The Armenian Weekly; July 12, 2008; Features

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The Armenian Weekly; Volume 74, No. 27; July 12, 2008


1. All the World is Markarian’s Stage
By Tom Vartabedian

2. Book review: ‘Defending Infinity’ Holds Mediocrity In Contempt
By Andy Turpin

3. The ARS Mother and Child Clinic in Akhourian
By Michael G. Mensoian


CONGERS, N.Y.-If all the world’s a stage, as Shakespeare once wrote, then
Dr. Herand Markarian is its protagonist, its leading player as far as the
Armenian community goes.

Over the last 50 years, his playbill has remained consummate with 25 plays
written (unmatched by any playwright), including 20 premieres, more than 40
productions directed, and over 50 roles performed.

He is to Armenian theater what Ararat is to Hayastan, a mountain of culture
and the performing arts.

Six months are spent in the homeland forging his scripts, then it’s back to
New York where they are introduced to an appreciative Armenian-American
audience, thanks to the New Jersey Hamazkayin and its band of thespians.

There’s something to be said about a group of ordinary youngsters refined
enough to portray a cast of young Armenian orphans in a show called "The
Georgetown Boys," which is being staged these days to standing ovations.

"I don’t know how to explain it," he says. "The gratitude you receive from
taking young and unseasoned actors from Hamazkayin and turning them into
performers is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. These kids
are like my own children. When they recite and act in Armenian, it gives me
a happiness that no money can buy."

Markarian says he feels like an ironsmith who was given a chain and asked to
strengthen the loops.

"It’s not always easy to work with children," he admits. "In the end when it’s
showtime, you forget all the agonizing moments. I bring the stories home and
actually try to identify them with those of the orphans."

In Merrimack Valley, where "Georgetown Boys" made an auspicious New England
debut this past April 24th, Markarian was honored by the local Armenian
Genocide Commemorative Committee.

The tribute he received that afternoon was relative. Instead, the modest
playwright pounced off the stage and embraced the aging widow of a former
Georgetown boy who came to see the production. To her went the real homage
of this masterpiece theater.

How it started was completely ironic. Markarian was invited to give a talk
in Toronto during the 1980’s where he met Jack Aprahamian, who had just
published a collection of items related to "Georgetown Boys."

He secured a copy of the book and was moved by it. After launching the
Hamazkayin youth group in New Jersey, he started thinking of a play and it
evolved from that after many years of research, rewriting, and steady

Surrounded by his cast of 25, including educator Michael Mirakian, he passed
off the credit to his "children." Whether any of them makes it to a higher
level remains to be seen. The poise, self-esteem, and confidence becomes
self-sustaining. To Markarian, it’s a mission for his country.

A bigger picture is his commitment to preserve and perpetuate the arts as
opposed to personal gain. Though he has appeared many times on stage,
Markarian’s real passion rests behind the scenes. He would not recognize his
own ego if the two were to meet on a street in Yerevan.

"The plays are part of me," he says. "I live with every moment. I go through
the emotional state of all the characters. When I’m on stage or in the
wings-acting or directing-I become emotionally and physically involved to
the extent that I don’t want anyone to talk about anything else. This is my
world beginning to end."

Markarian feels he’s done justice to the characters whose lives he’s come to

"They deserve all the respect you and I demand," he adds. "Even when they
portray a comic character, I tell them they have no right to laugh. It
applies to villains as well."

In 1922, an ecumenical organization by the name of the Armenian Relief
Association of Canada had been formed. The Association worked to secure the
entry of 109 Armenian orphan boys from Middle Eastern orphanages and settle
them onto a farm. The orphans, known as the "Georgetown boys," were trained
in all aspects of farming, possessed enough farming skills, and were sent to
other farms in Ontario, thus learning to sustain themselves. Markarian found
it a delightful story line and jumped on it.

A review in one Armenian paper called it an "emotionally charged
experience," complemented by a musical score that was "extremely touching."

"It was obvious that the directing was meticulous, exacting, with
discipline, and the timing in the dialogue perfect," wrote reviewer Haikaz
M. Grigorian.

Markarian grew up in Iraq where the performing arts was not a profession
people sought. His daughter Yeraz is a talented actress and singer having
been weaned in the process. She and two other Armenian women established the
a cappela group called Zulal (pristine) which has performed all over the
United States to rave reviews.

"My wife in her youth used to recite," he says. "Now she reads essays at our
cultural events. I don’t know the genetics but it’s beautiful."

Markarian majored in chemistry, ultimately receiving a doctorate. He also
holds a master’s degree in technology management. For pleasure he reads the
works of the great Greek masters.

At Armenian conventions, Markarian was every bit as good as a Johnny Carson
or some other stand-up comic. During a meeting break, he would regale the
delegates with some comic relief, which was a welcomed respite from the
mundane world of business. His Armenian tales were a howl.

He recalls as a youngster going to the movies in Iraq and mimicking the
stars. His first genuine role 52 years ago was that of a poet in Baronian’s
"The Gentlemen Beggars." It was an ARF Shant Student Association production
directed by Apraham Der Ghoogasian, a local actor with a strong baritone
voice. Soon to follow was his first directing job after moving to Baghdad.

"The influence of American movies was so great, I remember gathering some of
my friends and giving them a script I had written," he recalled. "Movie
theater operators had made a business of cutting film strips and selling
them to us frame by frame. These were the pictures of great actors. I
established my first movie theater in the town of Margil."

After arriving in America in 1962, Markarian set down to business writing
plays, his first being "Cycle" which found its way to the Diaspora Theater
Festival in Yerevan where he captured "best playwright" honors. A notable
career had been launched with numerous other accolades.

The flip side of Markarian is his charitable work in Armenia, based upon the
concept of rebuilding a nation and infusing its population with newfound
energy. His focus is education and health, particularly in the border
villages, with the Dilijan Children’s Sanatorium and the Armenian Medical

His writing is almost an addiction. This year alone, Markarian translated
five plays by Karine Khodikian. He finds the homeland conducive to his work,
surrounded by the people of his world.

"There are many Armenian plays waiting to come to light," he confirms. "I
won’t deny them the right to be born. We are a nation that deserves a higher
recognition with the performing arts. If my contribution contributes to
that, an ultimate mission will have been achieved."

Markarian talks about his blockbuster "Mirrors" which reflected his mother’s
life. It turned into a two-fold family history, one to oblige himself and
again, to patronize his daughter Yeraz who was doing her senior thesis in
theater at Columbia University.

Yeraz wanted to direct an original play and approached her dad with a
not-so-simple request. "Write a play for me," she asked.

The daughter had heard her grandmother’s story of immigration and was
enamored by it. The grandmother and a brother got separated in 1922, never
to see each other again.

"It was a perfect fit," Markarian said. "I got to exercise my imagination
and help my daughter. Somewhere out there is at least one Armenian that fits
the other episodes."

Plaudits ring out to such shows as "Nine Armenians" and "Beast on the Moon"
which have entertained New York City audiences. Markarian sees theater as a
way of connecting Armenians to their cultural heritage by mere virtue of
their support. But that’s not enough.

"We need the non-Armenian audience to be successful and bring our issues to
the forum," he maintains. "There are great pieces of literature that are
kept in obscurity because of language barriers. With Armenian plays, you
need an audience that understands the language and actors who speak

As for "Forty Days of Musa Dagh," Markarian hopes to see it done in
Hollywood fashion, much like "Schlinder’s List." He’s looking for a director
like Steven Spielberg to step forward and some benefactors to fund the cost.

"I look to Armenia with hope-that it is going to evolve," he maintains.
"There is no euphoria. Every country attempts to reach that dynamic state.
Armenia is no different. With theater and the performing arts, it’s a step
in the right direction and I’m proud to be a small part of that."

Herand Markarian

Thumbnail sketch of Herand Markarian

– Playwright, poet, literary and drama critic, actor, professor, Armenian
community activist over five decades

– Born in Basrah, Iraq, 1938; grew up in suburb of Margil.

– Graduate, College of Sciences, Baghdad University; immigrated to United
States in 1962, obtained master’s and doctorate degrees in chemistry from
Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey.

– Along with doctorate studies, took up acting, directing, and playwriting
in New York City

– Authored 25 plays, latest being "The Georgetown Boys" (unmatched by any
Armenian playwright); directed more than 40 plays; appeared in more than 50
roles, including Yohann Lepsius in Toukhanian’s feature film "Assignment

– Wrote, directed, and prepared many multimedia presentations and lectured
extensively throughout Armenian communities in the diaspora; actively
involved in Armenian national and cultural life.

– First Hamazkayin Theater Group invited to Armenia in 1992.

– Notable awards: St. Mesrop Mashdots Medal by His Holiness Karekin
Sarkissian; Gold Medal of Cultural Achievements from Minister of Culture of
Armenia; Best Diasporan Playwright by the Writers Union of Armenia.


His Favorite Things

American playwright: Shakespeare and Henrik Ibsen, Armenian playwright:
Levon Shant and Gabriel Soondookian

Director: Vahe Shahverdian of Sundukian Theater in Armenia

Music: Classical, pop, flamenco, and Armenian

Theater: "The Crucible" and "Les Miserables"

TV show: "I Claudius" on PBS

Sport: Soccer (I used to play)

Screen star: Meryl Streep

Stage star: Nelly Kheranian

Hobbies: Art, photography

Relaxation: Surrounding myself by nature and listening to the ocean

Most embarrassing moment: When an Armenian mars our national character, that
embarrasses me.

Most rewarding moment: When I touch someone with something I’ve written or
said; creating a smile from an unsuspecting audience member

Golden deeds: Wipe out hunger; eliminate injustice; give every child the
possibility for growth

Pet peeve: Writers who make fun of the handicapped; I don’t like Black

Vacation spot: The ocean for meditation, as contained in my book of poems
"From the Depth of the Torn Self"

Statesman: King Ardashes (189 BC) and King Hetoum (1226 AD)

Proudest accomplishment: My very next play and every one before and after

Quote: "What did I get from life? That which I gave to others." -Poet Vahan


Through a Camera’s Eye

Photography has always been a wonderful way to express myself. Over the
years, I’ve won a couple prizes for my pictures. I enjoy capturing things
that embody some sort of an art form.

I like objects at different times of the day. I take pictures from angles
that bring out some sort of secret in them-or catch a moment that’s so

I remember visiting the Holy Apostles Church in Kars with Archbishop Mesrop
Ashjian. At that time, the church was closed to visitors. We found a broken
bar in one of the windows and slid inside. Serpazan said a prayer which was
the last time an Armenian clergyman said a prayer in that church before it
was converted to a mosque. We were the only people in the church.

It was then that I noticed a beam of light falling to the floor from a
window above. I asked Serpazan to stand in that light and took the
photograph which was later used on the cover of his book.

I took a lot of pride in that.

——————————————- ————————————————– —
2. ‘Defending Infinity’ Holds Mediocrity In Contempt
By Andy Turpin

WATERTOWN, Mass (A.W.)-Ken Janjigian’s newest novel, Defending Infinity
(Pocol Press, 2008), following ‘Trapped Doors’ (Pocol Press, 2005), is a
foray into the lion’s den of cultural and self-assessment on the brink of
true committed adulthood.

For the Gen X and Millennial generation, everything is so post-modernly
"post" in general that it begins to hurt the head to think about it too
hard. Unthinking young people under 30 have back lashed into religious
conservatism. And those that consider themselves liberal desire to be moral
people at their core, but exist in a jaundiced cultural vacuum that wants to
continue the anti-authority trend of its Baby-Boomer parents. This, while
they’re savvy enough to know that the globalized civilization they exist in
is little more than a multinational corporate fiefdom.

As a society we see it everywhere-from the new neo-realism of superheroes
like "Hancock" and Bale in "Batman Begins," to the masculinity-satire novel
of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.

But with local boy flavor, Janjigian brings the literary genre of the trend
home to roost in his Boston stomping ground the way Nick Hornby and Mike
Gayle did for "High Fidelity" and "Turning Thirty" in London.

Like Sentimentalist literature in the Victorian era or the Dashiell Hammett
serialized pulp fictions in the noir epoch, the Millennium is the decade of
the decadent "Sex and the City" reminiscent chick-lit and male equivalent
John Cusack movie-in-print genres of writing that represent the Lost
Generation of our time.

And if you’re familiar with those realms as a reader and member of society,
Defending Infinity is a fine addition and another brick in the wall.

In premise, it’s the story Van Arakalian, a modern-day Armenian late
twenty-something on the verge of marriage becoming today’s consistent of the
"Man in the Grey Flannel Suit." However, inside he yearns to live a freer
existence. Not without responsibility, but with a higher responsible
obligation to himself in the vein of Polonius’s sage advice, "To thine own
self be true."

As a result, Van goes on an intellectual comedic odyssey to assess himself
with a rogue’s gallery of Cambridge-area bohemians as his collective Virgil
guiding him through the wilderness.

Stylistically, there’s a great deal of astute sociological perception and
honesty in Janjigian’s writing, balanced out with an equal amount of
pretension. However, that pretension shouldn’t necessarily be laid as blame
on Janjigian as the writer, because anyone that’s spent a significant amount
of time in Cambridge knows that it’s a berg that oozes pretension. And if
Janjigian’s character dialogues sometimes sound so artsy that they’re
unrealistic and caricaturist, I’ll be the first to give my two cents and say
that you as a reader haven’t been paying enough attention to some of the
self-absorbed drivel that spills forth from pontificators in Boston’s
bohemian hotspots.

In contrast, much of the anti-consumerist soapbox rhetoric that Janjigian
explores has been tread and re-tread before, at which point it just becomes
a matter of taste as to whether you enjoy Janjigian’s Boston-Armenian
resonance of splicing open old societal wounds.

Rome’s always burning. Kurt Vonnegut and George Carlin as the Ezekiel and
Elijah prophets of our time are dead, and the Empire is fallen, all the hail
the Empire. Janjigian knows his audience, but with other similar novels
floating around it becomes an issue of brand loyalty as to whether Janjigian’s
Beantown intellectual nuances will be too much for some to bear.

In the tradition of Alan Moore, if you enjoy being the hippest cat in the
room and reveling in references and humor that can make you feel like the
king of Beacon Hill, you’ll be sucked into Defending Infinity quickly. And
if Redemption is an ink spot called home, the Cantab rocks your world, and
you have permanent residency status in the People’s Republic of Cambridge,
there’s no doubt in my mind that it will be just your pint of summer ale.
——————————————— ———————————————–

3 . The ARS Mother and Child Clinic in Akhourian
By Michael G. Mensoian

In 2010, the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) will celebrate its centennial
anniversary. This is a milestone for any organization. Established in 1910,
the ARS has been at the forefront in providing emergency and long-term
assistance to Armenians worldwide, in the homeland (Armenia, Artsakh, and
Javakhk), and throughout the diaspora.

Central to the mission of the ARS is its historic commitment to the
children. In the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide, the ARS realized that
hundreds of young girls and boys had been orphaned along the route of the
death march to the desert region of Der Zor. Many of these children were
taken by the tribe’s people or villagers along the route or were given to
them in desperation by dying parents. Although they were saved from death,
they would be bound in servitude to their new families. During the period
from 1922-26, the Armenian Red Cross, the predecessor of the ARS, was
involved in the resettlement of displaced Armenians to safer havens and in
providing for the many Armenian orphans. At their Convention in July 1926,
which was held in Boston, the Central Executive Board (CEB) was instructed
by the delegates to secure the freedom of these young girls and boys who
were being held in servitude. Thus was born the innovative "One Orphan for
One Gold Coin" program that successfully liberated hundreds of these
children from their Turkish, Kurdish, and Arab families. Since that
beginning, the ARS has continued with many projects and programs that
address the specific needs of our young children in the homeland and
throughout the diaspora.

In Artsakh, the ARS has established the "Soseh" Kindergarten System.
Presently the 12 mangabardezes (kindergartens) enroll approximately 550
children 3 to 6 years of age with a staff of 111 employees. The ARS through
its 218 chapters worldwide in 24 countries and its many friends underwrites
the full cost of these schools. (See the Armenian Weekly, Feb. 2, 2008, "The
ARS ‘Soseh’ Kindergartens in Artsakh.")

In a parallel project that many in the ARS feel is the crown jewel of their
many programs and projects is the ARS Mother and Child Clinic and Birthing
Center in Akhourian, Armenia, which addresses the Society’s commitment to
young children. Following the devastating earthquake in December 1988, the
Executive Committee of the ARS Eastern Region U.S. made a momentous
decision: to build a health center in the town of Akhourian in the Shirak
Marz or district of Armenia. Akhourian was a small town with an estimated
population of some 10,000 people about three miles southeast of Gyumri, the
district capital. The plan was to build a medical facility that would serve
a cluster of six villages with an estimated population of 22,000. The
following year, the ARS CEB decided to assume financial responsibility for
this Mother and Child Health Clinic.

The villages within this medical service area were Arevik, Aigabats, Garnut,
Hovit, Jrarat, and Musaelian. The furthest villages from the new medical
facility were Jrarat, about 8.5 miles away-measured as the crow flies-and
Aigabats, about 6 miles away. Although these are not great distances, it
must be remembered that the winding roads within the district increased the
mileage that had to be traveled and due to changing weather conditions could
quickly become impassable at times. Also, many of these families did not
have reliable means of transportation to reach the larger existing hospital
in Gyumri, which was another three miles distant, or the financial means to
afford medical services when it was necessary.

The villages to be served were on the margins of the earthquake zone which
was centered to the northeast of Gyumri on the town of Spitak, which was
completely leveled. The city of Gyumri itself sustained considerable damage
as well. The Akhourian region, which had limited access to medical
facilities prior to the earthquake, was now virtually without any medical
assistance as the needs of the thousands of earthquake victims had to be
given top priority.

Given the limited income of the villagers, the decision was made to operate
the hospital on a non-profit basis to provide free medical care.
Construction of the Mother and Child Clinic met government standards since
it was to be the first privately run medical facility in Armenia to be
licensed by the Ministry of Health.

The clinic received its first patient in May 1997. It soon became apparent
that there was a need to expand the range of services available if there was
to be any significant improvement in the overall health of the population.
It was estimated that about 50 percent of the women in the district were
also in their childbearing years. Few of these women had ever had the
opportunity to receive either pre-natal or post-natal information or care.

With this in mind, the ARS decided that a birthing center should be
constructed to be attached to the Mother and Child Clinic. This would
provide the people of the Akhourian district with a full-service general
hospital. Plans were drawn up to add approximately 7,200 square feet to the
existing clinic. Construction began in September 2003. When completed, the
combined Mother and Child Clinic and Birthing Center had more than 13,000
square feet of space. On April 24, 2005, the first baby, a boy named Vrej,
was born.

The Mother and Child Clinic and Birthing Center in Akhourian has been
responsible for a significant reduction in the infant mortality rate
including miscarriages and still-births. The number of babies born with
medical problems has also shown a significant decrease. The reputation of
the staff, the up-to-date technology, and the modern facilities available
have been responsible for the geographic expansion of the facility’s service
area into the southern region of the Shirak Marz, with the population being
served more than doubling from 22,000 to over 50,000.

The hospital currently provides a full range of diagnostic services
including mammography and sonography units and blood work-ups.
Gynecological, pediatric, and pre-natal and post-natal examination and care
is also available. The hospital maintains an emergency unit and a pharmacy
to dispense vital prescription drugs which would not otherwise be easily
available to the patient. In 2004, the ARS reported that the staff of the
Clinic and Birthing Center and the University of Massachusetts Medical
Center’s HIV clinic ".began cooperating in a study of preventive measures
against sexually transmitted diseases and HIV." For many families this was
their first formal introduction to the dangers of HIV to the prospective
mother and the baby. The Clinic and Birthing Center is also carrying out a
comprehensive inoculation program against early childhood illnesses.

Data for the four-year period, 2002 to 2005, indicates that nearly 17,000
visits were logged by nearly 10,600 patients. The medical staff made 1,299
house calls during this same period. From June 2002 to August 2005, 24,316
laboratory analyses were completed. Perhaps the most important fact is that
since April 24, 2005, when the first birth was recorded, 3,135 healthy
babies have been delivered as of May 2008 without cost to their parents.
That is an average of nearly 87 healthy births each month. The ARS assumes
financial responsibility for the entire operation of the center.

To expand needed medical services to an ever-increasing population and to
continue its policy of not charging for the services provided by the
"Birthing Center," the ARS introduced the "Healthy Birth Sponsorship
Program." Under this program a donation of $150 covers the medical expenses
of the mother and provides a healthy start in life to a baby born at the

Presently, the ARS Mother and Child Clinic and Birthing Center in Akhourian
has a medical staff of 41 professionals, which includes 4 pediatricians, 4
gynecologists, 18 nurses, 11 mid-wives, and 4 laboratory technicians
assisted by a support staff of 9 people. The success enjoyed by the hospital
is due to the diagnostic skill and care that the professional staff
provides. However, credit must be given to the hospital administrator and
the three directors who have responsibility for administrative, medical, and
support functions respectively.

Since its opening in 1997 and its expansion in 2005, the ARS Mother and
Child Clinic and Birthing Center in Akhourian has made significant
contributions to the improvement in the general health of the population.
This has had a beneficial effect on the families. The birth of a healthy
child eliminates the tension and the worry that would engulf the parents of
a baby born with medical problems or worse, should a miscarriage or a
still-birth occur. During the pre-natal period, the mother is able to
receive the necessary information and care that reduces possible
complications and anxieties and makes for a safe and successful birth.
Post-natal information and check-ups reduce the stress on the new mother and
contributes to the development of a healthy child.

Society is a beneficiary as well. Preventive medicine is invariably less
expensive and more rewarding than curative procedures whenever that option
is available. A healthy family unit is happier and more productive.

The ARS’s commitment to our children has always been central to its mission.
The ARS Mother and Child Clinic and Birthing Center provides for their needs
at birth. The ARS "Soseh" Kindergarten System in Artsakh provides another
group of Armenian youngsters the opportunity to develop their young bodies
and minds. Whether in Shirak Marz or in Artsakh, the ARS remains committed
to its historic role with respect to our children who are the future of