Armenians often wish for a tale about the Armenian Genocide and its aftermath that would make a blockbuster film and draw attention to their cause. John Balian’s new book, Gray Wolves and White Doves (CreateSpace/Amazon.com), may be that tale.
Largely autobiographical, this atmospheric novel is presented through the eyes of an innocent young boy trying to make sense of the world as he grows up amid repressive conditions in Western Armenia/Eastern Turkey during the 1960s and 70s.
This fast-paced, multi-layered narrative takes readers from Hanna Ibelin’s (a.k.a. Jonah Ibelinian’s) close-knit family life in the perilous Asia Minor region of Palu to terror and tragedy while en route to Syria’s Kamishli, to a bleak existence on the mean streets of Istanbul.
Facng the disintegration of his family, Hanna is promised salvation abroad. Guardians enroll him in the Armenian seminary of Jerusalem, where he takes his Armenian name Jonah Ibelinian, and practices Armenian customs in comfort and safety. But as Jonah begins to adjust to this new life, he encounters inter-ethnic strife, clerical corruption, deception, and banishment for alleged insurrection against the Turkish state.
While on the lam in Europe, Jonah searches for lost kin as he stays just one step ahead of his pursuers. As he hides from the Turkish secret police, fugitive Jonah is coaxed by a former rival to conduct a secret mission in exchange for acceptance. Jonah also searches the depths of his own conscience as he is told that his mission is to be carried out at the Turkish Airlines counter at Orly Airport on the outskirts of Paris.
As the story crescendos into a dynamic climax, buried secrets, and hidden identities and motives are revealed – leading the gripping saga to a fulfilling conclusion.
Gray Wolves and White Doves’ storyline is laced with intrigues and betrayals, ancient traditions, comic relief and accurate historical depictions – fused together by the protagonist’s indomitable will to live in freedom and dignity. This literary achievement is already being put on par with Billy Hayes’ autobiographical thriller and award-winning film, Midnight Express. While Gray Wolves and White Doves stands on its own merits as a spellbinding story, author John Benjamin Sciarra aptly points out that Balian’s treatment further elevates it because “…by setting [the novel] in the shadow of the attempted annihilation of Armenians by Turks, the historical background becomes as meaningful as the story itself.”
Protagonist Ibelinian possesses many fine qualities often attributed to the Armenian people: Christian values, love of family, drive, talent, and a strong work ethic. The grace and humility with which Jonah faces down impossible odds offers readers a model to emulate and an opportunity to place their own personal challenges into perspective. And by presenting his story as a cross between Raffi’s epic Khentè and a John Grisham novel, Balian captures the interest of general readers while introducing them to the Armenians – a people whose history has been hijacked, culture appropriated, and appeals for justice disregarded.
Following is an interview conducted with the author. To learn more and to purchase the book, visit http://johndbalian.com.
Lucine Kasbarian: How have your life experiences and literary interests equipped you to write Gray Wolves and White Doves, and what do you hope this book will accomplish?
John Balian: It is said that the best fiction usually involves strong elements of true-life experiences, and this book is no different. The premise of the book is based on my life experiences. It is also said that everyone has a book hidden inside. Gray Wolves and White Doves is clearly the one I needed to release from within me.
While Gray Wolves and White Doves is an suspenseful thriller, it is based on a real-life story that weaves a timeless tale of a man’s perseverance, the endurance of hope, and the winning ways of the human spirit no matter how bleak the circumstances.
My hope for the book is to leave a legacy to generations to come and to shed light on an often-ignored and definitely under-explored topic of great importance – the issue of genocide, an event that has contributed so dramatically to the factional rivalries and the current quagmire of the Middle East. My intent here was to bring attention to this matter while entertaining and rousing a non-Armenian audience without preaching to them.
The readership is looking for a motion picture based on this story. Also, to translate the book, first into Armenian and Turkish and then into other languages would be a very desired outcome.
LK: You are to be congratulated for self-publishing this work. Because of the subject matter and your treatment of it, I wonder if a mainstream book publisher would have produced it. Tell us how this book came to be.
JB: There is no stigma anymore in the self-publishing realm. I understand that established authors are choosing this route more often. I did attempt to get an agent for representation by sending a query to about a dozen of them, but it became apparent that to succeed in the traditional publishing approach, it would take a very long time with no apparent benefits while running the risk of losing the literary and educational value of this book.
I chose the Amazon publishing services called BookSurge Publishing and CreateSpace. They offered easy access to the Amazon distribution channels as well as editing services that were quite impressive and very helpful.
LK: A disclaimer in the book states that while the story is based on actual events, any similarity to real persons is coincidental. How much of your book is historical and how much is autobiographical? Where does fact end and fiction begin?
JB: The events and historical aspects of the book are all factual. The fictional aspects come from taking poetic license with the creation and portrayal of characters and plots, and the timing of events and scenes.
LK: This story, which has been enthusiastically reviewed by scores of non-Armenian readers, appeals to more than one demographic. You add special touches to the story that will resonate with Armenian readers in particular, such as your decision to name the villains Sevantz and Aghvesian, or to create characters with evocative Turkish names such as Soluk Kurt, Inonu, Turgut and Erdogan. Please talk about this.
JB: To date, more than 95 percent of the readership has been non-Armenian. There is unanimity on the quality of work and an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the writing, the story and its literary value. Some samples of the feedback and sentiments can be seen in the reviews placed on Amazon, with a total of 50 reviews thus far with a top rating of five stars.
In addition to the pace of the book, I want the readers (on a second or third reading) to delve into the meaning and intricacies of scenes, names and references to religious, historical, and biblical issues, and to personalities past and present that continue to influence peoples’ and nations’ lives.
LK: While telling your tale, life in Jerusalem comes alive, as does the issue with which many lay communities struggle: corrupt authority figures and clergy. What purpose do you think your treatment of this taboo topic could serve?
JB: My hope is that it leads to awareness and more importantly to the protection of our national treasures and heritage.
LK: Two powerful aspects of this book were your ability to communicate how goodness and humility can inspire hostility and envy in others, and the resulting trauma that persists within the Armenians. The central character is scapegoated by transgressors who project sins onto him. Please talk about the importance these concepts hold for you, for the Armenian nation and for humanity.
JB: Unfortunately this mindset is not limited to one period of time, one region of the world, one country, or one people. Humanity grapples with these issues daily and never seems to have the collective courage to overcome these destructive attitudes. Armenians have been victims of inhumane treatment with devastating results for far too long. How to break this cycle is the real challenge.
LK: Do you think the Republic of Turkey has the same mindset today that it did during the years the action in this book takes place? Is your story just an artifact, or could it also be a cautionary tale?
JB: I believe my story is not an artifact. The mindset today is no different than during the years the action in this book takes place.
However, I think we are at a watershed time. A segment of the Turkish public is clamoring for the truth while the radicals are struggling to maintain the denialist policies of their government and forefathers. I believe this book will help our cause and the struggles of all victims of persecution, genocide, and those whose human spirits are under constant threat of being obliterated.
So far, I know one person of Turkish heritage has read Gray Wolves and White Doves. He recently sent me a note as follows: “…I just finished it, and I am still shaking.” He acknowledged that “…while the book is very, very good, I do have very mixed emotions.”
LK: What void do you think exists in literature on Armenian subjects?
JB: I would hope that we as a community add to our armamentarium books such as Gray Wolves and White Doves and other tools of “entertainment/education” and place these books on the required reading lists for students and transform the books into feature films to ensure they become yet another piece of the fabric and tapestry that we need to weave to tell the world the full story and tell it in a manner that is not offensive or overbearing. You can see from the reviews, and many other readers have told me in person, that this book has taught them about the Middle East, Armenia, the Armenians, and the Genocide. In fact, reading the novel has inspired many to research these issues on their own.
LK: How do you keep up with current Armenian events?
JB: I am an avid reader of all Armenian newspapers and journals. I currently serve on the Board of Directors of the Armenian Center at Columbia University.
LK: Will readers learn what happens to Jonah and the abducted child held by the Turkish couple? Where can readers hear you speak about your book?
JB: The readers are asking me the same questions. All I can say for now is that I will focus on ensuring the widest possible audience for this book and that it becomes a film.
I have had visits with book clubs in NY, NJ, CT, and MA and attended special events held for the book in the Northeast. On Wednesday evening, Sep. 28th, at 7:00pm, the St. Gregory Men’s Club will sponsor my presentation and book signing at the St. Gregory the Enlightener Armenian Church’s Atrium, 1131 North St, White Plains, NY, 10605, http://stgregoryarmenianchurch.org . Interested individuals must RSVP in advance to Chris Bonfiglio at (914) 707-2152, or email@example.com. Admission is $10 and light refreshments will be served.
Interviewer Lucine Kasbarian is a book publicist on leave, and the author of The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale, www.lucinekasbarian.com
Teaneck, N.J. and Belmont, Mass. – An Armenian folktale retold by Armenian-American writer Lucine Kasbarian and illustrated by Moscow-based artist Maria Zaikina debuts with Marshall Cavendish Children’s Publishers in April 2011.
The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale is from the ancient Armenian oral tradition and culture, which was nearly obliterated during the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks in 1915. The author learned the tale from her father, editor and columnist C.K. Garabed, who would recite it to her at bedtime. He had learned it from his own grandmother, a celebrated storyteller from the Old Country. The tale was first put to paper by Armenian poet Hovhannes Toumanian at the turn of the 20th century.
The Greedy Sparrow is the first time this tale has been presented in the English language as a children’s picture book. The story begins in old Armenia with a sparrow who catches a thorn in his foot. As he asks for help, he sets off an intriguing cycle of action that transports him through the Armenian countryside, encountering people engaged in traditional folkways. The Greedy Sparrow ends with a surprising twist and conveys moral messages about greed, selfishness and using one’s judgment. To address the ethical and human components of the tale, a discussion and activity guide will be available on the author’s website, www.lucinekasbarian.com.
Though intended for readers ages 4 through 8, noted Sesame Street host and storyteller Bob McGrath says that “The Greedy Sparrow is actually for everyone. It’s clever and humorous, and the wonderful illustrations not only add color but also truly interpret the story line.” The fable is lavishly illustrated with authentic depictions of Armenian folk traditions by Moscow-based animator and illustrator, Maria Zaikina, who was selected to illustrate The Greedy Sparrow after the author and publisher viewed her Armenian folk animations on YouTube
Author Kasbarian is a syndicated journalist and Director-on-Leave from Progressive Book Publicity. A graduate of the NYU Journalism program, she is the former Director of Publicity for Red Wheel, Weiser and Conari Press, and previously was Publicity and Marketing Manager at Hearst Books. Kasbarian is also the author of Armenia: A Rugged Land, an Enduring People (Dillon Press/Simon & Schuster, 1998) and was a contributing editor for Cobblestone magazine’s special issue, the Armenian Americans (Carus Publishing, 2000). The granddaughter of Armenian genocide survivors, Kasbarian has held leadership positions in the Armenian Youth Federation and the Land & Culture Organization. Among other organizations, she belongs to the National Writer’s Union, the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and the Women’s National Book Association.
The author and her husband, journalist David Boyajian, live in Belmont, Massachusetts and Teaneck, New Jersey. For the production of The Greedy Sparrow, the author served as the model for the illustrator’s rendering of the bride’s features. The bride’s wedding costume in the book bears a strong resemblance to that of the author’s own folkloric bridal gown.
The Greedy Sparrow is a 32-page illustrated hardcover book, available by mid-March, 2011 through Amazon and other brick-and-mortar and online booksellers, as well as through the publisher for $17.99 US; $20.95 CANADA. To order through the publisher, contact: Janet Kelly, Order Department, Marshall Cavendish Corp., 99 White Plains Rd., Tarrytown, NY 10591; Phone: (800) 821-9881 x 325; firstname.lastname@example.org, www.marshallcavendish.us/kids.
Turkish writer and publicist Ahmet Insel labels the initiative of the Turkish Nationalist Movement Party to pray namaz on the ruins of Ani as provocation.
In an interview with “A1+,” the publicist said the initiative was supported only by a small percentage of Turks.
“They offered namaz in Ani in protest against Christian rites carried out in Trabzon and Akhtamar. The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, Devlet Bahceli said if Christians are allowed to pray inside museums, similarly he can pray namaz in Armenian churches,” said Ahmet Insel.
The Turkish writer arrived in Armenia to participate in a book festival. Presentation of Armenian version of Dialogue sur le tabou arménien (Dialogue about the Armenian Tabou) co-authored by Ahmet Insel and Michel Marian was held during the festival.
The book was published in 2008 and is devoted to Hrant Dink.
The book is a conversation between two men, one Turk, one Armenian, about the past, present, and future. Through their personal and family itineraries, the great events that marked the history of these two peoples are evoked with, as its culminating point, the 1915 genocide and the question of its recognition.
About 230 Turkish intellectuals asks Armenians for forgiveness for the Armenian Genocide.
“We did not aim to raise the issue of the genocide, but to remove the taboo placed on the theme. Most Turks are unaware of the 1915 events as it was forbidden to speak about the Armenian genocide in Turkey. Those who knew the real facts proffered to keep silent,” said Ahmet Insel.
Born in 1955 in Istanbul, Ahmet Insel did his university studies in Paris and directed the Economics Department of the University of Paris I from 1990 to 1994. Since 2004, he teaches in and directs the Economics Department of Galatasaray University in Istanbul. Ahmet Insel is the author of numerous books on Turkey.
He thinks that the dialogue between the two nations will bring them closer.
“Part of the Turkish public believes that the facts should be revealed whereas others [Kemalists] do not want changes saying the recognition of the Armenian genocide will bring radical changes in Turkey,” said Michel Marian.
Michel Marian has published numerous articles on Armenian question. Part of his family was killed in the 1915 genocide; another part was able to flee, finding refuge in Armenia as well as in France.
BURBANK, CALIFORNIA – KFI 640, a popular news/talk radio station hosted by Bill Handel on September 23 aired a live interview with Michael Bobelian, the writer of a new book titled Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-long Struggle for Justice
The book chronicles the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and recounts a people’s struggle for justice in the face of a century of silence and denial.
During the interview, which was aired during the prime morning time slot, Bill Handel addressed both the efforts within the United States to ensure that the US government appropriately acknowledges the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s ongoing denial.
Handel, a well known and nationally syndicated radio talk show host, has discussed the Armenian Genocide during past shows.
The book already won many praises
“In this meticulously researched and moving work, Michael Bobelian reveals why the children of Armenia haven’t received justice for the genocide of their ancestors and the unconscionable efforts of Turkish leaders to rewrite their country’s history by denying its shameful past. This powerful and gripping account of a people’s century-long struggle for justice is long overdue.”
– George Deukmejian, thirty-fifth governor of California
“A powerful and provocative work, Children of Armenia is a poignant and disciplined chronicle of the difficult quest for recognition of the Genocide and the efforts within the Armenian community, the American government, and international community for acknowledgement. Without such acknowledgement, there can be no redress and no way of building toward the future. One reads these pages with sadness and with anguish but also with the understanding of the perniciousness of genocide denial, which provides to the victims — and the perpetrators — no way to go forward.”
– Michael Berenbaum, former project director, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-long Struggle for Justiceis published by Simon & Schuster in a hardcover format with 320 pages, it is available at Amazon.com
Zaruhi Postanjyan has been elected new head of the opposition Heritage faction in parliament. The change comes after Ruben Hakobyan announced his decision to resign as faction leader earlier today.
Talking to media in parliament Hakobyan said Heritage Party leader Raffi Hovannisian had been notified about his move well in advance. He left questions about reasons for his step without commentary, only saying that he had decided to step down as faction leader before the recent scandal around Postanjyan in the wake of her controversial question to President Serzh Sargsyan about his gambling habit at the PACE plenary session in Strasbourg on October 2.
Unlike a majority of Heritage members Hakobyan then was critical of Postanjyan’s behavior. Representatives of the ruling party in Armenia called her statement in Strasbourg slanderous and the parliament speaker threatened to expel her from the Armenian delegation to the PACE.
Postanjian, meanwhile, would not be drawn into speculation about the reasons for Hakobyan’s decision either.
00:42, October 21, 2013
Let us consider for a moment the letter of protest by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manougian—addressed to his Holiness Karekin II—and its impact on the psyche of the clergy.
According to historical accounts, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem was established almost at the same time as theMother See Holy Etchmiadzin. The Patriarchate had its own special position as ecclesiastical/spiritual center in the Hierarchy of the Armenian Church. In an environment, frequently hostile to Armenians, it was able to retain its preeminent position among all other Christian denominations, and because of the politically favorable conditions, was able to become a fortress of enlightenment where our church traditions were kept safe.
However, under ne-political conditions, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem is struggling to keep its own traditions, independence and identity, and is ill-prepared to guide new generations of priests.
Today, as a nation, we live under tragic conditions. Our laissez-faire approach to addressing issues and solving problems within our communities puts us face to face with very serious dangers such as dysfunction, corruption, and ultimately, the loss of identity. Unfortunately, however, we have no grasp of these dangers. The theatrical performance of our clergy has found more ground in our hearts than in understanding of the laws, which are the foundations of a healthy church.
Let us examine and understand these laws.
The law of the jungle–a place where there are no principles, other than “mightmakes right”.
The law of nature – inherent balance and regularity between all living entities innature.
The law of the mob – where the accused is judged by the mob and not in a court oflaw, and is summarily sentenced to death.
The constitution – the law that governs the relationship between the governmentand its citizens.
International laws – those that govern the relationships between countries anddefine their duties to each other.
Civil law – body of laws which sanction the supreme authority of the state.
Criminal laws – hose enacted to preserve the public order by defining offensesagainst the state and public, and imposing a penal sanctions.
Furthermore, there is another incomprehensible and unacceptable condition in life whereby man impugns all laws and creates his own scheme of rationalizations to impose his will upon all others.
Having looked at the various types of law that govern the human condition, how should one regard the relationship between the Holy See of Etchmiadzin and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem? We maintain the public be the judge.
Before analyzing Nourhan Patriarch’s letter of protest, it is important to pay attention to the sentiments and discontent of our readers, i.e., that the relationship between the two patriarchates of Jerusalem and Istanbul is in a state of discord. During the last Jerusalem patriarchal elections, Catholicos Kareken II attempted to interfere and manipulate the situation but was thwarted.
Furthermore, while late Torkom Patriarch was the Locum tenant in Etchmiadzin, he attested to the corruption of the Nersisyan clan and was courageous enough to express his opinions and make recommendations, which were not cordially received by Archbishop Karekin Nersisyan and his clan.
Let’s return to the protest letter dated August 3, 2013, and analyze the impetus for Nourhan Patriarch to officially pen and submit such a letter.
Foremost, the letter was written in a brotherly spirit, a letter addressed to his big brother, Catholicos Karekin the II.
Second was the final decision of the Supreme Religious Council to accept Archbishop Norvan’s resignation from his post as Primate of France. The non-elected and irresponsible members of the Religious Council, did not have the courage and integrity to question His Holiness Karekin the II and under duress and pressure, took the degrading decision to accept the resignation of Archbishop Norvan. What would they think if, instead of Archbishop Norvan, one of them had their own integrity questioned and their spineless “brothers” took such a heartless decision? They would probably curse the day they joined the ranks of the clergy.
It is understandable and only just that a brother should be able to advice his older brother to be lenient and considerate of another brother, even though there are some misunderstandings, and that the latter deserves punishment commensurate with his transgression. But in a situation like this, where there is injustice perpetrated, it is unconscionable to stand by and let a brother be sacrificed and become the target of vengeance. After mentioning in his letter that the decision was “unacceptable and unjust”, Patriarch Nourhan suggests that his Holiness should act with forgiveness towards his younger brothers.
“Two years ago you tried to convince Torkom Patriarch to electCo-adjutorand when Archbishop Aris Shirvanian objected saying that there is no such Article in the Jerusalem Patriarchal constitution, you were furious and declared ‘I will defrock all of you’, and furthermore you repeated the same to me and my answer was ‘Is this how you will threaten every one? Don’t you know anything else’?”
It is very likely that this threat has seriously affected all members of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. Indeed it is very sad, but it reflects a reality, a reality that is unlawful, unjust and non-Christian, and unfortunately this kind of behavior is practiced in both Catholicosates–Etchmiadzin and Antelias.
The last piece of advice given by Nourhan Patriarch, where he says that “it is impossible to bring up and prepare a healthy- minded new generation of clergy under pressure and dictatorship”, is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in the church, which is not only widely expressed in the general newspapers, but is also expressed by members of the clergy, who are currently suffocated and muzzled under the dictatorship of the Catholicos.
The bishops that participated in the conference, especially those who grew up in the Jerusalem Patriarchate, knew all these facts, but did not have the courage to bring this subject up for discussion at the Bishops’ conference. What will the young generation of clergy think? One can only shudder to imagine what the impact of that letter will be on the psyche of the clergy.
Some people adhere to the belief that such subjects should not be discussed openly. We disagree completely. It is time to address all issues openly and publicly if we are to believe that the Armenian Church should be governed democratically–of, by, and for the people.
The Armenian Church is becoming dictatorial institution, ignoring all democratic laws and canons. Even though there is a small contingent of humble clergy that opposes these unjust practices, they do not have the power to voice their opinions, and regrettably, are relegated to self-imposed isolation.
Do we have to constantly reiterate this one indisputable truth: that the Armenian Church is the sole force that led our nation throughout the troubled years when we lost our political independence? The Armenian Church molded the spiritual character of our nation and kept our identity in tact to parallel the exercise of our political powers.
Although this is the sad reality of our times, we should, nevertheless, declare openly that some leaders are hesitant to uphold our religious constitution by criticizing the lifestyles of corrupted clergy and admonish them to stay within the boundaries of their vows.
The ultimate authority in the Armenian Church is the Catholicos, who is obligated to uphold the constitution down to its very detail. The absence of such practice is an insult to democracy and the sacred rights of the Armenian people.
to be continued
OCT. 20, 2013
17:16, August 14, 2013
Department of Information and Public Relations of Armenian Ministry of Defence has spred the following press release:
”On the night of August 8th, the citizen of the Republic of Armenia Hakob Gevorg Injighulyan who lost his bearings on the terrain and inadvertently crossed the Line of Contact was subsequently found in the area of protection of Azerbaijani troops and captured by the latter.
As of today ICRC Baku office has not been granted an access to the Armenian citizen kept in Azerbaijani captivity which we find at least perplexing given the mandate and prestige of ICRC.
Moreover we would like to inform you that the Azerbaijani media outlet ”Haqqin.az” uploaded and disseminated on the Internet Hakob Gevorg Injighulyan’s ”interview” with an Azerbaijani information agency. In this footage as it was later confirmed cynically by Eldar Sabiroghlu, Press Secretary of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Azerbaijan in his interview on August 13th Hakob Injighulyan was dressed in Azerbaijani uniform “to understand the difference between the Armenian and Azerbaijani uniforms” which was aimed to put moral and phycological pressure on him and abuse his dignity.
This comes in violation of numerous provisions of Geneva Conventions:
Particularly, Article 13 of the Geneva Conventions. (III) constitutes that POWs “…must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity” by the detaining power. In other words, the detaining power has to keep a Person under the protection from the curiosity of media and has to prevent the publication of images and videos in which this person can be recognized.
Further, the commentary of Article 27 Geneva Convention (III) states that “…Prisoners may in no case be obliged to wear the uniform of the Detaining Power if they consider that their honor does not so permit.”
Article 7, Geneva Convention (III) says that persons under protection “… in no circumstances renounce in part or in entirety the rights secured to them by the present Convention…”.
The Armenian authorities have been informed by the ICRC that its Baku office is pursuing its efforts to visit Hakob Gevorg Injighulyan through its on-going dialogue with the detaining power. Hopefully the ICRC will succeed preventing any unwanted consequences. Outrageous deaths of the citizens of the Republic of Armenia Gor Manasaryan and Manvel Saribekyan captured in 2008 and 2010 and killed while being under the protection of the detaining power whom the ICRC failed to visit and the fact that none of the perpetrators of these fearsome crimes has been punished as of today are tragic precedents. These kind of crimes should be condemned and prevented by all means.
Thereby, the Armenian Commission on POWs, Detainees and missing in action express their concern about the situation and asks the ICRC to strengthen its efforts to visit Hakob Gevorg Injighulyan.
Once again it is reiterated plea to ICRC to assure Hakob Injighulyan that the case will bear no legal consequences for him despite the recent footage on Azerbaijani media outlets and to facilitate the secure and prompt repatriation of the citizen of Armenia should the Azerbaijani side show willingness.”
11:55, July 24, 2013
After brutally quelling massive domestic protests against his increasingly despotic rule, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now facing another serious problem: His unexpected ‘success’ in uniting Arabs and Jews against him!
The Turkish Prime Minister had already antagonized Israel and Syria with his hostile actions and statements. In recent days, he also managed to offend millions of Egyptians by rejecting their new government after Pres. Morsy was deposed by the military. Despite Erdogan’s professed objection to the overthrow of Egypt’s ‘democratically elected President,’ it is evident that he is far more concerned about saving his own neck, fearing a similar takeover by the historically coup-prone Turkish military.
Last week, Aleppo University stripped Erdogan of his honorary doctorate in international relations, awarded to him in 2009, when Syria and Turkey were enjoying a short-lived love fest. Khodr Orfaly, President of the University, accused Erdogan of instigating “plots against the Syrian people” and using “arbitrary” violence against protesters in Turkey.
After losing an Arab award, the Turkish Prime Minister may next be deprived of the “Profiles in Courage” prize given to him by the American Jewish Congress (AJC) in 2004 for “promoting peace between cultures.” In an article published last month in the Jewish “Commentary” magazine, Michael Rubin urged the AJC to revoke its award, describing Erdogan as “Hamas’s leading cheerleader, a promoter of terrorism, and a force for instability in the region. Rubin further asserted that “Erdogan already had a history of embracing rabid anti-Semitism and harboring conspiracy theories during his tenure as Istanbul’s mayor.”
Rubin also criticized Pres. Obama for “toasting Erdogan” and the 135 members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus for running “interference for Turkey’s worst excesses,” including “arbitrary arrests, police violence, launching tear gas into hotels and consulates, attacking the free press, launching anti-Semitic diatribes, and ordering the arrest of medical personnel.” Rubin questioned the motives of these House members and wondered whether they “enjoy the wining and dining Turkish authorities arrange on trips to Istanbul or Ankara as a reward for membership” in the Turkey Caucus. He urged the members of Congress to “suspend if not resign their membership.”
Rubin strongly advised the American Jewish Congress and other Jewish organizations to “base awards on lifetime achievement, not only wishful thinking. The risk of bestowing legitimacy on platforms that run contrary to the AJCongress’ mission is otherwise too great. The AJCongress’ award to Erdogan not only did not stop Erdogan’s anti-Semitism, but rather it for too long provided cover for it. Perhaps the organization can now mitigate the damage it has caused — and also deflate Erdogan’s buffoonery — by publicly revoking its award.”
Regrettably, Rubin is nine years too late in criticizing AJC’s honoring of Erdogan. Back in 2004, within days of the award ceremony, I wrote a column critical of AJC and its President Jack Rosen who had absurdly announced that his organization was honoring Erdogan as leader of “a model Moslem country.”
Now that the whole world has seen Erdogan’s true colors under the faade of leading “a model Moslem country,” many others need to reconsider the awards they had lavishly heaped on this undeserving leader.
For example, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) should revoke its prestigious “Courage to Care Award” presented to Erdogan in 2005. On that ‘happy’ occasion, the Prime Minister pointed out to Abraham Foxman, ADL’s National Director, Turkey’s “close relationship with Israel,” and pledged “zero tolerance” for “anti-Semitic diatribes.”
Here are some other honors given to Erdogan that should be rescinded:
– Russian state medal from Pres. Vladimir Putin (June 1, 2006)
– Crystal Hermes Award from German Chancellor Angela Merkel (April 15, 2007)
– Nishan-e-Pakistan, the highest civilian award of Pakistan (Oct. 26, 2009)
– King Faisal International Prize for “Service to Islam” (Jan. 12, 2010)
– Georgia’s Order of Golden Fleece (May 17, 2010)
– Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi’s International Prize for Human Rights (Nov. 29, 2010)
– Kuwait’s “Outstanding Personality in the Islamic World Award” (Jan. 11, 2011)
– St. John’s University, New York (Jan. 26, 2004)
– European University of Madrid (May 18, 2010)
– Moscow State University (March 16, 2011)
– Shanghai International Studies University (Apr. 11, 2012)
– University of Algiers (July 5, 2013)
– South Korea (February 2004)
– Iran (February 2009)
– Kosovo (November 2010)
All those who have honored Erdogan have simply dishonored themselves. The sooner they revoke their accolades, the sooner they will redeem themselves from their disgraceful acts.
By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
“Who were they? Were they actually Armenian? Did they look like us? Were they different, very different? What an exotic thing – people who are Muslim, but speak Armenian,” these were the questions and thoughts that prompted journalist Vahan Ishkhanyan to search for answers in the land of disputed identity and present it all in his lengthy new commentary about Hamshen Armenians.
Ishkhanyan’s grandfather was from Hamshen, as the reporter learned when Hamshen expert Hovan Simonyan took a gene sample from Ishkhanyan for his Armenian gene project.
“It turns out that my genetic group is G1, the same group to which Avik Topchyan, another Hemshin belongs. While I do not know Mr. Topchyan, it would appear that we are in fact related and that generations ago our relatives were brothers.
“I was just a young child when I heard others in the house talk about how there were still Muslim Hamshens living along the Black Sea coast and that they spoke the Hamshen dialect. Different numbers were tossed about as to how many there were – one hundred thousand, one million,” recalls Ishkhanyan.
Two years ago, Iskhanyan won a Eurasia Partnership Foundation grant and took a trip to Turkey’s eastshore of the Black Sea, where he spent 12 days at the Armenian-speaking Muslim Hemshen settlements and wrote a story, titled “Who Are They? The Muslim Hamshens Who Speak Armenian”.
Based on Ishkhanyan’s “Muslim Hemshin Armenians” project a trilingual (Armenian, English, Turkish) CD and website (www.hamshesnak.com) have been created, where besides texts, multimedia aids, such as video material and photographs, interactive maps, tell the fascinating story of the Hamshens, their lifestyle, cuisine, perception of their identity, political outlook, and their dialect.
Historical Hamshen is located in the northeast region of present-day Turkey. Scholarly research says that the Islamization process of the Hamshens began in the 1700s. Many scattered to settlements along the Black Sea Coast – Trabzon, Ordu, etc – to avoid religious conversion. There are no records preserved from that period as to why and how they converted to Islam. All such information was recorded some 100-150 years later.
The Hamshen people today can be divided into three main groups: The Christian Armenian Hamshens, who live in Abkhazia and Russia’s Krasnodar District. They speak the Hamshen Armenian dialect; the Sunni Muslim Armenian-speaking Hamshens, (Hopa-Hamshens) who live in the Hopa and Borçka regions of the Turkish province of Artvin and call themselves, Hamshetsi or Homshetsi; and Sunni Muslim Turkish-speaking Hamshens (Bash-Hamshens) who mostly live in the Turkish province of Rize and call themselves, Hamshil.
“Hopa-Hamshens have lost the religion and many traditions, they have taken everything from the Turkish environment, but have preserved their own language, and it is due to that language that they know about their Armenian roots, many consider themselves Armenian. This shows that any community, having lost everything else, but having preserved the language, will not merge and can always return to its roots,” says Ishkhanyan.
Ishkhanyan’s guideswere his Turkish colleagues, CemilAksu, President of the BirYaşam (One Life) Cultural and Environmental Organization, and Harun Aksu.
63 year-old Cemal Vayiç, (the father-in-law of Hopa researcher Cemil Aksu) considers himself Hamshen, says he knew the language since childhood and wants to preserve it.
“We knew that language as young kids and want to preserve it. We aren’t renouncing our identity. I will live as a Hamshen till the end. We know that the Hamshens are descended from Armenians. If Armenians visit and relate with us more often, we will be able to improve our language skills.” says Cemal Vayiç.
At his house all present told that before going to school they did not know Turkish and spoke only Hamshesnak. They learnt Turkish at school. Aksu says the assimilation policy of Hopa-Hamshens started in the 1980s and the Hamshen dialect gradually gave in to the Turkish language.
At the revolutionary Hayteh Bar owned by Harun Aksu, Ishkhanyan meets Mumi Yılmaz. As soon as they step foot into the bar he holds out his hand in welcome and says – I’m also Armenian. “We know about your cause, we are of the same blood,” he says.When asked how he knew he was Armenian without knowing any of thehistory, Yilmaz responds:
“I don’t need to know the history to say that I’m Armenian. My grandfather is my history. He told me that it’s the truth. Whatever I know comes from him. My grandfather came down from the mountains to sell whatever he had, a bit of milk, oil, whatever. They caught him, called him Armenian, and bashed his head in. They stole his belongings, his horse, everything.Before, in the mountains, they made our life miserable. We were hungry. When we came down they beat us constantly. They singled us out as Armenians. But now we’ve come down and they can’t persecute us anymore”.
A shop owner glows upon learning that the reporter was Armenian and asks whether people in Armenia know about them. Then he adds “Eh…we sold our religion. We sold our Christianity and became Muslims.”
Even those Hamshens who avoid calling themselves Armenian and regard themselves as Turks can’t escape the scorn heaped upon them by the other peoples of the region, calling them ermeni (“Armenian” in Turkish) in contempt.
As opposed to Hopa-Hamshens, who accept their Armenian identity, Turkish-speaking Bash-Hamshens deny their Armenian descent, but celebrate Vardavar (an Armenian Christian holiday with elements dating back to pre-Christian era) and bury the deceased in coffins, unlike Muslims who only use a shroud.
“If you ask a Hamshentsi what he is, he will answer “Hamshen’. If you then ask what a Hamshen is, he’s at a loss. In this country, not calling yourself a Turk is an act of courage,” says Bash-Hamshen Selçuk Güney, who owns the guesthouse in Samsun.
Ishkhanyan writes that on the one hand the Turkish authorities made up their version of history to cut the Hamshens from their Armenian roots, while on the other hand the local government and residents of other Muslim nationalities called Hopa-Hamshens Armenian and oppressed them, which made them preserve their language and their Armenian descent as a form of resistance. They had two ways out: resist and remain the “the cursed ones”, adopting the ideology of oppressed masses, i.e. communism, or become more catholic than the “the Roman Pope, i.e. Turkish nationalists”.
“Leftists (Marxists) are very courageous, when they learnt I was Armenian, they would come up, talk to me without fear. Others, who are now facing their Armenian identity issue, were very friendly, but asked not to record their names as soon as I was about to take notes. They asked not to cite them, they were scared. I saw that in Turkey people are afraid because of their Armenian descent, maybe in Istanbul it is not so, but in Hamshen it was,” says Iskhanyan.
He also speaks about the Hamshesnak (the Hamshen dialect is referred to as such in most scientific researches) and says if one listens to it carefully Armenian words can be detected and after some getting-used-to it becomes clear that it is Armenian.
And it is probably not accidental that Yılmaz Topaloğlu, former mayor of Hopa, told him: “I feel uncomfortable conversing through a translator. We can speak that language fairly well, but sadly we’ve been subjected to assimilation and various pressures. That’s why we have difficulty understanding each other.”
“The language he refers to is Armenian. Yılmaz wouldn’t say such a thing to anyone else in the world except for an Armenian who speaks it – ‘I feel uncomfortable conversing through a translator’,” writes Ishkhanyan.
In the end, Ishkhanyan answers the question: “Who are they?”
“They’ve demolished the Hamshen Kachikar Church so that no traces are left. You won’t find it. The unknown location of the church symbolizes the destruction of the Black Sea Armenians. Successive Turkish regimes have dug down deep to eradicate all Armenian roots so that none ever grows again. But one stubborn branch, long overlooked, has sprouted again, trembling with fear. The Armenian words that flutter from the lips of this 30,000 Muslim community is the last vestige of a past when Armenians once lived on the Turkish shores of the Black Sea.”