BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Turkey’s invasion of the Kurdish controlled northeastern part of Syria began, ended, and dominated the news of the last week. Demonstrations worldwide drew thousands to protest Turkey’s aggression. Unfortunately, the one held on October 13 in Los Angeles was attended by a measly 350 or so people. More may have come and gone before I arrived (delayed because of a hike, more on this below), but this is a pathetic turnout. Given the number of Armenians living in the LA basin, the opportunity this presented to expose the vile essence of the Turkish state, and the ever-so-slowly growing solidarity between Armenians and Kurds despite the horrors of the Ottoman era, this was nothing but an embarrassment for our community. Of those present, at least a quarter were Armenians, with rest being Kurds and other supporters.
On the ground in Rojava, as the Kurds call the area under Turkish attack, things have taken an interesting turn. When the U.S. betrayal and abandonment of the Kurdish led forces left the latter to face the second largest army in NATO alone, they had no choice but to quickly come to an agreement bringing in Syrian forces accompanied by some Russian military. One ridiculous explanation of Russia’s involvement presented the reason as its historical pattern of “bullying” the Turks. This was all I caught of a radio interview with Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. While he cloaks himself behind veil of critical analysis, that veil is gauze-like in its transparency. I’ve encountered his writings in the Los Angeles Times and they manage to make Turkey look “respectable” when it is clearly not. So it is encouraging to see congressmembers and senators not falling for this type of poppycock and at least mouthing anger at Turkey’s actions and threatening retaliation in the form of sanctions. Let’s see if they materialize. It will also be interesting to see if Turkey and its religious-fanatic Arab forces get pushed back to the border.
The past week did bring at least one surprise. Marie Yovanovitch seems to be developing a spine. You might recall she was one of the many U.S. ambassadors to the Republic of Armenia who, unlike John Evans, never dared use the word “genocide” in describing what the Young Turks implemented. She always toed the U.S. Department of State’s denialist line. But now, after being unceremoniously dumped as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine in May, she testified to Congress in the ongoing pre-impeachment hearings in defiance of State Department’s orders. I suppose it’s better late than never…
UCLA hosted a conference titled “Diapora and Stateless Power,” organized by the Society for Armenian Studies (SAS) on its 45th anniversary during the weekend of October 12-13. I missed more than half of it because of mornings in the mountains and the demonstration mentioned above. Yet I still did better than most since only some 80+ people were in the room when I counted. That’s a real shame because if the portions I caught are any indication, the conference was one not to be missed, especially by those in our community’s leadership who confront many organizational quandaries whose solution might rise from some of the analysis presented there. However, some of the fault for this lies with the organizers. A number of people I mentioned the event to had not heard of it.
The conference was in honor of Khachig Tololyan for effectively creating the field of Diaspora Studies. His lecture was damn-near riveting, providing much food for thought about how to perceive and act in our Diaspora, presented through the prism of the experience of other diasporas. Most of the other presenters were also quite interesting. Hagop Gullujian’s presentation was, as usual, thought provoking and discussion inducing in the concern it raised about our collective purpose becoming oppressive and preventive of creativity. Christopher Sheklian’s initial look into the dynamics of established Armenian communities receiving new arrivals and Daniel Fittante’s investigation of “ethnopolitical entrepreneurs” created a weird state of mind where activities I had personally been a part of were now on stage as objects of study and analysis. Nareg Seferian’s analysis of “governmentality” before the creation of the modern Diaspora viewed the topic through the prism of the first Ottoman-Armenian constitution, leading me to recognize that I really ought to read that document to better understand how we got where we are today. The other topics I had the pleasure to hear were also interesting, though more theoretical and not easily reported in half a sentence.
Another small bit of good news was the addition of one more person to Homenetmen Sipan Outdoors Club’s gallery of hikers. This may seem trivial, but consider that typically, the hikes and rides draw a handful to a dozen participants. So each new person is a treasure in the wilds as we expand our community’s organized activities into the healthful world of physical activities outdoors. The particular route we hiked had changed extensively as a result of the September 2017 fire that burnt close to half of the Verdugo Mountains at whose feet well over 100,000 Armenians dwell. The damage to the trails and fire roads caused the delay in my arrival at the Turkish consulate demonstration.
Talin Suciyan (prounounced Soojian) who was in the Los Angeles area to speak at the SAS conference also had a presentation at the Abril Bookstore on Tuesday. It was fascinating. While researching pre-Genocide Armenian life through the portion of the Istanbul Patriarchate’s archives found in the Noubarian Library of Paris, she stumbled upon a letter from Akshehir (home of Nasreddin Khoja/Molla Nasreddin) describing a case of abortion, adultery, and incest. A woman had become pregnant by her uncle and was taken to a non-Armenian, Moslem, woman to abort the child. When she presented her case to the local Armenian authorities (remember, as a millet [community, nation] in the Ottoman system, such matters were handled by the relevant church), they tried to get her to recant. She refused. The letter described their situation to the Patriarch and asked for guidance. The complicating factor in all this was that the Moslem community was known to attack or even kill those who committed adultery along with their families. Thus, applying the church-ordained punishment of 20-years of penance would have endangered lives. Adding to the interestingness of this document was that it was written in Armeno-Turkish (Armenians letters spelling out Turkish words). Soojian had the participants reading it as she translated and discussed the significance of what it contained.
It seems that the fullness of Armenian activities typical of the post-summer-lull is going to continue. Some of the ones I’m aware of and plan to attend are Sona Armenian’s October 30 presentation about her climb of Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas. She is the oldest woman to reach its summit. Two Armenian themed movies are coming up “Yeva” on November 1 in Glendale and “Hidden Map” premiering at the Arpa Film Festival. The genealogy conferences that have taken place on the east coast have finally come West and are scheduled for November 15-16 in Pico Rivera and Fresno. Of course there are the hikes and other outings put on by three different groups and the ongoing stream of interesting programming that Abril bookstore provides the community.