Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Three more excerpts from “The First Adana Massacre,” a chapter from Cilicia 1909 — The Massacre of Armenians, by Hagop H. Terzian. For complete book information, see my previous entry.

Suddenly news was heard: “The young Greek men, after driving the Turks from their quarter, are coming to join us.” Some of our young men, cradling their rifles, went to greet the Greeks. Unfortunately, a few minutes later our men returned with a great number of wounded, having suffered heavy losses. We understood that this was another enemy ploy; they had equipped themselves with European hats, making them look like Greeks, so as to advance among us. This happened while the Greeks sat peacefully in their homes giving a thousand thanks that they weren’t born Armenian, and they turned over to the mob any Armenians who had sought safety in their homes…

* * *

On the second day of the ceasefire, word came that the government was demanding our weapons. The people didn’t want to surrender them, but the British consul arrived, saying, “I can promise you, in the name of my government, that nothing further will happen. Surrender your weapons.” Because the British consul gave us his assurance, the Constantinople Patriarchate locum tenens, without knowing what was happening, advised immediate obedience with a pressing telegram. It was under these circumstances that we were forced to surrender all our weapons. Had we not have handed them over before the arrival of the Ottoman Army, there is no doubt there would not have been a second massacre, because despite our lack of military stores, the enemy was very suspicious and had great fears about our strength. Thanks to this imprudent act, the second massacre, which was a hundred times worse than the first, took place and destroyed Adana.

* * *

Warships arrived one after another starting two days after the end of the first massacre at Mersin. They were the French “Victor Hugo”; the British “Swiftsure”; the German ship “Loreley”; the Italian “Piedemont.” Two days after they arrived, a Russian cruiser and two American armoured ships appeared. All of them remained witness to events and occupied themselves with music recitals and plays while at sea and were occasionally lit up, thus conveying their presence from Mersin to Adana. But their presence, and especially their idleness, provided even more encouragement and enraged the mob, and thus had a great bearing on the repeat of the massacre.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The following are excerpts from “The First Adana Massacre,” a chapter from Cilicia 1909 — The Massacre of Armenians, by Hagop H. Terzian, an eye-witness to the massacre. The book1 was published by Taderon Press for a commemorative event in Los Angeles in 2009 by special arrangement for the Gomidas Institute.

The Muslim crowd, made up of Turks, Kurds, Fellas, Cherkez, Arabs, Gypsies, and Cretan refugees split up into 5-10 groups and continued looting, attacking, and killing as they moved towards the centre of the city. We, having retired to our houses in our quarters, didn’t know about the massacres taking place outside and only heard gunfire and saw the looters escape as we waited for the arrival of government troops.

* * *

Armenians in the Turkish quarters (i.e. outside the main Armenian quarters) were all massacred; we, in the centre, knew nothing of these killings.

* * *

The cries of those begging for help, the noise of the guns, the sound of the animals, the screams of the mob, and those of the mob’s leaders—the sheikhs’ and hodjas’ loud prayers—all filled together, filled the air.

* * *

When we understood that crying, sobbing, begging for help and surrendering were of no use, and seeing that the government soldiers and policemen had joined the mob, we were forced, at a critical moment, to defend ourselves fiercely. If we had been even a little late in doing so, there is no doubt that we would all have been finished off. Thus, a group of youths had the courage to go into the street and face the bloodthirsty mob.

* * *

The mob of tens of thousands weren’t brave enough to stand up to these few young men and began to flee. The enormous crowd, terrified of the bravery of this small group of Armenians, began to run away, shouting, “Ermeni fedayileri geliyor!” (Armenian fedayis are coming). The truth was that there were no fedayis. It was that we didn’t want to die, and we defended ourselves against their attack with all our strength.

* * *

The remaining Adana Armenians survived the first massacre thanks to the defence put up by the 173 brave young men recorded above, who stood up against a mob of about 30,000 people.

1Cilicia 1909 – The Massacre of Armenians
By Hagop H. Terzian
Translated by Ara Stepan Melkonian
Edited by Ara Sarafian
A Special Centennial Publication
ISBN 978-1-903656-95-2
146 pages

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Dashnak party member, not of the higher ranks but definitely aware of the current political situation concerning Karabagh, said, “What we think might happen is that the Azeris will start a war, and will gain back the liberated territories. Moscow and Baku will be arranging this, with Armenian agreement, as the Armenian government knows that they will be thrown from power if they agree to giving up the territories, but that if they were lost in battle, they won’t be blamed.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

An interesting conversation about folk culture in Armenia started in the recording studio today as we looked over a new book I had received about the massacres in Armenian Cilicia in 1909 at the hands of the Turks.

“I hate Turks,” the folk musician said. “There’s no other way I can put it. And opening the border, while they still deny the Genocide, is a big mistake. As long as they deny the Genocide, it’s just more proof that they’re the same Turk.

“But, in all fairness, let’s compare Armenians and Turks in another way. See this dhol?” The musician picked up the two wooden kopal and started striking the dhol. “This is the way to hit the dhol,” he said. “Ever seen how the Turks do this? And ever watch the Armenians pitifully play the kopalov dhol? We treat the dhol like we treat our folk music in general. One big ‘oh, well.’ When I watch the Turks on television, I receive satisfaction, and when I see our people doing folk music, or imitating it, as I should say, I get sad.”

As the folk musician talked, I remembered the evening before, when we attended an evening presentation about Komitas’ unfinished version of Anoush opera, in which a musicologist talked and sang and two singers, male and female, sang parts of the opera, both Tigranyan’s version and Komitas’. The musicologist, for some reason, was trying to make Komitas into a native of Lori, I suppose because we were at the Hovhannes Tumanyan home-museum, and the singers were mediocre, especially the Middle-East-born Armenian who was obviously in Armenia because he couldn’t make a go of it in his home country as a singer, him and similar singers another reason folk music has weakened in Armenia.

“The folk music culture in Armenia is one of the most corrupt fields in the country, with people with no idea what folk music is running the show, promoting restaurant singers as folk singers, and the like. But I have to tell you this. A friend who lives on a major boulevard in Yerevan said that one of the oligarchs, who is building additional floors on old apartment buildings in Central Yerevan, asked to buy their apartment, which is located on a top floor of one of these buildings. They said no, that it was their family home. To punish them, the oligarch made sure that their son, who had won a top prize in a science competition, didn’t receive the top prize, but only second or third. They’re lucky they only refused the offer to buy the house, as if they had protested publicly, the oligarch would have had them evicted, one way or the other. This is the atmosphere here now, what a pity. And they talk about fighting corruption?”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

In Yerevan, clouds covered the view of Massis, only occasionally the lower snow-covered part appearing. Nearing the village of Pokr Vedi (Khor Virab), the mountain was revealed, each and every snowy slope seemingly a short walk away.

Entering the large courtyard and eventually the newly-renovated village house, the talk soon turned to our roots in Western Armenia, mainly Van and Moush. “My grandmother, whose name was Mafo, was born in a village in the Plains of Moush, near Bulanukh,” Hasmik said. “Her father’s name was Israel. She was already married and had a family, a husband and two children, when the massacres started. Mafo fled with her family, traveling with General Andranik. Along the way, her husband and children died. In Yerevan, she remarried a Mshetsi from Liz, also in the Plains of Moush.

“Even late in life, she never forgot her first husband, Armenak. But she used to say, about Eastern Armenia, ‘What is this, a land of rocks, you should see Moush, a paradise, if you see it, you’ll know what I mean...’ Years later, I saw Moush, and Bulanukh, and I understood she was right...”

The Vantetsi continued, saying, “I was in Van in 1992, and know what you mean. A land of milk and honey. The Turks left us with 10% of our homeland, and the worst part. We have to make the best of it, and I’d never leave to some imaginary ‘greener pastures’ in Russia or elsewhere, but, in reality, there’s not much here.”

It happened that our host’s father was born in the same village as Hasmik’s grandmother. “My family left in 1914, before the massacres started. They were friendly with a Kurdish tribesman who knew what was being planned. The Kurd arranged for our family to leave the area, to cross into Russian Armenia. I laugh when some say that the massacres were spontaneous, that the Genocide wasn’t planned, and planned for years. The Kurds knew what was going to happen, as did the Turks. They just chose the right moment. Luckily, a good Kurd saved our family. Still, our family elders had seen too much, and until they died, refused to speak Kurdish, even though they knew the language well, saying it was a ‘dog’s language.’”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It happens that composer, ethnomusicologist, and teacher Grikor Mirzaian Suni (born in Getabek, near Gandzak), was also a strong nationalist and political activist, spending much time in Western Armenia after the Young Turks had seized power. In 1908, a disguised Suni escaped from Batumi (the Russian Czars were seizing Armenian churches, etc.) to Turkey on a Laz raft, after which he arranged concerts for Armenians in Trabizon, Kirason, and Samson. In Samson, he tried to organize a break-in at the armory, after which he planned to distribute 2,000 rifles and millions of bullets to the peasantry. The Dashnaks, at that time loyal to the Young Turks, refused, labeling Suni a traitor, this in spite of the fact that Suni had been a member of the Dashnak party while living in the Caucasus.

When World War I broke out, Suni, who was living in Erzurum and teaching at the Sanasarian school, was awakened in the middle of the night and told to leave to the Russian side of the border, as officials knew of the impending dangers for Armenians. His popular composition “Erzurum March” was the likely reason for the goodwill leading to his escape from Turkey.

I learned this by reading and hearing about Suni from his great-granddaughters and other family members, now in Yerevan and spending time at our home taking vocal and oud lessons from Hasmik for an upcoming concert of Suni’s works at the Hovhannes Tumanyan home-museum.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A woman from Kirovabad (Gandzak) told her story about 1988:

“One night the lights went out. The Turks had shut off the power and cut the telephone lines, so we wouldn’t know what was going on. At first, we just thought the power had gone off. Then the Turks started coming, in two groups, from two directions. It was like 1915, the same Turks, the same methods of killing.

“The few Armenians who lived in the Turkish district had no way of defending themselves. What the Turks did was shocking, yet not for Turks. Raping, burning people alive, even burying people alive. Old people too.”

The Armenian priest told his story. “The Turks were trying to break into the church. I was pushing back, while they pushed from outside, trying to get inside. I prayed constantly to God and the Virgin Mary. The door, which is usually quite difficult to close, as it’s very heavy, closed on its own, keeping the Turks outside the church. Is this not a miracle?”

The woman continued: “The Armenians in the Armenian district were able to save themselves, at least many of them. One way they did this was to warn the Turks that if they continued, the safety of those Turks who lived in the Armenian district could not be guaranteed.

“And there are those who say we shouldn’t call Azeris by what they are, Turks. They say we’re being emotional by calling them Turks. But they’re the same people, speak the same language, are culturally the same, are Moslems, and they use the same barbaric ways of killing people. Tell me the difference of an Azeri and a Turk...”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Baku-born Armenian woman, disgusted with the basic opinion of many Karabaghtsis that “all was well with the Azeris till Hayastantsis stirred it all up,” told another side of the story: “In Baku, things weren’t as good as some Armenians say. Armenian girls were careful, even scared, to walk the streets. We didn’t use much make-up, or make-up at all, for fear of what might happen. And we know now that the pogroms were planned, that the Azeris were making plans to kill Armenians. They knew where we lived, were planning when to start, and even what methods to use to kill Armenians, everything.”

Things got interesting when a Karabaghtsi injected his thoughts: “But in Baku, Armenians lived like kings. They even had Azeris for servants!” to which the Baku-born Armenian answered, “So what. We were buried in Azeri culture, which was completely foreign to our culture. Don’t you care about that? They kill you, then later you brag about having Azeri servants? You were the servants, you just didn't know it!”

The Karabaghtsi went silent.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

“I’d be proud if I could say I had roots in Gandzak,” the artist said. “But I was just born there; my roots are in Kars and in Karabagh. My great-grandfather escaped from Kars during the 1896 massacres by Abdul Hamid. He went to Astrakhan, in Russia, but said, ‘I need Armenian soil to grow my wine grapes, and make wine,’ so he moved his family to Gandzak. His wine became famous and was drunk all over Europe, and even won a grand prize at an international festival.” He thought a minute and said, “I hate Lenin more than Stalin. I blame Lenin for giving away important parts of the Armenian homeland to the Turks and their Azeri cousins. Gandzak, for example, is Armenian, and always was. And they gave it to Azerbaijan.”

The gathering had begun solemnly, as it was the “tari” for a friend’s sister, who had died of heart failure one year ago. Slowly, everyone relaxed and began telling stories about their friend, and how much they missed her; others talked about politics or told about their ancestry, as the Gandzak-born Armenian. As several present were artists and musicians (opera singer Arax Davityan, pianist Svetlana Navasartyan, Hasmik, her cousin, baritone Karen Mirzoyan, and others), the talk turned to music and the latest happenings in the local music scene.

“Haven’t you heard,” a woman close to the Culture Ministry said, “the musicians of the National Chamber Orchestra filed complaints against Aram Gharabekian, who as a result is no longer conducting the orchestra. It looks like they’re putting an end to the current orchestra, paying the members a month’s salary, and then starting the orchestra again, maybe with the same members, maybe with new members. That part isn’t clear. They say the new conductor will be the current conductor of the Conservatory’s youth symphony. His father, who doesn’t even live in Armenia, pretty much runs the Culture Ministry, and culture in general in Armenia. They say the decision came from the new conductor’s father, not a surprise...”

Continuing, the woman said, “This isn’t the way it was in the past, in Soviet times. True, there was favoritism and the like. But I remember the story my husband’s uncle told. His father was the great actor, Hrachya Nersisyan. He said that Hrachya was delighted when he met William Saroyan. You can see it in the picture of their meeting, which we fortunately have. In those days, great artists talked up other great artists, were proud when another Armenian was well known in the art world. This isn’t the case today. Mediocrities rule. Great artists are belittled, often driven out of the country. Humanity is a thing of the past in the culture world in Armenia. What happened to Gharabekian wouldn’t have happened in the past. At least not this way.”

Pictures on the restaurant wall were impressive: Yosuf Karsh, Sergey Paradjanov, William Saroyan, Hrachya Nersisyan, Aksel Bakunts...the most noteworthy, perhaps, was a picture of Komitas smiling, probably the only such picture.

Svetlana Navasartyan sat at the piano and played a classical piece. The day ended well, a nice tribute to our friend.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

While most local and Diaspora Armenians, young and old, fawn over the pop/rap stars of the upcoming Armenian Music Awards, even though many are known sect members, etc., a sad reality continues in Armenia for the regular, at least somewhat impoverished Armenian, who isn’t part of the “system.” This morning, while weaving our way through the maze of apartment buildings near our home, a man walked out of the entry to his building, holding his head and talking to himself and whoever would listen: “Every year, at year’s end, the government tries to fill its coffers, and collects money illegally from the people. I just got my phone and power bill, and it was 2,500 dram more than it should have been. Picture how much this turns into, if they collect this much from everybody. Why don’t they just close the country down, and get it over with.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A farmer stood by his newly-sprouted field of wheat near Talvorik, a village in the Baghramyan region of Armavir. “See this field? There’s not a better one in the country. Yet, I’m barely hanging on, what with the price of irrigation water and fertilizer. And there’s no hope from the government. What government?

“If it’s like this now, what is going to happen when the border with Turkey opens? Everybody that’s not afraid to admit it knows that farmers here will be broken, driven out of business, with cheap Turkish agricultural products available. But that’s only part of the picture. They’ll flood our markets with all kinds of cheap goods, which will put our factories, large and small, out of business. This is what the Turks want, and in the meantime, they’ll have a new market for their goods.

“I’m more convinced now than ever that our rulers are doing their best to ruin the country, not just fill their pocketbooks with the people’s money. Why else would they do this? We’ve had more than our share of traitors in our history, but these traitors beat all. If they stay in power, our country will be in ruins, and will be just a playground for the rich and their Turkish friends.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A cousin told of how, as a child, Soghomon Tehlirian was a guest at their house in San Francisco:

“Tehlirian was living under an assumed name, so the Turks wouldn’t be able to find him and exact revenge for killing Talaat. I remember well how he told the story of how he killed Talaat in Germany. ‘I had to track him down,’ Tehlirian said. ‘He was living under an assumed name, and dressed like a European, not a Turk, so as not to be noticed. I had to be careful. When I found him, I wasn’t even sure it was him. I called his name. He turned around. I looked in his eyes. Then I shot him in the neck.’”

Monday, December 7, 2009

“I was in a tramway when the earthquake hit,” a neighbor lady said. “I didn’t feel anything. When I got home, my husband said our 6-month-old baby boy had been crying uncontrollably, just before the earthquake hit. I believe he felt something, something older people, who have lost touch with nature, can't feel.”

Television stations showed films of people sitting next to fires, trying to stay warm, as others tried to move slabs of cement or crumbled walls in hopes of finding their family members or friends alive. Corpses were being pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings. People were lighting candles in churches, praying, crying, wondering why....

Our neighbor continued: “At the time, I wondered if I’d ever smile again. Then things got worse. The war started, and the Soviet Union collapsed. Our people were hungry and cold. There was no food. Young women, who were children at the time, often have trouble bearing children. One million Armenians left the country, to me the same as a genocide. Remembering all this, I think of one thing, that our government was selling electricity to Turkey, supposedly to be able to buy weapons. I don’t believe that, because at the same time they were selling off the country, the factories, everything. That’s why I hate Levon, and always will.”

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hasmik told about one of her trips to Karabagh during the war: “Several members of the Akunk Ensemble decided to go to Karabagh during the thick of the war, and give concerts, anything that might help morale, show unity. Interestingly, one of the male members didn’t plan on going but said that he saw Maryam Astvatsatsin, in the broad daylight, who urged him to go to Karabagh, and that his going would keep the rest of us safe.

“We were lucky to get through the Lachin Corridor, which was being bombed constantly. We traveled by night, and without lights.

“In Stepanakert, we saw everything. Once, in a bombed-out hotel, we all huddled with Karabaghtsis who had barely escaped with their lives from an Azeri attack somewhere near Shushi. Grads started falling. When they stopped, we went outside, but only with lanterns, so as not to be seen by Azeris.

“I remember seeing a group of young volunteers from Yerevan. They were only 18 or so. As we sang folk songs and patriotic songs, their eyes got moist. They were all going to the front line, and knew they probably wouldn’t come back.”

A participant in the liberation of Shushi continued: “First of all, we took Shushi on May 8, not May 9. That may not be important, but that’s the right day.

“Monte gets a lot of credit for what he did in Karabagh. And he deserves all the praise he gets. But Jirair, from Lebanon, did more than he’s given credit for. A true patriot.

“One night, our group of 50 was following Jirair’s, at a fair distance. A group of Karabaghtsis told us to follow them. We said that we were going to follow Jirair, but the Karabaghtsis continued to insist. We ignored them, and followed Jirair. It turned out the Karabaghtsis were trying to lead us into a trap, that if we had listened to them, we would have been surrounded and killed by Azeris.

“This happened more than once during the war. Many Hayastantsis lost their lives after listening to Karabaghtsis, figuring they were local and understood the terrain. Why the Karabaghtsis did this, I don’t know. Believe me, I was fighting for the Armenian homeland, not for Karabaghtsis…

“Another thing about Jirair. He, Monte, and the others who came from overseas to fight…there weren’t many, true, but they were brave, unique men. Remember what Monte said when someone asked why he had come all the way from the US to fight in Karabagh? He said it was the natural thing to do, that they should be asking Diaspora Armenians why they don’t come…

“The other day I saw a show on television where several Diaspora Armenians, who were living in Armenia, were talking about their patriotism and how they love living in Armenia. But I know that several of them came here only to avoid military service in their home countries, basically in the Middle East. One is a singer, who has the nerve to sing patriotic songs. Let him and the others serve in their home countries, then move to Armenia. We don’t need cowards like them here, especially with their hypocrisy.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Our return to Yerevan became complete with a breakfast of khash at a friend’s house in Ajapnyak, not far from our apartment building. I considered myself lucky, as most of the twenty or so men there had fought in Karabagh, which made for a most interesting gathering.

Toasts and songs ruled the day. Even though the television was on in the background, with its ridiculous pop star music competitions, no one paid any attention to it, as singing and telling jokes were more interesting to these Hayastantis than what National Television and the others were offering. I wondered, though, if future generations, even the current young generation, would know the folk, ashoughagan, and patriotic songs these fedayees were singing…

One of the fedayee, commenting about the current discussions between Armenia and Turkey, and the possible settlement of the Karabagh conflict, said, “Let the Azeris start something. We’ll take them again, and they know it. What I’m worried about is that our government will agree to give up the territories and let Azeris move back into Karabagh. If they do, what will be left? Karabagh will go back to Azerbaijan, if not now, later. And without a fight. Right now, Serge has a chance of being a national hero, if he refuses to sign the Protocols, and give up Karabagh, or be the most famous traitor ever, and sign away Armenia for good…”