Thursday, May 5, 2016

Small Things

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

Sunday, May 1, 2016

April 2016: Chidem Inch - April 24th

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

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

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

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