Monday, August 15, 2016

Remembering Sosy Krikorian Kadian

 
Sosy Krikorian Kadian
   There is a famous quote from the great Armenian writer William Saroyan. The quote is inspirational and speaks of the resilience and pride of the Armenian people especially in the Diaspora. The last line basically says that whenever two Armenians "meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” No one I have ever met embodied this spirit more than Sosy Krikorian Kadian.  If she were one of the two people that met, their new Armenia simply shined brighter.  
      Sosy passed away on August 12, 2016.  Everyone that knew her, even casually if it was even possible to know Sosy in merely a casual way, was saddened to hear the news.  We knew that we had lost someone quite special.  She was part of that great American generation but in a very American Armenian way.  While she was born in the US (October 18, 1928) and, as far as I know, never visited her ancestral homelands which are in present day Turkey, she carried that noble spirit of those lands, the yergir, and people in her heart and in her soul.  Nonetheless, she created a new Armenia in everything she did.  Her Armenia was an inspiration to countless Armenians.  
     We got to know Sosy at the Armenian Week in the Poconos which started in the mid-1980s and ran until the late 1990s.  With her father, Anoush Krikorian, they were responsible for the cultural programs at these gatherings.  There were poems, plays, songs, and dance some well planned and other more impromptu that entertained everyone.  She involved everyone, those who were willing and those who were more on shy side.  She especially loved to get the children up to sing or recite as they were clearly our future.  Her energy and enthusiasm were boundless and, what always impressed me, completely authentic.  With her guidance and example, we created a new Armenia every night in the Poconos.  
     Sosy made everyone feel welcome, engaged, and special.  At the Poconos, this included my wife's grandmother Anagil, our parents, us, and our children.  Thus in our specific case, Sosy's charm and magic easily spanned four generations.  
     As I write this, her funeral services are tomorrow.  I wish I were still out East so I could attend.  No doubt there will be many in attendance by people who all see Sosy in the same way.  There will certainly be more people that want to eulogize her or share a few memories than can possibly be accommodated.  She was that kind of lady.  
Sosy and Hagop
     Sosy and Hourig Papazian-Sahagian partnered through the years in many different cultural events and shows.  Before leaving New York for Chicago in 2006, this duo got me involved in a production called The Way We Were.  It was play, a musical revue, about the first generation of Armenians to come to the US.  It was a delight and honor to perform with the troupe for two performances.  I was glad to have had that experience.
     One cannot think about Sosy without fondly recalling her husband, Hagop Kadian.  Hagop, a wonderful fellow, had passed away in 1994.  They were a great and endearing couple.  Many of the Facebook posts on Sosy's passing comment that Sosy and Hagopig are together again, dancing again as they were renowned for.  The great Onnik Dinkjian, a close friend to the Kadians, wrote a verse in tribute to Sosy and Hagop in his song Karnan Dzaghig:

Sosyin baruh yar djan, Hagopin heduh yar djan
Polor ashkharuh yar djan, chigah numanuh yar djan yar yaro djan

Sosi's dance, with Hagop
There is nothing like it in this world.

Anyone that has ever seen Sosi and Hagop Kadian dance knows that Onnik captured a perfect memory.  He also captured something much more. When the danced they did indeed create a new Armenia for themselves and everyone in the room.

Our deepest condolences to the Baylerian and Kadian families.
Asdvadz hokin lusavoreh.

===

Photos in this posting were taken from Nvair Beylerian's (Sosy's daughter) Facebook page.

Also, please read Ara Topouzian's lovely tribute to Sosy on his blog hyetimesmusic.com.
     

Friday, August 5, 2016

July 2016: Turkey

     Let’s begin with a caveat, a most obvious caveat. I am writing this letter about the Republic of Turkey and I am an Armenian American living in the Diaspora. Three of my four grandparents survived the Armenian Genocide and migrated to the United States to create a new life. My fourth grandparent, my paternal grandmother, was born in Andover, MA. Her father, Nishan, for whom I am named had the foresight to leave Ottoman Turkey after the pre-Genocide pogroms of 1895 and 1905. I am concerned about Turkey and what happens there because of the shared history and the fact that I might have even been a citizen of that country. While I am concerned, my views are biased in the obvious slant but with a recent twist.
      I used to want chaos and anarchy in Turkey. This was early on in my life. Most of my adult life, I have been looking and hoping for any and all changes that might be favorable to the Armenian Cause of admission of the Genocide, neighborly relations with the Republic of Armenia, and ultimately restitution. Admittedly, the probability of these things happening was always on the rather on the very low side.
     The point of this letter is really the current state of affairs in Turkey. It all seems to revolve, even orbit around, their enigmatic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Plain and simple, I think he is a bad character. All of his actions in the past year have been to consolidate power in a most dictatorial manner while garbed in the rhetoric of being legally and democratically elected. Erdoğan is following the play book of Russia’s Putin and Venezuela’s Chavez.
     Oddly, I am probably aligned with many of my Turkish friends and acquaintences in this country on this view of Erdoğan. They tend to believe in the secular state created by Kemal Attaturk. We may agree or not agree on the Armenian Genocide. But, I sense that we agree that Erdoğan is a bad character.
     I did not always think he was a bad character. From an Armenian perspective, we saw the restoration of the Aghtamar Church. We saw the Republic not thwart the restoration of the St. Garabed Church in Diyarbekir and the generally embracing of the Armenian heritage of the city by the city government. How much of this was due to Erdoğan? That is certainly debatable now, but when these events were unfolding, I was giving him the benefit of the doubt. We did see Erdoğan extend an olive branch of sorts to the Armenians in April of 2014. We mostly rejected it as a ploy to undermine the significance of the impending 100th Anniversary of the Genocide.
     And let us not forget that Hrant Dink was assassinated during the early days of Erdoğan’s regime.
     There was an eletion in June 2015. In that election Erdoğan’s party, the Justice and Development Part lost seats in parliament to a Kurdish based reform party. This election gave hope to liberal minded folks in Turkey as well as Kurds, and Armenians around the world that maybe the country was headed in a better direction. But, sadly, it was just a “Turkish Spring.” The hope was soon dashed as a government could not be cobbled and another election was called. Immediately, there was terrorism in Turkey and Erdoğan blamed the Kurds. The second election in November 2015 put Erdoğan’s party firmly in control again and he lauded this victory “as a return to stability.”
     I was pretty certain he and his party loyalists had allowed and maybe even planned the terror events to separate the Kurds from the real Turks. Recreate a threat that fires up old animosities and fears and win the election. Sadly, it worked. Even more sadly, no other countries, like the United States, or press seemed to see what seemed so very obvious.
     Maybe, deals had been cut behind the scenes. That is the only possible explanation. An entire US government of bright people could not have missed what seemed so obvious. Is the “alliance” with Turkey that important. Is the Incirlik Air Base so critical to our strategy in that part of the world that we are willing to overlook Erdoğan’s actions and believe only his rhetoric?
     We Armenians have our own rhetoric. We tend to believe that we are superior to Turks in most regards. We think we are smarter, more honest, harder working, and, oddly, better fighters… we only lost everything because of duplicity and overwhelming force strength.
     I have to give the variousTurkish governments from Ottoman days to today their due on two fronts. They are great and clandestine planners of whatever it is they do to hold power. Secondly, they are consummate diplomats. This explanation is the only thing that helps me make sense of it all. With regard to the United States, it goes back to at least the early days of the Republic when the Turkish government so deftly engaged Admiral Mark Bristol into their camp. That hoodwinking has lasted policywise to these times. There seems to be no end in sight either.
     In the war against ISIS (ISIL, Dash, or the Devil Incarnate take your pick), Turkey is our ally. They have taken in refugees. They have fought with us to defeat this very real and very scary threat.
     Sure they have. No really, they have.
     Yet, early on in their engagement, all they did was attack the Kurds who were valiantly fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It was horrible and the only folks that really called them on this in the West were political cartoonists. Again, maybe our diplomats dressed them down behind closed doors. But maybe, a deal was cut behind those closed doors. The United States and allies can keep bases in Turkey (ah… Incirlik again) and Turkey helps us fight ISIS while also teaching the Kurds a lesson. While they were teaching the Kurds a lesson, amid all the chaos in Syria, they could allow ISIS or Turks pretending to be ISIS to freely attack the last Western Armenian village, Kessab. The force that attacked Kessab originated in Turkey and picked a most convenient night when the border crossing they used was left unattended.
     So, while I was having some positive thoughts about Erdoğan before 2014, they have all been dashed (DASHed perhaps) since the election that signaled the famed “return to stability.”
     At the time of this writing, July 31st, there was an Op-Ed in the New York Times. It was written by Michael A. McFaul, a Hoover Institution Fellow, a Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford, and was, from 2012 – 2014) Ambassador from the United States to the Russian Federation. In his Op-Ed, he stated:
Since… 2012, Mr. Putin has consolidated his hold on power in Russia. With renewed vigor, he’s weakened civil society, undermined independent media, supressed any opposition and scared off big business from supporting government critics. And he made the United States and its senior officials unwitting elements of his malign strategy.
     Change the year from 2012 to 2015 or 2016, replace Putin’s name with Erdoğan’s, and try tell me that the statement doesn’t ring equally true!

     To this point in this letter, I have not even addressed the elephant in the living room: The July 15th coup attempt in Turkey. It was gripping news. It seemed the military, or as it turned out a faction within the military, tried to take overthrow the government. The military has done this in Turkey several times in the history of the Republic of Turkey. They had traditionally done so to protect the tenets of the Republic created by the much revered Kemal Attaturk. Attaturk created a secular and democratic Republic. When the military perceived either the deomocrocy or secular state threatened they would take over for awhile and restore order… return the country to stability.
     Erdoğan and his party have been more Islamist than most followers and adherents of Attaturk are comfortable with. Erdoğan cleaned house at the top of the military to, no matter what excuse was used, prevent the military from taking over his government when the country was beginning to look less secular. He replaced the top brass with generals and admirals loyal to him. The newcasters kept pointing this out during the coup and stressing that this coup was different and less effective because it was only “a faction” of the military leadership.
     Erdoğan called on the people, the loyal people of the Republic, by facebook mind you, to hit the streets and thwart the coup. They did. They won. Erdoğan said it was an uprising of the people to protect democracy in Turkey. I was kind of disheartened that he did not use the words “return to stability” at all. That’s OK, because I have no problem facetiously quoting his words over and over again in this letter.
     Erdoğan was praised in the reports the evening of the coup for his bold and most successful action in support of the democratically elected government. And then…
     Then he gave his first speech. It was a firebrand speech in which he vowed that all perpetrators would be brought to swift justice. He accused Fetulah Gulen, a cleric based in the United States who has set up Islamic schools all over this country, as being the perpetrator of the coup. He said he would be asking the United States to extradite Gulen (he said nothing about Incirlik… that must only be brought up behind those closed doors I keep referring to). He talked about restoring the death penalty for these traitors… maybe they can have public hangings like they did to Armenian citizens… err traitors… I mean enemies in 1915. Heck, the perpetrators of the coup might even have Armenian blood! Why not disgrace and denegrate their heritage before hanging them.
     I must apolgize. I was doing so well avoiding hyperbole until that last paragraph. Let’s get back to the facts... well the facts as I think I see them.
     Al-Monitor.com claims that 124 Generals and Admirals have been arrested. Half of these were promoted after the 2013 purge of the military leadership. So, basically, half of those arrested were Erdoğan’s appointees. Appointing and annointing people only to arrest them later is right out of Stalin’s playbook to drive both fear of and allegiance to a megalomaniac.
     In an article on TheConversation.com, Professor Fatma Müge Göçek of the University of Michigan reported that:
In a crackdown that rapidly spread across civil and military services, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the closure of thousands of private schools and many universities. Some 15,000 employees at the education ministry were fired, while more than 1,500 university deans were asked to resign.
“Asked to resign,” indeed.
     It really has become a purge after the putsch. Erdoğan immediately blamed it on his old ally turned nemisis Fethullah Gülen. Gülen and Erdoğan teamed up during the Justice and Development Party’s rise to power. They were both working toward making Turkey less secular. When the party and Erdoğan ascended to lead the government, Gülen became the odd man out, a Trotsky to Erdoğan’s Stalin to continue a tenuous analogy. Gülen exiled himself to the United States, a much better choice so far than Trotsky going to Mexico, and lives the life of a “humble” cleric whose Hizmet (Service) Movement sponsors around 1,000 schools around the world.
     Erdoğan is blaming Gülen for, well, everything related to the putsch. He wants the United States to extradite him. Needless to say, the United States is probably not going to do that without some hard evidence. I read the following in a blog of Dani Rodrik, the Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government:
…is the CIA behind Gulen? In fact for most Turks this is a rather rhetorical question, with an incontrovertible answer. The belief that Gulen and his activities are orchestrated by the U.S. is as strongly held as it is widespread among Turks of all political coloration – secular or Islamist.
     Dang, if only the CIA were that good.
     Gülen on the other hand has an opposite point of view. In a July 16th article in the Daily Mail, Gulen basically accuses Erdoğan of staging the coup as an excuse to crush all opposition and consolidate power. Basically, most Armenians I know probably have the same perspective.
Speaking from his home, Gulen claimed democracy in Turkey could not be achieved through military action.

He condemned the plot, although authorities in Ankara are not convinced.
He said: 'There is a slight chance, there is a possibility that it could be a staged coup. It could be meant for court accusations and associations.'

He added: 'It appears that they have no tolerance for any movement, any group, any organisation that is not under their total control.'
     I do stand corrected, Gülen only said there was a “slight chance” a mere “probability” that it was all staged. And if he did, it was only in a heartfelt effort to maintain stability.
     I am not sure where Turkey will end up. I feel confident in saying the following however. Erdoğan will come out of this with a greater grip on power and he will hold on to that power for the rest of his life. Turkey will be less secular and a democratic republic in name only. The United States policy towards Turkey will proably not change much (WTF is wrong with us?). Life will be more difficult for the Kurds in Turkey. Even though his image is everywhereAttaturk will continue to be downplayed. Erdoğan is the new father of the country… in his own mind.
     Next? Trying to figure out what the heck is happening across the Ararat border in Armenia.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

May Letter: China

     June 11: I am visiting professor in China. Even though I am not really a bucket list kind of guy, doing something like this would be in my top ten.
     The university I am teaching at is the Anhui University of Finance and Economics (AUFE). AUFE is in the province of Anhui and in the city Bengbu. There are 28,000 students in this university. North Park University’s School of Business and Nonprofit Management (SBNM), where I am on the faculty, has an on-going relationship AUFE’s departments of Industrial Economics and International Trade.  I am here with Professor Pam Schilling. We are the fourth and fifth professors from SBNM to teach summer courses at AUFE.
     My term here is a short month: May 15 – June 15. I am teaching two courses. One is an undergraduate course, Marketing Channels and Supply Chains, and the other is a graduate course, Quantitative Methods. There are 47 students in the undergraduate class and 25 in the graduate class.
     What amazed me first and foremost about China? It was much greener than I had expected even in the middle of heavily populated cities. Second, I had heard that the air quality in many cities was so bad, people wore surgical masks while outdoors. While I saw some folks with masks, I did not find the air quality so bad. I recall it being worse in Mexico City when I used to routinely travel there.
     My fascination with China goes back to my junior year of high school. I was in a social studies class called Current Affairs. One of the topics we studied was Red China as it was known back in those days. I was amazed to learn that the population of China was 1 billion people. The global population at that time, 1970, was 4 billion. I recall thinking, “wow, one in four people in world is Chines and I know nothing about the country and culture.”
     Well the Current Affairs class was a good place to begin the learning journey. As it was a class called Current Affairs, we studied the establishment of the People’s Republic of China and how Mao Zedong (though he was Mao Tse Tung back in those days) forged a new country out of what had been multiple spheres of European and American interest. The called it foreign control and imperialism. The country, through rather harsh means, eliminated opium usage and imposed a strict one child policy.
     Of course, I read Mao’s Little Book. I was a little disappointed. I expected some kind of amazing revelation. It just was not there.
     On the plane coming over here, I read a Wall Street Journal article on the legacy of Mao. He was made out to be a despot responsible for the death of thousands. His darkest period was during the Cultural Revolution which began Mao was 73 years old in 1966 and lasted until 1976 when Mao died. The article portrayed Mao as an old man trying to cling to power. He thought the Party had was influenced by too many bourgeois members and he wanted to get basic to what he believed were the basic tenets of his form of communism. The result was brutal and chaotic. It took the country backwards, even though President Richard Nixon visited, in 1972, and normalized relations between the two countries.
     The only place you see Mao’s photo these days is on the currency. He is on every denomination. There is also his large portrait on the Gate to the Forbidden City (The Tian-an-men) facing Tiananmen Square. No one would refer much to Mao. If I try to bring him up in conversation, and believe me I was more curious than anything, people would just say he was our First Leader or the Father of our country. The few students would simply say, “I can’t talk about that.” Needless to say, I would drop the subject and any further inquiry.
     In my modest study of China in high school and college, I learned enough to sense a pattern. Throughout the 2200 years of Chinese history, there were long periods of great prosperity and short periods of foreign occupation or chaos. Mao ended the most recent period of foreign occupation with the creation of the People’s Republic in 1949. The chaos, however, was not over. Mao forged a country with an iron fist. The communal system resulted in mass starvation during a period called The Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s. It ended with the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s death.
     When I was in high school and college, it appeared to me that Mao threw off the shackles of foreign occupation and influence. I speculated that, if the right moves were made, China was on the brink of a new era of stability and prosperity. It seems looking back that my prognostication was correct. But here, the First Leader is not given that credit. Most believe here that the country we know today started in 1981. The architect of the transformation was Deng Xiaopeng. While he did not hold any official office such as President or General Secretary, he was considered the Paramount Leader. From 1978 to 1989, he led the country through the market-economy reforms that created the economic powerhouse that is today’s China.
     I have not heard his name mentioned nor have I seen a photo of him.
     On one of tours, the tour guide was very knowledgeable. She would refer to Mao as “Our first leader.” She did not say much else. I gave her my little soliloquy about Chinese history being long periods. She was relatively unimpressed. I suggested that we were in the front end of an era of great prosperity. She might have been mildly impressed. Then, I floated this idea out there. I wondered if a century from now, historians might refer to this government as a dynasty. She looked at me like I had three heads and said “This is not a dynasty.” Of course it isn’t a blood line dynasty but it sure a party one.
     So much for the history that no one really wants to or can talk about. I will have to read up more on this when I get home.
     How much planning is appropriate in Free Market System?: While in China, Professor Schilling and I discussed the China miracle and whether their approach to the market-economy was better than ours. Professor Schilling was definitely on the side of the freer markets which are basically the underlying philosophy that American business and business schools are based on. I took a slightly different perspective. I look at a continuum of the free – planned spectrum and wonder what the optimum point on that spectrum may be at any given time and set of economic conditions.
     I asked that question in the pit of the Great Recession. Should the US attempt to define what we wanted to be in the next five or ten years? If other countries, like China which is poised to become the world’s largest economy, are beating us by planning their free-market economy more than we are, maybe we should consider about taking a step or two in that direction? I realized I was basically suggesting that we set and implement a Five Year Plan which to me was synonymous for failure in the old Soviet system.
     These were not epic debates with Professor Schilling but rather discussions over breakfast or while walking to and from AUFE. She is more steadfast in her view and that makes sense given that she has an MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. My perspective came into focus after two weekends of tourism in which I took China’s affordable and very efficient trains to Xian and Beijing. The train to Xian was an old fashioned train that rumbled along probably at an average of 50 mph. It took 14 hours and that trip will be the subject of another letter. It was efficient at what it did. The train to Beijing on the other hand are modern high speed trains that cruise ever so smoothly at 185 mph. That trip was 3.5 hours. I was really impressed.
     Then I was kind of depressed. We have been hearing about high speed or bullet trains in Japan, France, and now in China for over 30 years. Our passenger rail system is a joke be comparison even
to China’s regular old slow trains. There have been occasional discussions about testing a bullet train system between a couple of cities but nothing has ever come of it. Nothing. Thirty years later, we have a decrepit and inefficient old train system. In half of that time, China has really cool and affordable high speed trains between all of its major cities. Bengbu is not a major city but it has a high speed train station for travel to Beijing and Shanghai for certain. There is a plan to provide high speed service to Xian. And us?
     This point was hammered home on a walking tour I took in Beijing. It was with a company called Urban Adventure which is based in Australia. The COO of the company was visiting their Beijing office and was on the tour with us. During lunch, the topic of trains came up and he lamented that they would be a great addition in Australia especially between Sydney and Melbourne. They have been discussing such a route since the 1980s but like the US, nothing has happened.
     I did Google “bullet trains in the US.” Actually, I Yahooed it since Google is not allowed in China. There seems to be two classes of articles in 2015 and 2016. One basically asks “Why is there No High Speed Rail Network in the US” and the other is reporting on being close to starting on projects in California. Of course, there are articles on Amtrak’s Acela which is considered higher speed (medium speed if you will) and not the high speed or bullet trains found in Japan, China, and Europe.
     It seems we are creeping towards a pilot in California. There is $68 B project on tap to link Los Angeles and San Francisco with a 200 mph train. It is scheduled to be completed in 2029.  2029? That seems like a long time.
     Apparently, the automobile, aviation, and highway construction lobbies want to protect their turf. The Republicans with the Cato Institute and the Koch Brothers behind them seem to think that privatization is the only way to do this which makes the prospects of this happening in any meaningful and impactful way… slim.
     Chinas biggest cities also have amazing subway systems and commuter rail. The US has the same in the a few cities but only Washington DC’s has the modern look and feel of China’s.
     The difference? Some central planning. The government decided that the have 1.4 B people. They have to figure out some way to provide good, safe, fast, and reasonably priced transportation to move people around the country and to and from work. They looked at the US (I am guessing) and decided that if they relied solely or mostly on autos, the roads would be ridiculously congested. As a result, even in Beijing, the traffic seems to flow.
     Keeping things tidy: China is a pretty green place. Even in the biggest cities there are parks with beautiful flower and landscaping. There is an army of folks tending to these parks and, at least in Bengbu, basically sweeping the sidewalks. I have seen more street cleaning vehicles then I might see in the US in five years (oddly they all have speakers playing “It’s a small world after all” for some reason). By plan, they have invested in civic beauty and order. Sounds OK to me. Things look pretty nice.
     I remember in the 1960s when the Southfield Expressway was built in Detroit. It was a beauty when it opened. The undulating north-south expressway went under the main east-west roads from 9 Mile Road in the north to I-94 in the south. The banks of the expressway were beautiful grass that was kept well maintained. When the city and state slid into economic troubles the maintenance of the road followed a similar trajectory. It was disappointing to say the least and more so indicative of the erosion of civic pride that I thought existed in my childhood.
     I like the free market system. But, I think there has to be a bit more planning in the US. When it comes to competing with a country like China, it seems one of us is playing checkers and the other chess.

Some of our undergraduates at AUFE

The East Gate of Anhui University of Finance and Economics

Good for Cleveland!

Almost 1 Million at the Cavaliers Parade
(Lynn Ischay / The Plain Dealer)
     The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championship on Sunday, June 19th.  This is the first sports championship that a Cleveland team has won since 1964.  The Cleveland Browns won the NFL (pre-Super Bowl) Championship.  The drought was so bad that the New York Times dubbed Cleveland as the saddest sports town in the USA a few years ago.
     They did it with an amazing comeback.  They beat the Golden State Warriors who, arguably, had the greatest season in NBA history.   They won 73 games and lost 9 giving the greatest number of wins and winning percentage ever.  They redefined the game around the three point shot and were the class of the league all season long.  They easily made it to the finals, as did the Cavaliers.  The Warriors jumped to a 3 - 1 lead over Cleveland making their record 76 and 10.  No NBA team had ever come back from being down 3 - 1 in the NBA playoff finals.  The Cavaliers did just that.
     They did it on the back of their superstar LeBron James.  They did it as a team.  They learned how to defend the Warriors most impressive offense and took the title for themselves.  It was a cap to a great season for the Cavaliers and the NBA.  It was, in my view, a great season for the Warriors too, but I am sure they or their fans do not see it that way just now.
     It matters not if one likes LeBron James or not.  Many think he was no good when he bolted from Cleveland for Miami 2010.  He would have eventually won a championship back then, but he wanted to create his own team and he was offered a lot of money to go to Miami.  Fan sentiment aside, most anyone would act in their own self-interest in the same circumstance.  Professional athletes never know how long their careers will last and have to make the money while they can.
      People can argue forever if LeBron James is the greatest player ever.  Is he better than Jordan, Jabber, Magic, Russel, Bird, O'Neal, Chamberlain, Robertson, or others.  Such discussion are great pastimes for fans and commentators but there is rarely consensus especially across generations.  Me?  I think he is one of the greatest.  I have seen him do amazing things on the court.  He is 6'8" and over 250 lbs.  Yet, he moves like a point guard. He is falling down and has such a great touch that he makes unbelievable baskets.  He is fast, athletic, and can totally dominate.  I recall a game where he was at the top of the key, took a pass, and, I swear, boom took one explosive step and leapt right over some hapless defender to dunk the ball.  One step for the top of the key!  It was totally amazing.
     But this championship is not about LeBron.  Sure, he is central to the story but it is about Cleveland and bringing some joy to a good, old, midwestern sports town that really needed this. Citizens and fans were crying on TV, giving wonderful testimonials, and enjoying the moment.  As much as I had wanted the Warriors to cap off their incredible season with a championship, I really was for Cleveland.  It was truly for the city and fans in my view.
     And, it may only be a moment.  There are rumors float about the internet that with his two year contract up, LeBron, may move on to another team.  The Lakers?  The Celtics?  He might even take his show to the Big Apple.  Or he may stay in Cleveland.  He and Cleveland are however enjoying this moment as well they should.
     If LeBron does leave, Cleveland fans will be using the Rob Schneider quote from the 1998 movie, The Waterboy:  "Oh no, we suck again!"

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Small Things

I am at the top of the 2 in the back row at about 11 o'clock.
      I don't have a bucket list. I wrote about this in my May 2013 Letter.  I suppose this is an update or next chapter of that letter.
      Yes, even though I wrote a bucket list in the May 2013 letter and have done some of the things on that list, it was really a five-year plan and not a bucket list.  My bucket list didn't have the exotic travel laden gotta see it or do it before I die kinds of items on it.  
      In addressing this topic in this particular time and place, there are two reasons why I don't have a bucket list.
      First, and this is the reason I usually provide when asked about my bucket list, is that everyone started using the term "bucket list," making bucket lists, and talking about bucket lists simply because of a movie by the same name. The 2007 film, The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman was, per IMDb, about "Two terminally ill men escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die."  It was an entertaining film.  I get it that the film popularized or re-popularized the term and concept.  Because it was popularized is exactly the reason I avoided using the term.  Oh, I am so darn independent.
      Secondly, I really couldn't see sitting down and actually make such a list.  Here again there are two reasons for this.  First, I have a tendency to procrastinate.  So, a proactive activity like making a bucket list automatically gets relegated to the back burner.  Also, because I have so deftly procrastinated away the lead time on important things, I generally only work, often furiously, on things that have impending deadlines with severe consequences if not met.  The second part of this second reason for not making a bucket list is that if I actually sat down to make such a list, it would be very long and probably a bit depressing because of its insurmountable length.  Even worse, it might end up being a regret list... and who wants to be that guy.
     Yet, yesterday, I learned a lesson about all this:  I don't need no stinking list.  Things happen.  Opportunities come my way.  I stop and think, "Hey, I have always wanted to do that... cool."  The thing or opportunity doesn't even have to be a huge life event like climbing Mt. Everest, running with the bulls, seeing the aurora borealis, or whatever else populates bucket lists.  It could be mundane thing or a small opportunity that is fulfilling, sometimes surprisingly so.
     Yesterday, May 5th, was the 125th day of the 125th year of North Park Park University.  Arrangements were made to take a large group photo of the number 125.  At 11:30 in the morning, four hundred of us gathered for the photo.  It was festive and everyone was happy to be part of it.  It was... cool.  I realized that I had never really been part of such a photo and that I always wanted to be.  Double cool.
     This was not something that would have ever made a formal bucket list.  In the large scheme of things, or just the broader scheme of my own life, it certainly was a small thing.  It was, however, the fulfillment of something I had always wanted to do.  Perhaps, even better, I had never even thought that it was something I had always wanted to do.  It was a surprise.  I think this is what made this small thing, this little opportunity, so very special.
     In my corporate life in New York, I led an effort that resulted in the building or refurbishing of 17 (if memory serves me correctly) warehouses in Latin America.  We took substandard facilities and business practices and made both world class.  I am quite proud of that accomplishment.  Yet, for the several ribbon cuttings involved when a new facility was finished, I was never part of such a ceremony.  Let's attribute this to the quirky management culture and hierarchy of the company that I worked for.  I always wanted to be part of a ribbon cutting event, big fake scissors and all, and have a photo of such.  My pal, Ara Topouzian attends lots of ribbon cuttings, perhaps he will invite me along some time.  Given my age and suspect memory, I may forget that I wrote this and be delightfully surprised by his invitation!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

April 2016: Chidem Inch - April 24th

     The day is about to end. I am just beginning to write my April 24th letter. There is no hope of getting it done this evening. I hope I can finish it before the month ends.

     It is the 101st anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide. I traditionally have written a letter to mark this occasion. I have lamented, raged, been solemn, and exasperated by the lack of closure.
      Last year, I did not write a letter. I had every intention to. It was the 100th anniversary and I wanted to write the letter of all letters. There was so much I wanted to say… that I ended up saying nothing in a formal letter. I did post a variety of posts in a series I am calling Chidem Inch. They are all on my blog:
  1. Chided Inch
  2. Chidem Inch - Kim Kardashian in Armenia
  3. Çidem İnç - Hagop Martayan 
  4. Chidem Inch - Descendants of Survivors and Saints
  5. Chidem Inch - The G Word
  6. Chidem Inch: Sedition Medition!
  7. Çidem İnç: Terror in Paris and Beirut
  8. January 2016: Chidem Inch - The Water Diviner 
      Honestly, I had a very hard time collect my thoughts on centenary of the Genocide. Simply, and honestly, I was overwhelmed with it all. 
     Luckily, many of my fellow Armenians were better able to express themselves. There was an amazing number of literary and artistic offerings. Our people wrote books, produced films, made documentaries, recorded CDs, and gave concerts. I have read many of the books, watched the movies and documentaries, listened to the CDs, and even performed in a concert myself. I thought this year, for this letter, I would share my thoughts on some of books I have read.
     Our people keep writing books about what transpired. Our people keep reading each new book. They are often painful to read and they have to be grueling to write. While the details of each story, memoir or novel, is different. There is a tragic sameness to them. We know what happened. No amount of reading seems to answer the unanswerable questions. No amount of writing such books alters the path. Not a single one of these brings the true closure we seek as a people.
     Yet, even though the martyrs are all saints, we write and read such books to keep the memories of all who died horribly and without any formal burial or grave. There are but a handful of people alive who actually knew any of these people, our martyrs, and now our Saints. But we have been handed a torch, a light of truth and a hope for justice, that we do not want to see extinguished on our watch.
     There is no hierarchy in the order these books are presented.
     Tadem: Our family friend, Robert Aram Kaloosdian, a man I have always called Uncle Aram, wrote a book called Tadem, My Father’s Village: Extinguished during the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Uncle Aram was not a blood relative. He is a childhood friend of my father and uncle. They all grew up in Watertown, MA – a most Armenian town. They went to Watertown High School and all ran on the State Championship Track Team.
     Aram’s father, Boghos Kezerian Kaloosdian was a survivor of the Genocide and a native of Tadem. This book is Uncle Aram’s telling of his father’s story.
     I also knew Boghos Kaloosdian. Every year when we would visit Watertown in the summer, we would go to Mr. Kaloosdian’s diner. It was a special childhood memory made more special because of this excellent book.
     Uncle Aram wrote a very detailed, somber, and sobering book basically told his father’s story. Quoting from the Preface:
At first, I set out to translate and republish the book Tadem: Our Village, edited by Kourken Mekhitarian and print in Boston in 1958 by the Hairenik Press. But I had a change of heart. Although the book is an important resource on Tadem’s history, customs, and tradition, I didn’t believe it provided and adequate depiction of the methodical destruction the village during the final days of the Ottoman Empire.
     Well, Uncle Aram did just that. His book begins with some history of the region and the village. It begins in earnest with the 1895 Massacres which really was the beginning of a tumultuous time that ended with the Genocide of 1915. It is a story of a sad spiral that ended with the Armenians of Tadem being killed or exiled. While it was well researched and very well written, it was not an easy read simply because of the tragic subject matter.
     He traces his father’s journey of escape and trek that led him around the world ending up, finally, in Boston. This is the story his father told him. Uncle Aram interviewed others in his generation to gather and corroborate his father’s stories with that of other survivors.
     While my family was not from Tadem, there is a sameness to all the stories. The details might be different but the plight and challenges were the same.
     There are many books about Armenian villages. As referenced in the quote from the preface, some captured the life and lifestyles of the visitors. Some address the demise of this village or that with too much hyperbole. Uncle Aram did something different and very special. He put the reader there and detailed the demise of this once proud and prosperous Armenian village of Tadem.
     I am proud of him for writing this book. Knowing him and his father, it is a treasure in my library.

     Giants of the Earth: This book, Giants of the Earth is by Mitch Kehetian. Mitch is of the same generation as my parents and Uncle Aram. I have known Mitch for a long time and certainly consider the Kehetians as family friends. Mitch grew up in Detroit and attended the same church, St. Sarkis, as we did. My parents were in the Armenian Youth Federation with Mitch. I was in the AYF with his daughters Grace, Janet, and Karen. His people hail from an ancient Armenian village, Khoops, near modern day Erzerum. The larger city, or as Mitch called it the county seat, was Keghi. There was a
very large contingent of Keghi-Khoops survivors in Detroit.
     Mitch is a writer by trade. He began his career as a journalist in the year I was born. He started his career at The Detroit Times, he moved on to the Columbus Citizen Journal, and then settled in at the Macomb Daily for the bulk of his career. Rising to editor of the Macomb Daily, Mitch became revered both locally and nationally.
     On the occasion of his retirement in 2005, Representative Sander Levin gave paid tribute to Mitch on the House floor.
Mitch Kehetian loved and believed in the work of journalism. He was a reporter's reporter committed to the news, and the trusted role of the ``newsman'' in our country. Michigan was better off with his reporter's eye and his editor's pen at work in our community. His dedication to his work allowed him to enjoy mentoring young and aspiring journalists often at the beginning of their careers. Mr. Kehetian served as both the President and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Detroit Press Club, and as President of the Metro Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2002, the Society bestowed its highest honor upon him, ``Lifetime Achievement Award.'' He has also been awarded countless journalism awards from the Associated Press, United Press International, Michigan Press Association, to name just a few.
     Giants of the Earth was published in 2009. The book was a long time coming and captures a quest he embarked in the late 1960s. His quest was to find his father’s youngest sister Parancim.
     He had not really known about his aunt. In fact, he thought Parancim was his father’s cousin and that she had perished in the Genocide. He found out, in Moscow, during a trip to Soviet Armenia in 1968 that Parancim had survived and lived in Keghi.
     When he later learned that Parancim was his aunt, Mitch embarked on a trip to find her. He did this in a time where there were very few people venturing to Soviet Armenia and virtually no one was visiting the once Armenian lands of Eastern Turkey. But, Mitch did just that.
     With help from his Congressman Lucien Nedzi, Mitch arranged a trip to go find his aunt. His story is amazing, inspirational, and heart wrenching. He learns, sadly, that Parancim passed but is led to her grave, overlooking the Euphrates, by his half-Armenian half-Turkish cousin, Parancim’s son.
     Mitch’s memoir is laced with history, family history, and his struggles being in the land of his father i.e. in a land were there no more Armenians. It is an excellent book that is also a treasure in my library.

     Orhan’s Inheritance: This book is different for a few reasons. First, it is a novel. Second, I did not personally know the author, Aline Ohanesian. We have become Facebook friends since.
     Aline is not of my parents’ generation. Nor is she of mine. My grandparents were survivors. Her great-grandparents were survivors. To me, this novel is proof that this thing, this Genocide, that happened to our people is still something we are still dealing with. It is still important and central in our lives.
     This is her first novel. While I cannot find the reference, I do recall reading or hearing Aline say in an interview that this book is the result of a twelve-year effort. It was certainly worth the wait. It is a different kind of novel, a bit like The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian, that has a leg today with the other in 1915.
     Also, like The Sandcastle Girls and, the lesser known but equally good novel by Mark Mustian, The Gendarme, Orhan’s Inheritence weaves a story of Armenians and Turks, showing both need closure and peace on this issue. They are all about personal stories that take place in a time of great conflict. The personal stories are insignificant in the scheme of the Genocide. But, they are stories. These stories, while fiction, are a bit different than the other stories, the tragic stories of our martyrs and survivors. They were all stories I did not want to read, but was very glad that I forced myself to read them.
     I did not plow through Uncle Aram’s or Mitch’s books. I sipped them and at times had to stop and let things soak in. At other times, I had to stop and let the angst and anguish subside.
     With Aline’s book, I read it in two nights. I could not put it down. While reading it, I knew I was going to write something about her book. Something about her writing style bothered me. Two thoughts occurred to me. English is not her first language. Very few people could write so well in a second or third tongue. Also, as I just mentioned, I could not put it down. In reading the New York Times review of her book, Andersen Tepper noted, “Despite Ohanesian’s penchant for flowery prose, her narrative proceeds with stirring vigor…” This statement summed up whatever I was thinking. Truly, the stirring vigor overwhelmed the penchant for flowery prose.
     We need more stories that involve Turks and Turkified Armenians. We need to hear about the Turks that helped Armenians survive. We should be able to list a few Schindlers and tell their story. In reading Mitch’s book, I felt horrible that he did not get to meet his Aunt Parancim. I wanted to know what she thought all those years living in her ancestral village not knowing anything about where her people ended up and how they were doing. How did she feel about her Turkified life? Did she meld in and comply adapt to her changed life? Or did she secretly harbor an inner desire to be a bit more Armenian.
     These novels of Aline Ohanesian, Chris Bohjalian, and Mark Mustian expand our minds. They remind us, in a most personal way, that this history is not a closed and resolved in Turkey. They are a synthesis of all the stories. Each puts their own unique spin and flavor on their crafted tale. We have some gifted writers and I look forward to more from each of them.
     The books by Mitch and Uncle Aram. They are treasures. I wish I had more books like this chronicling as much as possible what was and is no more. Who were the people that did not survive?


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Downtown Cabbie

From thedailypedia.com 
     I am sitting here typing this blog while the rest of the world, well the US, seems to tuned into PBS to watch the finale of a long standing dramatic series:  Downtown Cabbie.  I think it is about the trials and tribulation of a New York cab driver trying to eke out a livelihood in world of political and economic uncertainty not to mention the rise of Uber.  It sounds like a gripping, though depressing, theme for a television series.  I suppose if we suspend reality a bit, we can accept that the cab driver is from a war torn Middle Eastern country.  The subplots are that his only son is feeling the tug of ISIS propaganda, his wife wants to don a hijab against his better judgement, and his daughter wants to forsake her heritage and just blend in.  Downtown Cabbie.  The last show is tonight and everyone is watching it but me.
     Of course, I know that the series is really Downton Abbey set in England and a google search yielded the following description:
The series begins with the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, which leaves Downton Abbey's future in jeopardy, since the presumptive heirs of Robert, Earl of Grantham -- his cousin James, and James' son, Patrick -- die in the catastrophe, leaving the family without a male offspring to take over Downton when the current lord dies. The point is important since Lord Grantham's children are daughters -- Ladies Mary, Edith and Sybil, but the facets of their lives and of those of the below-stairs staff -- also a highly regimented world -- have fascinating story lines.
     I have never watched or gotten into a series on PBS.  I have friends and family that are devoted to them.  I cannot even recall the names of these series.  I do believe a predecessor to Downton was Masterpiece Theater or something like that or maybe Downton Abbey is the latest offering of Masterpiece Theater.  See how out of it I am?
     Netflix and other cabley networks have presumably seen what PBS and the BBC have done with Downton and other shows.  They have created their own dramatic series that seem to have attracted equally devoted fans.  But, I have no clue what these shows are and what they are about either.  I have never watched any of them.  I only know they exist because I hear people talking about them.  They don't talk so much about the plots or characters but brag in a way of how they spent a whole weekend watch years one through n.  There is even a name given to this.  It is called binge watching.  As I have never watched these shows, I have never really binged watched them either.  
     What are these shows?  Here are the top rated ones reported from some other google search:

  • Breaking Bread or Bad
  • Game of Cards
  • The Walking Dead
  • House of Thrones
  • Black is the new Orange
  • Ad Men or Bad Men... I forget.  Maybe it's Breaking Bad Men?
  • Sons of Armenia... wait that can't be right.
     It is not that I don't watch TV.  But the last series I watched religiously was Seinfeld.  It was on NBC.  I do believe that part of still believes these upstart cable networks are still a passing fad and the only series worth watching are on CBS, NBC, and ABC... period end of story.  Come to think of it, I cannot even name a series on one of those networks.  Perhaps they have all moved to reality TV and talent contests. 
     So, what do I watch on TV?  Basically, sports and movies.  By sports, I mean football mostly.  I am also prone to watch the same movies over and over again.  I will watch watch any Errol Flynn swashbuckler, The Marx Brothers, the more classic Humphrey Bogart films, any Harry Potter, and high body count movies.  I will watch several uplifting sport movies overtime they are on.  These include Miracle, The Blind Side, and Wimbledon.   Yet, I will not binge watch Harry Potter.
     Have I ever binge watched?  Yes, every New Years Day.  I binge watch football and rarely make it to the evening games because, I am simply weary of it.  Even when there is a Three Stooges or Seinfeld Marathon (which is what binge watching used to be called), I rarely watch more than an hour.  These comedies are for savoring not binging.
    My favorite binge watching ever though was in in 1991.  My wife and daughter were going off on an overnight girl scout campout.  My son and I had the day to ourselves.  I asked him what he wanted to do.  He said with pure 10 year old glee, "Dad, let's rent Terminator 1 and Terminator 2 and watch them."  We did and created a wonderful memory for me.
     Well, Downton Abbey has ended.  Hopefully, something special will come along
to fill the void.  Maybe, whatever it is will be special enough to grab my attention and get me into mainstream... or at least give me something else to blog about.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Who's Better at Social Media?


     Over the past few years, I have kept hearing that ISIS uses social media to attract, recruit, and radicalize young Moslems in the US and Europe. It is a notion that is reported in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, the BBC, and all those British papers that include the words Globe, Mail, or Guardian in them. These bad guys can reach out and influence the thoughts and allegiances of young people crazy things like websites.
     Oh my... what are we to do? How can we ever combat such a dastardly and dastardly evil us of the all these wondrous sites and portals we created?
     Wait. What was that? Hmmm, yes, we created all this infrastructure. Al Gore created the internet based on an idea from, I believe it was, Millard Filmore. Americans created Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Amazon.com, Pinterest, Tumblr, and the rest those other icons that populate websites that almost no one know what they are and make us wonder who the heck uses them. We created social media. We spend way too time on our devices tending to things, trying to be engaging, clever, comical, insightful, and sometimes inciteful. It is a world of selfies and foolish observations. It is a world I blog in and about.
     The point is that we invented most of it. We are masters of it. And, we have just sat by and let ISIS beat us at this?  Huh?
     Shame on us. Really. Shame on us for letting them beat us at the game we both created and are masters of? Oh, the shame of it. Oh, the humiliation. We are the masters of internet marketing and we are letting these novices at it beat us at our own game. Where is our counter marketing campaign? Is it unbelievably possible that we simply never thought of it.
 
   I just googled "social media marketing." The first article that came up was about Chick-Fil-A:
How Chick-Fil-A's Social Media Marketing Translated Into Twitter, Facebook and Instagram Success. This article on the International Business Times website discusses
Forging past 2012 boycotts from an anti-gay controversy, Chick-fil-A honed its social media presence with an engaging voice, original visual content and timely posts, but experts say the Atlanta-based company's grasp of its consumer base is the kernel of its social network mastery. Six days a week, the food chain goes full-throttle on social media, but then, like its restaurants, rests upon the seventh day, going offline Sundays.
     Chick-fil-A does it with simple, but frequent Facebook posts, Instagrams, and tweets like "A couple that eats waffle fries together, stays together" combined with a couple emojis. There is nothing special about their campaign except the
Source: Engagement Labs eValueTM 2015 rankings
of America’s 10 favorite brands for 2015
do it often and effectively.  Their results are impressive. Chick-fil-A was ranked as the "the overall favorite brand of 2015 on social media" beating out the likes of Coca-Cola, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, and Netflix.
     If this can be done for Chicken Sandwiches, why can't a similar campaign, e.g. AntIsis, be run with equal effectiveness.  Of course, there is no way we can let governments be in charge of this.  Heck, our government can't even make the No Call List work.  The US and the European Union would have to fund it, but they just can't run it.  I would hire, Moxie, the social marketing agency Chick-fil-A uses let them at it.  I will give them a couple tweet options gratis while at the same time re-enforcing my complete lack of marketing and advertising skills:
  • Channelling Chick-fil-A:  A couple where neither is a suicide bomber, stays together and lives happier.
  • Dated but still effective:  Take a chill pill.
  • Lennon Classic:  Give Peace a Chance.
  • Subaru Classic:  Coexist
  • I really should stop here:  Have a Chick-fil-Aful and stop feeling awful.
     Clearly, this is not the job for me.  But you get the idea.  I think if done properly we could use one of our strengths to limit the recruiting and radicalization of young people.  

Friday, January 8, 2016

Shoes That Wear Themselves Out Just Sitting in the Closet.

Note the crack at the base of the heel but no noticeable
wear on the walking surfaces of the sole.
      The other night I noticed dirt on the tile floor of our laundry room.  When I tried to pick it up it just crumbled in my hand.  So, I got the Dustbuster and vacuumed it up.  As I looked to see if more dirt was about, I noticed that more dirt was being deposited with every few steps I took.  Dang.  I must have picked some mud up while I had gone out to get the mail.  I looked at the bottom of the shoes and realized it wasn't dirt but rather that the heel of the shoe was disintegrating.  It was not dirt but really crumbly rubber.
     I was a little annoyed because, while these shoes were several years old, I did not wear them that often.  There was no reason, or so I thought, that the sole of the shoe should be deteriorating in such a manner.  I googled Ecco, the name of the shoe company, and "shoe sole disintegrating."  There were plenty of consumer complaint sites documenting the exact problem I had experienced.  This was a known issue.
     I called Ecco customer service.  While they did not acknowledge any ongoing problem, they quickly said they would be send out a postage paid envelope that I could use to return the shoes to them.  I was told they would evaluate the issue.  If deemed their fault, they would either send me a new pair of the same shoe or a credit to buy another pair.  That sounded fair.  I figured that even though the shoes were old, I rarely wore them and when I did I wore them on dressy occasions when we had company.  I rarely wore these particular shoes outside.  
     I asked if the shoes could be resoled and that would be fine with me.  The agent said that this was not possible because the sole and heel were made polyurethane which was molded right onto the shoe.
     This was not the first time this happened to me.  The same thing happened last year with a pair of Blundstone boots that I had bought in the early 2000s for snowy days.  The soles of these boots disintegrated in almost the same way.  It was in my office and again, at first, I thought it was dirt.  Those boots had to be thrown out as they couldn't be resoled either. In this particular occasion, I just assumed that the rubber (I did not know they were polyurethane at the time) dried out with age and began to crumble.
     I ran across a website that explained why my initial theory was wrong and why this phenomena actually happens:
The shoes had a moulded polyurethane (PU) sole, which, while being light and comfortable, is prone to a form of deterioration called “hydrolysis”, especially in coastal, humid areas, when not worn. In short, they crumble into a sticky mess.

It seems the act of wearing them puts pressure on the soles and squeezes out the moisture, which would otherwise insidiously break apart the foam-like structure. So it’s possible for a pair of unworn or barely worn shoes to disintegrate.

As I discovered when I Googled the words “PU soles” and “disintegrate”, this is a hot issue, and affects most brands of “comfort” shoes, among them Clarks, Hush Puppies, Green Cross, Scholl, Bass and Ecco.
~ IOL a New Zealand News Site
     Basically, shoes with these kinds soles, which indeed are light and very comfortable, last longer the more you wear them and they wear out faster if you don't.  That sounds oxymoronic.  I will have to remember this if Ecco sends me another pair.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

January 2016: Chidem Inch - The Water Diviner

Ottoman 5th Army Positions April 1915
      I just finished watching the Russell Crowe film, The Water Diviner.  It debuted earlier this year and, typical of many movie promotions, I had no clue what the film was about.  I made a mental note to watch the film at some point simply because I like most Russell Crowe films.  Then I saw some articles in the Armenian press and posts on Facebook slamming the film.  Russell Crowe was called out for starring and directing a film about Gallipoli and ignoring any mention of the Armenians or the Armenian Genocide.   I made a point of not reading the articles until I saw the film. The film was released in December 2014 in Australia.  The European and US releases were in March and April coinciding, not by mere chance I presume, with the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide commemorations.
      If I wasn't Armenian or Greek, I would have probably enjoyed the film more.  The lay reviews on IMDB.com are quite favorable.  One would definitely want to see this film reading those reviews.  Yet, as Sylvia Angelique Alajaji says in her book, Music and the Armenian Diaspora:  "The 1915 Genocide has become the hinge on which all stories pivot."  For Armenians, that is how we approach this movie.  The Armenians weren't mentioned at all.  The Allies made their first landing on April 25, 1915.  Basically, this historic battle lasted the rest of 1915 simultaneously with the first seven months of the Armenian Genocide.  There were Greeks in the film,  But they were portrayed as invaders and their army as evil.  The Greeks were seen shelling an ancient castle in a battle much like the Turks destroyed the Parthenon (for real) by using it for target practice. The film conveniently ended before they had to deal with not talking about what happened in
Native Greek children standing by the bones, in 1919, of
soldiers who died during in Gallipoli in 1915 
Smyrna.
    There were many things about the movie that resonated with me.  First off, the story was compelling.  I liked the general plot.  I enjoyed two Turkish melodies that were part of the soundtrack.  I loved hearing an Aussie, or perhaps British officer, saying, "We lost the battle, but won the war."  It was interesting to see how the Australians, Brits, and Turks collaborated after the war to collect the vast number of skeletons and bones on the battle field.  Another Australian or British officer noted that this was the first war they tried to identify those slain and bury them in marked graves.  Previously, they dug large trenches and in which soldiers, horses, and mules were all thrown, covered in lime, and buried en masse.  Hopefully, these were not Hollywood fabrications.  It is hard to tell which parts of such movies are factual and which are from the imagination of screen writers.
     There was a scene at the end that takes place in what they call the "old church" in a village near or around Afyon (as best as I could tell from my watching of the movie).  This would have been a perfect time to provide the origins of the church and the lead Turkish character,  Major Hasan who was a most human and sympathetic character in the film from my perspective, might have given an explanation of what kind of church it was and what happened to the people that once worshipped there.  But, alas, it was just the "old church."
     The casualties at Gallipoli, Çanakkale in Turkish, were staggering.  Almost 57,000 Turkish troops died there.  The allied deaths were about the same number.  Approximately 107,000 Turks and 123,500 Allies were wounded.  It was a significant battle and both sides have rightfully commemorated it over the years, the way Americans, the English, French, and Germans commemorate D-Day.  War is indeed hell whether it was ethnic cleansing as in the Armenian Genocide or an epic brutal battle as in Çanakkale.  This film attempted to address the hellish nature of war through characters on both sides that were human
Captain Sarkis Terossian:  The first
person to sink a British battleship
and humane.  The major problem was with the exclusion.  
      They might have had an Armenian character in the film that served in Gallipoli.  The character might have been based on an Armenian artillery officer, Captain Sarkis Terossian, in the Turkish Army that was decorated and wrote a memoir of the Battle of Gallipoli.
In fact, Captain Sarkis Torossian was personally awarded medals for his courage by Enver Pasha, Turkey’s war minister and the most powerful man in the Ottoman hierarchy.
~ Robert Fisk, in a 5/12/13 Independent article.
     Çanakkale Savaşı (The Battle of Gallipoli) is an important part Turkish history.  Mustafa Kemal was a hero of the battle.  He led the post World War I national movement that resulted in the formation of the Republic of Turkey and the deification of Mustafa Kemal as Kemal Ataturk for founder of the Nation.  Because of this, Çanakkale is not viewed as the last great victory of the Ottoman Empire but rather the first victory that led to the founding of the Republic.  To me, as an Armenian, I see nothing more than a continuum that was first subjugation, second class overtaxed citizenship, Genocide, and, lastly, denial.  Mustafa Kemal was part of that continuum from Ottoman to Republic.  This includes, per the Fisk article, a concerted effort in Turkey claiming that  Sarkis Torosian's memoirs and participation in Çanakkale are pure fabrication... as were the thousands of Arabs and other minorities that fought in the Ottoman Army in that famous battle.
     Crowe is not the first Australian to only focus on Gallipoli and ignore the Armenian Genocide. I suppose the question is whether Australians are remiss by only focusing on this very important battle in the history of their nation? The article quoted from below is by Robert Manne who is "Emeritus Professor and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at La Trobe University and has twice been voted Australia’s leading public intellectual." He claims his country and countrymen are remiss.
And yet, despite the fact that the Armenian Genocide was one of the great crimes of history; despite the fact that it took place on Ottoman soil during the precise months of the Dardanelles campaign; despite the fact that that campaign is regarded as the moment when the Australian nation was born, so far as I can tell, in the vast Gallipoli canon, not one Australian historian has devoted more than a passing page or paragraph to the relationship, or even the mere coincidence, of the two events. Concerning the Armenian Genocide, in the space of two large volumes on Gallipoli, Charles Bean is silent; Les Carlyon gives the issue three or four lines; John Robertson allows half a page. Alan Moorehead, in his mid-'50s classic, is unusual by devoting a full three pages to the Armenian Question.
~ Robert Manne, The Monthly Essays
     Note that these excerpts are from articles, well worth reading, written by non-Armenians.  The Water Diviner got hammered by film critics in much the same way... again by non-Armenians.  Here
are some references and excerpts.

Let me put it this way: If I made a film set in Germany or France or Poland in the 1940s that made no reference to the fate of Europe’s Jewish population in those years – if I appeared unaware that there ever were Jews in Europe, let alone what had become of them – how would that look? What sort of person would you judge me to be, and what sort of point would I seem to be making? Such is the question raised by “The Water Diviner,” a film largely made in Turkey that is being released in the United States on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide – not the approximate anniversary but the precise anniversary, to the day. In a systematic campaign of deportation, starvation and mass murder that began in the spring of 1915, officials of the Ottoman Empire killed between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenians, an event that would later be called the first modern genocide and that shifted the course of 20th-century history, not least because it provided a template for the more ambitious schemes of Adolf Hitler. That event is never mentioned in “The Water Diviner,” not obliquely or indirectly or in any other way; you could easily watch the movie and never know that it happened.
~ Andrew O'Heir, Salon
Australian historian Professor Peter Stanley suggests that rather than a deliberate distortion, the problem with the film is most likely that Crowe, like his writers, has "entered a highly contested historical arena … without any idea of what he was getting into. His response was to simply roll over and accept the Turkish version."
Of course, the cynical might suggest that there may well have been commercial reasons for doing so.
The Anzac story presumably has little relevance to Greek or Armenian audience, but a retelling that is more sympathetic to the Turkish view was always likely to fare well in that market.
~ The Sydney Morning Herald
The moral issue at stake is neatly captured in the subtitle of Robertson’s recently published book on the genocide: ‘Who now remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?’ It was Hitler’s comment to his generals on the eve of the invasion of Poland urging them to show no mercy as there would be no retribution. It’s all part of ‘the other side of the Gallipoli story’ that Russell Crowe somehow didn’t get around to even hinting at.
~Anthony McAdam, The Spectator 
Nonetheless, if you strip the movie back to what works, and to what matters, it will, as I suggest, serve its purpose on Anzac Day. It should certainly not have been released yesterday, for that itself marked a harrowing centenary; to Armenians everywhere, April 24th refers to Genocide Remembrance Day, in memory of the many hundreds of thousands—as many as a million and a half, by some estimates—of their compatriots who died under Ottoman rule. Turkey continues vehemently to refute the charge of genocide, but the word is widely adopted, and was even used recently by Pope Francis. Whatever term you choose, why did the distributors of “The Water Diviner” risk insulting an entire community for the sake of one night’s takings at the box office? After all, here is a film that goes to some lengths to retreat from prejudice, to stand back, and to view distant events as an inextricable tangle of grievance and grief.
~Anthony Lane, The New Yorker
     It is worth reading any of these articles.  They all acknowledge the raw nerve that the memories of both Gallipoli and the Armenian Genocide touch to this day.  The Turks looked to have an international commemoration of Gallipoli/Çanakkale on the same day the Armenians were commemorating the start of the Genocide:  April 24.  They figured they would overshadow a part of their history they want the world to forget by making a big fanfare over an event in their history that they embrace.  World leaders were to attend the Gallipoli commemoration.  The event never happened.  World leaders bowed out when, apparently, they realized the ulterior motive of Ankara.  Sadly, Russell Crowe's movie was already produced.  I do not believe they did not have to release the film on April 24th in the US.  Either Crowe was complicit with or duped by his Turkish influencers.  I am going to believe the latter.  
     I had recently read Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul by Charles King. This book covers the history of Istanbul from the end of World War I until the mid 1950s. Professor King's book addresses the Armenian, Greek, Jewish, Russian, and other minority groups very well. While he could not possibly please all people who might read the book, I believe his coverage to be well balanced. The same cannot be said about The Water Diviner.

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All photos from Wikipedia.