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
21:45, December 15, 2014
Ukraine’s ministry of internal affairs has launched a campaign against illegal casinos amid fears that a large network of underground gambling dens could be providing an income source for the son of the country’s disgraced former president Viktor Yanukovych.
The new crackdown on unlawful casinos – an ongoing scourge for law enforcement agencies in Ukraine since regulation was made stiffer with a 2009 law – was launched on Dec. 8 after an announcement on Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov’s official Facebook page.
Avakov, who keeps a lively and occasionally angry Facebook commentary on current affairs, pledged to put a complete stop to the establishments within ten days; first in the capital of Kyiv, then the rest of the nation.
“The police will no longer be either arbitrator or guard for all the cunning dubious schemes of gamblers and lottery players,” he wrote. In the past week, the ministry has announced raids on casinos in the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk.
It was after the Dec. 13 shutdown of one such establishment in Kyiv that the ministry warned of a possible Yanukovych connection.
“It cannot be ruled out that Oleksandr Yanukovych, the ex-president’s son, could be behind this and a lot of other clandestine elite gaming establishments in the capital city through figureheads,” said Zorian Shkiriak, an advisor to Avakov. OCCRP has previously reported on Oleksandr Yanukovych’s connections to illegal coal mining operations in the country.
In his Facebook post, Avakov said the problem should be made into a profitable industry. “Legalize the casino!” he wrote. “Get strict regulations, limited amounts of points and legal billions of hryvnias [Ukraine’s currency] into the state budget, instead of dirty money in the pockets of different people providing cover!”
The 2009 law “On the prohibition of gambling business in Ukraine” was passed after a fire killed nine people and injured 11 others at a gambling hall in Dnipropetrovsk.
13:05, October 3, 2014
Here it is dear readers, the debut of a weekly column I hope to maintain on a regular basis.
It’s sort of a catch-all of news snippets, irreverent commentary, and personal observations on what’s happened during the week here in Yerevan, and throughout Armenia.. Hopefully, you’ll find it interesting, if not slightly diverting.
Your comments and suggestions are welcomed.
Regards – Hrant
Three separate protest rallies took place in Armenia today.
As Hetq reported earlier, business owners in the town of Sevan kept their stores and factories shut to protest changes to the so-called volume (sales) tax. Local residents flocked to the bread factory to wait on line for a loaf or two.
Merchants and small retailers again gathered outside the government building in Yerevan to voice their opposition to the changes in the volume tax law that requires that they keep receipts for all inventory purchases and sales.
In Yerevan, vehicle owners who have bandied together in a group calling itself “Keep Away from Our Pockets” tried to drive through the city in a convoy of cars to protest paid parking spaces many argue is just a ruse for some oligarchs to make money. Police stopped them before getting too far.The bulk of the fines and fees don’t even go to the Yerevan city coffers but is kept as income by the corporation overseeing the parking spots. The drivers are also complaining about traffic fines they say are too exorbitant.
Taking you grievances to the street is a growing trend in Armenia – whether in towns or villages.
The largest and most successful to date were the sustained protests that took place in the summer of 2013 in Yerevan that eventually forced the municipal government to rescind public transportation fare hikes.
But ever since then, demos and protests seem to have lost their verve and vigor and are more and more issue specific. While this is to be expected (those immediately affected by this or that government decision are the first on the streets), the general citizenry once again seem resigned to whatever fate awaits them.
While attempts were made to broaden the participation of these mini-protests and to link their specific interests under some kind of umbrella movement, they proved unsuccessful.
Numbers and mutual solidarity remain elusive. Strategizing and innovative tactics are also lacking.
Three opposition political parties are gearing up for a joint rally on Oct. 10. Let’s see if it will be more of the same old, same old…
Hetq readers will know that SourikKhachatryan, the publicly disgraced and much maligned former Syunik Provincial Governor, was reinstated to his old job this week. Khachatryan was forced to temporarily step down after being implicated in a June shoot-out near his Goris home in which an Artsakh Army commander was seriously wounded and his brother killed.
Here’s a tit for tat exchange between HAK (Armenian National Congress) MP NikolPashinyan and Armenian Prime Minister HovikAbrahamyan in parliament regarding Khachatryan’s reinstatement.
Pashinyan (and I paraphrase here) – That man has been charged with expropriation of public property through fraud, auto theft, the beating of several individuals, one incident when he hit a prominent woman in a Yerevan hotel was caught on tape, the beating of a child because he had a quarrel with the father…Recently, this individual murdered a man by shooting him from such a position from his house that the cameras didn’t catch him…”
Abrahamyan – Who is this man you refer to? Oh, SourikKhachatryan. Well, I nominated him for reinstatement based on his years of experience in provincial governance and organizational skills.
The prime minister added: “I’ve also taken into account the wishes of the people of Syunik. Our studies show that a majority want him as their provincial governor.”
Armenian Prime Minister HovikAbrahamyan visited Diaspora Minister HranoushHakobyan at her office bearing gifts. Well, one gift in particular. The PM bestowed Hakobyan with a commemorative “prime ministerial” watch for a job well done.
Now c’mon folks.A stinking watch? A grandfather’s clock would have been more appropriate.
This is the view of GarikHayrapetyan, who heads the Yerevan Office of the UN Population Fund.
On Wednesday, which marked the International Day of the Elderly (we’ll all get there sometime), Hayrapetyan told journalists in Yerevan that 13% of Armenia’s population is over the age of 60. (That’s practically bordering on senility).
Anyway, he claimed that the country is fast approaching what is termed the ranks of “old countries” (you know, where the president or dictator walks around on crutches).
Right now, thank god, Armenia is merely considered “growing old”.
Khachatryan attributes the age imbalance to the fall in the birthrate after independence.
Less young people means less people to take care of the elderly. But I only know of one old-age home in Armenia. Who’s looking after the rest?
In an interview with RTS (Radio Television of Serbia), Charles Aznavour is alleged to have said he hopes to see Armenians and Turks reconcile before he dies.
Bonne chance, mon ami.
21:31, July 30, 2014
Zhou Yongkang, one of China’s most powerful former leaders, is under investigation in the highest-level corruption inquiry since the Communist Party came into power in 1949.
Under current president Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is investigating Zhou for “serious disciplinary violations,” as the officialXinhua news agency reports. Media has not yet, however, specified the allegations against him.
The probe is an attempt to show the length to which Xi and the party will go in order to combat abuse of power reportsThe Wall Street Journal.
A commentary published in the officialPeoples Daily makes the point that regardless of an official’s rank or supporters, punishment will result for violating laws or the party’s discipline.
In recent years an agreement has been in place ensuring that for the sake of party unity, most senior figures would not be investigated. Zhou’s case has been the first to break the agreement and is aimed at party purity instead. Communists are hoping to stay legitimate and to win more supporters.
The anti-corruption campaign has realized its vow of no off-limit targets, says political scientist Zhang Ming in The Guardian.
19:15, July 12, 2014
By Marineh Khachadour
“The whole thing started with a scene straight out of a mobster movie. It was around 6 p.m. when more than a dozen men from two organized crime groups opened fire on each other in a North Hollywood parking lot. Witnesses say nearly everyone was armed, and the shootout quickly went mobile. The men took off in cars, exchanging fire as they weaved through the Whitsett Avenue traffic.”
Stories such as this are not unique to Armenians in the American press, but this investigative report recently published in the LA Weekly is about Armenian Power, the Los Angeles based Armenian gang that operates in the heavily Armenian populated communities of Glendale, Burbank, and North Hollywood.
The writer describes the members of the group as “gun-toting defendants” driving flashy cars “and connected to elaborate schemes in bank fraud, identity theft and other highly sophisticated white-collar crimes.”
Armenian Power originated in the 1980s by young Armenians, mainly from Soviet Armenia, to protect themselves from Mexican gangs in Los Angeles high schools. In time the organization developed working relations with the latter and shifted focus from fighting for territory to fighting for money and power.
My initial reaction to the report, like to all things Armenian, is visceral. Besides the fact that the horrific nature of the group’s actions turns my stomach, I feel angry. There are many positive contributions Armenians make to the communities they live in, so why point out the negative?
I think and catch myself in doing something very typically Armenian: reacting defensively when a non-Armenian criticizes my people. I immediately want to blame someone, mainly the person who is pointing a finger in my direction. This is a natural reaction for those of us who take pride in belonging to a lineage older than Noah’s Ark.
Ancient is the Armenian archetype – our intuitive behavior that has proven to withstand the test of time. We’ve been around so long, we consider ourselves to be wise and flawless. It is in our ethnic genome to revere the old and be doubtful of the new, to respect the elder as authority and dismiss the young as naive and inexperienced, to move in time and space, but not leave the past and the home we left behind. Any divergence from what has history and is the norm, we perceive as deficient, abnormal, lacking.
Young Armenians in American public schools faced with anything but the norm, as they know it, are caught by surprise like objects uprooted by cyclonic winds.
When life throws us into the realm of the unexpected or takes us out of our element, when it forces us to question our truths and face our shortcomings that make us seem not so perfect, we feel ashamed and become unforgiving. This quickly leads us on to the path of self-loathing. Our genesis, the very thing that is the source of our pride and the reason for our being, becomes our handicap in the youth-crazed, ever changing culture of the new world. We feel betrayed.
Additionally, we have been conditioned to put on our best face in public, regardless of what is going on inside. This archetype was reinforced during the Soviet era. We do not air our dirty laundry in public, but proudly display our clean, shiny load in front of our balconies and windows literally and figuratively. We even pride ourselves in the way we pin the pieces next to each other on the clothesline!
So, regardless of our circumstances, we find ways to put on a front like the well choreographed parades of the Soviet government. For God’s sake, we were the first people to adopt Christianity as our state religion! Never mind that our church is void of spirituality and our God cares more about the dead than the living.
Then we boast, and when others dare to not appreciate our genius with expected enthusiasm, we resort to demeaning, deprecating commentary and are not shy about projecting our negative feelings. No one is good enough, smart enough, deserving enough as Armenians. We’re the oldest and the wisest, and therefore most deserving of respect and appreciation.
More than once I have had to counsel a distraught Armenian parent complaining about how people make fun of their perfect child because he/she does not look or act like them.
When our expectations are not met, we are wounded and insulted. This is when the daredevil gene kicks in, and we don’t hesitate to give our perceived enemy a piece of our mind, or show off a flexed muscle.
We call this taseeb (honor): a sentiment that forces an Armenian to pick up a rifle and defend his physical and psychological turf. It is the same sentiment that drives a young Armenian to defend himself from insults and aggression, real or perceived, from a person of a different ethnicity in an American high school.
These archetypes are some of the underlying factors that lead Armenian youth into conflicting situations outside their circles.
In a new and changing world, old archetypes no longer serve the needs of the people, while the new ones are constantly elusive. Coupled with the desire to belong and to fit in, this drives people to adopt clichés that are readily available in a world congested with material, ideas and attitudes. Thus, to be accepted by the out-groups, to measure up and to be competitive, they quickly adopt what is more accessible to them for putting on the “perfect face.”
Designer clothing and accessories, Mercedes, BMW, Porches, attitudes and gestures we don’t quite grasp but admire, just about anything that we perceive as distinguishing and defining the out-group we are so eager to be a part of and be appreciated by, we collect. Clichés are easy to launder, polish, and pin on one’s life’s “clothes line”. Life in the new world becomes a long string of clichés.
In the absence of archetypes, reality is re-imagined, improvised like life on a theater stage, Marshall McLuhan explains. On this stage, young people are the characters of their own show, and there is nothing in the world more important than that until new archetypes take form.
The mafia or its modern day version – gangs that are a common occurrence in societies constantly in flux – is the stage where young people play out their roles. There have been Irish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Mexican gangs in America prior to the Armenians.
Every wave of new arrivals, every wave of change, brings with it a new set of expectations and challenges. While families try to decipher the laws, rules, and traditions of their new environment, the young tend to gravitate towards groups that fill the need for belonging and provide a security network.
Some, more than others, in every group are willing to break rules often to their own detriment while caught between archetypes of the old world and the clichés of the new.
Marineh Khachadour is an educator, writer, researcher working in a public school in Pasadena, California. She lived in Armenia from 1992-1998. During that time she provided educational services and resources for Armenian women and children including refugees and served as Gender in Development Expert with UNDP, Armenia from 1995-1998.
10:24, March 14, 2014
I’m looking for freelancers who can broaden the scope of Hetq’s English edition
Arts & Culture, Commentary, Politics, Civil Society, Interviews…
Anything interesting happening in your local community you’d like to share?
Write to me with your ideas and story suggestions.
Hrant at email@example.com