Saturday, June 30, 2012

June 15 2012: A Virtually Armenian Day

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.
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.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Birthdays Ending in 9

     It is my birthday. It is a birthday that ends in a nine. That means the next year
I turn the big something or other O. I have no problem sharing my exact age except
for the name of my e-letter and blog: This Side of Fifty. Anyone that knows me has no
problem surmising exactly which side of fifty I am on. Actually no one on the younger
side of the half century mark would choose this name for their blog.
     I never really worry about turning any number that ends in zero. I freak out
when I turn 29, 39, 49, etc. When I hit the ninth year of a decade, I start worry about
what I need to do in the next year to feel good about myself. It borders on the idiotic but
it is how I tick.
     On this day in 2002, I when I was still on that side of fifty, I made a decision. I
thought I would transform my life and keep a journal the transformation every day of that
year. The journal would turn into a book that would become a best seller for my aging
generation. It was a great idea and a good plan. I dutifully hand wrote a page every
day. It was good except for the writing was uninspired, complaining, meandering, and
as a result most uninteresting.
     I thought I had another still born idea in a long line of still born ideas. That was not the case. There was an ancillary benefit;  quite simply my mind was stimulated. I was thinking in ways I had not thought since college. I was soon able to articulate myself better in emails. I was even better at
speaking extemporaneously. I experienced first hand that if you don't use it you lose it
and I am talking about my mind. 
     That book was not to be. But, I wrote everyday. I have written everyday for,
as of today, ten years. It has been the single best personal habit I have developed by
design. (There are several blogs and books on habits that developed by accident or circumstance yet to be written).  This is a testimony to discipline that I was not normally known for. I certainly
have my share of habits that developed one their own. I can count the number of times
I have missed on one hand in these ten years. Then I always doubled up the next day.
It all began handwriting a single page. Over the years the handwriting of a page has
turned into the typing of five-hundred words.
     That book was not to be, but after nineteen months of writing, I started sending
out an e-letter. This e-letter. Five short years after that it turned into a blog. I upload
everything I had written to date into the blog. In 2010, I started posting more to the
blog. These days I post four times a month to this blog. It is a lot of fun. It is something
I am committed to continue.
     I was going to make this posting my monthly e-letter. But no. It is better to have
this anniversary marked by one single page... five hundred words. I would have even
handwritten it if it wouldn't look silly on this website.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

June 20: The Summer Solstice

      Today was the longest day of the year. Actually the day will be the same length as all the others, it will be twenty-four hours long. It is the daytime part of the day that will be the longest. The sun will rise at 5:15 am and set at 8:31 pm. That will make for 15 hours and 16 minutes of official daytime. That is as good as it gets around here. The day after tomorrow will be shorter and the days will get shorter until December 20th which is the shortest day of the year. Normally, the longest day of the year is June 21st and the shortest is December 21st. 2012 is a leap year, so they occur a day earlier due to this calendar anomaly.
      This is called the summer solstice. It marks the first day of summer. In the southern climes, it is the winter solstice and the first day of winter. I was talking to my friend Andres today in Sao Paulo. We commented on this. I do believe he wished he were here.
     In times well before television and the internet. The summer solstice was a much bigger deal. The farther north in the hemisphere one goes the longer the daylight hours are and the bigger the celebration; think midnight sun. The Scandinavians still celebrate the day with giant bonfires as per the photo of a mega-modern bonfire yesterday in Norway.  Click here to go to a National Geographic article on how the summer solstice has been celebrate through the ages.
     The furthest north I have every been at this time of the year was back in 1991. I was in Hamburg, Germany. I was with Colgate-Palmolive at the time. We were doing a training session for the management team of Colgate Europe and they had chosen a corporate retreat around Hamburg for the event. On June 21, the day of the summer solstice, we ended our day around 5 pm. A few of us took a walk around the lake. It was beautiful. We ran into a German fellow that appeared to be in his 60s. He was going in the opposite direction and he was totally naked. He gave us a cheery good evening as he passed. It was very different and kind of cool. We returned to the resort ate dinner outside, had a few beers. We sat and talked in the idyll setting until it started getting dark. We said our goodnights and went to our rooms.
     When I got back to my room, I glanced at the alarm clock and it said 10:48 pm. I did not believe the time and simply assumed that the electricity had gone out for awhile during the day. I glanced at my watch and it said basically the same thing. Then I realized how far north I was and that I had truly experienced a solstice. It was as close to the midnight sun as I have ever been. It was, as we used to say in our youth, way cool. I could see why the day was celebrated. That was by far the best summer solstice I remember.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy II

In January of this year, I posted a piece called Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemyl.  I am revisiting the topic because I just read an article in Forbes Magazine How to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy .  The article was written by Erika Andersen and was posted on the Forbes website on June 7th.  It caught my attention because the title was quite close to the title of my posting.
Ms. Anderson's website,, says that she is a business thinker and author.  She seems to done just that in her consulting business and the two books she has written:  Being Strategic and Growing Great Employees.  The Forbes article is based on her forthcoming book Leading so People will Follow.  
If you want to lead so that people will follow, self-confidence and self-assurance are a must.  If you do not have that peple will be hesitant to follow you.  Can you (or me) be self-confident and self-assure if we are consistently our own worst enemy?  Consistently being our own worst enemy leads to consistently not living up to our potential.  Consistently not living up to our own potential and goals trains to say "can't" more than "can."  
Ms.  Andersen talks about our inner dialogue being trained to keep telling us Impossible and Unable.  This really is the cornerstone of being our own worst enemy.  All the rest stems from this negative inner dialogue.  She believes we can train ourselves to say and thus believe Possible and Able instead.  This will lead to more self-assurance and self-confidence.  She presents a four point method to makes our inner voices more supportive and encouraging.  

  • Recognize:  Recognize when you are doing it.  We all use the same inner dialogue catch-phrases that essentially mean "ugh, I can't do that." 
  • Record:  Record these instances you utter these negative catch-phrases.  Ms.  Andersen claims that writing down these instances "creates a useful separation; when you see it written down, it feels like a less intrinsic part of you."  When I read this point in her article, I actually inner dialogued "like there is any chance I will ever do that."  It just popped like an automatic response.
  • Revise:  After recoding the above, do some analysis and develop ways to phrase these snap responses in a more positive way.  Consider my reaction to the her suggestion that I write down the instances of negative inner dialogue.  A better inner dialogue might be to consider another strategy to create that seperation that does not involve walking around with a notebook or an open iPad equivalent.  Simply be dedicating my daily writing to this topic has created that seperation.
  • Repeat:  Make a dedicated effort to catch and stop the negativity.  A bad habit has to be unlearned and supplanted with a better one.

Ms.  Andersen is not the first to articulate the above strategy.  There are many equivalent or near equivalent presentations.  But, it is always good to be reminded.  Lastly, the following quote applies to this very issue:

"If you can dream it, you can do it." ~ Walt Disney