I try to limit my writing about things Armenian in my monthly letters. There are certainly plenty of Armenian readers, but I feel like I am imposing my ethnicity and heritage on everyone else. There are times when there is just no choice and either a muse or circumstances make it the most natural topic to ponder and then write on.
Sometimes, like on June 15th, I cannot think of anything to write about. I felt empty of topics and anything I conjured up was totally banal if not outright lame. I have written about finding a subject to write about or speak on. The gist of that blog piece was simply to look around. There are topics of interest in the news, in the people that we meet, and in our hobbies. I advised that all that is necessary is to be in tune wot our surroundings and the topics are there. The topics come to us.
That is exactly what happened to me. I was taking the train to Chicago to attend a conference. I had my iPad in hand and read the New York Times and my email. In my email was the first two of four communications that motivated writing this piece. The first two were in the weekly email newsletter, Crossroads, from the Armenian Prelacy of the Eastern United States. It is one of the few weekly emails I look at every time I receive it. You can read this issue at Crossroads 6-14-12.
Recently, they have added a feature called “This Week in Armenian History.” This week's story was about the mass hanging on June 15, 1915 of 20 Armenians who were leaders of the Hunchak Party. The Armenian awakening and subsequent resistance to and defense from the Turks was due primarily to two political parties: The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF commonly Dashnaks) and the Hunchak Party. The Hunchak Party is the oldest of the two and the first Armenian revolutionary organization to be founded. It was founded in Switzerland in August 1887. The founders, young college students, knew they had to do something for their people. The ARP was found a few years later in 1890 in Tiflis, Georgia with essentially the same mission. The name of the ARF is obvious. The word Hunchak means bell or the peel of a bell and is to signify the awakening of the people and a call for them to acknowledge and fight for their basic rights and freedoms.
The thing about Armenians is we are as good and perhaps even better at, fighting amongst ourselves than uniting against a common and clear enemy. It seems we have been that way from the beginning. There were a few general classes of Armenians in those days. Large numbers of Armenians believed that if they kept quiet and minded their own business, they would be left alone in wallow in their miserable existence as third class citizens of the Ottoman Empire. Those that did not follow the “keep your head down and perservere” philosophy were either Dashnaks (ARF) or Hunchaks - the largest political/revolutionary movements. Each party believed they were best suited to lead the Armenian people. Therefore a natural animosity developed. That animosity between party members lasted until today. Outside of Soviet Armenia and today's Republic of Armenia, these were the only two political parties. In Soviet Armenia, there was only the Armenian Communist Party. In the Republic of Armenia, there are over a dozen political parties of which the Dashnaks and Hunchaks are minor players. The Dashnaks are definitely the larger party in the diaspora these today.
Armenians are good at creating divisions. We are a small people, but we have essentially two popes. We call them Catholicoses. One, The Great House of Cilicia, is definitely in the Dashak sphere. So, as to be expected especially in the United States, the Hunchaks have supported and side with the Holy See of Etchmiadzin. Etchmiadzin is the historical Mother See of the Armenian Church. Cilicia came to be when Etchmiadzin was under duress centuries. Cilicia was created to survive in case Etchmiadzin was destroyed.
What made this article about the Hunchaks in the Outreach newsletter so special is that the Dashnak friendly press normally never write about the other political party in any favorable way or in homage as this article was. it was good to see this. After all, we are all Armenians first. I have been saying lately, that I do not know why we fight among ourselves so much. The Turks had one, just one solitary, criterion for dragging us out of our homes and either deporting, beating, or slaughtering us on the spot: it was being Armenian. We bicker fight and even kill each other. In 1915, the Turks did not care about these ridiculous differences. All you had to be was Armenian. Dashnak. Hunchak. Protestant. Catholic. Apostolic. As long as you were Armenian, you qualified.
The political division was imported to the United States with the first generation immigrants. People were polarized by political differences which turned into hatred wit the assassination of Archbishop Ghevont Tourian on the altar on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1933. This act of Armenians against Armenians resulted in a split into two separate churches. The split was aligned by political parties. The Dashnak sphere moved under the auspices of the Great See of Cilicia which had moved from Sis in Ottoman Turkey to Beirut after the Genocide. The remainder of the people in the Hunchak and Armenian General Benevolent Union Sphere stayed with Holy Etchmiadzin. The split has lasted to this day.
The Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia is making an official visit and tour to the Eastern United States in October of this year. In the same issue of Outreach there was a link to writings and speechs of the Catholicos, within a few clicks I was reading impressive, promising, and compelling statement on this situation.
On various occasions I have articulated my view that this abnormal situation must be normalized in the course of time. The approaches and methodologies employed thus far to remedy the actual situation have proven to be counter-productive. Change of heart, mutual trust and understanding happen only through sincere dialogue and close collaboration, sustained by mutual trust and touching all aspects of our community life, is essential for the unity of the Church. The church of Christ is the people; structure, clergy and liturgy are only expressions of it. Unity should emerge in a natural way in the life of the people; and the way it is articulated and eventually shaped must fully correspond to the expectations of the people. Unity cannot be imposed on the people. Unity is a process that must start now.
I have always thought the situation was absurd. Increasingly over time, I have taken a very pragmatic view of things i.e. that of a businessman. With this dual structure we have a duplication of cost and budget that simply is a drain on our people. I am not privy to the actual budgets but I would not be surprised that we could create savings in the seven figure range through consolidations. Too many Armenian communities in the Eastern United States have two churches where only one is really necessary. We support two archbishops and two offices just a few blocks from each other in New York City. It is a colossal waste of funds. But the purpose of this letter is not to jump on the unity bandwagon. Too many good people have been thrown off of that bandwagon and run over repeatedly by both sides of the fence. No, the purpose of this is to applaud the words of Catholicos Aram I of The Great House of Cilicia.
It must be noted that I have grossly oversimplified the history of the Dashnaks, Hunchaks, the murder of Archbishop Touryan, and the split in the Armenian Church in the United States. I am certain I will get a few emails pointing out my oversimplification. It is OK, in my life I have experienced Armenians calling me communist, Dashnak dog, nihilist, and even Turk? It is what we do best sometimes… not get along and not understand each other. This is what makes the above two stories so very encouraging to me.
All of the above happened before 9 am. There was more to follow.
On the way home from Chicago, I got an email of a youtube video from someone who for the life of me I cannot recall. Maybe I found it myself. Maybe, I emailed it to others as that is the only evidence I can find. Clearly, there is a blog piece on memory to be written... assuming if and when I remember to write it, the points I can remember the points I wanted to make.
At any rate, the youtube video was of a folk song from Elazig which is where my people come from. We called it Kharpert in those days. We still call it Kharpert in these days. The Turks now call it Elazig. The folk song, Delilo, was performed by a Turkish clarinet player by the name Mevlut Canaydin . Canaydin plays a distinctively Kharpert style clarinet, reedy with a certain lilt. I first heard and loved this sound from my Grandmother Azniv's brother, my Great Uncle Samuel Frankian. Samio Keri (keri means mothers brother), as we called him, lived in Aleppo, Syria. He learned to play the clarinet as a young man and continued playing the remainder of his life. He used to send my grandmother reel to reel tapes of his band in Aleppo. The arrival of such a tape made for the gathering of the family. He would narrate and play music. Samio Keri came to visit us in 1964. This was well before I began playing myself. He died a few years later. I would have liked to have sent him a recording and tell him how influential his gift of music was to me.
I do believe this exact piece Delilo was on at least one of the tapes.
I do believe this exact piece Delilo was on at least one of the tapes.
The tapes that Samio Keri sent were a window into another world and from another time. I learned to love this music from Samio. He was a good player. He might have been a great player had he not be forced from his village of Yeghikeh by the Genocide. In Aleppo he ran a small store and music was a hobby. He might have become a peer of Mevlut Canaydin had our family stayed there and he had been allowed to grow and prosper in our shared culture. It was not to be but I was reminded how strong the bonds are, at least for me.
There is not an Armenian band that I know of that plays this style. There is not an Armenian band that I know plays this style. It has been ripped from us. I will be honest, it may not even be that popular in Turkey. But, there are still folks that play it. That is the difference from being the perpetrators of Genocide and being the victims of Genocide. They get to own the culture, lifestyle, and evolution thereof.
It is not like Armenians stood still. The culture has evolved most certainly. It has for the most part moved from away from the natural overlap that existed of the Armenian and Turkish cultures. For those of us who like that overlap we struggle and are not often excepted by either side. It is what it is.
The tapes from Samio Keri and the youtubes of Mevlut Canaydin along with those of Muzaffer Erturk and the Demirbas family, are windows on the past. I am aware of the past and from where my people come. Three of my four grandparents are from the villages of Kharpert. I have not visited Kharpert. I plan to.
June 15, 2012 was kind of a magical day. Just after listening to Delilo on my iPad on the train coming back from Chicago, I opened Facebook. I had only been on Facebook for a few days. I saw that Khatchig Mouradian, the editor of The Armenian Weekly, had posted a photo from Kharpert. I clicked on it and the caption read: In Yegheki, a few miles from Keserig, we stand in front of headstones tossed on the side of the street. OK… Keserig is a paternal grandfather’s village. Yeghikeh is, as above, the village of my maternal grandmother. I clicked and read the article. Khatchig, Nanore Barsoumian, and George Aghjayan had recently made a trip to Kharpert, Chounkoush, Keghi, and Dikranagerd. This was one of his postings from that trip. Khatichig Mouradian's Article
Khatchig is a smart and inquisitive scholar and writer. He was there looking for evidence that we were there. Such evidence disappears over a hundred years. Distinctly Armenian buildings have disappeared faster than the normal rate. Churches that stood for hundreds of years have crumbled. For many there is no sign that they were ever there. There are websites that show old photos of grand edifices next to photos of the same place today. It hurts to see these photos.
Khatchig and entourage met a saddle maker whose mother was an Armenian who was left behind and Turkified. They saw the remnants of the Yeghiki Armenian cemetery. In Elazig, they saw the church of Tadem-Mezre. They were amazed that it was still in good shape.
But one of our companions, a historian from Elazig whose grandmother is Armenian, points us to the base of the church’s pillars.
“Fascists from nearby villages are doing this,” he says. “At some point, the entire structure will come crumbling down.”
There is a photo of one of these pillars. For an Armenian, this is gut wrenching. What is wrong with these people? They won. They have the land. They kicked us out. Why the subterfuge? At this point, just bulldoze the building and be done with it.
What is wrong with this government? On one hand, they have sabotaged and torn down churches that have not had a service for 97 years. On the other hand, they refurbished Surp Khatch on the island of Aghtamar in Lake Van.
June 15, 2012 was quite a day. Thanks to the internet and my iPad… I was truly and virtually an Armenian most of the day with the present and the past all entwined.