Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Nation and Seryozha

Requiem service in St. Nshan Church, Gyumri. Photo credit: Eric Grigoryan

"Seryozha didn't make it."

This is the message that appeared on my computer screen as the sun was slowly setting in Yerevan on Monday. It had been a horrific week. We had been working excruciatingly long hours and were worn down by the immensity of the emotions we had been confronting. A shocking multiple murder had rocked the country. Six members, three generations of the Avetisyan family had been murdered in their home in Gyumri. But Seryozha, the beautiful baby boy who had miraculously survived the massacre even after being stabbed by a bayonet of a Russian soldier was still breathing, he was fighting to stay alive. He was our blessing. He was our hope.

It took a few seconds for the news to sink in. I buried my face in my hands to contain the sorrow and rage that seemed to be exploding from my heart. His soft, round face, his white skin, his dark hair, his angelic face...I sat at my desk, in front of my computer screen, paralyzed. Seryozha died and took our hope along with him. Our prayers, our pleas to the heavens to let this one child, this innocent victim of an incomprehensible crime survive. Survive to carry his family name, to grow up, thrive, love and be loved. He was and would be loved and protected by the nation.

Some may say we love to grieve and mourn, that melancholy is a national affliction. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is a result of a century of sorrow. But this tragedy, the death of Seryozha touched a raw nerve from which it will be difficult to recover.

His death left us with a gaping hole in our hearts. Tomorrow he will be laid to rest next to his family. Maybe this world wasn't worthy of the purity he has come to symbolize. Maybe he needed to be with his family...

May Seryozha be the guardian angel for all of our children, for the children of the nation. May we all work harder, become better human beings, strive for love and peace in our lives, our country and our world. May your soul repose in peace Seryozha. Here is a lullaby to guide your journey.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Turbulent Beginning 

Photo by Daron Titizian.

"You sound tired," my sister said.

I was. It was only my second day back at the office after a much-needed Christmas break from work and the world, but I felt drained.

"I am," I said.

"Working too much again?" she asked.

How could I begin to explain all the events that had taken place in the past few days? How could so much pain and tragedy be compressed into a fleeting moment of time in the grand narrative of life?

"You remember our Turkish colleague, Gaye, who was in hospital fighting for her life after a hit-and-run? Well, she died," I said flatly. "Oh..." she said and thought that was it.

But it wasn't. I went on...

"You know, we're still in a state of war really. Tensions on the border have been high, we've already lost several young soldiers. And today, well, today six members of one family were shot dead while they were sleeping in their beds by a Russian soldier," I said. "Everything is so damn personal in Armenia."

It is.

Today, I kept seeing the image of the sole surviving infant of the tragedy in Gyumri, who miraculously survived the gruesome killing of his entire family. I wish people would stop sharing his picture, it's tearing the last shreds of my humanity apart. That innocent child will now grow up without the devotion and caress of his mother's hands, or the love of his father. What kind of life can he expect or will he have?

I walk out of the office to get some fresh air. I see people going about their daily routine, rushing to an appointment, parents picking up their children from school, young couples holding hands, an elderly man walking with a cane, his back bent from a hard life, teenagers laughing.

One emotion tumbles onto the next - anger, pain, resentment, outrage. It's hard, living here, I think to myself. I'm not lost in a crowd of millions like I was when I was living in Canada, it's not an obscure existence. Everyone I see is somehow connected to each other, connected to someone who is connected to me.

And then it dawns on me...we are a big family, a clan, a tribe, we are connected and yes, it is damn personal but it's also the reason why we have to keep on living, to try and find the beauty that I believe exists somewhere. Maybe that is what this journey is about, the desire to find beauty and peace. One day I hope to find it.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

1915 - 2015: The Gallipoli Campaign, the Armenian Genocide and Turkey

The Landing at Anzac, April 25, 1915 by Charles Dixon.

As we enter the much anticipated centenary year of our collective suffering, many of us continue to hope that we will manage to overcome divisive tendencies and take full advantage of the anniversary to place our demands on all national and international platforms.

Surely, this will be the first of many pieces I will write about this important year, and surely many more of us and 'them' will also be writing, analyzing, computing, arguing, defending, postulating...

The need to move beyond words to actions has never had as much urgency as it does now. So, instead of writing meandering thoughts as many of us have already done, I want to talk about one of the many initiatives being undertaken by Turkey to thwart, veil, and swerve the discussion from the Armenian Genocide to other issues and historical events.

The Gallipoli Campaign, also known as the Dardanelles Campaign or the Battle of Canakkale (Canakkale Savasi - Turkish) was spearheaded by the Lord of the British Admiralty, Winston Churchill during World War I. The disastrous campaign, led by the British was intended to secure a sea route from the Gallipoli peninsula, the northern bank of the Dardanelles (the Ottoman Empire at the time) to the Russian Empire. This campaign by the Allies on April 25, 1915 involved British, French, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) and aimed to secure Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). Poor planning, lack of sufficient intelligence and knowledge of the terrain coupled with fierce Turkish resistance led to heavy casualties on both sides and the eventual withdrawal of Allied forces to Egypt. 

Canakkale Savasi has a very significant place in Turkish history, it has become a symbol of how the Ottoman army was able to hold back a multinational force and "prevent them from invading the Turkish homeland." It is equally significant for Australia and New Zealand; for these two countries, the campaign remains a sense of national pride and identity.

On April 25, each year, Australia and New Zealand conduct three Anzac Day services at Gallipoli in Turkey. The Dawn Service at the Anzac Commemorative Site is conducted jointly by both countries and is followed by an Australian Memorial Service at Lone Pine, and a New Zealand Memorial Service at Chunuk Bair.

Up until 2013, Turkey commemorated the fallen soldiers of Gallipoli on March 18, which is known as Canakkale Victory and Martyrs Day. However, in anticipation of the world's attention centering on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Turkey has decided that this year, the Battle of Gallipoli will be marked on April 24.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made it clear that official Ankara will actively challenge Armenian attempts at forcing a change in the 100 year narrative of Turkish denial in this most crucial commemorative year. 

This move leaves little doubt that Turkey is placing greater emphasis and attention on the commemoration of Canakkale on April 24 as opposed to April 25, 2015 to divert attention from the centenary of the Armenian Genocide.

Dozens of heads of states are expected to attend the ceremonies being organized by Turkey at the highest levels. The Prime Ministers of Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Crown Prince Charles and Prince William of Great Britain, including Australian actor Russell Crowe are also expected to attend.

What can we do? Armenian communities in those countries that participated in the Gallipoli Campaign (Great Britain, France, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and who are expected to take part in the commemoration ceremonies on April 24 should begin a campaign asking their countries' leadership to refrain from participating. The Armenian government, along with the countless activities it is planning for the centenary of the Genocide, could put its diplomats into action (a novel idea) to counter this Turkish move, although there is no Armenian Embassy in Australia (I guess having one in the Vatican was more expedient).

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Promise

Handmade angel by Geghanush Tovmasyan

The holiday season is still in full swing in Armenia. Most in the country return to work only on January 12...after all, we need time to celebrate the New Year, Armenian Christmas and the Old New Year.

While this may appear to be extravagant for most in the West, and perhaps underscores the inefficiency of a country that doesn't have time to spare, it does give those of us living here the opportunity to take a real break, re-energize, reflect and more importantly, get together with friends and family around festive dinner tables.

Last night, I had the chance to get together with some of my 'younger' colleagues and as we ate and drank, the conversation as always, turned to the condition of the country, our hopes and dreams, our successes and failures and the many missed opportunities. And as always, a question that I grapple with often managed to find it's way into the fluid conversation - did my generation do enough?

A glass of wine was raised and a response to my question came in the form of a toast:  "Your generation achieved something, it gave us independence, and now it's our generation's responsibility to make sure we keep it."

Merry Christmas.