Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ordinary Genocide. Baku, January 1990 from 517design on Vimeo.

This new documentary, about the January 1990 massacre of Armenians in Baku, was produced by the Armenian government. The film was shown on Armenian television and given to foreign embassies located in Yerevan.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Today we went to check an apartment for friends who will be arriving in Yerevan next month. Entering the fifth-story flat, we were invited into the kitchen, where a man from the Talin region was talking with the owner of the flat, a woman in her sixties.

“Today is Army Day,” the man said. “We should all be thankful for this, that we have an army that rates with the best in the region.”

While he talked, the woman sat silently.

“When I went to Karabagh, in 1990, I went as a volunteer. It was like we had hundreds of small armies, but not an actual, organized army. But I have to say, we fought hard. We always had a smile on our face. This is because we never doubted our future victory, even in the darkest days, in the early ’90s, when everything was going against us.”

The Sassountsi’s mood changed.

“I could say that I feel left behind, forgotten,” he said. “I don’t expect handouts. But I don’t own a house...I pay rent. And there are those who are invalids, and widows, whose husbands died in the war, and they have nothing, far less than me. So, when I hear that the president or an oligarch buys a house for this or that pop star, I wonder about our values...

“Another thing. I was at a wedding two weeks ago, and when the bride and groom started their special dance, and the musicians started playing and singing, ‘San, san, san, balam,’ I got up and left. This is strictly Turkish, what they play on Baku radio. And it was Karabaghtsis who were dancing to this. Weren’t we fighting to get rid of this sort of thing? Where is our pride? Armenians have always had this problem, liking foreign things and people more than their own. But this is going too far, singing Turkish songs at Armenian if we don’t have good, happy wedding songs.”

At this point, I understood the woman’s silence. She pointed to a picture of her son, a serious, black-and-white picture, an obvious funeral picture.

“He died in the meat-grinder,” she said. “He was drafted into the army, and sent to Karabagh. They put him in the front lines, where there is almost no hope of returning, coming home alive. He and hundreds of others died like this. Eighteen years old. And I’m supposed to be happy that it’s Army Day?”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What everyday Yerevantsis are saying about the current status of the Protocols:

“I think the current threats, from both sides, are a game,” an engineer from the Academy of Sciences said. “This is all so predictable. To appease their publics, they’re putting up a tough line. The Turks are saying they’re against Armenian Constitutional Court ruling, that the Protocols can’t be ratified after the ruling, which dared to mention Karabagh. And the Armenian government is happy, that by the Court mentioning Karabagh in their decision, they’ve quieted things down here for now, at least somewhat. But the truth is, in the end, both sides will ratify the Protocols, and, in the long run, Armenia will first give up the territories, then Karabagh.”

“You’re wrong,” the store owner said. “Both sides are preparing to restart the war. This was decided long ago, in the capitals of countries far larger than Armenia or Azerbaijan. The Protocols will fall through, the Azeris will make threats, the Turks will say nothing, or, ‘what can we do?’ and the war will start. Serge will be a hero for the Armenians, for a while, but if the war doesn’t go well, and the Azeris and their Turkish allies are quite ready this time, watch out, we could be seeing the beginning of the end.”

A taxi driver had a different perspective: “I’m all for opening the border with Turkey. I see only benefit for Armenia. Who is against opening the border? I know someone who brings different goods from Turkey and sells them here. He and two others bring these particular goods. If the border opens, and these goods come here freely, this businessman loses out. This is why he’s against the border opening.

“And the Dashnaks. They need an issue...the Genocide, hatred of the Turks. Also, they know their standing is low here, mainly since they stayed in the Coalition so long, and reaped the benefits, financially and otherwise. So they had no choice, no other way to save face, than adopting this anti-Protocol stance. Well, I don’t like Turks either, but I’m a realist. They’re here anyway, Turks and Azeris. Opening the border won’t make any big difference.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A telephone conversation with a worker at one of National (Public) Television’s three stations became a debate of sorts as to whether the Armenian public still demanded, or desired, to watch Armenian national (folk) music and culture. The debate started when we asked when one of their stations might show the recent Shoghaken Ensemble concert in Yerevan.

“We’re not sure people are interested,” the worker said. “The public seems to only want pop and rabiz culture and music.”

“Not so,” we replied. “Didn’t you see the reaction of the crowd that night? People were asking, almost demanding, that we have a second concert, and the sooner the better. And much of the crowd was young, university age.”

“I wasn't there...” the worker said.

“Not surprising then, that you think this way,” we answered, adding, “many say the reason so many here only want to see pop culture on television is that all the television stations show pop and rabiz all day, thus the people don’t know anything else,” to which the television person replied, “Fine, we’ll show your concert.”

Following the conversation, we received another call, this one from a relative in Byurakan, who said that we should come to the village today, as with the upcoming snow predicted, we might not be able to make the trip there and take advantage of the large number of apples they have in storage. Our decision was made; in an hour, we left for the village.

Arriving, we went to the house and saw nobody was there, so we opened the unlocked door and went in. There, we found tonir lavash and “horadz panir,” cheese buried and aged in clay containers. With that, and some godem we had brought from Yerevan, we ate sandwiches and sat by the gas oven until our relative and a friend arrived. With a big smile on his face, he said he had gotten a late invitation to eat khash, and apologized for not being at home when we arrived.

“See what we have here in the village,” the well-read friend said. “Clean air, great food. I’d never leave this place, especially for Yerevan.”

Asking why, he replied, “Your city is like Sodom and Gomorrah, first of all. At least that’s what we see on television. But what television shows, people become, if not now, later. I think our young generation is now mostly a lost cause. Not all, of course, but many.

“And another thing. I was watching an interview recently with ancient monument expert Samvel Karapetyan. Karapetyan was telling, as he always does, without holding anything back, how the Georgians are defacing, stealing, you name it, our churches in Georgia. And what does our government do? Stay silent. And give their president a medal when he comes to Yerevan. They have no feeling for anything national. Otherwise, why would they sign the Protocols, and give back Western Armenia permanently?

“And speaking of Western Armenia...if the City of Ani can be considered Western Armenia. Karapetyan said he has information that the Turks are working in Ani to erase Armenian letters and inscriptions on Armenian churches and church ruins there. He also says the Turks are allowing Georgians to confiscate our churches in Turkey, possibly in Ani, just like they are in Georgia...erasing Armenian inscriptions and writing inscriptions in their own language. And what do we hear from our ‘patriotic’ leaders? Silence...”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

“I knew that the level of culture in Armenia had slipped, and slipped badly, since the fall of the Soviets, but what I saw the other day was a reminder of just that.”

What the ethnomusicologist was talking about was an old film (mid 1970s) of the Zareh Sahakyants-led Armenian Chamber Orchestra, which we, too, fortunately watched.

“Zareh was brilliant,” he said. “He was the orchestra’s conductor, but as a true orchestra leader, he did what Aram Khachatryan and others were able to an instrument, and do it expertly. Zareh also did arrangements, but not like they’re doing today. The orchestra played two horovels, and horovels are difficult to arrange properly...thus, today’s conductors and music arrangers staying away from traditional folk music.

“The men of the orchestra stood as they played their violins during the horovel. What class. And I think of today’s chamber orchestra...from the looks on their faces, they’re just going through the motions, waiting for their next paycheck.

“And it was like a royal wedding, when Zareh’s daughter married Spivakov, the famous Russian violinist. That was the level of Zareh Sahakyants, and others like him. I don’t want to talk about who’s marrying whom today. Or about what’s going on at the Conservatory, which during Soviet times was known throughout the Soviet Union as one of the best, if not the best, of the conservatories. For example, just the other day, one of the bribe takers called a student a name, which wasn’t nice at all, and the student pushed him back into his chair, threatening him...which the professor deserved.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Concerning populating the liberated territories:

A male Dashnak was principal of a school in a small village in the territories. A patriotic individual, he saw it his duty to help populate these regions, for obvious reasons. Along with his family, they lived and worked in the village, which had no electricity. Running water was an unheard of luxury; villagers have to walk about 20 minutes to obtain water.

The individual, needing more of an income to be able to continue to live in the village, applied for a loan, to a bank in Karabagh, for about $1,000, to be able to buy an animal or two, probably a cow.

The loan was rejected. The individual was forced to move his family back to Armenia.

This person’s application for a loan, and his leaving the territories, is no secret to anyone, including higher-ups in government and the political parties.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Baku: Twenty years ago, January 1990. All quotes from area radio and press of the time.

“Many pogroms were committed with a special cruelty. On January 14 a group of 30-40 people stormed into the flat of the Torosyans, an elderly couple, where they found two other elderly relatives of the family. The criminals beat them all, grabbed 3,500 rubles and forced these Armenians and their neighbors out of the town, threw oil on them and burned them,” says Kirill Stolyarov in his book, Break-up.

From Radio Liberty, on January 15: Lenin Street — one of the central streets in Baku — was flooded with blood. A Russian living in the Azerbaijani capital recalled with horror the scenes of atrocities against their neighbors, who were fired at point-blank, thrown out of balconies, burned alive, or dismembered by raging crowds of Azeris.

“For five days in January of 1990, the Armenian community of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, were killed, tortured, robbed and humiliated. Pregnant women and babies were molested, little girls were raped in front of their parents’ eyes, Christian crosses were burned on their backs, and they were abused for their Christian faith.”

The unprecedented sadism of Azeris and inactivity of law enforcement bodies was testified to even by one of the leaders of the National Front of Azerbaijan, Etibar Mamedov:

“I myself witnessed the murder of two Armenians near the railway station. A crowd gathered, threw petrol on them and burned them, whereas the regional militia division was only 200 meters away with some 400-500 soldiers of the internal forces. The soldiers passed by the burning bodies at a distance of some 20 meters, and nobody attempted to circle the area and disperse the crowd.” Novaya Zhizn newspaper, 1990, No. 5.

“ … in the course of Armenian pogroms in Baku the raging crowd literally tore a man apart, and his remains were thrown into a garbage bin.” From an article in Soyuz weekly, May 19, 1990.

“The group commander, Roma, Azeri by origin, goes out to the town on assignment. Upon returning he immediately asks for vodka. He is furious. He had seen how a woman was thrown out of the window from a balcony of a multi-storied building. Naked. Into a fire of burning furniture. The furniture was apparently taken out from her flat. And then… a militant from the People’s front of Azerbaijan was waving that woman’s ears from the balcony,” testified Soviet Army officer Aleksey Vasilyev.

On January 19, 1990, the New York Times published an article which said: “Azerbaijan is not Lithuania. Nationalists in Azerbaijan also talk of independence, but their protest includes bloody pogroms against their Armenian neighbors.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thoughts by Hayastantsis about the Protocols and the green light given by the Constitutional Court:

“I don’t know what my party is waiting for,” the young Dashnak said, “to demand Serge’s resignation. For him to sign away Western Armenia? To give back the liberated territories? For Azeris to move back into Karabagh? I know one thing, I don’t have my party’s patience...I say demand resignation now.”

An older Armenian stated, “Opening the border at this stage will finish this country off. I can picture it now, Turks buying up Northern Avenue, and most of Gyumri. And this, with what the Iranians are doing. They’ve bought all of Tigran Mets street, all the businesses. Do you know what they call Komitas Boulevard now? Tehran Street. I see them everywhere, in yertughayin taxis, and even as neighbors...there are several living right across the street. One of the university dormitories in Zeytun is strictly Iranian.”

I then asked if he thought these were Iranians, or Azeri Turks, coming from the north of Iran.

“I was afraid you’d ask that,” he said. “They’re all Azeris, the same ones who left Armenia when the Karabagh war started. Where did they go? To northern Iran, which is all Azeri. They obtained Iranian citizenship, then moved back here. They already speak Armenian, from having lived here, so they fit in easily. Does our government of traitors know this? Of course, but they don’t care.

“Can you picture what the Azeris would do if an Armenian went to Baku and tried to live there? Can you picture what the Azeris would do if an Armenian even tried to cross the border into Azerbaijan? They’d kill him. And we, meaning our supposed government, welcome them back...”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More concerning the recent entry about the Armenian being murdered in Moscow. A Shamshadin-born friend, calling from Moscow, told us that her husband was a good friend with the man who was murdered, and said that the facts of the event are as follows: The Armenian was with his wife when a low-class, drunken Russian pulled out a knife and stabbed him, the knife piercing his heart, killing him immediately. Our friend added that her husband helped transport the body for burial in Movses, a village in Shamshadin on the border with Azerbaijan, not far from her husband's home village of Chinari.

The murdered man left behind his widow and two small children.

Monday, January 11, 2010

After a lot of noise and buildup, and days of advertising on Dashnaktsutyun’s Yergir Media television station, I went to the rally against ratification of the Protocols. The rally started at the Shahumyan Square, not far from the Central Bank in the city center, before later continuing with a march to the Constitutional Court. I had expected a large turnout, after hearing about the earlier rally in Yerevan, held about the time Serge Sargsyan was traveling around the world and telling how wonderful (in his opinion) the Protocols are.

The best I can describe the event is that it was a sad one, with only several hundred attending, maybe as many as a couple of thousand. None of the noise that usually goes along with such rallies was heard, none of the fists raised, only people wondering what could be done, short of violence.

Asking a Dashnak party member (not of the ruling clique) what his party planned if/when the Constitutional Court and Parliament gave their approval for ratification, the Dashnak said, “What’s left? Nothing. What can we do besides rallies like these?” Quite disheartening talk, to say the least.

A younger Dashnak party member told me he wasn’t surprised about the small turnout. As he put it, “How can people trust the Dashnak party? What have they done to gain their trust? After years of being members of the ruling coalition, it’s going to take time for the people to believe they are independent.

“And what will the people do when our government, if you can call it that, gives up the liberated territories? I know lots who would go and fight if the war started again. But if they sign it all away, what can these brave men do? I tell you, these people are doing more damage to the Armenian nation than the Turks and the Kurds ever did...”

Another young Dashnak approached an older one and said, “You know, this morning I was watching Yergir Media, and right after the announcement about the rally, they advertised their ‘holiday show,’ complete with cheap rabiz and pop music. And there was a time I thought we Dashnaks were different, better than the others,” to which the older Dashnak answered, “I thought the young crowd wouldn’t watch television if the music wasn’t modern,” to which the young Dashnak said, “The Turks are already singing and dancing our music, and if we continue like this, we’re nothing, and no better than the Turks, no doubt.”

Then, after a statement by a member of Heritage, who said, “We have other methods, if the Parliament approves the Protocols,” I gave up and went home.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A musician returned from several months and several concerts in Europe. Upon returning, he was able to pay the $4,000 bribe so that his son would be admitted into a certain institute. Apparently the battle against corruption still needs fighting.
Armenian news reported another murder of an Armenian in Moscow. The Armenian male was accosted by several Russian thugs, who started an argument and eventually began beating the Armenian, who somehow escaped the thugs and got in his car to drive away. The Russians then pulled out their pistols and shot and killed the Armenian, all this with his wife watching.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

In response to the comments about the two most recent entries to Yerevan Journal:

A close friend in his fifties, after waiting on a not-so-desirable university-age male in his store, turned to me and said, “This generation is in terrible condition.” I can’t say all of the current generation is ruined, as many say, yet with the power of television, and with the wrong people controlling it in Armenia (and elsewhere), the statement is basically right. I was heartened by what was written in several Armenian blogs in recent days, with several Hayastantsi youth protesting about the state of culture in Armenia, and the garbage the television stations are producing and promoting. So all is not lost, yet, most youth fall for what they see on television, not only in Armenia but anywhere in the world, and with Armenian television inundated with low grade rabiz, pop, mafia serials, and comedy, this is what becomes the norm, and, sadly enough, the guiltiest television stations are the ones being shipped by satellite across the world, ruining the tastes and culture of Armenians everywhere.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A folk musician, while driving us to a hogihangist in Arinj, a village on the northern outskirts of Yerevan, became more and more angry as he talked:

“I feel like a foreigner in my own country,” he said. “I can no longer turn on the television. By the hour, these stations are getting worse. It used to be just a couple of stations with programs of rabiz music, but now all the stations are choking us with this garbage. The so-called singers are getting more low-grade by the day. Yesterday they gave a Movses Khorenatsi medal to a restaurant singer who they turned into a big star. I doubt she’s ever heard of Khorenatsi.

“And the comedy shows. They’re getting so desperate, they’re ridiculing Mesrop Mashtots, Vardan Mamigonian, and Vardanatz trying to get a laugh. They zoom the cameras in on people in the crowd and show them laughing their heads off, so we know what’s supposedly funny. These people are sick. I blame our government, our leaders. They have no taste. They’re the ones who are promoting all this degradation. If someone normal took power, all they’d have to do is say ‘stop’ and all would change. For now, one thing is clear: they’ve ruined an entire generation.

“Then there was the Armenian Music Awards. I don’t know how I made it the entire two hours. I don’t know what was more ridiculous, the hostess in her crazy blue dress, the horrible concert, or just what. Now I know why most of my friends watch Russian television.

“Those in the young generation with brains are disillusioned, and have their eyes elsewhere. I don’t blame them.

“If someone normal doesn’t come to power, someone with morals, we’re finished as a nation. What Genocide are we talking about? We’re watching another one, and nobody realizes it. If they did, in Armenia or in the Diaspora, why aren’t they talking? If we keep our mouths shut, as individuals or as political parties, we’re just as guilty.

“Yesterday I heard that one of the oligarchs took over ownnership of a restaurant that he wanted, strong arm style, pistols, threats. And we’re supposedly fighting corruption? Where are our leaders, who are definitely aware of this atmosphere in the country, the corruption, the rabiz culture, everything?”

Monday, January 4, 2010

A 45-year-old journalist, known for his rich toasts, stood at the long table and congratulated everybody for the New Year. After wishing everybody a successful and healthy 2010, he turned serious:

“I wish a prosperous New Year for our country, Armenia.” After a short pause, he said, “I also wish we, as a people, would respect and carry on the culture our ancestors gifted us. I wonder if we’re doing that now.

“I was at a conference of journalists, and there were several Turks there, including a family, young and old. During a break from our activities, the Turks starting doing a folk dance. I knew it was our folk dance. But how could I say anything…they were dancing it wonderfully, like they had created the dance themselves. Later, a few of us tried to dance an Armenian dance, but we were pitiful compared to the Turks. I was embarrassed.

“I believe this is because of our strange attitude, I should say, lack of respect for our culture, always saying we want to be modern. This is crazy. Can’t we be modern, yet maintain our culture, without being ashamed?”

By now, our friend’s toast had finished, on a different note than it began, to say the least. But the conversation continued. “You know,” a quite patriotic individual said, “I was so disgusted with New Year television programming on Armenia’s television stations that I shut off the set. I expected National (Public) Television and ‘Armenia’ to broadcast their usual lineup of pop star presentations and cheap comedy. But when I saw Dashnaktsutyun’s ‘Yergir Media’ putting out a low grade rabiz show, with some of the so-called singers bordering obscene in their movements, I was shocked. They’re no different than the others, as it turns out. Why Dashnaks don’t complain, I don’t know…to me, this is a continuation of the Genocide, but worse in a way, seeing our young generation ruined by the onslaught of garbage on Armenian television.

“I used to think this was all done for an easy sell, broadcasting these cheap shows, but now I’m convinced that there is a program to ruin our nation, our culture, and unless we speak up, they’ll be successful.”

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Excerpts from Cilicia 1909 — The Massacre of Armenians, by Hagop H. Terzian. For more excerpts and complete book information, see this entry. Other excerpts can be found here.

From the chapter “Second Adana Massacre”:

Shortly afterwards, we saw hundreds of dead bodies in front of the Mousheghian School gates, people who had been struck down without mercy as they had ran out the night the school was burnt. Many of them were half-dead and in agony. We suddenly trod on a corpse in the narrow street opposite the school; looking before us, we saw that it was the body of a pregnant woman with her foetus spilled out from her slashed belly, and even the foetus’s heart had been bayoneted. A little further on, we saw the many street dogs that had gathered around the dead bodies which they were tearing to pieces and eating. Meanwhile, the savage mob, along both sides of the street, showered thousands of insults at us and wanted to attack us like wild beasts.

From the chapter “Massacre and Resistance in Adana Province: Koz-Olouk”:

After this sacrifice, the holocaust ceremony began. The mob began their animal festival. The axes shone in the air; their every blow meant the severing of a limb and a crime committed; with each blow an arm, leg, or foot was severed from a body, with men’s throaty howls, women’s shrill screams, and children’s cries.

* * *

“Only kill those who can escape,” roared one of the animals from close by. “The remainder, alive...” It was Abdul-Azim’s voice.

* * *

Just then a number of the animals wrapped the head of a black-robed old man they were holding with brushwood, with the object of playing a new game with fire. The brushwood caught fire and the wretched old person, like a moving torch, ran here and there for a time with wandering steps, and then fell down, burnt by the flames. That person was Koz-Olouk’s priest, whose wounded son was an eyewitness to his father’s death.

* * *

The wretched prisoners were piled one upon another, in whatever state they were in, be they half stabbed, limbless or shot; the majority of them were alive and well. They were piled up in a heap, looking like a hill held together with bloody mortar, the centre and circumference of which was filled with brushwood. This was necessary as kindling in the work of burning them alive.

All 45 souls, mostly grown orphans and young people, were burned together with their families, buried in the brushwood...

From the chapter “Massacre and Resistance in Adana Province: Abdoghlou”:

The murderers, after killing all the men, lined up all the women and selected about 100 girls and young women whom they divided among themselves and immediately began to violate them in public...Even the village dogs could not have acted in such a callous and pitiless manner.

* * *

It is worth relating the fate of the village teacher Aram Effendi Ouzounian, his students and the priest who were all killed in the same way with such barbarism. Shouting “Let us see you sacrifice yourself on the road to freedom,” they chopped up the poor priest with axes, while he constantly crossed himself. They then turned to the teacher Aram Effendi, whose abdomen was ripped open, then subjected him to further dreadful tortures. They then nailed the students, like crucifixes, to the church walls...

* * *

The Turkish lady of the house resisted the mob’s attack, but a little later her husband Shevke Effendi arrived and invited the mob in and they massacred all the Christians there by the most dreadful means. Among the dead was Dz. Vartabed Achabahian of the Catholicosate of Cilicia, who was subjected to the most terrible tortures. First, they plucked his beard out, then they scraped the skin off his face, gouged out his eyes, cut off his nose and, crying “Hurriyet rahibi hayde dova et bakalum!” (Freedom vartabed, let’s see you pray), they mocked him. Then they cut off his arms and legs, finally cutting him up into further pieces. During these tortures the poor vartabed kept on crossing himself and praying; when they cut off his right arm, he continued crossing himself with the left one. When that one was cut off, he gave up the ghost while whispering prayers.