia University and from Pepperdine
University), worked for Procter and Gamble, and served 10 years as a
non-governmental delegate on human rights at the United Nations in
Geneva. How did the shift to journalism and helming the California
H.S.’The company I was working for in LA laid off many workers,
including me. I was looking for a job. One day, I ran into George
Mason, who had founded the California Courier in 1958. We had never
met before. We talked for a few minutes and there was nothing we
agreed on, whether it was Armenian issues, American issues, football,
etc. The next morning, he sent word that he was very impressed by me
and wanted to offer me the job of editor of the California Courier. I
was stunned. I did not have any background in journalism. But we
talked and I took the position. In those days, the Courier was mostly
a social paper with no hard-hitting material on the Armenian cause.
He asked me to write an editorial the first day of the job. I barely
knew how to write a regular article, let alone an editorial. That
week, Turkish ambassador Sukru Elekdag denied the Armenian Genocide. I
sat down and, after agonizing, wrote an editorial titled `Sukru
Elekdag should be expelled from the U.S. as persona non grata.’ That
was my first editorial. When I wrote it, I had no idea what I was
doing. I just wrote from my heart on the cause that was dear to me,
having spent years and years in Armenian activism. It was just a
matter of putting it on paper.
The Courier readers were not used to hard-hitting editorials. A lot of
people were unhappy with the sudden appearance of this strange
person. They asked what happened to the social paper that they had
read for years.
But I continued in the same vein.
Little by little, people came around. And then, other Armenian papers
in the U.S., as well as in Canada, Europe, Armenia, Iran and Lebanon
started reprinting my columns. The Armenian Weekly, for example, has
been printing my columns for 15 years. Some of them are also posted on
the Huffington Post and many have been translated to Turkish.
Khatchig Mouradian is the editor of the Armenian Weekly.
4. The Hairenik Weekly United the Chakarians
By Gregory H. Arabian
An amazing story rose from the military oral history I took of a
battle-hardened veteran, Murad Chakarian of Andover, Mass., on
Nov. 13, 2005. This story also points out the value that ethnic
newspapers have given to the history of our people.
Louis Murad Chakarian, born in Lowell, Mass., a baker in civilian life
now residing in Andover, had a combat assignment with the U.S. Navy’s
LST’s and Aircraft Carrier, USS Tarawa. He relates the following
unbelievable turn of events:
Murad’s parents came from a village named Sis, near Shabin Karahissar,
in western Armenia. His family history originates amidst the Turkish
genocide of the Armenians. Murad’s father, Kazar Luke Chakarian, and
mother Azniv (Hovsepian) both came from Sis, Shabin Karahissar, the
scene of unbelievable Turkish tortures, oppression and massacre. Kazar
came to the U.S. in 1911 before the massacre took place with Parsegh
Hovsepian, Murad’s maternal grandfather. It was Parsegh’s plan to come
over first, and then bring his wife Mariam (Dulgarian) over to join
him, but this was not to be. Inhabitants of Sis were massacred in
1914. Azniv Hovsepian, a girl of 8 at that time, was in Sis with her
mother, her infant sister and her 7-year-old brother. They had to
leave the village. Murad’s mother, Azniv, later told him that after
several days, it was so bad that they were eating grass and dirt to
stay alive. Murad’s maternal grandmother, Mariam (Dulgarian), could
not take it any more, so Mariam wrapped up her infant daughter, threw
herself into the river and drowned.
`Miraculously,’ says Murad, `two Turkish families took my mother and
her brother. Thus, they were separated. Azniv occasionally saw her
brother who, on the last occasion, told her, `They don’t want me to
talk to you.’ That was the last time that Azniv Hovsepian mother ever
saw her brother. That was in 1915.’
For five years, Azniv was still with a Turkish family as a maid. She
had a cousin, Mariam Mahakian, also working as a maid with another
Turkish family. Mariam heard that the American Red Cross was in Sis
looking for orphans and told her to go there. Accordingly, Azniv went
to the village, met with the Red Cross, and gave them her contact
information because she knew that Murad’s father Kazar was in the
U.S. somewhere. So her name appeared, courtesy of the Red Cross, in
the Hairenik newspaper which, especially at that time, had a wide
circulation in the United States.
After the publication of the Hairenik Weekly one day, Murad’s uncle,
Oskian Chakarian, was reading the Hairenik in a Lowell coffee
house. He was sitting with Parsegh Hovsepian, Murad’s maternal
grandfather, and saw the information. He looked Parsegh and said, with
tears in his eyes, `They found your daughter Azniv!’ The Hairenik had
listed the names of those from Shabin Karahissar. That is how Azniv
was brought to the United States. She later married Kazar in
1921. Murad was born in 1925 in Lowell, where he attended Lowell
schools and served in the U.S. Navy with great distinction.
This amazing story still brings tears to Murad Chakarian’s eyes. When
and where this publication of his mother’s name appeared is a mystery;
it is lost in space and will probably never be recovered. These days
the value of ethnic newspapers, let alone local newspapers, is
downgraded and minimized. However, this one snippet of history shows
the tremendous value that the Hairenik Weekly had, and the service it
extended to the Armenian community.
6. SWEET BASIL
By Grigor Zohrab
Translated by Tatul Sonentz
Right away I loved her thick hair, and sitting nearby, I kept watching
the black pile gathered on her snow-white nape gleam under the
scattered gas-lamps of the garden in luxuriant yet muted reflections
at which my gaze remained glued.
The things that her hair related to me with its modest yet disturbing
quality’right there, on that hill!
>From a distance, my gaze followed its graceful contours, curvaceous
waves, tiny, unruly strands’rebellious as all children running away
from the comb’fidgeting and coming down with springy twists.
Little by little, I established an intimacy with them; I knew them, I
almost conversed with them.
The most pleasant surprise occurred when her face turned towards
me. Beautiful? Not necessarily, but a strangely engaging and gracious
appearance, with weary and moody eyes, as if she had remained where
she had tripped and fallen.
Was that the reason why her eyes lingered on me for a long while? I
don’t know, but it was clear to me, that her gaze scrutinized me
thoroughly; it sized me up, evaluated, above all, taking note of the
admiring and somewhat besotted look in my eyes. Of course, she seemed
satisfied with this examination, because the appearance and quick
fade-out of a smile on her intensely blushing face was immediate, like
the fading rays at sunset that melt away leaving a lingering glow on
The longer we remained there, we felt our hearts more united by the
bonds of an unspoken intimacy. There were mature people around us, the
father, perhaps uncles. Obliged to maintain a guarded stance in their
presence’particularly in that evil-minded crowd that now filled up the
MÃ¶hÃ¼rdar Garden’she could not turn towards me as often
as she wished, and each time that she did find the opportunity to look
my way, I could read on her face the torment of a restrained urge to
turn her gaze towards me.
I was facing the coveted creature dreamed of in adolescent fantasies,
the symbol of all my wishes, basking there, in her mysterious
She could’if she so chose’not look at my face or smile at me; it
wouldn’t have mattered, I would still love her, follow her and be
bound to her memory. Her idol-like indifference wouldn’t have shaken
my devotion in the least.
But I already felt lucky; I had a strong feeling that she was not
indifferent towards me, and my own disquieting thoughts ran through
her mind, as well.
She had taken on a dreamy, distracted look and she kept staring at the
sea which unfolded like a smooth, creaseless blanket, over
which’munificent in her fullness’the moon sprinkled gems of glittering
diamonds, while in the stillness of the summer night, the trees
surrounded us, motionless up to their tremulous tops. It seemed as
though the air summoned us to a marvelous fantasy, to which, both of
us surrendered with no sense of time.
It was near midnight, when the crowd started dispersing; the moon was
gone. They also got up; an imperceptible nod, a form of private
farewell’the sweeter for its exclusive meaning reserved just for the
two of us.
I followed them from a distance, and on the way, I saw her lovely head
turning back as if to look for someone.
They proceeded at an even, slow pace and I could hear the father’s
voice in the surrounding peaceful silence, a firm, commanding voice,
I already felt sorry for her, wondering what she suffered at the hands
of a stern father’a budding flower under the shadow of a rigid tree,
protected, no doubt, from ravaging winds, yet deprived of enough
sunshine. Elsewhere, there are others in the open air, alone in snow
and severe weather, to which adversities and pleasures are meted out
in equal abundance. Which of those is the more fortunate?
I felt, that this was a girl used to retiring into a cage. Her timid
demeanor convinced me of that. Who was she? Where did she live? These
questions tormented my mind as we slowly got nearer to what must have
been their home.
Finally, they stopped in front of a newly built house, in the vicinity
of the Catholic Friars School. A diminutive maid, lantern in hand,
opened the door. I took yet another step to get closer and to have a
parting look at her. The father entered first, then, in order of age,
the others followed. She entered last and I was left alone, 10 paces
away, in the darkness of the street.
Then I watched the house undetected: Its front looked on the Kush Dil
slope and the creek running through it. It had a certain rural,
country look. On the right side, in the corner room with the best
view, suddenly a light appeared and I could see her from the street,
now with her hair down, she came to the open window for a moment to
gaze at the Moda Bay nestled in its tightly packed, earthen slopes.
Then, the light went out and suddenly all fell into darkness.
What are you thinking, you, with your head in your hands, sitting at
your window, with the breeze gently stroking your hair, as I watch
from here the shiver running through its strands?
Are you thinking of the boy you met in the evening, the anticipated
stranger to be encountered sooner or later, who, from the very first
moment will seem to you like an old intimate friend’just like me,
here, standing by the wall, thinking of you.
By now, weary of the monotonous immobility, I walk up and down the
street, my eyes fixed on your window above. What do I expect from you?
A simple word, a sweet sentence, a tangible proof of our shared
In the dark, I cannot make out the face, covered by the hand on which
her chin rests, but I can see the contour of her hair clearly; she is
standing there in silence, not venturing to utter the first word.
And I, no less timid, dare not speak, fearful of spoiling this
beautiful reverie and losing her.
Now, the air gets cooler, and I hear from the surrounding streets the
resounding staffs of the night watchmen on the pavement, announcing
that it is seven o’clock.
Above, she waits, still as a statue, and below, here I am, happy just
looking at her. Lights glistening on the horizon fade away gradually,
the night becomes clearer and, in the distance, the deep blue of the
sea, having lost its former brilliance, spreads like a black mantle on
a boundless casket.
In the majestic serenity surrounding me I feel transported to another
world, a pristine, peaceful land, where she and I are the sole
inhabitants, with the entire universe left to us.
The roosters call, rivulets of light stream from the east, the
beautiful hair is still up there, at the window, the way it was; the
breeze caresses the tresses, making their small strands
quiver. Outside, the light swells, crests and inundates all ` it is
Although drained, I do not regret the sleepless hours spent here; she
is in front of me at her window, sleepless, dreaming, like me.
I remain like that a while longer, watching; suddenly, the cascading
black hair assumes a clear, distinct shape to my eyes’that of a
healthy growth of sweet basil, erect in its dark red flowerpot,
shuddering in the morning breeze.
Was that it, waiting for me in the open window until morning? I am
stunned; how could I not see it? I feel foolish, and angry for having
demeaned myself so.
Now that years have gone by since then, I bless you, little bunch of
sweet basil, for that night-long bliss’a lot more than any other close
friend has ever given me.
You assumed the face of a girl to conquer me. You did well; I do not
regret the tender passion I heaped upon your tiny leaves.
Let morning come and pour around me the callous certainty of its
rushing light, as it will.
To me, you are always her thick, beautiful hair.
Translated by Tatul Sonentz
7. Poet of the Month: Joumana Haddad
Joumana Haddad was born in 1970 in Beirut, Lebanon, where she lives
and works. A poet, journalist and translator, she speaks seven
languages and is chief editor of the cultural pages of the Lebanese
daily An-Nahar, for which she has interviewed many international
writers such as Umberto Eco, JosÃ© Saramago, Peter Handke and Paul
Auster. In April 2006, she was awarded the Arab Press Prize for her
interview with Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa. She has five
collections of poetry, including Invitation to a secret dinner, Two
hand to the abyss and Lilith’s Return. She has translated several
works of poetry and prose into and from Arabic, her most recent work
being an anthology of modern Lebanese poetry in Spanish. Also,
selected poems of her own have been translated into several languages,
and two anthologies of her poetry have already appeared: one in German
in Basel, Switzerland, another in Spanish in Caracas, Venezuela, both
in 2006. A third anthology is to appear this year in the U.S. from
Tupelo Press, Vermont. More information can be found on her website,
Haddad’s grandmother is Armenian, and excerpts from Lilith’s Return
were translated to Armenian by Khatchig Mouradian. The poem below,
translated from Arabic by Marilyn Hacker, appears for the first time
By Joumana Haddad
I. My poem is not long, not existential, certainly not romantic. It’s
not loaded down with sentiments, or virtues, or even muddled
thoughts. No one speaks there, or begins anything, there’s no kissing
on the mouth. There are no metaphors, nor lost birds, nor old dreams
sitting in the shade. My poem is not a poem.
II. My poem is an iron wire. I walk its tightrope, I’m its hostage. It
vibrates beneath me and threatens to unbalance me. I hang on to it, I
dangle there. It’s my fear and my escape. Then all at once it becomes
rail, ladder, wrinkle, precipitous fall through which I don’t stop
saying farewell to all the mountains leaving without me.
III. It’s always black around my poem. The moon shines with its
erasure, night overtakes night. The landscape is a sharp pebble under
foot soles, and each look is a wound. The darkness is someplace and no
place and there is no other shore.
IV. My poem is a hand. The hand of the man I love. Arrow, bow and prey
at once. It caresses me, wants to possess me. I don’t belong to it. It
knows that. It returns me to myself and carries me without owning me.
V. I look for my poem and my poem looks for me. Seven pages separate
us, seven wells. The same fire sees us, the same metal begins
us. Tyrant, neither homeland nor exile, it’s in every vice, every
shudder. Both of us are overpopulated by absences and
passers-by. `Here’s your adventure,’ it tells me nightly. And I
VI. My poem is the color blue. Its threshold is covered with seaweed,
its padlock is rusted, and its own water is enough for it. I am its
vagabond, I wander on its liquid asphalt and sleep in its inky
nooks. I am its flock of clouds, its moss, its skin warm as oncoming
pleasure. Drunken skiff in a storm, lightning bolt which leads me
toward the face which resurrects and multiplies me.
VII. My poem is a time lapse. An infinitely prolonged wait. Unsettling
minutes building up between two beginnings. Unexpected moment that
VIII. I am not in my poem. I am not beneath those nails which ask me
questions, in that pain persisting in every step, between those lashes
closed to my cries. Because I am in the poem or I am not. And it is in
IX. My poem is a man’s sex draped with desire. Bridge stretched
between the universe and me. Marvelous fruit that lives on my
body. Eye which slakes my thirst and snatches me up in its
whirlwind. I never want to come out of its rainy tunnel.
X. My poem is a road. It walks, walks within me.
And I follow it.
10. Three Poems by Shushanik Kurghinian
Translated by Knarik O. Meneshian
You and Me
You came to me from afar…
And knocked at my door.
`I want to rest at your hearth,
Share my love with you.’
`Oh, there is no oil in the lantern’
No one may enter…
Rain drops drip from the roof,
And grief kneels at my threshold.’
Weary, you opened the door
And entered anyway…
The sun shone.
Where did my sorrow go?
Me and You
It was a bright morning in spring
When we met…
You gave me a red rose
And said, `A jewel for your breast.’
The day was so clear, so light…
I had nothing
But my heart
And said, `Here, a memento for you.’
With my undying heart
You rejoice and rejoice…
But your fragrant red rose,
Jewel for my breast, lived only for a day.
To live, one must give completely’
Strength, joy, fervor, and youth,
Have no fear of pain, hold back tears,
Forget smiles, love, and compassion.
To live, one must defy death.
What joy not to grow old!
Time plays a joke in vain,
And defeated, it passes you by unnoticed.
Instead of walking, take flight’falling matters not,
For he who falls from up high does not stay down.
Let your soul grow strong on the anvil of pain,
Unhindered’in order to live.
Shushanik (Popoljian) Kurghinian was born in Alexandropol (present-day
Gyumri), Armenia, on August 18, 1876. In 1893, she became an
outspoken member of the Armenian Social-Democratic Hnchakian Party.
During the same year, she and 18 other women `attempted to participate
in the 1894 freedom struggles in Western (Turkish) Armenia.’
Kurghinian `is best known for her reactionary poetry and political
activities concerning women’s issues…and dedicated her life to
improve the social condition of working-class women and the socially
outcast members of her community.’ Kurghinian was married and had two
children. She died in 1927.
Note: The above information is from the AIWA Writers website,
———————– ————————————————– —–
9. Murad of Sepastia
By Isabel Kaprielian-Churchill
I was first introduced to Sepastatsi Murad as a youngster. My father
had pictures of Murad, Antranig and other national heroes in our house
and he delighted in telling us stories of their exploits, their daring
and their bravery. He and my mother taught us patriotic songs like
`Dalvorig,’ `Grevetsek Dghek’ and my father’s favorite `Lusin Chgar.’
I can still remember singing Antranig’s song, `Iprev Artsiv,’ in our
Armenian school choir and marching home from Armenian school with my
friends, bellowing out `Pamp Vorodan.’ We named our organizational
chapters after our heroes: Nikol Duman, Murad, Sebuh. And we named our
children Dro and Roupen. On my first trip to Paris, I made a
pilgrimage to the Pere Lachaise cemetery to pay my respects at
Antranig’s grave and to take pictures for my father and an uncle who
had fought with the famous general.
Growing up, I heard about the tragedy of genocide, but it did not
dominate our culture. I heard little about the death marches, the
confiscation of property, starvation, disease, rape of women,
abduction of children, of torture and murder. My vision of my heritage
was not of butchery and brutality; rather it was one of guerilla
soldiers fighting for freedom in the mountains, striking fear and awe
into the hearts of their adversaries. It was a vision of valor and
We were imbued with a sense of strength, of triumph. We had our
national heroes. We were proud of our fighting men and women’our
Vartans and Soseh Mayrigs. We rejoiced in the achievements of our
gamavors and fedayees. To this day, my brother has a framed photograph
of General Antranig and one of Agnouni in his living room.
As I look back, I see that all this was the culture of genocide
survivors’refugees, yes’but survivors who refused to cringe, who
possessed the drive and the will to rebuild a nation. It was a
riveting culture, entrenched in the lore of mountains, the aura of
courage, and the steel grip of determination. A culture the survivors
passed on to their children in stories, art, and music.
Then an unmistakable silence crept through Armenian society. The focus
of Armenian history changed. More and more we read and heard about
suffering and tragedy, humiliation and indignity, about
dehumanization, about our Golgotha. Our culture shifted from one of
victory to one of overwhelming victimization.
On reading Varandian’s Murad, I realized that except for volumes like
this, we in North America, in particular, seem to have allowed our
collective memory to slumber. Our perspectives have changed to the
point that we now dance to `Verkerov Li,’ which, as we know, is a
dirge, a lament.
I do not know why we Armenians changed the way we think and talk about
our history. Are we reluctant to admit that we took up arms against
injustice and lawlessness, that we burned villages to avenge the
murder of our families, that we killed to resist tyranny and
subjugation? Do we feel threatened that genocide deniers twist our
retaliation in their unrelenting manipulations to sanitize the death
marches and massacres organized by the Turkish government against its
own civilian population? Have we forgotten that innumerable Armenian
boys from farms and towns escaped the stranglehold of Turkish
authorities, fled to the mountains and forests, and joined up with
Armenian volunteers to fight back to save the remnants of the Armenian
nation? When Belgians in World War I resisted German brutality they
were praised as heroes, but when Armenians fought to the man for
survival, they were condemned as traitors, revolutionaries and
instigators of civil war. In a way, Varandian himself responds to this
double standard: `as if Europeans thought that Armenians were a
superior race and should not have bloodied their hands with innocent
women and children’ (Murad, p. 183).
It seems to me that for a true and balanced understanding of the
Genocide, it is essential to know about the activities, decisions and
experiences of men like Murad and Antranig. Yet where is the analysis
to draw them into the larger framework of the Genocide? Where is the
discourse that entrenches Armenian liberators into the greater span of
A few years ago I designed a course at Fresno State University titled
`The Armenian Genocide in Comparative Context.’ My main objective was
to show that the Genocide, the Holocaust, Cambodia, and Rwanda were
not unique events in the history of man. Many chilling similarities
exist. But there were also major differences. By comparison with other
genocides of the 20th century, Armenian resistance to genocide was
better organized, more widespread and longer sustained, culminating in
Armenian victories at Kara Kilise, Bash Aparan and Sardarabad. Not
that we should compete as to which victims of genocide suffered more
or which victims retaliated more effectively, but resistance by the
victims should constitute a serious component of the vast panorama of
Mikayel Varandian, an ARF intellectual and theoretician, published
this biography of Murad in Armenian in 1931. Varandian belonged to the
socialist wing of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation; he
represented the ARF at the Congress of the 2nd International in 1910
and again in 1919. A prolific writer, his most significant work is the
two-volume history of the ARF (in Armenian).
Varandian’s biography of Murad is based on interviews, memoirs and the
author’s own personal recollections of the Sepastatsi hero. Aside from
the biographical information, Varandian gives us considerable insight
into the internal conflicts in the ARF’hostility between staunch
socialists and unbending nationalists. He also describes the quarrels
between the political leaders and the military commanders, notably
between the ARF and General Antranig, but also between the ARF and
Not surprisingly, Varandian focuses on social movements’grassroots
grievances and grassroots rebellions. The unrest in Sasun in 1894 and
1904 was, in effect, peasant revolt against overpowering forces
combined to squeeze the impoverished Armenian peasantry: exploitation
by Kurdish chieftains, depredations by Kurdish bandits and oppression
by the Turkish state. What makes the Armenian peasant insurgencies in
different localities and the proletarian strikes, protests and
demonstrations in the capital city in the late 19th and early 20th
centuries different from previous movements is the presence, ideology,
involvement and organization of a new, increasingly secular
phenomenon’the political parties. It is true, of course, that both the
Hunchak and Dashnak parties were in the initial stages of formulating
their platforms; much was still amorphous and needed to be
crystallized. But we do see a transitional period as the peasantry and
proletariat are juxtaposed to an educated, urban middle class and, as
far as the parties were concerned, a noteworthy contingent of Russian
Armenian intellectuals. Serop Aghpur fought in the 1894 Sasun
rebellion, to be sure, but a good part of the organization and
resources came from the political leadership: Mihran Damadian and
Hamazasp Boyajian. This book highlights the relationship, and indeed
the tensions between the political parties and the grassroots
Varandian begins his book by discussing heroes. Heroes are typically a
fundamental component of nationalist discourse’our language, our
religion, our history, our traditions, our heroes, our nation. In
referring to Murad, Varandian uses an unusual word. He calls him the
Hayduk of Sepastia. Hayduk has nothing to do with Hai, nor with
aristocracy. In Armenian, hayduk means combatant. Hayduks were very
important phenomena in peasant revolts. They were more serious and
better organized Robin Hoods. Hayduks were the William Wallaces of
Scotland, the Garibaldis of Italy, the Pancho Villas and Emiliano
Zapatas of Mexico, and in more contemporary times, the Lech Walesas of
Murad was born in the village of Kovtun in Sepastia in 1874. He was
illiterate, a lowly cowherd, as lowly as a shepherd or goatherd. As a
young man he fled to Constantinople where, like countless others, he
took up menial work as a porter. At a Sunday school, he learned to
read Armenian. Already as a teenager, Murad rebelled against abuse, a
poor man who refused to accept the subservience of poverty. He
established his freedom by means of the only resources open to the
indigent at that time and place’his wits, strength, bravery,
determination and his commitment to his people. He became involved in
the Hunchak party’initially, at least’and participated in the protests
and demonstrations of the early 1890s in Constantinople.
Along with a band of armed men’other peasants like himself : Kevork
Chavoush, Hrayr Dzhoghlk’he validated his identity as an Armenian
resistance fighter. In this way, he and his companions represent an
aggressive response to Armenian agrarian grievances. As such they form
an Armenian rank and file guerilla militia. Ideology was not their
motive; rather a burning desire to `free’ the Armenian people from the
coercion and bondage of Turkish authorities and the ravages of Kurdish
brigands and tribal chiefs. Thus, we see an amalgam, a merging of
class issues with nationalism: the Armenian peasant up against the
After Murad’s expulsion from Constantinople, he moved to the Caucasus
and eventually to Sasun during the 1904 uprising. Back in the
Caucasus, he became involved in the struggle against Czarist
repression in the confiscation of Armenian Church lands and the
closing of Armenian schools, and then he engaged in the Armeno-Tatar
During these years, he and his men lived with the peasants. He was
always proud to say, `We are the men of the people and illiterate
peasants’ (p. 46). He and his companions served the Armenian peasants,
and in turn the peasants loved them, helped them, supported them. They
provided them with lodgings and shared their meager supply of food
with them. For the peasants, the fedayees were not only champions of
justice and defenders against plunder, but fighters for liberation,
their liberation. Without this common sympathy and support between the
local population and the guerilla fighters, hayduks like Murad would
not have been able to fight successfully.
Archbishop Nerses Tangian writes about Murad: In regard to Murad of
Sepastia, he was a vibrant and dynamic character, a popular hero in
the real sense of the word. He lived in the villages in a simple and
modest way. He and his followers lived like peasants. They ate yogurt,
eggs, cheese, even dry bread. They were not demanding and they dealt
with the people fairly. They gathered the youth in organized
groups. Taught them songs and with heroic stories imbued them with
highest morality. They lived in Zangezur for a long time, but never
allowed themselves any immoral acts. The villagers swore in their name
and marveled at their morality…
Their fights were always in self-defense. They resorted to preemptive
measures only when the danger was great. Murad never allowed his
fighters to kill Turkish women and children. He was magnanimous toward
these innocent women and children of the enemy’ (p. 65).
It seems that Murad and other fedayees lived according to the
essential principles of guerilla warfare: to pay for everything
supplied by the local population; not to rape the local women; to
bring land, justice and schools wherever they go; and never to live
better than or otherwise different from the local inhabitants(1).
Although they were unschooled village men, they studied the hills and
mountains, their height and location, the gorges and valleys, the
caves, the rivers and bridges. They knew where the villages were, the
roads, telegraph, and railway lines. They studied the stars and
learned to survive on mountain and forest plants. According to
Varandian, even though they were uneducated, they learned `the art of
war with strategies and tactics as advanced as those taught in the
military academies of the most advanced nations’ (p. 30). Perhaps not
in the style of Clausewitz, but they became expert guerrilla fighters,
tough and mobile men who fought on their own terms, mountain men for
whom the mountain was an accomplice, not an adversary. `The
mountains,’ claimed Murad, `became my school and my comrades-in-arms.
The Dashnagtsoutiune, my teachers’ (p. 80). Armenian guerilla fighters
like Murad, were, if not the first, at least one of the first in the
20th century to use guerilla warfare, and to use it effectively. The
same tactics with local variations were used later in the century by
Mao, Che Guevara, the Viet Cong, and recently by insurgents in Iraq.
Most of the fedayees probably did not marry while they were
fighting. This chastity comes through in Armenian ballads like
Verkerov li jan fedaye yem
Taparagan doon chooneem.
Yaris pokhan zenks em krgel
Mite hankist koon chooneem.
Only after the 1908-09 coup d’etat did the vagabond hayduk return to
his home village, marry and settle down. Without wasting time Murad
initiated major changes: organized ARF activities, a network of
schools, charitable and women’s societies. He introduced co-education,
physical education, and dramatic arts in the school curriculum, set up
theatrical groups, and encouraged adult education. With a firm hand,
he tried to stamp out corruption and nepotism, to reform village
administration, and to improve the socio-economic condition of Kovtun
and of the surrounding countryside. Most critically, he trained the
young people in self-defense. The safety and well-being of the
villagers were uppermost on his mind and he persistently cautioned
them: `the most imperative things for our people’s survival are arms,
education, and the plough.’ In short, this semi-literate man tried to
bring a measure of modernity and stability to his region and to help
the peasants develop the tools to empower themselves. This section, it
seems to me, highlights an aspect of Murad that he himself always
downplayed. While he maintained that he knew little about political
theory, it is evident that Murad was political, very political.
Perhaps he did not have the theoretical background of a Varandian, but
politics was inescapable whether in relations between rich and poor,
Christian and Muslim, Armenian and Turk. Even within the Armenian
political sphere, the question of socialism and nationalism was
controversial and one that caused Murad considerable anxiety.
The next five chapters deal with World War I and the various roles
that Murad played during these precarious times. Let me mention but
1. The collection of orphans and the rescue from captivity of Armenian
women and children. There were two groups of Armenians among the
Muslims: those who had been abducted by Muslims against their will and
those who had found safety with friendly Kurdish clans, especially in
the Der Sim Mountains. Here certain Kurdish tribes had given the
Armenians refuge. It is said that many of the Der Simtsis were
Armenian renegades from past persecutions who had remained in the
mountains and intermarried with the Kurds. Their language was a
mixture of Armenian and Kurdish and their religion a blend of
Christianity and Islam. After the Russians liberated Erzinga, Murad
rushed there to head up the search for Armenian women and children. He
began a successful fundraising campaign to facilitate this rescue:
`One Armenian, one gold piece.’ As a result of his efforts, hundreds
and perhaps thousands of Armenians were saved.
2. Murad’s work as administrator in Erzinga during a period of extreme
upheaval and uncertainty, especially after the Russian withdrawal in
1917. Like Aram in Van, Murad tried to bring peace, stability and
order during a chaotic period of transition. The problems he faced
would have staggered even the most capable and experienced
governor. Without reinforcements, with an increasing number of
deserters, dwindling supplies, and growing demoralization, Murad and
6,000 Armenians were forced to evacuate. Their retreat from Erzinga,
in the depths of winter, was the occasion for attacks against them
along the treacherous route to Erzerum in the Chilek gorge.
The final chapter deals with Murad’s death in the battle for Baku, on
Aug. 4, 1918. At least he was spared the agony of seeing the entry of
Turks and Tatars into Baku and the bloodshed that followed.
The book has been carefully translated by Ara Ghazarians, curator of
the Armenian Cultural Foundation who also provides extensive and very
useful explanatory footnotes. In this essay, I have only skimmed the
surface of what awaits the reader. Varandian separates reality from
romantic legend and helps us understand the character of Sepastatsi
Murad’a humble cowherd who rose to become a warrior and a national
hero. An educator, judge and administrator. We get an insight into the
values he espoused, the dangers he faced, the risks he took, and the
life he chose to lead.
Sepastatsi Murad is a symbol of all Armenian freedom fighters’knights
of the Armenian liberation movement.
I will always see Sepastatsi Murad, vigorous and dynamic,
Dressed in black
Black piercing eyes
His bandolier strung across his
His rifle ready by his side
And his beloved Pegasus
His `fire-born stallion
Carrying him to lofty peaks
Galloping to the summit of
Victorious and high.’ (2)
(1) Eric Hobsbawm, `Vietnam and the Dynamics of Guerrilla War,’ in
Hobsbawm, Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion, and Jazz, New York:
the New Press,1998.
(2) From Daniel Varouzhan’s poem, `Pegasus,’ translated by Shushan
This book review is based on a presentation of the launching of Murad
of Sepastia at the Armenian Cultural Foundation in late 2006.
Isabel Kaprielian-Churchill is professor of Armenian and immigration
history in the department of history at CSU Fresno. She specializes in
the field of Armenian Diasporan history. She is the author of Like
Our Mountains: A History of Armenians in Canada.
10. Music of the Spears
`Skylark Farm’: A Poetic Journey into Hell
By Andy Turpin
WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)’I’m not sure it’s possible to get through
reading Antonia Arlsan’s Skylark Farm without a Xanax, a stiff drink
or a box of tissues all within an immediate arm’s length.
It is a beautifully written work with a style of characterization and
storytelling reminiscent in print to E.L. Doctrow, and in cinema to
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s `Amelie.’ It gives the reader glimpses into the
quirks of the novel’s players, all of whom are based on real-life
individuals that played a part in the Arslan family’s story.
It’s the kind of book you get so into reading that you tell the
slightly deranged-looking person on the bus how cool and sad it is’and
hope they don’t kill you.
At times it seems cruel and unusual that Arslan paints such loving and
vivid portraits of characters you inevitably fall in love with’only to
watch them suffer over and over again through the course of the novel.
And then one takes stock that these things truly happened to these
people, and you have to stop reading to get your bearings.
It follows the lives of two Armenian-Anatolian brothers, Yerwant and
Sembad. The stoic Yerwant leaves their unnamed Ottoman city for Italy
at age 13, and the kind, loved-by-all Sembad becomes a pillar of his
own community as the town pharmacist.
Leading up to the start of the Genocide in 1915, the story alternates
between both brothers’ families in Italy and Anatolia. If one were to
slice the book in two at the 90-page mark, it would make a bedtime
story that nestles one to sleep like a warm blanket.
But past that printed threshold of no return lie monsters, and Skylark
Farm quickly spirals into a realm every bit as chilling and filled
with the scourge and resilience of humanity you find in Elie Wiesel’s
Holocaust memoir Night.
The violence is graphic and heart rendering, but written as poetically
as it could possibly be by the author, not unlike gazing into the
complex horror of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. However, it becomes
overwhelmingly apparent that Arslan’s depictions of these crimes
against God and life could be relayed no other way.
What makes the novel all the more vivid is how Arslan gives life and
context to her numerous Turkish characters’both bad and good.
It seems impossible to believe that this book could incite rage in
Turkish readers. (Though as in the case of many Genocide deniers the
concept of truth and objectivity often forms no basis in their
perceptions or opinions.) In this way, it is one more literary step
towards a civil dialogue, at least among some Armenians and
willing-to-listen Turks, regarding truth and reparations for the
There are far too many scenes from the book that deal with acts of
love and heroism, but one example worth citing is that of the minority
good-soldier-in-times-of-evil archetype illustrated by an Ottoman
Colonel just after the Armenians are massacred.
Arslan writes: `He feels like a man of the old regime, of the old
Empire, and he knows that, for his career, this is the horrifying end
of the line, and also that his heart will never be the same, and he
accepts these things. He accepts them to the point of taking a stand,
a risk, in order that all not be lost, in order that his people need
not be ashamed of all their leaders. And thus, in a gesture of ancient
nobility, he puts an arm around Shushanig and gently helps her to her
feet¦ When he notices Krikor, the skeptic, everyone’s loyal friend,
and sees that he’s still moving, his anger turns to leaden sadness, to
heavy obligation. With a steady hand, he cuts the bootlace gagging his
mouth, closes his eyes with his left hand, and whispers, `Old friend,
forgive me,’ before shooting him in the temple. And he says to Ismene
[the Greek lamentation woman] who has arrived with the other women,
`Weep for them, you who know how. And God have mercy on us [the
Such is one of many passages that alluded to biblical references that,
though unwritten, the reader may find reciting in their head as the
passion play unfolds. In the scene above, the inference being to [Luke
23:34], `Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
Other such instances occur in those moments for the Armenian community
before the bloodshed begins when it is described:
` `We’re all going to the Farm,’ Shushanig decides. `No one will dare
set foot there. We’ll meet in the alley behind the house, by the
garden door, in one hour. We’ll have a picnic this evening, to spite
those who wish us ill. We’ll eat together in good cheer. The days are
long now, the air is warm. Bring your women, too; they can help me.”
The inference is to the 23rd Psalm.
Educators in any Armenian Genocide related survey curriculum, or
indeed theology students in need of real-life moral situations to
illustrate both biblical and Koranic scripture should disseminate and
discuss Skylark Farm.
Another incident that highlights the fact that the Genocide was not
condoned by all Muslims is shown when the Armenians pass through the
territory of the Sufi Dervishes on their death march to Aleppo: `And
suddenly the great leader of the dervishes raises his cane into the
air and shouts, loudly, `This is not the will of the Prophet, blessed
be his name. Feed and lodge these people, because his voice is coming
down to us again from the heavens of the Almighty, and it brings
These passages are isolated and Skylark Farm never reads like a
revisionist historical novel that downplays the Genocide. That much is
clear on reading the book in its entirety. If a Turkish reader were to
finish Skylark Farm, they would likely be moved to acts of
reconciliation than feel they had been stereotyped.
The fact is, you can get a people to admit they committed acts of evil
as a group, but individually people will still be reticent to believe
that their own great-grandfather partook in the killing. At a certain
point it all becomes reminiscent of the post-war German joke,
`Everyone who wants to admit they were in the resistance movement
raise their right hand and say `Heil!”
Andy Turpin is the Assistant Editor of the Armenian Weekly.
11. `Lusin’: A Full-Moon Avant-Garde Project
WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)’It may be too early to consider them the
`Gotan Project’ of Armenian folk roots, but that’s the idea of the
Armenian experimental folk jazz group `Lusin.’ They undoubtedly belong
to the same school as the above-mentioned Argentinian folk progressive
jazz band, with their cross-cultural communication-style
improvisations and arrangements of tango master Astor Piazzola’s
`Lusin’ is relying on old folk tunes arranged mainly by father Komitas
with their own special recipe. Theirs has a different and sublime
spice and aromatic feel. The group brings a rich blend of cultural
perspectives to the table. Progressive folk-jazz is their common frame
The five members of the band are pushing their boundaries of
folk-improvisation, and this fusion of tunes is the fruit of
modern-day music, which always relies on old roots. They appeared in
their hometown of Boston at ALMA in Watertown on Fri., Feb. 9.
Their originality relies on the two extroverted keyboardists, jazz
pianist Vardan Ovsepian and composer Ara Sarkissian. Ovsepian has his
own exceptionally active and melodic vocabulary, and his creative work
remains a crucial ingredient. Simple motifs allow him to improvise
quite freely with a Keith Jarrett style and approach to the
piano. Sarkissian is the composer-pianist who plays the same melody,
but with different ornamentation, timing and nuance.
Bassist Arvin Zarookian’s attack on the strings was `the right fingers
at the right place, right time.’
Martin Haroutiunian on different folk wind instruments was the most
`patriotic’ of the group, though this owed to the instruments’the
shevi (Armenian flute) and doudouk (Armenian woodwind)’that he played.
Last but not least, gifted drummer Karen Kocharyan was untouchable, as
usual. His synchronized beatings were characteristically expansive. An
inventive presence on drums, he presented a powerful echo-y rumble,
and was also an appealing showman.
Throughout the concert, each player enjoyed one extended solo after
the other. The concert consisted of two sets. They started with
Komitas works, `Shogher tchan,’ `Tchinar es’ and `Chakhker chukhker,’
followed by a Sayat Nova piece, `Yis ku ghimetn,’ and a folk tune from
the Hamshen region, `Kukun gouka gonchaghu.’ The second set also
began with some everlasting Komitas tunes”Gakavik’ (the most played
tune in any Armenian event, but this time with totally different
feathers, similar to Datevik’s vocal version),’Antsrev yegav,’ `Hov
arek’ and `Kele kele”followed by a Harpoot region dancing tune,
`Tamzara,’ and finally `Yaman yar’ by Altounian.
Creating a roiling, constantly shifting and evolving rhythmic base was
the players’ ultimate goal, and all contributed toward that end. The
beauty of jazz improvisation is that sometimes, stuff just happens,
and the performers don’t always know.
The `Lusin Armenian Experimental Improvisation Group’ is a must-see
project. It is a very full moon, avant-garde lusin [moon].
(c) 2007 Armenian Weekly On-Line. All Rights Reserved.