1252) Chok Ghareshterma, Bokhou Chekar

Even as children in the ghetto we used to quote a Turkish saying that, if memory serves, went something like this: "Chok ghareshterma, bokhou chekar" - freely translated: "Don't stir things too much, you may expose the shit."
Listen to a German philosopher (Herbert Marcuse) saying almost the same thing: "Remembering the past may be a source of dangerous intuitions, which is why an established society has reason to fear the subversive contents of memory." . . . . .
Speaking of simplifications, I remember to have read somewhere the following assertion by a Turkish diplomat to an American politician: "Why all the fuss about Armenian massacres? We did to them what you did to your Indians. Think of Armenians as our Indians." .
Perhaps my mistake consists in not allowing my patriotism to direct and shape my analysis. But if I were to value my patriotism over my objectivity, I would do what our enemies do and say, in effect, even at our worst we are better; or, even our crap is better than their rose-jam.
I believe in Armeno-Turkish dialogue, but I also believe before we tackle that challenge, we should learn to engage in Armeno-Armenian dialogue.
I prefer a tolerant Turk to an intolerant Armenian.
Everyone writes these days: politicians, singers, actors, directors, Popes, Oriental carpet dealers (at least three of them wanted me to translate their memoirs into English), bordello madams, and serial killers. When my plumber found out I was a writer, he said he too was writing a book.
Why would anyone who knows anything about Armenians and Armenian literature choose to be an Armenian writer? I wish I knew. As for success: I shall consider myself a success if I survive. and so far so good.

We are addicted to bragging and lamenting. But whereas what we brag about (such as Dikran’s ephemeral empire) is known, as a rule, only to ourselves, what we lament about (the massacres) is more widely known. Another peculiarity of ours: what we brag about we credit to ourselves, but what we lament about we debit to foreign accounts, i.e. the hypocrisy of the West and the barbarism of bloodthirsty Turkish fanatics.

As a child I too was brainwashed to brag until it dawned on me that most people didn’t give a damn about us, or they cared about us as much as we cared about the triumphs and tragedies of countless other nations and tribes throughout history.

As a child I was taught about the fact that at a time when the French and the English lived in caves and forests like wild beasts, we enjoyed a Golden Age, our translation of the Bible was called “the queen of translations,” and our literary works were universally acknowledge masterpieces; until I realized that the overwhelming majority of Armenians couldn’t even name a single one of these so-called literary masterpieces.

The question that I was never taught to ask is, if we were civilized fifteen centuries ago, why is it that we have today the political awareness of children, that is to say, barbarians living in caves and forests? So much so that, the average Armenian considers anyone who fails to flatter his vanity by recycling chauvinist crapola or is a hostile witness and an enemy who should be silenced.

To Armenians addicted to bragging, I suggest the following: Brag all you want, provided you do so in the privacy of your own homes and within the confines of your own club of mutual admiration, of which we have many more than a dog has fleas. But if you insist on bragging in public, do so in such a manner as not to be a source of embarrassment to decent Armenians.

I define a decent Armenian anyone who is aware of our collective failings, has acquired a more or less objective view of our past, and is thus in a position to decipher the writing on the wall. This type of Armenian may be rare, but he exists. As a matter of fact, I happen to be personally acquainted with some of them myself.

Finally, a warning: One of the worst mistakes an Armenian can make is to view our past through the eyes of our own historians. Imagine, if you can, a law that says, when it comes to character witnesses in a court of law, only mothers are qualified to testify for their sons.

We study history to learn from it. As junkies of medievalism and massacrism, the only thing our historians have taught us is to brag or lament.

According to a well-know maxim, "No one wins a war," and since all war-makers operate on the assumption that they will be the victors (because no one in his right mind goes to war to lose it), it follows, all war-makers are wrong.

Armenians make great emperors (Basil I), politicians (Deukmejian), and diplomats (Mikoyan), but only outside Armenia. In Armenia and Armenian environments in Diaspora they produce nothing but second-rate bunglers who either brag or lament with the full support of our academics, brown-nosers, and dime-a-dozen know-it-all pundits. We have been and continue to be at the mercy of mediocrities whose number one enemy is excellence and whose number one concern is number one.

A headline in our local paper today reads: "Canadians increasingly cynical about government." The article goes on to explain that only one in four Canadians trust their politicians. My guess is, only one in 400 or perhaps even 4000 Armenians trust theirs.

What's the use of writing if nothing changes? But if perceptions change, reality may follow. One can always hope, of course.

Yes, provided one does not confuse hope with wishful thinking. But what if hope is another word for wishful thinking? One must go on if only because the alternative is silence and despair.

In today's editorial cartoon a war veteran is reading his daily paper with headlines on the front page about political scandals, indictments, and wheeling-and-dealing, as he muses: "My comrades and I fought for this?" And as I scan the headlines about Turks and Turkey (19 of them) in the latest issue of an Armenian weekly (16 pages) I cannot help wondering: "Did our writers work and die for this?"
Strange country, stranger people! They utter a cliché or a platitude and call it a philosophy. In a land devoid of philosophers, everyone is a philosopher.

If the Turks behaved like wolves and we had no choice but to behave like sheep, where the hell were our shepherds?
An exchange of insults cannot be an exchange of views.
Where there is no exchange of views. There will be no vision.
And where there is no vision, the blind will lead the blind and both shall fall into the ditch.
When asked if as good Christians Armenians should love Turks, an 80-year old born-again Armenian replied: "Armenians hate one another, and you expect them to love Turks?"
After calling me an "intellectual" and identifying me as a "mental masturbator" and a "scumbag," some of my readers demand that I solve our problems. It doesn't even occur to them that they may well be our most serious problem.
Saroyan felt sorry for Turks because by committing and denying the Genocide, they were committing moral suicide. What if, by adopting a Turcocentric view of life and making hatred our central concern, we too are committing collective moral suicide, or genocide by other means?
Don't take everything I say personally, please! I assure you I have nothing against underdogs, victims, and dupes. I am after bigger game: namely, those who brainwashed you and are now engaged in brainwashing the next generation. There is another reason why I have nothing against you personally. When I was your age I too was a loudmouth smart-ass who made a nuisance of himself. In today's jargon, I know where you are coming from. It's a stage in life that we all go through. It can't last. Life being the most skilled teacher, it will not allow it to last.

On The Spirit Of Contradiction
The ambition of every underdog is to be a top dog, and the ambition of every fool is to be smart by pretending to know better -- to say in effect: "I may not be as big as you, but mine is bigger than yours."
If I hold a mirror up to you and you don't like what you see, am I to blame?
Some of our benefactors think of wealth as a blessing from above. They are not satisfied with being experts on how to make money; they also like to parade as makers of cultural policy and role models of ethical conduct. But they are no better than damn idiots if they think they can bribe the Good Lord by building churches.
Our political bosses are not satisfied with being "of no political use to us" (Zarian); they too compound the felony by making cultural policy. Hence, our unspeakable mediocrity in all fields of artistic endeavor. The very few who have achieved a modicum of success have been alienated outsiders.
I respect anyone who knows better, but my contempt for those who pretend to know better is without bounds. If I were a dictator I would go as far as declaring them guilty of a capital offense.
"Truth is a language that if not spoken is forgotten." I did not say that, Hagop Baronian did.
"The miracle is not that we survived our enemies; the real miracle is that we survived our leadership." I said that.

Crime Stories
My kind of writing is not my favorite kind of reading. May I confess that I have never been able to read Montaigne's ESSAYS from beginning to end. I prefer crime is the only Hemingway story I have read three times. Chandler's FAREWELL, MY LOVELY I have read four times with undiminished excitement for its poetic use of slang. No other story given me as much pleasure as Hammett's DEAD YELLOW WOMEN. I love these writers not so much for the suspense they provide as for their wit, humor, and dialogue. If I could, I would write crime stories. But my experience with cops and killers is next to nil. I have been inside a police station only once, many years ago, when I reported a roaming German shepherd attacking pedestrians. The cop at the desk didn't even bother to look at me, he simply grabbed the phone on his desk and I didn't wait long enough to hear what he said.
My fascination with crime stories began with Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame, and Dostoevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. And my fascination with Simenon (the most prolific of them all, over 600 titles) began with Andre Gide's JOURNALS, where he describes at considerable length his own fascination with Simenon.
There are some crimes stories in which the guilty party is neither the butler nor any of the usual suspects, but the narrator himself. On second thought, perhaps I too write crime stories when I focus on the origins of our complexes and contradictions, and instead of naming the obvious suspects (bloodthirsty neighbors and cynical West) I cross-examine myself.
A headline in this morning's paper reads: ISTANBUL: ALMOST 25,000 PROTESTERS DENOUNCE POPE BENEDICT. Nothing astonishes me more than the self-righteousness of the guilty. Instead of denouncing Muslim extremists, terrorists, insurgents, and jihadists, they protest against a remark made by a Christian emperor a thousand years ago. Figure that one out if you can.
Speaking of self-righteousness: One of Simenon's favorite themes is the guilt of the victim. In many of his stories, Simenon explains and to some extent justifies the criminal by exposing his victim's insensitivity and unawareness of the consequences of his actions. And that's what I am after too - our past and present unawareness, which at times assumes criminal dimensions.

On Self-Knowledge
Of the many forms of ignorance the worst is ignorance of the self. If you don't know yourself you don't know where you are going, and once you get there you may even discover it was a big mistake getting there. If you don't know yourself, what else can you possibly know and understand?
My troubles begun on the day I decided I was smart. That's when life went into action and devised a thousand ways to prove that I was a damn fool.
On the day you close your mind, life will start opening it, and the longer you resist and keep it shut, the harder and more painful the operation will be.
For a long time I didn't see any practical benefit in using my imagination until I realize that reality has so many layers that the only way to penetrate them is by using my imagination.
Memo to readers who find me depressing: Read our great writers instead and if you find them even more depressing, have the courage and honesty to admit you are what the pigswill of our propaganda has made you, "a compulsive liar drunk with the folly of deceptive wine" (Gregory of Narek).

History-Makers And Historians
It is an undeniable fact that history is not always made by the best and the brightest. Think of the abysmal mediocrity of most kings and political leaders. It would be more accurate to say that more often than not history is made by the worst and the dumbest. Think of fascist dictators and their countless dupes and victims.

To judge a nation by its history sometimes means judging a people by its criminals. Consider Armenians and Turks as cases in point. No doubt the majority of Armenians and Turks were peace loving decent folk lacking in political awareness and incapable of harming anyone. And yet, most Armenians and Turks today judge each other by the very few criminals who took it upon themselves to act in the name of their respective nations.

Instead of combating this misconception, most historians legitimize and promote it. To them the average law-abiding, harmless citizen is ahistorical, therefore of no interest. In other words, instead of promoting mutual understanding, historians legitimize prejudice, and ultimately hatred. In the books written by royalist historians, for instance, the French Revolution is seen as a colossal blunder instigated and perpetrated by bloodthirsty agitators who committed many unspeakable crimes against humanity. In the eyes of anti-Bonapartist historians Napoleon is seen as the devil incarnate, and in the eyes of their adversaries as an agent of progress and enlightenment. We may not all be fanatics and chauvinists, but I suspect even the least patriotic and partisan among us carries within him traces of narcissism that leads him to say, "My country (or my ideology, or religion) right or wrong!" Perhaps the only way we will make any progress towards tolerance and peace is to teach ourselves to think and feel not in terms of countries, nations, tribes, and races, but in terms of human beings and humanity. And that's where historians have failed us. What mankind needs is not patriotic historians but unpatriotic ones who will dare to emphasize the blunders and misdeeds of their own political leaders, because true patriotism consists in promoting self-examination and understanding as opposed to asserting moral superiority, because there are no such things as morally superior tribes, nations, and races, only morally superior human beings who do not, as a rule, brag about their moral superiority.


Let others speak of Armenian pride. I prefer to speak of Armenian courage, the kind that allows us to take an objective look at ourselves and assess the damage that centuries of oppression has done to our psyche.
One of the hardest things in life is to convince an Armenian idiot that he is not a genius. I did not say that. One of my gentle readers did. And he was talking about me.
Dialogue is an unArmenian activity, and if you can insult someone from a safe distance, why stand on ceremony?
There is a type of reader who reads to have his views confirmed. The only way to please such a reader is to find out what he thinks about a specific subject and repeat it to him. As for good manners: I guess that's making too many demands on victims of massacres.
There is something about me that Armenians don't like. But perhaps it would be more accurate to say that there is something about Armenians that Armenians don't like. Is it because they see reflections of themselves?


To readers who find my comments disturbing enough to foam at the mouth: In Hollywood, to put things into perspective, even when there are reputations and millions of dollars at stake, they say, "It's only a movie." And I say to you, "Relax, it's only one man's opinion." There is no law that says only the right opinion by wise men may be voiced. None of us, not even you, can claim to be consistently right and wise. Only the abysmally ignorant and arrogant think their way of thinking is the only right one and all others should be ignored, and whenever possible, silenced. When I was young and foolish I too thought there were only a very limited number of ideas and worldviews and my familiarity with all of them allowed me to know which were right and which wrong.

I was a fascist and I didn't know it. I had no doubt whatever in my mind that all Turks were rapists and butchers, it was the patriotic duty of all Armenians to hate them, and the only good Turk was a dead Turk. It took me many years to appreciate the advantages of living in a multicultural and multiracial democracy and enjoying the fundamental human right of free speech. I wonder how many of my readers, be they bosses, bishops, benefactors, editors, and publishers of weeklies and periodicals suspect that treating someone who disagrees with them as an enemy is neither patriotic nor Armenian but fascist. This indeed may well be one of our most dangerous blind spots: namely, our tendency to confuse an Ottomanized and Sovietized brand of fascism with Armenianism.

Speaking on this very same subject, Zarian has this to say in his TRAVELLER AND HIS ROAD: "They are spitting on Raffi. They are spitting on Aharonian. They are spitting on Derian. And that with the borrowed, consumptive spittle of Muscovite 'masters.' Even their filth is second hand. Even their trash has not been picked up from our streets but from foreign gutters. Danger, danger, danger!"

Now Thank We All Our God
Siamanto (real name Adom Yerjanian: 1878-1915) poet and victim of the Genocide: "Our perennial enemy, the enemy that will eventually destroy us, is not the Turk but our own complacent superficiality."
If our misfortunes are not our fault but must be ascribed to factors and circumstances beyond our control, such as bloodthirsty neighbors, geographic position, and the Good Lord Himself, it follows: literature lies, propaganda speaks the truth.
Political leaders are honest men, writers enemies of the people.
Which also means, our politicians have been consistently right and our writers consistently wrong.
Let us therefore trust our leaders and ignore our writers, and whenever possible, silence and starve them. They deserve no better.
Since our problems are not our problems but someone else's, there isn't much we can do except adopt a passive stance and wait until our bloodthirsty neighbors see the light and turn into vegetarians, our mountains and valleys yield oil or gold or some other valuable mineral, and the Good Lord takes pity on us.
Yeghishe was dead wrong when he said, "Solidarity is the mother of good deeds, divisions of evil ones." Solidarity is for wolves. We prefer to live as divided sheep because we are morally superior to wolves.
Raffi was wrong when he said we have no future in Turkey. Mass exodus from Turkey in the 19th century would have been a tragic mistake. As for mass exodus from Armenia today (a million and a half so far): that must be seen only as a temporary minor setback in the aftermath of war and earthquake (those damn carnivorous neighbors and cursed geography again).
To conclude: we have nothing to worry about because we are in the best of hands. Let us therefore go down on our knees and give thanks to the Lord and His representatives on earth (our bosses, bishops, and benefactors), and count our blessings.

Daniel Varoujan (1884-1915), Armenian poet and Genocide victim: "What's the use of acquiring knowledge and developing one's esthetic judgment in a world run by ignorant scum?"
Anonymous (dates unknown), one of the greatest and most prolific thinkers of all time, very probably of Armenian descent: "In troubled waters, the scum rises to the top."
Insulting Turkishness is against the law in Turkey today. Nothing new in that. Because in one of his letters Solzhenitsyn made a derogatory remark about Stalin, he was bundled off to Siberia. I assume there were corresponding laws under Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, Franco, and Genghis Khan.
What is considered an insult in Turkey? Mentioning the Armenian genocide for one, thus implying that the founders of the Turkish Republic may have been war criminal.
We are lucky; we don't have a law against insulting Armenianism. That doesn't mean, however, that if you dare to mention our scumbags (of which we have our share) you won't be called a scumbag by loudmouth gutless, faceless, nameless. anonymous scumbags.
If Baronian and Odian were alive today and wrote with the same degree of honesty about our bosses, bishops, and benefactors as they did at the turn of the last century, not only they would be called scumbags by our ubiquitous commissars of culture and defenders of the faith, they would also be alienated, silenced, ignored, forgotten, and buried alive. There is more than one way to send an innocent man to the Gulag.
A thousand years ago Gregory of Narek (in addition to being a saint, also our Dante and Shakespeare combined) in his celebrated BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS (translated into English by Mischa Kudian, among others), made a long list of his personal failings ("a wicked and slothful servant, an abusive contradicter, an ass's foal, inscrutable, wild and uncouth; the broken lock on a door; the useless coin buried beneath the soil; ever active in satanic inventions; slow in mine observance of promises; diligent in malignant acts of ribaldry," and so on and so forth). If anyone were to write in that vein today, what would happen to him? Who would read him? How would our holier-than-thou brown-nosers react?
What happened to us between then and now? Is it conceivable that the only thing we learned from the Genocide are intolerance, dishonesty, doubletalk, and cowardice? Is it possible that the Turks did not just massacre our bodies but also our critical faculties?
To end on a more positive note: All nations spawn their share of white trash. Why should we be an exception?
A digression and a p.s. here: Has anyone ever accused Washington or Jefferson of war crimes? Why would anyone, let alone a Turk, even consider questioning the greatness, integrity, and nobility of such statesmen of vision as Talaat and Kemal? Unless of course. No, strike that! It is not my intention to cast aspersions on anyone here. I am just asking questions because, I don't mind admitting, I know next to nothing about Turkish history, and I don't understand, neither can I guess why, noble specimens of humanity like Talaat and Kemal would be in need of a law whose unmistakable intent is to protect their impeccable reputations.

Ara Baliozian

Reader's Comment

Comparison of American treatment of Indians with Tirkish- Armenian issue during WW1 is not faire nor realistic. Armenians collaborated with the enemies of their own government which is Ottomans. Indians were killed while defending themselves.

Fevziye Manizade
Tue, 28 Nov 2006

Reader's Comment

Dear Ara the Balyoz-man,

I read your last article # 1252 before going to sleep last night, and since it made me laugh and grin so many times, I decided to write this short note and share it with two of my very old Armenian friends, one in USA the other in Istanbul, to make them share the “joy you can get out even on bok-philosophy”.

More than I admire your penmanship, I agree almost with everything that you hit your balioz on. I think that your proverb style observations deserve to be put on many walls, for those who are not scared to read different and objective approaches to matters that have been re circulating for thousands of years.

Here are just a few short “reader notes”: (You shouldn’t be getting too many faithful readers anyway!)

a. It seems from your lines, that you could not relieve yourself from “Armenianism”- flu which may be actually contagious, and make too many friends of Armenian ethnicity, -mostly out of Turkey-, sneeze, cough and blame others, now and then! I like your definition for rare (Armenians) but this is common to all. As you are (stating and another working Armenian woman in Istanbul said), you do not have good or bad nations, you have good and bad men. If you have read my recent articles, may be you could understand my approach to the values of each individual, and not “beyond control categorization, by race, nationality or religion”. What many propagate as “virtue” may be a “guard” for their loneliness…I am not going to comment on everything you have noted, and which I agree with, with both my heart and brain. I will try to clarify with my opinion on points, which seems that you are a little dragged away.

b. Istanbul 25.000 Protestors denounce Pope: First of all there were not 25.000 but about 10.000 people from a very radical Muslim party, as a reaction to the blunders of the Pope few months ago.

Is there any rule that all Turks are immune of fanaticism? Actually despite the propaganda, mostly the “heaven-hell believers” in veils have attended, and they succeeded in damaging our tolerance image!

c. Superiority: Those suffering mental inferiority, naturally brag with “some sort” of superiority!

d. I think that “idiocy” is not only limited to Armenians; after all it is “so easy to become” one!

e. Like and dislike – reflections: I don’t care what you look like, but care what you “think about life”.

f. Insulting Turkishness: This is a natural self defense, because we became Turks, only after the new Republic. Before that, we were muslim subjects of his highness the Sultan. Our Turkishness, is not a racial or religious unity, but rather a “language unity” and “acceptance to be named as a Turk”, regardless of our ethnicities, which may be close to some 40 different origins. A tree needs time to deepen the roots, because there are too many efforts to pull it off or chop the branches!.

g. Massacres YES and plenty bi-lateral. Genocide? NO! Turks had no reason, no intention and certainly no capability for such a crime. If they had some intelligence and prudence, they would not have frozen 80.000 of their 90.000 army in less than 2 weeks at Sarikamish! I think that this disaster deserves better any labeling as genocide. There can be no criminal without verdict and no crime without evidence. Tales may help psychic unity, but no seriousness. Please Read my past articles. There is no law about Talat… I conclude he was an average “decent” man just like most of us. He was no stupid, no genius, but since he was assassinated, he became a hero of victimization (like many Armenians). Ataturk is a totally different story. Certainly, he needs no law of protection, but what he symbolizes, above all, unity and secularism = intelligencer instead of bigotry needs protection, much like the oxygen in the air. Sorry but, bigotry wins, versus human intelligence, viz:

GERMANY:70.000 HealthCare Facilities +8.000 Churches Population aprx 80M
FRANCE :80.000 -do- +9.000 “ -do-
TURKEY : 7.000 -do- +77.000 Mosques -do-

Best regards, and hits for the hammer

Sukru S. Aya
29 Nov 2006


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