Irrepressible

By Semaline Joukakelian (Guest Contributor)

semaline

Semaline Joukakelian is a graphic designer living in Montreal, Canada.  She enjoys painting and reading, and finds inspiration in the voices of Arthur Meschian and Ruben Hakhverdyan.   

Armenia Through Another Lens

By Leeza Cinar (Guest Contributor)

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Saying a prayer at Etchmiadzin

 

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Altar at Etchmiadzin

 

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Lighting a candle at Etchmiadzin

 

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Inside Etchmiadzin

 

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Looking up: Apartments in Yerevan

 

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Do Your Laundry, Clean Your Vardeegs

 

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Restoration

 

Leeza Cinar is a Junior at Rutgers University where she spends her time studying Art History and Anthropology. Although she has no formal training, Leeza is passionate about photography and takes her camera with her wherever she goes. More of her work can be found here.

The Armenian Genocide- Where is Justice?

By Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D., Founder and Executive Director of World Without Genocide

‘Race murder,’ Henry Morgenthau, US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, called it – the extermination of all Christian Armenians by the Ottoman government during World War I. And ‘race murder’ it was, with 1,500,000 men, women, and children dead of torture, starvation, and killing. Although this catastrophe was widely documented by eyewitnesses while it was happening, there was no global intervention to stop the slaughter.

The Armenian catastrophe became almost a footnote to history. In fact, when Hitler was asked how he thought he would be able to exterminate all of Europe’s Jews, he infamously replied, “Who today remembers the Armenians?”

This year is the one-hundredth anniversary of the Armenian genocide, and we remember the Armenians.

Ending Impunity

What happened after the Armenian genocide? Following massive human rights abuses like genocide, people need to restore their belief in justice. This also restores their dignity and brings the truth to light.

When the war ended in 1918, Britain, France, and Russia wanted the leaders in Germany, Austria, and Turkey to be held responsible for violating the laws of war and the ‘laws of humanity.’ They began planning for an international war crimes tribunal, the first one ever, to try the German Kaiser and Talat, Enver, and Jamal Pasha, known as the Young Turks, along with other leading Turkish perpetrators.

The new Turk leaders hoped that, by blaming a few members of the Committee on Union and Progress, the Young Turks, they would shift blame away from the Turkish nation as a whole.

However, the three Young Turk leaders were convicted in absentia. They had fled the country; two were ultimately assassinated and one was killed in battle.

The British Foreign Office demanded that 141 Turks be tried for crimes against British soldiers, and another 17 tried for the crimes against Armenians during World War I.

Government and military leaders were arrested. Military courts-martial and at least six domestic trials were held in provincial cities where massacres had occurred. Ministers from the Young Turks’ government, party leaders, attorneys, governors, military officers, and other officials were arrested.

However, despite public hatred for the previous regime, the response to these courts was lukewarm. On April 4, 1919, Lewis Heck, the US High Commissioner in Istanbul, reported, “It is popularly believed that many of [the trials] are made from motives of personal vengeance or at the instigation of the Allied authorities, especially the British.”

Under Ataturk’s leadership, a nationalist had movement emerged and many people were afraid that the trials were part of an Allied plan to divide the Ottoman Empire. On August 11, 1920, Ataturk’s government ordered a stop to all the court proceedings.

Failing to Find Justice

In the end, there was no international tribunal. Some scholars suggest that there wasn’t enough forensic evidence. Others assert there were no international laws to use at the tribunal. However, there also was little interest in a tribunal. The Allies saw a large Turkish population waiting to modernize, a huge potential partner just waiting for trade and economic development. The Allies didn’t want to risk their long-term economic relationship with Turkey.

The British also wanted their prisoners of war back. In 1921, they released 145 Turkish perpetrators who had been held on Malta and exchanged them for 29 British soldiers. This ended any possibility of an international tribunal.

Denying Genocide

Despite extensive personal testimonies, photographs, and court documents, the Turkish government consistently denies that genocide occurred. However, 23 countries, 43 US states and many cities, and leading scholars around the world recognize that what happened was, indeed, genocide and have labeled it as such.

The leading perpetrators were never prosecuted for their crimes. The survivors never received restitution for their losses. The victims’ descendants never found justice for the terror inflicted on their ancestors. But we can remember those who perished and those who stood up against the violence.

In Minnesota, Texas, California, and New Hampshire, every April is designated as Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. Six genocides are officially memorialized during April – Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, the Holocaust, and the Armenian genocide. This year, we will all remember. Attend an event, watch a film, or stage a reading of our play “Upstanders: Taking a Stand against the Armenian Genocide.”

Moving Towards Justice

Holocaust survivor, Raphael Lemkin, read about the tragedy of the Armenians. Lemkin had lost 49 members of his extended family during the Holocaust. He felt that there had to be a word to describe the killing of a people, for which there was no word. There were many words to describe the killing of people, such as homicide, suicide, and fratricide, but there was no word to describe the horrors perpetrated on the Armenians and, twenty-five years later, on the Jews.

Lemkin coined the word genocide, with geno from the Greek meaning tribe or group, and cide from the Latin meaning ‘to kill.’ Once he had the word, he felt that there had to be a law to prevent and to punish this crime. He wrote the United Nations Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, which was ratified by the United Nations in 1948.

What can we conclude? Some scholars say that the documents (encoded telegraphs and letters) attached to the verdicts of those regional trials prove that the Armenian deportations were aimed at total annihilation of the Armenian population. These trials and verdicts are important arguments against the denial of the Armenian Genocide.

But, just like with the trials of the Nazis at Nuremberg in 1946 and subsequent trials throughout Europe after World War II, most of the Ottoman officials who perpetrated the mass killings and property theft later held important positions in the military and political elite of Turkey.

Transitional Justice

The implementation of transitional justice following genocide or other atrocity crimes is critical. We need laws to prosecute the perpetrators. We need truth and reconciliation commissions to bring the guilty together with victims, witnesses, and survivors.

We need reparations for land, artifacts, money, and other assets that have been stolen. We need vetting of public officials to be sure that those who committed atrocities don’t stay in positions of power.

The path to justice in the world perhaps started with the Armenian genocide. Raphael Lemkin’s word and the UN Convention made the intent to exterminate a people, based on race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin, a crime. The first international criminal tribunal came close to reality with the attempt to prosecute the Young Turks. Although this tribunal never came to fruition, the three Allied nations of France, the UK, and Russia (later the Soviet Union) became three of the four major participants in the Nuremberg trials of 1946, the first international criminal tribunal to prosecute individuals for atrocity crimes. The Nazi trials at Nuremberg might not have happened without Britain, Russia, and France talking about an international tribunal for the Armenian atrocities.  We remember the Armenians and these small steps towards global justice.

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Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D., is the founder and Executive Director of World Without Genocide at William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul. The organization provides education about past and current conflicts and advocacy at the local, state, and national levels to protect innocent people, prevent genocide, prosecute perpetrators, and remember those affected by genocide.

Kennedy has received many awards for her work, including Outstanding Citizen from the Anne Frank Center, Higher Education Leader of the Year from the National Society for Experiential Education, Outstanding Service Award from the Midwest Sociological Society, two awards from the University of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Women’s Press Change-maker award.

World Without Genocide received a Certificate of Merit from the State of Minnesota, Office of the Governor, for efforts to seek justice and to eliminate genocide around the globe; and the 2014 Minnesota Ethical Leadership Award.

Kennedy is an adjunct professor of law at William Mitchell College of Law and is the Minnesota representative to AMICC, a national organization that advocates for the International Criminal Court. She also serves on the Human Rights and Relations Commission for the City of Edina, Minnesota, and on the Board of Directors of the Minneapolis University Rotary Club.

Kennedy received her BA degree from the University of Michigan and doctorate degrees from the University of Minnesota.

Lost in Translation- Part I

By Christopher Yemenidjian (Guest Contributor)

Among the first Armenians who immigrated to the United States and the succeeding generations of Armenian-Americans, there have been phrases, terminologies, mannerisms, and behaviors that hold distinctly different meanings from those of non-Armenians. My non-Armenian friends have slowly learned the difference between Pacific Standard Time and Armenian time. They have seen our tables filled with food and wondered if more would be joining us. We aren’t the most straight-forward group of people, and we require a bit of conditioning to be properly understood. This series is intended to provide the necessary insight into how Armenians think, act, and operate, a means of bridging the gap between ourselves and our non-Armenian counterparts.

Disclaimer: The notes below are based on real-life experiences. They are not intended to insult, disparage, or disrespect Armenians or non-Armenians in any way, shape, or form. They may not reflect the views of every Armenian, and are not intended to do so. This piece is purely written for entertainment purposes. 

  1. “I will be there in 15 minutes”

Ordinary Meaning: I am about 10 – 20 minutes away.

Armenians: I am just now about to get in my car and should be there within an hour or two.

  1. “My dream is a small intimate wedding”

Ordinary Meaning: Similar to an elopement with less than 100 people (being generous).

Armenians: At least 300 people, and you just broke your mother’s heart because now she can’t invite this couple whom you have never met. However, the couple invited your parents to their daughter’s wedding 8 years ago, and are therefore obligated to send them a wedding invitation. Not to do so is considered an insult of epic proportions.

  1. How to greet distant relatives

Ordinary way: With a handshake and a verbal greeting.

Armenians: Calculate the age and degree of consanguinity or affinity. Then select from the following list: handshake, a nod of the head, hug, or kiss on the cheek. If it is a kiss on the cheek, you must determine who will be the first to lean in. A slight miscalculation and you are left in an awkward position, and run the risk of offending your relative.

  1. A weekend barbecue

Ordinary Meaning: Hamburgers and hot dogs, and maybe a salad, properly apportioned to the number of guests.

Armenians: Beef Kebab, Chicken Kebab, Hummus, Lebne, Tabouleh, Fattoush, Rice, Basterma, Baba Ghanoush, Grilled Veggies, and a few other dishes that vary from house to house. Apportioned to feed about 3 villages in a 3rd world country for multiple days.

  1. The Mother from “Everybody Loves Raymond”

Ordinary Meaning: An overbearing, pain in your butt woman who does not exist.

Armenians: A mellow, toned down version of our mother or mother-in-law.

Christopher Yemenidjian graduated with a degree in Rhetoric from U.C. Berkeley and is currently a law student in Portland, Oregon.  He spends his free time playing video games, watching movies, and driving his family crazy.  He’s had vegan powers for the past four years and counting. 

Surviving

By Leta Stagno (Guest Contributor)

“The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.”

                        – Juliette Lewis

I wish I could say being born Armenian meant there was something inherently different about me biologically; that my ancestry caused redeeming and admirable characteristics like bravery and strength and altruism to be woven into my genetic code. I wish I could say that just the sheer fact that my ancestors were Armenian conditioned me to be the dynamic mesh of character traits that I am. But it didn’t. Had I experienced a severe cultural disconnect as a child, had I been raised with different moral ideals, had I grown up ignorant of my mother’s culture, a lot of my admirable (and not so admirable) qualities that I had so unwittingly attributed to my heritage would no longer define me, or exist within me at all. Brutal honesty, impossible stubbornness, loquacious tendencies- all personality traits I had attributed to my mother’s Armenian nature, all of which I had, without thought, assumed I had been born with. And yet, now, I’m acutely aware that had I been raised apart from my mother, had she not been such an integral and vital part of my upbringing, I may have turned out to be a very different person.

I think the only inherent trait I can directly attribute to my Armenian genetics is the unwavering determination to survive. While this is a basic biological trait, all species on earth are programmed with some genetic marker for self-preservation, something caused a genomic augmentation within Armenian DNA. Somehow the chromosomal allele mutated and adapted, making the will to survive an indestructible and distinctive factor woven within my interlocking ladders of nucleotides. Because of this genetic mutation, Armenians are an intrinsically hardy people. We are hard to kill, especially in spirit- a people that refuse to die. Where others would be motivated by hope, we are motivated by pride and the singular driving force of bitterness or spite is enough to fuel us to a near impossible end. We survive, we push through, we continue on through insurmountable odds and immeasurable strife. We are brave even in the face of death, vengeful to a fault, determined and unyielding.

And these are the qualities that kept me alive.

The problem with society today is that we always believe that bad things will never happen to us. Television and film have desensitized us, numbed us to the real horrors of the world. Things that should cause us to live in constant states of paranoia do the exact opposite; we sleep easier at night believing we are immune to the catastrophe around us.

So I grew up believing I was safe.

I spent my whole life hearing that I was strong; that I was strong-minded and strong-willed and that I was more than capable of taking care of myself. So I grew up both pitying abuse victims and sympathizing for them, but I was incapable of empathizing for them. I sighed deeply and judgmentally with the rest of the world when Rihanna confessed to still loving Chris Brown after he had beaten her. I saw her inability to disconnect from and resent her abuser as a sign of weakness, I saw her as frail and pathetic- what kind of woman is incapable of leaving the man who hit her? Even as a teenager I was bold and forthcoming- I was upfront and honest about what I wanted. I never backed down without a fight, I was never afraid to make enemies. So I never thought it would happen to me.

You hear it over and over again, the story about the frog in the boiling pot. It states that if you put a frog in boiling water it will instantly jump out, cognizant of the danger and pain it faces imminently; however, if you put a frog in a pot of tepid water and then slowly increase the temperature until it is boiling, the frog will remain there until it dies, indifferent to its own demise. The moral of this story is the same justification given to victims of abuse for why they stay with their abuser. So when I was 19 and sat in my own pot of tepid water, by the time my flesh was charring from the scalding waves of my reality, it was too late.

All I can remember is that he was striking. My god, he was beautiful. And I was just a teenager, still shedding the skins of my over-extended awkward phase. I was both deeply unaware and uncomfortable with my new found sex appeal, like a child trapped within an adult body. He was grossly flattering, to such an extent that would now set off red flags, but then it felt like a real-life manifestation of my favorite romance novel. I think my naivety was part of my allure; the idea that he could be the first to break me was enticing to him.

It started off perfect, my tepid water bliss. I was smart, I was beautiful, I was wonderful. He built me up into some ethereal goddess. He was excessively dedicated and exceedingly attentive. I fell asleep to goodnight texts and woke up to good morning messages. I was his princess, his baby, his perfect girl. Until I wasn’t. I wish I could say I don’t remember the exact details of how it first happened. I wish I could say it was all one giant, horrible blur. But if there’s anything in my past I can recall with near crystal clear accuracy, it was the first time. I also wish I could say it was the last.

I already mentioned I have always been argumentative. I hate hearing I’m wrong, I hate people thinking I’m wrong. But I know when to bite my tongue. So for weeks, I bit down-hard. But as I grew more comfortable and as I felt safer, I became more vocal. I voiced my opinion, I spoke my mind, and for a short while it was fine. It was refreshing to be able to say things and know someone wanted to listen.

But one day, I said the wrong thing. We were alone in a parking lot, talking about something unimportant when he asked me if I would go home with him. I turned my head and laughed, jokingly proclaiming, “Never in your wildest dreams.”

There are still days where I have to fight myself to remember that it wasn’t my fault, that I couldn’t have known that a lighthearted, flirtatious joke would end with a hand wrapped around my throat and me gasping for air. I could never have known that I would discover what it feels to know I’m going to die with hot tears streaming down my face while I choked up pleas for my life at 11:30 at night in a movie theater parking lot.

It was over quickly. I was more stunned than injured as I collapsed onto the pavement and sucked in more air than necessary. He crouched down while I kneeled on all fours, like a wounded animal at his mercy, and he tucked my hair behind my ear while he whispered, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

“I’m sorry” was always his phrase of choice. Sometimes he would say, “I can’t help it”, others, “I wasn’t always like this”. At a certain point I think he just started to run out of things to say and would just resign himself to wiping the tears off my face. I spent more of my relationship wearing scarves and layering foundation, covering up hand marks where other girls would have covered up hickeys, than I spent happy.

But I couldn’t leave. It wasn’t because I loved him or because I was afraid he would hurt me if I left, it was because he did to me what most abusers do to their victims, he made me feel worthless to everyone but him. When the physical abuse started, so did the verbal abuse. I was fat and no one else would ever want to be with someone like me. I was grossly unattractive. I was a dumb slut who was a waste of everyone’s time. But he professed that he had somehow found it in his heart to see past all those things and still want to be with me. So I stopped waking up to good morning text messages and instead woke up to pictures of me where he would critique every flaw and say he was the only person who could learn to live with them. He valiantly confessed I should pity him for not only putting up with me but for the fact that he had been so damaged by his previous relationship that it was obvious justification for destroying me. I lived every day in abject misery, incapable of escaping because I wholeheartedly believed that what he told me was true.

I don’t remember when it was that I realized my relationship was going to kill me. Whether it be the eating disorder, the violent physical abuse, or such severe mental atrophy that I would eventually choose to give up entirely, I knew that I was going to die. It’s a sobering thought, to feel yourself on the precipice between life and death, aware that you are the only one capable of saving yourself.

Albert Camus wrote multiple philosophical books on the idea that the hardest decision we make as humans is choosing between living and killing ourselves. For years we have scoffed at this idea, a generation that sees mental illness as more a personal weakness than a debilitating disease. For almost my whole life I too fell victim to the negative stigma, I saw suicide victims as both gravely sad and terribly tragic, but also selfishly frail. So when I too was caught in Camus’s philosophical net, torn between continuing my life and dying, I finally understood what I had been so ignorant of before.

The thing about wanting to die is that it makes you explicitly aware of exactly everything you’re living for. And that made me exceptionally angry. I was so young and so brimming with potential; my future was blindingly bright and all I could think about was how badly I never wanted to see it. So where before I had been possessed with a crippling sense of worthlessness, I was now filled with seething bitterness.

I didn’t decide to end the relationship that was slowly killing me because I woke up one day with a new found self-worth. I didn’t choose to continue my life because I saw through the haze of lies and manipulation meant to trap me. I didn’t realize I could do better. Instead, I woke up one day pissed the fuck off.

I don’t know if the fact that I’m only half Armenian is to blame for the fact that my genetic coding to “proceed through all costs” kicked in a little later than expected, but it did. Where other abuse victims can say they chose to leave through new found self-love or through support from friends and family, I chose to do so because my ancestors didn’t break their backs for centuries so their most privileged descendant could be ruined at the hands of a ridiculously insignificant man. So it was also pride. I was bitter and vengeful and full of spite. And it was also shame, to be a living member of a generation that was never meant to exist, to have grown up among stories of such immense courage and bravery and resilience and yet somehow, through all of my gifts and privilege, still manage to possess enough inherent frailty to let the empty words and actions of an emptier man erase my family’s history. How my ancestors must have wept from their unmarked graves while I let him treat me with the same physical brutality that they had died to show me I could overcome.

And thus I overcame it. Like an alcoholic weans himself from the poison in his cup, I slowly went through remission, gradually and painfully removing myself from the source of my misery. I less and less let myself fall victim to both his words and his fists. I saw myself more as what I could be and less of what I was in that moment. I acknowledged my own mental and physical willpower and I left my abuser, battered and bruised and broken but stronger than ever.

Because this is not a sob story. This is not a tale of tragedy, of immense grief, of loss and suffering; it’s a story of survival. Because that’s all I did, I survived. And while it would be wrong of me to say that the only reason that I did was because my ancestry can be traced back to a small country in Eastern Europe, it would be just as incorrect to say that my heritage had nothing to do with my ability to remove myself from chains I had watched being formed. I am no hero but I am also no victim, I’m just a girl who used her courageous ancestry as a source of strength in a time of dire need. I’m just a girl who already had markers for persistence pre-programmed within her genome and who just needed a catalyst to drive them out of dormancy. I’m just a girl who was lucky enough to be born Armenian.

Leta Stagno is a graduate student currently pursuing a Masters in Biology. Originally from Florida, she now divides her time between her old home in Fort Lauderdale and her new one in Chicago. She enjoys baking and writes love notes with cooking utensils and oven mitts.

If I Could Visit Armenia Someday

By Tamar Hovsepian (Guest Contributor)

If I could go to Armenia one day, where would I go?  The answer does not come easy for someone like me who never visited Armenia and would like to go and visit very badly.  There are so many beautiful historical sites, sacred churches and monuments in our homeland, Armenia, that I’ve heard about and would love to see. However, the one place that stands out for me is the Armenian Genocide Memorial, Tsitsernakaberd.

This Armenian Genocide Memorial is found in Yerevan and construction started in 1965 after Armenians demonstrated in Armenia on the 50th anniversary of the genocide. The construction of the monument was completed in 1968. Every year on April 24, thousands of Armenians from Armenia and around the world commemorate the anniversary of the genocide by laying flowers around the eternal flame. I have never been to Armenia, but when I do go, the first place I want to visit will be the Armenian Genocide Memorial because it will be the place where I will lay flowers and say our Lord’s Prayer Hayr Mer for the souls of my ancestors who perished away at the hands of Turks.

This genocide monument in Yerevan is dedicated to the memory of all my ancestors who perished in the first genocide of the twentieth century. This is a very painful part of our history and a human disaster, a very personal one for me because my great-grandparents and family members from both my mother’s and father’s side were victims of this terrible crime. They lost their lives, their farmlands and their homeland. Listening to very personal stories about the genocide from my mom who heard it firsthand from her surviving great-aunt definitely makes me want to go Tsitsernakaberd to remember, pay my respect, and honor the victims by lighting a candle and laying flowers on the ground as millions of people did and will continue to do.

Tamar Hovsepian is an 8th grade student in Philadelphia.  She attends Haigazian Armenian School on the weekends and is a member of Meghry Dance Group, where she performs and exercises her passion for Armenian dance.  Tamar loves theatre, playing the piano, and painting.  

How Basketball Came To Be My Armenian-American Identity

By Angela Koussian (Guest Contributor)

Two years ago Kobe Bryant became the campaign ad for Turkish Airlines’ direct flights from Los Angeles to Istanbul. As Armenians, some of us felt uncomfortable and disappointed that one of our favorite athletes would support such an endorsement. Some of us even went as far as ditching the purple and gold jerseys and giving up tickets to games entirely. It was a fresh wound, the kind we would get as kids, a scrape after we would spend hours playing basketball outside. The kind our moms would tell us in Armenian, medznasneh geh mornas, which translates to “when you grow up you will forget it happened.”

Despite still being a Kobe fan myself, you might be asking what sports has to do with my identity? Well, I never knew an Armenia that existed to me as strongly as I did while playing basketball. I was the young girl who had mastered a jump shot before I even learned how to make sourj (Armenian coffee). Turns out I would need both of these skills to properly socialize into my Armenian culture.

As a kid, I played basketball both for my public school and a city youth league. I grew up in South Bay, a town of beach cities located in Los Angeles with a small, and I mean small, population of Armenians. It was through my agoump (Armenian Center) that I found out about an all-Armenian basketball league. This organization is known around the world as Homenetmen. It might have been the third team that I joined, but it was the first time I was able to have a balance between my love of basketball (a passion shared by all backgrounds) and my culture (shared only among those on my team). I called this my “sub culture win-win,” the birth of my Armenian-American identity.

Each team was named after Armenian historic sites such as Ararat, Massis, Ani, Sassoun and Arakatz. Often times, the other communities had too many players on their roster so they would break in to 2-3 teams. This is because they lived in regions where there were a larger population of Armenians such as Glendale, Pasadena and the San Fernando Valley. A game of Ararat 2 vs Massis 1 would be going on, but there was always one Arakatz. We were the team that had to play with six, five or four players throughout the whole game. Through our wins and losses, we learned about the importance of communication.

It isn’t uncommon to see a mutual interest in any activity between siblings and parents, especially in a tight knit Armenian family. My older brother played basketball, so naturally I wanted to too. I don’t have any sisters, and being a part of this team felt like I gained many Armenian sisters. We would come up with plays that were named after Armenian foods, like bahmya (okra stew) which I remember wasn’t a favorite food among many of us. I couldn’t talk about bahmya with my American friends, even if I did compare it to the Armenian equivalent of broccoli.

In the years I spent playing basketball with Armenians, I heard many kids on the court say that their “dream is to be the next Kobe.” Certainly Armenians are not like Kobe.  Growing up, we weren’t told that basketball could be a career.  Instead, our priorities included getting good grades, taking care of our parents, siblings and grandparents, and participating in activities that kept Armenian tradition alive. But, what I never lost hope in was to see an Armenian in the NBA. I want to see someone like me who pursued their love of basketball while still maintaining the benefits of an Armenian lifestyle.

From tennis to football and basketball, we have provided important –ian’s to the world of sports. In 2012, Bleacher Report took notice of this and ranked the 10 Most Influential Armenians in Sports History. Three of these figures include David Nalbandian, Steve Sarkisian and Jerry Tarkanian.

David Nalbandian is the Argentinian Armenian who is known to be in the top 50 best tennis players in the world. But, what really connects us to him is his personal story where “his Armenian grandfather built a cement court in his backyard, where David learned to play against his two older brothers.” Little did a five-year-old Nalbandian know that his future would influence other Armenians to start playing tennis.

Steve Sarkisian, of Irish and Armenian descent, was coincidentally born and raised in South Bay, in the same small community of Armenians where I lived for most of my life. He played football and baseball in college for El Camino College and Bringham Young University. Later, he played professionally for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. Sarkisian is now making his mark as the current head coach for University of Southern California football team.

Jerry Tarkanian or more commonly known as “Tark the Shark,” has his coaching success in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Tarkanian has coached basketball for the University of Las Vegas, Nevada and California State University, Long Beach. He also turned down a position as the head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979 and served as a temporary coach for the San Antonio Spurs in the 1992-93 season. Tarkanian faced both controversy and harassment for violation accusations that caused him to resign, but he used basketball to look past it all.

So, it really might be just a matter of time until we have a Koko, Kevork or Karapet who will live out the dream.

Kobe’s contract with Turkish Airlines is supposed to be coming to a close this year and it seems like we have already moved on. The hurt has passed as I have seen many Armenians attend games again.

And my mother was right that my scars have healed from falling during practices in our unstable agoump parking lot. But I never forgot about what those memories taught me, much like the stories of our famous Armenian sports legends. Ultimately, it was the bond between my sisterhood and brotherhood of Homenetmen basketball players that strengthened my understanding of what it means to be Armenian.

Angela Koussian was born and raised in Los Angeles, having Armenian parents who migrated to the United States from Lebanon. She is a writer and content producer for Artest Media Group and Courtsideaccess.com.  Angela holds a Master’s of Public Policy from Pepperdine University and Bachelor’s degrees in Peace Studies and French from Chapman University. Her call of action is to encourage the use of sports as a tool for community relations, philanthropy, diplomacy, and the empowerment of women and children. 

Armenia Sings on in Our Hearts

By Isabella Bablumian (Guest Contributor)

I am what they call a transcultural child. I started my serial migrations by moving out of Armenia when I was eleven and have since lived in nine cities across three continents. Leaving my motherland behind was a difficult experience and always haunted me no matter how closely I integrated with the countries that became my new homes. Learning new languages and cultures became the remedy for dealing with this partial loss of identity in a continuous process of self-discovery within new cultures. I thrive in multi-cultural environments and am a local everywhere I go.

Yet, somehow, my Armenian identity remains intact. The voice calling on me from within is strong and unmistakable. On many occasions I´ve fled back to Armenia in tears, wanting to start everything from scratch; traveled across the world just to wash myself in the millennial freshwater of our high-mountain Lake Sevan, to breathe the childhood air that filled me with memories, eat a real apricot that seemed to heal me with its nectar. It never failed, but also did not last… I was forever changed, fully true to my Armenian roots, but unable to put them down again on the lands that gave me birth.

As this search continued, I came to the realization that no matter where I am (even back in Armenia), I will always feel the longing that is calling from the depth of my self to stay connected with the essence that makes up the interweaving of my being.

Therefore, instead of continuing to chase my identity within a specific location, I have since tried to find and retain particles of cultural connection in new ways. One of which occurred through finding and connecting to those dispersed pieces of Armenia that I had the chance to uncover around me in the most unimaginable parts of the world; through the people that dispersed a century ago away from their ancestral lands and formed a new world-wide Armenia.

Each encounter with our compatriots resonates deep on a molecular level and restores something that I lost when I left home. The first encounter is always replete with surprise; the awe of finding the Armenian oases that remain intact in the communities that our people have created with so much care and worked so hard to maintain. These places, whether they are churches, monuments, cultural centers, schools, all breathe something so inexplicably Armenian.   In them, those of us that leave abroad find a fleeting connection that serves as a link to maintaining our tie to our culture and identity.

There are numerous flashbacks that revive some of these connections: the looks full of longing memories in the eyes of the St. John Garabed church members in San Diego as I sing some of the Komitas songs at an event; the uncontrollable tears flooding from my eyes as I hear Zulal sing Sareri Hovin Mernem in Washington D.C. ; the first attempt at singing an Armenian song by a Rio de Janeiro native of Armenian descent, who never understood her passion for a language she didn’t speak and music she didn’t know, but the love for which seems to have been passed to her by her great-grandmother before she perished in Adana; a poem dedicated to the victims of the genocide engraved on a glass in a busy metro-station called Armenia in Sao Paulo.

The uplifting memories are endless. Receiving my grandmother from Armenia, a small tree in her hands that customs somehow allowed her to bring to the US, because she HAD to plant an Armenian tree in her daughter´s garden; a French-Armenian girl running up to me in a huge crowd of strangers, eager to meet the very first Armenian from Armenia at a social event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the enthusiasm of the youth dancing shurj par at the cultural center in Buenos Aires; the four Armenians united by some incredible force of serendipity on a metro train en route to the Maracana Stadium, drawn by the Armenian flag I was carrying to a World Cup game in Rio de Janeiro.

The stories are infinite and distinct, but all connected by something truly Armenian that our people carry with them no matter where they are.

The urge to give voice to their unmistakably Armenian voices, whose individual and collective stories remain unknown to the world, inspired me to implement a project, entitled Armenia Sings on in our Hearts. The short documentary will tell the story of the Armenians a century after the genocide by capturing the common threat that persisted in the individuals that persevered, formed new communities around the world, and maintained their identity so far from home.

Isabella Bablumian currently resides in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. She works in the field of International Relations and Development and is also a singer who performs classical and traditional Armenian music. She is currently working on a documentary entitled Armenia Sings on in our Hearts.  

 

The Breaking Point

By Shoushan Keshishian (Guest Contributor)

Visiting Armenia has been the highlight of my summers ever since I was a child with a gap in my teeth and a fancy pair of pigtails. Compared to Lebanon, the air is fresher, the streets are cleaner, and the colors are brighter… what’s not to love? As rhetorical as this question may sound, the answer to it is becoming blaringly obvious as I spend more time here, even if for merely two months out of each year.

It may not have to do with the gravity or the capacity of the problems increasing as much as it has to do with me growing older and admitting that my country may actually be less than perfect; however, writing these words down, there is only one issue progressively weighing down on my thoughts.

Before I divulge what that issue is, I would like to state that some may not consider it an issue, much less a problem, but I believe it is both, and that in fact, it can and should be classified as a national concern.

Wherever I go in Yerevan and whichever store I enter, whether it is for clothing, hardware, or food, I am bombarded with Turkish products. Only today I came across three stores selling Turkish hampers. Maybe it has to do with the way my parents raised me, or the school I go to, or the people I surround myself with, but regardless of the “why”, I find being confronted with Turkish letters in every nook and cranny of Yerevan to be truly devastating.

Some of you are already rolling your eyes to this idea you consider “outdated” and “senseless” as I’ve been told before. In this age where money dictates all the “big decisions”, and where economical gain is the driving force of nations and civilizations, it does seem futile even discussing such a topic. I am aware of that, and I am in no way hindered by Don Quixotian delusions, but when given the chance to express myself I will not refrain from raising my voice and letting people know just how wrong I consider selling Turkish products on Armenian soil is.

First and foremost, why should my country, or more particularly, Armenian wholesalers, importers, or distributers, contribute by no small amount to the flourishing of an economy that dedicates a significant part of its budget to military financing, thus oppressing Armenia. Need I remind my fellow Armenians about the state of our borderline villages? Those villages are repeatedly and frequently submitted to Turkish gunshots which so often leave behind wounded Armenian soldiers and civilians, sometimes even martyred ones. How bitterly sardonic is it that an Armenian businessman may have paid for the bullet that shot down his fellow Armenian?

Here we are on the threshold of the centennial of the Armenian genocide demanding its recognition from Turkey, parading around the globe burning the Turkish flag, organizing protests, holding seminars, building memorials, and declaring Turkey an enemy, an antagonist, a nemesis. All that would have been swell if there wasn’t a “however”… knowing us Armenians, there is always the “however”. This time, it is the fact that there exists an unfortunate parallel overshadowing all those previous acts. Here we are, on the threshold of the centennial, dressing our children with Turkish clothes, stocking our pantries with Turkish foods, advertising that Turkish products are the best and therefore the most expensive.

What is the national image we are portraying to the rest of the world; one of hypocrisy, pretense, insincerity, or maybe illiteracy and ignorance, as if the meaning of enemy is vague or incomprehensible to us? Why should those be adjectives describing Armenians when we are diligent, hard-working, earnest people?

All this brings me back to one underlying issue. Our national dignity, a central value, is missing. Our national pride has dissipated. It does not dignify us Armenians to act the way we are acting when it comes to our relationship with Turkey. As a teenage Armenian living in the diaspora, I consider buying and using Turkish products condescending, as should all Armenians. Our national integrity should ascertain the attitude we take on these matters, not convenience. Only when this incentive becomes collective will we realize true prosperity, in whatever field it may be… but who am I to talk? If the Armenian population finds it more beneficial to let go of its pride and of all the values our nation has kept dear for thousands of years, then so be it.

Armenia, despite all its flaws, is my home and my haven, and it pains me to see it falling through the cracks under the false premise of “globalization” and “development”. But I will keep returning to it, one summer at a time, praying that I will not be let down, or better yet, that I won’t allow myself to be let down because hopelessness breeds indifference, and ultimately, indifference is when we surrender… indifference will be our breaking point.

Shoushan Keshishian is a high school senior from Beirut, Lebanon.  She’s an avid reader and a trivia junkie, in love with dancing and The Beatles.  She’s always searching for inspiration, fueled by literary rage.