How The Wolf Was Made

By Melissa Lake

I used to be Armenian,
until they took that from me too.

Except they made me better.

Now I am a chimera of all the things they could not kill:
a descendant of a people who could not break.
I have evolved to be smarter and more powerful and stronger.

They killed me and created something better:
gave me an echoing howl and a tougher hide and razor teeth. Now I have claws that sink in and won’t let go.

I would never have been born if they weren’t afraid of what I could be. Now I’m greater than I ever was.

I stand at their doorway, heavy breath at their neck, blood dripping from my muzzle. They are afraid of the monster they created.

And they should be.

Our Old Backyard

By Nora Serghany (Guest Contributor)

Let the night vie and struggle to shadow the land, but the light of truth will always pierce the darkness.

Nora Serghany is a 22-year-old Buffalo native who subsists off coffee fumes and late night studying.  She is currently studying medicine and has a passion for writing, inspired by Russian novelists.  More of her work can be found here.

The Weight Of Watchful Eyes

By Mher Apo Boghigian (Guest Contributor)

To Armenians, the month of April is a unique frame of time. At the core of its sentimental significance is a sense of history, remembrance, activism, and grief. On a less personal level, it represents a time when Armenians work to make themselves more vocal to those who are not Armenian. Public protests, exhibits, vigils, and educationals fill the calendar. Turnouts are analyzed. Absences are accounted for.

April’s enterprise repeats every year with more or less the same results: local papers include a piece on an event, bits of controversy are stirred, and those who spent the previous months preparing for the activism struggle to reap the fruit of their labor in terms of publicity. Perhaps there are a few exceptions, but this is more or less an honest evaluation. On a more positive note, it speaks to the passion of our people that these struggles have never resulted in relenting. A century passes and the children of children of leaders and parents who organized pioneering protests on all corners of the world now hold the responsibility of carrying our ever-important tradition of demonstration.

But what are the limits of passion? Or, more aptly posed, how long can this passion last? This is an admittedly frightening question I often ask myself.

To say that the burden of seeking publicity does not feel taxing at times would be an outright lie. For decades, those who cared to share in the public outcry are met with few compassionate ears and even fewer eyes. At times, it begins to feel as if we are doing it for ourselves rather than others. Falling under this impression is not hard.

But then, suddenly, a bit of  substantiation.

Following an abrupt and frankly unprecedented period of publicity, those that may have been previously regarded as unreachable have temporarily been unlocked. Publications that have millions upon millions of viewers are now glancing at headlines pertaining to the Armenian Genocide. We have—if only for a period of time—been heard.

Make no mistake, the degree to which the media is now covering the centennial is absolutely staggering. From The New York Times, to The Guardian, BBC, The Wall Street Journal, and even platforms of native advertising such as Buzzfeed, the knowledge of our collective history is at this time reaching ears that were previously light-years away. The unreachable has been accessed.

What has caused this surge?

Pope Francis has bluntly spoken to the world about the realities of the genocide—an incredible revelation.

The storm of media, regardless of what their motivations might be, follow a mega-star and his reality-TV wife to Armenia to capture their each and every movement. In the background of their makeup and flamboyant clothing, an entire country is made visible to those who might not have known that a country named Armenia has existed.

So, what has really changed?

Nothing has changed.

Apart from our growing access to education and evolving methods of activism that very well may have contributed to this frenzy, we have been endowed with a beautiful stroke of luck.

This is not a disheartening notion, though. Fortune always plays a part, and heaven knows that as a nation we are not too familiar with it. It’s vindication. Though those who have dedicated a greater deal of time in their lives to the remembrance of genocide can claim that their fire has never wavered, it would be naïve to think that the same applies to the majority of Armenians. Like it or not, it is often the case that people have a need to experience a return in exchange for hard work in order to maintain a level of performance. This is no different.

Thus, herein lies a personal confession of mine: I have personally suffered from this mentality.

But instead of continuing my tradition of self-deprecation, I told myself to look back on the body of work my peers and community have amassed. Let me tell those who don’t already know, what I found is nothing short of remarkable. When people who are Armenians say that the genocide has become a part of our identity, they are not wrong. In the past century, the ripples of the atrocity have engrained themselves into our cultural DNA. Our stubbornness in maintaining Armenian music and dance, our language and alphabet, the fact that I am a second-generation Armenian-American (my mother grew up in the City of Angels) and can read and write my language–these are all things I’ve personally taken for granted, or perhaps just overlooked. But this realization only strengthens my convictions about the potential of Armenia and the degree to which we can culturally prosper.

So, with the world’s eyes now somewhat fixed upon our country and what we’ve been vocally fighting for the last hundred years, what do we do?

I suggest that we do what we’ve done to get us here in the first place. We speak Armenian to one another as often as possible and help teach it to those who are willing to learn. We sing and dance and continue participating in terrific events such as Innovate Armenia at the University of Southern California. We continue to be ready for the challenges of publicity. If the diaspora kept a physical portfolio that represents everything we’ve done to battle the ignorance and perpetuation of denial, we would swimmingly ace the equivalent of a Harvard interview with its credentials.

Now, a final frightening question: After this year passes and we are faced with the not-so-sexy number of 101, will the interest that has grown in regard to our people falter, or slow down?

I don’t know the answer to this question. I do know, however, that in 2016, regardless of it being a marketable number or occasion, there will still be a very great number of people worldwide who have just heard of us, and more who still will. We are refreshed. Our country is still in its mid-twenties. We have soccer players playing for the biggest squads in the world (I’m looking at you Henrikh), artists and engineers sprouting from cracks in the concrete, and an ever-improving sense of our place and potential in the world. Despite there still being some very real and worrisome issues in the country, there will always be those who work to address it.

With the stage becoming larger and larger, I wholeheartedly believe that our actors will grow with it. Our decades-long training in perseverance and dealing with injustice will continue to yield habits of self-improvement. The weight of attention we have been looking for will not make us sink, but help us grow more able and resolute. Ultimately, it is because of our track record, our effort-filled past rather than our bright future, that I cannot help but feel astonishingly optimistic about the prospects of Armenia.

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Mher is a 21-year-old Los Angeles native currently studying English Literature at UC Berkeley, and is eager to pursue Journalism after graduation. He is a huge fan of football (soccer) and harbors a secret passion for acting.

Turkish Delights and Armenian Plights

By Avo John Kambourian (Guest Contributor)

Throughout my childhood I knew, quite extensively, about my Armenian heritage. My understanding of culture came from observing my family members. My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were like the lens of a camera through which I saw and experienced the world.

My parents met in Los Angeles after fleeing during the civil war in Beirut. Similarly, their grandparents had no choice but to flee from their homes in historic Armenia; places like Ourfa and Marash in present day Eastern Turkey. Whether it was enduring the horrific days of the genocide, struggling in the Middle East, or immigrating to the United States, each generation faced its own unique set of challenges but never failed to preserve our ancient culture. Knowing about these struggles made me cherish this rich culture that had been passed down from generation to generation.

But there were moments in my childhood that left me confused. Occasionally, I would hear my parents play Turkish songs or notice my grandparents transfixed by the compelling drama of a Turkish soap opera. This was a stark contrast to what I had been taught growing up: to consciously refrain myself from enjoying anything Turkish (because of Turkey’s lack of acknowledgment that there was a genocide), with the exception of Turkish delights, because no one with taste buds can avoid enjoying these. This duality struck me in an odd way.

In 2009, during my second year of college, I watched a concert film called Dave Chappelles Block Party, directed by Michel Gondry. This was a film about a block party in Brooklyn, NYC, hosted by world famous comedian Dave Chappelle.

Chappelle had musical guests on his sketch comedy show, which helped spread the word about artists like Kanye West, Mos Def, The Roots, Common, Jill Scott, and Erykah Badu, pretty early on in their careers.

So when I watched the film, two things happened. First, I became transfixed by the way live music was being shown in the film. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and I got very much into photographing shows and concerts solely because of it. Second, I started listening to some of the artists, primarily Brooklyn based artist Mos Def because I felt so aligned with his words about life, humanity, and injustice.

Saying that Most Def’s album The Ecstatic blew me away is an understatement. That album helped define a lot of my core political beliefs. What drew me to that album was Def’s interesting mix of diverse beats and sounds paired with his dark poetic lyrics.

Here’s his single off that album, called Supermagic, with a short intro by Malcolm X.

The song was somewhat of a revelation for me. It sounded so familiar, yet was like nothing I had ever heard before. After a quick search online I found out that Mos Def had actually sampled a Turkish song.

Why would he open his album with THIS song? Why? I was appalled, but I was also curious. When I looked up the translation for the lyrics I remember being very skeptical about what they might be. I was thinking it was probably about something I couldn’t relate to, but boy was I wrong.

I found out that the original song, Ince Ince, which means flaked in Turkish, is a song from the Turkish psychedelic folk artist Selda Bagcan. She is widely regarded in Turkey as a prominent left-wing folk singer.

To me she’s like a fusion of Janice Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. And I was amazed to read about such a prominent leftist figure in Turkey. I couldn’t stop listening to her music, and I couldn’t help but feel like a kid with a box of Turkish Delights.

The song, as it turns out, is about the mistreated minorities of Turkey, the people that were flaked by their government. In the second verse, Bagcan even calls out her government by saying:

Why isn’t Ourfa like your Istanbul?*
Poor Marash, dry Ourfa, what about Diyarbakır?
We’re doomed, we’re dead, a drop of water
Come now sir, please

It was like the song was calling out to me since the beginning. The mentioning of Marash and Ourfa, my ancestral villages, really struck a chord with me. Suddenly it all made sense, I understood why Mos Def had chosen to use this song to open his album and why Selda’s music resonated with me, even before I knew what the lyrics meant.

Here is Ince Ince in its entirety:

To me this song is about a region of the world still affected by its past, an oppressive government that continues to marginalize a vast majority of its population.

When we talk about Turkey, it’s important for us to remember that we’re talking about a country built on the spilt blood of our ancestors. But we shouldn’t forget about the many other minorities who are still being oppressed in that country today.

What I realized is that we, Armenians and Turks, aren’t all that different. I believe it’s vital for us to find a commonality between ourselves and our so-called enemies, not in acts of forgiveness, but in order to seek a common understanding. Although cultural identity may be established during the first few years of one’s life, I think any good work of art has the power to open eyes and connect people of all backgrounds; whether it be music, writing, or film, as long as it’s done with respect for telling a common story, something we can all relate to.

Avo John Kambourian is a filmmaker from Sherman Oaks, California. He holds a degree in Communication from UC San Diego, and claims to be really good behind the grill. His favorite films are Back to the Future, Godfather II, and Boogie Nights. Hes currently working on a documentary series called Echoes of Survival, which follows a diverse group of Armenian artists in the United States, whose works are directly influenced by their Armenian identity.

The Armenian Who Thought She Was a Turk

By Melissa Lake

An important part of stating Armenian culture has never died is to focus on its evolution. In biology we determine the fitness of a species by its ability to adapt to and cope with its environment, and just like animals will experience the Darwinian “survival of the fittest” law of nature, cultures throughout society have come and gone, waxed and waned, morphing and changing with time, some continuing on while others are left to die. As a scientist, I’m inclined to draw parallels to the laws of nature, so Armenian culture was no different to me. I see our common ancestor, a rich but concentrated culture exclusive to almost one singular area of the world, and I see its descendants, its gradual evolution and growth, its continued adaptations needed to survive in new environments. I see the branching from the original, the creation of different sub-families within a greater species. And like species in nature, while we all share a similar common ancestor, while our basic foundations are from the same source, all different Armenian cultures had to individually adapt to survive to their unique environments.

For my personal cultural experience, I was raised believing I was Turkish while still knowing I was Armenian. Whether it be to spare a child from tales of horrific violence, the inability to speak of a wound still raw and painful, or the fact that the reason my family is here today is thanks to the kindness of Turkish strangers, my mother never really spoke to me of the genocide when I was young. So my youth was a mix of two conflicting cultures: I ate breakfast in a kitchen adorned with Armenian flags but then talked about Turkey when people asked what ethnicity my mother was. My mother never renounced her nationality but also never abandoned her heritage. She was Turkish-Armenian just as American diaspora-born Armenians are Armenian-American. But I think this cultural fusion speaks more for Armenian perseverance than it does of forced Turkish cultural assimilation. My mother and her family spent years hiding their true ethnicity, adopting a culture that had seen to the decimation of their own. And yet their root culture was not lost, it had simply changed, evolving in its latency.

I’m here now, an adult raised a part of two enemy cultures, proud to say I am both, but also acutely aware that I am an Armenian by blood and birthright, and a Turk by genocide. And thus, I don’t think it would be too bold to say that Armenian genetics are a dominant trait. Somewhere on one of our 46 chromosomes sits an allele unique to Armenians and even through generational dilution it still permeates as strong as ever.

Even I stand up here today, half Turkish diasporan Armenian and half generationally American, raised in a town where I was the only Armenian, incapable of speaking the language of my ancestors, more than aware that I am Armenian before I am anything else. And whether it be through generations of ethnic mixing or from sheer distance from an elusive homeland, this genomic marker still remains permanent and impervious to the effects of time and other evasive cultural interference.

We are a culture of a people marred by tragedy and driven by strength. We are a culture of people who refuse to be forgotten, a people who refuse to be ignored and driven into obscurity. We are a culture that has survived through insurmountable strife and impossible odds. We are a culture that has come back from the systematic annihilation of our people stronger than we were before. You can drag us from our homes, you can burn us and rape us and reduce us to nothing, you can forcefully and coercively take the people out of Armenia, but you cannot, through any form of abuse or injustice or forced assimilation, take Armenia out of the people.

Irrepressible

By Semaline Joukakelian (Guest Contributor)

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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.   

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. 

In the Name of Humanity

By Serkan Engin (Guest Contributor)

Through a collective struggle, I firmly believe that Armenian and Turkish youth can together destroy hatred. I am working to raise awareness through my writing, especially within the Turkish youth, of the Armenian Genocide as well as the Assyrian, Nestorian, Chaldean, and Greek genocides, which were all perpetrated by our Turkish ancestors.

I am trying to change the wrong perception about Armenians and Greeks in Turkey, which have been established by the lies of the official ideology. I am trying to show the awful truths of our history to the Turkish youth, so that we can erase the defaults of racist education in Turkey. We are taught that “One Turk is equal to the whole world,” arising from Fascist-Kemalist ideology, which has forbidden the existence of all ethnic identities that are not Turkish.

Adolf Hitler once said, “The first student of Mustafa Kemal was Mussolini, the second is me.” I believe that only conscience can save this world. We will not find reparation through big ideologies, big leaders, money, weapons, laws, or technology; our progress lies in the cohesive development and realization of conscience. Conscience can be developed by empathy, and empathy begins with recognizing the pain of other people. We all have to develop empathy with those who are suffering and stand behind all humans who are oppressed, ignored, exploited, and abused.

We have to succeed in feeling the pain of other humans across the world and we must refuse to be accepting of discrimination against those who come from different backgrounds and harbor different beliefs.

As the son of a Turkish woman, I accept and recognize the realities of the Armenian Genocide. Although I personally had no participation in this violent crime, I apologize to all the Armenian victims and kneel down in front of you in the name of humanity. Not only do I apologize for the Armenian Genocide, but I also apologize for the Holocaust, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur, and every other genocide perpetrated by the conscienceless humans of our world. I believe that we shall overcome this hatred and lack of conscience someday.

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Serkan Engin is a writer from Turkey whose poems have been published in numerous literary journals. He is an advocate of social change in Turkey and works to raise genocide awareness through his writing.

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