Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Legends of Football

    OK, let me step away from the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and address another favorite subject of mine:  Football.  You are probably thinking, "Yeah, he is going to write about Harbaugh and Michigan, return to glory, blah, blah, blah."  No, I am not going to write about Michigan Football and their energetic, enigmatic, and very well compensated head coach.  I am  writing about something different and something new.  Well, it is new to me.
     I am a bit of a TV junkie.  Being part of the first generation that grew up with TV, it has always been fascinating and captivating.  There is the warm glow of the screen that is a window to the world.  It is also a window to a world where everything is reconciled in either thirty, sixty, or ninety to one hundred and twenty minutes i.e. sitcoms, TV crime shows, and movies.  When football is not front and center, I am surfing the channels and channel guides for a movie I may not yet have seen or perhaps one that I have seen countless times.
     I was surfing the other night... very late night.  The channel guide offered something called Legends of Football.  I thought "Hmmm, this could be educational."  Rather than hit INFO to see what I was in for, I hit OK/Select.  I expected to see a documentary on Y. A, Title, Archie Griffin, Jim Brown, or Joe Namath.  Maybe it would be about legendary rivalries like the Packers and Bears, Harvard and Yale, or perhaps Bo vs Woody.
     I could not have been more wrong.
     It was not Legends of Football as I had misread but rather Legends Football. Legends Football is an Arena Football League.  I have watched a little Arena Football which is football that is basically played on a hockey rink sized field covered with astroturf.  I have never watched more than a few minutes because it is... not my cup of tea.  It is not footbally enough to hold my "let me see what else is on TV" attention span.
     Legends Football, however, is not your grandfather's Arena Football League.  No Siree.  The players are all girls.  The Legends Football League is the Arena Football equivalent of beach volleyball.  We are talking athletically fit women in bikinis.  Football in bikinis?  I kid you not.  Their uniforms are bikinis with
shoulder pads and what appeared to be hockey helmets.  It was 2 am in the morning, I was not sure if the game I was watching that pitted the Chicago Bliss against the Atlanta Steam was real or a parody.  
     It is a real league.
     The Legends Football League was founded in 2009 by Michael Mortaza who continues to run the enterprise.  It was, not surprisingly, first called the Lingerie Football League.  The idea was born out of a Super Bowl halftime event called the Lingerie Bowl on some pay-per-view channels.  When it was founded, the players actually wore bikini lingerie.  In 2013, the league decided to rebrand itself to be taken and respected more.  The decided to don the more modest uniforms shown in the photos here.  If the new uniforms are more modest, you can see why I might think this is all a parody. I found articles claiming that the wages were horrible and players were suing the league because the league thwarted their efforts to unionize.  I tried to find out how the league and teams were doing financially.  That web search yielded nothing.  
     I did go to the Chicago Bliss website to find out how much tickets were going for.  I got a "website unavailable" screen.  Ticketmaster wanted to sell me two tickets to the next game against the Atlanta Steam for $76.30 each.  Wow... this is more expensive than I had expected.  One articledid say that the Atlanta team was drawing 2500 - 3000 people per game and that was enough to breakeven.
      OK... we are talking small potatoes in terms of attendance and finances.  This explains the fact that I ran across a game at 2 am.  I only watched it for like five minutes max.  I was totally in awe in how such an inane concept became an actual business.  I then changed the channel to see whatever else was on TV.  Cheesecake aside, I would have probably found an infomercial for a revolutionary weed whacker more interesting.  As I surfed away from the Ladies of the Gridiron two thoughts crossed my mind:
  1. Political correctness is applied haphazardly.
  2. Where have all the feminists gone?
  3. There is only 127 days to the start of Michigan football.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Chidem Inch - The G Word

Chappatte Cartoons FB page
Patrick Chappatte is an editorial cartoonist for The International New York Times
     Armenians and Turks are split on many issues regarding their shared history.  Depending on how one looks at it, there is a case to be made for the vortex of this disagreement to be about the G word:  Genocide.  
     Per the United Nations, their Legal Definition of Genocide is:

Genocide is defined in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part1; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
     Armenians believe what happened beginning on April 24, 1915 was a Genocide. The Turkish Government has evolved over the years but still shies away from using the G word. Their defense began with "What?  Nothing happened... what?" When that no longer worked, they tried to paint the Armenians as having massacred more Turks than Turks killed Armenians. That really did not work much better. Now, in the Erdogan era, their line is that it was a horrible time of war, both sides suffered, and there is a shared pain and loss. While this is a huge move for the Turkish Government, but it is not enough for the Armenians. Our way of life in our ancestral homelands was abruptly ended. Those who were not killed, starve to death, or Islamified were scattered around the world. 
     On April 12th in Rome, Pope Francis presided over a mass and memorial service for the Centennial. Catholicos Karekin II of Echmiadizin and Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia were present and participated in the service. In his homily, Pope Francis said that what happened to the Armenians was Genocide.  Basically, the Turkish Government bristled.  Maybe flipped out is a better word.  I am sure in private conversations Erdogan, Davutoglu, and Cavusoglu may have even bestowed my last name to Pope Francis.  President Tayyip Erdogan dressed down the Pope in no uncertain terms.  Per NBC News:
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan condemned Pope Francis on Tuesday for comments that the 1915 mass killing of Armenians was genocide, warning him not to make such a statement again.  

"We will not allow historical incidents to be taken out of their genuine context and be used as a tool to campaign against our country," Erdogan said in a speech to a business group. "I condemn the pope and would like to warn him not to make similar mistakes again."
     The very next day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,via a spokesman, labelled "the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks 100 years ago 'atrocity crimes,' but he isn't supporting Pope Francis' description of the killings as 'the first genocide of the 20th century.'" (NY Times)  While Erdogan's outrage seemed to bolster the Pope's view, at least from an Armenian perspective, Ban Ki-moon's statement had no visible impact on anything I read.  Neither Armenians nor Turks seemed to react to this.  Perhaps it is because no one really knows or cares who the Secretary General of the UN is (take that Ban Ki-moon).  Many Armenians just assume that he was a paid dupe of Turkey and the US who also refuses to use the G word.
     One side or the other is going to have to give up their position on the G word.  The New York Times cartoon kind of nails it from the Armenian perspective.  What happened could not possibly be Genocide because Raphael Lempkin had yet to define the term.  It seems the Turkish Government could claim a grandfather clause, "How could you possibly call that Genocide?  Heck if they had known it was going to be considered a crime, Talaat, Djemal, and Enver probably would not have done it."
     Yes, one side or the other is going to have to give up their position on the G word.  Likelihood of that happening? Your guess is as good as mine.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Chidem Inch - Descendants of Survivors and Saints

     There are very few Genocide survivors alive at this writing. Those that are still with us are, well, 100 years old or older. They were mostly likely babies or infants when the Genocide happened and probably do not have any memories of those dark days. In a few years, there will be no one that was born in the Armenian villages that are just shadows to the descendants of those survivors. 
     I am the grandson of three Genocide survivors. My maternal grandmother, while Armenian, was actually born in the US. My wife is the granddaughter of four survivors. All our grandparents have passed away. In essence, in our family, our direct link to those times and our Armenian homeland are gone. Yet, we feel the pain, the lack of closure, and the injustice of what was done 100 years ago. It is a collective we as well. Every Armenian community in the world are planning commemorative activities this month leading up to April 24th and as a kickoff to a year of events and activities. Social media is full of sentiments, testimonies, and reactions to the Kardashians, the Pope, the Armenian Catholicoi, and, of course, the Turkish President and Prime Minister.
     I live in the US. Since coming here, our family and the families of most survivor immigrants have done well. Their children, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren are thriving. We have lives as good or better than those survivors would have dreamed for us. Yet, amid all of this good, we carry the hurt, sorrow, angst, anger, and sense of injustice and outrage that is transmitted from generation to generation. Why is that?
     Certainly, we do not feel it in the same way as our the survivors did. We cannot fathom what they went through and how they survived eventually migrating with nothing to this country. They got jobs, got married, had families, and built Armenian communities to both have some sense of familiarity and some sense of preserving what was so suddenly and brutally ripped away from them.
     These survivors reared my parents generation who in turned bore and reared my generation of Armenians. Maybe it is as simple as that. Maybe whatever we are all feeling, collectively, around the US and around the world is just because we are children and grandchildren of that surviving generation and that has become part of our collective psyche that gets transmitted and filtered from generation to generation.
      I want to say that it is profoundly strong and powerful simply because it is profoundly strong and powerful in me and others I see around me. It is not universal because I know peers who have drifted quite easily and freely into an American lifestyle without the burden of this history. I do not believe I can or would even want to live any other way. I guess I am saying that it is ingrained in me. It is ingrained in us. Witness a post by my contemporary Stepan Piligian on Facebook on April 14 referring to the canonization of the martyrs of 1915 on April 23rd:
To think, in 9 days we may all be sons and daughters, grandchildren or great-grandchildren of Saints of the Armenian Church. What a blessing.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Çidem İnç - Hagop Martayan

     On the third post of this Chidem Inch series, I have resorted to the modern Turkish spelling of this bit of Armenian slang.  I am using it in honor of Hagop Martayan (May 22, 1895 - September 12, 1979), the man who created the modern Latin based alphabet of the Turkish language. 
     At the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was no more.  Out of the ashes and redrawn borders the Republic of Turkey was born.  Under the strong hand of Mustafa Kemal, he forced a redesign of many aspects of Turkish life and culture.  He wanted the Republic and it's people to face Westward and engage Europe culturally, politically, and in commerce.  Mustafa Kemal forced Turks to take last names.  As odd as it may sound today, most Turks did not have last names.  To set the example, he changed his name to Kemal Ataturk.  He went on the push for Westernization of music and clothing including banning the wearing of the traditional fez.  
     Traditionally, Arabic script was used for Turkish.  The script was not the best match for the Turkish language for a litany of reasons but was presumably adopted since it was the alphabet and script most widely used in the Islamic World.  Thus, another key part of Ataturk's transformation was to create an alphabet that was modern, Western, and facilitated the teaching and learning of Turkish in the Republic and to foreigners.  Ataturk gave this task to the person most suited for the job; an Armenian named Hagop Martayan a prominent
linguist and man of letters at Robert College in Istanbul.
      Martayan worked and created a Latin rooted alphabet that perfectly suited to Turkish.  He created an alphabet of 28 letters modifying some with cedilla's and others with umlauts to create a system that was consistent, free of special rules, diphthongs, and other such things were bothersome when using Arabic letters to write Turkish. 
     Martayan labors were a great success.  Ataturk was pleased and bestowed a new, modern, and more suitably Turkish last name on Hagop.  Hagop Martayan became Agop Dilaçar.  Dilaçar means the revealer of language, a most appropriate moniker.  
       Martayan lived all of his life in Turkey.  He was a citizen of that country and a significant contributor to that society.  Yet, he was a proud Armenian and carried on, in a way, the legacy of Mesrob Masdots.  His alphabet which is easily learned is actually is the best at transliterating Armenian, case in point:  Çidem İnç.
     He was a family friend of my friend Sonia Derman Harlan who speaks very highly of him.  There is a Turkish website that refers to him as one of the "good Armenians."  Armenians native to Istanbul know of him.  To us in the diaspora, he is not so well known and an oddity because he stayed, contributed, and thrived in the Republic of Turkey.  We have a hard time processing and digesting how all of this was possible.  In a Civilnet interview with Rober Haddeciyan, editor-in-chief of Marmara newspaper, related a story of how Martayan sang a Tashnag anthem in front of Ataturk.  To the amazement of all in attendance, Attaturk not only left him alone but supported his right to do so. 
      With the new alphabet and his new name in place, Attaturk next wanted an appropriate signature.  Again he turned to an Armenian.   Hagop Vahram
Çerçiyan was also a teacher at Robert College.  While he taught math and geography, he had also studied the Palmer Method of handwriting in the US.  He was tasked with creating the official signature of Ataturk. 
    Amazing two Armenians, two Hagops, played a role Ataturk's modernization efforts.  
    Çidem İnç indeed.

For Further Reading:


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Chidem Inch

     April 24, 2015 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. I have been grappling for awhile on how to focus a series of blog pieces on this anniversary and commemoration. Procrastination and not having a clear focus has made for this late entry. While it is impossible to write on the Armenian Genocide without writing about the Turks, I am more interested in the Armenians and how we are acting, reacting, and coming out of this year’s commemorative activities. Regardless of what Turkey does or does not do, I am interested in my people, the Armenians. Will we have gained some closure? Will we, while never forgetting and continuing to pursue reparations, as a people become more unified and move on to other political and cultural agenda items e.g. strengthening the Republic of Armenia and our diasporan communities.
     I am not entirely sure where this will take me, but I am thinking about a collecting these short essays combined with my blog posts to date on the Armenian Genocide and publishing a book. We shall see.
      I have decided to call these series of posts and the book that may follow Chidem Inch. I probably should write in the Turkish alphabet. It would be Çidem İnç. For now, I prefer the American-Armenian phonetic spelling. I may well alternate between the two spellings.
     Chidem inch is slang. It is not even a slang I heard my grandparents use as a kid. I learned of it from a family friend and distant cousin, John Sharoian. John is a few years younger than me. We grew up in the St. Sarkis Armenian Church Community in Detroit. Our families were close and we were often visiting and socializing. His maternal grandmother lived with them. She was a marvelous lady, Antaram Tarpinian, whom we called Kergeen. Kergeen means “wife of ones maternal uncle.” Kergeen was the wife of my grandfather Levon’s first cousin. My mother called him Keri. She was therefore Kergeen to everyone in our family.
     Whenever I see John, which is not enough, conversation often drifts to his grandmother. She was a colorful woman who hailed from Yerzinga (Erzinçan in the Turkey of today). She looked like an American Indian to me all my life. That is, as my Aunt Suzie would say, she looked Mongolian. I always liked her look. I remember her Armenian line dancing. She never looked so proud, so tall, or so stately and she was most definitely on the shorter side of five feet. During the genocide, per my mother and aunt, she was forced into a brothel. No details were ever given, but knowing and loving the lady as I did, I felt awful when I first heard of this. I loved and admired her more though. She never talked of it and she was nothing but a positive life force from my perspective.
     In one of these conversations with John, I believe in 2013, with John, he told me she would use the phrase “chidem inch” all the time. It is a contraction and bastardization of two other phrases “inch kidem – what do I know” or “chem kider – I don’t know.” From the moment he told me this, I have been fascinated with this phrase. I repeat it to myself all the time. It is a bit of old Armenia he resurrected and gave to me as a gift. Chidem Inch. What do I know? Indeed, what do I know?  What a lovely title for whatever this bloggy book thing becomes.

Chidem Inch - Kim Kardashian in Armenia
     It has been an interesting week in Armenian life. Preparations for April 24th commemorations are being finalized all around the world. Certainly there is anticipation as the day approaches but that is not what made this week interesting. The interesting part is that Kim Kardashian was in Armenia. She was joined by her husband Kanye West, their daughter North, her sister Khloe, her cousins Kara and Kourtni, along with an entourage of bodyguards and staff.
     When they were leaving and enroute to Armenia, Facebook was abuzz with Armenians basically wondering why these folks were going to Armenia. They posted all kinds of negative comments. Kim was called opportunistic, bombastic, and disgusting. What did they expect to get out of this trip? Were they going to make a sham and a mockery out of the commemoration of this solemn and somber commemoration?
     Kim and her sister claimed they were making the trip to honor their heritage and the memory of their father Robert Kardashian. This was not front and center in the minds of most people questioning the value, motive, and integrity of their trip to their ancestral homeland. Some expressed concern that their presence would actually diminish the historical significance of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
     Then a funny thing happened.
     The Kardashian entourage were warmly welcomed by the government and people of Armenia. They really were not saying, wearing, or doing things that were so horrible. On the contrary, Armenians came to realize that their motives were exactly what they said they were. Like most Armenians around the world, they were reflecting on this Anniversary and doing what they could to help get recognition and closure. On top of this, they were getting a lot of media coverage about Armenia and the 100th Anniversary.  As a result, the Facebook posts changed from snide and negative to admiration and pride. Go figure.
      I have never been a fan of the Kardashians, nor have I been a detractor. I was amazed that Kim created an entire career out of just being Kim Kardashian. Certainly, she is very pretty and a fashion maven. But, she is not an exceptional singer, actress, or athlete to command such notoriety and celebrity status. Her talent and gift is basically to market herself, her own brand. She is exceptional at that. While others were conflicted her being Armenian. I was mostly neutral about it.
      Everyone is excited and positive about Kim now because she has used her celebrity to get publicity about Armenia and the commemoration that we otherwise gotten. People are thankful and appreciative about her now. That’s pretty cool.
     Here are a couple of articles worth taking a look at:

  1. Kardashians Take Armenia! 10 Fascinating Facts to Know About the Country's Culture and History on
  2. Medieval monasteries, al fresco cafes and high fashion: How to keep up with the Kardashians in Armenian capital Yerevan from the Daily Mail.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

No Time for Baseball

     I just watched the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball team beat the University of Maryland to advance to the Championship against Notre Dame. It is the fourth college basketball game I watched this weekend as it is that time of the year. As the basketball game ended, I switched over to watch the St. Louis Cardinals versus the Chicago Cubs season opener. It is also that time of the year. Time being the key word here.
     Basketball is timed game. In fact most of the major sports, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer are timed. As a result, these sports are fast paced and more suited to television. The start and, more importantly, the stop time are more predictable which is good for television and the advertising that funds both networks and sports teams. The faster paced sports engage the fickle viewers whose collective attention span has decreased at a rapid rate in today's world of media overload. In this regard, baseball is somewhat of an enigma in this day and age. Baseball is a timeless sport. There is no clock. There are nine innings with three outs per side per inning. If the game is tied after nine, extra innings are played until there is a winner. The lack of a clock makes baseball different and special. A team could be losing in the ninth inning with two outs and they still have a theoretical chance of winning the game no matter how far they are behind. The probability of winning might be low, but the possibility of winning still exists. Think of basketball, hockey, football, and soccer when there is a minute left on the clock. Depending on how far behind a team is winning is just impossible and the game is essentially over.
     This timelessness that once made baseball special and the slow pace that made baseball perfect for radio broadcasts are now viewed as a detriment to the game. Add to this the fact that baseball is in the part of its natural cycle where pitching and defense are dominating offense.  The owners have come to the conclusion that changes need to be made to rev up the game and generate more fans and fan loyalty. On April 2nd, the Wall Street Journal had an article titled The Plan to Speed Up Baseball.
     The article aptly states the issue in some statistics that have gotten the owners attention:
As games have stretched ever-longer, national television ratings are collapsing. An average of 13.8 million viewers watched the seven-game World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants last year, 16% less than the last seven-game World Series in 2011, and 44% less than the seven-game series in 1997 between the Cleveland Indians and Florida Marlins, clubs with almost no national following. Just 3.8 million viewers on average watched last season’s National League Championship Series between the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, two of the game’s marquee franchises.

There is lot of idle time in baseball. Beginning this season, MLB is taking steps to remove some of that time out of the games. They are putting strict rules in for the time between half-innings: 2:25 minutes for non-televised games and 2:45 for televised games. Batters have to keep a foot in the batters box between pitches unless they call time. There is a rule that is never followed that requires pitchers to pitch every twelve seconds. Umpires will be tasked to speed up the pitches in the majors but the changes are more dramatic in the minors. A twenty second pitch clock will be used in the minors with a violation resulting in a called ball.  They are indeed setting the stage to use clocks in baseball.
     I used to live and breathe baseball. I lived and died with the Detroit Tigers. I did this in an era without free agency where the star players and team colors and logos were almost inextricably linked for the long haul. I lived and breathed baseball when a majority of the games, for me, were listened to over the radio masterfully broadcast by George Kell and Ernie Harwell. Baseball was the National Pastime. Over the years, I followed the crowd away from baseball to football. Sure, I will watch or go to an occasional baseball game, but I follow football. I live and breathe football. I used to watch the playoffs and World Series but even the Fall Classic comes and goes without me barely noticing these days.
      I really truly want to protest against any efforts to put a clock to baseball. But, it is a nostalgic and hollow protest as I am nowhere near the avid fan I once was. So what if I am philosophically against this, I am not a true patron and fan of the sport right now. Just maybe, these changes will lure me back to being an active fan and aficionado of the game.
     Time... time will tell.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Am I a 50s Dad?

     One Easter Sunday in the 1990s, we went for services, as usual, to Holy Ascension Armenian Church in Trumbull, CT. We were dressed in not only our Sunday best, but our Easter Sunday best. Linda McGann, a good friend, spotted Judy and Armene’ wearing corsages that I had pinned to their dresses before leaving home. She looked at the lovely mother and daughter. Then she looked at me and warmly said, “You’re such a 50s Dad.” I have never forgot her endearing observation.
      Presenting Easter corsages for ladies in my family was just something I did. It was something we did. I learned this from my Dad. I remember the Easters of my childhood when I would be with him Saturday when he went to get a corsage for my Mother every Easter. He never told me it was something I should do. It just became something I started doing when I got married. It seemed natural. It was a family tradition. It was something we did.
      Back in the day, my Dad used to go to a florist as did I the first few years I started buying them myself. That is not what I would call the low cost option but it was the only option. In the 1990s, the Stop and Shop chain in New England used to get pre-made Cymbidium Orchid corsages for $5. That was a great bargain. They were not as nice as the florist made corsages but they were worth twice or three times what I paid for them. When we moved to Chicagoland, the Dominick’s chain carried the same orchid corsages. Over the years, the price had crept up to $10. They were still worth more. There was always plenty of stock right up to Easter Sunday.
     Dominick’s closed last year. This year I looked around at a few other big chain stores. Nothing. I checked in with a few florists and they wanted $30 a corsage. The last place I checked was Sunset Foods a very nice gourmet grocer near my house. They have a nice but small floral department. They were happy to make up corsages for $15.99. We were back in business. As you can see in the photo, they did a superb job.
     I am not sure how many people buy corsages for Easter these days. They used to have a lot of those pre-made corsages around both the Stop and Shop and Dominck’s even on Easter morning and I never actually saw anyone else buy them. While I have not made a serious study of this, I recall many ladies wearing Easter Bonnets and donning corsages on the Easter Sundays of my childhood. I see almost no Easter Bonnets and very few corsages these days. Frankly, I was not even paying attention to any of this until Linda made her observation.
     So, am I indeed a 50s Dad? Certainly my Dad was a 50s and 60s Dad and I learned from him. I was born in the 50s and I am On the Other Side of Fifty. Yeah, in this regard, I am a 50s Dad and will continue small but special tradition.
     I am sure there are many traits I have picked up from my Dad. Some of them are no doubt irritating to the ladies in our lives, some are tolerable, and a few may actually be endearing. This Easter corsage thing is definitely one of the better ones. Thanks Dad.