Saturday, December 29, 2007


Saturday, December 29, 2007
“If genocide means the systematic extermination of a nation, how come you are still around?” a Turkish reader wants to know.
No matter how systematic and efficiently carried out, a genocide is seldom successful. Even the Germans, the most efficient and systematic of nations, failed to exterminate Jews and Gypsies.
Another Turkish reader writes: “The Turks are too sloppy a people to have organized and carried out a policy of systematic extermination.”
It is equally true that Armenians are too divided to agree on anything. And yet, not only they agree on the reality of the genocide, they have also been successful in convincing an important fraction of the world to agree with them.
My quarrel with our genocide pundits is not that they misrepresent reality but that they live in the past. “Let the dead bury their dead,” we are told, especially at a time when the living are dying.
To speak of Armenians only in the context of massacres: is that not a misrepresentation? Or, as Gramsci points out somewhere: Why would anyone care about a people known only as victims?
It is easy to make enemies, much more difficult to make friends. Our challenge is to convert our enemies to friends, and not to convert our brothers to enemies.
Civility and patriotism are not mutually exclusive concepts. Rules of civilized conduct apply even to superpatriots. So do rules of logic, common sense and decency. To say otherwise is to equate patriotism with barbarism.

Friday, December 28, 2007


Friday, December 28, 2007
The combined wisdom of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle has been wasted on the Greeks. Greek history is a disaster area. The divided city-states of Greece were at each other’s throats for centuries until they were conquered and mongrelized by, among others, the Turks.
What remains of Buddha’s wisdom in countries like India, China, Korea, and Japan? Mostly superstition and ritual (for more details, see Arthur Koestler’s THE LOTUS & THE ROBOT).
Individual wisdom does not always translate to political know-how for a very simple reason: the pursuit of wisdom and greed for power are mutually exclusive concepts and antagonistic movements from which greed for power will invariably emerge the winner.
Because I share my understanding, I have become an enemy. A fool will reserve his agreement for men who tell him what he already knows and understands. That’s because, as a fool, he doesn’t understand that knowledge is an endless search.
If straight talk offends you, who is to blame but your ego?
Speaking of theory and practice, I read the following headline in our paper this morning: “Hindu Hardliners burn Christian churches, Christians retaliate and burn Hindu homes.”

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Thursday, December 27, 2007

A regime, any regime, even a regime of swine, will have its supporters.
In America today only 50% of the people vote. When asked why he doesn’t vote, a wise man once replied: “I don’t believe in encouraging them.”
One thing I have learned about my fellow Armenians and myself: We are human beings like the rest of mankind. Anyone who says we are better is either a brown-noser or a damn fool.
Propaganda teaches us to overestimate ourselves and to underestimate our adversaries, which promotes the view that our leaders are shepherds and their leaders butchers. But then, where would butchers be without shepherds?
If we are what we have become it’s because of liars whose favorite sport is the blame-game.
Self-assessed smart Armenians will never agree with me because agreeing with me would amount to admitting they are fools who have been taken in by liars.
After calling them “enemies of the people,” fascist leaders silence their critics. It is always the same story. After confusing fact with fiction they commit unspeakable crimes against humanity with the full support of their dupes. This may explain why there are people today (not all of them Turks) who believe Talaat was a great leader and his victims traitors who deserved their fate. This may also explain why some of the greatest butchers in the history of mankind, from Caligula and Nero to Stalin and Hitler, had their supporters.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Wednesday, December 26, 2007
If you prefer fiction to fact, don’t read what follows because I plan to speak of reality, and reality in our case is seldom pretty.
If we are angry we have every right to be. Throughout our millennial history we have been ruled by foreign ruffians and domestic riffraff. My disagreement with my fellow Armenians begins when they take out this anger on fellow Armenians, and this without provocation -- unless you call a minor semantic or political disagreement a provocation – as if, throughout our long and happy existence we have known nothing but peace, harmony, and brotherhood among ourselves.
One does not have to be a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Freud to understand what I have said so far and what follows, namely that this vast store of accumulated resentment is not directed against our victimizers but against fellow victims, for the simple reason that our victimizers are either beyond our reach or, when within reach, they are invulnerable. This has been said by far better men than myself but it bears repeating: An Armenian’s worst enemy is not an odar but an Armenian, and this “other” Armenian is none other than himself.
On more than one occasion I have been told I have no right to speak of our problems unless I also propose a solution. This, needless to add, is a cheap rhetorical maneuver whose message is “Shut up!” To those of my readers who have not yet given up reading me so far, my suggested solution to the problem outlined above is a simple one: awareness. Because awareness of a problem is almost a solution.
If I were to describe an Armenian in a single sentence, I would say he is one who knows everything but understands nothing. As a result, his degree of awareness is that of a dinosaur. This may explain why Toynbee in his 10-volume STUDY OF HISTORY calls us “fossils,” like Jews. But whereas Jews were outraged and promptly rejected the label (see Maurice Samuel’s THE PROFESSOR AND THE FOSSIL), as far as i know, none of our professors rose to our defense. Is it because they secretly agreed with Toynbee? Either that or our professors are not in the habit of sharing their understand with us, probably because they know the torrents of verbal abuse that will be unleashed against them by our riffraff and their brainwashed dupes. Perhaps our real tragedy is not that we don’t understand but that we don’t want to understand, and that, I regret to say, is a problem that has no solution.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


A dead jackass is not afraid of the lion.
Sorrows are easier to survive than hunger.
Honey will attract flies even from Baghdad.
To a poor orphan, more bread, less advice.
Life is a battle and what counts is not the first defeat
but the final victory.
He is wise indeed whose learning begins in the cradle
and ends in the grave.
Some books make better friends
than the best of friends.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007
To those of my readers who disagree with me, sometimes violently, I say: I hear you. I feel your pain. Once upon a time I too was brainwashed to think, or rather to feel, as you do. To learn to think, to think for oneself, which also means to think against oneself, is a painfully slow process. It takes time. Be patient with yourself and tolerant with those who try to reason with you. Evolution is a law of nature. Never say therefore you will not change, for that way lies stagnation, degeneration, and death.
Instead of saying, the great powers deceived us, we should ask, why did we behave like dupes? Instead of saying the Turks massacred us, we should ask ourselves, why did we surrender our fate into their hands for 600 years?
A man who is convinced he knows everything he needs to know is a case of arrested underdevelopment.
The more you deceive yourself the more transparent you become to others.
If you know 100 things and claim to know 101, sooner or later someone is sure to expose you as an ignoramus.

Monday, December 24, 2007


Monday, December 24, 2007
If bad things happen to good people, let us ask ourselves:
How good are we?
How good are our “brainless leaders”? (Avedik Issahakian).
How good are their dupes who believe we never had it so good because we are in good hands?
How good are the alienated who stay away from Armenian affairs? How good are the assimilated who have given up on us?
How good are our “best and brightest” who so far have failed to convince the world that our genocide is not a figment of our collective imagination?
How good are our intellectuals from Khorenatsi and Yeghishe (5th century) to Zarian and Massikian (in our own days) who have been unanimous in saying our leaders can’t even lead a dog to the nearest hydrant?
How good are our intellectuals and why should be believe them?
Well, what choice do we have? It’s either them or our politicians?
Are politicians capable of speaking the truth when they speak about themselves?
By the way, I don’t agree with Avedik Issahakian. Our leaders are not brainless. After all, they were brainy enough to have a plan B for themselves.
Believe in God, if you must, but believe no one else. Use your brain instead (if you will forgive the overstatement), and may the Good Lord have mercy on your soul (if you have one).

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Sunday, December 23, 2007

One of my gentle and anonymous readers, whose spelling leaves something to be desired, takes me to task for my ignorance of our history. “Armenian history,” he reminds me, “is an extremely complex topic,” and since I obviously do not know as much as he does, I should shut up about it. I am more than willing to concede that I don’t know all there is to know on the subject. But then who does, beside the Good Lord Himself, who so far has consistently refused to publish His version. As far as I know, no human being has ever dared to claim that after a lifetime of study he is now prepared to assert that he knows all there is to know about Armenian or any other history.
When after a lifetime of study Toynbee published his monumental ten-volume STUDY OF HISTORY, he was attacked and sometimes even verbally abused by an international array of historians who questioned the accuracy of his facts and the reliability of his conclusions. Dutch historians criticized him for his ignorance of Dutch history; Jewish historians tore him to shreds because he had dared to call Jews “fossils”; English historians dismissed him as a megalomaniacal mystic and charlatan; and Soviet historians treated him as a heretic because he did not share their faith in Marxism. It would be no exaggeration to say that both Spengler and Toynbee, the two greatest historians of the 20th century, have more critics than fans among their fellow historians.
Even when they deal in facts and nothing but facts, nationalist or ideologically committed historians lie because they select only those facts that support their particular thesis, and since the number of facts, documents, and eyewitness accounts is nearly infinite, they can do this without much difficulty.
Who takes nationalist historians seriously? Only themselves, their dupes, and the power structure within which they operate.
What matters about history is not how much we know or how many facts, documents, and eyewitness accounts we have at our disposal, but what have we learned from it. What have our nationalist or patriotic historians learned from our past? The very same thing that Turkish historians have learned: namely, to paint themselves all white and their adversaries all black.
History does not have to be the propaganda of the victor or the consolation of the loser. Our sympathies may be with the losers but that does not make their version of events more honest, objective, and impartial.
The aim of nationalist historians is not to learn but to teach. But teaching that is not preceded by learning is at best propaganda and at worst conditioning or brainwashing. Politics and history don’t mix. To allow politics or ideology to contaminate the study of history amounts to prostituting the past.
A final note on our revolutionaries: history judges us not by our intentions (remember the old adage: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”) but our actions; and actions have consequences. It follows, we should judge our revolutionaries not by their intentions but by the tragic consequences of their actions.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Saturday, December 22, 2007
How much of what I say is right? As a prejudiced observer I cannot be a reliable judge. You tell me! But instead of asking whether I am right, say, How right are those I quote and paraphrase, beginning with the Biblical dictum (“A house divided against itself cannot stand”) and Toynbee’s (“Civilizations are not killed, they commit suicide”).
As masters of the blame-game, our denialists assert they had nothing to do with our misfortunes, which amounts to saying, they reject all responsibility in shaping our tragic destiny, thus implying their role in our history has been that of nonentities or absentee landlords.
Writing in the 5th century, Movses Khorenatsi speaks of our divided and corrupt leadership (see his LAMENTATION, not to be confused with Naregatsi’s, which was written in the 10th century). Writing in the 20th century we have two distinguished witnesses who support Khorenatsi’s verdict: Avedik Issahakian (“our brainless leaders”) and Zarian (“Our political parties have been of no political use to us. Their greatest enemy is free speech.”) In our own days, listen to what Kocharian and Levon Der Bedrossian are saying about each other.
If I repeat myself, it’s because I don’t have a phobia of repetition. If you do, I suggest you see a shrink. If you can’t afford one, stop reading me. Never say I speak of problems without suggesting any solutions. But if you reject my solution to your problem and continue to read me, I thank you. Have a nice day.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Friday, December 21, 2007
He is one of those writers everyone praises but no one reads, except our academics who are unanimous in naming him our Dante and Shakespeare combined. But whereas every Italian and Englishman is brought up to learn a few lines from Dante and Shakespeare by heart, I have yet to meet the Armenian who can quote a single line from Naregatsi.
One reason Naregatsi is not a popular writer is that he cannot be said to be a cheerful fellow. His LAMENTATION is an endless catalogue of sins, failings, and vices. A typical passage reads: “I constantly have recourse to lies, / Never uttering the truth…/ I am diligent in malignant acts of ribaldry; / I am ever active in satanic inventions.”
In his INFERNO, Dante speaks of hell as if it were a real place. Naregatsi has a more modern, not to say, existential view on the subject. “Hell is me,” he seems to be saying. And if “hell is other people” (Sartre) it’s because there is a “me” in all of us. It follows, in the eyes of our holier-than-thou propagandists, Naregatsi is bad news. Because if we are as bad as Naregatsi tells us, then perhaps we deserved our fate. But Naregatsi does not write to promote self-loathing and despair. His final message is one of hope. Salvation is yours, he tells us, provided you plead guilty as charged and repent. Not exactly a condition that will be welcome by our charlatans who parade as paragons of virtue.
Naregatsi wrote in krapar (classical Armenian) but he is now available in both ashkharapar (the spoken idiom) and English (in an excellent translation by Mischa Kudian).
Naregatsi lived a thousand years ago, long before we were Ottomanized and Sovietized.
One way to define our holier-than-thou sanctimonious pricks and dealers in chauvinist crapola is to say, they are jackasses who believe, when they bray, they sound better than Pavarotti singing “Nessun dorma.”

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Baruir Sevak: "It is better to be a good reader
than a bad writer."
Karekin Nejdeh: "When a man falls down and
doesn’t have the will to stand up, no amount of
help will be of any use to him. It is the same
with a nation that does nothing but complain,
lament, and beg."
Anonymous: "The worship of money is a terminal
Raffi: "The message of the world is clear: If you
don’t learn how to kill, you forfeit your right
to exist."
Gostan Zarian: "If a thought cannot be expressed
in a few words it cannot be worth expressing."
Shmavon Hovsepian: "A jury of tigers, crocodiles,
wolves, and hyenas is not qualified to condemn to
death a cat guilty of killing a mouse."
Hagop Baronian: "Avarice is an addiction whose
eyes are bigger than its belly."


Thursday, December 20, 2007
Just when I think I am done with Armenians and their problems, a new one comes up or an old one that demands a novel approach. Who gives a damn about Armenians and their problems, anyway? Not even Armenians, it seems. I dream of the day when I will exhaust the subject and start writing love stories, adventure yarns, and murder mysteries. I love murder mysteries. I have read hundreds of Simenons… We all have our cross to bear. The smaller the nation, the heavier the cross.
If you want to convince a civilized man to behave like a barbarian, you tell him barbarians are at the gate even if there is no one there, and if there is one, he is either the gatekeeper or a harmless pilgrim.
Whenever I feel depressed, I console myself by saying that even those who hate me read me. Writers have this is common with women: they want to be irresistible.
Since there are no final answers, not even in science, every assertion is open to debate, provided of course the rules imposed on us by reason, common sense, common decency, and grammar are followed. And no one will ever succeed in convincing me that reason, common sense and decency, and grammar are anti-Armenian.
When I wrote flattering commentaries, I was published. When I wrote critical commentaries, I was published too. But when I started getting at the truth, I was silenced. Truth was my undoing.
I write for readers with an open mind. Not even the Good Lord can reach brainless idiots or, for that matter, brainy bastards. Consider the influence of the New Testament on the likes of Stalin (a seminarian) and his countless dupes, among them some very smart Armenians, like Anastas (ditto).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Wednesday, December 19, 2007
If we are unique, that’s because every individual, tribe, nation, or for that matter, snowflake and grain of sand is unique. Whether this uniqueness is an asset or a liability I will let you decide, provided you don’t adopt one of our ubiquitous dealers of chauvinist crapola as your guide. Speaking for myself, I will say that our uniqueness is not what concerns me. What concerns me is our problems and there is nothing – repeat, nothing -- unique about them. Corruption, incompetence, divisiveness, authoritarianism, prejudice, and intolerance are as old as mankind. So is unawareness of them or self-deception. We either confront our shortcomings and make an honest effort to overcome them or we pretend there is nothing we can do because they are an integral part of the human condition. Again, speaking for myself, I am all for calling a spade a spade, a charlatan a phony and a wheeler-dealer not a man of vision or a noble specimen of humanity but a low-life and a bottom feeder.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Tuesday, December 18, 2007
A community or a nation is not a congregation that will sing the same tune in unison. There will always be discordant voices. Get used to them. Our degree of tolerance and civilization depends on the manner in which we handle dissent.
I have been rereading Herodotus. What a great storyteller he was! Speaking of a certain Greek city-state, he writes that its citizens preferred tyranny to freedom. Impossible, I thought. Who in his right mind would choose tyranny when he can live in freedom? And then I thought of my fellow countrymen and remembered the words of our progressive and enlightened citizens (self-assessed of course) who tell us we are not yet ready for democracy. If by “we” they mean our leaders, they may be right. If they mean a fraction of the people that have been brainwashed, ditto. But I have no doubt whatever in my mind that, given a choice, the overwhelming majority will choose to live in a democracy. You want proof? Consider Armenians in the United States and Canada who did not immigrate en masse to Armenia under Stalin.
After centuries of oppression we have accumulated vast stores of resentment, anger, and bitterness. Our leaders are aware of this. That is why they channel this suppressed fury in the direction of the Turks. What motivates them to do that is self-preservation.
The chances of the unthinkable happening will be diminished if we think about it. If the unthinkable did happen it is because those who thought about it were ignored. “Zohrab effendi is exaggerating,” they said…
There is a type of critic (make it, kibitzer) who is so blinded by his own brilliance that he does not mind making an ass of himself. But he is smart enough to do so anonymously and dumb enough to add cowardice to narcissism.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Monday, December 17, 2007

“Nothing you say makes sense!” a reader writes; and another: “Tell us something we don’t know.” These two contradictory comments suggest that I may well be on the right track. But perhaps I am deluding myself.
I understand illusions. I have quite a few of them myself, as a matter of fact. I believe reason matters. I believe common sense is transferable. I believe explanations work. I think I may be able to make a difference. I like to hope where far better men than myself failed, I may succeed. Call it optimism run riot. Call it hubris. Whatever it is, it allows me to go on.
“You repeat yourself,” I am reminded once in a while. So do our Turcocentric pundits. So do our sermonizers who quote the Scriptures from hundreds of pulpits every Sunday. Has anyone ever dared to stand up and accuse them of repeating themselves? Once when I said as much in a commentary, the secretary of an archbishop wrote an angry letter to the editor in which she said: “How dare you, sir, comparing the trash you dish out [I am now abridging and paraphrasing] with the Holy Scriptures which happen to be the word of God?” My answer: Almost everything I write may be considered a paraphrase or variations on the Biblical dictum “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Scratch a defender of the status quo and expose a hireling for whom the establishment is manna.
There are no new ideas, only subtle adjustments of old ones.
I should like to meet an Armenian whose first impulse is to understand rather than to dismiss as absurd that which he makes no effort to understand.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Sunday, December 16, 2007
When the Greeks executed Socrates, they did not just kill a man but someone who represented the very best of Greek wisdom. To silence a thinker is like burning down a library.
The difference between an editor violating someone’s human right of free speech and a head of state ordering a massacre is one in degree. In both instances power is being abused at its maximum. Promote the editor (or a forum moderator) to head and state, and vice versa, demote a head of state to editor, and they will behave the same way.
Stalin or Hitler saying they have no use for intellectuals is the same as an architect saying he has no use for higher mathematics. The result will be buildings that collapse as surely as Stalin’s USSR and Nazi Germany did.
Hitler had no use for Jewish scientists. As a result, he lost to America some of Germany’s ablest minds, including Einstein. Had he been less of a racists, he would have won World War II and I would now be writing this in German. Toynbee is right: civilizations and empires are not killed, they commit suicide.
What our critics were saying about Levon Der Bedrossian and Robert Kocharian, they are now saying about each other; and if what they say is true, they both deserve the hangman’s noose.
Those who declare wars have a better chance to survive them than those who do the actual fighting.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


By Yeghishe Charents,


I - poet of Hayastan -
Fogbound land
Haunted by death -
I now sing
To all!
I sing
Once more
But why must I sing alone?
I, alone, and not they -
Who lived through and overpowered
These rough stormy days.

Under the sun, in the dust.
On foggy days dripping wet.
They strive, combat, and toil
In the grime of the soil.

And like sweat they flow
On the face of the earth -
As the wind hurls them hither and thither
And joins and mingles one with the other.

You may not be aware
That every humble workman
that toils hard all day long -
Carries in his iron lungs
A hundred, a thousand songs.

If you weren't aware of this
Hearken to my voice then,
Open your ears wide!
- for this world of ours
They are the only true bards!

And do you know what they sing?
What they sing and fashion? -
Songs of steel they sing,
Songs of fire and ardor.

They sing -
And their song
Towers over time
Immense, secure -
Their song -
The world -

Polytonal songs,
Miraculous songs.
Greetings, exalted companion!

Why should I sing alone?
Let all of them sing!
To all, to all, to all!

And why should he sing alone?
He alone - Nairi's Boghos -
Why not Ivan, Yousuf, Chung-Fu?
Who - brothers all under the skin -
Have known each other for years.

Haven't you heard? -
A Hun-yun from Tibet today
Can fly to Rashid, Petrograd. Tiflis
Or, like a windswept autumn leaf
A Garo - or Hugo for that matter -
Can fly and reach
Marseilles, Yerevan, Tifllis,
Peking, Chicago, Cairo.

O for some time now
The earth has changed
Into a short, tiny street
Yes, for some time now
From yellow-tinged Peking
A Chung-Fu can extend his hand
All the way to Nork and say:
Comrade Boghos, good day!

Why should he sing alone?
Let all men burst into song.
Let the whole world burst into song.
And chant!
And ring
And carol!

July 1914, Yerevan

Astafian Street.
On the road.
Deep in thought
Boghos, a workman,

Under the broiling sun.
Weary and exhausted.
He walks along.
It is stifling hot.
Summer. High noon.
The oppressive air.
The dusty road.
Urged on by his thoughts
Boghos hurries along.

Heat and dust;
oppressive - as always.
Everywhere -
Icy, water,
People. Carts. People.

And no one can guess
That on Astafian Street now,
A miracle will come to pass . . . .

And the miracle - it was very simple . . .
Suddenly a drop of sweat
From the workman's forehead

(As urged on by the heat he hurried along)
Fell in the dust on the road.

It fell and for an instant
Reflected the infinite space
And the sun - a distant spark.

And suddenly from that drop of sweat.
That had fallen in the dust -
Countless armies rose!
Immense, audacious, fearless . . . .

Soldiers by the million rose,
Warriors of iron and bronze -
Toilers all like Boghos
Without hope, without arms.

They suddenly rose
From the dust of the road -
Fearless warriors by the million

Mighty men at arms.

Swords blazed and sabres shone,
Brave voices burst into song,
Red flags and crimson flags
Flew and rippled with frenzy.

It happened on Astafian Street
Under the broiling hot sun
As workman Boghos advanced
His eyes fixed in the distance.

No one, but no one saw.
It happened in a single instant.
Then - the wheels of a cart crunched
On the dusty, oppressive road.

(Let me explain this miracle
By mentioning that ]
Boghos was on his way
To see an old friend
Who had spoken to him
Of events of enormous import
That were about to take place
And that the hour of the great struggle
Was . . . .)

Astafian Street.
Dormant repose.
Dust in the eyes.
A quiet. peaceful town.
And "Ayi! Ayi! Ay!!"
The braying
Of an ass,
To an ass,
By an ass . . . .

A drowsy ass.
Like a pleasant dream -
Summer dust -
Yerevan . . . .


And innkeeper Hamo
Grumbled about the heat,
Longing for the light,
Sweet breeze of spring . . . .

The world was a dusty road
Where lived
A Hamo,
A Garo,
A Boghos.

As in a dream Hamo saw
In the sunny distant road
Himself - Hamo
Perched on the sun
Feet dangling
Humming a song . . . .
And mentally counting
- Eleven . . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . .

The wine of the sun flows . . .
But business is slow . . .
Soon it will be evening -
And he will go home
To return
Once more
On the morrow . . . .

The sun will rise again,
The heat will be oppressive
And in that heavy torpor
Will anyone ask
For wine and liquor?

Such were the dreams
Of drowsy, weary Hamo;
The world - a hot dusty, road,
- Morning,
And night . . . .

Innkeeper Hamo's soul was blind
To such things as miracles
And when they came and said "War!" -
He did not budge and inch.

He did not hear, or feel, or grasp.
Was it like a wedding perhaps? -
Where red wine would flow and flow
Without measure . . . . without end . . . .

And when evening came
And he rose to go home
He heard everyone shout:
- War. War! War!


Did you hear?
They rose -
Huge armies, ironclad.
Did you hear?
They rose-
In battlefields
Around the globe.
They rose
And they marched
From the Urals to the Carpathians
And from the Carpathians to Erzerum,
And from Erzerum - to Tripoli and Rome.

They came from all directions -
From New York they came,
From the islands of Tahiti
And from distant Baghdad -

They came -
And they came
Like windswept dust
From London - Peking.
Sarikamash -
Like dust they came
In a raging storm.

And they roared -
"Vo-vo-vo - Vo-vo" -
Dry-throated cannon -
"Vo-vo" -
And night.


And it was thus
Soldiers by the million
Confronted one another -
From Baghdad to Berlin.
And from Berlin to Calais
And Dover

From many worlds
And many shores
From New York to Peking
From the Urals to Milan.

Thus it was
That the world mingled
From one end to the other
And entire cities of flesh
Confronted one another.

Under the broiling hot rays
of the nearby sun
The earth seemed to rot
Like a stinking carrion.

Thus it was
Didn't you hear?
Didn't you see in your dark heart
That thousands perished
In a single black night.



Astafian Street.
Innkeeper Hamo in his chair.

The road - toothless mouth
Is now filled with refugees -
On the wet sidewalks,
Endless files of refugees.

Thus it was
That innkeeper Hamo
Longed for the light
Sweet breeze of spring.

And he thought:
The Russians by now
Must have reached Baghdad -
Have these people
Escaped from Bitlis,
From Mush, from Baghdad?

Why are they here
And not in Bitlis. Bassen -
Has not
Invincible Antranik
Marched into Erzerum? . . . .

With these thoughts in his head
Hamo went home to relax
As an orphan lay dying
On the sidewalk by his inn.

Thus it was.
Innkeeper Hamo
Did not even see Boghos,
Now a soldier,
Reach Paramushir . . . .

And when business was slow
To keep himself awake
He sang again and again
"My beloved Hairenik . . . ."



That is to say - Nairi.


Crossroads of continents
Where East and West meet
Stands ancient Nairi -
A blood-stained
Question mark
Like a dream
Driven deep into past -
Is that not Nairi? . . . . .

The days are flying
Days of fire -
Flying fast . . . .

Shall I grasp your soul
And hurl it
like an iron disk -
Hurl it into the future . . . .
They are now
Re-building the world -
Re-building it
Street by street -
A Muscovite workman
By the name of Ivan,
A Chung-Fu,
A Hans,
A Boghos -



Now -
Everywhere -
Can you hear?
Bells ringing . . . .
Ringing with defiance!

I tell you the world has become
A street of universal joy
And a Chung-Fu from Peking
Drinks and shouts
-To your health, Boghos!

And if my bright hopes
Were to turn to ashes
I shall continue to sing
Hosannas to you
Mighty iron-brother!

And if these days of fire
Were to end in disaster
I shall continue to sing -
Sing your glorious deeds
I - a feeble
Final voice . . . .

(Translated by Ara Baliozian)


There is an old tale
About a boy
An only son
Who fell in love with a lass.
“You don’t love me,
You never did,” said she to him.
“But if you do, go then
And fetch me your mother’s heart.”
Downcast and distraught
The boy walked off
And after shedding copious tears
Came back to his love.
The girl was angry
When she saw him thus
And said, “Don’t you dare come back again
Without your mother’s heart.”
The boy went and killed
A mountain roe deer
And offered its heart
To the one he adored.
But again she was angry
And said, “Get out of my sight.
I told you what I want
Is your mother’s heart.”
The boy went and killed
His mother, and as he ran
With her heart in his hand
He slipped and fell.
“My dear child,
My poor child,”
Cried the mother’s heart,
“Did you hurt yourself?”
(Translated by Ara Baliozian)

more quotes

"I am called a dog because
I fawn on those who give me anything,
I yelp at those who refuse,
and I sink my teeth in rascals."

"Truly, if I were not Alexander
I would wish to be Diogenes."


Raffi: "Collaboration [with the enemy] and betrayal
are in our blood."

Gostan Zarian: "Armenians survive by cannibalizing one

Nigoghos Sarafian: "Our history is a litany of
lamentation, anxiety, horror, and massacre. Also
deception and abysmal naivete mixed with the smoke of
incense and the sound of sacred chants."

Shahan Shahnour: "The enemy is not the Turk but us."

Yeghishe: "If a nation is ruled by two kings, both the
kings and their subjects will perish."


Saturday, December 15, 2007
Where charlatans are in charge,
honest men will be silenced.
Where ignoramuses are in charge,
knowledge will be outlawed.
Where the blind are in charge,
the one-eyed will be blinded.
I don’t tell you things I already know.
I tell you things that I discover as I write.
Why should I trust the judgment of underdogs whose sole ambition in life is to be top dogs so that they will have the pleasure of stepping on underdogs, even when the underdogs happen to be their brothers?
The worst mistake we can make is to assume that Comrade Panchoonie is a character in a satirical novel by Yervant Odian written a century ago. Every other day I get a letter from him that ends with the word “mi kich pogh…” something similar could be said of Hagop Baronian’s “honorable beggars.” Characters in great literary works live much longer than their creators. Or rather, great writers achieve immortality through the characters they create.
Our standards have fallen so low that every panchoonie, honorable beggar, and ghazetaji parades as a defender of the faith and the savior of the nation.
What if I am wrong? There is always that possibility, of course. In my defense I will say that if only the infallible were allowed to speak, the only voice would be that of the Pope of Rome, we would all be Catholics, and Latin would be the most widely spoken language in the world.
I.B. Singer: “I am not a vegetarian for the sake of my health, but for the health of the chickens. For animals, every day is Treblinka.”

Friday, December 14, 2007


Friday, December 14, 2007
When nine out of ten are unanimous in believing one thing, go with the tenth, for believing and thinking are mutually exclusive concepts.
I disagree with anyone who holds views that were mine thirty years ago; and if I don’t stand on ceremony with them it may be because I don’t stand on ceremony with myself.
The man who views the world and his fellow men in black and white terms, as opposed to shades of gray, will invariably classify himself as all white even when he is pitch black.
If character is destiny, as the ancient Greeks thought, the question we should ask is: To what extent our character as a nation has been shaped by 600 years of Ottoman oppression followed by 60 years of Bolshevik tyranny? If this question has so far gone unanswered it may be because our nationalists and masters of the blame-game have done their utmost to ignore or cover up that aspect of our identity.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Thursday, December 13, 2007
Political lies have been with us for a long time. Even Plato discusses them in his Dialogues, which where written 2500 years ago.
No one lies as surely as he who speaks in the name of truth or God. In the Bible we read that God asked Cain where Abel was, the implication being that Cain knew something God did not. And Cain replied: “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).
Speaking of lies, murder, and brotherhood: Our Turcocentric ghazetajis tell us they don’t hate Turks. Their sole aim, they say, is justice. But justice, like truth, is an abstraction. No one has ever laid eyes on it. Instead of abstractions, let’s speak of reality. The truth about reality is that we cannot speak about it, only fractions of it. That’s because we have only a limited number of words and reality has an infinite number of levels and complexities. That’s one reason why when we speak we lie.
Does that mean Cain did not kill Abel? No. Of course not! It only means we don’t know why Cain became a murderer. Was it envy? Why should envy lead to murder? What is envy? What has made us capable of envy? Or rather, who has instilled envy in man? For what purpose? The infinite number of complexities generates an equal number of questions until the final one, which is also Cain’s: We don’t know because we are not God’s keeper.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Wednesday, December 12, 2007
In one of his books Ben Bagdikian says that conservatives like Murdoch, Conrad Black, and Buckley control most of the media in America, and yet they bitch about the liberal media. Something similar could be said about our own pro-establishment right wingers, who control not only our media but also our community centers, schools, university chairs, and institutions. Hence the misconception that we never had it so good because we are in good hands. As for the one or two minor problems, like our mafia democracy in the Homeland: they will fix themselves in twenty or thirty years. What about dissenting voices? What dissenting voices? I don’t hear them. They don’t hear them because they have been ruthlessly and systematically silenced.
There is a tendency in America to exaggerate the importance of words spoken in anger – Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic tirade when arrested for drunk driving, for instance. When angry we say things we don’t always mean. I have myself said many harsh things in anger even about my mother whom I love very much. That doesn’t make me anti-motherhood or for that matter, God forbid, anti-apple pie.
Speaking of motherhood: some Armenians look down at fellow Armenians who cannot speak their mother tongue. To them I ask: What’s the use of speaking Armenian if the sentiments you express are Ottoman?
I have been called a variety of names, none of them remotely close to honest. And yet, that has been my sole aim in life: to be an honest witness.
If you think you are a better Armenian, it is of course your privilege to do so and I will say nothing to disabuse you -- only warn you: if you expect all Armenians to agree with you, be prepared to be disappointed and end your days as a bitter old man.
As for our ultra-conservative Turcocentric pundits and their ubiquitous, predictable, and cliché-ridden commentaries: the only way to describe them is to say they are ideal instances of diarrhea of words and constipation of ideas.
As Brahms used to say on his way out from a party: “I apologize to anyone I may have neglected to offend.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Tuesday, December 11, 2007
If Armenians and their endless petty little problems bore you, join the club. If I go on writing about them it’s not because I am overly fond of them or would like to solve their problems (no one can do that except themselves) but because I want to understand my fellow men. To be bored with Armenians means to be bored with mankind, and ultimately with oneself.
We are a microcosm. If we are a failure as a nation, so is mankind. The history of mankind is a disaster area because the average man is a dupe at the mercy of megalomaniacal, self-satisfied frauds who will say and do anything in defense of their powers and privileges. The list of sultans, kings, presidents, popes, and chief executive officers who abused their positions of trust or preached virtue and practiced vice stretches to infinity.
Athens executed Socrates, Florence exiled Dante, Russia excommunicated Tolstoy, India assassinated Gandhi. You may now draw your own conclusions.
When charlatans and dupes conspire, they end up praising honesty and burying honest men.
To say that God punishes men for their transgressions is to misrepresent reality. It is man that punishes himself. The real tragedy of Oedipus is not that he killed his father and had sex with his mother but that he thought by blinding himself he could avoid seeing reality.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Monday, December 10, 2007
Q: Do you classify yourself as a good Armenian?
A: Frankly, I am so busy trying to be an honest man that I don’t even think about being an Armenian, let alone a good one.
Q: What do you say to readers who are outraged by what you write?
A: I say, Relax! We have survived centuries of oppression by brutal tyrants, countless wars, massacres, deportation, destitution, life in alien slums…we can survive the opinions of a minor scribbler who may well be, in your own estimation, a misguided fool.
Q: What it’s like writing for Armenians?
A: A butcher delivering a lecture to an audience of brain surgeons may be in a better position to answer that question.
Q: Do you think you have had any influence on our policy-makers?
A: Hell no! Even if I were a thousand times smarter and lived as long as Methuselah I doubt if I could change the mind of a single dupe who is brainwashed to believe he is too smart to be deceived.
Q: What’s the hardest thing about being honest?
A: Trying not to give in to the temptation of being dishonest and remembering all those instances in the past when I failed.
Q: Any projects?
A: Many.
Q: Such as?
A: A dictionary of Armenian misconceptions, which I will never write because it may well be as long as WAR AND PEACE and THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV combined.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


Sunday, December 09, 2007
Organized religions are popular for the same reason that Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini were: people hate to think for themselves. Shaw once said that he has made a fortune and enjoys an international reputation as a clever man because he takes the trouble to think for himself once or twice a year.
Everything that is popular is based on a misconception, which is also why astrology is popular too.
Organized religions contradict one another – Christians and Muslims believe in an Almighty God; Buddhists don’t. That doesn’t mean one is right and the other wrong. That only means, if God exists, you must live your life as if He didn’t, because God will not do your thinking for you for the simple reason that He has given you a brain, which happens to be a valuable piece of equipment that is a miracle of design as mysterious and incomprehensible as the universe itself.
The hardest thing about writing is convincing philistines that you are worth listening to.
Because I refuse to be a fool among fools I am called all kinds of nasty names, including infidel and atheist.
Once upon a time we trusted our destiny on dividers, sultans, commissars, and charlatans (both foreign and domestic) and when things started going wrong we blamed it on bloodthirsty neighbors, bad location, and the Almighty Himself, never on our brainless leaders and their dupes, namely ourselves.
My favorite 11th commandment: Thou shalt be self-reliant.
God does not sermonize or speechify; mullahs, priests, and charlatans do that.
We have become a bunch of whiners -- compliments of our nationalist historians and Turcocentric pundits who are masters of the blame game.
Thou shalt not ask God to do your thinking for you.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


Saturday, December 08, 2007
Propaganda is cunningly tailored to have (i) mass appeal, (ii) to be accessible to the average dupe, and (iii) to flatter his ego. By contrast, understanding reality or getting at the truth is an infinitely more demanding and sometimes even painful enterprise. Consider as a case in point the word survival as used by our propagandists. The nation survived, granted, but its best brains did not; neither did the best part of our own critical faculties. That is why when someone like Zarian, Shahnour, or Massikian tries to explain what really happened to us, we turn against him. That is also why I have trouble reaching Armenians who confuse ideology with theology, or politics with religion. Faith or a closed system of thought cannot be shaken by common sense and logic. Faith can only be replaced by another faith or closed system of thought. To put it differently, explanations work only with people with open minds. Hence the sorry spectacle of a sanctimonious prick or dealer in chauvinist crapola parading as a leader of men, defender of the faith, and savior of the nation.

Friday, December 7, 2007


Friday, December 07, 2007
The two most incompatible things in the world: dishonesty and sunlight.
You ask me if I would be willing to die for my country. Allow me to introduce my answer by saying, the only reason my country has not yet killed me is that I have been beyond its reach.
In an English literary magazine I read a book review by a historian that ends with the words: “How many policy-makers know their history well enough to learn from its lessons?” I should like to see such a sentence produced by one of our dime-a-dozen pundits who are masters of the blame-game.
“I heard you have become a pessimist,” an old friend whom I have not seen for fifty years tells me. And I reflect that where illusions and lies are dominant, truth and reality will be anathema. When Krikor Zohrab predicted the Genocide, they said, “Zohrab effendi is exaggerating.” And because I question the honesty of our pundits and propagandists, I am thought of as a pessimist.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


Thursday, December 06, 2007
************ ********* ********* ********* *******
In America the higher your rise on the greasy pole the more of your posterior you expose. The average American today probably knows more about the Clintons than about his next-door neighbors. What do I know about our own leaders? Just their names and sometimes not even that. “I once called the Catholicos in Etchmiadzin,” a friend tells me, “and it was the KGB that answered.” When a Ramgavar semi-boss once promised to pay me a goodly sum if I undertook the task of writing profiles of prominent Ramgavars, I informed him I didn’t even know who they were, neither was I interested to know. Speaking of bosses, I am reminded of another incident with one of our national benefactors – let’s call him Jack S. Avanakian – who wanted me to translate his father’s youthful diary. “I translate only literary works,” I explained and added: “I am not aware of anyone by the name of Avanakian who has written a single line worth translating.” On the subject of jackasses: Did you know that our writers refer to one another as “boys”? I once heard an 80-year old writer say about Zarian: “I knew him – he was a good degha!” This was at a convention of Armenian writers (my first and last) during which I heard another writer refer to a national benefactor as “baron.” “Baron Jack S. Avanakian would not be interested in supporting such a project,” said he. I was a newcomer then and the thought occurred to me that I had landed not only on a different continent but also on another planet.

Of all fears, fear of free speech is the most cowardly.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Wednesday, December 05, 2007
You cannot argue with someone who is in a position to silence you. He has much more to lose than an argument. He stands to lose his infallibility. And no one can make an ass of himself as surely as he who thinks himself to be infallible.
I have said this before and it bears repeating: the need to assert superiority is the surest symptom of inferiority.
The only way for the inferior to come to terms with himself is to think he is better than others; and the only way to reach that objective is by being his own dupe. The problem with dupes is that they feel justified in deceiving others, as if to say, if deception is good enough for me, it should be good enough for you too.
To confuse visible Armenians (fund-raisers, speechifiers, ghazetajis, wheeler-dealers) with their invisible counterparts would be like confusing la crème de la scum with la crème de la crème. I know many hard working, decent Armenians who have never delivered a speech or made a headline in any one of our papers; Armenians who do not pretend to know and understand more than they do; Armenians who have not written a single line for publication.
It is better to do nothing than to do the wrong thing. It is better to know nothing than to know the wrong thing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Tuesday, December 04, 2007
“You call us dividers as if that’s all we have done,” an angry friend tells me during a recent telephone conversation, and goes on: “Why don’t you ever mention the many positive contributions we have made to the community and the nation?”
I say nothing. I have learned never to contradict an angry Armenian.
Dear friend, if you are reading these lines, I would invite you to consider the case of the butler who after serving his master faithfully for fifty years, he poisons him. At his trial and in his defense he says to the judge: “Your Honor, the prosecution and its witnesses speak of me as if I were a murderer. I suggest that is a gross distortion of my character.”
Or consider the case of a surgeon who kills a patient in a botched operation. When taken to court he says: “I have performed many successful operations. There are hundreds of people alive today because of me. And here I am being treated as a common criminal.”
What I am trying to say is that we all have a role to play in the community. We all make a living for our positive contributions. No one gets a raise or a medal for his blinders or crimes. And when a man, after being a law-abiding citizen all his life, breaks the law, he has no choice but to pay the penalty.
I don’t believe in capital punishment but I would gladly make an exception in the case of a political boss whose number one concern is number one. As for a political leader who declares a war he cannot win, I say impeachment is too good for him. I believe the only honorable course of action for such a leader is to follow Hitler’s example and shoot himself. Finally, I urge you to consider the case of revolutionaries who rise against an empire they cannot topple and as a result of their failure millions of innocent civilians die...

Monday, December 3, 2007


Monday, December 03, 2007
Those who are at the root of our problems will at no time admit we, or rather they, have problems, and if they have them, they can be solved, and if they can be solved it is up to them to solve them. Denialism is a favored word of ours provided of course it’s of the Turkish variant. As for Armenian denialism: we don’t even acknowledge its existence.
The Fascist general who drove Miguel de Unamuno out of his university at gunpoint in 1936 is said to have screamed “Death to Intelligence,” and “Long live Death.” Shortly thereafter Unamuno had a heart attack and died.
Ours is the wisdom of former slaves whose secret ambition is to emulate their former masters.
It’s easy to apologize after you step on someone’s foot. But how do you apologize for leading a million and half innocent human beings to the slaughterhouse? That’s why neither their leadership nor ours will ever apologize to the people.
My land, my people, my home, my rivers, my lakes, valleys and mountains, my backyard, my chickens. But never – never! – my blunders.
They brag about our victories and blame our defeats on others. If it were up to our propagandists, we would be the only nation on earth that has never committed a blunder or lost a single war.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Sunday, December 02, 2007
In a recent widely circulated commentary I read a list of our problems so long that it reminded me of the celebrated Stanislaw Lec aphorism “No snowflake in the avalanche ever feels responsible.”
If, instead of making long lists of problems we concentrate on those who create them, we may end up with Avedik Issahakian’s triad: “earthquakes, bloodthirsty neighbors, and brainless leaders.”
Problems like corruption, divisions that make no sense and serve no purpose, intolerance, xenophobia, Turcocentrism, incompetence, exodus from the Homeland, assimilation in the Diaspora, cultural decline, an appalling rate of unemployment, poverty, absence of solidarity, among others, have a single source: the undemocratic character of our institutions or the absence of accountability in our leadership.
In an authoritarian environment (and I say authoritarian to avoid saying Ottoman) problems will be explained and justified by saying they are extensions of political conditions and environmental factors beyond our control.
A partisan press will at no time shoulder responsibility so long as it can blame it on the opposition. Those who divide us will even go as far as saying that they divide us for our own good, to save us from the evil plans of their adversaries.
Where there is no free press, problems will proliferate until they become an avalanche, which will be explained as an act of god, and those responsible will emerge as innocent as a snowflake.
Now, suppose a small group of pundits come together and issue a number of recommendations, who will listen to them? Who will even acknowledge their existence?
Brainless leaders? Rather, brainy enough to make number one their number one concern and make it look like they are dedicated to the challenging task of saving the nation.
Speaking of our problems: you will find a pretty good list in Khorenatsi’s “Lamentation” written fifteen centuries ago. Which may suggest that it is not unawareness of our problems that makes them hard to solve but irresponsible leaders who might as well be deaf, dumb, dim, dull, and dense.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Saturday, December 01, 2007
Aznavour in a recent interview published in PARIS MATCH on his “Benetton family”:
“We are of all colors and creeds. My daughter’s husband is Muslim, I am Gregorian, my wife is Protestant. With such a family one is in a better position to understand other people’s problems. To have many cultures is great!”
On Reading:
“For an illiterate I am an avid reader. I have a huge library – all of Guitry and Simenon. At the moment I am rereading Proust for the third time. First time he was a pain…second time hard going…third time magnificent.”
On Politics:
“My wife threatens to divorce me if I ever run for office in Armenia.”
On Old Age:
“My age [83] is an interesting one. It doesn’t bother me one bit. But it seems to matter to others.”
On an Armenian Idiosyncrasy:
“In Armenia they all speak foreign languages. My mother spoke Greek and Turkish. My dad spoke Armenian and Russian. Though not Jewish, he understood Yiddish. All his life he spoke French with an accent so thick you could cut it with a knife.”

Friday, November 30, 2007


Friday, November 30, 2007
You have nothing to lose but your dividers.
A divider who speaks in the name of the nation is a liar.
There is only one way for a liar to think truth is on his side and that is by lying to himself.
The best way to deceive people is to tell them they are too smart to be deceived.
Dogmas, be they religious or ideological, in whose name we are divided are lies.
If there is a god and if there is life after death, we may know the truth, but until then we are destined to know only a fraction of it; and a fraction of the truth can be more misleading and dangerous than a lie.
A divider, no matter how wise, honest, and selfless, cannot speak in the name of the nation, only a fraction of it, and more often than not, an extremely tiny fraction.
A divider who portrays himself as a savior is in reality a gravedigger. His prototype is the revolutionary in the Ottoman Empire.
Armenians who identify themselves as Armenians and say they are proud of their identity form only a tiny fraction of the nation. The overwhelming majority have been successfully marginalized, alienated, assimilated, silenced, and reduced to the status of non-persons. But they exist as surely as any one of our bosses, bishops, and benefactors. They may even be better human beings if only because they deceive no one by parading as saviors during the day and turning into gravediggers at night.
Armenians of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your gravediggers.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Thursday, November 29, 2007
Not being a megalomaniac with messianic ambitions, I don’t claim to be in the business of saving the nation. Far better men than myself have tried and failed in that particular endeavor. Besides, no one can save a nation that has condemned itself to the death of a thousand self-inflicted cuts. My sole aim is to show that those who parade as our saviors are no better than swindlers who have learned nothing from history.
You cannot shape the future of a nation without taking into account the lessons of the past or ignoring its central message, which is as accessible as the biblical dictum “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” And because I have been saying as much I have been silenced and ostracized. A psychoanalyst’s job is to shed light on the dark corners of the psyche. A historian’s job is to expose blunders in order that they may not be repeated in the future. A surgeon’s job is to cut out diseased tissue that may threaten the body. Taking away a writer’s freedom of speech is like taking away a surgeon’s scalpel.
No man is an island. No one speaks just for himself. To violate the free speech of a single individual is to willfully ignore the views of a fraction of the community, which also means to further divide the nation. And why? All because “our betters” are too arrogant to admit they are nothing of the kind. What they are is human beings like the rest of us, capable of making mistakes – some of them petty, others of colossal dimensions.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Wednesday, November 28, 2007
************ ********* ********* ********* ******
When some American diplomats opposed the recognition of our genocide, one of our Turcocentric pundits produced a widely circulated commentary titled “If our friends do it it’s not genocide.” Only an Armenian who does not understand history and has no conception of diplomacy could come up with such a headline.
Nations have neither friends nor enemies. They have interests. It happens to be in the interests of Washington today not to go against the wishes of Ankara not because Turks are friends but because they are more useful to them than we are. That’s all there is to it.
Because at the turn of the last century we thought the friendship of the Great Powers made us invulnerable, we rose, or rather our naïve revolutionaries did, against the Turks, and the Turks retaliated. One could say that our greatest tragedy was a direct result of the fact that we failed to understand the meaning of the word friendship in a historic or diplomatic context.
Now you may be in a better position to understand why medieval Jewish scribes thought a single misplaced word or letter in the Holy Scriptures may result in the destruction of the world.

"Our political parties have been of no political use to us.
Their greatest enemy is free speech"
Gostan Zarian

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Tuesday, November 27, 2007
We should cherish our blunders for they are our greatest source of wisdom, provided of course they are acknowledged as such.
What have we learned from our genocide besides blaming it on others? If genocide cannot teach us anything, what can? If you say faith in God is the highest wisdom, then the question we must ask is: Where was God when we needed Him most? I am not questioning His existence, only affirming His refusal to micromanage human affairs.
God has given us a brain with which to think for ourselves. I am not saying reason is a substitute for God. What I am saying is, reason is one of His attributes, in the same way that arrogance is one of the Devil’s. And is not speaking in the name of God the height of arrogance?
If subservience to authority is the enemy of reason, what could be more irrational than subservience to bosses (who speak in the name of ideology), bishops (who speak in the name of God), and benefactors (who speak in the name of capital)?*
How many of our thoughts are our own? Can a man who is infatuated with his ignorance think? Allowing oneself to be brainwashed – is that not an offense against reason and God? And if we are unteachable, do we not condemn ourselves to being genocidable? Hence our unawareness of the fact that during the last hundred years we have been implementing the Ottoman policy of extermination by other means, that is, with our own version of “white massacre,” – namely, exodus from the Homeland and assimilation in the Diaspora.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Monday, November 26, 2007
When I went into this business I made a solemn promise to myself to be rude to no one, and for a number of years I kept my promise. I kept my promise until I realized that in our environment a writer, especially one that is not yet dead -- preferably butchered by a foreign tyrant -- is seen as a harmless drudge who will say anything and flatter any ego for less than minimum wage. There was another serious flaw in my promise that I became aware of only much letter. A morally superior stance towards individuals who consider their own moral superiority as an undeniable fact may easily be misinterpreted as cowardice or subservience. To put it more bluntly, moral superiority does not work with politically ambitious bullies who pretend to know better what’s good for the nation.
Behind every one of our defeats, catastrophes, and tragedies you will find megalomaniacal bullies who have been successful only in fooling themselves and a handful of followers into believing they are not meddlers and frauds but men of vision whose sole aim in life is to serve the nation.
I suggest next time we build a monument to victims, we should include all victims regardless of race, color, and creed. To do otherwise is to go against the central tenet of all major religions, including our own, namely, that all men are brothers.#

Sunday, November 25, 2007

the meaning

Sunday, November 25, 2007
************************************************* The aim of all ideologies, religions, and philosophical systems is to introduce meaning into a meaningless world. Any meaning is better than no meaning. Hence the eagerness with which a belief system (from the highest religion to the lowest cult) is embraced by the unthinking. Breakdowns occur when a belief system loses its creative impetus and fails to evolve and adapt to the new reality. After a succession of defeats in the hands of barbarians, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, the favorite goddess of the Athenians, lost her eminence and legitimacy. One could also say that the Athenians betrayed and abandoned Athena or wisdom itself when they condemned to death Socrates, the wisest among them. Something similar happened to Communism when it degenerated to Stalinism, which denied the validity of dialectical progression, which is based on dissent.After evolving from a jealous tribal chieftain to one that is committed to the brotherhood of all men, the Christian god lost his legitimacy when it degenerated to racism, nationalism, and capitalism, which divided mankind into antagonistic groups – superior and inferior races, friends and enemies, workers and exploiters – all of which stand in direct contradiction to the brotherhood of all men. For meaning can be as cruel as the god of the Old Testament: deviate an inch, or fail to evolve, or lose your creative impetus and face catastrophe.#

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Thursday, November 22, 2007
Of all fears, fear of free speech is the most cowardly.*Where there is deception there will also be fear of free speech.*A deceiver’s greatest fear is being exposed as a deceiver.*You may manipulate reality up to a point, after which reality will manipulate you. It happened to Napoleon. It happened to Hitler. It happened to our revolutionaries. And it’s happening today to Bush, the leader of the mightiest empire in the world.*Sooner or later we have no choice but to come to terms with reality as with death and taxes. How do we do that is up to each one of us. What I have been recounting in brief notes and essays so far is an outline of my own way, which may not be yours. In which case you must devise your own. To place your hopes on others is to forfeit your freedom and ultimately to be disappointed.*When Europe entered its Dark Age, Armenia experienced a Golden Age. But when Europe experienced a Renaissance, we entered a Dark Age, which was to last 600 years that culminated in a series of massacres and dispersion; and in the Homeland, a civil war, and another Dark Age under a series of ruthless tyrants. As for freedom from the Soviet yoke, independence, and victory over the Azeris: I am told there are Armenians today who miss the good old days under Stalin. *Our Dark Age is not yet over because we continue to be at the mercy of leaders who masquerade as shepherds and are fearful of free speech because they run the risk of being exposed as swindlers on their way to the slaughterhouse.
Friday, November 23, 2007
When, during World War I, the Japanese forced Korean women into prostitution, they called them “comfort women” – their comfort and the Koreans’ degradation.Some words share this in common with the moon -- they have a dark side, which we ignore at our peril. Case in point: patriotism and nationalism don’t just mean love of one’s nation but also hatred not only of enemy nations but also fellow countrymen who do not agree with us. I just finished reading a collection of interviews with some of the most bloodthirsty and ruthless dictators of the 20th century (among them Idi Amin Dada, Bokassa, Duvalier, Mengistu, and Milosevic). As you may have guessed by now, one of their favorite words is patriotism.*When we describe ourselves we also confess because we use words whose dark side we ignore. It is not at all unusual for an Armenian to speak or even to brag about his Armenian identity even as he exposes his Ottomanism. Which is why we need impartial and objective analysts much more than the Vatican needs devil’s advocates. If the Pope blunders and makes a saint out of a rascal, he harms no one. But when a political leader blunders, the result may well be defeat, massacre, and genocide.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Armenians have been so systematically divided that no matter which side of an issue you take you will have 50% support – or rather 5%, because Armenians have also been so thoroughly alienated or marginalized that they stay away from all controversies and community affairs. Their stance may be described as somewhere between “a plague on both your houses” and "mart bidi ch’ellank.”*Speaking of Turkish pundits, Orhan Pamuk writes: “They presume to be experts on everything, because they seem to have an answer to any question…[they are] “Professors of Everything.” That’s another thing we share in common with Turks: dime-a-dozen pundits with more answers than questions.*“Is there life after death?” a reader wants to know. I don’t know. That’s a question for bishops. I am only a minor scribbler. I don’t even know if there is life after birth.*A master of the blame-game is never wrong.*There is no hatred as vicious as the hatred of a charlatan suddenly and publicly unmasked.*It is not enough to be against Turks; one must also be for something. Neither is it enough to be for Armenians: one must choose between the bloodsuckers and their victims.*Silencing dissenters only postpones the inevitable catastrophe.#

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

An interview with a famous Armenian writer Ara Baliozian

Ara Hakopian: Ara, your works have been translated into French, German, Greek, Spanish, Dutch, and Armenian. Several months ago your book “The Horrible Silence” was published in a Russian translation. This is the first time you have been translated and published in Russian. What are your expectations from the Russian edition and from the Russian-speaking reader in general?

Ara Baliozian: Like all writers my first and most important ambition is to be read, understood and appreciated, or rather in our case, not to be misunderstood.

A.H.: You are 70 years old. You have dedicated much of your life to literature, Armenian literature to be more precise. Why?
A.B.: I love all literatures regardless of race, color, and creed. I went into translating Armenian writers into English because I thought our translators had ignored some of our ablest writers.

A.H.: Have you ever regretted that decision?
A.B.: No, never! Sometimes I even think it was not a decision but an inevitable turning point in my life that I had no choice but to accept and adapt. As a boy in Greece I had the awareness and values of a barbarian. In Venice I discovered civilization. When I came to Canada at the age of twenty I had no qualifications whatever. I worked at a variety of jobs for minimum wage in department stores, factories, and insurance companies. These were not the happiest years of my life – the cultural shock, the complexities of the English language, the isolation, and life in the middle of nowhere… What saved me was the wonderful Canadian library system. I spent most of my free time reading. I couldn’t afford doing anything else anyway. I saved as much as I could for an early retirement.

A.H.: What is the hardest thing about being an Armenian writer?
A.B.: Survival.

A.H.: By that you mean–
A.B.: Literally, survival… making minimum wage. I have noticed that, whenever I say that to an activist or a partisan, he pretends surprise. “I didn’t know that!” he says. But the first question that I am asked again and again by ordinary Armenians is: “If you are a full-time writer, how do you survive?”

A.H.: Were there moments when you were desperate and thought about quitting literature?
A.B.: Yes, of course. But literature and music, especially organ music, never lost their fascination for me. I spent most of my free time reading and working on the organ and the piano. After I quit my job as a clerk in an insurance company, I became the permanent organist in a Catholic church; also a piano teacher at home.

A.H.: I suppose you like Bach?
A.B.: It would be more accurate to say that I worship him; if there is one thing that I regret is that unlike Wanda Landowska, Albert Schweitzer, and Glenn Gould, I have not dedicated my life to him.

A.H.: Did it take you long to publish your first book since you decided to dedicate your life to literature on a full-time basis?
A.B.: For many years after we came to Canada I had no hope of being an Armenian writer. Instead I became a Canadian writer, producing work for Canadian audiences, fiction, radio plays, and essays. Then in 1975 on the 60th anniversary of the Genocide a friend from Toronto asked me to write a brief introductory pamphlet on Armenians to be distributed freely to Canadians. The brief pamphlet became a paperback book, and a few years later, in a revised and expanded edition, a textbook that was used widely in several Armenian schools.

A.H.: And that success was an inspiration to continue?
A.B.: Yes, but it was less my idea than that of my editors and publishers. I have been asked to expand and update it by several publishers and I have consistently refused.

A.H.: Why?
A.B.: Because I do not consider it an impartial and objective book. It is rather a product tinged with nationalist sentiment that emphasizes our positives (or successes) and ignores and covers up our negatives (our failings).

A.H.: Is that bad?
A.B.: Yes, because it promotes chauvinism, egocentrism, narcissism...which also mean a reluctance to face our problems today...and we face many problems.

A.H.: Such as?
A.B.: Absence of solidarity being only one of them. Another, the waste of funds in maintaining several churches, schools, community centers, and newspapers in the same community when one would be more than enough.

A.H.: You started with writing fiction. Why did you turn to non-fiction later?
A.B.: I don't remember to have ever made a conscious decision one way or the other. Instead I allowed time and my natural inclination to choose for me. After doing all kinds of work against my will and because I had no choice, I exercised complete freedom in my choice of writing. When I met a group of actors who needed plays, I wrote half a dozen of them. When I met an editor who was in need of fiction I wrote fiction. I did not have a five- or 10-year plans. And now that I no longer write on demand I write whatever comes to mind and whenever I feel like it.

A.H.: “I write to explain the incomprehensible to myself, and I write only when my explanations clash with conventional wisdom.” Your words. In that connection I remember your book “Definitions. A Critical Companion to Armenian History and Culture.” It is quite a unique book. You gathered different words and people who in one way or another relate to Armenia and Armenians. The book could be called the Armenian explanatory dictionary with the only difference that explanations in that dictionary are given not from the conventional point of view but from the critical viewpoint. “A Book for Everyone and No One”?
A.B.: I prefer to think of it as a book dedicated to our chauvinist fanatics.

A.H.: Who is the primary target of your criticism?
A.B.: Anyone who thinks he knows and understands everything he needs to know and understand. I believe knowledge and understanding are processes without an end. Those who believe otherwise are the source of all blunders and disasters.

A.H.: When I told a friend of mine that I was going to interview you, he asked me to address this question to you: “Do you think making your concerns public in an open website accessible to all may have an adverse effect on the efforts of those Armenians who sincerely strive to advance the cause of justice for their nation, and Armenians' image in the world?”
A.B.: Justice is a noble concept of course provided it is fair, objective and impartial. In a court of law, there is the prosecution, the defense, the judge, and the jury. Our sympathies are with the victim, of course, but that does not mean the victim should be allowed to reach the verdict. If I am critical of the victim it is because I want to strengthen the case for the prosecution. In the long run, a prejudiced or unfair prosecution may do more harm than good to the Cause.

A.H.: You mentioned Greece and Italy. Tell me more about those periods of your life.
A.B.: I was four years old when World War II erupted and Greece was occupied by the Germans. We lost everything - literally. Both our house and my father's store went up in smoke. For the duration we became homeless people dependent on the charity of relatives and parcels from America.

A.H.: What was the life of Armenians like in Greece at that time?
A.B.: In 1941 a great many people in Athens died of starvation in the streets. Then after the liberation in 1945, Greece was plunged into civil war, which lasted as long as the world war.

A.H.: And you moved to Venice to Collegio Armeno Moorat Raphael to study?
A.B.: That was in 1953. That's where I discovered the 19th-century Russians beginning with Dostoevsky. That's also when I discovered classical music, beginning with Rossini. I studied the piano. For a while I wasn't sure if I wanted to dedicate my life to music or literature. I may even have thought I could do both, because my dedication to both was wholehearted and uncompromising to the point of being obsessive.

A.H.: And why did you move to Canada then?
A.B.: In the postwar years there was a general exodus of Armenians from Greece: some went to Armenia, others to Australia, South America, United States, and Canada. Since we had some relatives in Detroit, which is near the Canadian border, we immigrated to Canada hoping soon to join our relatives but that never happened. We bought a house, we found jobs, we became Canadian citizens, and decided to make Canada our permanent home.

A.H.: At that time there must have been very few Armenians in the neighborhood and Canada in general?

A.B.: In Kitchener, the city where we moved and live today, there were no more than about a dozen families. The Armenian community of Toronto, the nearest city, was more numerous but also scattered. The atmosphere was, unlike that of Greece, thoroughly alien and unArmenian.

A.H.: Now there must be more Armenians in Canada?

A.B.: Armenians in Canada are much more numerous and active today with schools and churches and community centers, newspapers, different organizations and cultural institutions, including a weekly TV program. This happened after the exodus from the Middle East during the civil war there.

A.H.: I think I wouldn’t be wrong if I said that in every diaspora there is a problem of assimilation. Do you see assimilation as a serious threat to our future as a diaspora?

A.B.: Also to our future as a nation. Where would Israel be today without its diaspora? The Azeris have oil on their side, we have our diaspora.

A.H.: How do you explain the fact that our assimilation rate in the Middle East or even in the Ottoman Empire was much lower than in the United States and Canada, which are close and familiar to you?

A.B.: The Middle East is tribal. There are many walls that separate the different groups – the religious wall being the strongest. Here in the United States and Canada we are Christians among Christians. There are other reasons too: we are spread out on a vast continent whose culture is more egalitarian, open, tolerant, and progressive than ours, which is why there are those who view assimilation as a healthy and desirable development.

A.H.: In other words, cultural differences in some places serve as a deterrent factor while in other places they are at the roots of bringing people together? Some dualism?

A.B.: Yes. Cultural differences perhaps are at the roots of our many conflicts, grudges, and unsettled scores. In that sense they may even be qualified as “anti-cultural differences." Because real culture does not or should not promote intolerance and atrocities, but mutual understanding.

A.H.: Going back to literature. In your best-selling book ‘The Armenians: Their History and Culture” you dedicate a 100-page section to the history of Armenian literature.

A.B.: Most odars don't know anything about Armenian literature. But this is true also of most Armenians. I wanted to emphasize that aspect of our achievements perhaps because our achievements in the political sphere have been dismal. We have nothing to brag about our political leadership. The same cannot be said about our intellectual achievements.

A.H.: Have you ever thought of expanding it to a book or several volumes?
A.B.: Yes, I have. But like so many other projects, I had to discard it.

A.H.: Why? There would be a high demand for such a book.
A.B.: It is not a question of demand but cooperation. There are no Armenian publishers in the Diaspora and partisans and ideologues control those that exist. Which means it is not easy producing an objective assessment. As for odar publishers: they tend to view such projects with suspicion because they are not familiar with what they call the "ethnic" market. An Armenian writer has no choice but to act as his own editor, publisher, promoter, and distributor. Even then, without the cooperation of our community centers and churches, there isn't much he can do.

A.H.: The Armenian writer seems to be, using Gostan Zarian’s words, “a radio station in the middle of a storm sending messages to distant places and receiving no answer.”
A.B.: In general, yes, if he doesn’t belong to a party or organization, i.e. if he doesn’t flatter the ego of a boss or a bishop, he operates in a vacuum and as a stranger in a strange land.

A.H.: These words by Zarian could be applied to himself also?
A.B.: Yes, Zarian never enjoyed the support of our elites. I consider that one of his greatest achievements – the general hostility he aroused among Armenians everywhere, Homeland as well as Diaspora, intellectuals as well as political activists and religious leaders. Everyone has something nasty to say about him. They cannot attack his ideas, so they attack the man. Even his application to the Writer’s Union of Soviet Armenia was rejected. Socrates once said that his poverty was proof of his honesty. Zarian’s unpopularity may be said to be proof of his integrity. Somewhere in one of his books he says that the door between him and Armenian intellectuals has always been half closed. Odar writers like Lawrence Durrell have written more knowledgeably about Zarian than our own intellectuals.

A.H.: I didn’t mention Zarian by chance. You have translated many of his works into English. He is your favorite writer, isn’t he?
A.B.: Yes, he is. You see, Zarian could condense in a single brief paragraph what others failed to understand after a lifetime of hard work. Zarian is a giant of 20th century world literature who can stand comparison with such modern masters as James Joyce, Thomas Mann, and Jean-Paul Sartre. His worldview, his penetrating understanding of many aspects of human conduct and character, his many personal contacts and correspondence with some of the greatest writers, artists, and composers of the West made of him a truly universal and cosmopolitan genius.

A.H.: What other Armenian writers would you mention?
A.B.: Zarian has no equal in our literature because he lived to a ripe old age. By contrast Talaat and Stalin murdered most of our other writers, like Bakounts, Zabel Yessayan, Charents, Zohrab, Zartarian, Daniel Varoujan, and many others at an early age. Even more devastating has been the philistinism of our own political leadership that has exhibited a marked preference for propaganda.

A.H.: You said that our translators had ignored some of our greatest writers.
A.B.: For some reason our translators prefer translating poetry, perhaps because poetry allows them more freedom and is less-time consuming. When I started translating I planned issuing brief volumes dedicated each to 40 or 50 of our ablest writers, similar to what I did with “Zohrab: An Introduction.” But since I could not obtain the cooperation of any one of our cultural organizations, I gave up the project.

A.H.: I should say that your collection and translation of Zohrab's works is marvelous! Really wonderful!
A.B.: I think many of our writers fully deserve that kind of treatment.

A.H.: Thank you for the interesting conversation and I hope your first book in Russian will be welcomed with interest and understanding and will not be the last one.
A.B.: It has been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you!