New Writings from Ara Baliozian

The following writings were submitted recently by Ara Baliozian for publication by ARI. Ara Baliozian's books may be purchased from: Impressions Publishers, 124 Peter St., Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 3K2. Tel.(519) 744-8935.


Time Frame Theorists

By Ara Baliozian

Time-frame theorists are a dime a dozen among us -- Armenians who say, "It will take two or three more generations until we produce honest bureaucrats and leaders"; or, "The lifetime of the present regime cannot be more than five or at most seven years; after which everything is bound to improve."

Time-frame theorists are essentially fatalists and poltroons who believe that human action and individual initiative are useless and history is at the mercy of impersonal and invisible forces controlled by still another impersonal and invisible force called Time.

Since man is incapable of changing the course of history or his own jagadakir (Armenian for destiny, literally "written on the forehead") his sole option is to adopt a wait-and-see attitude.

During the Soviet era we had Armenians who were convinced the Soviet Union would last a thousand years. Did history teach them a lesson? I doubt it. Time-frame theories may die but time-frame theorists will always be with us. That's because we shall always have among us cowards and opportunists who will do and say nothing in defense of the people lest they offend the sensibilities of those in power. When such individuals speak of charity, compassion, and understanding, you may stay assured that they reserve these noble sentiments not for the victims but for their victimizers.


The Root of Our Problems

We remain hopelessly divided and fragmented today because we behave not as a nation but as a collection of tribes. This has been said before, many times, but it bears repeating. Listen to Nikol Aghpalian (1873-1947), statesman, literary scholar, educator: "We Armenians are products of the tribal mentality of Turks and Kurds, and this tribal mentality remains stubbornly rooted even among our leaders and elites."

But our tribalism is not a final verdict without appeal. There is a way out. Those who say otherwise have understood nothing of our history and care even less about us.

We were victimized at the turn of the century in the Ottoman Empire not as tribes but as a nation. We may go on behaving as tribes but history and our enemies have singled us out and defined us as a nation. I say therefore, if we can suffer as a nation, we have earned the right to behave as a nation.

This is the best argument against those who divide us by exploiting our tribalism. I will go further and state that, we will acquire national consciousness only on the day we understand that all those who have divided us and continue to divide us today in the name of this or that ill-defined orthodoxy, doctrine, ideology, or policy, are our gravediggers regardless of what they profess, preach, or speechify.

Again according to Nikol Aghpalian: "When man does not submit himself to the rule of law, he will have to submit himself to the rule of man, that is to say, cliques and gangs."


Enemies of Literature

Whenever our writers have run out of foreign and domestic persecutors, they have persecuted one another. Hagop Oshagan never lost a chance to denigrate Zarian's work and character. He even wrote an entire play attacking him as a double-talking manipulator and hypocrite.

At the turn of the century, Zabel Yessayan (who survived the Genocide but fell victim to Stalin's purges in the Soviet Union) wrote a satirical novel titled Phony Geniuses in which she excoriated Indra (real name Diran Chrakian), a noted contemporary poet, teacher, and mystic.

In a famous manifesto, Charents (himself a victim of Stalinist purges) condemned many important writers to irrelevance simply because they did not share his ideology.

Some of my dedicated enemies are writers who mention my name only to denigrate my work. Others go further and completely ignore my contributions as translator. I have seen outlines of 20th-century Armenian literature written for American reference works in which Zarian's name isn't even mentioned (which is like writing about 19th century Russian literature without mentioning Dostoevsky) because mentioning him would have necessitated citing my translations in a footnote.

Instead of combatting our tribalism these writers perpetuate it and for doing so they are rewarded by our ruling classes and elites whose greatest enemies are those among us who dare to speak up against prejudice, ignorance, divisiveness, and fragmentation -- that is to say, our tribalism.


Culture and Barbarism

A great deal of nonsense is spoken in the name of culture or cultural values. We forget that every culture at all times and everywhere has also produced those who have resisted or rejected these very same values. Roman values were rejected by Christians, bourgeois values by communists, and communist values by dissidents. Likewise, medieval values were rejected by humanists, totalitarian values by democracies, conservative values by liberals, and fundamentalist values by a wide assortment of other -isms.

Culture is first and foremost a process of ferment, conflict, and dialogue. To suppress dialogue and dissent is not culture but barbarism.

As for cultural values, let's make one thing clear: we have conflicting interests not conflicting ideas, ideologies, doctrines, or principles. We are dominated by shopkeepers not statesmen, ideologues, theologians, or philosophers. Because as far as I know there is not a single Armenian on earth who openly subscribes to an ideology, orthodoxy, or philosophy that remotely justifies the destruction of the nation.

Our Foreign Policy Options

By suppressing the opposition and adopting a pro-Turkish foreign policy, President Levon Der Bedrossian has proved that he respects only those he fears. His supporters may call that "respect" but his adversaries will be inclined to see it as opportunism or even cowardice. As for the Turks: why should they care whether or not what motivates Levon Der Bedrossian is respect, fear, or self-interest so long as he treats them as friends and an important fraction of his fellow Armenians as enemies?

Like all imperial powers, the Turks have mastered the art of divide-and-rule, which simply states: "Why should we bother to fight our enemies so long as we can manipulate them into fighting among themselves and against one another?"

Speaking as a concerned citizen: I am all for peace, coexistence, and cooperation with our enemies. I don't see blockade and the occasional massacre (whether we are the victims or victimizers makes no difference) as a desirable, or even viable, option.

But the question that keeps nagging at me is: If our president can be flexible enough to be on friendly terms with those who attempted to exterminate us, why can't he be flexible enough with those who died in defense of our homeland?


Reflections of a Concerned Citizen

Sometimes I am attacked on the grounds that I am neither a political pundit nor a philosopher, and that I quote others too frequently to be an original thinker and I repeat myself too much to be a creative writer. But whether or not what I am doing qualifies as literature, journalism, political commentary, criticism, polemic, or some other academic discipline is irrelevant to me. I don't feel the need to classify myself and I care even less how others choose to see me. I don't even mind being described as a derivative hack who doesn't deserve to be published and read. (This, by the way, is already what our partisan editors have decided to do anyway, so that my critics may have good reason to feel vindicated.)

I know one thing for certain: the questions I raise and discuss will have to be raised and discussed sooner or later by others, and if these others are more competent than I and if they carry out their task by means of an easily classifiable genre (drama, fiction, essay, political treatise, philosophical analysis) so much the better.

But it seems to me, in our context, it would be far more useful to introduce the concept of direction rather than literary genre: we either advance in the right direction by discussing our problems objectively or we ignore them in the name of this or that academic abstraction.

To our junkies of classification, I say: If it is classification you want, then classify me simply as a concerned citizen. I for one will be more than happy with that tag.


Heroism and Culture

No nation in the history of mankind has ever declared war against another in order to lose it. We confronted the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the century and we lost. We lost because they were many and we were few; they were armed and we were not allowed to bear arms; they were bloodthirsty Asiatic barbarians and we were civilized Christians. We lost because we were stupid enough to believe in the verbal commitments of the Great Powers and they were smart enough not to. Even more to the point, we lost because we were divided and they were not. Finally, we lost because those among us who were wise enough to see the coming catastrophe were ignored by the extremists -- the very same people who are now saying: We did nothing wrong because our men were heroes and martyrs and (as everyone ought to know) both heroism and martyrdom are beyond criticism.

But heroism and martyrdom are not incompatible with (i) an objective assessment of all the factors that led to our tragedy, (ii) a constructive critique of our performance, and (iii) the courage to accept responsibility for our blunders -- without which heroism and martyrdom become wasteful exercises in futility, or, in the words of Avedis Aharonian (1866-1948), author and statesman: "Heroism without culture is barbarism."

By culture what Aharonian meant here is not recycled partisan propaganda, chauvinist verbiage about the snows of Mt. Ararat, endless lamentations for our fallen heroes and martyrs, or, for that matter, pilaf, shish-kebab, and belly-dancing, but a better understanding of reality.


The Elites and the Masses

The main purpose of all elites, power structures, and orthodoxies is to keep the masses ignorant so that they may be more easily manipulated by the ruling classes.

Some thinkers of the past have argued that, in order to make metaphysical, theological, or philosophical truths accessible to the masses, it is necessary to create laws, rituals, and belief systems. The fallacy in this elitist argument is that, it also justifies promoting prejudice and subservience, and by extension, war and massacre.

Anyone who says God is one or God is three in one, or, for that matter, anything else that cannot be clearly demonstrated to be true or false, cannot be taken seriously, and to take such a man seriously even if he happens to be the Pope of Rome or the Emperor of China or the Czar of all the Russians is an unmistakable sign of frivolity.

And speaking of the Pope, the Emperor, and the Czar: did these gentlemen ever share the same belief systems? Did they ever make an effort to harmonize their orthodoxies? Did they ever meet and agree on anything?

Mankind will enter a golden age of universal brotherhood, peace, and cooperation only when it begins to perceive the charlatanism in all orthodoxies and the pornography in all power structures.


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In Praise of Peace, Coexistence, and Cooperation Some of the worst blunders in the history of mankind were committed by men who focused on their short-term gains to such a degree that they lost sight of their long-term interests.

Our long-term interests suggest that coexistence is our only viable option. Unless we learn to coexist with our enemies, we will either massacre them when we get the chance or vice versa. This is the tribal way of eternal feud and vendetta.

There are many Armenians who don't hate the Turks, or, if they hate them, they are more than willing to suppress their need for revenge. There are also many Turks who have no interest in covering up the Genocide. But these Armenians and Turks have so far failed to produce spokesmen or institutions to promote coexistence.

Some day, if these Armenians, Turks, and Azeris step forward and identify themselves as supporters of peace, coexistence, and cooperation, we may be surprised to discover that they are -- and they have always been -- in the majority.*


A Literary Giant or a Moral Midget?

This year marks the centenary of one of the most prominent poets of the Soviet era, Yeghishe Charents (1897-1937). Preparations are afoot in both the Homeland and the Diaspora, and according to recent press reports, some of our most important political and intellectual leaders will participate in celebrating this momentous anniversary.

I wonder how many of these gentlemen, who are now busy composing tributes, odes, lectures, articles, perhaps even books, will dare to mention the facts that, for most of his life, Charents was a loud-mouth Bolshevik propagandist, an alcoholic, a drug addict, a molester of young women, and an attempted murderer -- his victim: a respectable young woman who dared to resist his sexual advances.

As for his frequently quoted and consistently ignored final message -- "O Armenian people, your salvation lies only in your collective powers!" -- it is sometimes forgotten that it came only after he had spent his life dividing the nation into good Armenians (Communists) and enemies (or "bourgeois nationalists", among whom, be it noted, he included some of our greatest intellects and far better men than himself).

With a role model like Charents, why should we be surprised if there are today dozens of charlatans with the morals of a skunk who pretend to be literary giants?

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* I disagree with Ara on this. The issue, as I see it, is not about suppressing revenge or supporting peace, but demanding and receiving justice. It is meaningless to talk about coexistence and cooperation when our enemies are sitting on 90% of our lands. When a price has to be paid, especially in terms of land, this same majority of Turkish or Azeri peace supporters (if it is a majority) will become a minority very quickly.

S. Norashkharian

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Copyright 1997 by Ara Baliozian

ARI (ARMENIAN REFORM INSURGENCE)
HAY PARENOROKMAN ABSDAMPOUTYOUN