"No one understands Turks as well as we do,"
also said: "They will never understand us!"
and by "they" he meant East Armenians.
In other words,
Armenians are divided into two
mutually incomprehensible parts.
That’s because labels define human beings
and not the other way around.
You are either one of us or one of them;
either a believer or a giaour;
either a friend or an enemy;
and if you are an enemy,
you are an enemy for life or unto death.
If Armenian cannot understand Armenian,
what can he understand?
He can understand Americans better than Americans,
Arabs better than Arabs,
Jews better than Jews,
Turks better than Turks,
and in general,
the world better than its Creator.
The lower we sink,
the louder we brag…
or is it bray?
ara baliozian . .
The only time two human beings
cannot understand each other
is when one of them
has allowed himself to be dehumanized
by surrendering his mind and soul
to a religion, an ideology, a closed system of thought
or an unverifiable abstraction --
so that one can longer speak of two beings
who belong to the same species,
speak the same language,
or share anything in common.
I don't write for Armenians;
I write for human beings
and against bigots regardless of national identity.
I believe to blame others
for all our problems is
to allow the corrupt and the incompetent
to continue misleading and deceiving the people.
I believe those who uphold tribalism
in the name of this or that orthodoxy or ideology
are our gravediggers.
I don't believe in moral victories
in an amoral world;
I believe our so-called moral victories
are fabrications whose sole aim
is to justify the blunders of bunglers.
I believe in the rule that says:
"The larger the ego
the smaller the brain."
I believe if I were to live another hundred years and
publish a hundred more books
I would make no difference,
but I go on writing anyway.
Figure that one out if you can.
When Shahnour decided to be objective
in his judgment of fellow Armenian writers,
he was assaulted, beaten, and almost lost an eye.
This may well be one reason why
there is a natural tendency in all of us
to confuse literary criticism with literary philanthropy.
Symptoms of Armenianism:
An inability to see the difference
between intelligent and smart,
and between smart and smart-ass.
To overestimate the importance and value
of one’s knowledge.
To pretend to know more than one does.
To completely ignore the fact that
what one pretends to know may well be recycled crap.
The awareness that if one engages in charlatanism
one can always rely on the support
of fellow charlatans.
We are a traumatized people with a score to settle:
a score against the Turks and against the world.
But since both are beyond our reach,
we take it out on the nearest available target:
the more vulnerable the target the better.
Whenever I am misunderstood and insulted,
I know I am dealing not with an ideological adversary
whose interests or values clash with mine,
but with a damaged self, an injured ego,
and a bleeding wound whose origins
are buried deep in our past.
According to Robert Quillen,
"Discussion is an exchange of knowledge,
argument an exchange of ignorance."
And ignorance may be divided into two distinct categories:
garden variety and Armenian.
Armenian ignorance may be further subdivided into
loud, arrogant, fascist, racist, and Ottoman….
A routine occurrence:
in an essay about an Armenian writer we read:
"This writer fully deserves to be translated into English."
I wonder how many of these
phony promoters of Armenian literature
have taken the trouble to talk with one of our translators.
Shortly before he died,
Mischa Kudian (one of our ablest and most prolific translators)
came to see me. During our conversation
he made it abundantly clear that
translating Armenian literary works into English
was an exercise in degradation and masochism,
and he warned me against it.
It took me twenty years to see the light
and discover how right he had been.
I was a chauvinist then and ignorant,
and when I say ignorant
I speak of Armenian ignorance –
loud, arrogant, fascist, racist, Ottoman….
It’s not easy reading someone else’s mind
but one thing I find easy to guess:
if I were to add all my major problems
from the day I was born to the present,
the total would be less than
someone else’s single minor problem of a single day.
Or, as the old saying goes:
"You want to make your friend happy?
Tell him your problems."
So much for human compassion, sympathy,
understanding and altruism.
Propaganda finds dupes without looking for them.
No one understands Turks as well as we do,
Oshagan says somewhere.
What if the other way around is also true? --
no one understands us as well as Turks do.
But the question we should ask is:
Does Armenian understand Armenian?
One of my books is titled
DICTIONARY OF ARMENIAN QUOTATIONS.
If I were to compile a dictionary of un-Armenian quotations
I shall have to include the following,
which I heard this morning on Canadian radio:
"Being kind is addictive."
He who speaks of treason harbors an executioner in his heart.
Silence is better than the braying of an ass,
especially if the ass is human
and his name is Jack S. Avanakian.
ARMENIAN TOLERANCE: AN OXYMORON?
How can anyone trust the judgment of a historian
who accuses fellow historians of treason
and appears to be totally unaware of our recent past
during which our commissars
systematically exterminated some of our ablest men
in successive waves of purges?
When Raffi said "Treason and betrayal are in our blood,"
he sure knew what he was talking about – judging
by the ease with which we accuse one another of treason.
No one can be as nasty as a self-righteous Armenian,
and when I say nasty I mean
If sometimes I too sound nasty
it may be because
I have not yet mastered the technique
of being sweet or diplomatic
when describing a nasty reality.
Another reason why I am grateful
to my country of adoption:
The worst punishment that God can inflict on a man
is to make him confront with his double.
Creative is not a favorite word of creative people.
I doubt if Mozart, Beethoven, or Dostoevsky ever used it;
and if they did it was very probably
in reference to the Creator.
Creative is a philistine word.
What makes warlike people bloodthirsty
is the knowledge that somebody else will do the bleeding.
If mullahs believed in their own lies,
they would be the first to blow themselves up.
One reads to be better informed.
But there are also those who read to feed their hatred.
That’s one thing I have learned as an Armenian writer.
According to an old English law
known as Gresham’s law,
"Bad money drives out good money."
The same applies to ideas.
Consider what happened to Marxism
(driven out by Stalinism)
and before that to Christianity
(driven out by countless phony orthodoxies
and phonier heresies, all of which
and sometimes even torture, war
-- one of which lasted a hundred years --
It is no exaggeration to say therefore,
where there is a good idea
it will be inevitably corrupted and perverted
by charlatans and hoodlums
parading as charismatic leaders,
and an abundance of dupes.
Whenever I scan our weeklies
I come across a minimum of a dozen headlines
about as many writers, poets, artists, and musicians
who have either achieved or are about to achieve
greatness and immortality.
I once met a young fellow in his early twenties
who introduced himself with the words:
"I have written a musical for Aznavour."
"Has he seen it yet?" I wanted to know.
"Not yet," he replied.
"What if he doesn't like it?" I asked next.
"That’s not an option!" was his reply.
That was forty years ago.
More recently (about fifteen years ago)
I met a versifier who bragged about the fact that
he could write a long poem about anything,
including writer’s block.
This poet was too infatuated with his own genius
to even consider the possibility that
what he was producing
may not have been great literature but verbal diarrhea.
I suspect if I were to mention his name today,
only his relatives would recognize it.
I don't mention his friends because
I have every reason to suspect
he was too arrogant and loud to have any;
and my guess is,
he goes on writing today armed
with the unshakable conviction that
he will be appreciated by future generations.
Perhaps what we need is an institution
called Geniuses Anonymous
(modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous)
whose aim will be to convince its members
to make themselves useful to society
by choosing to be decent human beings
and honest servants of the community
as opposed to ambitious loud-mouth megalomaniacs.
WHAT IT MEANS
To be an Armenian writer
means to conduct an endless war
on several fronts:
the establishment (bosses, bishops, benefactors
and their flunkies),
the Ottomanized and Sovietized fraction of the community
(those who think intellectuals spell trouble
and authority should not be challenged),
the alienated, the assimilated, and the living dead
for whom the world of ideas and
Armenian literature in general
is a foreign country devoid of all interest and cash value.
Surviving all these hostile elements
is much more difficult that surviving a Turk’s yataghan.
Which may explain why
millions survived the massacres
but you can count the writers on the fingers of a leper.
In history, losers and underdogs are almost always
morally superior; either that or their sole consolation
appears to be portraying themselves as such.
If only history were a morality play!
Or, if only history were a play and we the playwrights….
If I can't say it as I see it,
who am I? What am I?
No better than a politician’s echo
or a charlatan’s ditto.
I don't trust a writer who belongs to a political party.
I don't trust political parties and politics.
I trust politicians even less.
I will go further and say that I see them as my natural enemies.
Politicians place power above truth and honesty.
They may pretend to be honest and
to speak in the name of truth,
but I question every word they utter.
I question even their commas
and the spaces between their words and lines
Yiddish proverb: "A fool is his own informer."
Emerson: "Take egotism out,
and you would castrate the benefactors."
Charles Peguy: "The man who doesn't bawl out the truth
when he knows the truth becomes the accomplice of liars."
Please note that I don't write for bishops
and sons of bishops.
Neither do I write for commissars and hooligans.
I write for readers with an open mind.
I write for Armenians who define homeland as
anywhere on earth they are allowed to work
and provide for their families.
Speaking for myself and as things stand,
I define Armenia as a good place to die.
I don't mind admitting that
I don't have a single chauvinist bone in my body.
To those who assert it is my duty as an Armenian
to love Armenia, I ask:
What have you done to make Armenia
more lovable or, for that matter, livable? --
besides uttering nonsense and
making unreasonable demands on your fellow Armenians?
As for those Armenians who praise Armenia
but prefer to live in exile, I say:
An Armenian’s feet speak louder than his words.
So what if I repeat myself?
If liars can repeat their lies three times,
why shouldn't I repeat my truths thirty-three times?
I repeat: I don't write for bosses, bishops and benefactors.
I write against them.
And if you are a partisan of charlatans,
I warn you again, you may find my words
hazardous to your charlatanism.
But if you insist on reading me,
I thank you for allowing me
to annoy the hell out of you.
What is the penalty for being wrong?
If nothing, anyone can say anything he wants.
Sometimes I am urged by readers
to prove my usefulness by joining one of our institutions,
the implication being that words are cheap,
writing an exercise in futility,
and literature a waste of time:
views worthy of killer commissars.
All persecuted minorities and victims
tend to view freedom as
the freedom to persecute and victimize.
Communism has been defined as state capitalism,
and capitalism as socialism for the rich.
Private enterprise promotes greed, and
government programs legitimize waste.
All systems are designed by elites to favor elites.
As for revolutions:
they only replace one set of rascals with another.
Which is why, during the final years of his life,
Arthur Koestler (one of the most politically astute writers
of the 20th century) refused to discuss politics.
La Rochefoucauld: "No man is clever enough
to know all the evil he does."
An honest man is a charlatan’s worst nightmare.
Show me a man who is an expert on any given subject
and I will show you an Armenian.
Charles Peguy: "Out of ignorance and a sense of duty
most decent people are liable to turn into criminals."
You can't talk ethics with a bishop:
he thinks he has a monopoly on the subject.
You can't talk sharing power with a boss:
he thinks he is the best qualified man for the job.
You can't talk money with a benefactor:
he won't listen to anyone who makes less than he does.
A man who is his own worst enemy
cannot be anyone’s friend.
Scottish proverb: "The devil’s boots don't creak."
THE MEDITATIONS OF AN IDIOT
Only idiots declare wars in order to lose them.
To speak of moral victory is to imply:
"If I win, I win. If I lose, I win too!"
To speak of moral victory is also to imply:
"How can I learn from my blunders
if I have committed none?"
A bad military victory is better
than a good moral victory.
A genocide is a tragedy (for the victims)
a crime against humanity (for the perpetrators)
and a colossal blunder (for the leadership).
We emphasize the tragedy and the crime
but cover up the blunder.
What could be more idiotic than placing a nation
at the mercy of bloodthirsty criminals?
If we are smart,
why is it that we have idiots as leaders?
Idiots as leaders:
hence the myth of "smart" Armenians.
To cover up a big lie, invent a bigger lie.
Or, as Hitler once put it: "The bigger the lie the better!"
If massacres are crimes against humanity,
what about assimilation and exodus?
(also known as "white massacres")
To paraphrase the Bible:
"If any man among you seems to be smart in this world,
let him become an idiot that he may be smart."
AS I SEE IT
Victims and victimizers;
deceivers and dupes:
that’s how I see the world;
and I write as a victim in defense of other victims;
and I write against deceivers
because as a child I was taken in by their lies.
I was told writing was a noble profession.
It is not.
It is more like an obstacle course that stretches to infinity.
The average reader wants to be flattered;
the partisan who believes in his party’s propaganda line
as if it were holy writ
bishops and benefactors are convinced
they represent two of the most powerful entities
known to man: God and capital
(make it, Capital and god).
In such an environment
literature (or for that matter, truth and honesty)
have as much chance to survive
as a sardine in a pool of hungry sharks.
JUSTICE, ETHICS AND HISTORY
There is no merit in convincing your lawyer of your innocence.
The trick is convincing the judge.
It is the easiest thing in the world
to establish moral superiority by one’s own code of ethics.
We lost not because we did the wrong thing
but because we were divided and
we failed to develop a consensus.
This has been said before, many times,
but our chauvinists and partisans
continue pretending to be deaf, dumb and stupid.
If only history and our enemies
played by the same rules and preferably our own riles!
Conflicting interests may be reconciled and often are.
Conflicting principles of morality, never!
That’s one way to explain why
winners prefer the company of winners
as opposed to that of losers
who are more interested in justifying yesterday’s blunders
than in deciding what must be done today.
History is a movement that does not recognize
anyone’s rules of traffic or etiquette.
What must be done may have nothing to do
with anyone’s code of ethics.
Jean-Paul Sartre: "We need the light of two suns to see the depths of human stupidity."
Tell me, has anyone ever succeeded in reasoning with Armenians? .
It never pays to generalize: I know Turks who couldn't hurt a fly, and I know Armenians who would kick a man when he is down just for the pleasure of it.
To those who hate Turks, I ask: Would you still hate them if you knew or suspected half of them to be half Armenian?
If you say you don't hate Turks, but you love justice, I ask: Is it just to accuse all Turks of genocide if the perpetrators numbered no more than 1% of the population? And if you say, with very few exceptions all Turks are denialists, I ask: Is it their fault if they have been brainwashed?
One of the most frightening things about Armenians is that they are so obsessed with their hatred, so self-righteous and devoid of all doubt, that they think it is a positive, a virtue, something that makes them better patriots and morally superior human beings; and armed with that article of faith, they give themselves the license to verbally abuse others who refuse to share their neurosis.
What it takes to be a commissar of culture: (a) not to have published a single line worth reading? (b) to believe "culture" to be a dirty word; (c) to use the word "intellectual" as if it were an insult; and (d) to confuse ideology with idology. There you have it: portrait of an average Armenian partisan.
Questions And Answers
Mention an unsolved mystery and someone is sure to spin a conspiracy theory.
Ask an unanswerable question and someone is sure to come up with the wrong answer.
People who hate fiction don't see any contradiction in the fiction that is at the base of their belief system.
When it comes to understanding, man seems to operate on the verge of starvation: any answer, no matter how untenable and absurd, is better than none.
A priest once slapped me because I asked the wrong question. I no longer remember the question, but I remember the slap, which was no answer.
Men And Women
To women, men are the most universal sources of disappointment. Did you know that the Chinese word for husband is "good for nothing"?
The dumbest woman is smarter about men than the smartest man is about women.
The most mysterious thing about women is not women themselves but man's sudden, unpredictable, and incomprehensible transformation of red-hot passion to arctic indifference.
An Impossible Dream
There is only one way for the moderate to survive in a world of fanatics, and that's by converting them to moderation. What could be more megalomaniacal to think that one has a chance to succeed where Socrates, Jesus, and Gandhi failed?
It could be said of them that the only thing they succeed in doing is adding to the contents of the cesspool in which they stand up to their necks.
Ernest Renan: "He who follows orders is almost always a better person than he who issues them."
Marcel Proust: "Every social class has its pathology."
The first time I said something remotely critical about an unimportant aspect of Canadian life, an elegantly dressed and attractive lady said: "If you don't like it here, why don't you go back where you came from?"
When I asked her if she had a favorite painter, a local artist replied: "Eengrass." It took me a while to realize she had meant Ingres.
When after a long interval I met an old friend in the street and asked about his mother, whom I had met on several occasions, he replied: "We don't know where she is. She ran away with a younger man and we haven't heard from her since."
A Canadian In Italy
"How do you say pizza in Italian?"
Our partisans don't like my kind of writing. They think I insult Armenishness. And what's even more absurd, they consider themselves competent judges, even though they have more skeletons in their closet than breathing specimens with brains in their living room. Only utter despair can lead a man to believe in his own lies.
I've Been Reading
Barby d'Aurevilly: "The crimes of the most advanced civilizations are greater than those committed by the most backward barbarians."
Blaise Cendrars: "It is in the very things that they share that people differ the most from one another."
Sartre: "Half victim, half accomplice, like the rest of mankind."
Paul Valéry: "To believe that one understands is a very dangerous state of mind."
Balzac: "All power is a permanent conspiracy."
If God exists, He wants us to go about our business as though He didn't. Gone are the days of the Old Testament when He micromanaged human affairs. No more Burning Bushes, Ave-Maria archangels, angels, and prophets. His message to mankind seems to be: If you don't make use of the brain I have given you, don't bother me with your problems.
What if our ancestors were smarter than we are? Mention if you can a modern figure comparable to Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus. What if the writers of the Old Testament were smart enough to know they were writing science fiction? What if a thousand years from now mankind will study the Old Testament the way we study books on Greek mythology today?
When speaking of God, it is wiser to ask questions than to answer them. Or, like Buddha, treat Him as though He did not exist.
"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain." Buddha may be said to have been the only major religious leader who took this commandment so literally that Buddhism is the only major belief systems that is atheist.
An Armenian bears two crosses, and the heavier of the two is not his own.
If talk is cheap and if "he who speaks does not know," when, O when shall I acquire the wisdom of silence?
My critical remarks may damage our prestige in the eyes of the world; I am reminded once in a while. To which I can only say, what prestige? Most people are not even aware of our existence or, if they are, they tend to confuse us with Romanians and Arameans. To the rest we might as well be an open book and a political cliché. If they flatter us it may be because we can be of some use to them. Which means their opinions of us is so low that they think they can manipulate us with phony sentiments. I don't call that prestige, I call that an insult.
When does hatred of the enemy end and self-hatred begin? Muslims in the Middle East today hate one another more than they hate the West, and judging by the venom in our discussions forums, letters to the editor, and our recent history, how different are we?
Honorat de Bueil: "Nature is jealous of our prosperity. She allots a longer lifespan to thorns than to roses."
In the memoirs of two contemporary English novelists there is endless talk of several troubled marriages, lovers by the dozen, substance abuse (both alcohol and pills), psychiatrists, and attempted suicides, among other problems. So far I have relied only on alcohol. Couldn't afford the rest. Sometimes it pays to be poor. During the war years and after our breakfast consisted of tea, bread, and olives. My cousin in America by contrast breakfasted on eggs, bacon, and buttered toast. Result? Open-heart surgery, pacemaker, and a dozen pills a day, among other problems.
Speaking of lovers: in the final page of her memoirs, a filthy rich American celebrity in her eighties describes her latest gigolo as "the Nijinsky of cunnilingus."
"The pleasures of love last no more than a moment, its regrets a lifetime." Has this old proverbial saying stopped anyone from resisting the temptations of the flesh? Instinct rules even the lives of reasonable men, perhaps because reason only whispers, more often than not inaudibly, where instinct is as loud as thunder. As for writers and philosophers: they may think they are in the business of dispensing wisdom, but all they can hope to do is provide a few moments of harmless entertainment.
Both the massacre of innocent civilians and the violation of someone's human right of free speech have the same root: the arrogance of power. Now then, tell me, what's the difference between them and us?
Whenever I get emotionally involved in an argument I know I have lost it, because emotion betrays more ego and less reason.
There are as many versions of a historic occurrence as there are paintings of Fuji-Yama and Ararat.
When I was dead wrong it never even occurred to me to consider the possibility of not being right. Another way of saying, I too was a believer and a fanatic.
Are we perennial victims or morally superior victors? Can lamentation be reconciled with bragging? Tell me, do you have an answer?
Why should love of homeland stand in opposition to love of truth?
Paul Klee: "Art does not reproduce what we see. Rather, it makes us see." (Or, it exposes our blindness.)
George Orwell: "We are living in a world in which it is almost impossible to be honest and to remain alive."
What's the difference between racism based on blood, and a racism based on ideas? Do you see any difference between "My blood is better than yours," and "My ideas are better than yours"?
God And Music
Hector Berlioz: "Bach is Bach as God is God."
If music ennobles the soul, why is it that it failed to ennoble Nero and Hitler - both great lovers of music? What if music only enhances the inherent qualities of a man - makes the good better and the bad worse? Either that or the evil spell of power is mightier than the delicate charms of music. Even religious faith (or God), it seems, cannot resist the evil spell of power. Think of the Crusades, the vicious conduct of Renaissance Popes, the Inquisition, religious wars, and more recently, the epidemic of priests molesting children. I won't even bother mentioning the daily atrocities committed in the name of Allah.
God and music, faith and beauty: in their absence man would have found substitutes in whose name he would have spoken with a forked tongue and proceeded to follow his gut and ignore his brain.
E.M. Cioran: ""Only one thing matters: learning to be the loser." (As opposed to pretending to be the morally superior winner.)
Alain-Fournier: "Getting there is better than being there."
Asked how he writes his plays, Tennessee Williams is quoted as having said, "I start with a sentence."
From My Notebooks
Partisans have called me "vicious" for my remarks on their bosses. But the truth is, I respect our political parties and their leaders as much as they respect one another.
Those in power at one time or another have legitimized every kind of injustice and perversion - from incest and slavery to war and massacre. Next time you decide to place your trust in your pharaoh, fuehrer, Pope, boss or bishop, think about that.
To speak the truth means attacking liars, who will counterattack by speaking more lies.
If I were to compose an Armenian Credo, it would begin with the lines: "I believe monologue is better than dialogue," and "I believe I am right and all those who disagree with me are in cahoots with the devil."
Montaigne: "The difference between one man and another is greater than the difference between man and beast."
Henry James: "It's a complex fate, being an American." He should try being an Armenian.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: "Philosophy is not an illusion. It is the algebra of history."
If you say something kind about Jews, an Armenian is sure to accuse you of being a paid agent of the Mossad. I speak from experience. And if you say something kind about Americans, don't be surprised if you are accused of being an agent of the CIA. This has happened to me on more than one occasion. Once I was even accused of being a hireling of the Vatican, not because I had said anything remotely kind about the Pope but because I was brought up as a Catholic. Disagree with an Armenian and run the risk of being fingered as a traitor.
I have heard it said that Judas did not hang himself. He went to Armenia. Raffi expressed an awareness of this when he said, "Treason and betrayal are in our blood."
In another version of the story, Judas went to America, became a stockbroker on Wall Street, invested his silver, made a killing in the market, and became a benefactor. Not being a historian I am in no position to testify on the accuracy of either version.
What does it take to be a historian? The first thing to know about writing history is that it is not a science but an art. A historian orchestrates data (facts, documents, witnesses). He is as much of an artist as a composer.
Shut Up! He Explained
I don't apportion and adapt what I know and understand; I share all of it. I respect my readers too much to tell them there are things they will understand only when they grow up.
A Lethal Combination
Where there is war and massacre you will also find charlatans and dupes. As for just wars: that's another way of saying my god is better than yours.
Since the beginning of time man has searched for god the way a blind man in a dark room searches for a black hat that isn't there. It may be elsewhere, but not there.
By the time a dupe figures out he has been one all his life, the chances are he is either dead or senile. I speak from experience.
Messiahs, prophets, and philosophers: they will never be as much in demand as plumbers, pimps, and lawyers.
The pleasures of preaching to the converted: I know all about them. I too have published several hundred commentaries and book reviews in which the Genocide is mentioned. The question that haunts me today is: What's the use of being right if you end up as a pillar of salt?
Propaganda is taken for granted and thought of as an inevitable fact of life, but in reality it is as dangerous as a loaded gun in the hands of a child.
What I Understand About Power Structures
You may not understand power structures but power structures understand you; and they understand you because they have only one criterion: "You are either with me or against me." You may have the IQ of a genius but if you are not with the power structure body and soul, you might as well be an idiot, and worse, a nuisance. That's why some of the best men in the history of mankind were persecuted and sometimes even condemned to death. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying those in power are all vicious fools. No. Most of them may even be highly able men - smart, sophisticated, cunning. What they lack is not smarts but moral compass. And they are moral morons because they place their own powers and privileges above all other considerations. This is true of all power regardless of race, color, and creed. Which is why sentences like "Their politicians are crooks, but ours are honest men" make sense only to the naïve and brainwashed dupe.
Critics And Mad Dogs
Stand long enough at the edge of an abyss and someone is sure to push you.
Whenever a faceless anonymous hooligan on the Internet verbally abuses me, my first reaction is to believe everything he says. Paul Valéry is right: when a mad dog bites, it hurts.
There is nothing wrong in saying "I believe in god." But there is something horribly wrong in saying "My god is the only true god."
To those who tell me I go about my criticism the wrong way, I say: Name an Armenian critic, or any critic, who went about it the right way and I will be more than happy to adopt him as my role model.
Has anyone ever written a treatise on critical etiquette and, having done so, has not been torn to shreds by critics?
Speaking of a Sorbonne-educated avant-garde poet, a friend tells me: "When I told him I didn't understand his poetry, he said you will, in 25 years. I met him again last week and told him the 25 years were up and I still can't make heads or tails of it."
Nothing comes easier to a charlatan than to assume everyone else is a charlatan.
Three of our most abundant national products: bragging, backbiting, and bullshitting.
My favorite 11th Commandment: "Thou shalt not aim at perfection in an imperfect world."
Reflections On A Remark By Shahnour
If there is a story in my life, I don't see it. All I see is either a succession of dead ends or paths that lead nowhere. I have wasted so much time trying to reason with my readers -- as if that were in the realm of possibilities. In one of his letters Shahnour writes (I translate from memory): "Sooner or later the voice of an authentic writer will be heard. He will even prevail over those who misinterpret him." But can he prevail over those who having heard his voice choose to ignore him or dismiss him as a nuisance? Who reads Shahnour today, or having read him is open to his line of thinking? It is said that on the battlefield soldiers don't think of victory, only of survival. I have survived, so has the nation. But what if our survival is nothing but a slow-motion death of a thousand cuts, most of them self-inflicted?
In Praise Of Free Speech
The first sentence of a commentary in our paper today that bears the headline, "Newspaper must provide a forum for free speech," reads: "It is easier to love the theory of free speech than the practice of it."
And the final sentence: "And it is the responsibility of the citizen to accept that free speech includes not only the viewpoints that the citizen agrees with, but also those which cause gravest and most heartfelt offence." John Roe, the author of this commentary is identified as "the Editorial Page editor." I should like to see one of our own editors writing and publishing such a commentary.
As for our pundits and academics who contribute regularly to our papers: I don't remember any one of them raising his voice against censorship. John Roe is right: we may love the theory of free speech but we, all of us, (publishers, editors, pundits, and citizens) hate the practice of it. Either that or we define free speech as the freedom to spew anti-Turkish venom .
Since everything is connected with everything else, no one is equipped to know and understand everything about anything. Only god (if he exists) may know everything. We miserable mortals are condemned to know and understand only a fraction of reality.
All conflicts and disagreements are results of partial understanding and knowledge. Religions are popular because to believe in god means to follow the guidance of one who knows everything and is never wrong. But since "of the gods we know nothing" (Socrates), all assertions made in the name of god are based on total ignorance.
Perhaps the most useful kind of knowledge is that which reveals to us the depths and breadth of our ignorance.
Voltaire and Tolstoy saw no merit in Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky loathed Brahms, and Nabokov didn't much care about "Faulknermann" and "Tolstoevsky." Great men are poor judges of other great men. So are gods of other gods. And when gods disagree, massacre is sure to follow. Hence the dictum: "Since it was a religious war, there were no survivors" (Voltaire).
A wise man once said, "I am willing to worship a man who is searching for the truth, but I would gladly kill him if he said he found it."
Speaking of the mindset of drunk drivers caught on the scene of an accident, a policeman is quoted as having said in today's paper, they begin with a "sense of invincibility" and end by trying to "blame it on somebody else." Overconfidence followed by the blame game: it explains so much about human nature, or life as we experience it, reality as we perceive it, and history as we write it.
You want to learn from history? Examine your own heart.
There are those who see nothing questionable in being subservient to an imbecile with more money. There are others who find the prospect unspeakably degrading and unbearably repellent.
Unmasking a lie does not necessarily mean the destruction of the lie. That's because what motivates most men is not love of truth but loyalty to self-interest. Where self-interest enters, black lies and white truths turn into shades of gray.
The crimes of capitalism are many - no doubt about that. But so are the crimes of Christianity, Islam, and Communism. Where power enters, abuse of power is sure to follow.
Armenian literature is a riskier racket than the mafia, and the only way the survive it is by dying young. Organized crime has two enemies: the police and rival families. Armenian literature has many more, among them tuberculosis (in the 19th century), Talaat and Stalin (in the 20th), and (in the 21st) censorship, audience apathy on the part of the majority, verbal abuse on the part of a faceless and anonymous minority, and last but far from least, the doubletalk of bosses, bishops, and benefactors, and their flunkies, who publicly deliver speeches in support of literature but the moment the sun sets they get their shovels out and start digging.
I remember one of our bosses once delivering a speech in which he said, "Writers and poets have more influence in shaping the minds and souls of people than anyone else in the community." Stalin once delivered a similar speech in which he called writers "engineers of the soul." What happened next we know.
I remember another one of our bosses saying in another speech, "My fondest ambition is to retire on a distant island and spend the rest of my life in solitude reading." That one committed suicide, some say he was assassinated by members of a rival family.
TOWARDS A MORE BALANCED VIEW OF REALITY
Chamfort: "Everything I learned, I have forgotten: the little I remember, I guessed."
To understand one thing is to understand many other things."
An objective judgment is better than a prejudiced one."
By distorting reality, bias obstructs our path to understanding, and ultimately to reaching a consensus.
These may not be as good or original assertions as Descartes' celebrated "I think therefore I am," but they are far more accurate than their opposites.
Sooner or later all Armenians realize that to trust an Armenian on the grounds that he is Armenian is unwise. Among my friends and acquaintances I count several who began by trusting their fellow Armenians and ended by avoiding them like the plague.
As a child I believed everything I was told by my schoolteachers and parish priest. As an adult I know that trusting mullahs and propagandists (regardless of race, color, and creed) is to consent to be brainwashed.
To trust no one is as bad as to trust everyone. As an Armenian I may reject the Turkish version of the story. It doesn't necessarily follow I accept the Armenian version.
Our nationalist historians tell us the Turks planned to exterminate us long before the actions of our revolutionaries. What they don't even try to explain is why would Turks do that to their "most loyal millet" at a time when enemies from within as well as without threatened their very existence?
You don't have to be a historian or a psychologist to recognize a contradiction when you see one. All you need is common sense, which, according to Descartes, is evenly distributed because no one complains that he doesn't have enough of it.
Common sense tells us to trust the judgment of an objective outsider is wiser than to trust those who are participants in a quarrel or controversy. The justice system of the civilized world is based on that assumption.
In addition to being one of the greatest historians of the 20th Century, Arnold J. Toynbee was also the first scholar to document the Genocide and to publish several studies on Turkish abuses of power. As an anti-nationalist he rejected both Turkish and Armenian versions of the story. In his version, the Genocide is undeniable fact. It is also undeniable that by making unjustified territorial demands, Armenian nationalists were partly responsible in provoking it.
If you reject Toynbee's version on grounds that he is just another cold-blooded, dehumanized imperialist witness with an impaired sense of compassion and justice, I invite you to consider the testimony of an old Armenian lady who was also a survivor of the Genocide: "The Turks are nice people, provided you don't step on their tails."
Is it conceivable that this traumatized old woman on her way to senility and death has a more balanced view of reality than all our pundits combined?
A German philosopher once said, "The Germans are the best people in the world, but the trouble is there are so few of them." Our problem may well be that our "betters" are our worst.
“Never trust someone who goes out of his way to be nice to you – he is after something,” an older friend once warned me. I dismissed his warning as that of a cynic and forgot all about it. A big mistake on my part.
When at the turn of the last century the Great Powers expressed concern about our condition within the Empire and took our side against the oppressors, we did not question their motives. A big mistake on our part for which millions of innocent civilians paid dearly.
When you shake hands with a brown-noser, count your fingers and immediately after wash your hands with soap and water. If his nose is brown, the rest of him can’t be white.
When in his initial phase as a writer Zarian said some very nice things about the Armenia voki, he was believed, respected, published, and achieved some degree of popularity. But when he realized he had been wrong and was not afraid to say so, he was dismissed by his contemporaries as a loudmouth egomaniac and acquired the status of a non-person.
All religions have produced their share of prophets, martyrs, and saints – that doesn’t make them the only true religion. All political leaders and parties have had their share of partisans -- that doesn’t make them superior to any other political party.
Political leaders know that all they have to do to acquire followers is to utter such clichés as “You are the brains of the people,” or “You have leadership qualities,” or “You belong to a superior race,” or “You are the Chosen people.” Of course, it takes some degree of cunning combined with some kind of ruthless stupidity to voice such nonsense and believe in it, and when it comes to stupidity, it has been said, “even the gods cannot compete with men.”
“If you want our support, you must learn to kiss ass,” is the unspoken message in the criticism leveled against me. I was there once and I have no desire to revisit the place. All I want to do now is echo Zarian’s warning, “Danger, danger, danger!”
I am for dissent and against propaganda regardless of race, color, and creed. Between a Turkish dissident and an Armenian propagandist I will be on the side of the dissident; and I refuse to believe that agreement with a dissident Turk and disagreement with an Armenian propagandist is a capital offense.
The sentence, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” could also be rephrased as, “Forgive them, Father, for they have been brainwashed.”
The only way to agree with a propagandist is to allow him to brainwash you.
Where benefactors play a central role, there will be rule by flunkies and brown-noses parading as intellectuals and statesmen. When asked to name the greatest influences in his life, one of these so-called statesmen-intellectuals is quoted as having named one of our national benefactors.
After subsidizing the construction of a museum dedicated to Armenian history and culture, one of our benefactors is said to have offered his old desk as an exhibit. What a book one could write on the megalomania of our benefactors!
Until she died a couple of years ago, the wealthiest woman in Turkey is said to have been a bordello madam by the name of Manoogian. At her death even our weeklies in the diaspora published long obituaries.
Tyrants who slaughter writers, and editors who silence them, belong to the same species of swine and it makes no difference if they are Turks, Germans, Russians, or, for that matter, Armenians.
I am an Armenian and you are an Armenian. Now then, can you give me a single reason why I should trust you? Because, for the life of me, I can’t think of a single reason why you should trust me.
In a dishonest environment all assessments of the past will be dismissed as 20/20 vision, of the future as alarmist, and of the present as based on misinformation. Which simply means, to be pro-status quo or pro-establishment is to be infallible, and to be anti-status-quo or anti-establishment means being consistently wrong.
During the Ottoman phase of our existence, those who predicted the massacres were dismissed as alarmist, and during the Soviet era those who said Stalin was a ruthless tyrant were labeled as anti-Soviet. Which means, it would be far more accurate to say that to be pro-establishment is to be consistently wrong, perhaps because our men at the top and their hirelings happen to be moral morons, political nonentities, and intellectual midgets -- that is to say, swine.
If Beethoven is a revolutionary, Bach fully qualifies as a prophet. “Every piano concerto in the history of Western music,” writes James R. Gaines “has its antecedent in the fifth Brandenburg Concerto, when the lowliest member of the orchestra [the harpsichord] was turned loose to become Liszt.”
In music as well as in all the arts, ideologies, and religions, the medium is not the message, in the same way that the vestments are not the man. To confuse the medium (the packaging, the style, the rituals, and mumbo jumbo) with the message may even be said to be the source of all evil.
After saying all men are brothers, organized religions divide mankind into two camps, the Cains and the Abels. The message (all men are brothers) is thus perverted to: “Before the Cains kill us, let’s kill them!” In other words, after identifying themselves with Abel, the children of Adam adopt Cain as their role model.
A crook in denial thinks of himself as an honest man, and Cain in denial thinks of himself as Abel. It follows to say, “God is great!” justifies behaving like swine.
A few years ago an Armenian by the name of John Douglas published a book on Armenian history. When asked why the false name, he said out of fear of Turkish persecution. Shortly thereafter Vahakn Dadrian published his definitive study of the Armenian Genocide. What happened to him? His book was translated into Turkish and he was invited to Turkey.
We share this in common with Turks: we identify ourselves with Abel, and when we say Turks are bloodthirsty Asiatic savages, they tell us we are confusing the medium with the message, the message being they are just people like any other people. So are we.
Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, not only made history but, like Caesar before him and Churchill after him, he also wrote it. In a letter to a friend, he makes the following observation: “To write history is to compile the follies of man and the blows of fate. Everything runs on these two lines, and so the world has gone on for eternity.”
The quotations above are from EVENING IN THE PALACE OF REASON: BACH MEETS FRDERICK THE GREAT IN THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT, by James R. Gaines (New York, 2005).
ON ARMENIAN IDENTITY AND CULTURE
Judging by our art, architecture, and music, a thousand years ago we had a clearly identifiable character, style, and culture. What we have now is more akin to anti-culture – a mishmash of Ottomanism, Sovietism, and Levantinism, some of whose identifiable features are mediocrity, envy, intolerance, and, in Zarian’s own words, "contempt for selfless intellectual labor."
Listen to Zarian expanding on this point:
"The Armenian communities of the diaspora are dominated by shopkeepers, pseudo-intellectuals, and clergymen. A miscellaneous crew of rascals with fat bellies and swollen egos. There you have the nucleus around which our collective existence revolves. This indeed ought to be the central issue of our literature of the diaspora."
Voltaire’s favorite prayer: “O Lord, please make all my enemies ridiculous.”
The intolerant have a sharp eye for someone else’s intolerance, never their own.
Once when I said that Germans had helped Turks in planning and executing the Armenian genocide, a German Armenologist reminded me that Germans had been the first scholars to establish the Sanskrit roots of the Armenian language. Academics!
Friedrich Schlegel: “Words often understand each other better than the people who use them.”
In his biography of Timothy Leary, of “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” fame, Greenfield writes: “Tim loved everyone as if they were his own children – except for his own actual children.” Another Saroyan!
It has been said, when women want to behave like men, they seldom behave like gentlemen. One could also say that when Armenians behave like Turks, they seldom behave like good Turks. I shiver to think what would happen if this type of Armenian were given a yataghan and unleashed against defenseless civilians who happen to disagree with him.
Only if you have lived in darkness may you see the light. This cannot happen to someone who assumes his darkness to be light.
“If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” Our history in a nutshell. It has been the perennial function of our academics to cover up this obvious fact.
Pericles as quoted by Thucydides in his PELOPONNESIAN WAR (5th century BC):”What I fear is not the enemy’s strategy, but our own mistakes.”
Socrates as quoted by Plato in his REPUBLIC (473 BC): “Those who are now called kings and potentates must learn to seek wisdom like true philosophers in order that political power and intellectual wisdom may be joined in one.”
I have yet to meet the partisan pundit who did not think of himself as smarter than Socrates.
Socrates had many more questions and doubts than certainties. One of his very few certainties was the quintessentially anti-theological and anti-dogmatic assertion, “Of the gods we know nothing.”
Gandhi once defined god as “Truth.” One could therefore transliterate the Socratic assertion, as “Of truths we know nothing.” We may only aspire to advance in their direction by rejection lies, half-lies, and propaganda.
Propaganda does not solve problems, it creates them.
Propaganda is propaganda regardless of race, color, creed, theology, and ideology
The ultimate aim of all propaganda is to create bloodthirsty barbarians willing to kill in order to satisfy some moral moron’s lust for power.
Massacres are not results of Asiatic barbarism but of propaganda.
At one time or another we have all been dupes of propaganda because we have all been children.
Dupes have two sets of enemies: (one) other dupes who believe in a propaganda line different from theirs, and (two) anyone who dares to identify them as dupes.
A dupe without mortal enemies is unthinkable.
LITERATURE AND PROPAGANDA
Propaganda is more popular than literature because disoriented people prefer lies that validate their prejudices and fallacies.
Those who say Blacks are savages and Jews are rats will never think of themselves as swine. What Blacks and Jews are to racists and anti-Semites, Turks are to us. Turks are what binds Armenian to Armenian.
They are our glue. Delete Turks from our consciousness and our communities will collapse like a house of cards. Literature is less popular because it exposes contradictions and charlatans who speak with a forked tongue.
TWO SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT
The first says our leaders are our saviors, and the second, they are our dividers and destroyers. If you subscribe to the first school, you are a dupe of our propaganda; if you subscribe to the second, it means you trust the judgment of our writers (from Khorenatsi and Yeghishe in the 5th Century to Massikian and Zarian in the 20th) more than the charlatanism of our wheeler-dealers -sorry, I meant to say, our political leaders, bosses for short.
If you are in the business of exposing contradictions, your critics will detect contradictions in everything you say; and if you say you are against A, B, and C, they will accuse you of all three aberrations plus X, Y, and Z.
ASSUMPTIONS AND AMBITIONS
Because we come from a long line of victims, we cannot be victimizers, or so we would like to believe. It is more accurate to say, however, that as perennial victims we think of progress only in terms of how soon we can behave like the opposition, even if it means victimizing our own brothers.
NOTES / COMMENTS
Where the power of the few is dependent on the ignorance of the many, ignorance will be subsidized and knowledge censored.
To brag is to expose one's limitations.
From ideas I disagree with I have a better chance to learn.
The most important thing that a master can say to his disciple is: "If you think of me as your master, I have taught you nothing."
You can't learn to ride a bike on a mattress.
There is more wisdom in silence than in speech. Sermons and speeches are delivered by charlatans to an audience of fools.
You cannot step into the same river twice not because the river has changed but because your perceptions run swifter than the fastest current.
Overheard on the radio: "A pessimist is a better informed optimist."
People who say, "It can't be done," are either opportunistic cowards or apologists for the status quo. Avoid them. What cancer is to the body, they are to creativity and daring. It is better to fail on your own terms than to succeed on theirs.
On the day you find your right path, success and failure, greatness and mediocrity, misery and joy will become irrelevant concepts.
The license of a preacher who does not practice what he preaches should be revoked. To say, "Do as I say, not as I do" is to legitimize abuse.
To speak of abuse in our environment means to succeed only in uniting the abusers against you.
Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for two reasons: (one) in addition to being a good writer, he enjoyed Turkish popular support, and (two) he exposed the lies of Turkish propaganda. You may now guess why so far no Armenian writer has been awarded the Prize.
If we don't betray them to the authorities, we beat them up or silence them. For Armenians divide themselves only against their enemies.. If you read the biographies of our greatest writers. What am I saying? There are no biographies of Oshagan or Zarian.
MEN AND BOOKS. GOD AND THE DEVIL
I approach a new book as if it held a secret that may change the course of my life. If most books disappoint me, it may be because I expect too much from them.
If most men disappoint us, it may be because we make too many unreasonable demands on them. On the day we convince ourselves that the average man is very much like ourselves, a bundle of contradictions and a self-centered bastard with the potential of a hero or a saint, we may be more willing to see the potential and to ignore the actual.
Divine impartiality makes sense only if both sides of a conflict are evenly matched. But when a hoodlum rapes and kills a child, we can no longer speak of divine impartiality, only of satanic indifference.
For millions of years men believed in an Unnamable and Incomprehensible Being who was the source of good as well as evil. Traces of this belief survive today in the Lord's Prayer when we say to God "Lead us not into temptation," which we are taught to believe belongs to the Devil's agenda.
By departmentalizing the Incomprehensible into God and the Devil, so-called civilized man has allowed bloodthirsty fanatics to commit all kinds of atrocities in the name of God, when in fact it's in the name of the Other one.
Whenever pundits speak of Muslim aberration they feel obliged to cite the Crusades, religious wars, and the Inquisition, completely ignoring the fact that Christian aberrations belong to the irrevocable past, and that Muslim terrorism is rooted less in the Koran and more in money from oil -- they have so much of it that they think they can take over the world.
As the last but one Pope said when he visited a mosque, both Christians and Muslims believe in the same God who is love, mercy, and compassion. What the good Pope failed to say is that what we believe may well be propaganda.
HOW TO COMBAT CORRUPTION
Corruption means much more than the penetration of the social fabric by crooks and bloodsuckers; corruption means the systematic alienation of all honest men, in the same way that mediocrity means the systematic alienation of all those whose aim is to achieve excellence.
Corruption is as old as mankind; so are ways of combating it. History provides us with many examples. The following suggestions are based on methods that have been employed in the past with some degree of success.
To editors and publishers: print more articles, case histories, and commentaries on corruption and less on Turkish denials; and if that's too much to ask, adopt an equal opportunity policy: for every headline on Turks publish one on Armenians -- and I don't mean bald-headed tennis players.
To lawyers: provide pro bono services to victims of corruption, take the bloodsuckers to court, and if necessary go to jail. They may jail a few, but they don't have enough jails to lock up everyone.
To benevolent institutions: withdraw financial support from organizations that lack high standards of accountability.
To tourists: let the relevant agencies and bureaucracies know that henceforth you plan to stay home or travel only to countries where you are welcome.
To those who say some of these tactics may penalize the victims more than the victimizers, I say, maybe, but for only a limited time (less than a year or at most two). Which is far more preferable than the alternative of adopting a wait-and-see and hope-for-the-best stance until the rotten structure collapses under its own weight (which may take forty or fifty years).
History is clear on this point: corrupt power structures do not as a rule reform themselves. Consider the cases of the Roman Empire, and more recently of the Ottoman and Soviet Empires? This much said, I am willing to concede that all this talk about combating corruption in our context might as well be an academic exercise in futility because we are as much victims of corruption, mediocrity, and incompetence in the Diaspora as they are in the Homeland. That's because the number one concern of our self-appointed elites is number one, and to hell with underdogs and victims, even when they happen to be our brothers.
In the preamble of Arshak's THE SOLITARY WOLFE: NOVELLAS (700 pages, Yerevan: 2005) we read the following: "In the 20th Century predatory nations used religion and ideology as weapons with which to annihilate their enemies. By contrast, we the naïve were taken in by new and old religions and sacrificed our homeland to them."
We the naïve? I find that hard to swallow. I was brought up to believe Armenians are just about the smartest people on earth. So much so that even when I was taken in by idiots I thought of myself as smart. It took me not just years but decades to catch up with reality. Which may suggest that neither the Ottomans nor the Soviets were as successful in brainwashing us as we were in brainwashing ourselves.
Bernard-Henri Levy (French critic and philosopher): "The Pope's interpretation of jihad may have been offensive, but infinitely more offensive is justifying in the name of Islam human bombs, 9/11, the stoning of women caught in adultery, the beheading of a Jewish journalist, and the indiscriminate massacre of fellow Muslims not only in Darfur but also in Iraq, as they stand by the gate of a mosque. The Pope should have mentioned these things."
ON THE MARK FOLEY SCANDAL
Most crimes are never solved. Likewise, most cover-ups are never uncovered. Placed in this context, the Mark Foley cover-up makes perfect sense.
ON ORGANIZED RELIGIONS
If you have been successful in fooling millions of people for a thousand years or more, you have a good chance of fooling them for at least another thousand.
GOOD VERSUS BAD IDEAS
Even the best ideas are vulnerable to perversion. A good idea in step one may be a bad idea in step two. This explains why very often it is not easy to discriminate good from bad ideas.
The true aim of education consists in preparing young minds to oppose injustice even if doing so may be against one's own self-interest.
Understanding is acquired less by means of explanations and more through painful experiences.
In a school textbook on how to write, I read: "Turn someone you dislike into an animal." I have never done that, but I have turned someone I disliked into two animals by calling him "Jack S. Avanakian."
Franz Kafka: "In the battle between the world and you, back the world." He should have added: To write means backing yourself even when you know you are backing a sure loser."
. . With Them. Dare to disagree with them and you run the risk of insulting either Turkishness or Armenishness - two terms that as far as I know no one has ever bothered to define perhaps because they are indefinable -- unless of course they mean everything that is good, moral, just, right, humane, civilized, and in general, positive in life. Which would make both nations paragons of virtue and role models to the rest of mankind. And now, imagine if you can, a world inhabited only by Turks and Armenians. It would be hell on earth for critics and dissidents, and heaven . on earth for yes-men and brownnosers, who on occasion like to engage in cannibalism. My guess is, after centuries of cohabitation and intermarriage (or is it interfornication?), the pureblooded Turk or Armenian is a figment of our imagination. So must be, by extension, the concepts of Turkishness and Armenishness.
When You See A Bad Man
In an Armenian-Turkish discussion forum on the Internet, a Turkish writer has posted an article in which he quotes several foreign and ostensibly objective observers to prove that Armenians are no better than the worst scum on earth, thus implying that if [that "if" must be emphasized] if the Turks did what they are accused of having done to the Armenians, they did the world a favor by cleansing it of such vermin. What seems to escape this particular Turkish patriot's attention is that, if what he says is true, then part of the blame must be shouldered by the Turks themselves because after 600 years of uninterrupted life in the Ottoman Empire, Armenians must be seen as products of Ottoman culture.
Question: What was it that made the Turks wait for 600 years to do what must be done? Compassion? Next question: Has anyone ever advanced the theory that compassion has been a central concern of the Ottoman Empire, or for that matter, of any other empire, especially at a time when its own survival was at stake?
This Turkish writer forgets that until the turn of the last century Armenians were known as "the most loyal [and therefore the most desirable and useful] millet" within the Ottoman Empire. It is only when the Empire began to disintegrate and every national group claimed its place in the sun that Armenians became the worst scum on earth. In other words, the reason why Armenians were targeted for extermination was not their moral turpitude or defective DNA but the most human and universal desire of all: that of self-determination. But again, it should be emphasized that most Armenians, very much like most Turks, lacked political awareness. The troublemakers were as non-representative of the nation as a whole as was the Young Turks' ephemeral regime.
The world will be a better place on the day we all stop projecting our worst instincts on an alien group and start examining our own conscience. There is an old saying: "When you see a good man, emulate him. When you see a bad man, examine your own heart."
On A Common Fallacy
Politicians operate like lawyers: it is their job to defend their side at any cost even if their side or client happens to be a serial killer. To this day Talaat, Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler have their friends in the same way that Lincoln, FDR, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King have their enemies.
Most political controversies are based on the assumption "our side speaks the truth, the other side lies." Translated into dollars and cents, this simply means: my self-interest matters more than your self-interest. Whenever I read an opinion or commentary that assumes this fallacy to be a self-evident truth, I know I am dealing with a dupe and a moral moron.
We all know there is a difference between self-interest and self-sacrifice. We look up to heroes and martyrs and down on charlatans and swindlers. A politician is more akin to a charlatan than to an honest man, and propaganda works because there is a swindler in all of us.
The Voice Of Wisdom
Georges Braque: "Art disturbs, science reassures."
Choderlos de Laclos: "Crooks have virtues as honest men have weaknesses."
André Gide: "The appetite for knowledge is born in doubt. Stop believing and start learning."
Claude Lévi-Strauss: "Wisdom consists not in providing true answer but in asking the right questions."
The Black And The Yellow
Time is the greatest magician. It turns black to white, and night to day; it exposes crooks and does away with the obnoxious effortlessly, all the while remaining invisible. Writing history is trying to understand and explain the incomprehensible tricks of this magician knowing full well that one's efforts are doomed to failure. That is why historians from Herodotus to Toynbee have been accused of lies and charlatanism. And speaking of black and charlatanism: there is a Canadian by the name of Black, Conrad Black, who had everything any man ever desired -wealth, power, intellect, looks, and an attractive, young, and smart wife (both Lord and Lady Black are prolific writers) who now stands accused of crimes that could land him in prison for 101 years. And then there is Bush whose understanding of history never went beyond Hollywood westerns -- a good guy on a white horse liberating Dodge City from the nefarious grip of a bad guy and his gang of cutthroats. With one difference: unlike Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, and Alan Ladd, this particular Texan never planned to confront the bad guy himself at high noon or at any other time of day or night. He was going to let others do the killing, dying, maiming and being maimed. He may think of himself as the leader of the mightiest empire in the world but he is neither Caesar nor Alexander the Great or Napoleon. Even Hitler had more first-hand experience of war than he.
The easiest thing in the world, to solve someone else's problems; the hardest, to solve one's own.
"Don't trust anyone over thirty." Wrong. Don't trust anyone with power, even if he is in his teens or twenties; or anyone without power whose ambition is to become powerful. In short: don't trust anyone. I remember, the first thing I did when I acquired some power was to abuse it. My power was mostly in my imagination and the abuse was as severe as a harmless practical joke. But the fact remains that I abused it as naturally and as thoughtlessly as I breathe or sneeze. Which is why I don't trust anyone with power, or "the insolence of office," as the Prince of Denmark (who ought to know) puts it. I have yet to meet a partisan or panchoonie, a bishop or archbishop, who did not abuse his power whenever he thought he could get away with it. Power corrupts because it promotes abuse, and no one is as severely and promptly punished as he who takes it upon himself to expose the abuse.
Cain killed Abel not because he was a born killer but because he had the power and the opportunity. To say that empire builders like Alexander the Great, Caesar, and Napoleon were better than Cain is an illusion advanced by militarist historians -- the very same militarists who supported the likes of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao who killed more innocent people than a thousand serial killers.
Where men are in power, women will be abused. But not just women. It was G.B. Shaw who once observed that an upper-class lady spends enough money on her clothes and jewelry to feed a thousand hungry children a year.
People mourn when solders die. They should mourn on the day war is declared.
Marcel Proust: "Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind." Maybe so, but so far, all grief seems to have done for us is develop our ability to sell Oriental rugs. To those who object and say, there are at least a thousand Armenian academics in America alone, I say: most of these academics are alienated Armenians and have not written a single line on Armenians; the rest are mostly genocide pundits and they go about their business the way Oriental rug dealers do.
Men And Apes
The status quo will always have its supporters. Even criminal regimes had their rostrum of friends, among them famous writers, composers, scientists, conductors, and Nobel Prize winners. And where there are great men who support a regime for their own reasons, there will also be an abundance of mediocrities and dupes who will support it because better men than themselves do so.
In my anti-Soviet days this type of ape in human form would write me angry letters saying, "Do you think you are smarter than Saroyan?"
What happened to these famous men who supported Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini? Some committed suicide, others like Ezra Pound were declared insane and spent a number of years in an asylum, a few wrote books admitting their mistakes. It is said that when asked about Jesus, the dying Pilate replied: "I don't remember anyone by that name."
The human brain is a marvelous, not to say miraculous, tool a thousand times smarter than the smartest computer. Learn to use it. And if you have your own, why rely on someone else's? To put it more bluntly, if you are a man, why behave like an ape?
Before you contradict me, I beg you to reflect for ten minutes. Because everything I say is a result of at least twenty and sometimes thirty years of experience, study, and reflection.
I don't mind admitting that I have been wrong so many times in the past that I wouldn't be surprised in the least if someone were to prove me wrong not just on this or that specific point but on everything. I say this because just when I think I have committed every conceivable blunder I commit a new one. But the blunder that I keep committing again and again is trying to reason with fellow Armenians who know better. For I have yet to meet an Armenian who did not know better.
Socrates never said "I know better." What he said was "The only thing I know is that I don't know." What would happen to Socrates in New York, Moscow, or Toronto today? He would be ignored as a harmless and unemployable misfit, eventually acquire the status of a homeless street person, and die of exposure. There are better ways of getting rid of a nuisance than a public trial and the administration of hemlock, both of which cost money.
Nobody takes philosophy seriously these days; and yet, everyone has a philosophy, even when it happens to be a cliché. "Live and let live, that's my philosophy," they say; or "You only live once." These "philosophers" never ask whether or not they deserve to live at all.
The hardest thing to explain to an Armenian is that divisiveness, corruption, and incompetence are a far greater threat to our survival today than Turks were a hundred years ago. And yet, what we get from our Turcocentric pundits and media is endless talk of past atrocities. After which they accuse me of being negative.
I have at no time questioned the good intentions of our revolutionaries. What I have been doing is reminding them that hell is paved with good intentions.
In an intolerant environment, even an often-repeated cliché can make one an enemy of the people.
What could be more cowardly than fear of clichés?
No writer has ever silenced a politician. Censorship has always been a one-way street.
On Serial Killers
Serial killers operate on the assumption that truth is as easily killed as defenseless civilians.
Organized religions are the best proof of the fact that an answer, any answer, even the wrong one, is better than no answer. The same applies to ideologies when they are confused with theology.
One of our ideologies stands for independence and freedom. But how independent and free can they ever be if they live in fear of free speech?
There are more Armenians today who don't identify themselves as Armenians than Armenians of the opposite disposition.
Francis Ponge: "It is by his death that a man proves he deserved to live."
Jean Cocteau: "The future belongs to no one. There are no precursors, only retards."
Julius Caesar: "I'd rather be first in this village than second in Rome."
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: "The most important prediction we can make is that we cannot predict everything."
If I understand them correctly, they are the kind of people who feel more at home in the company of calculating machines and number rather than human beings and ideas.
As For Bosses
Given the choice between yes-men or conformists and people who think for themselves, they will invariably choose conformists. The ability to conform is a talent, like any other, and I don't mind admitting, I have none of it.
Pearls Before Swine
Jean Giroudoux: "Plagiarism is at the root of all literatures, except the first which is unknown."
Henri Michaux: "Anyone who does not contribute to my perfection: zero."
Variations On A Familiar Theme
James Thurber: "You can fool too many of the people too much of the time."
Jean Cocteau: "There is an ape and a parrot in all of us."
A headline in our paper today reads: "Japan denies its wartime atrocities." Sounds familiar? In the article that follows we are informed that during World War II, Korean and Chinese girls as young as 14 were kidnapped by Japanese soldiers to work as sex slaves or "comfort women." Rings a bell?
My mother is fond of saying, "Even if guilt were made of the most expensive fur, no one would want to wear it."
Control the flow of information and you control knowledge. Control knowledge and you shape the human mind. Where there is censorship there will be dupes.
In a totalitarian state people have as much freedom of thought as caged animals in a zoo, with one difference: the animals can see their iron bars.
The less you know, the more easily you are hoodwinked, flimflammed, and bamboozled. The ideal dupe is a total ignoramus.
A jury of his peers has found Vice-President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff guilty of lying to the authorities. Nothing new in that. Vice presidents lie, presidents lie, the press lies, everybody lies. We deceive not only others but also ourselves. All power (political as well as religious) is based on a big lie. Nothing can be more naïve than to divide mankind into two and say, "Their side lies, ours does not."
We all have a dominant idea that colors and orients our thinking. Mine is self-deception - or the infinite strategies we adopt in order to appear better than we are. The big lie in political leadership is that the men at the top know better what's good for the people; and when they declare war and lose it, they blame it on others. Hitler blamed the loss of World War I on Jews, and the loss of World War II on his fellow Germans, because, he said, they had failed to live up to his vision. To this day Stalinists blame the collapse of the Soviet Union on dissidents like Solzhenitsyn. And we blame our genocide on the barbarism of the Turks, most of whom (very much like Sultan Abdulhamid II and Talaat) may have been part Armenian.
In everything that is said, a great deal remains unsaid.
A good answer is one that leads to at least two new questions.
Alain: "To think is to say no." (It follows; to say yes is to allow others to do your thinking for you.)
Julien Green: "The oppressed console themselves by believing to be morally superior to their oppressors."
Henry de Montherlant: "In man, it is the butterfly that turns into a worm."
In an undemocratic or pseudo-democratic state or community, the people are like fish in a tank: they think they are free because they can't see the walls. Freedom, real freedom, is not to do this, that, or the other. Freedom means participation in power.
Balzac: "There are two kinds of fools: speaking fools, and silent fools. The silent are more tolerable."
George Braque: "Truth exists. One can invent only lies."
For a long time I thought Armenians were incapable of committing certain acts because they were more civilized than Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Muslims in general, Gypsies, Jews, Japs, Greeks, Germans, Americans, Russians.in short, the rest of the world. I know now that we all swim in the same soup. We are what the world made us and the world is not a nice place inhabited by nice folk. And whenever I hear a Turk saying, when others speak about them they lie, and when they speak about themselves they speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I know I am in the presence of someone who knows little about the world and even less about himself and his fellow men.
In a court of law, when a witness is caught in a lie, his entire testimony becomes suspect even if there is evidence to suggest he speaks the truth. Which is why when someone makes an absurd assertion, as I did about Armenians when I was a dupe, forever after what he says is tainted the way a perjurious witness's testimony is.
It is a sure symptom of immaturity and insecurity to identify oneself with a group, be it a political party, a tribe, a nation, a race or religion. No one can speak for another or explain why he behaved as he did. When Freud, Adler, and Jung analyzed the human psyche, they began with their own: the first emphasized sex, the second power, and the third myths and archetypes. In other words, each saw only a fraction of the whole. Who was right and who wrong? They may have been right as far as the fraction goes, but wrong about the whole; thus proving that the human mind is better at dealing with fractions. But "a fraction of the truth," is how propaganda is defined. The question we should ask at this point is: when one is wrong about oneself, can he be right about anyone else?
FROM MY NOTEBOOKS
Sometimes when one is right on one level one may be wrong on another. Life or reality is more accommodating to contradictions than logic and the human mind.
When two versions of the past are in conflict, it is self-serving to believe the version that is more flattering to our ego.
Another way to define a coward: "One who prefers propaganda to truth."
One of the easiest things in life is to confuse what we should think and feel with what we really think and feel.
The world is full of disappointed people because they trusted their friends and mistrusted their enemies.
There is such a thing as being too self-righteous to be right.
To the oversensitive person, every encounter with reality can be a traumatic experience.
Whenever I take myself too seriously someone is sure to call me an idiot."
Valéry Larbaud: "Affairs begin in champagne and end in chamomile."
Eugene Goodheart: "The cure for loneliness is solitude."
Anatole France: "Without irony, the world would be like a forest without birds."
WHEN GOOD PEOPLE BEHAVE BADLY
Some of my Turkish friends are outraged that their fellow countrymen stand accused of having committed unspeakable acts against innocent and unarmed civilians. To them I say, don't take it so hard. Some of the most civilized people on earth - from Golden-Age Greeks (5th-century BC) and more recently to Germans - have been guilty of such acts. Most Turks may indeed be decent folk but that doesn't and cannot alter the fact that raising and running an empire has at no time been an activity compatible with decency.
Remember, even Mahatma Gandhi at one point called British rule in India "satanic," and satanic is how the powerful appear to the powerless. As for the powerless themselves: on the day the British quit India, millions of innocent Hindus were massacred by Muslims, and vice versa. Which may suggest that if you give power to the powerless, they too will commit satanic acts; which is also why I have consistently maintained that if the Ottoman Empire had been an Armenian Empire, and the Turks had been a minority within that empire, the chances are we would have done to them what they did to us. Man is not only capable of behaving like a predatory beast in the jungle, but also doing so in the name of a loving, merciful, and compassionate god. Figure that one out if you can.
THE DEMANDS OF PATRIOTISM
It is an unfortunate fact that the demands made on all of us by patriotism are stronger than the demands of truth, perhaps because all state-sponsored educational systems emphasize god and country at the expense of objectivity and honesty.
Once upon a time I too was infatuated with my own ignorance. So much so that, whenever I consider my past convictions, I feel like digging a hole and burying myself in it.
Some of my Turkish friends are disappointed in me because I refuse to accept the fact that the Genocide is a figment of our collective imagination. Because I have been critical of our political leadership, these Turkish friends assume I am the kind of Turcophile who thinks, as admirable specimens of humanity, Turks can do no wrong and are therefore as white as the driven snow.
I may question everything our side says but I have no reason whatever to question the testimony of such pro-Turkish historians as Lord Kinross, Bernard Lewis, and Arnold Toynbee (among many others) - and I don't mean the young Toynbee who began his career as a bureaucrat in the belly of the British imperial machine, but the mature Toynbee who acquired Turkish friends, studied the Turkish language, and concluded that Armenian territorial demands at the turn of the last century had been totally unjustified. Even so he at no time questioned or doubted the reality of the Genocide and the ruthless brutality with which it was carried out.
ONCE MORE ON IDENTITY
Identity is one of those concepts about which you can say anything you want and get away with it provided you preach to the converted. Speaking for myself, I see my identity as a burden, or the final stage of a succession of defeats, tragedies, degradation, lies, blunders, and above all, futile efforts to misrepresent them as triumphs of endurance, nobility, perseverance, strength, dedication to principles.in short, not defeats but moral victories. If true, we should be grateful to our enemies, because if it weren't for them, we wouldn't have become the paragons of virtue we pretend to be.
The very same people who at the turn of the last century believed if we rise against the Turks we will be rewarded, now believe if we corner them into pleading guilty to the charge of genocide we will ditto. Even when some dreams turn into nightmares, daydreamers will continue to engage in self-deception.
There are those who don't like me.
I don't understand them.
Others like me.
I understand them even less.
He lived in fear of death all his life and as he was dying he thought living had been infinitely harder.
EXPLAINING THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE
For 600 years Armenians and Turks lived side by side in the same country, breathed the same air, ate the same food, and spoke the same language, with only one difference: Turks did these things as masters and Armenians as slaves. For 600 years Turks had their way with us, so much so that they think they can now convince us to believe the Genocide is a figment of our imagination.
Turks cannot understand Armenians because they continue to think as masters and they expect Armenians to behave as slaves.
Being subservient to Turks for 600 years! I cannot imagine a worse nightmare, except perhaps being subservient to Armenians for 6 minutes. That's because it is one thing to be slaves to masters and another to be slaves to former slaves.
Turks may begin to understand Armenians only if they imagine themselves to have been subservient to Armenians for 600 years, for which they may need an imagination of Shakespearian cast.
As masters, Turks think it is not up to slaves to question their conduct or integrity. So that if the master rapes and murders one of his slaves and afterwards asserts the slave died of natural causes, the surviving slaves in his household have no choice but to corroborate his testimony. Not to do so would amount to mutiny and a capital offense. Hence, Hrant Dink's execution.
After the Will of Allah comes the will of the master. And the Will of Allah is to the master what the will of the master is to the slave.
To convince Turks they are guilty of genocide is as hard as convincing a Stalinist (and our chic Bolsheviks) to believe Stalin was wrong and his innocent victims (all 25 million of them, give and take a million or two) were right; or to convince a jihadist to believe that he is on the wrong warpath.
As far as the average Turk goes, the Ottoman Empire is not dead but very much alive - if only in his own heart; in the same way that in the heart of every good Christian Jesus not only lives but also saves.
If you want to know more about masters and slaves, Hegel is your man. As far as I know Hegel did not write a single line about Turks and Armenians but he had a great deal to say about masters and slaves, and what he had to say is just about the best thing I have read about Turks and Armenians.
What can I tell you that you don't already know or suspect but pretend otherwise? What can I add to what far better men than myself have already said?
When asked if I dislike Armenians, I reply that I don't know all of them. If I give the impression that I don't particularly care for them it may be because I have never cared for dupes who pretend to be smart, or for charlatans who will say and do anything for minimum wage (which happen to be two of my own youthful transgressions). When it comes to judging my fellow countrymen, I rely more on the judgment of our writers as opposed to pseudo-pundits, speechifiers, and sermonizers whose aim is not to speak the truth as they see it but to flatter their audience on whose goodwill and financial support they depend -- and as everyone knows by now, brown-nosing pays and criticism leads to the poorhouse.
When I speak of writers, I don't mean poets who sang the eternal snows of Mount Ararat and our "sun-flavored words," but writers, who unlike me, lived among Armenians all their lives and wrote about and for them in Armenian. By contrast I live in the middle of nowhere, write in English, and I don't go out of my way to meet them.
When I read writers like Baronian, Odian, Massikian, Shahnour, and Zarian (especially the Zarian of the posthumously published diaries and notebooks) I cannot help thinking, yes, we have somehow managed to survive, but to what end? -besides lamenting our dead and bragging about our survival? (Do you see the shadow of a contradiction there somewhere?)
About our survival: Should we ascribe it to our courage, initiative, solidarity (what solidarity?) adaptability, obstinacy, intelligence (don't make me laugh!) and other positive factors, or to Turkish inefficiency?
We live in a world where there are many more answers than questions, even if most of the answers are wrong. Consider the answers provided by religious and political leaders as a case in point. As for answers provided by science: even when the right answers are available, some people (like flat-earth theorists and astrology buffs) will prefer to believe in the wrong ones.
FROM MY NOTEBOOKS
To speak of Genocide recognition as frequently, obsessively, and endlessly as we do is to imply that during more than two thousand years of history our most noteworthy achievement has been allowing ourselves to be butchered like sheep.
Claude Bernard: "No one has contributed more to science than frogs."
In biographies of writers, the sentence that sooner or later pops up is "he read everything he could get his hands on."
Major decisions are based on countless little ones that make the major ones inevitable.
If you plan to make an omelet, break eggs not windows and heads.
Alain: "It is said that the next generations will be harder to govern. I certainly hope so."
Mathurin Regnier: "A wealthy villain is worth more than a poor gentleman."
I question the validity of all my past beliefs and no doubt in the future I will question the validity of my present beliefs of which I have none.
Bertolt Brecht: "I don't trust him. We are friends."
DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES
Maurice Barres: ".the magnificent self-assurance of imbeciles."
You can see the mountaintop from the valley, but the higher you climb and the closer you get to it, the less visible it becomes. After a while you may even be justified in suspecting it was a mirage. Something similar may happen to our ambitions.
Childhood dreams have a tendency to become the nightmares of old age. Had I been a carpenter or bus driver I would have been more useful to my fellow men. Take it from me: if your ambition is to be a writer, I suggest you write to entertain. The masses want to be amused not to be reminded of their moral and intellectual bankruptcy.
Tell a self-assessed smart man he is no better than a dupe and make an enemy for life.
The author of a book, titled THE END OF DETROIT, on the radio this morning referred to recent development in the American auto industry as an "existential crisis." There was a time when no self-respecting American pundit would have dared to use the word existential in a serious context. It took fifty years for the academics to catch up. What is the difference between a crisis and an existential crisis? Nothing. But the qualifier existential seems to lend the word crisis an authority it doesn't have on its own.
Don't expect reality to catch up with you. It is you who must do the catching up.
Marquis de Sade: "More often than not charity is a vice of pride rather than a virtue of the soul."
THE UNSPEAKABLE AND THE UNEATABLE
Asked by NEWSWEEK magazine what he wants to do with the rest of his life, playwright and actor Eric Bogosian replied: "Learn to speak Armenian."
I know some highly educated and smart Armenians who neither read nor speak Armenian; and what is even more to the point, they have no interest in learning the language.
In his LIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE REALM OF VANISHING CULTURES, Wade Davis writes: "The ultimate tragedy is not that archaic societies are disappearing, but rather that vibrant, dynamic living cultures and languages are being forced out of existence." He could have added: ".and this with the full consent and cooperation of their political and intellectual leadership." And why? Because their central concern is not identity and culture but Turks. They remind me of Oscar Wilde's definition of foxhunters: "The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable."
When it comes to their mother tongue, I wouldn't be surprised if there are more Armenian functional illiterates than Turks.
Ernest Renan: "Elections promote charlatanism."
Lautreamont: "An elephant allows itself to be caressed, but not a louse."
Blaise Cendrars: "I dip my pen not in ink but in life."
Victor Hugo: "Friend can be a word devoid of all meaning, enemy never!"
Joseph Joubert: "To teach is to learn twice."
Simone de Beauvoir: "What is an adult if not a child swollen with age."
MORE ON FASCISM
Francois René de Chateaubriand: "I make visible that which is hidden in history."
Some readers complain that I don't always reply to my critics. In my defense I will say that I have at no time knowingly ignored anyone willing to reason with me. As for the others: please ascribe my silence not to arrogance or indifference but to my sense of inadequacy. I do not feel equipped to deal with anonymous and faceless readers who don't simply state their disagreement, which would be their privilege to do, but engage in verbal abuse and Internet hooliganism; and they expect me to rise to the occasion by going down into the gutter with them where they obviously feel at home and will thus be at an advantage. I don't know how to deal with the type of reader who pretends to be better but allows his conduct (vocabulary, style, body language) to prove the exact opposite. What does one say to a reader who pretends to know better but refuses to share his superior wisdom with the rest of us? And by superior wisdom I don't mean recycled clichés and slogans that were instilled in all of us when we were children. What could be more infantile, not to say absurd, than to confuse these clichés and slogans with patriotism? I question the patriotism of anyone who pretends to love his country (its mountains, rivers, lakes, and valleys) but has no respect for the fundamental human rights of his fellow countrymen - rights such as free speech, dissent, and dialogue without which democracy becomes unthinkable. Annoyed with all my talk of democracy, an angry reader once demanded to know: "Democracy? What good is it? Do we really need it?" My answer: Do we have any alternatives, except perhaps Stalinism without Stalin, and Ottomanism without a sultan? What other forms of government have we known?
Georges Bernanos: "The strength and weakness of dictators is rooted in their pact with the despair of the people."
Hitler relied on German defeat of World War I; Bush on 9/11; and our leadership on the Genocide. Hitler committed suicide; Bush is committing slow-motion political suicide; and our leadership.: why is it that whenever the subject of our leadership comes up, I feel an irresistible urge to go down on my knees and pray - pray not for them, but for the people.I almost said, for their victims.
Every day I make a list of my failings to remind myself that I have nothing to brag about.
He knows nothing but pretends to know better: portrait of an Armenian simpleton.
George Sand: "The way to the simple truth is through many complexities."
Excerpts from Skylark Farm by Antonia Arslan
Uncle Sempad is only a legend, for us-but a legend that has made us all cry. He was my grandfather's younger brother, his only uterine brother; their mother, Iskuhi, the little princess, died at nineteen giving birth to him. My great-grandfather then remarried an "evil stepmother," who bore him many other children; my grandfather couldn't stand her, and so, at the age of thirteen, he requested and was granted permission to leave the little city and go to Venice, to study at Moorat-Raphael, the boarding school for Armenian children.
But Uncle Sempad was much sweeter and more easygoing than his brother, and he loved his little city, his lazy, sleepy province, the café chats with his friends, the fierce games of backgammon, the hunting. He went off to Constantinople to become a pharmacist, but always knew he would return home. At the university, he read the papers, joined a political party, dreamed like others of the rebirth of the ancient Armenian homeland, kicked up his heels a little, and kidded himself. Back home, he made his peace with the stepmother, amused himself by coddling his little brothers and pulling his sisters' braids, and began to think of marriage.
Every so often he went riding, with a friend from the Laz country. Together they felt like crusaders and knights, imagined heading off to battle in the direction of the sun, like Alexander, free men with swords at their sides. Goodbye to exhausting negotiations for every permission, to imperial bureaucracy, to the necessarily servile deference of the Armenian, of the merchant, of those who make requests that are easily denied and have no weapon but the vassal's tricks. And yet: to be riding toward the East, the conquered, but to be men of the West, the conquering. To speak French, to subscribe to the Revue des deux mondes, to visit Paris . . .
They often spoke of Paris, or of Italy, a friendly country, where Yerwant was making his fortune. But Sempad had no desire, his promises notwithstanding, to go visit his brother: he was timid and Eastern. If only his brother would come home, if only he would bring his Frankish* wife with him, and their children Yetwart and Khayël, and introduce them to their family. He had left with honor, and with honor he would be welcomed back. But in his heart of hearts, Sempad feared that this would never happen; Yerwant had gone away for good, and his sons-despite their names-did not speak the ancestral language and had been educated in German or Italian schools. Anatolia, for them, was a far-off fairy tale.
"Perhaps," thought Sempad, "one of my sons will find his way to Yerwant, and perhaps we will all trade this place, a few at a time, for places where we'll no longer be afraid." But he didn't really want that. Many were leaving, it was true. From the most dangerous regions, the boldest youths, the brightest, the most intrepid, those who couldn't bear the strict confines of the Ermeni Millet-the Armenian administrative unit-within the Empire, were flowing out in a continuous stream.
For Europe, for the coveted culture: to become doctors, dentists, architects, poets-or for America, to become utterly new, to forget. His half brother, Rupen, lived in Boston and was quite content. But Sempad, in his simple heart, understood Rupen's solitude and sent him a fine wooden backgammon set, with a decidedly affectionate inscription engraved all around it in Armenian characters, the same set he had at home. He never would have imagined that that set-relic or icon from a terrible shipwreck-would for two of his children be the only sign, aside from a solemn ceremonial photograph, of their father's lively existence.
Sempad loved his pharmacy. He was a slow-moving man, not particularly witty, and profoundly good. As a boy he protected his younger sisters, Veron and Azniv, from their tumultuous, harassing brothers, Rupen and Zareh. And he loved to send telegrams.
"The pharmacist," he used to say, "ought to be equipped to send and receive telegrams. There could be an urgency."
Everyone teased Sempad, both at home and at the pharmacy, for the elaborate way the word urgency rolled off his tongue. How it resounded in his mouth, that Westernism: symptom of progress, symbol of haste, of the shaking off of Eastern indolence.
"People," he used to say, "are not going to put off death so that we can finish our card game. We intellec- tual Armenians need to set an example, of precision, of modernity, of punctuality: for both the average Armenian and the average Turk. Why else did we bother studying?"
But he himself no longer studied anything; he observed the holidays and stroked his mustache-counting his seven children. He barely glanced at the paper with the news from Constantinople, though he was proud that the Armenians up there were beginning to gain respect; some had even become delegates, and Krikor Zohrab, poet and delegate, played tavli-the Turkish version of backgammon-with the supremely powerful minister of the interior, Talat Pasha.
Zohrab's tavli! His friendship with Talat had become, for the gentle, daydreaming Armenian people, an omen of good fortune, a symbol of the new day of prosperity and progress that was about to dawn with the political collaboration between the Young Turks and the Armenian millet. A powerful, disarming symbol: "He goes to his home, he's received like family, they drink tea together." For Sempad, and all the others like him, it was literally inconceivable that a man could deceive-much less kill-someone with whom he drank tea in his own home: a guest!
For Sempad and those like him, worldliness included neither duplicity or deception; it was grounded, rather, in the application of a careful mercantile etiquette of earnings, profits, and losses, calculated generously and with due respect to the community's poor. And moreover, the pharmacist had a moral code to uphold. He was practically a doctor and practically a man of letters: the guardian of health, the keeper of poisons, the bearer of newspapers, the telegram man-a pillar of the community.
Everyone knew that Shushanig, his boisterous and fertile wife, though she professed to have nothing to do with her husband's affairs, happily controlled him down to his last whisker, as the proverb says. And he happily allowed himself to be controlled, even when, with her tacit consent, he ran off in a wretched pair of leather pants with his Lazian friend, rifle over his shoulder, proudly returning with a couple of hares. Sometimes one of his sons accompanied him.
The eldest, the tight-lipped Suren, dreamed of Europe, and was on the verge of departure. But he adored his simple father and had no desire to leave him. His preference would be perversely respected by destiny.
Suren read a lot, and thought a lot. He smelled blood in the air, caught the scent of evil. But who pays attention to a boy of fourteen, who speaks rarely and grudgingly, who cries alone at night, dreaming of a woman's lap, a maternal refuge in which to disappear and hide?
Garo, the second son, also spoke little and thought even less. He acted out of a loving instinct, without reflecting, with a perfect economy of gestures. He could calm any crying, whining, or shrieking baby; his fleeting presence alone lulled and soothed a helpless, insecure community, for which each day might take a bad turn, where the elders tell stories not of witches and ogres but of the slaughters of twenty years before, or ten, counting as a kind of rosary the list of massacred or vanished relatives.
The third son was Leslie the Brit, who was "conceived on a stormy night," according to Sempad; it was "a calm night with a full moon," joked Shushanig. His parents claimed not to know why he had always been called the Brit. "Did the name come first, or the nickname?" their friends would slyly ask, recalling Sempad's epic binge. He was typically a very restrained drinker-at most, alcohol made him a bit sad-but once an American missionary gave the pharmacy a bottle of medicinal Scotch, resulting in Shushanig's being chased around the courtyard and winding up, indecorously, in the henhouse, the outcome being, of course, Leslie.
It was pleasing, that liquid, sibilant, exotic name, written in white letters on the bottle that the contrite parents kept as a souvenir. (An old soldier, a veteran of the Balkan wars, later built a magnificent sailing ship inside it, even providing it with a nostalgic cartouche that recalled Nelson's battles and his own dream of sailing the open seas; but he would be among the first to die, in May 1915, surrounded by his smashed ships.)
The bottle on top of the cupboard-that beautiful Italian walnut that Yerwant sent from Italy on the birth of his first nephew-and Leslie beneath the cupboard. Leslie grew up alone: fought over at first like a doll by his two older brothers, he was quickly forgotten at the birth, ten months later, of a cute, sweet, and very normal baby girl, Aunt Nevart, who would later live in Fresno, who did not care for children. Leslie laughed all the time, asked if he could play with the others, was not offended when the answer was no: he just went under his cupboard, back to his secret lair.
Then the rest: Arussiag, Henriette, and Nubar, two girls and a little boy dressed as a girl. Along with Nevart they are the numb survivors who will, after escaping Aleppo, come to the West. These children now look out at me from a snapshot taken in Aleppo in 1916, one year after their rescue, just before they embarked for Italy: their grave, childish eyes are turned mysteriously inward, opaque and glacial, having accepted-after too many unanswered questions-the blind selection that has allowed them to survive. They are wearing decent orphan clothes, but they seem dressed in uniforms of rags, and at a quick glance the eye sees prison stripes. Their dark Eastern eyes, with their thick brows tracing a single line across their foreheads, repeat four times, wordlessly, the fear of a future that will be inexorable and the hidden nucleus of a secret guilt.
* From the country of the "Franks"-a typical term for Westerners.
Excerpted from Skylark Farm by Antonia Arslan Copyright © 2007 by Antonia Arslan. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
DEBUNKING MYTHS AND OTHER SCANDALS
What could be more misleading, not to say arrogant, than for political leaders identifying themselves with the nation. They have more reason to identify themselves with the enemy, especially when they promise heaven and deliver hell.
Slaughters don't happen in a vacuum and slaughterhouses don't exist in the middle of nowhere. Where there is a slaughterhouse there will also be shepherds leading the sheep to butchers.
Political leaders add insult to injury when they have the temerity to say we should judge them by their intentions, even when their intentions were based on lies and illusions, the biggest lie being that they deserve our trust because they know better what's good for us.
Inside every whore there is a Cinderella whose prince failed to show up. That is a tragedy deserving our sympathy. But the tragedy becomes a farce when this very same whore, now an aged bordello madam, identifies herself as a virgin.
The older I grow the more disappointments I accumulate. For a long time I believed experience combined with the wisdom of old age would make life less unbearable. I couldn't have been more wrong. Almost every word I read these days, except "the" and "a," has an unpleasant association.
Speechifiers and sermonizers speak of certainties. My own certainties -assuming I have any - are buried beneath so many layers of doubts and questions that they might as well be beyond reach. Which is why I will never speechify or sermonize.
The best way to understand others is to examine one's own heart, which is something self-assessed admirable specimens of humanity are incapable of doing.
No one can be as ruthless and wrong as he who places his own narrow self-interests above the interests of his fellow men. Aberrations from massacres to verbal abuse stem from this egocentric view of life.
One good thing about the verbal abuse of imbeciles is that they all sound alike, so that after reading the first line or even word I don't feel the need to read the rest.
How to reduce a complex issue to a slogan: Turks are bad, Armenians good
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), French composer on the ideal tempo for a song: “If the singer is bad – very fast.”
If the subject is propaganda, reduce a complex issue to a cliché or slogan: Turks are bad, Armenians good. We are smart, progressive, civilized, everybody else is corrupt, backward, dishonest. We do the right thing, none of our enemies and their partisans are equipped to discriminate right from wrong. We touch the top, they scrape the bottom. God is on our side, the devil is on theirs. Heaven is our destination, hell is theirs
What if some of our most cherished certainties are based on a transparent misrepresentation of reality, in the same way that some of the worst crimes against humanity are committed in the name of a god we only pretend to know and understand, but about whom “we know nothing” (Socrates)?
Contradictions and differences of opinion are useful only in a dialogue. Anywhere else they only paralyze the mind and poison the soul.
The stated reason is seldom the real reason. If the stated reason is altruistic, search for the unstated selfish reason.
When two men speaking in the name of god contradict each other, it only means that either one or both are charlatans, liars, and blasphemers with illusions of grandeur.
My intention is not to promote friendship between Turks and Armenians
- I am neither a miracle worker nor a megalomaniac. My daydream, which is 99% illusion and 1% hope, is to promote friendship between Armenian and Armenian. But so far all I have succeeded in doing is provoking contempt, ridicule, sarcasm, intolerance, and insults.
"If you describe someone's conduct," Sartre tells us, "you expose him to himself - he becomes visible to himself." Unless of course he is blind and deaf.
Speaking of dumb and deaf: we have been so catastrophically wrong so often that our aim should no longer be doing the right thing but avoiding apocalyptic blunders.
Whenever I refer to ourselves as perennial losers, I am reminded of our victory in Karabagh. Consider the Israelis who have won five wars against the Arabs, and so far all they have succeeded in doing is plant the seeds of future conflicts.
Since they bowed their heads and resigned to their status as underdogs for five thousand years, the Jews find it difficult to understand why Palestinians don't follow their example. Like the Jews, we too bowed our heads to a long line of conquerors. It doesn't necessarily follow that the Azeris will do likewise. Now then, go ahead and brag about our victory in Karabagh.
Projection is a misleading tool of understanding because it fails to take into consideration the otherness of others.
Life advances on an infinite number of lines some of which are invisible to the eye of our awareness. To say "I never had it so good" is to make yourself vulnerable to the sudden and unpredictable blows of fate; or as the old saying has it: "When the house is finished, death enters."
"My son is an avid reader," the letter says, "and he loves to write. I enclose one of his stories. Do you think I should encourage him to be a writer?"
I have committed many blunders in my life and I plead guilty to many more transgressions, except that of encouraging others to follow in my footsteps. Literature is neither a job nor a career. Literature is a destiny, and in our context, a curse. You don't choose it. It chooses you. If you think you have a choice, avoid it by all means. There is more dignity in being a plumber than a writer. Society needs plumbers, lawyers, cops, nurses, bus drivers, and garbage collectors. Have you ever heard anyone say he needs a new writer? Have you ever met anyone who has read all of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, or Shakespeare and Mann? There are already many more unread books and writers than read ones.
It has been said that one of the functions of literature is to make order out of chaos. Myths, ideologies, and religions pretend to do that and the result is around us. A phony order cannot tame a real chaos. The law of the jungle is no law. What's the alternative? Whatever it is, it should not be belief in falsehoods, illusions, lies, and misrepresentations, that is to say, propaganda.
Freedom does not mean to do this, that, or the other. Ants are free to move in all directions on the sidewalk but as long as they cannot support the passing of a law that prohibits men from stepping on them they cannot be said to be free.
Freedom means participation in power. Freedom means to do what must be done and what needs to be done. The powerless are not and cannot be free. To be a voice in the wilderness is not free speech. To make or not to make a financial contribution to this or that cause is not freedom. To say our Sovietized leaders in the Homeland will see the light, reform and do the right thing in two or three generations is to accept subservience as an inevitable fact of life, which is exactly what we were brainwashed to think under the Ottomans and more recently under the Soviets.
Under the Soviets our pundits in the Homeland were led to believe writing against the evils of capitalism and bourgeois nationalism (i.e. Tashnaks) was exercising their free speech. Our pundits in the Diaspora today are convinced they are exercising their free speech if they write against the Turks. But that's not free speech; that's not even writing. It's more akin to an exercise in masochism, lamentation, regurgitated propaganda, and mental masturbation.
Some of my readers don't trust my judgment because they prefer to trust the judgment of their schoolteachers or nationalist historians, all of whom come with a political or ideological baggage, and they are as objective in their judgments and as trustworthy as their Turkish counterparts.
We confront today a veritable encyclopedia of problems. The only reason our pundits focus on a single entry under the letter "G" is that the roots of all the other problems from A to Z may have to be traced on the incompetence and corruption of our own leadership, and that makes them taboo subjects of discussion and analysis.
Ignorance I am willing to forgive because I was ignorant most of my life and I still am of many things. Arrogance I also understand because I too used to take it for granted that I occupied a central position in the universe. What I find unbearable is a combination of both in white trash parading as members of a political elite qualified to be leaders of men.
I am not in the least surprised to read the following passage in Antonina Vallentin: "A student of psychiatry found that politics offered a larger field of observation than any clinic for mental disease."
"Israel cannot bomb its way to peace in the Mideast." Thus reads the headline of a commentary in our local paper today. Its author, a Muslim pundit by the name of Mohamed Elmasry, who no doubt operates on the assumption that he is fully qualified to enlighten infidels by recycling Muslim propaganda. I should like to see pundits like him write commentaries with headlines to the effect that Muslims cannot terrorize their way into reviving their Medieval Empire.
Why write if you cannot say the unsaid?
The aim of all power structures is the systematic moronization of the masses.
It is easier for a child to uproot a sequoia than for a thousand wise men to uproot a prejudice.
Prejudices are popular because they support a worldview that combines self-interest with self-sacrifice - the self-interest of the few and the self-sacrifice of the many.
Why pretend to be smarter than you are if in the process you make yourself vulnerable to the charge of dishonesty? No one expects you to be smarter than you are; but everyone expects you to be honest.
Roland Barthes: "The function of a writer is to purify things of the unwarranted meanings which men ceaselessly deposit upon them."
When someone tells me what I was told as a child, I feel justified in suspecting that he has not done much thinking for himself because he is too infatuated with his own infallibility.
The only thing we have learned from being the first nation to convert to Christianity is to brag about it.
The only thing we have learned from our genocide is to produce, support, and promote genocide pundits who write books and commentaries demanding an apology and reparations from the perpetrators -- the implication being, all our major problems are in the past, we are now in good hands, and we have nothing to worry about because we never had it so good.
The only thing we have learned from our blunders is to say we are no different from the rest of mankind.
There is no merit in being like everyone else. Neither is there any merit in allowing ourselves to be victimized. As for bragging about our conversion to Christianity: we ought to know by now that to convert to Christianity is easy; what's hard is being good Christians. Which leads me to conclude that since we have nothing to brag about we brag about nothing.
Speaking about our blunders: perhaps one of the greatest is the systematic moronization of the masses by our sermonizers, speechifiers, and pundits.
WHAT I KNOW ABOUT FASCISTS
Under fascism to call a spade a spade and to suggest that two plus two make four may be construed as dissent, that is to say, a capital offense.
Under fascism the only way to play it safe is to say what they want to hear and to pretend they know better what's good for you even if they know nothing about you and they care even less.
Fascists will identify you as an enemy not because you are wrong and they are right, but because you dared to disagree with them.
Under fascism if you refuse to be systematically moronized you will be called an enemy of the people by enemies of the nation.
Fascists preach patriotism, practice the destruction of the nation, after which they blame the rest of mankind.
And now a question: knowing what I know about fascists, if you had a choice between living in a fascist Armenia and a democratic Turkey, where would you live?
I am willing to concede that people like me improve nothing. But sometimes I am tempted to believe that they may make a tiny -- even if tiny to the point of being invisible -- contribution towards preventing things from getting worse.
If I were to name the three most incomprehensible things in the world they would be
(one) why things exist;
(two) why propaganda works; and
(three) why do we obstinately refuse to see any inconsistency in preaching Armenianism and practicing Ottomanism.
A systematically moronized generation will moronized the next generation with a clear conscience and total unawareness of what it is doing.
Russian proverb: "Right is on the side of those who have more rights."
Extremism: a frequently used word these days and to me one of the most annoying, not only for what it stands, which is repulsive enough, but also for what it looks like - excrementalism.
"Consciousness cannot go through the same state twice," Bergson tells us. It follows, to say "I haven't changed my mind" is to admit that I am not in the habit of allowing my consciousness to make a contribution to my thinking, which is a contradiction because objective judgment and logic are operations of the conscious mind.
"Loving a human being amounts to killing all others," Camus writes in his NOTEBOOKS. Patriotism may not amount in killing or hating all other nations, but it makes us less receptive to their humanity.
An Armenian who dares to think for himself will make many enemies and very few friends. The same could be said of Turks and in general of all people who view tolerance as a state of mind that may lead to treason.
On the day, they teach themselves to say "I could be wrong," I will be out of business
Because the Armenian is a bundle of contradictions, Neshan Beshigtashlian once described him as an enigma that resists all solutions. If true, one of these contradictions must be that he thinks he is smart and behaves like a fool.
Because I am for solidarity I have become an enemy;
and because they divide the community they are patriotic activists.
Because I expose the dangers of intolerance and tribalism I am accused of repeating myself, and because they keep preaching dogmas that are of use to no one but themselves, they expect us to believe they are defenders of the faith.
Even as they commit suicide by the death of a thousand cuts they brag about their highly developed instinct of survival.
What have they learned from the Genocide except to hate Turks? And because lying comes naturally to them they say they hate no one, they want only justice; and they love justice so much that anyone who disagrees with them is stigmatized as a pro-Turkish revisionist, that is to say, the lowest form of animal life.
The virtue they value most is unquestioning obedience and loyalty, which is why they consider dogs superior to men. Because they can dish it out but can't take it, they consider dialogue anti-Armenian. Some day the Pope of Rome and his Muslim counterpart in Mecca may engage in dialogue and reach a consensus of sorts, but I doubt if two Armenians who hold opposite views will ever concede that as human beings they could be wrong.
On the day they teach themselves to say "I could be wrong," I will be out of business.
IN THE KINGDOM OF THE DEVIL
In a book from J.S. Bach's library an underlined passage reads: "If you try to help people they will express their gratitude with a kick, after which they will wipe their shoes on you. Before you try to change the world, try to understand that the world is not disposed to accept your suggestions or follow your directives."
What have I accomplished so far? How many minds have I changed? I cannot even identify myself with Sisyphus - he hoisted a rock, it seems all I have been doing is hoisting a feather. My defeats have been many; my victories few and most of them I now suspect may well have been figments of my imagination. The one or two real victories have left a bitter aftertaste. Were they worth the effort? What if the damage I caused was disproportionate to the injustice that was inflicted on me?
I am not made for conflict and I find all conflict distasteful. But what I find even more distasteful, not to say repellent, is to say "Yes, sir" to fools who pretend to know better.
Another passage underlined by Bach reads: "A fool is of no use to himself, and fools are everywhere. We have no choice but to live among them and to work for them. The world as we know it is the devil's kingdom." Further down: "If you expect things to go your way, prepare yourself for disappointment, sadness, and heartache."
What if, when in the Lord's Prayer, we say "Thy kingdom come," we express an awareness of the fact that the kingdom we live is not His but the Devil's? And what if further down when we say "Do not lead us into temptation," we go further and identify Him with the Devil?
Dialogue, Armenian Style
Dialogue, Armenian Style
When an Armenian disagrees with you he is not satisfied with a simple counterargument; he also feels the need to let you know that he wouldn't mind tearing off a piece of flesh from your body. Hence, Zarian's dictum, "Armenians survive by cannibalizing one another."
Let others brag about Armenians being the first nation to convert to Christianity. I prefer to deal with facts even when - especially when -they happen to be against us. Because then and only then may we learn to deal with reality as opposed to voicing chauvinist crapola and recycling such nonsense as "it may take two or three generations for our problems to be solved."
Armenians excel in a certain and rare type of counterargument whose true intent is not to contradict but to be a carcinogenic agent.
All pro-Palestinian arguments recycle mullah propaganda whose most irrefutable tenet is the reward of 78 virgins.
I trust our televangelists more than their mullahs if only because even the most crooked televangelist - and there have been quite a few of them - has never dared to go as far promising a single virgin to sex-starved teenagers.
A self-ASSessed Armenian genius will voice the argument of a certified mongoloid moron and see nothing inconsistent in it.
To be infatuated with one's knowledge is as bad as to be infatuated with one's ignorance. That's because all knowledge is limited but ignorance is without limits, so that at all times and everywhere our ignorance far exceeds our knowledge.
The real god (if there is one) and our conception of him are two different beings that may not even be remotely connected with each other. I would go further and say that one may well be a contradiction of the other in so far as the unknown and unknowable may be said to be a contradiction of a figment of our imagination. When Nietzsche said, "god is dead," he was referring to the figment rather than to the unknowable, about which no man is qualified to speak.
Victims are not the most objective judges of their victimizers.
Turks believe what their historians tell them because they hate the stigma of being identified as bloodthirsty Asiatic savages. Armenians believe what their own historians tell them because they hate to be identified as perennially divided and inept tribal dupes who allowed themselves to be manipulated by the double-talk of foreign politicians. In their efforts to appear better than they are, both Turks and Armenians lie to their own people and are believed because the uneducated and half-educated masses are no match for the cunning and sophistication of the bourgeoisie.
Even in countries where capitalism has buried communism and democracy has buried fascism there are people who miss the good old days when they could slaughter dissidents with impunity. I happen to be aware of their existence because some of them are my most faithful readers. Are they bloodthirsty savages or dupes? I will let you decide.
It has been said, "Academic politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are small." Corollary I: The smaller the stakes, the more vicious the arguments." Corollary II: When nonentities disagree on nothing, the result is bound to be verbal massacre.
In our controversies we are like Oscar Wilde's foxhunters: "The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable."
"Why do you always find fault with us?" a reader demands to know. "Why are you afraid to criticize odars?" Odars interest me only in so far as they make visible that which we pretend not to see in us. And before I undertake the daunting task of collecting the garbage on Main Street, I like to clean up the mess in my own backyard.
Let others preach hatred of the Turk; I prefer to get busy recognizing the Turk within me.
The answer to conventional wisdom is not unconventional stupidity.
It is in their efforts to appear deep that the shallow expose their lack of depth.
Even the most ruthless dictator depends on the subservience of the majority, provided of course the majority remains unaware of this.
My experience with Levantines is that, they think they are ahead of you if they are better at making money. Nothing runs deeper than the contempt of the merchant for the poet. One of our national benefactors is quoted as having said to one of our poets: "I hire and fire people like you every day."
It never fails. Whenever I run out of things to say, one of my gentle readers takes it upon himself to inform me that, compared to our literary giants of the past (there follows a short list of familiar names), I am a hopeless mediocrity that will never amount to anything. Some poets are inspired by beautiful landscapes, sunsets, and faces. I am stimulated by ugly Armenians, and the uglier the Armenian the more intense and long-lasting the stimulation.
Anyone who knows anything about literature also knows that debunking writers is an integral part of literary life. All writers from Plato to Sartre have been debunked not only by faceless and anonymous kibitzers but also by their peers. What has been the damage on their reputation? Nothing, nada, zero, vochinch!
Consider Tolstoy's ferocious demolition job on Shakespeare, Turgenev's on Dostoevsky (and vice versa) Nabokov's on Thomas Mann, Faulkner, and Sartre, Canetti's on T.S. Eliot; and closer to home, Zarian's on Charents, and Oshagan's on Zarian. Solzhenitsyn himself has been referred to as a "hooligan," a "nitwit," and a "goddamn horse's ass" - for more choice abusive terms, see David Remnick's REPORTING: WRITINGS FROM THE NEW YORKER (New York, 2006).
But all that is irrelevant, because my intention here is not to produce great literature but to be an honest and objective witness. I don't ask for anyone's admiration. As for trust, I am fully aware of the fact that I shall never have the trust of our commissars and all their crypto- and neo- variants, the very same species that betrayed, exiled, starved, and sometimes even tortured and shot the very same literary giants they now pretend to admire. Why should I be surprised if in their eyes I am the lowest form of animal life? I wear their venom as a badge of honor.
Men have invented many strategies to avoid facing facts, especially when the facts are against them. When I was subservient, I called it respect for authority; and when they massacre, they say they are following orders.
If you make it your business to expose crooks and liars, liars and crooks will conspire against you, and by the time they are through, you will be the liar, the crook, and the pervert.
An honest man is a permanent insult to deceivers.
Because we come from a long line of victims, we hate to lose the opportunity of victimizing others, even when they happen to be the weakest and most defenseless among us; and who could be weaker and more defenseless than a minor scribbler who is foolish enough not to learn from history by resigning himself to the fact that Armenians may praise dead writers but they don't give a damn about living ones; they may even think a writer becomes a writer only after he is dead and buried -- preferably in the hands of a foreign butcher like Talaat or Stalin.
Because czarist Russia persecuted its great writer it dug its own grave; and because Bolshevik Russia did the same, it was consigned to the dustbin of history. Writers are like canaries in a mine. We ignore their fate at our peril.
Do you know what's the most widely held view of Armenians by Armenians? Sure you do. But in case you have forgotten, allow me to remind you: "Mart bidi ch'ellank!" Freely translated: We will never acquire the status of human beings. Or, we may survive as Americans, Russians, perhaps even as Turks, but as Armenians we might as well be sub humans on our way to the devil.
It has been said that the best way to get rid of a fellow is to tell him something for his own good.
The goal of education is to make you a better person not a wealthier man. Tell that to our Levantine academics.
An Armenian who doesn't know what he is talking about will assume you know even less.
My aim is not to be original or to advance new theories, but to paraphrase and emphasize views that were formulated long before I was born not only by odar writers but also our own. But since in the eyes of our anti-intellectual philistines literature is a worthless commodity, it follows writers are nobodies whose sole aim in life is to make nuisances of themselves.
I look forward to the day when I will see the light and fall silent. In the meantime I console myself by wondering how many leopard spots did Shakespeare change?
After writing an unreadable book one of our Levantine wheeler-dealers wanted to know all about copyright laws. He didn't want anyone stealing from the fruits of his intellectual labor, he explained; and he didn't believe me when I told him he had nothing to worry about on that score.
Being on the side of the victim and against his victimizer is easy. What’s hard is to determine who’s who. Israel today is surrounded by two hundred million hostile Arabs and many more anti-Semites around the world who would like to see it bite the dust. If you add to that their status as perennial victims throughout their millennial existence, you may have to admit that the line between victim and victimizer is blurred.
Something similar may be said about Turks and us. In 1915 Turks saw themselves as victims and Armenians, together with Russians, Greeks, Kurds, Brits, and Australians, among others, as their victimizers.
In my efforts to explain the Genocide am I justifying it? No. What I am doing is trying to understand it without resorting to the crude clichés and simplistic slogans of our nationalist historians and propagandists.
Speaking of nationalist historians: another factor that complicates matters is that in a political context victims are almost always double victims, as we were in 1915 and as Palestinians are today – namely, victims of their enemies as well as victims of their misguided, non-representative (in our case) or theocratic and fascist leadership (in the case of Palestinians and Muslims in general). To say otherwise is to imply that mullahs and our own tribal leaders are objective observers, impartial judges, and competent statesmen, to which I can only say, “Give me a break!” and “Nothing further, your honor.”
And now a question: what would happen to a nationalist historian if, like Toynbee, he were to adopt a more objective and impartial stance? The answer is: he would no longer be a nationalist historian, which means he would cease to enjoy the support of our bosses, bishops, and benefactors, his books would no longer be sold in community centers and churches, he would be thought of as a traitor to the cause, and he would thus acquire the status of an outsider, an internal exile, a persona non grata, a pariah, and a pro-Turkish revisionist. He would no longer be an Armenian but a non-person and an abominable no man. I know what I am saying: I have been there. I still am.
On Turks by Ara Baliozian
The most important issue that unites us today is the Genocide, which also means (in the words of both Chekhov and Sartre, an unlikely pair) that the most lasting bond among people is hatred of the enemy.
Our hatred of Turks may unite us, but what if this same hatred may make us more like them? Or rather, what we think of them.
Whenever I speak of Armenian hatred of Turks I am reminded that Armenians don't hate Turks or anyone else, they only love justice.
I am willing to concede that whenever I speak of Armenians I have a natural tendency to project; and ever since I was a child I saw Turks the way they are depicted in Armenian cartoons today: fat, mustachioed slobs in shalvars and fez wielding a yataghan dripping with blood - not exactly lovable characters, you might say.
HONESTY: A DEFINITION
Public relations, political rhetoric, advertisements, and propaganda combine to legitimize bullshit and to redefine honesty as "disguised dishonesty."
In America you have to advertise even when what you are promoting is a book exposing the damage advertisements inflict on our perception of reality.
A VICIOUS CIRCLE
Bullshit is widespread because it works; it works because most men are dupes; and they are dupes because their educational system was designed by bullshitters.
Paul Johnson on Brahms's Intermezzo in B flat minor: "I have a beautiful recording of it by the Turkish pianist Idil Biret, a pupil of Cortot." My first thought: Biret must be either Armenian or half-Armenian. Once a chauvinist, always a chauvinist. Even when one's mind adopts an anti-chauvinist stance, one's gut remains chauvinist.
It never pays to examine too closely a man's ancestry. If he identifies himself as a Patagonian, a Hottentot, or a Mongol, we should take his word for it. Speaking for myself, you may simply identify me as a human being.
Socrates said, "Of the gods we know nothing." But if you read the Bible from beginning to end you will reach the exact opposite conclusion: Of our god we know everything and then some!
Memo to an Armenian writer: If you have more than two or at most three fans, you must be doing something wrong.
ON LOVE, HATE, FRIENDS, ENEMIES, AND RELATED ATROCITIES
A true friend is someone who in your absence, when others speak evil of you, does not add his voice to the chorus, and afterwards does not repeat their words to you.
Friends play a central role in the lives of some, enemies in others.
If I ever see the light and am born again, I will keep it to myself and let my words and actions speak for themselves.
Faith tells us not to hate our enemies, and if we can't manage that, to think of hatred not as a religious or patriotic duty but as a failing and an aberration.
The word heaven in a religious context is not a place but a dimension, and the dimension is not outside somewhere but (very much like the kingdom of god) within us.
When a Canadian writer said to a publisher she had written a book about the Armenians, the publisher said: "If it's about the massacres, we will accept it." There is no business like shoah business.
According to an American pundit in this morning's paper: "Far too many people have already been killed for Bush and his advisers to admit that their 'war of choice' was all a mistake." True. The bigger the mistake, the harder it is to admit it. If you step on someone's toes in a crowded place you can say "Sorry!" and get away with it. But what can you possibly say for killing two million innocent civilians except "I didn't do it!"
A cartoon by Bouchard depicting a slave in the middle of a Roman orgy declaring: "Someday we will all be equal and everyone will have his own slaves."
BROTHERS, FRIENDS, ENEMIES
Dale Carnegie once wrote a best-selling book titled HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE. Had he been an Armenian, he would have written a book titled HOW TO SURVIVE YOUR FRIENDS.
Frederic Raphael on Carnegie's book: "Probably among the dozen most blandly wicked books ever written."
Some day if I ever write my memoirs the shortest chapter in it will be subtitled "My Armenian Friends."
George Santayana has said that a friend is someone with whom "we can be most human." It follows, an enemy is someone we dehumanize.
Plutarch once defined a brother as someone "who has come out of the same hole." (How about that for subtle elegance?) One could also define an Armenian as someone whose very distant ancestors were born in a valley or on a mountain somewhere in Transcaucasia two thousand years ago.
During the last few years I acquired two Turkish friends. At this rate my Turkish friends will outnumber my Armenian friends. To those who think the reason why I am making more Turkish friends and Armenian enemies may be because I am anti-Armenian: I suggest to confuse criticism with hostility is to subscribe to the notion that leaders and their dupes are always right and dissenters always wrong. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and the Ayatollah subscribed to this notion too.
Jose Maria Aznar (Spanish diplomat): "Why is it that we must always be apologizing to them and they never? Has anyone ever heard a Muslim apologize for having occupied Spain for eight centuries?"
If Alexandre Dumas's three Musketeers had been Armenian, their slogan would have been "Every man for himself!"
FROM MY NOTEBOOKS
Once, when I asked a fellow Armenian if we are from the same planet," he replied: "We are not even from the same galaxy."
Sometimes understanding a Turkish enemy can be as difficult as understanding an Armenian friend.
God did not create Armenians in His own image, Turks did.
Fortune Cookie: "The only rose without a thorn is friendship."
We emphasize the positive in us and cover up the negative without realizing that doing so amounts to engaging in deception, which is probably much worse that all our negatives combined.
If we assume that in every conflict there is right and wrong, or good guys and bad guys, we shall have to conclude that we will have peace in this world only when the good guys doubt their goodness seven times every day.
I would define a bad guy as a good guy who never questions or doubts his goodness. Certainty is the source of all evil.
God has visited mankind with countless disasters and catastrophes like floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, storms, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, epidemics, starvation, and son on, but men continue to worship and thank him.
When reminded of Stalinism or jihadism, defenders of Marxism and Islam will tell you that all systems, including Christianity, have had their share of abusers. But that to me is the best reason why we should question the validity or usefulness of all ideologies and organized religions.
A surprise call from a gentle reader asking about my health. "I heard you were sick," he said. When I told him there was nothing wrong with me, he was inconsolable.
ON SO-CALLED FACTS
When a man deals only in facts and certainties, you can be sure of one thing: the facts on which his certainties are based have been carefully and cunningly selected, tailored, and doctored.
In a totalitarian environment to think for oneself can be a capital offense.
In my youth I never asked myself "Am I right?" because I was always right.
Turks called us their "most loyal millet." By loyal they meant subservient or, in the words of an English traveler, "disgustingly servile" - a noteworthy distinction.
A jackass does not ask himself, "Am I a jackass?" It is the same with charlatans and dupes.
I try to be objective; therefore I am an enemy of the people.
Cowards are better equipped at playing it safe than heroes.
Stanislaw Lec (1909-1966), Polish writer and dissident: "No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible."
"The mob shouts with one big mouth and eats with a thousand little ones."
ARMENIANS IN THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE
ON HORESEBACK THROUGH ASIA MINOR by Frederick Burnaby (originally published in 1898, reissued in 2002) contains many references, not all of them flattering, to Armenians - their monasteries, churches, priests, bishops, officials, bazaars, money-lenders, newspapers, schools, women and so on.
"Armenian women were closely veiled whenever they left the house," we read here, and: "In many instances, an Armenian was not permitted to see his wife before marriage, and had to take her, as the Yankees say, 'on spec.'"
Elsewhere: "An Armenian lady is in no way educated. She is the slave of her husband, and has to do all sorts of menial work for him - wash his feet, rub them dry, and wait at table. From her earliest childhood a girl is brought up to consider herself as a slave in her father's house. Until Armenians abandon these barbarous customs, their so-called Christianity will not do them much good."
In an appendix titled "The Corruption of Armenian Officials," we are told Armenians are divided into Gregorians, Protestants, and Catholics, and their officials, in addition to being "disgustingly servile," are as corrupt as their Turkish counterparts.
To readers who may begin to suspect that the author may have been a Turcophile, I suggest they read Yervant Odian's realistic novels. But we don't have to travel back in time to verify Burnaby's observations. Let us ask instead if anything has changed now that we live in a free and democratic country like the United States.
On the subject of the Armenian press, Burnaby has this to say: "Armenian newspapers frequently publish news which cannot be agreeable to the Government, and they are not interfered by the authorities."
What would happen today if one of our editors were to publish an unflattering article about one of our bosses or benefactors? No need to use our imagination here because when one of our editors did exactly that, he was dragged to court, almost driven out of business on a legal technicality, suffered a stroke, and almost died. A grim reminder of the old French adage, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
Another one of Burnaby's observation that is worth quoting: "The Armenians who profess the Armenian faith detest any member of their community who has accepted the Roman Catholic or Protestant doctrines, the Christians being much more intolerant than the Turks."
About the author we read: "Frederick Gustavus Burnaby was an extraordinary person. Reputed to be the strongest man in the British Army, he was also fluent in seven languages.. He spent five months riding across some of the cruelest winter landscape in the world before hastening home to write this best-seller."
Please note that the Index is misleading. The references to Armenians in the text are many more than the number of pages cited in the Index.
THE CAPITALIST AND THE PAUPER
When warned by his prosperous host not to spit on the floor, Diogenes is said to have spat on the man's face explaining he could not find a meaner receptacle. I challenge anyone not to love such a man.
If you have a choice between a long paragraph and a brief sentence, choose the sentence. Between a sentence and a single word, choose the word. Between a word of two or more syllables and a monosyllable, choose the latter. Between a monosyllable and silence, why say anything?
FROM BUNS TO BUGGERS
When in his famous Berlin speech Kennedy identified himself as a "Berliner," he did not know and no one warned him that a "berliner" is a bun, in the same way that a frankfurter is a sausage, a hamburger is a hamburger, and bugger is short for Bulgarian. Now, to say "I am a berliner" may not be as bad as saying "I am a bugger," but it is in that neighborhood.
There is a difference between smart and smart aleck, and between wise and wisenheimer. We are not smart, we are alecks; neither are we wise, we are heimers.
We owe progress more to the evolution of the thumb and the invention of zero and less to the so-called greatness and nobility of the human spirit.
ON BEING OBJECTIVE
If I have a low opinion of my fellow Armenians, it may be because I have an even lower opinion of my fellow men, myself included.
I write to remind myself, and in reminding myself I hope to remind others that it takes honesty and courage to be objective, and no matter how objective we are we can never be objective enough.
Charlatans are not born but made.
In my younger days I produced a great deal of chauvinist crapola because as a slum-dweller I was dependent on the charity of swine.
MORE ON B.S.
In her book, YOUR CALL IS IMPORTANT TO US: THE TRUTH ABOUT BULLSHIT (Toronto, 2005), Laura Penny speaks about b.s. as if it were a recent development. She ignores the fact that b.s. existed even in the Golden Age of Greece (5th Century B.C.). Socrates lived (and died) exposing it.
One of Laura Penny's endnotes reads: "Ben Bagdikian has been studying media consolidation since the early 1980s, and his latest book is THE NEW MEDIA MONOPOLY (Beacon Pres, 2004). He has a Web site at http: /www.benbagdikian.com/"
To the perpetrators, a million deaths is not even a statistic, it is victory. If the Nazis had won, the Holocaust would be remembered today as the ultimate triumph of good over evil.
When propaganda is confused with knowledge, it becomes worse than ignorance.
"Is it possible to be a writer in this day and age?" a young poet wants to know. My answer: "If you place survival over literature, choose survival."
"Speak truth to power!" Armenian translation: Tell them what they want to hear and if necessary swear on a stack of Bibles.
With the connivance of the State, organized religions preach truth but practice lies. To put it more bluntly: when two sets of wheeler-dealers conspire, the result will be war and massacre.
When during an argument I quoted Nikol Aghbalian to a fellow Armenian, he said: "I knew Nikol Aghbalian and I don't think he was a great man." Why look for greatness in honesty? Is not honesty in an Armenian greater than greatness?
FROM MY NOTEBOOKS
Whenever I read self-help or how-to books I note that I have been breaking all their rules, which can mean only one thing: I must be doing something right.
A true disciple surpasses his master because he begins where the master ends.
The aim of philosophy is to expose b.s., including the b.s. of philosophers.
Know thyself also means to know that the self is invisible, unpredictable, unprintable, and unknowable.
A blunder can be either a springboard (if we learn from it) or a cage (if we refuse to acknowledge it).
A favorite Armenian technique of counter-argument is to be so shamelessly arrogant and brazenly absurd as to reduce the adversary to a pulp of helpless disgust, hopeless despair, and silence.
"Try to be more like Mark Twain," I have been advised on more than one occasion. "A touch of humor may make your ideas more palatable to the average reader." And I can imagine friends advising Mark Twain to be more like Emerson if he wanted to be taken seriously.
THIS HAS BEEN SAID BEFORE
It is said of Confucius that because he was honest he failed in politics. You may now draw your own conclusions.
Is there anything I can say that hasn't been said before at least a thousand times by far better men than myself? And I don't just mean Greek philosophers, Indian mystics, Jewish rabbis, and German metaphysicians, but our own writers.
"I don't give a damn about the people," one of our academics once said to me. "I care only about my children!" What if they grow up to be selfish monsters? I didn't say that. I too can be diplomatic once in a long while, when I set mind to it.
In whatever I write I do not say I am right and you are wrong. What I say and what I have been saying all along is that, since I was wrong most of my life, it is conceivable that in the near or distant future you too may reach the same conclusion. Again, I am not saying or implying this is what will happen. What I am saying is that there is a very remote possibility.
When you hear someone speaking of tolerance, be careful not to react with violent hostility.
Diogenes (404-323), Greek philosopher: "The smart slave rules his master."
Muhammad (570-632): "Trust in God, but tie your camel." They now trust their camel and tie God. But that's the way it is with men whenever they try to put theory into practice.
In YOUR CALL IS IMPORTANT TO US: THE TRUTH ABOUT BULLSHIT by Laura Penny (Toronto, 2005), I read: "Bullshit is all about getting away with something, or getting someone to buy something in the broadest possible sense, which means covering arses or kissing them." Crude, my style. Further down: "Nobody leaves office because they f***ed up; no, they want to spend more time with their families. No mogul says, I do it all for the money, suckers. They blah-dee-blah on about the company, or some magnificent abstract idea the company embodies."
There are poor people because there are wealthy people, in the same way that there are slaves because there are masters. If the wealthy are not ashamed of their wealth it's because they support publishers, teachers, and preachers all of whom combine to misrepresent greed as one of the seven cardinal virtues.
Some of my most faithful readers are hoodlums
"You are consistently negative," I am told again and again. "Try to be more positive." They never tell me to be more honest, as if honesty were negative, and Turks and massacres positive.
Some of my most faithful readers are hoodlums. Writers share this in common with bus drivers: they can't choose their passengers.
Jacques de Groff (b. 1924), French historian: "The mediocrity of leaders has at no time slowed down the evolution of mankind." True, in so far as, by alienating the best and the brightest, mediocre leaders (whose number one enemy is excellence) promote the brotherhood of all men and thus accelerate the decline and ultimate demise of nations and tribes.
If "a famous man is disgusting" (Ionesco), what could be more contemptible and repellent than a total mediocrity who thinks he deserves fame.
When I first came to Canada, I met an Oriental carpet dealer who thought of himself as the uncrowned king of the Armenian community. Whenever he saw me he would ask, "Are you making any money?" He died bankrupt.
Death is the first step of a long voyage, and if the voyage is into nothingness, so much the better.
My choice of cheerful epitaph today: "Here lies a dog who barked up the wrong tree."
I would love the slums and gutters of my homeland more than the rivers, boulevards, and palaces of foreign capitals - if I had a homeland.
Dikran The Great And Other Rascals
Perennial victims of empires, we brag about the fact that under Dikran the Great we too had an empire. We brag even when we have nothing to brag about. The Roman Empire, like so many other empires around us, bit the dust, we like to brag, but we Armenians continue to live and prosper. What unspeakable nonsense! What verbal manure! What trashy propaganda! If half of the world today speaks dialects of Latin, can we really say the Roman Empire has ceased to exist? The Ottoman Empire lasted much longer than the Roman Empire. Are the Turks justified in asserting superiority over the Romans?
What does it take to be an empire, beside greed and a bloodthirsty disposition? In all civilized and semi-civilized countries today there are laws that say you can't just walk into your neighbor's home and say, "Henceforth your property is no longer yours but mine. Disagree with me and you die!" And yet, this is exactly what empires do. Consider one of the most civilized empires in the history of mankind, the Athenian Empire. Greeks today brag about their culture as we brag about Dikran the Great. And yet, they condemned Socrates to death. As for Plato and Aristotle: they were so afraid they might meet the same fate that they spent a number of years in self-imposed exile. The Athenian Empire was based on military might, which meant war and taxation. When a city-state refused to pay its share of taxes, it was punished by ruthless massacres of civilians.
According to our chauvinists, we are a peace loving people, hence our status as perennial underdogs and victims. What does it take to be an underdog? According to Hegel, fear of death, that is to say, cowardice.
We like to brag not only about Dikran the Great, but also our millionaires. What does it take to be a capitalist? Exploitation. Our benefactors may not brag about their wealth but they love to make headlines in our papers and see their portraits hanging in vestibules of community centers, schools, and churches.
We brag about Dikran the Great because we can't brag about Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, or Suleiman the Magnificent. But I suggest we and the rest of the world have nothing to brag about, and whenever a tribe, nation, or empire brags, it lies.
Ask a poet and he will tell you we are a nation of poets.
Ask another who doesn't much care for poetry and he will tell you we are a nation of vodanavorjis (versifiers).
Others will tell you we are a nation of speechifiers and sermonizers who can deliver more empty verbiage in five minutes than an entire contingent of Southern televangelists in a week. A merchant will tell you we are a nation of merchants.
A pragmatist will dismiss mystics, beginning with Naregatsi (assuming he has heard of him) as worthless daydreamers.
A commissar will tell you in no uncertain terms that intellectuals are, in his humble opinion, no better than mental masturbators.
Ask me and I will tell you we are not even a nation but a collection of tribes divided by bosses (who believe to an ideology), bishops (god), and benefactors (capital). But whatever we are, we are first and foremost men of faith, even when what we believe in is unbelief. Which means we know what's good for others better than they know themselves.
Ask me what I believe in and I will tell you I believe in the freedom to question the validity of all belief systems.
Here We Go Again
"You don't always practice what you preach," I am sometimes informed by disappointed readers. To which I can only say, "Here we go again!" First of all, I am neither a preacher nor a propagandist (same thing). If I were, I would be paid for my work. But like everyone else, including preachers and their dupes, I stand for certain things (such as tolerance and solidarity) and am against others (censorship and authoritarianism. both in the name of patriotism, of course). That doesn't make me a preacher, just an average Joe who values common sense and decency over charlatanism.
So much for my positives. On the negative side, I am willing to concede that I have little patience with and no sympathy whatever for anonymous and faceless hoodlums who take pleasure in flinging mud at me hoping some of it will stick. They may even think if they make themselves repellent enough I may give up in disgust and fall silent. This may indeed happen some day, but not yet - at least not today and probably not tomorrow.
However, I am willing to compromise and make the following solemn promise. On the day I achieve perfection, I may see the wisdom in bullies and liars, and on the day I achieve sainthood, I may forgive and love them. In the meantime, my advice is: Don't hold your breath!
Notes And Comments
History is made by mobs that cannot think for themselves.
When I knew nothing I believed everything I was told by my elders. Now that I am no longer a child I spend most of my time trying to prove that I am no longer an impressionable idiot.
Some of our charlatans have become such experts in their field that they now believe in what they say.
Who qualifies as an intellectual? Anyone who has mastered the difficult art of thinking against himself. As for patriots and propagandists: for every intellectual, there are probably a thousand or even ten thousand of them.
Once upon a time I espoused every fallacy, prejudice, and misconception I now condemn. I know how hard it is to see one's most cherished ideas as products of manipulators whose aim is to convince you to kill and die for what they only pretend to believe in.
Saddam Hussein has been condemned to death. Some see this as a major victory. I can only think of all the others in the Middle East and elsewhere who deserve to hang but who will die of natural causes?
We speak too much about Turks and massacres and not enough about intolerance, which happens to be the source of all crimes against humanity; perhaps because, if we speak of intolerance, sooner or later someone may ask, "How tolerant are we?"
If you keep asking the wrong questions, you will never get the right answers.
Only Armenians who know nothing about Armenian literature think my views are eccentric or anti-Armenian.
You cannot reason with men who are against reason.
In a cartoon by Wolinski, one Frenchman to another: "On account of Aznavour, Turks are threatening to boycott French goods. That's not a problem because for some time now France has been producing nothing."
"As an Armenian, I value Armenians over Turks," a gentle reader writes. I suspect a Mongol will never say, "As a Mongol, I value the company of Mongols over Armenians," probably because he doesn't even know who Armenians are. And if swine could speak, no doubt they will say, "As swine, we value swine over jackasses."
Repeating, Reiterating, Recapitulating
Yeghishe (410-470): "If a nation is ruled by two kings, both the kings and the nation will perish."
A divided nation condemns itself to slow-motion genocide.
Raffi (1835-1888): "An Armenian's worst enemies are not odars but Armenians."
In an anti-intellectual environment even an inbred moron will think he is smarter than a "mental masturbator."
Raffi: "Armenians have no future in Turkey."
To be a prophet, all you need is to use your common sense and to read the writing on the wall.
Raffi: "A people that does not like to read cannot be educated."
Even the mightiest empire can be victimized by the weakest of nations if the empire is divided and the nation united.
Raffi: "Sad is our past, and what is our present if not an extension of that past?"
Better to repeat an old truth than to invent new lies.
Raffi: "We are like sheep without a shepherd."
A nation whose victims outnumber its survivors should not brag about its genius for survival.
Assessing An Ass
Whenever people assess themselves they tend to emphasize the positive and cover up the negative, and after they fool themselves, they think they have been successful in fooling others.
What is flattery? To say to a second-rater that he is first rate. To flatter someone means to imply that he is so bad that he needs to be propped up by lies.
Sometimes asking questions is more important than answering them. But if you ask the wrong questions, don't expect to get the right answers.
The most effective way to expose a liar is by speaking the truth, not by speaking bigger lies.
To my critics I say, even literary giants like Thomas Mann and Solzhenitsyn were powerless against the likes of Hitler and Stalin. If you are a competent judge and I am what you say I am - a minor scribbler - what's the harm in what I have been doing? Unless you assess your fellow Armenians to be such gullible dupes that they will be taken in even by a mental masturbator.
Is Honesty Anti-Armenian?
Somewhere along the line it seems we as a nation decided that it is. That once upon a time we valued honesty there is no doubt. Think of our folks songs, think of our liturgical music, think above all of our architecture, and I don't mean the derivative neo-Hellenic style but that of our small, humble, severe churches, shorn of all ornamentation, whose impact is as straight as an arrow.
What happened to our composers, architects, and our creative impetus in general? The answer must be obvious: we concentrated all our efforts on entertaining and pleasing our masters. We were Romanized, Arabized, Ottomanized, and Sovietized. Sinan and Balian became more Ottoman than Turks. The only Armenian feature in Khachaturian is his reliance on Caucasian (which doesn't mean Armenian only) folk tunes; his orchestration is more Russian (Tchaikovsky) and French (Ravel).
Saroyan's characters may be of Armenian descent but their aim is not to express the Armenian voki but to amuse the average American reader. When a critic of TIME magazine said something to the effect that Michael (PASSAGE TO ARARAT) Arlen's Armenians and Saroyan fictional characters shared very little in common and that Saroyan's Armenians were less authentic, Saroyan wrote an angry letter to the editor saying he had at no time distorted his fellow countrymen, only "stylized" them. Stylized them to what end, except perhaps to make them more accessible to his non-Armenian readers. This is not what Shakespeare does with his characters. This is not what great writers do in their fiction. What do Odian's fictional Armenians share in common with Saroyan's? Absolutely nothing.
Saroyan's characters are cute, colorful, harmless. Odian's are the exact opposite - mean, narrow, full of piss, vinegar and venom. Saroyan's Armenians have been Americanized, Odian's Ottomanized.
Had we presented a united front against our enemies and maintained our independence, we would now be bragging about our own Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, not to say, Dante, Dickens, and Dostoevsky.instead of Gulbenkian (who was Sultan Abdulhamid's hireling) and Mikoyan (Stalin's flunkey).
Riddles Within Mysteries Within Enigmas
Unlike Christians, who believe in three gods (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), Muslims are convinced theirs is a better religion because they believe in only one God. It seems they find the concept of Trinity incomprehensible. So do I. So do most Christians. Which is why they call it a mystery. Religions call their contradictions mysteries.
Father and Son I understand. What I don't understand is the necessity of the Holy Spirit (also called, until very recently, Holy Ghost), the Gray Eminence of the Triumvirate. If Almighty God is at the top of the food chain, why does He need an assistant or a VP? As a Christian I never thought I believed in three gods, perhaps because I was told otherwise. It's astonishing the degree of trust we place in our elders. What is even more astonishing is our lack of awareness of contradictions within us.
To prove they are good Muslims, some Muslims don't see anything wrong in behaving like bad Christians, and vice versa. And consider the case of the Armenian who in his effort to prove he is a good or even a better Armenian sees nothing remotely questionable in behaving like a hoodlum or a bad Turk. This to me is as incomprehensible as God or the concept of the Trinity.
To understand man, psychologists have come up with many contradictory theories and explanations. To understand God, theologians have done the same, probably because the need to understand and explain is as strong in us as the instinct to survive in animals. But unlike animals, in order to survive we are willing not only to kill, but also to die; and to cover up that contradiction, to invent such noble-sounding concepts as heroism, self-sacrifice, martyrdom, and patriotism.
To explain the concepts of good and evil, an African tribal chieftain is quoted as having said to C.G. Jung: "If I steal my enemy's wives, it's good. If he steals mine it's bad." We fool ourselves, or we allow our sermonizers and speechifiers to fool us (which is worse), if we think our motives are more civilized or noble.
After witnessing a horrible crime in his own neighborhood, a Canadian is quoted as having said in today's paper: "You read about all this negative stuff coming from the Middle East, but guess what, there is a lot of negative stuff happening in Canada that is unspeakable!" To which I can only say, "So what else is new?"
Fragments From A Life
On the day I see the light I will give up writing because I will be too busy expiating my sins, one of them being the time I wasted writing all the nonsense (or "crap," as several of my gentle readers put it) of use to no one.
A Jewish friend of mine once told me one reason why he acquired a university degree was to avoid the alternative -- working in a used car lot, which he equated with "selling crap to shit." The difference between selling used cars and writing for Armenians is that cars may take you from point A to point B.
At the age of thirteen when I first heard one of the Mildonian sisters in Venice (there were three of them: piano, cello, and harp) play Khachaturian's Toccata and Chopin's C-minor Etude (the "Revolutionnaire") on a concert grand in the Hall of Mirrors of the Moorat-Raphael College, formerly Palazzo Zenobio, I decided to be a pianist. Never made it. Only one recital - a Chopin waltz, a Debussy Prelude, a Grieg Wedding March, and Beethoven's 5th Symphony for four hands played on the same grand and in the same Hall of Mirrors with my temperamental piano teacher, Giarda (also Mildonian's teacher) who loved to brag about his encounter with Puccini.
Many years later in Canada, at an organ recital in an Anglican church, when I heard Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in G-minor, I switched my loyalty to the organ and eventually became the organist of a neighborhood Catholic church. It was a large congregation numbering over two thousand members. Though I can't say I enjoyed playing at weddings and funerals (sometimes several a week) nothing gave me more pleasure than the long hours I spent alone wrestling with the complete works of Bach. That's when I discovered the introspective and mystical Bach of the Chorale Preludes where he speaks of his longing for death.
I remember my cousin Esmerian who idolized Mozart telling me that after listening to a Mozart Piano Concerto he became so unhinged that he was tempted to commit suicide. He was a chain smoker and died of cancer at an early age.
There is a Somerset Maugham short story, adapted to a movie titled QUARTET, in which the central character, a failed pianist like myself, shoots himself after listening to a concert pianist play Schubert's E-flat Impromptu.
On A Remark By Beethoven
Getting emotionally involved in music was wrong, Beethoven once said, because that way you miss the craft, the design, the architecture, all of which are results of expertise, hard work, dedication, and cold-blooded calculation. As a composer Beethoven knew that to master that aspect of music was much more difficult that to arouse emotion, which any modulation from a major to a minor key can do. Something similar could be said of understanding history or the workings of reality. Hence the importance of objectivity, which also means, the systematic elimination of all emotional involvement.
In rejecting the emotional aspect of musical composition, Beethoven was also saying that an artist (be he a poet, painter, or composer) should not rely on inspiration alone at the expense of technique. Inspiration is not enough. If the emotional commitment, or the irrational element in human activity (and it makes no difference if you call it faith, ideology, or mysticism) is not modified by reason or cold-blooded calculation, it is bound to lead to sterility and the commission of colossal blunders like wars, massacres, and genocides.
And speaking of crimes against humanity: Saddam's greatest blunder was not the crime for which he was tried, found guilty, and hanged, (the revenge killing of 148 Shiite Muslims after a 1982 assassination attempt) but the war against Iran, during which millions perished. He was not tried for that offense because war making is not seen as a crime. If it were, how many political leaders today would be able to sleep at night?
Two Days To Go
Two days to go for the New Year. What does that mean? Nothing much. Years may come and go but some things never change; or, if they do, "the more they change the more they stay the same."
A headline in our paper today reads: "Bush closer to new strategy." New, meaning here, more of the same. What else?
Why do smart people make dumb mistakes? Because even the smartest man on earth cannot fathom the cunning of reality.
Our paper has printed a long list of all the famous men and women who died in 2006, among them the "gritty, satiric, and erotic" Canadian poet, Irving Layton, the only one I have met. I will never forget his piercing blue eyes and his comment to someone who dared to quote the words of one of his critics: "Some people think," he replied, "just because they have an asshole they must also have an opinion." Crude! - my style.
The pen is mightier than the sword? What unspeakable nonsense! Not even PRAVDA and IZVESTIA under Stalin would dare to print such an absurd assertion. How many lives have the Holy Scriptures saved? Or rather, how many wars have been fought in their name?
Contradictions are inherent in politics, religions, and human affairs in general. Wars are conducted in the name of peace, and innocent civilians are murdered in the name of a merciful Allah. Why should we be surprised if our dividers and destroyers portray themselves as our saviors?
Speaking of our destroyers: I dedicated the following quotation to my brainwashed gentle readers who would like to see anyone who refuses to recycle their favorite propaganda line silenced permanently: "I call on you not to hate because hate does not leave space for a person to be fair and it makes you blind and closes all doors of thinking." Thus spake Saddam Hussein. Gandhi is right: No man is beyond salvation.except perhaps mankind.
To brag is to lie. Two recent examples: "I am not a crook," and "Mission accomplished." I wonder why American comedians and pundits don't use the word "bushwhacked" more often these days.
The dwindling number of polar bears is now making headlines not only in newspapers written, edited, and published by polar bears but also those of an entirely alien species. What about the dwindling number of Armenians? I remember to have read somewhere that once upon a time we numbered as many as thirty million. Today it's more like three million. And yet, I don't see any panic in our streets.
Present Company Suspected
Human affairs have so many contexts, implications, consequences, layers of meaning, and interpretations that for every great thinker who says one thing there will be another who says the exact opposite. Is lying moral? As always, there are two schools of thought.
There is no belief system that at one time or another I have not swallowed hook, line, and sinker, except perhaps astrology. When I speak of dupes, I speak of myself. Madame Bovary c'est moi. So is Monsieur Bovary.
Trust someone who paints a flattering self-portrait, as you would trust the honesty of a compulsive liar or the wisdom of an ignoramus.
As a child I identified myself with our leaders because I was told to do so. But the moment I started thinking for myself I saw them as megalomaniacal mediocrities and enemies of freedom, common sense and decency.
Am I wrong? Probably. Unlike those who brainwashed me I have at no time asserted infallibility.
When they cannot convince, they brainwash, and they brainwash because they need unthinking fanatics willing to die for the "Cause" - that is to say, their power and prestige.
All children are brainwashed for their own good. And what's even worse, they are brainwashed by individuals who were themselves brainwashed. This may explain why the world is in such a mess today.
"Pigs Never See The Stars"
My first book about Armenians came out in 1975, which means I have been writing steadily about them for over thirty years. So I am not surprised when some of my gentle and not so gentle readers inform me that I have become predictable, boring, and repetitive. They demand variety, as if I were running an ice cream parlor or pizzeria. To them I suggest they visit the nearest public library. And to the hoodlums who tell me it is now time that I give up writing "all that crap," I say, "Be careful, my friend, because you may tempt me to agree with you that, if writing about Armenians like you is crap, it may be because I for one refuse to speak of crap as if it were rose jam."
To write about Armenians also means to write about human nature, and more precisely, what happens to it after long centuries of brutal oppression. For, to be oppressed means to be offended, insulted, and dehumanized; hence, the need to retaliate. There is an Armenian proverb that says, "A coward takes revenge by slicing up a watermelon." Insulting someone anonymously and from a safe distance is, I suppose, another way of getting even. There are two other Armenian proverbs that are worth quoting at this point: "The toothless dog barks from a distance," and "A bald man has no use for a gold comb," - or an imbecile for understanding.
How Moses Got The 10 Commandments
God went to the Arabs and said, "I have Commandments for you that will make your lives better.
The Arabs asked, "What are Commandments?" And the Lord said, "They are rules for living."
Can you give us ! an example?"
"Thou shall not kill."
Not kill? We're not interested."
God went to the Blacks and said, "I have Commandments."
The Blacks wanted an example, and the Lord said, "Honor thy Father and Mother."
"Father? We don't know who our fathers are. We're not interested."
Then He went to the Mexicans and said, "I have Commandments."
The Mexicans also wanted an example, and the Lord said "Thou shall not steal."
"Not steal? We're not interested."
Then He went to the French and said, "I have Commandments."
The French too wanted an example and the Lord said, "Thou shall not commit adultery."
"Not commit adultery? We're not interested."
Finally, He went to the Jews and said, "I have Commandments."
"Commandments?" They said, "How much are they?"
"We'll take 10."
There, that ought to offend just about everybody.
Four of my favorite films of all time are included in the lavishly illustrated 1001 MOVIES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE, edited by Steven Jay Schneider (New York, 2003, 960 pages): George Stevens's SHANE (1953) with Alan Ladd, Fred Zinemann's FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) with Montgomery Clift, John Sturges's BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955) with Spencer Tracy, and John Boorman's POINT BLANK (1967) with Lee Marvin. I note that all four central characters of these films are solitary survivors who against their will and inclination are thrust into a conflict with a formidable set of well-organized adversaries bent on their destruction. I have not seen these films recently and I wouldn't be surprised if they are dated.
About FEOM HERE TO ETERNITY: one reason I enjoyed the book by James Jones more than the film is that it was there that I first "met" Mahatma Gandhi, another solitary being who confronted an empire bent on his dehumanization and death.
I remember to have read somewhere that Gandhi refused to visit America because he didn't think he would be understood there. He saw America as a distant and alien continent that cared much more about material possessions than spiritual attainments. Gandhi was a shrewd judge of character but as a profoundly human being he could also be hugely wrong, as when he failed to foresee the genocidal slaughter of Hindus and Muslims immediately following the partition of India during which millions perished. Had he suspected the possibility of such a tragedy, I suspect he would have retired from politics permanently or committed suicide by starvation.
As for Richard Attenborough's GANDHI (1982), I have only one word for it: disappointing.
If you think the destiny of the planet is dependent on people like Alexander the Great, Napoleon, or even the outline of Cleopatra's nose, Mark Kurlansky's COD: A BIOGRAPHY OF THE FISH THAT CHANGED THE WORLD is bound to change your perspective. And now, imagine if you can, a book about men written by a cod.
The best things in life are not always free. Understanding comes at a price. If you see yourself as your enemy sees you, you may not like what you see but you may enhance your understanding not only of yourself and your enemy, but also - which is more important - of the world.
When we say, "I am sure," are we really sure or just trying to suppress doubts?
When both sides are guilty, they will exaggerate the guilt of the opposition and cover up their own. I don't have any specific groups in mind, only human nature.
Only the very insecure make periodic lists of their positives and cover up their negatives, and in fooling themselves they hope to fool others, and they resent it when others refuse to be fooled, and they refuse to be fooled not because they are smarter but because they prefer to be fooled by a propaganda line that emphasizes their positives and covers up their negatives. Present company suspected.
Think of Internet discussion forums as therapy groups in which participants unburden themselves of complexes that masquerade as certainties, slogans, and clichés.
It took me many years to admit that which seems obvious to me today, namely, that I was a product of systematic indoctrination and all my convictions and actions were not mine but someone else's. In short, the fact that I was more of a robot and less of a human being. And when faceless readers insult me anonymously on the Internet today, they do so in the name of a belief system that is not theirs but someone else's, a belief system moreover that they will reject if and when they discover its nature and origin.
When Saroyan said he felt sorry for the Turks he was not only rejecting our collective and instinctive hatred of them, he was also saying, to think that the only solution to a political problem is the wholesale massacre of innocent civilians is to react not as human beings but as animals, Pavlovian dogs that salivate on hearing a bell.
It is interesting to note that the commandment "Thou shalt not commit adultery," is translated into Armenian, as "Thou shalt not behave like a dog."
In his sympathy for killers Saroyan was not being a good Christian by turning the other cheek; he was simply asserting his own humanity by rejecting the kind of indoctrination that legitimizes and promotes instinctive reactions, that is to say, the introduction of the law of the jungle in human affairs. He understood that the worst thing your enemy can do to you is not to kill you but to lower you to his own level. Is this not what our religion teaches us too? - not to hate our enemy but to love him, to ignore the animal in him but to recognize the fact that his convictions and actions are not his but products of an evil belief system that has been rammed down his throat at a time when he was powerless to resist it. And in that sense, is he not a brother?
A brother: this is what Thomas Mann called Hitler (who had tried to have him assassinated). And this is how he described Hitler as speechifier: "It is oratory unspeakably inferior in kind, but magnetic in its effect on the masses: a weapon of definitely histrionic even hysterical power, which he thrusts into the nation's wound and turns it round." Isn't this what our own Turcocentric pundits and speechifiers do too?
Here is more of Thomas Mann on Hitler: "A brother - a rather unpleasant and mortifying brother. He makes me nervous, the relationship is painful to a degree. But I will not disclaim it. For I repeat: better, more productive, more honest, more constructive than hatred is recognition, acceptance, the readiness to make oneself one with what is deserving of our hate." And: "Thanks to his own baseness, he has indeed succeeded in exposing much of our own."
Past, Present, Future
We like to say that Germans are more civilized than Turks because they admitted and apologized for the Holocaust. We forget that, unlike Turks, Germans lost. Had they won, there would have been neither admission nor apology.
Even when you do the right thing you may be penalized because of someone else's blunders, as when you are hit by a drunk driver or massacred in time of war.
I don't mind testifying against myself. Some may call this low self-esteem. But what if the alternative is to sound like a self-satisfied pompous ass?
The past is as incomprehensible as the future is unpredictable if only because once upon a time the past was also the future, and whenever in our narrative we make the past predictable, we ignore the fact that at any moment in real life things can go wrong in a million directions.
When I think of all the wrong turns I could have taken, I feel as though I were the luckiest man on earth simply because I am alive.
Whatever wisdom I have acquired I owe to my enemies. Ever since I have gained that realization I have been wondering why is it that we Armenians collectively have become one of the dumbest nations on earth instead of one of the wisest.
Mistakes make us humble, unless they are of such colossal magnitude that admitting them would mean committing political suicide.
Ho, Ho, Humbug!
A gentle reader insults me on an open Internet discussion forum. Being human I am not always successful in ignoring such abuse: I return the compliment. No harm done. A minor scribbler in the middle of nowhere and a faceless anonymous denizen of an unidentified suburban gutter somewhere call each other names. Not the end of the world. So what if we both lose? As for Armenian image: what image? No one gives a damn about our image except perhaps our phony superpatriotic propagandists and pundits whose empty verbiage impresses no one but themselves. What about Armenian honor? No such thing. There are only good men and bad men. Why shouldn't we, like the rest of mankind, have our share of bastards?
Another one of my gentle readers once remarked that I deserve to be insulted because everything I write is an insult to the Armenian nation. A statement worthy of a commissar of culture who views literature as a collective effort on the part of writers to kowtow and say "Yes, sir!" to our semi-sultans, mini-Stalins, and dealers of verbal manure like himself, who operate on the assumption that all it takes to be a concerned citizen is to assess oneself as one. Zarian is right: we do with words what the Turks did with yataghans, except that we use our tongues, which happen to be sharper and cut deeper. There you have it, the Armenian identity. Even as we die the death of a thousand self-inflicted cuts we speechify, sermonize, and editorialize about justice and patriotism, God and Country, martyrdom and survival. God help us, if there is a god and we deserve his help.
Body language is to the spoken word what style is to writing. Words may lie but style does not. I have yet to read a single decent line written by a hoodlum.
We all make mistakes, yes, certainly. But what if we are not equipped to do the right thing, and our worst mistakes are made when we think god is one our side?
Whenever I think of making a reference to myself in my writings, the first thought that crosses my mind is: Why should anyone give a damn about what a nobody who lives in the middle of nowhere thinks? After which I switch my focus on reality.
If you must speak of yourself, speak of your weaknesses. Let others speak of your strengths, assuming you have any.
I write to confess my megalomania and the doubletalk of sermonizers and speechifiers.
Press Release / New Book
Moscow. THE HORRIBLE SILENCE by Ara Baliozian, has just come out in a Russian translation by Ara Hakopian and Tigran Zakoyan. It is an autobiographical novella wherein we read about the author's daily existence in a distant Canadian town: his encounters and conversations with friends, relatives, neighbors, and members of his family, about his life in Greece, Italy, and about Armenians and the Armenian Diaspora.
In addition to the novella, the reader will find here a comparative fictional study of the life and achievements of two Armenian personalities titled BILL AND BASIL, Bill being William Saroyan, and Basil, the founder of the mightiest imperial dynasty in Byzantium. The book also contains selected passages from another book by Ara Baliozian titled PAGES FROM MY DIARY.
Ara Baliozian was born in Athens, Greece, and educated in Venice, Italy. Widely published in English and Armenian, he has been awarded many prizes and grants for his literary work. He is a regular contributor to many publications in the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East.
His books include THE GREEK POETESS AND OTHER WRITINGS, ARMENIA OBSERVED: AN ANTHOLOGY, FRAGMENTED DREAMS: ARMENIANS IN DIASPORA, and the best-selling study, THE ARMENIANS: THEIR HISTORY AND CULTURE. His translations of such Armenian classics as Grigor Zohrab, Zabel Yessayan, and Kostan Zarian have been described as "valuable," "eloquent," and "brilliant" contributions to world literature. He has himself been translated into French, German, Greek, Spanish, and Armenian.
"I read everything Ara Baliozian writes with fascination and gratitude," William Saroyan has said.
The book can be purchased at http://www.armeniaonline.ru/product.php/1730 or directly from Ara Hakopian,
Everything that is negative in our collective existence is based on fact; everything positive is based on hope.
If there is a constant in our political leadership is its mediocrity. If you hear someone say leader A is better than leader B, remember the old Muslim saying: "If you hear a mountain has moved, believe it. If you hear a man has changed, believe it not."
Is there a single Armenian boss or bishop in whose hands you would be willing to trust the future of your child? And yet, when it comes to the destiny of the nation, we repeat the mantra "It will take two or three generations..."
One reason baby Tarzan survived in the jungle is that he had apes as parents and role models.
If an Armenian hasn't hated you, you don't know what hatred is. An Armenian hates with the accumulated venom of six centuries - seven, if you count the Soviet era - of brutal oppression. Compared to Armenian hatred, all other forms of hatred might as well be expressions of affection.
Armenians and Turks share the same illusion: trust in the official version of the past. Perhaps because their past is so unbearable that it would shatter their self-esteem if it were presented to them objectively. Turks see themselves not as victimizers but as heroes, and Armenians see themselves less as victims and more as martyrs.
Concerned friends tell me it's a waste of time writing for Armenians. They may be right. But if I were to write for odars I would use only my brain. When I write for Armenians, I use my brains as well as gut.
To encourage others to give generously, fund-raisers publish periodic press releases with headlines announcing the amount of dollars collected. What they don't tell you is how much of it ended in the wrong pockets.
All Is Vanity
When I first read ECCLESIASTES, I immediately assumed all that talk of vanity referred to others, not to me. I wonder how many readers of the Good Book make the same mistake. To read and understand simple sentences is one thing; to apply what you read to ourselves is something entirely different, perhaps because it takes a different set of faculties, among them the ability to perceive the many strategies we adopt to deceive ourselves into thinking we are better than we really are.
Nothing comes more naturally to an Armenian than to hate Turks and to criticize fellow Armenians; and when I say to criticize what I really mean is to engage in verbal slaughter.
I have heard Armenians, who treat minor disagreements with fellow Armenians as provocations to engage in verbal slaughter, say that they don't hate Turks, they only love justice.
Why is it that we are outraged when we realize others may be as bad as we are?
Far better men than myself have dedicated their lives to writing hoping what they say will make a difference. It hasn't! Why do I go one? The only plausible answer must be, self-deception. If only deceiving others were as easy as deceiving ourselves.
Self-deception is such a common aberration that it is not at all unusual to meet a self-assessed and civilized man who speaks like a barbarian.
People who don't understand themselves and the consequences and implications of their actions and thoughts expect to be understood in a favorable light. Speaking for myself: I never felt so misunderstood as when I was understood.
When speaking with an older and wiser person, assume you are wrong. When speaking with an infallible person, assume he is wrong.
Little mistakes we don't mind admitting. But when it comes to big ones, we like to believe smart nations don't make them. Which may suggest that in little things we are willing to be objective; in big things we prefer to follow the dictates of our vanity.
Never ceases to amaze me -- the stupidity of self-assessed smart people.
I don't diminish Armenians; I only describe the many ways in which they diminish themselves.
When I was young and foolish I too said many things that I now regret; and if someone had warned me I would have ignored him, the way I am ignored today by our dupes.
Tolstoy: "The higher I rise in the eyes of the world, the lower I sink in my own." The opposite is also true: the lower we sink in the eyes of the world, the louder bray and we brag.
One of our editors once called me to complain that some people didn't like my kind of writing. Who? I wanted to know. He mentioned the name of a benefactor's flunkey. Shortly thereafter the editor stopped publishing me. The flunkey must have made him an offer he couldn't refuse. As the old saying has it: "Parai veren duduyu chalar" (freely translated, "He who pays the piper selects the tune").
People are educated to recognize and question the propaganda of other nations, never their own. Why should we be an exception? - you may well ask. Too late. Now that the cat is out of the bag, can you really believe everything you have been told?
Who Loves Armenians?
Who Loves Armenians?
Let us not speculate about others and the rest of the world, most of which may not even be aware of our existence, and if it is, may not give a damn whether we live or die. Let us begin with ourselves. Do Armenians love Armenians? Is an Armenian capable of loving himself? Gregory of Narek or Naregatsi (our Dante and Shakespeare combined) was not particularly fond of himself; and very much like Yervant Odian, most of our ablest writers had no illusions about their fellow countrymen. As for our partisans: the less said about them the better. You may now draw your own conclusions.
My guess is there are as many atheists and agnostics in the Muslim Middle East as there are in the Christian West. If they refuse to stand up and be counted, it may be because martyrdom is incompatible with negation. It is easier to die for something you believe in than for something you don’t believe in.
On the day Muslims see a connection between religion and progress or capacity to inflict pain on others without committing suicide, they will be tempted to convert to Christianity because their need to live and to win must be greater than their trust in their mullahs.
ON FOLLOWING ORDERS
When the Lord ordered Abraham to butcher his own son, Abraham did not object or ask any questions. Ever since then absolute and blind obedience has been the source of some of the most unspeakable crimes against humanity.
Everybody engages in it, why shouldn’t we? One tentative answer: It hasn’t been working for us.
THE REALITY OF WORDS
Truth is only a word, like god and infinity. We have no way of knowing if it exists; and if it exists, whether or not our mind can grasp it.
By making me a charlatan, my education provided me with the means to recognize charlatanism when I see it.
NEGATIVE ROLE MODELS
Great men of wisdom have said many foolish things. We who are neither great nor wise must be careful to speak only words of wisdom.
It is possible to experience brief intervals of happiness, or the illusion of it, provided one forgets yesterday’s blunders and to ignore tomorrow’s hardships.
Even when one is brief, clear, and impossible to misunderstand, one will be misunderstood. It comes with the territory. You may choose your style but you cannot choose your readers.
The Uses And Abuses Of The Past
Guenter Grass (contemporary German author and winner of the Nobel Prize): "History is a clogged toilet. We flush and flush, but the shit keeps rising." Why is it that we Armenians are incapable of producing such a sentence?
By ignoring the dark side of our history, we sink deeper into filth. Is it conceivable that we will wake up from this nightmare only on the day we drown?
To pretend that we had nothing to do in shaping our destiny as a nation and by extension our identity, or to pretend the Genocide was engineered by the doubletalk of the West and the savagery of the Turks, is to admit that adopting a passive stance has become an integral part of our identity, and so far we have done nothing to expose this scandal and to combat against it.
The average Armenian thinks all he has to do to discharge his patriotic duty is to make periodic contributions to our Panchoonies.
The average Greek today brags about Socrates but ignores the fact that it was average Greeks like him who condemned him to death. This is true not only of Greeks but also patriots of all nations. Patriotism is unthinkable without propaganda. No one who knows and understands history says, "My country, right or wrong!"
When Jesus said "They know not what they do," he was talking about the average citizen who is capable of committing the most unspeakable crimes with a clear conscience on the grounds that his conduct is motivated by such selfless and noble principles as obedience to established laws and love of country. Even as he sinks deeper and deeper into filth, he pleads not guilty by reason of unawareness and ignorance.
NOTES AND COMMENTS
The most effective counterargument is not questioning the common sense and decency of an adversary but mentioning a fact, no matter how marginal, that has been ignored.
I never say anything about my fellow men that I am not prepared to say about myself. Lying to others is bad enough. Lying to oneself is infinitely worse.
Suicide is a luxury the very poor can't afford because they are too busy trying to survive.
In a corrupt democracy as soon as you throw one set of rascals out, another set moves in. Very often voting consists in rejecting a barrel of rotten apples for the sake of another.
To write means barking up the wrong tree in a desert.
If you think you know better, sooner or later you will run across someone who knows better. * Never underestimate the strength of underdogs and the weakness of top dogs.
The worst thing a mathematician can say about the work of another mathematician is, "That's not math - it's religion."
Only after we reject all role models we may discover our true selves. Role models, even the very best, have the validity of hearsay evidence.
CONFESSIONS AND ADMISSIONS
Somewhere along the line I decided that I knew not only everything I needed to know but also what others needed to know, and ever since then my life has been a concatenation of blunders, among them my decision to be not just a writer but an Armenian writer. I know now that the certainty of being right is the greatest source of error.
Socrates spent his entire life proving that we use words without knowing their meaning. When asked what he would do first were he called upon to rule a nation, Confucius is said to have replied, "To correct language." In our own days, semanticists tell us we don't even know how to use such simple and common words as "to be." For example, one should not say "I am not good at math," but "I didn't receive good grades in math."
What is history? What else but the clash of two sets of charlatans and their dupes?
Not being a historian I must rely on the testimony of historians, and when these historians contradict one another, common sense tells me to rely on historians who are in a better position to be objective and impartial. This automatically excludes all nationalist, tribal, and partisan historians.
In his efforts to silence me, one of our flunkeys with "leadership qualities" (if you can imagine such an absurdity), once said to me: "Do you really think you are the only writer who has been unfairly treated?" To which I replied: "Of course not. That's why I speak with the strength of many."
Since dialogue is anti-Armenian, it follows it is a waste of time to reason with a man you can silence.
ON CORRUPTION AND RELATED ATROCITIES
If we need two generations to de-Sovietize ourselves, how many generations do we need to de-Ottomanize ourselves?
Corruption and cancer have this in common: unless surgically removed, they metastasize.
Where the corrupt are in charge, honesty will be outlawed.
Where the mediocre are in charge, excellence will be suppressed. Which is why to adopt a passive stance towards the corrupt and the mediocre is to condemn the nation to the death of a thousand cuts. As for those who like to brag about our resilience, adaptability, and instinct for survival: I suggest, to drag on a degraded existence is worse than death.
Do I repeat myself? Why not? How many times are our clichés and fallacies repeated? And I don't mean harmless, infantile, and meaningless clichés, like first nation this and first nation that, but dangerous ones, like the one about two generations..
Instead of meritocracy we have mediocracy, and instead of honesty we have charlatanism. A corrupt power structure conducts a genocidal policy towards all honest men as surely as Talaat did towards all innocent women and children. Now then, go ahead and repeat the two generations cliché with a clear conscience, if you can.
We were morally and politically right to rise against the Ottoman Empire. But we were dead wrong in our reliance on the verbal commitments of the Great Powers. Which means that even our so-called heroes behaved like dupes; even our so-called revolutionaries lacked self-reliance. And what could be more cowardly than heroes and revolutionaries who are afraid of free speech?
If you make a study of censorship and its victims (from Socrates to Solzhenitsyn) you may notice that its aim is to silence not charlatans and liars but men of integrity and truth. My final question is: Do you really believe some day in forty or fifty years our charlatans and parasites will see the light and usher in another Golden Age?
On reading Yervant Odian's COUNCILMAN'S WIFE (first serialized at the turn of the last century, later published in book form in 1921) one thing becomes abundantly clear: the Armenian community of Istanbul consisted of morally bankrupt schemers (I am being politically correct now, because "a bunch of degenerates" would be closer to the truth) who spent their lives backbiting and plotting against one another. What has changed? As far as I can see, only one thing: we no longer have writers like Odian willing to write about what they see and experience. What we have instead are academics and self-appointed pundits who, afraid to deal with the dark side of our collective existence (please note that I am not saying community life) feel more comfortable and safe writing about the past, and if it's not the Middle Ages, it's the massacres, as if were history - I use the word in its colloquial meaning.
Julien Green (1900-1998), Francophone American writer, on death: "It is only the liberation of the spirit from the flesh."
On biography: "Slices of cold beef."
On first impressions: "They are not to be resisted or ignored. One should never come to terms with vulgar people and vulgar not only in manner but also in spirit."
On the self: "We are strangers to ourselves from the day we are born, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to understand and adjust ourselves to him."
On life: "What happens in the world is of little interest. What happens within, that's what really counts."
Bernard-Henri Levy (contemporary French philosopher): "Only jackasses and the dead have nothing to hide."
Abdelwahab Meddeb (Tunisian writer and professor of literature): "Islamism is the most absolute fascism ever conceived by man."
THE MEANING OF MEANING
James Joyce once bragged that some of his puns have as many as five meanings. It is said of Saadi (13th-century Persian poet) that each word of his has as many as seventy-two meanings. Can you guess the number of meanings in an autumn leaf, a raindrop, an atom, a massacre?
Julien Green (1900-1998): "The young and not so young today speak platitudes, write platitudes, think platitudes. From one end of the world to the other - music, painting, architecture - it's the triumph of mediocrity."
"Your negativity is killing us," a reader complains. Translation: Critics, no! Brownnosers, yes!
The only reason I concentrate on our failings is that we are in a position to do something about them. As for the failings of the rest of the world: what's the use of bitching?
The most effective way of suppressing dissent and free speech is to support writers and publishers while at the same time exercising strict censorship. This is what all totalitarian regimes do. Under Stalin, for instance, dissenters like Mandelstam, Solzhenitsyn, Akhmatova, and our own Zabel Yessayan, Bakounts, Mahari and many others) were silenced, sometimes permanently, but hundreds of other mediocrities (among them Sylva Kaputikian) were published, distributed, translated into many languages, and awarded the Stalin Prize. Most Soviet citizens didn’t care or were unaware of the fact that one of their most fundamental human rights was being violated.
I once had the following conversation with one of our publishers:
“I have had phone calls saying I should stop publishing you,” he began.
“By whom?” I wanted to know.
“By Jack S. Avanakian,” he replied.
“You mean the same Jack S. Avanakian who happens to be the personal secretary of one of our national benefactors?”
“The very same.”
“Are you going to follow his instructions?”
“Of course not!”
But he did. Shortly thereafter he stopped publishing me. What changed his mind? I have no idea and he never explained. But I can’t help remembering Brecht’s celebrated slogan: “Grub first, then ethics.”
Our partisans have three powerful arguments against their critics: (one) you are too young to know any better; (two) you are too old to be up to date with recent developments; and (three) you must be a member of the opposition.
God is too large a concept to fit into anyone's pocket. If you think God is on your side, He is sure to abandon you.
Nothing can be as easy and natural as being wrong - wrong about God, wrong about oneself, wrong about the world, wrong about everything.
Only idiots brag about how smart they are.
HEAVEN AND HELL
Heaven is a place reserved only for those who have been through hell.
If you are out to save face, the gutter is not the best place to do it from.
"Eshek khoshavnan ne annar?" (What does a jackass know about stewed raisins?). .
LINES WORTH REMEMBERING
Simone de Beauvoir: "If one lives long enough one sees all victories turn into defeats."
Alphonse de Lamartine: "If you miss one person, the whole world seems empty."
Jules Supervielle: "I am a perfectly honest man. I disgust myself completely."
Francois de la Rochefoucauld: "We get so used to hiding our feelings from others that we end up hiding them from ourselves."
CONFESSIONS OF AN ABOMINABLE NO MAN
It is not enough to have all the right arguments on your side, you must also adapt them to the occasion; and if you are dealing from a position of weakness, you are expected to flatter your adversary into thinking he is right and to apologize for making a nuisance of yourself. If diplomacy, etiquette, and brown-nosing are not your forte, avoid criticizing those in power, and their flunkies, hirelings, friends, and relatives.
SPIRIT OF CONTRADICTION
If you make an obvious assertion, such as "the sun rises in the east," or "two plus two make four," someone is sure to contradict you. Anyone who has ever written for Armenians is familiar with this phenomenon.
CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION
Once in a while a reader who has engaged in Internet hooliganism writes to apologize. This is not something that happens every day or year. As a matter of fact, they are such rare occurrences that I am tempted to mark them on my calendar so that I may celebrate their anniversaries.
LINES TO REMEMBER
Henry de Montherlant: "Some people acquire a sense of justice only after they have suffered an injustice."
Raymond Queneau: "There is deception in all action, as there is error in all thought."
Henri Bosco: "Great decisions are not made, they make themselves."
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
When it comes to our identity, the elephant in the room is the Genocide. Whenever Armenians are mention in the foreign press, it's in connection with the elephant.
As a child I was told about our Golden Age in the 5th Century AD, but I was not given an opportunity to draw any sense of identity from it. When I read Dostoevsky at the age of thirteen, I immediately made contact with what it means to be Russian; for the duration I felt more like a Russian than Armenian. Something similar could be said about Philip Roth and Jewishness, Negro spirituals and Negritude, Thomas Mann and German identity.
At one time or another I have been fascinated and deeply touched by many cultures, but I am afraid I cannot say the same about Armenian culture notwithstanding the fact that I have written a great deal on the subject, including a textbook titled THE ARMENIANS: THEIR HISTORY AND CULTURE. Speaking of which, on reading the manuscript of this book, I remember my editor complaining: "I don't get a sense of place." He probably meant to say identity. In my defense I said that I was not writing a book about Armenia but about Armenians, some of whose most noteworthy achievements - from Byzantine governance to contemporary finance --had been made outside Armenia.
The question of Armenian identity came up to me while reading a collection of brief essays and memoirs on Jewish identity titled MATZO BALLS FOR BREAKFAST & OTHER MEMORIES OF GROWNG UP JEWISH by Alan King and Friends (New York, 2004). What does it mean to be Armenian? I regret to say I can't come with a clear answer. In Greece where I was born and raised, I knew I was not Greek. In Italy where I studied for five years I never came close to feeling Italian. In Canada where I have spent most of my life and where I also acquired Canadian citizenship (as opposed to being the offspring of stateless Nansen refugees) I know I am not a Canadian, which is neither here nor there because most Canadians don't know it either. I ask again: What does it mean to be Armenian? What do I have in common with my fellow Armenians, except the awareness that I share a tragedy in our recent past? I grew up hating Turks, but I see that now not as a positive but a negative, something to get over with as opposed to something to be nursed and hoarded, which is what our Ottomanized Turcophile pundits encourage us to do. There is nothing Armenian about being victimized by an oppressive regime. Oppressed people -- from American Indians to Untouchable Indians -- are a dime a dozen. Massacres from the Golden Age of Greek history (5th Century BC) to the present, have been a constant in human history.
Perhaps being Armenian means, for me at least, to be open to all cultures and to reject all forms of tyranny and barbarism. And when I speak of barbarism I don't mean the barbarism of our enemies, but the barbarism that is within all of us.
AFTER MY OWN HEART
Francois de la Rochefoucauld: "Sometimes one is as different from oneself as from others."
Alain: "An error by Descartes is better than a truth by a pedant."
Pierre Mendes France: "Democracy is a state of mind."
George Bataille: "I believe truth has only one visage: that of a violent contradiction."
Gustave Le Bon: "Sooner or later a crime committed by all becomes a right."
Alfred de Vigny: "Something of the student remains in all professors."
Albert Camus: "If we fail to reconcile justice with liberty, we fail in all things."
Flaubert: "We should get rid of all flags - they have been soiled with too much blood and merde."
Paul Valéry: "I say this without any hesitation: a university degree is the mortal enemy of culture."
If fanatics are guilty of actions, moderates are guilty of inaction. We are all assassins.
Their side believes in solutions by massacre and denial, our side believes in solutions by verbiage. After writing an anti-Turkish commentary or letter to the editor, my guess is, a Turcocentric pundit thinks he has hammered still another imaginary nail on their metaphorical coffin that contains their collective metaphysical cadaver made entirely of his wishful thinking. And as Vonnegut (may he rest in peace) used to say, “And so it goes.” .
There was a time when editors rejected my things because they were too long; now because they are not long enough. Some day I hope to master the art of writing by measuring tape.
The role of god in history? He has converted countless law-abiding citizens into lynch mobs and killing machines.
When Confucius was asked to discipline a lazy disciple, he said: “Rotten wood cannot be carved, a wall of dung won’t hold plaster; what’s the use of reproving him?”
On Scientists, Theologians, Men Of Faith, And Other Rascals
Gods are a dime a dozen.
Once when Einstein said something to the effect that god did not play at dice, another physicist said: “Einstein, stop telling god what to do.”
Theologians are people who hate to say I don’t know, I don’t understand, and I don’t know what I am talking about.
Someone once wrote a book titled GOD IS AN ENGLISHMAN, which is a big lie. Everyone knows god is an Armenian.
I don’t know much about Islam but I know that in the eyes of the average Muslim I am no better than an infidel dog.
I am acquainted with several Turcocentric fascists and I know that in their eyes I am worse than an infidel dog.
Had I been Moses’ editor, the Decalogue would have only one commandment: “Thou shalt not allow yourself to be brainwashed.”
If I were a dictator, I would order theologians to stop dealing with abstractions and start dealing with facts by counting the number of victims god has claimed on earth.
Logic And Optimism
“Optimism is good for the soul.”
“So is logic.”
Whenever a policy fails, it is safe to assume it was probably formulated by optimists. Examples that come readily to mind: Vietnam, Iraq, and our “revolution” in the Ottoman Empire.
Optimism: what is it exactly? One tentative answer would be, overestimating the positive in us and the negative in the opposition. It astonishes how often we use reason to lead us to unreason. What would be more reasonable than to think, if the great powers of the West, imperial Russia, and God Almighty Himself are on our side, there is no way we can lose. And yet, lose we did, and lose in the most tragic, catastrophic, and horrible way. And we lost not because logic was not on our side but because we underestimated the opposition. Somewhere in his 12-volume STUDY OF HISTORY, Toynbee says, one should never underestimate the will to live even of a corpse. That may not be the logic of the human brain, but it is the logic of life (or the prospect of death), which becomes visible only after the fact.
Rules of logic: who makes them? Who else but man, and man being fallible, his rules are bound to be full of holes. What an environment dominated by optimists needs more than anything else is not more logic but pessimism. That’s because the danger in optimism is not in optimism itself but rather in the kind of optimism that is not open to dialogue. Intolerant and dogmatic optimism ceases being logical if only because it asserts infallibility. That’s when hubris (arrogance) invited nemesis (retribution).
When you think right and reason are on your side and you have life by the short hair, that’s when you need to consider the possibility of being not just wrong, but catastrophically, tragically, horribly wrong.
If one has been catastrophically wrong in the past, is there anything that will prevent him from being catastrophically wrong again? I will let you answer that question.
“I know what I know and I don’t need your two cents’ worth!” The words of a loudmouth ignoramus flirting with disaster.
In the Confucian ANALECTS we read: “Who sins against heaven has nothing to pray to.”
According to Ezra Pound, Confucius did not say, “If you see a good man, emulate him; if you see a bad man, examine your own heart.” What he said instead was: “See solid talent and think of measuring up to it; see the un-solid and examine your own insides.”
To my Turcocentric brothers I say: “Whenever you think of Turkish criminal conduct, examine your own insides!” – which, needless to add, cannot be an option for the gutless.
The Sabers Of Paradise
The best way to resist temptation is to wait patiently until you are wise enough or old enough not to have them – though old age is more reliable than wisdom.
And speaking of longevity: Could the Ottoman Empire become a success – if we measure success by might and longevity – without assimilating Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Assyrians, Kurds, Arabs, Iranians, Albanians, Georgians, Avars, Ingushi, Chechens, and a number of other Caucasian tribes (forty-five of them, according to some estimates) that were ruthlessly exterminated and driven out of their ancestral homes by the armies of Imperial Russia during a war that lasted several decades in the 19th Century? It is reasonable to assume that it was survivors of these Muslim tribes from the Caucasus that had settled in Anatolia that played a key role in carrying out Talaat’s policy of extermination in 1915.
And now, let’s consider Imperial Russia: to what extent was it Russian? Or rather, what were the contributions of non-Russians like Greeks, Jews, Georgians, Armenians, Germans, Tartars, Cossacks, and Ukrainians among others? All empires are mosaics, and it is no exaggeration to say that Armenians contributed equally to both the Ottoman and Russian Empires. Next question: what was the role of Armenians in the defeat, extermination, and exodus of the above-mentioned Caucasian tribes? Quite significant, according to SABERS OF PARADISE by Lesley Blanch, who is also the author of a biography of the French Turcophile novelist, Pierre Loti. Unlike Loti, however, Lesley Blanch was not an Armenian-hater. Neither was she anti-Russian because she also wrote several favorable books on Russia. According to her, the Russo-Caucasian war was also a religious war, which may explain the ferocity with which it was executed -- which brings to mind Voltaire’s celebrated dictum: “Since it was a religious war, there were no survivors.”
Anyone who wants to know more about the role of Armenians in this jihad is urged to read SABERS OF PARADISE, a fascinating book that I have read three times and plan to read again.
How Not To Solve A Problem
Those who are in no position to change things say we need solutions.
Those who may be in a position to change, if not things than perceptions, say, there is corruption everywhere. And those who know nothing and understand even less are brainwashed to say, first nation this, first nation that, Saroyan, Mikoyan, and Gulbenkian.
As for those who ought to know better, they say, we have to name names; speaking in terms of bosses, bishops, benefactors and similar generalities is meaningless because no one feels exposed. If you are one of them and pretend not to know what happens to those who dare to name names, allow me to enlighten you.
Once, when one of our weeklies named names, its publisher was dragged to court by one of our national benefactors, found guilty on a technicality (compliments of belly-slitting lawyers), was fined a catastrophic sum, forced to apologize, suffered a stroke, and was almost driven out of business.
An editor from Yerevan told me, after he named names, a gang of hoodlums showed up, vandalized his office, roughed up his personnel, and very kindly advised him to mind his own business.
Closer to home, when I asked one of our eminent editors why he published so many granny and massacre stories and none about our present problems, he refused to have anything to do with me.
Last but far from least, there are the poltroons who say it will take time. How much time? Ten years or from here to eternity? Their favorite answer is, about thirty or forty years, by which time they will be dead, buried, and no longer in a position to be proven wrong. These gentlemen, let’s call them time theorists, place their trust in time because that way they will be allowed to sit on their fat asses and do nothing, all the while projecting the image of concerned citizens.
You may now be in a better position to understand why Turcocentrism is the most popular subject with our speechifiers, sermonizers, editorializers, and dime-a-dozen pundits.
The Most Important Question
We have become such compulsive players of the blame-game that it doesn’t even occur to us to ask the most important of all questions: Where did we go wrong? Were we justified in trusting the Russians, the Great Powers, and the Young Turks? Was our trust in them based on historic precedent or propaganda? Was our optimism a result of objective analysis or wishful thinking?
My purpose in raising these questions is not to find fault with our past conduct – after all, what’s done is done and cannot be undone – but to ask, how justified are we when we predict the future by saying such things as, it will take two or three generations for our bloodsuckers to see the light and behave like servants of the people? Or, how justified are we in sinking millions on our anti-Turkish campaign in the hope that, since historic Armenia was ours 600 years ago, it will be ours again in the near or distant future because a fraction of the civilized world is with us? Or again, how justified are we in placing our trust in the verbiage of our bosses, bishops, benefactors, and Turcocentric baloney artists?
Another reason I ask these questions is that, if we want to convince the Turks to behave with some degree of honesty and decency, we must first put our own house in order. If we want to educate that fraction of the so-called civilized world that is not with us, we must begin by educating ourselves. If we want others to do the right thing, the least we can do is refrain from doing the wrong thing.
An Essay That Comes With A Warning
In what follows I speak only for myself and all those who brought me up to hate Turks. Repeat: none of the sentiments and thoughts expressed here applies to our Turcocentric pundits and miscellaneous baloney artists who, very much like all baloney artists, speak with a forked tongue when they say they hate no one, they only ask for what is theirs.
What does it take to understand a nation? The jury of historians and psychologists is out on that one, because, like individuals and human nature in general, nations are bundles of contradiction. They harbor within them the best and the worst. It is the easiest thing in the world to love or hate them by selecting and cataloguing their crimes or selfless heroic deeds and triumphs over adversity – an academic field of enquiry favorite by nationalist historians.
It may be flattering to our vanity to divide mankind into two, the good (us and our friends) and the bad (our enemies and their partisans). But how objective or valid is it? If we paint ourselves all white and our enemies all black, we shouldn’t be surprised if they do the same. Do we judge Germans by Bach and Beethoven or by Hitler and the Holocaust?
By repeating ad nauseam as we do that we are the victims and they are the victimizers, we may eventually end up convincing ourselves that we can do no wrong even as we behave like swine.
Zohrab observes somewhere that there are as many kinds of Armenians as there are environments in which they live. So that an Ottomanized Armenian and a Frenchified Armenian are as different from one another as a Turk is from a Frenchman – assuming of course there is such a thing as a typical Turk or Frenchman.
“Betrayed by an Armenian, he was saved by a Turk.” I remember to have heard or read this sentence somewhere in reference to Gomidas (Komitas) Vartabed. To make sure my memory is not deceiving me, I consult a recent biography, where I read the following: “Komitas’s opponents [among them Patriarch of Istanbul Ghevont Turian] contacted the Turkish secret police and falsely accused him of including politically subversive songs in his concert program.” (Rita Soulahian Kuyumjian, ARCHEOLOGY OF MADNESS: KOMITAS – PORTRAIT OF AN ARMENIAN ICON [Princeton, NJ], Gomidas Institute, page 74.)
Speaking of religious faith, Sartre says somewhere: “We believe that we believe, but we don’t believe. Likewise, we may believe that we understand Turks and Armenians, but we don’t.
As Phony As An Armenian In Search Of Solutions To Our P. .
There are no new ideas. Everything we say is either a paraphrase or a quotation. It has been said that all philosophers have been doing is footnoting Plato, whose works are quotations or paraphrases of Socrates. And where the ideas of Socrates come from? Probably from the pre-Socratics, most of whose works have not survived. What I am saying right now has also been said. Take this as a warning. If you read me or anyone else in the hope of discovering a new or original idea, you will be disappointed. “There is nothing new under the sun.” Even more to the point, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” Which means, our problems and their solutions are all in the convolutions of our brains. When a writer thinks he is expressing a new idea, it only means that he is either unaware of the very same idea expressed by someone else or he does not remember to have heard or read it.
In almost every Armenian discussion forum I have been, I have run across an idiot who takes it upon himself to contradict everything I say without even making the slightest effort to understand me. If Armenians remain divided to this day it’s because of this type of individual whose primary concern is not to advance our understanding but to assert some kind of moral, intellectual or patriotic superiority, which happen to be an extension of his ego and a figment of his imagination. When Zarian said, “Armenians survive by cannibalizing one another,” he had this type of idiot in mind.
Levon Shant begins one of his novels with the words: “In our literature as well as community affairs we have no one who is up to date with recent cultural developments.” Translated into dollars and cents this means: “We are at the mercy of hidebound philistines.”
Shant again: “Very few Armenians clearly understand that their gifts and abilities are a national asset that centuries of history have bestowed on them and that it is their responsibility to use this asset to achieve greatness.” This too could be abridged and paraphrased as, “So far we have failed to grasp the meaning of our history and our role in it.”
Shahan Shahnour: “Literature is beyond both optimism and pessimism.” It follows, to be a realist means to have two sets of adversaries.
ON REPEATING ONESELF
Because I write about Armenians and they write about Turks, they say I repeat myself.
There is more than one way for the victim to liberate himself from the criminal and his crime, and to seek justice in an unjust world is not one of them.
What’s wrong with Turcocentrism is that sooner or later it degenerates to hoodlumism. To our Turcocentric pundits I say: You want to write about Turks? Go ahead. It’s you right as well as privilege. We live in a democracy where free speech is a fundamental human right. But free speech should not be confused with abuse of free speech, or free speech only for myself and those who agree with me.
What’s wrong with hating Turks after what they have done to us? Go ahead and hate them as much as you want. But if you allow your hatred to color your views, you will do more harm than good to your cause. It may be your right to hate but it is your responsibility as a witness not to allow hatred to color your testimony.
Hatred breeds hatred, and Armenians who hate Turks will also hate their fellow Armenians or anyone who dares to disagree with them. I speak from experience. All Armenians are not saints and some of them may indeed deserve our hatred. But the more one is driven to hate, the more one should try to be objective.
To be objective means to think with one’s brain and not with one’s gut and ego, if only because neither the gut nor the ego is capable of reason. And if you are tempted to think, since these are the views of a minor Armenian scribbler they deserve to be ignored or dismissed as irrelevant, think again. Because what I am saying is what common sense and decency dictate. And to say, “If I know I am right and I know you are wrong, why should I respect your views?” is to legitimize fascism.
I repeat myself? Why would anyone read someone who repeats himself?
In a commentary today, a Middle East pundit of the local paper concedes that he does not understand the Middle East. “If you claim to understand what’s going on in Lebanon,” he writes, “you simply reveal the depths of your ignorance.” Who cares or really understands what happened a hundred years ago in the Ottoman Empire?
Instead of saying “that’s the way it is,” we should say, “that’s how I see it.”
What a book one could write on the eloquence of silence!
The best way to understand the status quo is by trying to change it. The easiest thing in the world is to say, “There is something wrong here,” the hardest, to set it right. The hardest because what motivates human conduct is neither reason nor love, but greed and hatred. And to love, in a political context, means to hate the same enemy.
When we say, “I understand,” we overestimate our powers of perception and underestimate the complexities of reality. Which is why there is some misunderstanding in all understanding.
Reality advances on an infinite number of lines, most of which are beyond our perception. When reformers and revolutionaries undertake the difficult task of changing the status quo, more often than not they go wrong because their perception of reality is limited. If philosophers, historians, and scientists disagree, it is for the same reason.
Dialogue is better than monologue because two eyes are better than one.
The first and most important requirement for a thinker is humility, which means admitting our nothingness in the face of Reality, which some call God.
Where do we go from here? Like Socrates, we teach ourselves to say, “The only thing I know is that I don’t know.”
WHAT’S WRONG WITH NATIONALISM?
In good plays by, say, Shakespeare or Ibsen, there are no good guys and bad guys. It is different with bad Hollywood movies. Something similar could be said of good or objective historians or bad or nationalist historians. When a nationalist historian writes a book about the past of his people, he will invariably portray them as the good guys and their enemies as the bad guys. To do this he will concentrate on documenting the crimes of the enemies and ignoring or covering up those of his own people. The easiest and most universal way of misunderstanding the past, and by extension, reality, is to allow oneself to be brainwashed by nationalist propagandists. In case you suspect I am beginning to adopt a denialist approach to our genocide, allow me to add that I understand the nature of prejudice, extremism, abuses of power, man’s inhumanity to man, and contempt for fundamental human rights, in short, evil, not only because of what the Turks have done to us, but also because I have come face to face with Armenian evil.
When writers like Shaw, Mann, Toynbee, or for that matters, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov write about evil, they begin with their own. This is exactly what our own writers have done. This is also what good Turkish writers are doing today. But if we are to believe our Turcocentric pundits, the West is corrupt, Turks bloodthirsty barbarians, and Armenians paragons of virtue. This type of one-sided, misleading, and superficial approach threatens to reduce a major human tragedy to a minor political farce.
CRAP AS NEWS
We read the following in IT’S NOT NEWS, IT’S FARK: HOW MASS MEDIA TRIES TO PASS OFF CRAP AS NEWS by Drew Curtis (Gotham Books, 278 pages, 2007): “Everyone claims to want real news, but no one really does.” That may be because people prefer fiction to fact, and illusion to reality.
Our Armenian-American press today is controlled by political parties and big money, that is to say, it is thoroughly pro-establishment. Who speaks for the underdog? No one, perhaps because almost every other institution is busy collecting money for a noble cause. Every other day I get a letter printed on fancy stationery and fancier letterhead that ends with Comrade Panchoonie’s favorite punch line: “Mi kich pogh oughargetsek” (Send us a little money). My guess is, for every underdog we have two fat top dogs in the charity business.
Next time you read a headline that says so many thousand or even million dollars were collected for a good cause in the Homeland, try to find out, if you can, how much of it ended in deep pockets and how much went to charity. We collect money for myriad causes, except one: investigative reporting. And why? Because we prefer crap to news.
WHEN IN A HOLE…
Garbage must be disposed, mediocrity rejected, fear of reality exposed. A community that fails in these endeavors is doomed. A singer sings to entertain, a comedian delivers lines that generate laughter, but a writer writes even when what he says neither entertain nor amuse his readers. The function of criticism (and all literature is criticism) is to expose contradictions, to say in effect, when you are in a hole, stop digging. Socrates was condemned to death because he exposed the ignorance of his fellow Athenians, and his fellow Athenians, the very same Athenians at the apex of their Golden Age (5th century BC) retaliated by silencing him permanently. Because Athenians were too vain and arrogant to face facts and admit their failings, they entered a long period of decline and disintegration never to rise again. They were conquered by such upstart barbarians as Macedonians, Romans, and Turks. A thousand years after Socrates, two of our greatest historians, Khorenatsi and Yeghishe (5th century AD) warned their fellow Armenians they were on the path of self-destruction, and they too were ignored; and what happened to the Greeks, happened to us. Now then, go ahead, rationalize, prevaricate, and deceive yourself all you want by blaming our defeats, tragedies, and present problems on historic, geographic, and social conditions beyond our control. Go ahead and continue to dig…
AN HONEST ARMENIAN
The first time I met an honest Armenian I thought he was nuts. I grew up in a ghetto inhabited by refugees whose central concern was survival in an alien environment in time of war – not exactly conditions favorable to the abstractions of literature and philosophy. To a hungry man, it has been said, a loaf of bread and a pair of boots are more important than the complete works of Plato and Shakespeare. Those who could read, read AZAD OR, an Armenian language daily whose fourth (and last page) consisted of obituaries, announcements, and advertisements. As for books: I grew up in a house with a single book, a dilapidated elementary school anthology. It was at the age of thirteen and in Italy that I discovered the world of books and met Vahé Esmerian, a cousin twice or thrice removed. He spoke of Dostoevsky (whose GAMBLER I had just read) and Alishan, the greatest Mekhitarist scholar and poet (“a mental masturbator”), Marx, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and many others. My first reaction to what he was saying was confusion, disorientation, and astonishment. If he is right, I thought, everyone else I had met until then must be wrong. If he is honest, everyone else must be either a dupe or a charlatan. Was that possible? I could not make up my mind. But I sensed that in his presence, the world became a less incomprehensible place and life ceased to be one damn thing after another.
Americans fought their bloodiest war in defense of solidarity. Have we shed a single drop of blood in defense of our own? If anything, we have done the exact opposite. Our tribal leaders and their dupes have killed one another to keep us divided. Does anyone know how many Armenians have been killed by fellow Armenians in the name of this or that dime-a-dozen ideology – make it, propaganda line – that has since been exposed as a Big Lie? To cover up the devastating consequences of their tribal policies, our dividers are fond of evoking historic, social, and cultural conditions and forces beyond their control, when all they have to do is take a good look at themselves in the mirror. I am beginning to suspect our favorite word is abracadabra, and our favorite mode of perception is self-assessment. We say, “We are smart. Abracadabra!” and lo and behold, we convince ourselves our single-digit IQ has performed a quantum leap to the stratosphere. We say, “We are nationalists. Abracadabra!” and we compound the felony by convincing ourselves we qualify. And when someone points out the fact that we are no better than a bunch of inbred tribal morons, we call him an enemy of the people, a traitor to the cause, and worse, a Turcophile!
FREE PRESS, ARMENIAN STYLE
You are of course free to say whatever you wish, provided you say nothing against God and capital -- make it, Capital and god – I mean benefactors and bishops – because, like everyone else, we are financially dependent on the generosity of our benefactors, and because bishops represent god on earth, and who would dare to criticize god? Besides, bishops, or rater their secretaries, provide us with a regular stream of press releases about their activities, projects, and recent developments dealing with the community, plus verbatim texts of sermons, in addition to buying advertising space for such things as Oriental rug sales, banquets, kefs, picnics, and so on and so forth. Get the picture? Criticizing them would be like biting the hand that lays the golden egg. As for our bosses: pretend they don’t exist. They are publicity shy anyway. Most Armenians don’t even know who they are. And remember, your job and mine depend on their say-so. One wrong word and we are out. Otherwise, as I said, you are free to say anything you want about the Genocide, provided of course you make it absolutely clear we had nothing to do with it, except for contributing victims. Perhaps I should also mention some subjects you had better avoid, subjects like solidarity, for instance. Solidarity is a subject best left to our editorialists, they know how to handle it. But just in case you are cornered or stumble into it, say we are all of it; it’s the opposition that’s against it. We are not the dividers, they are. We have always been for solidarity – 100%, body and soul. Same goes for all our other problems. Put the blame on the opposition. But otherwise, as I said, you must feel absolutely free to say whatever you wish, because ours is a free press, and we live in a democracy that considers free speech a fundamental human right…and all that crap.
QUESTIONS / ANSWERS
Why do you bother writing for idiots who insult you?
Smart readers don’t need my two cents’ worth. They may even be ahead of me in the sense that they keep silent because they have resigned themselves to the fact that ours is a hopeless case and no amount of reasoning will change anyone’s mind. Either that or they don’t give a damn one way or the other. But there is another and more personal reason why I persevere: I too was an idiot when I was young and pretended to know better when all I did was recycle a propaganda line. But one can’t stay young forever. Sooner or later – and I hope, with my help, sooner rather than later -- they will have to outgrow their present stage and confront reality.
How do you know they are not old enough?
I don’t judge people by their chronological age. I judge them by their mental age. You see, the danger in propaganda is not that it misleads people but that it makes them stupid.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
“Most people are bastards, and everything is bullshit.”* These are the last words of George Black, a member of the Canadian financial elite, who is said to have committed suicide. From now on whenever I enter an Armenian discussion forum on the Internet…Strike that! Forget I made the connection. Unfair to my fellow countrymen.
Goethe’s famous last words: “More light!” What did he mean by that? Some think he wanted his servant to open the curtains of his bedroom window. Others think by “light” he meant reason or some such elevated metaphysical concept. If the second, it sounds so damn pretentious. I prefer Black’s last words. No ambivalence there. Down to earth. To the point. My style – rude, negative, nasty.
Tom Bower, CONRAD & LADY BLACK: DANCING ON THE EDGE (London, 2006) page 20.
Why I Discuss Our Problems
Because all men are brothers and we Armenians are members of the same family known as mankind.
Because I am a human being first and an Armenian second, and if my understanding of our problems, and by extension of the human condition, is right, then I prefer to share it with all of mankind as opposed to a small fraction of it.
Because I know what it means to be a human being. As for being an Armenian: there are probably as many definitions of it as there are Armenians.
Because our problems are universal in so far as all nations, including the mightiest empires, have experienced divisions and defeats.
Because at all times and everywhere underdogs outnumber top dogs and entire continents today are populated by present and former refugees and victims of intolerance, persecution, poverty, starvation, war and massacre; and because every human being alive today has experienced hatred, injustice, and discrimination.
Because there is some degree of corruption and incompetence in all power structures for the simple reason that power corrupts both the powerful and the weak, and very often the weak more than the powerful.
Because I want our editors and moderators to know that their power goes only as far as their own diminutive backyards and their efforts to violate my fundamental human right of free speech are destined to be self-defeating and to boomerang.
Finally, I discuss our problems whenever and wherever I am given the opportunity to do so because not to do so would amount to covering them up and I reject that option as cowardly; I also believe a bigger audience enhances the probability of being corrected when wrong.
Bishop Desmond Tutu in NO FUTURE WITHOUT FORGIVENESS (New York, 1999, page 23): “If the victim could forgive only when the culprit confessed, then the victim would be locked into victimhood.”
Martin Luther King in a sermon delivered in 1957: “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship.”
It is not my intention here to advocate forgiving the Turks because I am not in the habit of advocating utopian daydreams. What I am doing is revealing two unfamiliar (to me) aspects of forgiveness that may well be in our self-interest.
GENERAL ANTRANIK ON NATIONALISM
“I am not a nationalist. I am on the side of underdogs of all nations.”
WHAT I KNOW ABOUT OUR GHAZETAJIS*
What neocons are to the Bush administration, our Turcocentric ghazetajis are to the Armenian nation: they speak hate and war (strike that! I meant to say justice) but when the time comes, they will let others to the fighting for them.
*ghazetaji: what paparazzi are to photojournalism, ghazetajis are to journalism.
LIES IN POLITICS
In Robert Dallek’s NIXON AND KISSINGER: PARTNERS IN POWER (New York, 2007) we are told that, as a translator in Germany after World War II, Kissinger learned the following lesson from camp survivors: “Impulses to dwell on past horrors would produce sorrow and self-pity, which were forms of ‘weakness’ that were ‘synonymous with death’” (page 39). Elsewhere Dallek quotes William Safire to the effect that both Nixon and Kissinger were “convinced that consistent lying can be the right thing for the country” (page 615). We are also informed here that they lied not only to the people but also to each other as well as to themselves – by believing in their own ‘image’, which, like all images, bears little relation to reality. This may suggest that in politics, and by extension history, the truth is constantly hidden from us and by the time it is revealed – if at all – it is too late because by then the damage is done and no one on earth has the power to unring the bell or resurrect the dead. As for those who say, perhaps even believe, that all politicians lie except ours: I envy their innocence but I have nothing but contempt for their loyalty, because loyalty to men, when it overrides loyalty to truth, is essentially a fascist concept.
BITCHES, PIMPS, AND MORONS
“A war against terrorism such as we have seen is an oxymoron undertaken by morons,” writes Gerry Spence in BLOODTHIRSTY BITCHES AND PIOUS PIMPS OF POWER (New York, 2006), which in my view is one of the very best books ever written about the conservative movement in America today with particular emphasis on such “talking heads” as Nancy Grace (may she rest in peace), Jerry Falwell (ditto), Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, and Pat Robertson. Elsewhere Spence quotes the following words by Rosa Parks: “People, not governments, bring change.” Further down: “A revolution begins not with guns but with a revolution of thought. A revolution of thought begins with a revolution of knowledge. A revolution of knowledge requires that people be fully informed. But here again we face a nearly impossible obstacle: the media that informs the people is also owned by the corporate King.”
Only a thoroughly brainwashed Armenian will assert our own leadership has been and continues to be less dogmatic, more tolerant of dissent, and less moronic. Which is why I feel justified in asserting: unless we thoroughly de-Ottomanize and de-Stalinize ourselves, mart bidi ch’ellank.
ON OUR COLLECTIVE NEUROSIS
Have we been so severely traumatized that we cannot see the obvious? Are we so arrogant as to think there is absolutely nothing wrong with us? We have been traumatized, no doubt about that. And I don’t just mean by massacres, deportations, exile, and slum life in alien countries, but above all by six centuries of subservience. To pretend there is nothing wrong with us and that we have emerged from the long nightmare without sustaining an injury to our psyche is to live in a realm of illusions that is totally divorced from reality.
Consider the manner in which we conduct controversies as a case in point. In a civilized context the aim of a controversy is not verbal massacre but compromise and consensus. And the aim of writing is not to spew venom and hatred (no matter how justified) but to share understanding. Hatred, like greed, selfishness, and baseless assumptions of moral superiority are not things that need to be promoted, encouraged, justified, and legitimized. On the contrary! Even more to the point, the aim of writing is not to blame our problems on others but to expose our own failings and contradictions. Finally, the function of a writer is to be an honest witness and not a cover-up artist.
HEROES AND REVOLUTIONARIES
Good Turks who risked their own lives to save Armenians during the Genocide: we have all heard about them. Revolutionaries who saved Armenian lives: that’s different. I have heard of revolutionaries who published voluminous memoirs much admired by fellow revolutionaries and hamagirs (fellow travelers). I am also personally acquainted with a good number of partisans who excel in delivering fiery speeches and publishing even more fiery commentaries and editorials. All that on the positive sides. On the negative side: I have heard of revolutionaries who killed (or is it executed?) or attempted to kill or threatened to kill fellow Armenians on the grounds that they were not patriotic enough – according to standards of patriotism established by them. Were they always rights on grounds of infallibility or fair on grounds that fairness is their middle name? (Imagine if you can a justice system based on standards and criteria established by the prosecution without benefit of judge and jury). I also remember to have read somewhere in Gourgen Mahari’s memoirs what General Antranik said about them (revolutionaries) – something to the effect that they deserve not medals but the hangman’s rope.
Who are our revolutionaries and what has been their role in our history? Their partisans will say one thing, their detractors another. If you ask me, I will say I am better at asking questions than at answering them because, unlike some of my fellow Armenians, I don’t know everything. My only tentative answer is that I trust neither partisans nor their detractors because they both suffer from an advanced case of selective memory. They may think or believe they speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but they speak only a fraction of it, which is how propaganda is defined: a fraction of the truth.
THEM AND US
Puzant Granian: “There is a Turk in all of us.”
Whenever I read one of my critics, especially those who belong to the Ottoman school of criticism, I am reminded of Zarian’s dictum: “An Armenian’s tongue can be sharper than a Turk’s yataghan.”
It seems to me we worry too much about Turks and not enough about the Turk within us.
Since we can’t engage in real massacres, we engage in verbal ones.
I once received an e-mail that said: “I am proud to be an Armenian!” Signed “Anonymous.”
Someday if the Turks forget what it means to be a Turk, I have every reason to suspect the consultant they will hire will be an Armenian.
Our Canadian Editor Murat has contacted Ara's home and talked to his family last week. He is well and on his holiday break to Europe.
Enjoy your break in Venice, Ara
All the best
Above Posts dated in around July and October 2002