This year’s Genocide commemoration chain of events started, for me, with the Burbank High School Armenian Club’s event on April 4. Hearing about it just hours before, I made it to the school’s auditorium a bit late. More than 150 were in attendance, mostly students and some parents. The program consisted of music and speakers. Like last year, the music was not thematically connected to the day. Speaking to one of the organizers elicited the explanation that without the bands, attendance might have been too scanty. This is obviously a bit worrisome, especially since I noticed some departures right after the performance of each group performing. The rest of the cultural part of the program was standard– violin, doodoog, and a video presentation originally done as a class project. The speakers were California Assemblymember Paul Krekorian, Father Vazken Movsessian, Vahe Apovian, and the organizers. I missed the Krekorian presentation. Movsessian’s was similar to his remarks last year about his trip to Rwanda and the ministry he’d established as a result. His sharp and appropriate remarks about the meaningless distractions served up by pop culture elicited knowing laughs from the audience. The organizers, too, spoke well to their peers. Most interesting was Apovian. I’m embarrassed to say I was unaware of the project he and some others had hatched to walk across the U.S. to raise awareness of the Genocide. What a great idea! He described some of their encounters, including with Turks, and the decent coverage they’d gotten from local press.
While not commemorative, the next event I attended, April 17, was a lecture by Vartkes Yeghiayan organized by the ARPA Institute. He described the over two decade long process of assembling data, enabling legislation, and the actual suits and negotiations leading to the NY Life and AXA insurance company settlemen’s. This was very timely and interesting. Best of all, it’s not over. German banks are currently in his crosshairs and are putting up a much stiffer fight, so much so that the case may end up at the Supreme Court. It makes one wonder what they fear; Also, there are numerous other insurance companies and banks that may soon find themselves targeted for relief of their ill-gotten gains. Unfortunately, not all the firms who have dirty hands in this respect are within U.S./California judicial reach. Hopefully others in other countries will take up the standard and wage the battles on the legal front. Yeghiayan’s division of post-Genocide Armenian history into periods is also interesting, and possibly even catchy– “lamentation, liturgy, litigation”. Another interesting point is the relative size of our vs. Jews’ settlemen’s. The scales are strikingly different, but the per-claimant sums are larger in our cases, at least so far. Other suits, perhaps targeting governmen’s, may even be brewing. He was understandably reticent to say too much about these publicly. My hope is the utility, additional bases, and argumen’s these successful suits will provide when we go head-to-head with the Turkish government over the return of our lands.
On Friday, April 18, I made my way to the Pasadena Armenian Center and the AYF/Hamazakayin joint event. This event had nothing wrong with it. The cultural performances– dance, video, music, and speakers– held the audience’s, some 200 youth and parents, attention. But, the program could have been transplanted from 30-40 years ago. The only different perspective was presented by the main speaker, the local priest, starting and ending his otherwise overly tried-and-true speech with a query, “Why were my parents born in Der-Zor and Ras-ul-aayn?”
Saturday morning found me in Pasadena once again, in front of an Armenian-owned grocery store where three youth were distributing a well-designed, postcard-sized leaflet. One side had the logos of Turkish foods, with the admonition not to buy them, and the other, labels from Armenia, urging their purchase. They planned to move to other stores in town, and I learned they made it to one other. Boycott Turkish Products is a new group, and understandably small. They have reached out to at least one established group, but because of the timing and nature of the effort, had to go it alone, for now. Interestingly, what seems to be a no-brainer effort has generated much discussion as to the propriety of “singling out” a few stores, providing alternatives, doing more community awareness raising, and the relevance of targeting such a small segment of Turkey’s massive exports. More on this another time.
That night, the San Fernando Valley AYF Chapter presented a short play titled The Internal Struggle of the Armenian, to an audience of about 200. In three short acts and about 45 minutes, the issues with which every 20-something Armenian grapples (or ought to) were presented. If you haven’t seen Baron Garbis, Vahe Berberian’s play, you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph so I don’t spoil the ending for you. Similar to the latter play, the six AYF-ers who crafted the piece I saw present the generational conflict between the survivors and those coming of age today, in the U.S. First, the main character is seen in a college class defending the Armenian Cause. Then he’s clashing with his grandfather, known to us as Dehdeh, who’s complaining of his gran’son’s English speaking and wondering to himself what will be Armenia’s’ future, having passed on whatever was possible. In the third act, our hero is watching a video of Dehdeh’s 109th birthday with his back to the audience. At the end, one youth proposes to his love, triggering the memory of the Dehdeh’s first betrothed who was burnt to a cinder. He dies, like Baron Garbis. Finally, we hear the young man’s thoughts trying to come to terms with the loss, from the Armenian perspective, and concluding that he is the new breed of Armenian and ready to wage the struggle. Especially when you consider the AYF sestet put this together in one month, it is quite an achievement.
Sunday the nineteenth, it was off to St. Mary’s (S. Advadzadzeen) to give blood to the Red Cross. The blood drive was organized by the local ANC in the context of the series of events sponsored by the City of Glendale. I was there near the end, and few people remained. Earlier, donors had been waiting to give.
From the blood drive, it was a few short blocks to the Glendale Public Library where 150 people, mostly older, attended The Defense Council of Western Armenia’ conference titled “Western Armenia with Wilsonian Borders”. This group is an intriguing fruit of the cooperation among the compatriotic unions representing the descendents of those from Armenian provinces included within Wilson’s boundaries– Van, Sasoon, Gareen, etc. All three speakers discussed issues that included, yet also skirted the topic of the Treaty of Sevres. This speaks to how undeveloped the matter is among us, and the Armenian intelligentsia. They discussed the treaty’s context, then and now. Shirinian discussed the cynical, double dealing of the very European powers who signed it and supported Kemal Ataturk simultaneously, the evolution in Turkish foreign policy from the very broad Ottoman approach, to the narrow– Cold War constrained ‘s policy of the Republic of Turkey until recently, its very recent re-emergence a regional power with corresponding ambitions, and what resources Armenia’s may bring to bear on the Sevres stage. Garo Momjian also took a then-and-now look, discussing the Armenian context then, and the international alignmen’s of today. He concluded that it is in Armenia’s’ best interest for Turkey to join the European Union because of the constraints it would come under and the opportunities those would present for us. Asbed Kotchigian primarily addressed the growing role of Turkish civil society, with Hrant Dink having played a significant role in that. He argued that the best thing we could do is to support the groups constituting that sector of Turkish life and questioned the wisdom of attacks from outside that would incline Turks to circle their wagons and go into a defensive mode, discrediting or undercutting the very groups whose emergence and growth bodes best for Armenia’s. The organizers spoke to the question of crypto-Armenia’s, those still living in Turkey today, as Moslems, but aware of who they are, citing various figures, from Turkish sources, that would result in the number of such people residing within Wilson’s borders being about 1.2 million. This kind of discussion is also very timely, and long overdue.
Monday night, back at the Glendale Library, some 80 people attended the City-organized presentations discussing instances of Man’s Inhumanity to Man. Not only was the Armenian case addressed by Ramela Grigorian’s, the second speaker, discussion of the manifestation of the Genocide by artists in Los Angeles in their works today, but the Irish, Native American, and Darfur cases were presented. Introduced by City Council member Ara Najarian, Dennis Doyle outlined the history of the Irish famine, the numbers, and long-term consequences of British negligence– including an impact on WWI. The third speaker, Roger Bowerman, discussed the “otherness” humans impose on those whom they brutalize. He said that’s the only way that a human can wreak such evil on another of the species. The examples were the ways in which Europeans labeled those they met in the Americas — savage, uncivilized, red man, barbarian, heathen — all terms saying “not like me” based on a lack of understanding of societies different from those of Europe. Finally, Rev. Berj Djambazian described the conditions in, his trips to, and the efforts of his ministry established to assist Darfur. This was accompanied by a slide presentation. Wrapping up, Najarian made an interesting connection: that what would be on display during April 24th events is mankind’s fatal flaw, inhumanity.
Ending where we started, in Burbank, on the night of April 22, the now traditional Proclamation was received from the City Council and a gathering held on the City Hall steps. This year, the AYF, Varak Chapter organized both components of the commemoration. The attendance inside council chambers when receiving the proclamation and outside, during the gathering, was typical, about 15 and 225, respectively. The programs were both brief. Inside, a “thank you” from the ANC concluded presentations by the AYF– a grandfather’s harrowing tale, a poetry recitation, and a description of the issues. Outside, a flag ceremony and Armenian and American national anthems opened the program, three speakers, including Paul Krekorian, the same poem, and closing with “Adanayee Voghpuh” and “Harach Nahadag” rounded it out. Fortunately, this year the City Council was able to take a break from its deliberations and join the gathering briefly. The remarks were short and relevant.
More next week.