30 July 2009
Confessions Of An Outcast
As a child I was not warned not to believe everything I was told. My father was too busy trying to provide for his family in time of war and starvation to be of any help. I made an ideal dupe and it didn't take much to convince me I was both smart and morally superior; and by the time I began to suspect I was neither, it was too late.
The trouble with liars is that they are seldom satisfied with a single lie. When they get away with a small lie, they come back with bigger lies, and as Hitler (who ought to know) once said, the bigger the lie, the more readily it is accepted as the truth.
My resentment grew when I understood I had been deceived not for my own good – to instill in me the self-confidence I needed to face an unfriendly world in an alien environment – but for their own: to gain my gratitude and loyalty.
I once overheard a member of our self-appointed elite who makes frequent appearances in our weeklies – one of those pompous and arrogant empty suits who rise to the top because they are expert brown-nosers – refer to Armenians in general as “assh*les” and sh*its” in the presence of lesser mortals who reacted with a chuckle of admiration at his daring wit.
Like Moliere's “bourgeois gentilhomme” who didn't know he had been speaking prose (as opposed to verse) all his life, I had no choice but to conclude I had been an “assh*le” and a “sh*t” all my life and hadn't known it.
And the truth set me . . free.
I gave up recycling propaganda (of which I had already produced a vast amount), became an outcast and the target of verbal abuse by Armenians who hated me because they hated giving up their illusions even more.
In my efforts not to betray my country – or rather, the pathetic buffoons who pretended to be in charge of its destiny – I had betrayed myself and I would spend the rest of my life repenting that transgression.
Three Memos To My Gentle Readers
1. If I quote from an odar book and you don't like what you read, don't waste your time trying to convince me otherwise. Nobody gives a damn what I think or write, not even Armenians. Write instead to the author or his publisher. By making me change my mind, you will accomplish nothing.
2. To those who demand to be taken off my list: I have no idea which list you are referring to. If you don't want to read me, Block or Spam my messages. It shouldn't take more than a second or at most two. Even better, if you don't want to see my garbage, don't send me yours.
3. I have been called many things by my charming fellow Armenians – a mentally unhinged ignoramus, an enemy agent, a capitalist, a communist, a poet, and at least on one occasion, an intellectual, or rather, a pseudo-intellectual. For the record, I am none of these things. I am only a shit-disturber. Anyway, that's my story and I am sticking to it.
CERTAINTIES & DOUBTS
When I was young, brainwashed, and knew everything, I rejected any and all ideas that did not fit in my belief system. Now that I am old and I have a better appreciation of the depths of my own ignorance, my first reaction to a new idea is to welcome it.
To say “I believe” is to think with the gut.
For everyone who thinks with his brain, there are two, sometimes even twenty-two, who think with their gut.
Likewise, for everyone who says “My country, right or wrong,” there will always be two, sometimes even twenty-two, who say “My country, right even when wrong!”
Certainties may be comfortable but they come with an expensive price-tag.
To believe in one's own arguments is to say, “This is the beginning and end of the story,” about a story that has neither beginning nor end.
At the root of all wars and massacres there are men of faith whose certainties outnumber their doubts.
Belief systems are worse than jails because they imprison the mind rather than the body.
Where dogmas clash, armies are sure to follow.
Teach yourself to say, “I don't know,” “I am not sure,” “I have my doubts,” and “Maybe.” You will have fewer regrets. Remember, we owe fools and fanatics to certainties.
CIVILIZATION AND BARBARISM
We are products of two contradictory fallacies: paternalism and tribalism, or the big lie that says our elders know better even when they divide us. Anyone who is brought up to believe that, will believe anything, including the illusion that we are smart.
Sooner or later all lies are exposed. This rule, too, like all rules, has its exception, namely, Armenian lies. Here are some more lies that have cost us much suffering and many lives but have since been exposed:
The Turks will not dare to massacre us because the Great Powers of the West are on our side and they will not allow it.
The Russians are our big brothers. If it weren't for them we would be annihilated by the Turks. (Result? 350,000 Armenian boys dead during World War II in defense of Stalin's regime. Number of Russians dead in defense of Armenia: zero.) To be noted: Armenians also died in defense of Hitler's regime. Their numbers, if published, is not known to me.
And the biggest lie of all: We are not Asiatic barbarians but civilized and westernized Christians. This, of course, in our own assessment of ourselves -- and when a fool assesses himself, he will go beyond smart, he will declare himself a genius.
And now, let us rise from theory to practice (as our Marxist brothers were fond of saying) or from abstractions and speculations to hard facts and the world of real things.
“In February of 1992, during the capture of the city of Khojali, Azerbaijan, by Armenian separatists, more than 1,000 people, mostly women and children, were murdered. Armenian troops subsequently invaded Shushi in 1992 and attacked more than 927 libraries and 22 museums. The result: 4,600,000 books lost, including ancient philosophical and musical treatises, as well as 40,000 rare books.”
The author of these lines is Fernando Baez, director of Venezuela's National Library, a world authority on the history of libraries, and a member of U.N. Committee investigating the destruction of libraries and museums.
For more on this subject, see: A UNIVERSAL HISTORY OF THE DESTRUCTION OF BOOKS: FROM ANCIENT SUMER TO MODERN IRAQ, by Fernando Baez. Translated by Alfred MacAdam (New York, 2008).
"When a crook kisses you, count your teeth."
"A friend you have to buy; enemies you get for nothing."
"Some academics are no better than jackasses because all they carry is a lot of books."
"A deaf man heard a mute tell him how a blind man saw a cripple run - on water."
"Two dogs can kill a lion."
"Henchmen are worse than their masters."
"When men quarrel, even God's anger does not frighten them."
"Bad men do well in this world, saints in the next."
"The one-eyed need sleep, too."
"We anger God with our sins, and men with our virtues."
"Where love is, no room is too small."
"It is easier to know ten countries than one man."
"The heaviest weight in the world is an empty pocket."
Eventually we must move into a metaphysical, unscientific, or purely imaginary realm that can be neither proved nor disproved, and that is the realm in which charlatans prosper.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
If it took brainwashing to convince you, it can't be true.
One of the safest assumptions you can make is that, the most important things you were taught as a child were lies.
At all times and everywhere, what we don't know far exceeds what we know, and this applies even to the wisest among us – from Socrates (“The only thing I know is that I don't know”) to Chekhov (“If I can't answer the most important questions, am I not fooling the reader?”).
We should teach our children to doubt and to question rather than to accept our answers as established truths.
The function of a truth is not to establish itself but to raise more questions.
Some of the greatest crimes against humanity were committed in the name of established truths.
When an established truth is contradicted by another established truth, the result will be two big lies. Case in point: American democracy versus Russian communism.
At the root of all empires there is a big lie.
And now, from the general and the abstract to the specific and the concrete:
If the most important function of the State is to reconcile conflicting interests, it follows, during most of our historic existence we have been a collection of stateless tribes at the mercy of fools who have done their utmost to brainwash us into believing they are smart.
REALITY & ILLUSIONS
Compared to Armenians, Canadians have very few problems, and yet they spend an inordinate amount of time discussing them in their media, unlike Armenians who spend even more time ignoring or covering them up.
I scan the latest issue of my Armenian weekly:
Navasartian games in California,
a new school building in Michigan,
a jubilee evening dedicated to one of our dime-a-dozen elder statesmen,
a headline with the word “basterma” in it,
articles about half-a-dozen minor celebrities
and their even more minor recent triumphs.
And now, consider the headlines in this morning's local paper:
Murder investigations and trials, burglaries,
a large variety of other crimes and misdemeanors,
waiting time in hospital emergency rooms,
several articles on greedy and incompetent administrators,
car accidents, politically incorrect civil servants,
corruption in high places,
the unemployment rate,
the sorry state of the economy, and so on.
If one were to judge Canadians and Armenians by the contents of their printed media, one would have to conclude that Canada is a morally bankrupt country on the verge of disintegration, and Armenians in their homeland and diaspora never had it so good because they are in the best of hands and everything that must be done is being done.
And if you believe that, I have no choice but to assume you also believe in Santa Claus and the theory that maintains the earth is as flat as a pancake.
Whenever the subject of compensating writers for their work comes up, we are informed we can't afford it. Which of course is another one of our big lies. My first paying job at the age of 18 was as translator for a partisan daily in Athens, and I was paid handsomely.
Near the end of his life, Granian, himself a prominent Tashnak and world traveler, once said to me: “We organize lavish banquets to celebrate anniversaries of total mediocrities, after which we have the audacity to say, there is no money...”
In a commentary I once wrote, I made fun of anniversary banquets and I remember to have said something to the effect that, unlike our Jack S. Avanakians, neither Tolstoy nor G.B. Shaw celebrated their 40th or 50th anniversary of their debut as writers. This must have offended a recent celebrant who called a friend of mine to tell him I should stop persecuting him. As Cagney would say: “They can dish it out but they can't take it.”
One of our philistines once wrote me an angry letter saying, “You are a writer. Behave like one, for heaven's sake. Stop talking about money. It's undignified. Imagine if you can Mozart or Beethoven talking about money.” In my reply I explained that I did not have to imagine anything, and that if he took the trouble to read Mozart's and Beethoven's letters, he would see that money is mentioned more frequently than any other subject.
You may have noticed by now that like most people I prefer to speak of my minor victories and to ignore my major defeats. May I therefore assure you, gentle reader, that my major defeats far outnumber my insignificant victories, and if I don't speak of them it may be because if I did I would be even more depressing, gloomy, unbearable, and unreadable.
One reason I don' mind exposing the negative aspects of our collective existence and ethos is that for everyone who writes as I do, there are dozens of apologists eager to explain and justify our ways on the grounds that everybody does it. There is some truth in that. There is no such thing as a stupid or incompetent nation, only stupid and incompetent leaders.
A WORD OF WARNING
One of the inevitable facts of life is that at one time or another we all become dependent on people who may know something we don't know. In a strange city, we depend on taxi drivers. When we experience chest pains, we check into the emergency and are examined by a cardiologist. When something goes wrong with the plumbing, we call a plumber. Where does an Armenian writer fit into this system? Nowhere. Who needs him? Nobody! What does he know that we don't know? Nothing!
The function of a historian is not to reconstruct the past by quoting witnesses and relevant documents – that's not history but “ant industry” (Spengler) – but to explain why things happened as they did.
The function of literature is not to entertain the reader by writing love stories, or odes to the mother tongue, or sonnets to the eternal snows of Mt. Ararat, but to understand reality.
When in the 19th century Raffi said Turkey was no place for Armenians, he was ignored. When Zohrab predicted the massacres, they said, “Zohrab effendi is exaggerating.” When Bakounts called communism “an infection,” he was betrayed to the authorities and purged. And when Zarian exposed the lies of the Kremlin, they called him a CIA agent.
Why am I saying these things? Simply to warn those of my readers who may harbor secret literary ambitions.
To be an Armenian writer means not only to be dependent on the charity of swine but also to recycle the propaganda of philistines, fools, and liars. If, on the other hand, you decide to speak the truth as you see it, my advice is, first declare financial independence and grow the skin of a crocodile...and may the mercy of the Lord be with you. Amen.
REVIEWING THE SITUATION
Optimism is unjustified when it ignores or covers up the seriousness of a problem on the erroneous assumption that what needs to be done it being done because we are in good hands.
Pessimism is also unjustified if it leads to defeatism, despair, and and paralysis.
What are some of the problems we face today?
In the Homeland, an unemployment rate so high that it results in mass exodus, prostitution, and brain-drain.
In the Diaspora, divisions that deplete valuable resources by duplicating facilities and services (schools, churches, libraries, fund-raising bureaucracies, and so on), and a high rate of alienation and assimilation (also known as “jermag chart” = white massacre).
Another serious problem that we face in both the Homeland and the Diaspora is the fallacy that patriotism consists in supporting not so much the Homeland as its leadership no matter how corrupt and incompetent.
A historic instance of optimism run riot is that of our dominant state of mind at the turn of the last century in the Ottoman Empire. Had our revolutionaries been pessimists and operated on the assumption that things could go not just wrong but catastrophically wrong, the outcome would have been less tragic.
Perhaps the function of a writer is to introduce pessimism in an environment ruled by optimists and vice versa; and in that sense, to stimulate not popularity but disapproval, disagreement, ridicule, rejection, and insults, all of which, may I add, are, to me at any rate, more congenial than the consent of brainwashed dupes and the charity of swine.
The world is full of them, and you will find them in the most unexpected places. If you don't believe me, listen to far better men than myself:
Arnold J. Toynbee: “Private intellectual enterprise, unlike private economic enterprise, lives by co-operation not by competition.”
One of our white-haired elder statesmen (may the Good Lord have mercy on his soul) once warned me that our academics form mafias and if you are not a member, they treat you like an unwanted interloper trying to muscle in their territory. We have a genocide mafia; we have a pro-Oshagan mafia...speaking of which: once many years ago, I tried to organize a pro-Zarian mafia, sinner that I am (as 19th-century Russian novelists liked to say); but I was successful in recruiting only one member, who turned out to be a quisling and defected to the Oshagan side. I felt betrayed then, but I am grateful to him now. The world can do better with one less jerkoff.
Toynbee again: “I am convinced that irreverence, where irreverence is due, is one of the cardinal virtues.”
In other words, when our “betters” behave like our worst, it is our patriotic duty to treat them with contempt rather than respect.
Toynbee: “It is always easier, both intellectually and morally, to debit one's ills to the account of some outside agency than to ascribe the responsibility to oneself.”
Or, it is easier and more convenient to play the blame-game than to examine our conscience. Naregatsi's LAMENTATION may be said to be an extended dramatization of this idea. When an eminent 20th-century British historian agrees with an 11th-century Armenian mystic who has been compared to Dante and Shakespeare, it is as sure a thing as money in the bank.
What follows is my real favorite:
Toynbee: “In the life which Man has made for himself on Earth, his institutions, in contrast to his personal relations, are the veritable slums, and the taint of moral obliquity is still more distressing in the least ignoble of these social tenements of the Human Spirit – for instance, in the churches and the academies – than in such unquestionably malignant institutions as Slavery and War.”
Chekhov once said, “There is no fool like an academic fool.” And according to an Armenian proverb: “If a beard were a sign of wisdom, goats would be philosophers.” To put it differently: Don't believe everything you are told even if the teller is a bishop or a professor – especially an Armenian bishops and an Armenian professor.
Kemal Yalcin "You Make my Heart Rejoice"
A friend writes:
One of the subjects interviewed by Kamal Yalcin was a tailor in Istanbul. He suffered a lot and decided to go to Armenia. He found out that Armenians suffer more in Armenia then they do in Turkey. THe KGB was brutal and there was no food. He ended up going back to Turkey.
WHO IS A GOOD ARMENIAN?
A good Armenian is first and foremost a good human being.
In that sense, a good Turk is a better Armenian than a bad Armenian.
A good human being, even if he is a Turk,
contributes to a pool of goodness
without which evil would triumph.
Who is a bad Armenian?
A bad Armenian is one who says “Yes, sir!”
to his superiors on the grounds that
they know better.
Some of the worst crimes against humanity
were committed by men who obeyed the laws of the land
and believed everything they were told
by men who were convinced God or truth to be on their side.
And they believed that because they could not tell the difference
between God and the Devil, or between truth and lies.
Thou shalt not believe sermonizers and speechifiers
who pretend to know better
but whose superior knowledge is nothing
but a vipers' nest of lies, superstitions, and prejudices.
To me, the quintessential bad Armenian is he
who not only divides the nation
but pretends to do so not to satisfy his ambition
but to save the nation.
Now then, name a single Armenian
who has done less dividing and more uniting.
If our dividers are bad,
what about those who support them in the name of patriotism?
Are they good or bad Armenians?
They can't be good.
That much we can say.
But are they really bad?
Hard to say.
At best they are misguided dupes.
At worst, they are fools
who have not yet learned to think for themselves.
Or, as the German saying has it:
“They are like dogs who know their master,
but not their master's master.”
There Is No Business Like... Writing For Armenians
Do you really know how I feel when I write?
I feel like a nun promoting virginity
to an audience of bordello madams and pimps.
In their efforts to make me see the light,
my critics succeed only in reinforcing my convictions.
I probably have a similar effect on them.
But then, my aim is not to change anyone's mind
-- I am not a miracle worker –
but to let our Jack S. Avanakians know that
they can't fool all the people all the time.
I know they read me because they correct me.
As for those who insult me,
I don't take them seriously.
Anyone who takes a dislike at me
will insult me without reading me,
and even when he reads me,
he will make no effort to understand what he reads.
On the contrary: he will go out of his way to misunderstand me.
Do you know why I never run out of things to say?
Because I use my enemies as my muses.
THE TROUBLE WITH HONESTY
The trouble with being honest is that you will never know how many people will get hurt. But that's all right as long as you are one of them.
It happens to me more or less regularly: I try to solve a problem but I am not sure if I can. I go ahead anyway on the grounds that doing something is better than doing nothing, and trying is better than giving up – and by the time I am through, I have created more problems for myself.
Moral: The most important thing to know about digging a hole is to know when to stop.
A Turkish friend once said to me: “Why is it that you and I agree on everything except the Genocide?” The only answer I could come up with was: “Probably because we have been brainwashed by two different sets of propagandists.”
Speaking of disagreements: Have you ever noticed that whenever you successfully demolish a bureaucrat's arguments, he says, “Let me check with my supervisor.” And when he comes back, he does so with a decision that is invariably against you.
I have lost more arguments against invisible and non-existent supervisors than anyone else.
German saying: “A dog knows his master, but not his master's master.”
Nothing comes more naturally to victims of a great injustice than to inflict minor injustices on their friends.
One of the most incomprehensible things about human beings is their willingness to subject themselves to the verbiage of speechifiers and sermonizers.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT
Shortly after Henry Fonda asked for a divorce from his wife, she killed herself by slitting her throat with a razor – not my favorite method of vacating the premises.
He once explained his multiple marriages by saying: “If I made penetration, a proposal was the next step.”
Joan Crawford on Otto Preminger: “Otto is a dear man, sort of a Jewish Nazi, but I love him.”
Lee Marvin to Marlon Brando: “I'm thinking of changing my name. To Marlow Brandy.”
Brando: “I think I'll change my name, too. To Lee Moron.”
A critic to Charlie Chaplin: “You never have any interesting camera angles.”
Chaplin: “I don't need interesting camera angles – I am interesting.”
Ernest Borgnine begins his autobiography by quoting a chestnut vendor's sign that said: “I don't want to set the world on fire, I just want to keep my nuts warm.” He adopted that as his “philosophy,” he writes.
In his old age he once sat on the knees of a Wal-Mart Santa Claus and said: “I would like a blonde,” and the Santa replied: “So would I.”
Unlike his movie image, Borgnine comes across as a harmless and lovable fellow. He has something nice to say about everybody, except Shelley Winters, which is understandable.
Orson Welles on Anthony Asquith: “My God, he was polite. I saw him, all alone on the stage once, trip over an electric cable, turn around, and say 'I beg your pardon' to it.”
OF CABBAGES & KINGS
As an underdog, I identify myself with underdogs of all nations and I loathe all murderers and rapists even when they call themselves Alexander the Great and Suleiman the Magnificent. How “Great” was our own Dikran to his victims?
Once upon a time I had an insatiable curiosity about Armenians. I read and reviewed books – sometimes as many as three at a time – in which Armenians were mentioned. Not any more. I have had enough of their subservience to authority, that is to say, to bearded cassocks, empty suits, and fat-bellied slobs.
It is not “white man who speaks with a forked tongue,” but power. For centuries the average dupe believed kings ruled in the name of God. And when the Czars (Russian for Caesars) were replaced by commissars, things got from bad to worse.
The historic evidence seems to suggest that when men rule, it is more likely that they do so in the name of the Devil.
How do you convince the average Armenian who has been brought up to believe he is smarter than the smartest “hria” that his political IQ hovers somewhere between +1 and 0?
Orson Welles: “Magic is directed almost entirely to men. Women hate it – it irritates them. They don't like to be fooled. And men do.”
PROJECTIONS & CONJECTURES
Armenians bore the hell out of me –
their stiff-necked dogmatism,
their addiction to brag,
their pathological preference for comfortable lies
and their phobia of painful truths;
their endless internecine conflicts,
their deep insecurities which find expression
in loud-mouth (borodakhos) arrogance...
Relax! I am not talking about you, gentle reader.
I am talking about myself when young.
I have no doubt whatever in my mind that,
unlike me, you are a noble specimen of humanity
and butter wouldn't melt in your mouth,
or anywhere else for that matter.
A nation that has been lied to consistently
will be inclined to believe only liars.
You cannot speak in praise of capitalism
in a communist country and vice versa.
It is a risky business
discussing democracy with fascists;
and nothing can be as hard
as trying to reason with dupes of propaganda.
What could be more subversive
than a lecture on atheism in a cathedral,
or a speech on human rights in an Armenian community center?
I don't study history in order to enhance my self-esteem.
I study history to understand my fellow men and myself.
Anyone who studies history for any other purpose
is doomed to understand nothing.
Armenianism is an “ism” like any other ism.
It should be carefully analyzed and not adopted as a belief system.
More blood has been shed in the name of patriotism
than any other ideology or religion.
If patriotism means loyalty to one's nation
and disloyalty to the rest of mankind,
I want no part of it.
“My country, right or wrong!”
should also stand for “My country, rich or poor,”
and “My country, in peace or war.”
A true patriot living in self-imposed exile is an oxymoron
(with emphasis on the last two syllables);
and a warlike patriot who is unwilling to kill and die
speaks with a forked tongue.
A SIMPLE APOLOGY
Allow me to introduce myself: “A.B., Armenian scribbler.” Which in our environment stands for less than nobody. And worse. In the words of one of our national benefactors, speaking to an elderly writer and teacher who had dared to contradict him: “I hire and fire people like you every day.” And yet, every statement I make is carefully analyzed by some readers as if a single wrong word in the wrong place would mean the total collapse of their inner world and the disintegration of the Homeland.
And what is it exactly that I have been saying? Simply this: I don't believe everything I am told by our sermonizers, speechifiers, and fund-raisers who operate on the assumption that the more they flatter us the more generous will our contribution be to their cause.
If I have been wrong, what has been my greatest mistake? Only this: to think that if my aim is to understand what's happening to us, I prefer to learn from our writers, most of whom worked for minimum wage or even nothing, unlike our bosses, bishops, and benefactors, who as far as I know have at no time been dependent on the charity of swine.
And now, may I share with you some of the things that I have learned:
From Movses Khorenatsi I have learned that our decline as a nation began in the 5th century A.D. (see his LAMENTATION).
From Yeghishé I have learned that in a divided nation, both the dividers and their dupes are destined to bite the dust.
From Naregatsi I have learned that it is a waste of time blaming others for our misfortunes and blunders. We should instead examine our conscience.
From Baronian and Odian I have learned that our religious and political leaders are not our “betters” but our worst.
From Zohrab I have learned that a free press is a key ingredient in every healthy community.
From Zarian I have learned that cannibalism and Christianity are mutually exclusive concepts.
To those who say my selection of writers is biased and reflects my preconceptions and prejudices, and that there are many others who have been more positive in their assessment of our past; I say yes, I agree. From Hagop Oshagan I have learned that a writer with a family to support will say anything to please those on whose goodwill he depends for his survival. And the sad truth is, such writers have always outnumbered the dissidents.
If I am a pessimist, it may be because so is our literature, but not to worry: for everyone who thinks as I do, there are hundreds perhaps even thousands who produce the kind of verbiage whose sole intent is to flatter our bruised egos and to convince us into believing we are in good hands and we never had it so good.
“Mi kich pogh oughargetsek.”
When asked by a friend to respond to some of his critics, Orson Welles is quoted as having said: “Cannot imagine what you expect me to write...beyond simple apology for having been born.”
THE POWER AND THE GLORY
One way to explain our status as perennial underdogs is to say that our ruling classes have spent more time, energy, and resources fighting among themselves and collaborating with our oppressors than serving the interests of the people. The reason why I think that way is that I have an instinctive loathing of all power -- be it the power of emperors, kings, sultans, popes, ayatollahs, bosses, commissars, and revolutionaries, especially failed revolutionaries who end up doing more harm than good, after which they waste the rest of their allotted time on earth rewriting history, brainwashing the people, and portraying themselves as heroes and our victims as martyrs. And what is even more outrageous, they are believed by some. And whenever a dissenter comes along – and our literature has been one of dissent – and explains things to us honestly and objectively, we either silence him or ignore him, sometimes we even betray him to the authorities, the very same authorities that have dehumanized us.
“Mart bidi ch'ellank / esh bidi menank.”
If I knew how to pray, I would go down on my knees and say:
“O Lord, I implore you from the depths of my heart,
help me to see that so far
everything I have said, written, and thought
has been wrong, and that our leaders
have been men of vision and humble servants of the people,
and all our dissidents have been
no better than the scum of the earth.
For thine is the power and the glory.
THE ENEMY WITHIN
After publishing an interview with a Tashnak leader, in which he reminisced about his predecessors and the way they had shaped his character and worldview, a Ramgavar leader wrote a letter to the editor in which he exposed Tashnak leaders as phonies and myself as a dupe.
More recently, in Gourgen Mahari's memoirs, I read about an encounter with General Antranik in which he is quoted as having said that Tashnak leaders deserve the hangman's noose.
It is common knowledge that the heroes of one nation are more often than not unknown nonentities to its enemies.
The French Revolution spawned two sets of historians, Royalists and Republicans. Even when these two factions agree on what happened, they disagree violently on its reasons, motives, and consequences.
In my edition of the SOVIET-ARMENIAN ENCYCLOPEDIA the most frequently quoted authorities in the bibliographies on a large variety of subjects are Marx, Engels, and Lenin.
What I am trying to say here is that anyone who subscribes to a belief system is a dupe or a pathological liar to those who subscribe to a different belief system; and this is true not only of nations and their enemies but also of groups within the same nation or, for that matter, religion or ideology. Stalinists and Trotskyists, Catholics and Protestants, Sunnis and Shias. The irony here is that there is more intolerance and hostility within the same religion and ideology than between alien belief systems.
Whom to believe? My answer is to dismiss all of them as pathological liars inebriated with their own self-righteousness.
There are of course many honest men who are also believers. I have nothing against them, except the suspicion that their critical faculties may not be fully developed.
To those who say it is not skeptics and critics who build cathedrals and raise empires. J.S. Bach was neither a critic nor a skeptic.
I have no use for empire builders.
As for Bach: I worship him to such a degree that I have dedicated a good fraction of my life to the study of his works; and as far as I know, no one has ever been victimized, deceived, or exploited in his name.
“I BELIEBE IN AMERICA”
Remember the opening line of THE GODFATHER? The screen is dark. The voice is that of an undertaker. His name is Buonasera (“good night” in Italian). His daughter has been raped and beaten by two hoodlums and since he cannot get justice in the courts, he begs for justice from Don Corleon (“heart of a lion”).
I once had a friend who also believed in America. He was a chain-smoker. He breakfasted on bacon and eggs with buttered toast. He was a chic Bolshevik (a middle-class Armenian-American who hated Tashnaks, supported the Soviet system, and believed the Russians to be our Big Brothers), until he had a heart attack, open-heart surgery, and the Soviet Union collapsed.
What do we really know about what goes on within us or around us? What do we really know about our past? How many of us are interested in reading historians as opposed to ghazetajis and dispensers of “graphic porn”?
The Garden of Eden.
The Cradle of Civilization.
The Battle of Avarair.
Is anyone out there really interested to know that the Battle of Avarair is Mamigonian propaganda? It never happened.
We live in darkness. What we don't know far exceeds what we know. And it is this area of darkness that is exploited by advertisers, ideologues, propagandists, sermonizers, speechifiers, and fund-raisers. To say “I believe in America” also means “I believe in American lies.”
Why am I saying these things?
What am I driving at?
What is the moral of the story?
“Don't be a fool!”
Whenever I say tribal divisions have been at the root of all our defeats and miseries, someone is sure to raise his voice and say: “What chance did we have against much more powerful enemies like the Romans, Arabs, Tatars, Mongols, Turks, and Russians, among others. But I maintain we were defeated not because we were small and our enemies big, but because we could not shed our tribalism, which is as true today as it was then. There is no limit to what a nation, any nation, no matter how small, can achieve if it stands united. As a case in point, consider Vietnam versus France and the United States, the mightiest empire in the history of mankind. America lost the war not only because Vietnam's resistance was heroic, obstinate and single-minded but also because America was divided – successive Administrations were for the war but an important fraction of the people was against it.
Which is another benefit of solidarity: it tends to divide the opposition.
Closer to home: in his magisterial 12-volume STUDY OF HISTORY, Toynbee speaks of Urartu versus the Assyrian Empire, one of the mightiest empires of its time. Though repeatedly attacked by the formidable military machine of Assyria, Urartu stood its ground and never lost its independence. And why? I will let you answer that question.
What's done is done and cannot be undone. We cannot change the past, only our perception of it. If I write about past blunders and failings it is not to rub salt on our collective wound but to expose present blunders and failings, which we refuse to acknowledge because we have become so subservient to authority, any authority, including our own, that we believe what we are told, even when what we are told is a bare-faced lie.
We go further: instead of analyzing our present condition objectively and honestly, we speak endlessly about someone else's criminal conduct. To what end? To remind us of our status as victims and to assert moral superiority?
Speaking for myself: I do not feel morally superior to anyone, and I am fed up to the point of disgust with our status as perennial victims. And if you, gentle reader, do not feel as I do, I can only say, to each his own. I for one have no intention of standing between you and your miserabilism.
Finally a book by a distinguished scholar (see below) in which the work of nationalist historians is described as “graphic porn.”
One reason the Balkans are a vipers' nest of internecine conflicts is that each ethnic group has its own version of the past wherein it represent itself as innocent victim and its neighbors as “guilty bastards.” To combat this trend, a group of multi-ethnic enlightened historians has decided to produce textbooks that are objective, honest, and fair to all sides, and whenever there are two contradictory versions of the same event, to give both sides of the story.
One of these historians, Nenad Seber by name (a British citizen of mixed parentage) is quoted as having said: “Turkish history says the Ottoman Empire was incredibly enlightened, a heaven of religious tolerance, a golden age for the Balkans. According to Greek history books, it was 5 centuries of rape, slavery and butchery. We've moved away from all that. In our Ottoman Empire workbook, for example, we've got a Turkish historian talking openly about the Armenian massacres.”
For more on this subject, see Justin Marozzi's THE WAY OF HERODOTUS: TRAVELS WITH THE MAN WHO INVENTED HISTORY (Philadelphia, PA, 2008).
ON OUR CELEBRITIES
As a child I was brought up to brag about Gulbenkian, Saroyan, Mikoyan, Mamoulian and our Byzantine emperors. As an adult I discovered that Mikoyan was so fearful of Stalin's secret police that he slept with a revolver under his pillow planning to kill himself if they came to arrest him in the middle of the night. And when Stalin ordered the purge of “enemies of the people” in Armenia, Mikoyan went about it with the thoroughness of Talaat, with one difference: whereas in Talaat's holocaust Zarian, Oshagan, and Zabel Yessayan survived, by the time Mikoyan was through his purge there were no survivors except for a handful of yes-men like himself.
It is common knowledge that only 7% of Gulbenkian's vast fortune is earmarked for Armenians. I will not speak his private life because it is not fit for human consumption.
At no time did Rouben Mamoulian extend a helping hand to Armenian actors, and in this he was not different from his Jewish bosses who were against hiring actors that looked remotely Jewish.
Saroyan's fictional characters are typical Armenians only in the sense that Tevye the Milkman (of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF fame) is a typical Jew. Saroyan “stylized” (his word) Armenians to make them more palatable and harmless to his American audience. But according to his most recent biographer, near the end of his life he was suspicious of all Armenians, including his own children.
As for our Byzantine emperors: their foreign policy was consistently anti-Armenian.
Raffi once said that “treason and betrayal are in our blood.” What he failed to add is that this is especially true in our “best and brightest.”
Celebrity is an impure concept. To admire some Armenians simply because they achieved fame and fortune in foreign countries and to ignore the achievements of many others, among them Naregatsi, Abovian, Raffi, Baronian, Odian, and Zarian, is to choose the wrong role models for our children and, in doing so, to corrupt our values and to undermine the integrity of the nation.
It was only in old age that I learned to assume responsibility for my actions. Until then one of my favorite mantras was, “As a result of political, social, and cultural conditions beyond our control...” which translated into dollars and cents simply means, “not my fault.” The longer we postpone kicking a bad habit, the harder it gets doing what must be done.
A dishonest leadership will spawn a dishonest educational system and dishonest citizens. It is widely known that during the Soviet era everyone engaged in petty larceny. They had no other option if they wanted to survive. There are over a thousand Armenians in California jails today. You may now guess their country of origin. Habits are easier to keep than to give up.
In the Ottoman Empire we were Ottomanized; in America Americanized; in the Middle East Levantinized; in the USSR sodomized – meant to say Sovietized – not that it makes a difference. It was inevitable. It was as a result of political, social, and cultural conditions, blah, blah, blah!
At the turn of the last century our political leaders were idealistic intellectuals, daydreaming poets and revolutionaries inexperienced in the ways of international diplomacy. They tried to transplant progressive Western ideas into an essentially Asiatic environment. Today our leaders are shrewd, down-to-earth, practical businessmen and cynical bureaucrats whose defining feature is contempt for ideas.
National benefactors are our kings and heroes now. As for our vodanavorjis and mdavoragans: they are no better than contemptible beggars and brown-nosing academics.
Who in his right mind would choose a corrupt, incompetent, and undemocratic leadership over freely elected honest administrators whose first and most important priority is the welfare of the people?
Next question: When was the last time in our millennial history when we the people were given a choice? Bad habits are easier to keep than to give up.
Let us now pray!
To Friends Who Have Time To Read And Enjoy Observations Of An Excellent Writer:
I hope you will enjoy reading this essay written in sincerity, but addressing mainly Armenians!
However,since it is openly posted, I am sure the writer will not mind if his essay is shared by non- Armenians as well. The lessons of life are equal for all humans, irrespective of faith or nationality. Wise words, need not to have a passport or visa for acceptance!
I sincerely compliment the writer, with my minor and very rare reservations.
Addendum notes and counter comments:
A. Every problem has a solution. Hence, if there is no solution it means THERE IS NO PROBLEM!
B. Armenianism, Patriotism or MONETARISM (potorig)?
The collection of funds was to be implemented formally in the name of the Responsible Central Committee of Constantinople. This project was given the name of “Potorig” (storm)hamharian and Sarkis Parshegian. Were to be assigned to “Potorig” by Kristapor. The first attempt of collection was made at Shoushi in Karabagh, from the millionaire Isahag Zhamharian. After promising to pay the demanded amount of (30 thousand rubles) Zhamharian denounced those who had met him to the Tsarist police. As a result, Sarkis Parshegian was arrested.
Three months later, in the courtyard of the Armenian church in Moscow, in the midst of a large crowd, Isahag Zhamharian was stabbed to death by the Dashnaktsakan terrorist Mateos . Afterward, “Potorig” was to continue for about a year in the large cities of Transcaucasia and Russia. Certain capitalists who abstinently persisted in their refusal to pay (e.g. Janpoladian, Atamian) were sentenced to death. But on the whole, the majority of the upper classes paid heed, sometimes complying completely with the demands, and sometimes bargaining.
According to the accounts presented by Kristapor to the Third World Congress (1904), “Potorig” had raised 432.500 francs or 163.208 rubles – below initial expectations, yet a substantial amount.
During the same period the same sort of project was organized by Hrach in Smyrna to finance the work in Cilicia. In implementing the project, the ARF lost a few of its men; nevertheless, iy also carried out several dramatic assassinations.>
[p.63 - History of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation – Hratch Dasnabedian]
C. Turkish proverb: “A hungry rooster, cries for a barn full of barley”!
D. Equation: “Half truths are equal to half lies”!
E. Correction on Talaat's image: Talaat was the most acclaimed CUP leader by all Armenians! But after he discovered a coup by Hunchakists of Romania to assassinate him
in early 1915, his sentiments changed! Yet, he was still assassinated in Berlin few years later by an Armenian, who was "found not guilty for murderşng"!.
(Although he was the last CUP Grand Vizier, when he fled to Berlin he was almost penniless to an extent that he had to give his gold cigarette holder to a pawnshop for credit!).
Sukru S. Aya - Istanbul 31.07.09