Thursday, October 28, 2010

Armenians Invented Clothes

  1. Back in June of this year, the world’s oldest shoe found in Armenia -
  2. Now, today, I just learned that the world’s oldest shirt was also found in Armenia -
  3. There is only one conclusion that any Armenian can come to:  Armenians invented clothes.
Didn't we all learn in our Armenian School days that "Armenians were inventing clothing, while all other peoples were either swinging from trees or living in caves?"  Oh the folly of youth!  We just assumed that was all hyperbole.

There was even writing on the shirt, and this is astonishing, that said:

"See you at the 5899 Olympics in Armavir!"

Not only shoes and shirts... we invented athletics... clearly.

It was not until 4520, however, that Goolba the Elder from Garni invented socks... he was quoted to have said:  "The heel, darn it!  We had to find out how to sew the heel.  That was the key."

The greatest innovation in clothing was from Wardik the Magnificent of Djermuk.  He invented the first boxer shorts.  At first, these so called “wardiks” or “vardigs” in western Armenian were used simply to make pants (invented of course by Shalvar of Sunik in 4633) last longer and look better.  Wardik’s direct descendent and good friend of mine, Mardik Pambagian from Springfield, MA, always lament’s “If he had only patented his invention like his mother told him to…”

Women were not left out of the act by any means.  We are all aware from our Sunday School lessons that one Digeen San-toukht of the Ladies Auxiliary of Aragats invented toilet paper in 2877. Who can forget her famous quote, "I jus vant everyone smell better... dats all."

I believe nearby the excavations where the oldest shoe and oldest shirt were found, archeologists will find the ruins of the oldest cafe with the oldest sign that says... 
  • No shoes
  • No shirt
  • No service 

They might even find the oldest village with the oldest haberdashery, the oldest outlet mall, and I wouldn't even be surprised if we found the oldest coffee shop.  We did invent coffee didn't we?  We most certainly invented commerce. 

Clearly, we are the cradle of all civilization. 

Oh... the mummified goat?  I am doing more research on that.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

October 2010: Motivational Quotes

My December 2008 letter was titled “Inspiration Under $20.”   I find myself writing about something similar this month. 

Quietly, even under the radar I have noticed the increased focus and intense interest in motivational quotes.  This phenomenon is most prevalent in social media.
First, we should probably go over what I mean by social media.  Social media is the term used to categorize websites and internet applications for people simply to interact with each other.  The premier and most common of the social media or synonymously, social networking, sites is Facebook.  LinkedIn and Twitter, in my mind, round out the top three social media sites.  I do not use Facebook but am active on both LinkedIn and Twitter.
LinkedIn is focused on business networking.  It is an important tool for anyone looking for a new position.  You basically put your resume on your linked in site and begin building your network which is basically inviting friends and colleagues.  People in your network are called connections.  You can search for people or companies.  When you do, LinkedIn lists your connections that either work/worked for that company or are connected to the person you are searching for. 
My LinkedIn profile can be found at:
Let’s say Joe and I worked together at the XYZ Company.  I probably would remember that relationship.  But, I might have forgotten that Joe worked for ABC, Inc. a company I am interested in networking into.  LinkedIn will also point out whom in Joe’s network or the network of his connections works for has also worked for ABC.  If I am searching for a person, I will know if Joe or any of his connections are connected to the person I am searching for.  It is very cool and very effective.
LinkedIn has many other bells and whistles that are very useful.  There are groups where people of like interests, professions, alumni of the same university, and alumni of the same company can post discussion questions and jobs.  One can import their directories from Gmail and Yahoo.  LinkedIn is a great networking tool for business people.  I often call it Facebook for adults or Facebook for grown-ups.
Twitter is a different animal.  It’s value is not really intuitive.   When I first heard about twitter, it was explained as a way to share what you are doing or thinking right now in 140 characters or less.  The postings are called “tweets” and they indeed have to be 140 characters or less. 
If the 140 character figure sounds familiar, it is the same character limit on cell phone texting.   So, in another perspective, twitter is a way to broadcast texts.  Who do you broadcast texts too?  Your followers of course!  There are three classes of members from your perspective on twitter.  First, are your followers, these are users that have found or sought you ought and decided to follow you.  By following, they get all of your tweets.  The second class of twitter members is the people you are following.  These are folks you have sought out or found and decided that you would like to see their tweets.  The third class are all the remainder of the twitter members who you do not follow and who do not follow you.
This is all easy to understand and comprehend but the question is why?  Why spend time tweeting and reading tweets.  OK, it might be interesting at first to either broadcast what you are doing right now and read the same from others.  But there is a limit to how much of the following you can read or write:
  • What a rough get up this morning
  • It is a beautiful day.
  • I am on my third cup of coffee and attacking my to-do list.
  • My boss is a total jerk.
  • Hey y’all going for a jog.
  • Good nite
Many smart people, including one of the smartest, my partner Ara Surenian, told me that twitter was the next great business building and networking tool.  I did not see it.  But, I played with it, read about it, and will admit that I still didn’t get it.  I was not alone, many young people on the cutting edge of technology and social media in general were not getting it either.  I polled my children, nieces, nephews, students, and found that the youth who text like breathing and have forgotten more about smart phones and apps than I will ever hope to learn, just did not understand twitter.  As a result, they were not members.
So, why was I still futzing around with it?  I came to realize in reading the tweets of others that it is a way in 140 characters or less to drive traffic to your website and blogs.  It is a way to show expertise and share information… and drive traffic to your website.  The more traffic on your website, the greater the inquiries and interest which lead to new business.
What does all this have to with motivation? 
It all began on August 13, 2009 in the depths of the recession.  A rather simple question was posted in the TopLinkedIn Group of open networkers I had just joined.   The question was posted by Todd Gasparik from Orange, CA. The question was:  “What is your favorite motivational quote?”
I was the fourth person to respond.  I had a couple quotes which I shared.  Here is my full response: 
Great discussion topic!
1.  "Knowing never equals doing" - Mariah Smith
2.  "Whether You Think You Can or Can't,
      You're Right"--Henry Ford
     As I said, I was the fourth respondent.   As of 10:10 pm October 20, 2010 there have been 4,494 more postings on this discussion and an average of over 10 a day for fourteen months.  That is the most I have seen on LinkedIn. 
    When it hit 100 on the next day, which to me at that time was a record, I reached out to Todd.  We became part of each other’s network and exchanged e-mails trying to figure out why this discussion took off so.  I even tried to see if I could replicate Todd’s success by posting what I thought were interesting and provocative.  On August 20, 2009, I posted a discussion question:  “Do you think the recession is over?”  I got 51 comments in two days which actually is decent but nowhere the popularity of Todd’s.  Then my discussion just stopped.
    Every day more quotes come in, some of them very good, some lame, many duplicates, and duplicates attributed to different luminaries.  I copied my favorites from this discussion and others I had collected over the years, printed them all out on one sheet of paper, laminated it, and carry it in my briefcase.
    In this same year while Todd’s germinal discussion was growing, a few groups dedicated solely to quotes started on LinkedIn.  I joined two of them:  Quotivate and Online Motivator.  There is a discussion in Online Motivator that asks “What is your favourite quote of all time?”  It has 47 comments in 5 months.  The same question on Quotivate has generated 2,892 responses in 6 months.
    On twitter, the number of tweets containing quotes has also mushroomed.  Quotes are perfect for twitter.  Many of the best quotes are short and definitely under the requisite 140 characters.  Furthermore, most of the quotes that come my way via twitter are indeed motivational, inspirational, and sometimes funny.  There are several members on are dedicated entirely to tweeting quotes.  Some of those I follow along with their latest tweet at the time of this writing are:
    • Motivational Quotes @AncientProverbs
      “Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan.” -English proverbs
    • Tom @allgreatquotes
      "A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed." - Henrik Ibsen
    • Charmine Shing @profitablequote
      “To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
    • Motivational Quotes @Sports_Greats
      “A true friend sees the good in everything, and brings out the best in the worst of things.” -Sasha Azevedo
    • Wisdomalive @wisdomalive
      “The path to self-fulfillment is a journey, not a competition.”
    • Steve Keating CSE @LeadToday
      “If you aren't fired with enthusiasm you will be fired with enthusiasm.” - Vince Lombardi
    • Mark Clemens @NeverTheTwains
      “Water, taken in moderation, cannot hurt anybody.” - Mark Twain
    • Tom Ziglar @TomZiglar
      “If you don't see yourself as a winner, then you cannot perform as a winner.” -  Zig Ziglar
    • Great Minds Quotes @GreatestQuotes
      “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”  ~ Henry Ford
    This is but a quick snapshot of the offering on twitter.  Obviously, every quote tweeted is not a potential life changer.  I do not relate to all the above quotes.  I do like the Ben Franklin and Henry Ford quotes though. 
    I cannot even compare them to an old German proverb I read in the past few weeks ago.  I am not sure where I actually read this quote but I wrote it in my notebook.  It could have been any of the above mentioned twitter feeds or the LinkedIn discussions.

    Start sewing and God will
    supply the thread.

    This is just a lovely quote to me.  It applies directly to personal weakness.  I procrastinate about many different tasks and projects.  I wish that procrastination were an Olympic sport.  I could have been a gold medalist… assuming I could overcome the gravity of procrastination and actually fill out the entry forms.
    This quote is similar to the Chinese proverb from Confucius: 
    A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
    This quote does not resonate in the same way.  I know that a journey or large task must start with a single step and many additional steps must follow.  This I get.  I know how to do something like a journey.  It is a matter of either doing it or not doing it.  That is a matter of choice and self discipline.
    My issue is a little different especially when the task at hand is new to me.  It does not even have to be a complicated or lengthy task.  Often, I do not how to solve the entire problem.  If I question my skills, the paralysis then sets like concrete.  Yet, if I just jump into it and take that first step and start sewing, God indeed supplies the thread.
    Of course, both quotes are very similar.  They both say, just start.  The German proverb addresses my particular procrastination and paralysis.  Start sewing, God will provide the thread.  Beautiful.  It gives me the confidence I need.  The proverb resonated when I first read because it immediately made sense based on a few very recent examples in my own work.
    There has to be an economic component as to why quotes are so popular.  People are worried.  They are worrying about the jobs, their savings, our country, and the future.  The Great Recession lingers longer and the recovery much more shallow than anyone wants or expected.  There is a collective feeling that when all is said and done, we will be something less than we were before.  This is referred to as the “New Normal.”  With all of this malaise, it is quite helpful to read inspirational and motivational quotes. 
    When I was a schoolboy, there was a book people went to when they needed a quote.  It was Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.  It was in every library but required more effort than most people wanted to put into it digging out quotes to use in a speech or presentation. 
    With the internet, it just became easier.  There are websites dedicated to quotations that facilitate searching by author or subject.   Google “quotations” and you will find The Quotations Page,, the 10th edition of John Bartlett’s book, and many more. 
    Whatever the reason, there are a lot of quotations flying around these days.  They are easy to post, tweet, and re-tweet.  They are usually more eloquent than anything most people can write.  People do not have to buy a book but pick and choose those that really resonate with them. 
    Not only are the quotes meaningful, inspirational, and motivating but they are mostly quoted from successful people that are well known to all.  That provides an even added punch to the value of the quote be it on the laminated card one carries, for use in presentations, or to finish off a monthly letter to friends and family.
    Here are a few of my favorites:
    • I run long on the road, before I dance under the lights – Muhammed Ali
    • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.   – Thomas  A. Edison
    • When you are walking through hell... walk fast!! – Armenian Proverb
    • A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.    – Gen. George S. Patton
    • Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. – Emerson
    • You have all the time there is.
    • Whether you think you can or think you can't... You're right. – Henry Ford
    • I am not upset by events but rather by the way I view them. -  Epictetus
    • The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what we want for what we want at the moment.
    • You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. – Wayne Gretzky

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Review: Family of Shadows by Garin K. Hovannisian

    I was in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s.  I was presenting a paper at a conference on Reliability Engineering.  We decided to make a vacation out of it, be tourists, and visit family.  The only family we had in Los Angeles at the time were the Hovannisian’s: Uncle Richard, Aunt Vartiter, Raffi, Armen, Ani, and Garo.  Richard’s maternal grandmother Sara was a first cousin to my paternal grandfather Aram.  In Armenian terms, this was relatively close relations.  We were proud to be close with them because Richard G. Hovannisian was a renown scholar, one of the first Chaired Professors of Armenian History, and author of several books focusing on the turbulent post World War I era of the short lived Republic of Armenia.
    Raffi had married Armenouhi a few years earlier.  They had a son Garin, named for the Armenian city which is currently Erzurum, Turkey.  We happened to be there for his agra hadig and had the opportunity to attend this centuries old Armenian tradition.  Agra hadig?  On the occasion of a baby’s first tooth or agra, a meal of hadig is prepared which is a cooked wheat dish for this tradition.  The child is placed on the floor and several objects in front of the child such as a book, scissors, money, and other objects.  The first object the child touches foretells the baby’s future profession.  If a book is selected, the child will become a scholar.  Scissors would signify a tailor to be.  A hammer means a carpenter; a small shovel means farming, money a banker or businessman, gold a jeweler, and so on.  I believe traditionally there were supposed to be five set items, but over the years and more so in these modern times, the objects have changed to suit the professions of today... or those that mothers, aunts, and grandmothers think are appropriate.

    The whole point of this long preamble is not simply to point out the bias of being related in reviewing Garin’s book but to point out what Garin chose at his agra hadig.  The young Garin, son of Raffi and Armenouhi, the grandson of Richard and Vartiter, chose a book.  The ladies oohed and aahed that Garin would grow up to be a literary man, a scholar, a lawyer, a historian, or any of the wondrous possibilities the choosing of a book implies.  I remember that hadig and specifically Garin’s choice more than I do the speech I gave the next day.  That is the magic of this Armenian experience.
    Here it is some twenty five plus years later and I am reviewing Garin’s book, Family of Shadows.  I pre-ordered five copies of the book and began reading it as soon as I received it.  In short it was fascinating, engaging, and well written.  I might have read it in one sitting but for the need, at key points, to put it down and reflect on what I had just read.

    The first thing I noted about the book was Garin’s candor.  Amongst Armenians, at least the Armenians I have known, image is everything.  We were taught not to air our dirty laundry in public.  This applied first and foremost to family and secondly to anything Armenian.  No matter the level of family, organizational, or national dysfunction, putting our business on the street was not something we were supposed to do.  It was a taboo.  It was something that I can still see my grandparents generation shaking their heads at and hear them admonishing such behaviors with “vays, ch├ęs, and tsuks.” So, when I read the first passage showing the shortcomings and revelations of a less than blissful marriage of his great-grandfather, my right eyebrow arched upwards.  I wondered how this candor would play in Fresno, Los Angeles, and Yerevan.

    The candor however was surprisingly well done.  The flaws or shortcomings, which we all have, were stated frankly and not dwelled upon.  From his training as a journalist, Garin reported but did not dwell on or judge.  The revelations made the history and people more real.  I loved The Black Dog of Fate, but really had a feeling of “our family is better than yours" when reading it.  Garin’s candor made it easier to relate to his family as real people dealing the familial foibles we all experience.  This makes their contributions to family and nation all the more inspiring.

    Regarding the Republic of Armenia, we have to remember that Garin had a front row seat to the entire existence of the Republic being Raffi Hovannisian’s son.  He saw how his father was treated by both the people and the “regime” running the country.  Many Armenians take a view of “our government right or wrong.”  The reasoning follows that we have to support it because it is the only government we have.  I have even seen a few e-mails criticizing Garin for seriously taking the government to task.  But, again, he is simply reporting the grim and gritty reality of a country run by oligarchs and a government more interested in consolidating their power and wealth than in building a viable Armenian nation.  In reality, Armenia today is no better than other third world countries.

    We tend to forget the selling off of factory equipment that was the economic base of the former SSR.  We have, as a nation, downplayed the assassinations of eight opposition politicians in the Armenian Parliament.  Our country right or wrong?  Yes, our country, but Garin reminds us to insist that on and demand that the country act right and noble as many of us value our storied history and spirit.  The 1998 assassinations in Parliament are a national disgrace.  How do we forget this?  Gloss over what happened?  We need to own up to this and other dysfunctions and demand better and more from our leaders.

    This book moves along deftly covering the history of the Armenian people and the Hovannisian and Kotcholosian families from the Genocide of 1915 until today in 278 engaging pages.  Garin has narrative style and soul of a novelist combined the discipline of a journalist.  Everything important is covered in just enough detail.  Nothing important was left out and no vignette was written to the point of tedium.

    I feel as a reviewer, I have to provide some criticism or else I am just a distant cousin gushing over the book.  I did find some of the sentences awkward and hard to understand even after reading them several times.  This is all proofreading and editing.  Also, until the last chapter, I could see the seams of the outline in the writing.  Another ten or twenty pages could have been added to provide smoother segues and transitions.  OK… this is pretty lame and petty in terms of finding any faults, errors, or omissions.  It is that good a book to me.

    The best part of the book for me was the very end; the last chapter.  The writing and message took on a most poetic and moving nature summarizing the struggle of nation and his families’ involvement in that.  Where are we going?  How will we get there?  Should we give up?  Never.  This change began when Garin noted his father listening to an old Hussenig folk song that is my absolute favorite.  To me, and apparently to Raffi at that moment, it captures the essence of what has been taken from us and what we all hope can be regained in viable and truly independent Armenia.

    I cannot wait to read more from Garin Hovannisian.  I see a very promising career for this young and talented writer.  I hope that, at some point, he follows through and writes the book he hinted at:  the story of his grandmother Vartiter.

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    Prayers in Akhtamar & Ani

    Yesterday, October 1, 2010, the Armenian Internet media was abuzz with stories about some people praying in the ruins of church in the historic city of Ani just on the Turkish side of the Turkish-Armenian border.  A few weeks ago on September 19, 2010  there was equal buzz regarding a religious service in another Armenian Church in Turkey; in this case on the island of Akhtamar in Lake Van.  That’s nice, people praying in a church.

    But this was not about praying in churches really.  Both events were a mixture of politics, religion, emotion, and international relations.

    The Akhtamar service was a Christian mass, an Armenian badarak.  It was the first service in the renovated 10th century Surp Khatch church on the picturesque island.  The Turkish government renovated the church and made it a museum a few years ago.  Armenians around the world were of mixed emotions.  It was good to see the church restored and preserved but sad that is was not an active functional place of worship.  The Armenian Catholicoses of Antelias and Etchmiadzin were invited to participate but decided not to because among other things there was no cross on the church.  The service proceeded with the celebrants being from Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul.  The Patriarchate is less free or less inclined to insist on a cross being displayed on the church.  It was the first badarak held in the church in just over 95 years.
    "We believe that it is very important gesture towards freedom of faith," the provincial governor, Munir Karaoglu, told the BBC.  "Also we believe that it is important to eradicate the prejudices between the Turkish and Armenian people. It could also help improve relations Turkey and Armenia."

    In Ani, it was not a badarak or any kind of Christian service.  In this case, the service was one of the ritual prayers Moselms are obligated to offer five times per day.  These prayers are called Namaz.  This service was organized by Devlet Bahceli, head of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP).  It was in homage to what Alp Aslan did in 1064 when he conquered the city of Ani.  He had the cross taken off of the cathedral and prayed there.

    So, this is not just about people praying in churches.  It is diplomacy and showing the world openness and a movement toward religious tolerance by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).  It is a negation of that by the MHP.  And, I am sure there are many more nuances of gray in Turkey than black and white.  There seems to be quite a struggle in Turkey to determine what kind of country it will be moving forward.

    It is not about people praying in churches.  It is about Armenians attending the service because their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents hailed from Van and Surp Khatch is even a more special place for them than it is for other Armenians.  It is about Armenian church leaders and others who would not participate because the Turkish government had neither put a cross on Surp Khatch nor have they acknowledged the 1915 Genocide.  Note:  There were reports that a cross was erected on Surp Khatch on the same day Devlet Bahceli lead the group to Ani.  At the time of this writing, I have not seen any confirming photos.

    Did I mention that Surp Khatch means Holy Cross?   Surp Khatch had no cross until yesterday.

    I did mention Alp Arslan took the cross off of and then prayed in the cathedral upon conquering the ancient Armenian capital of Ani.

    Can it be that both events ironically or purposely happened the same day?  There is a lot going on in Turkey.

    How is this not about religion?  How is this not about two peoples with incredible overlaps in culture hating each other and small minorities trying to overcome that?  I leave that to the blah blah of scholars, historians, sociologists, and politicians.  I only know the shades of murky gray that shroud these issues.

    I would love to read the sermon from the badarak in Surp Khatch.  I wonder if any sermon like words were delivered yesterday in Ani?

    What would the reaction  have been if the Armenians had a service in the conquered mosque in Aghdam, Karabagh?  Would it have been as benign as the Armenian reaction to the Namaz in the Ani Cathedral?  I hardly think so.

    Maybe the Turks should convert  the cathedral in Ani and any other shell of an Armenian church left in the Armenian Highlands  into mosques.  Before I am labelled a heretic by Armenians, hear me out.  Our churches have gradually disappeared as their stones have been used for less noble purposes.  As mosques, at least they would be restored and maintained.  I do not see these treasures being returned to Armenians any time soon.

    Yesterday reminded me in no uncertain terms who is victor and who is vanquished in this long sad relationship of Armenians and Turks.  It explains why an email from my daughter with a link to a video of the event in Ani had the simple subject “ugh...”  It reminded me of my college friend Halim.  We discussed Armenian-Turkish issues back in the early 1980s.  One time out of complete frustration with how to appease me, he snapped and said, “if you have the power, take it back [the lands]. If you can’t shut up.”  Halim’s outburst made me think of Khrimian Hayrig’s yergateh sherep (iron ladle) speech.  

    Khirimian Hayrig’s words came to mind yesterday.  Yet, I tried to take the high road and be happy someone was praying in the church.  I felt less happy when I learned it was a repeat of and re-emphasis of Alp Aslan’s act upon conquering Ani.  

    So all in all, ugh, just another day of being a diasporan Armenian, a grandson of Kharpert and Shabin-Karahisar, looking for closure... Megha Asdoodzo.