09 May 2007

1680) The Wisdom Of Nasredin Hoja

Nasredin Hoja was fixing his roof when a passerby asks him to come down. When Nasredin Hoja climbs down, the man identifies himself as a beggar and says, “Give me some money.” “Come on up to the roof with me,” Nasredin tells the man; and when they both go up to the roof the beggar says, “Where is my money?” To which the Hoja replies: “I have no money for you.”
I am afraid something similar may happen to us on the day the Turks admit the reality of the Genocide: they may ask us to climb to the roof with them. As for allowing us to annex historic Armenia: I doubt if the regime in Yerevan will want to assume the additional responsibility of depopulating it. . .
To those who disagree with me, let me recount another Hoja story. When a dying man asks Nasredin to teach him a prayer that will ease his passage to the next world, the Hoja says, “Say, God help me and Devil help me.” “That’s crazy!” the dying man says. “Not so, my dear fellow,” replies the Hoja. “You are in no position to reject anyone’s help.” Translated into idiomatic English: “Beggars can’t be choosers.” And when it comes to wisdom, who among us will dare to say he is not a beggar?


Who are we?
Where do we come from?
Where are we going?
Is there a single belief system that can answer these questions to the satisfaction of all?
Is it necessary to have answers to these questions in order to lead a productive or creative life?
Did our medieval ancestors have the answers to these questions?
Did they, for that matter, ask them?
What is the place of Turcocentrism in our psyche?
Can Turcocentrism contribute anything positive to our identity?
What if Turcocentrism threatens to turn us into pillars of salt?

What if identity consists not in answering these questions but in the honesty and commitment with which we search for their answers?

What if our identity, like the solution to all our problems, is not a verbal formula accessible to a select few, but a process that consists in rejecting everything that is dishonest, corrupt, and mediocre?

The Punch Line

If you want to know what it means to be an Armenian, read our writers, the explorers of our psyche. As for the sermons of our bishops and speeches of our bosses and their assorted hirelings, they all lead to the same predictable punch line, “mi kich pogh oughargetsek” (send us a little money).

What happens to the money after they get it? Only they know. Accountability is not in our DNA. Once, when an editor in Los Angeles exposed the corruption within one of our political parties, he was beaten within an inch of his life.
I wonder how some of my readers would react if I were to add that punch line to everything I write. My guess is, they will tell me to shut up, mind my own business, and leave them alone. They are saying as much now, when it hasn’t even crossed my imagination to make any demands on them. In their view, there is only one thing wrong with our community life, namely, malcontents like me who have an eye only for the negative.

Corruption? Sure, we have our share of it, who doesn’t?
Incompetence? Ditto.
Critics? Well, yes, they too are everywhere, but we’d rather not have them, you see. We’d rather not be reminded we are people like any other people. We’d much rather be told we are special, we are unique, and we have nothing to worry about because we are in good hands.

When on the eve of the Genocide, Krikor Zohrab predicted the coming catastrophe, he wasn’t believed. “Zohrab effendi is exaggerating,” they said. If the Great Powers of the West and the Good Lord are on our side, what could possibly go wrong?

The support of the Great Powers was of course only verbal, and the Good Lord has at no time shown any inclination to interfere in our affairs, but we prefer to be brainwashed to believe otherwise and to ignore, and whenever possible, to silence the pessimists who see only the dark side of things.
Please note that, seven years after the Genocide, history repeated itself. Armenians of Smyrna were brainwashed by their bishop to believe they had nothing to worry about and that Ataturk was a friend. And what was bound to happen, happened.

Who was that particular bishop and what happened to him? As they say, thereby hangs a tale. He was none other then the very same Ghevont Tourian (1879-1933), (brother of poet Bedros Tourian) who had betrayed Gomidas Vartabed to the Turkish secret police. In the SOVIET-ARMENIAN ENCYCLOPEDIA (volume 3, page 462) we read the following: “Because of his patriotic activities, Tourian was persecuted by members of the ARF (Tashnagtsoutiun) and knifed to death on 24 December 1933 in the Holy Cross Church of New York.”

To Whom It May Concern

Gentle reader:
If you have had enough of my nonsense, please feel free to spam or block me. It’s easy – all it takes is a fraction of a second. No need to ask me to remove your name from my address book when your name has at no time been there to begin with. Nothingness cannot be removed. Thank you! / ara
On The Role Of Intellectuals
Where fascists enter, intellectuals exit.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Everyone is familiar with this line from the Bible. It’s not only common knowledge, it’s also common sense – the least common of all faculties, it has been said. For 1500 years our intellectuals have been trying to convince our leadership that “solidarity is the mother of good deeds, divisiveness of evil ones” (Yeghishe). And yet, we stand as divided today as we were in the 5th Century. This may explain why even our-dime-a-dozen pundits are smart enough to concentrate their efforts on reasoning with Turks: deep down they know they have a better change with them than with our own.
The role of intellectuals? Sound and fury signifying nothing. I rest my case. Nothing further, your honor!
A final question: Why go on writing when the written word will change nothing? Can anyone in his right mind be megalomaniacal enough to entertain the hope that what he says or writes matters in our environment? Has anyone of our bosses, bishops, and benefactors ever come close to admitting to have been on the wrong track or to have behaved not as a servant of the people or of God but as a Master accountable to none but himself?
The role of intellectuals? Unmask the swindlers and even if you give them insomnia for a fraction of a second, consider your mission accomplished.
I quoted Yeghishe (circa 410-470 AD) above. Allow me to quote him again if I may:
“We may not be allowed to question the integrity of princes, but neither should we praise men who pit themselves against the Will of God.”
“In the same way that a man cannot serve two masters, a nation cannot have two kings. If a nation is ruled by two kings, both the kings and their subjects will perish.”

In Search Of Authenticity

Who is an authentic Armenian? I don’t know. No one does.
During World War I, when Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were being transported from one place to another “for their own safety” (in the Turkish version of the story), Thomas Mann was busy writing a big book, titled REFLECTIONS OF A NON-POLITICAL MAN, in which he attempted to define “the authentic German.” When the book was published, Heinrich Mann, his brother, himself a writer, disagreed with it. Sometime later Thomas Mann himself recognized it as dangerous.
In his magnum opus, BEING AND NOTHINGNESS, written during World War II, Sartre tells us, men cease to be authentic when they adopt an identity imposed on them by society, and play the part for the rest of their lives. In another book, ANTI-SEMITE AND THE JEW, he advances the theory that the Jew is a creation of the anti-Semite, the way, one might say, the Ottomanized Armenian is a creation of Turks, and the Sovietized Armenian is a creation of the Soviet system.
Long before Mann and Sartre, Karl Marx explored the concept of dehumanization, which may be said to be the opposite of authenticity. Capital, he said, dehumanizes not only the worker, but also the capitalist, society as a whole, and all social relations. Capital is the real Leviathan.
At all times and everywhere we are pressured by forces, that are as invisible and omnipresent as the force of gravity, to be not who we are or what we would like to be, but what others want us to be.
The headline of the editorial in our local paper today reads: “Free people need a free press.” A free press is unthinkable, we read here, “if journalists are restricted from seeking and reporting facts – particularly facts that are embarrassing to someone who is powerful.” And: “People cannot make good decisions if they do not have good information. A democracy cannot exist in an information vacuum.”
Speaking of our press, one of our Ottomanized benefactors (let’s call him Jack S. Avanakian) and their role models, the Sultan, an editor once recounted the following to me: “He promised to subsidize our paper on condition that I print an article about him with a photo in every issue.” I no longer get that particular weekly but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if an article with a photo of Jack S. Avanakian appears regularly in every issue. As Brecht used to say: “Grub first, then ethics.”

Re-Writing History

Where politics enter, propaganda is sure to follow; and where propaganda enters, truth is bound to be the first casualty. Turks re-write history. So do we. So does everyone else. Imagine, if you can, a history of the United States written from the perspective of native Indians. A Mekhitarist scholar and the foremost Armenian medievalist once told me the Battle of Avarair, the most famous battle in our history, never happened. It’s not just propaganda but pure fabrication by a pro-Mamikonian chronicler. True or false? Draw your own conclusions (or confusions). Speaking of our more recent past: we have as many versions of it as we have political parties. In the eyes of Ramgavars and Bolsheviks, Archbishop Ghevont Tourian was a dedicated patriot, a martyr, and a saint. In the eyes of the opposition he was a cowardly rascal, an unprincipled opportunist, a womanizer, a Stalinist, and a traitor.
We like to say that if and when the Ottoman archives are opened we will have access to the truth. A Turkish friend tells me the same about Tashnak archives. It seems the Tashnaks have consistently refused to open their archives to scholars. True or false? I plead ignorance. I wasn’t even aware of the existence of these archives.
Whenever I mention Tourian’s role in Smyrna, my credibility is questioned. About twenty years ago an angry reader threatened to expose my lies by checking with Marjorie Housepian, the foremost authority on the subject. I am still waiting to hear from him. The SOVIET-ARMENIAN ENCYCLOPEDIA states that Tourian was active in “Istanbul, Smyrna, and Manchester,” before his transfer to the U.S. in 1931 “where he attempted to bring together the Armenian-American community under Etchmiadzin.”
Was Ghevont Tourian Bedros Tourian’s brother? According to the ENCYCLOPEDIA their real name was not Tourian but Zembayan and they were both born in Istanbul. In saying all this I do not claim infallibility on behalf of my sources, let alone myself. I welcome facts that will contradict or question the accuracy of my sources. History is not a belief system but an investigation. If you place your belief system above facts, you contaminate both with prejudice and propaganda.

It preaches to the choir.
It reminds the victims of their past victimization thus reinforcing their status and identity as perennial victims. .
It misleads them into thinking they can be victimized only by foreign powers, never their own.
Is there a single Armenian leader today whose words can be quoted and believed?
The bigger the ego, the more fragile its structure, and the more uncertain its future.
It took me many years to realize that I can change nothing and no one, but I go on writing the way an atheist goes on praying only because he was taught to pray as a child.
Irving Howe on Sholom Aleichem: “He ridiculed their pretensions, he mocked their vanity, and …the irony of their claim to being a Chosen People.”

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After a lifetime spent on reading about Armenians, I have reached the obvious conclusion that non-Armenian writers tend to be more objective about Armenians – that is to say, more reliable, honest, and truthful – than Armenian writers.
I believe an Armenian writer on Armenians as much as I believe a Turkish writer on Turks.
We are a nation with a deep wound. We need reassurance and flattery as much as a man dying of thirst in the middle of a desert needs water. But I don’t read to be flattered. I read to enhance my understanding of reality.
Men commit their worst blunders when the possibility of being wrong doesn’t even occur to them. Men without doubts: they are the most dangerous in the world. Think of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini. Think of our revolutionaries at the turn of the last century.
Speaking about our revolutionaries: Why did General Antranik say they should be arrested and hanged? Were they criminals or heroes? You can be sure of one thing: if they are allowed to assess themselves, none of them will ever plead guilty to any charge.

Turkish and Armenian nationalists have created an environment in which half-Turks and half-Armenians, who may outnumber them, are afraid to identify themselves and be counted.
There are good Turks as there are bad Armenians. It is up to us to identify them because they will never do so themselves.
The quintessential dupe is he who believes in his flatterers or in his own assessment of himself.
Religions, ideologies, cults, propaganda, public relations, advertisements: it seems most of the time the very few who believe in nothing are engaged in deceiving the many who will believe anything.
Memo to young Armenian writers:
The inflexible law of demand and supply tells us, garbage collectors will always be in greater demand than Armenian writers.
Einstein: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
A man with a fragile ego may think the whole world is against him when the world is not even aware of his existence.
Our imagination and understanding are limited, the complexities of reality limitless. We are often wrong because our actions are based not on reality but on a tiny fraction of it.

To a man of faith who believes in his particular ideology or religion, propaganda is not propaganda but a selfless act of generosity, and more particularly, that of sharing the truth, the only source of enlightenment, and the good news. When Cardinal Aghajanian was Vatican’s propaganda minister, the word propaganda was not used. What was used was “propagation of the faith.” Not a faith, but the faith, the implication being, there is only one true belief system, one truth, one god, one messiah, and one church.
Armenians have disagreed with one another for centuries and they will continue to disagree until the end of time -- if they survive that long. Nothing new in that. What’s new is the verbal abuse. When confronted with the option of saying, “I disagree with you,” and verbal abuse, some of my readers choose verbal abuse. That’s another symptom of our Ottomanism.
According to Sayre’s Law (after American political scientist Wallace Sayre): “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue.”
I think it was Nietzsche who said, if you speak too much about fools you are liable to become a fool yourself. One could also say, if an Armenian speaks too much about Turks, he is liable to become a Turk himself, or rather his conception of a Turk, that is, the lowest form of animal life.
Prophecy consists in adding two plus two and coming up with the obvious answer.

The tree books I am reading are EINSTEIN: HIS LIFE AND UNIVERSE by Walter Isaacson (New York, 2007), PLATO’S REPUBLIC: A BIOGRAPHY by Simon Blackburn (Vancouver, 2007), and WEIMAR IN EXILE: THE ANTIFASCIST EMIGRATION IN EUROPE AND AMERICA by Jean-Michel Palmier, translated by David Fernbach (New York, 2006).

Walter Isaacson, the latest biographer of Einstein, belongs to the André Maurois school of biography, which consists in reading everything that has been written on the subject, quoting the most important and revealing lines, and abridging and paraphrasing the rest.

Simon Blackburn, the author of the second book on Plato, admits in his introductory notes that he does not particularly care for Plato, which is why he gives as much space to Plato’s critics (of which there are many) as to his admirers (of which there are many more). The result is a balanced and objective assessment of one of the most influential books of all time.

When Hitler came to power, some of the greatest intellects in Germany, among them Thomas Mann, Freud, and Einstein, chose exile. The very famous, like the three mentioned above, survived the ordeal of deracination, but many others, among them Stefan Zweig and Mann’s son, Klaus Mann, committed suicide. I cannot help thinking that, had Hitler been more tolerant and democratic, very probably he would have won the war, and I would now be writing these lines in German. One could say that, long before Nazi Germany was defeated by the Allies, it committed suicide. Something similar could be said about the suicidal tendencies of all anti-democratic power structures, including our own today.

This is well known to our editors who operate on the assumption that the views of these mediocrities are representative of the majority. The truth of the matter is, these charlatans don’t write what they really think and feel but what will have a better chance to be printed. If anti-Turkish venom and pro-Armenian crapola have a better chance than objective, impartial, and critical assessments, they will produce venom and crapola. As a result, what we see in our weeklies is not a multiplicity of views but a uniformity of predictable and unreadable nonsense. I know what I am saying because I was there once – that’s when I was popular with our editors and my things appeared everywhere.

Man has the peculiar ability to think he is absolutely right even when he is catastrophically wrong.
In war one no longer thinks in terms of right and wrong but only in terms of kill or be killed. Something similar could be said about our controversies, which may be said to be civil wars by other means.
One should write as a human being and not as a member of a specific club, group, nation or race. To write in the name of a fraction of mankind is to elevate an accident of birth to a commandment from above.
I have nothing but contempt for our charlatans but I have become as attached to them as a criminal is attached to the rope from which he hangs.
The most dangerous and universal fallacy: Because I believe, it must be true. How many of our conflicts will vanish if we teach ourselves to say: Because I believe, it must be a lie.

Truth is a dimension in which all contradictions are resolved. One way to explain this is to say that contradictions make sense only in sub-dimensions or false contexts. In a tribal, national, or political context, for instance, mankind will be divided into adversaries and allies, friends and enemies, victimizers and victims, butchers and sheep. But in a higher or religious context all men will be said to be brothers. It is up to us to choose in which dimension we wish to live and think.
In a world in which the truths of religion are only preached but the lies of politics are practiced, inevitably there will be more intolerance, hatred, and war, and less brotherhood and peace.
When mankind speaks with a forked tongue, double-talk, deception, and lies are sure to follow.

If you were brainwashed as a child, the chances are you will die brainwashed.
If patriotism means total blindness to our own failings and 20/20 vision to the failings of adversaries, I am proud to assert I cannot qualify as a patriot.
Have you ever tried to argue with a Jehovah’s Witness? What about an Armenian in whose mind politics is synonymous with theology?
Whenever friends ask me why I bother reacting to nonentities, I explain that I was born and raised in a slum. I love slumming. Call it nostalgia.
Some of my critics may think if most Armenians don’t contradict them, they must have the majority on their side. The sad truth is smart Armenians stay away from Armenian controversies because they know they are “sound and fury signifying nothing.”
To sum up Armenianism in two sentences: “Once upon a time we were slaves. We are now slaves of former slaves."

“Instead of telling us we are on the wrong path, why don’t you tell us where the right path is?” a reader demands to know.

My answer: The right path does not exist. It must be invented, and everyone must invent it for himself; and even after you invent it, there is no guarantee it will take you where you want to go, assuming of course you know where you are going.

Perhaps the best way to come up with a good answer is by rejecting all bad answers, even if you may end up with no answer; even if the choice is between a bad answer and no answer at all, or between collective catastrophe or individual anxiety.

Remember our revolutionaries in the Ottoman Empire: because they settled for a bad answer, we were visited with a collective catastrophe. Something similar happened in Stalin’s USSR, Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and more recently with Bush’s reaction to 9/11.

No answer is better than an answer that will create bigger problems. Remember, if an answer makes perfect sense to you and every fiber in your body tells you it must be the right answer, it’s sure as hell to take you straight to the devil.
Perhaps all questions are good and bad at the same time: they are good as long as they remain questions; they are bad when we try to answer them.

One reason I suspect some of my critics to be wrong is that they echo the very same sentiments and thoughts that were mine before I was successful in deprogramming myself. And I can understand why they are having difficulties abandoning their views: deprogramming oneself can be in some ways a painful undertaking.

Another indication that they are probably wrong is that they have a marked preference for thinking in black and white terms by painting their adversaries all black and themselves all white, not because reality is on their side but because it is flattering to their ego. What could be more naïve to the point of being infantile than to believe in something simply because it is flattering to one’s vanity? The rule is: if you assume everything that flatters your ego to be wrong, you will be right more often than wrong.
If we approach a subject objectively, a great many invisible things become visible.
In Mohsin Hamid’s THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST, I read the following definition of janissaries: “Children of defeated nations who conscripted into the army of the enemy, and fought to erase their own civilization.”

In the years preceding the Genocide we saw ourselves as an ethnic minority within the Ottoman Empire claiming what was rightfully ours. That was our perspective. Turks, on the other hand, saw us as part of an international infidel conspiracy (Russia and the Great Powers of Europe on the other side of their borders, Greeks and Assyrians from within) to dismember the Empire. For obvious reasons the Turks don’t like emphasizing this aspect of the conflict because doing so would mean alienating some important players in the European Union by identifying them as giaours. Our Turcocentric pundits pretend unawareness of it because awareness would somewhat moderate the image of the bloodthirsty Asiatic barbarian slaughtering innocent civilians for the fun of it.
To those who are itching to accuse me of pro-Turkism or anti-Armenianism, I say, my aim is to replace blind hatred and prejudice (the very same emotional state that is at the root of all massacres) with a touch of understanding. Granted, not a very popular undertaking in the eyes of those who are addicted to hatred and are too self-righteous and dogmatic to consider any perspective but their own.

“You read too much and you quote too much,” one of our academics once said to me. “You should rely more on your own experiences and judgment.”
Yes, ultimately I hope to do exactly that, but in the meantime I want to shed the heavy baggage of nonsense that was foisted on me when I was too innocent and naïve to think for myself.
I have since discovered that to unlearn is much more difficult than to learn. If in your formative years someone you trust and respect tells you something, anything, no matter how absurd, you believe him. It is on this principle that all organized religions are based.
What is an organized religion if not a belief system that is force-fed on children at a time when they are not yet aware of the fact that the majority of mankind rejects it as untenable, blasphemous, and dangerous.
To accept a belief system as infallible is bad enough. What’s infinitely worse, not to say contradictory, is to be willing to hate, kill and die in its name. The average dupe – and the world is full of them – is programmed to accept as infallible a religion in which understanding and love have been replaced with intolerance and blind hatred. To know and understand this is to see the world as an insane asylum divided into different camps whose aim is the extermination of all competitors and rivals.

The question that is consistently avoided by our Turcocentric pundits is: Where did we go wrong? We had so many warnings in 1894, 1895, 1896, 1909…Why is it that we trusted the empty verbiage of the West and ignored the actions of the Turks? Was it wishful thinking? What else? Why is it that we cling to the theory that the Genocide was an inevitable fact of life? If it was so inevitable, why didn’t we see it coming? History, it has been said, is a series of occurrences that could have been avoided. Subscribing to the theory of inevitability is the phoniest of all justifications. Even more dangerous: if history is predetermined, it follows we can’t learn from past blunders; and if we can’t learn from past blunders, what’s the use of studying it?

Angela Carter: “I think it’s one of the scars in our culture that we have too high an opinion of ourselves.”
Al Gore: “Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a diminished role in the way we make important decisions?”
Sometimes readers verbally abuse me because I dare to expose failings that are universal in nature. Case in point: when I speak of divisions, I am reminded there are divisions everywhere, as if that were enough justification to cover up and ignore that particular failing in our collective existence. Who profits from this line of (un)reasoning? The dividers, of course. As for the nation: we have an answer for that too: we have survived where many others have perished. It follows; even the Genocide must be seen as a positive factor in our history because we survived it. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Our genocide thus becomes the ultimate test of our endurance. First nation to survive genocide in the 20th century! Who could ask for more? As for the best and the brightest that did not survive because they were betrayed to Talaat’s and Stalin’s butchers: that too is good because it allows the jackasses among us to parade as leaders and pundits. And then there is the narcissistic fraud who becomes infatuated with what he writes and ends up believing what he says regardless of its transparent absurdity. As the often quoted Armenian saying goes, “Mart bidi ch’ellank” (We shall never acquire the status of human beings). Now then, go ahead and brag about that.

We have two distinctive, perhaps even contradictory, approaches in our dealings with the Turks: treating them as enemies or as potential friends. To those who say, Turks are destined to remain our enemies for the foreseeable future and nothing can change that, I reply: Allow me to rephrase my question: Will the chances of reaching a consensus with them be enhanced if we treat them as potential enemies as opposed to future friends? While you ponder that question, please remember that the present generation of Turkish diplomats are products of a culture and educational system that has consistently denied any past crimes against their minorities, and it goes without saying, they trust their culture, educational system, and leadership more than they trust our own, in the same way that we trust our own schoolteachers and bosses more than we do theirs. To those who may object and say our schoolteachers and bosses are morally superior to theirs, therefore more trustworthy, I suggest all assertions of moral or any other kind of superiority are suspect and will convince only those whose ego is flattered by such transparent flattery. On a more personal note: I have dealt with some of our bosses and educators long enough and often enough to say that I don’t even trust them as far as I can throw them, preferably in the nearest garbage dump. Or, to repeat my favorite mantra first formulated by Zarian, “Our political parties have been of no political use to us. Their greatest enemy is free speech.” And now, imagine if you can, an educational system that bans free speech or educators who are afraid to speak of fundamental human rights.
P.S. I read today that one of our notorious bosses, also right-hand man of a national benefactor and self-appointed pundit – we might as well refer to him as a renaissance man – has been expelled from the party on grounds of corruption. Are you surprised? I am not. And I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if some day those who expelled him are themselves exposed as both corrupt and inept.

“If you believe everything you read in the papers, lack imagination, and feel no need to think for yourself, you can be very happy.”
On more than one occasion I have been called a pessimist. If I go on writing it’s because I believe some day common sense and decency may prevail. If that’s not optimism I should like to know what is.
We have more writers than readers, and more charlatans than both.
The larger the ego, the smaller the brain.
When the ego speaks, the brain is silenced.
All bigots, like all bullies, are cowards because they are afraid of being exposed as bigots. Hence, their phobia of free speech.
Phobia of free speech is bad; what’s infinitely worse is unawareness of it.
The children of prejudiced parents will not think of themselves as prejudiced. The same applies to a nation led by prejudiced leaders.
In the mind of the average brainwashed dupe, a collective phobia, like a collective prejudice, is not a liability but an asset, a virtue, and a patriotic duty.

Einstein: “Nationalism is an infantile disease, the measles of mankind.”
Armenian nationalists are blind to the obvious fact that the Genocide is a quintessentially nationalist crime; and they are blind because they live outside history, in a realm of their own imagination, which is completely divorced from reality.
We brag about the fact that 98% of Armenia’s population is Armenian. But is that something to brag about? What if it means we are intolerant of foreigners? What if, like Moliere’s bourgeois who spoke prose all his life and didn’t know it, we practice apartheid and don’t know it? What if Turks being more tolerant of foreigners are more cosmopolitan and progressive than we are? What if, very much like Southern racist bigots in America, we are afraid to “mongrelize” the nation or the race, as some prefer to call it? Why is it that Armenians with mixed parentage prefer not to mention the fact? How can I ever forget or forgive the Armenian nationalist who called a good friend of mine a “Turkish bitch” simply because her mother happens to be Azeri?

If television is “a vast wasteland,” the Internet is a bordello without boundaries. If television is “chewing gum for the eyes,” the Internet is cholesterol for the heart and a burst vessel in the brain.
They say misery likes company. So does idiocy. As an idiot, I had many friends. As a non-idiot, only one or two – three at most.
We brag about being the first Christian nation, but unlike good Christians, we are neither humble nor meek.
There is only one thing I envy the rich – their teeth. On the negative side, nothing strikes me as phonier than an old geezer or a prehistoric crone with a perfect set of shiny white choppers.
Two of the most influential men in the history of mankind -- Buddha and Marx – were atheists; and according to Tolstoy, so was Jesus when he stated, “the Kingdom of God is within you.”

On Nationalist Bias
I.F. Stone: “Establishment reporters undoubtedly know a lot of things I don’t. But a lot of what they know isn’t true.”
To prove me wrong, a Turkish friend quotes Ataturk. I resist the temptation of proving him wrong by quoting General Antranik.
It is astonishing to the point of being unbelievable the dirty tricks nationalist bias plays on our perception of reality.
Deceiving ourselves is easy, deceiving others…that’s different.
Adopting an anti-Armenian or anti-Turkish stance comes naturally to some Turks and Armenians. That doesn’t make it right. Neither does it enhance our credibility in the eyes of the world.
Judging others is easy; understanding them much more demanding, which is why it is less popular.
Adopting a morally superior stance is not the same as being morally superior. On the contrary!
After saying, “There is something rotten in the State of Denmark,” Hamlet died in his efforts to set it right. The fate of all reformers.

On Nationalism
As far as I can see, the only reason nationalism is popular with some Armenians is that it allows them to divide the nation into nationalists (the good guys) and anti-nationalists (the lowest form of animal life).
If nationalism is a good thing, was it good for the Germans, the Turks, and in general all fascist regimes that claimed to be nationalist? Can anything that divides us be good? If Armenian nationalism is good, can we say then all non-Armenian nationalists are bad? If that which divides us is good, does it mean, that which unites us is bad? There is only one thing that unites us, the Genocide. Does that mean by killing us the Turks did us a favor?
We hate to be deceived, and yet, self-deception is the most widely practiced form of deception. Nationalism teaches us to brag by asserting our uniqueness and superiority to all other nations. If we are unique, that’s because all nations are unique. To confuse uniqueness with superiority is the height of self-deception.
The flattery of brown-nosers: what is it worth?

Past Injustices & Future Opportunities
The deepest wounds are self-inflicted.
A man obsessed with past injustices will be blind to future opportunities.
A less than perfect settlement, even a bad settlement, is better than no settlement.
During the last century, we have failed to reach a consensus with the Turks. Things may change in the next century and we may do better, but hope is not a policy.
If we have failed it may be because we have allowed the wrong people to represent us. Who should represent us? Not politicians, ideologues, or for that matter, nationalist historians, but lawyers, preferably odar lawyers, not because they are better or smarter, but rather because they care less about the truth (a metaphysical concept) and more about the evidence.
To negotiate and compromise is better than not to negotiate, if only because to compromise for the uncompromising is a step in the right direction. If we compromise and reach a consensus with the Turks, some day we may even compromise and reach a consensus with our fellow Armenians. If that happens, future historians may open a new chapter in our history subtitled “The Birth of a Nation.”

A Question Of Identity
We are not what we think are. When we speak about ourselves most of what we say is bound to be nonsense. And when we speak of others, of whom we know even less, we are bound to discharge an even greater quantity of nonsense.
What could be more inconsistent, not to say absurd, than to say, Armenophile historians are men of integrity but Turcophile historians are hirelings, charlatans, and pathological liars? Is our position so precarious that we need an outsider’s assessment to feel good about ourselves?
In ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE! - THE LIFE AND TIMES OF REBEL JOURNALIST I.F. STONE by Myra MacPherson (New York, 2006) I read the following: “I think it is a basic law of human history that anybody that tries to be a good human being is going to get in trouble sooner or later with his own tribe.”

Paranoia, Bigotry, & Fear Of New Ideas
According to I.F. Stone, American history has always “been marked by recurrent periods of paranoia, bigotry, and fear of new ideas.” I feel justified in suspecting that what has been recurrent with Americans has been a permanent condition with us.
There are those who try to share their understanding, others their ignorance and you can recognize them by the fact that they pretend to know everything they need to know, and by the frequent use of such clichés as “I learn something every day.”
Fools and liars spend so much time trying to deceive others into believing they are neither fools nor liars that they have very little time left for self-improvement.

On A Variety Of Things
If television is “a vast wasteland,” the Internet is a bordello without boundaries. If television is “chewing gum for the eyes,” the Internet is cholesterol for the heart and a burst vessel in the brain.
They say misery likes company. So does idiocy. As an idiot, I had many friends. As a non-idiot, only one or two – three at most.
We brag about being the first Christian nation, but unlike good Christians, we are neither humble nor meek.
There is only one thing I envy the rich – their teeth. On the negative side, nothing strikes me as phonier than an old geezer or a prehistoric crone with a perfect set of shiny white choppers.
Two of the most influential men in the history of mankind -- Buddha and Marx – were atheists; and according to Tolstoy, so was Jesus when he stated, “the Kingdom of God is within you.”

“Literature needs freedom to thrive,” says an Armenian character in Elif Shafak’s THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL, and goes on: “We didn’t have much of that to expand and enlarge Armenian literature, did we?”

This fictional character and Elif Shafak seem to be unaware of the fact that we had a vibrant literature and far better writers under the Sultan, Talaat, and Stalin than we do today when we enjoy more freedom and financial prosperity than at any other time in our history. That’s because, in the words of Hagop Garabents (also Jack Karapetian), “Once upon a time we shed our blood for freedom. We are now afraid of free speech.”

Please note that, unlike Gostan Zarian (“Our political parties have been of no political use to us: their greatest enemy is free speech”) Garabents was neither a dissident nor a critic. On the contrary, he was on excellent terms with our bosses, bishops, and benefactors.

Instead of literature we now have anti-Turkish propaganda (the bastard of Armenian literature…or is it an abortion?).

We have been traumatized, yes, certainly, no one denies that. But after making that assertion, the question we should ask ourselves is: Do we make an obsession of the trauma or do we seek a way out of the darkness that has paralyzed our creative impetus?

In what follows I will try to abridge and paraphrase the comments of a reader who, for reasons of his own, prefers to remain anonymous.

“One way to explain the difference between the dignified silence of our forefathers who witnessed the massacres and experienced the deportations, and the verbal diarrhea of the present generation is to say that the first were victims of historic conditions and forces beyond their control and understanding, and the second victims of political rhetoric.” Ara Baliozian
DB's Comment:
"Dignified silence of our forefathers"?
Our forebears (ie. not just fathers but mothers too) were not silent. They tried in whatever way they could to publicize the facts of the genocide - politically, in the non-Armenian media, by writing books, and publishing in their own Armenian papers in the diaspora. And given their few resources after the genocide, and the trauma, even those things were something of a miracle.

Survivors of Musa Dagh wrote their memoirs, for example. Apparently, you think that that was undignified.

I would not bother commenting on your writing, Ara, but I am concerned that a few younger people may start to believe your defeatist, ignorant, insulting propaganda.

Have you ever tried publishing your stuff in the Turkish press? I am sure you would be welcomed with open arms.

Ara's Reply To DB
Dave:If there were 2 million victims and 2 million survivors, and only a handful published memoirs, i would consider them the exception rather than the rule.

Dave: You may consider yourself a nationalist, a patriot, a good armenian, an activist, a revolutionary, but i beg you, do not think of yourself as a role model and a beacon of enlightenment to future generations. Because, if you do, i shall have to conclude that the self-deception and megalomania of some armenians knows no bounds. / Ara

In Elif Shafak’s THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL I read the following lines delivered by an Armenian-American: “Some among the Armenians in the diaspora would never want the Turks to recognize the genocide. If they do so, they’ll pull the rug out from under our feet and take the strongest bond that unites us. Just like the Turks have been in the habit of denying their wrongdoing, the Armenians have been in the habit of savoring the cocoon of victimhood. Apparently, there are some old habits that need to be changed on both sides.”
Conventional wisdom becomes unconventional folly bordering on mass hysteria when it turns into intolerance of criticism and dissent.
Every propaganda line, regardless of its absurdity, will have a series of facts and reasons that support it.

When some of my Armenian critics, who belong to the trashcan or verbal-abuse school of criticism, attribute to me words and ideas that are not mine, I have every reason to suspect they are projecting their own secret thoughts, which until then they did not dare to admit even to themselves.
Writers may be divided into those who write about many different things, and those who write about the same thing in different ways. There are also those who think just because they have conventional wisdom and the establishment on their side, they must be infallible and anyone who disagrees with them must be traitors, renegades, and enemies of the nation. It never even occurs to them that they may be victims of political rhetoric or propaganda, that is to say, verbal pollution.

If you know you are a fool, you are almost smart.
We speak the worst lies when we speak of ourselves.
A story with a happy ending is an interrupted story.
If you believe you are smart no one except reality will make you change your mind, and sometimes not even that.
Our Turcocentric pundits write about the Turkishness of Turks. I prefer to write about the Turkishness of Armenians.
You tell a fool he is smart and he will believe it.
The smarter you are in one thing the dumber you will be in a thousand others. Like all rules this one too has its exceptions – two of them, as a matter of fact: Leonardo da Vinci and Jack S. Avanakian.
Three of the paintings in 1001 PAINTINGS YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE, Selected by Leading International Critics (New York, 2006) are by Sarkis Katchadourian (1886-1947) (“Three Generations”), and by Arshile Gorky (real name Vostanig Adoian: 1904-1948) (“The Leaf of the Artichoke Is an Owl” and “Betrothal I”).

When a charlatan speaks the truth, he is bound to contaminate it with charlatanism. One reason why I am against phony pundits speaking about the Genocide…or anything else, for that matter.
In her acknowledgments to her novel THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL (New York, 2007), Elif Shafak writes: “I am particularly indebted to Armenian and Turkish grandmothers, who have an almost natural ability to transcend the very boundaries that nationalists on each side take for granted.”
There you have it, the paradox of our collective existence: the generation that experienced the massacres and deportations is more progressive in its thinking than the generation that followed it.
Between writers and politicians, the masses will always choose to trust the politicians not because politicians know better or are smarter but because they control the media and the machinery of propaganda.
Censorship in defense of truth, never. Censorship in defense of lies, always!
God protects the poor from expensive sins.
God loves the poor and helps the rich.
He who is silent means something just the same.
The worst libel is the truth.

Ara Baliozian

Ara hasn't been posting in the last few days. We hope he is well and OK. If we cannot get any email response, then our Canadian Editor Murat might have to knock his door to see if he is well
Murat has finally reached his family, "Ara has been on Holiday in Italy" we were told by his sister.


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