Tuesday, November 14, 2017



The Pursuit of Reparations:The Armenian Genocide 1915-1923

Special to the Armenian Weekly
The Armenian Weekly recently hosted an event, “The Universality of Translating Reparations for Mass Violence,” featuring Dr. Henry Theriault and Alejandra Patricia Karamanian.
During his remarks, Dr. Theriault made a brief yet striking statement that deserves to be echoed: Armenians are always extremely proud of the many contributions we have made to this world, he said, including architectural innovations, wine, the first shoe, and so forth. However, he added, perhaps the most important contribution we can make would be to the global reparations movement.
The statue of Lady Justice atop the Old Bailey courthouse in London (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Understanding our pursuit of reparations for the crime of the Armenian Genocide within the framework of a much larger movement, and as an important contribution to the world in the 21stcentury, can help define our nation’s own understanding of what constitutes justice for genocide.
We are experiencing an important shift in our pursuit of justice, and a new narrative has been gradually taking shape over the past several years: an evolution from recognition to reparations. The work for recognition carried out by previous generations is unassailable. We owe a great deal to the movement that took us from complete silence to near global recognition. Today’s conscious move toward the pursuit of reparations builds upon the work of the vanguard who achieved recognition by dozens of countries, 48 American states, the European Parliament, the Pope… The list goes on.
Now, this progression and strategic shift needs popular support. The pursuit of territorial restoration, monetary compensation, return of stolen properties, etc., is too often scoffed at and depicted as the pipedream of Armenian nationalists.
However, the Armenian pursuit of reparations is not divorced from a global reparations movement. It plays a critical role in justice for victims of human rights violations worldwide.
I would go so far as to say the Armenian pursuit of justice through reparations is particularly important for setting the right precedent in international human rights advances, because it demonstrates that no amount of time passed should negate state—and successor-state—responsibility for the crime of genocide. Thus, there is immense contemporary significance in the pursuit of justice for an international crime committed a century ago.
Here, I can predict pragmatic readers making the argument that our responsibility now is to what remains of Armenia—the current Republic—and that we should focus on strengthening and repopulating our developing state. It’s undeniable that growth and prosperity in Armenia are critical at this juncture. However, it is a disservice to our national potential to adopt such one-dimensional narratives. Our participation in the reparations movement and the development of Armenia should not be seen as conflicting—but, rather, as complementary to one another.
Moreover, the often-heard position of needing to develop current-day Armenia before seriously thinking about the return of lands sends a clear and dangerous message to all perpetrators of genocide. It can be translated as a victim group succumbing to the consequences of genocide. It says we have come to accept the current, illegitimate, status quo and our weakened condition has convinced us that we are undeserving of what was once ours.
Such collective negligence will have generational consequences. It can—and some might argue, already has—led to a dystopian society, in which acts of unspeakable violence are carried out with impunity.
We cannot abandon a universal obligation to human rights merely because of our current weakened political and economic position. In fact, our current fragility is in large part a consequence of the genocide itself.
This fight is for everyone, and it’s time to fully embrace it. Emerging from the farthest margins of political power, the Armenian nation, alongside a growing human rights community, can demonstrate resolve against even the most determined and pernicious deniers. Our position can serve as a beacon of hope for countless victim groups.
A scene from “The Universality of Translating Reparations for Mass Violence,” featuring Dr. Henry Theriault and Alejandra Patricia Karamanian (Photo: Karine Vann/The Armenian Weekly)
Our people have paid with their bodies, as have the people of the Caribbean, Cambodians, African-Americans, Chileans, and many others. The fight to be compensated, impossible as it may seem, is what will mark a new era in human rights.
And this fight is not strictly confined to the realms of law and politics. Justice for genocide belongs to all. It is a cultural fight, an ethical fight, a philosophical fight. Our passionate dissent might be defeated, but it also might change the world.
The Armenian pursuit for justice has universal relevance. More than our groundbreaking inventions and centuries-long influence on global commerce, our greatest contributing to the world in this modern age can be our leading role in the global reparations movement. Our contribution, our role as the ultimate victims’ advocate, can help push the idea of restorative and reparative justice beyond its current limited boundaries. Ultimately, this undertaking serves the greater purpose of not only challenging an illegitimate post-genocidal status quo, but also helping to deter future crimes against humanity.
This fight is pure, it is un-shameful, it requires love, dignity, and courage. This fight is what will push us toward the pinnacles of human achievement, and we have the opportunity to be its leading crusader.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Henry Theriault serves as the chair of the Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group (AGRSG), which was established in 2007 by four experts in different areas of reparations theory and practice. Funded initially by a grant from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), the members of the AGRSG are Alfred de Zayas, Jermaine O. McCalpin, Ara Papian, and Theriault (chair).  The group’s final report Resolution with Justice: Reparations for the Armenian Genocide, is available here

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Reflections on Armenian Language Learning’s Impact on the Armenian-American Experience

Special to the Armenian Weekly 
I don’t know whether it was a fluke or by design, but the Armenian Weekly’s Aug. 26, 2017 issue included three articles about the role Armenian-language knowledge plays—or doesn’t play—in one’s Armenian identity: Marie Papazian’s “A Generational Question: ‘If You Don’t Speak Armenian, Are You Really Armenian?’”; Garen Yegparian’s “Language vs. Spirit”; and Rupen Janbazian’s “‘Where Are You From?’ and the Huge Pile of Complexes.” Those articles were followed by the Weekly’s Oct. 6, 2017 online posting of Ani Bournazian’s “How Do You Measure Armenian Identity?” I read each with interest, and here I offer my reflections that resulted from those readings.
“The journey to language proficiency isn’t easy. But it’s worth taking, even as the journey starts with Armenian identity firmly in hand, head, and heart.” (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)
Although scholars conclude that national or ethnic identity is built on common touchstones—including language—we’ve reached a point in our corner of the Armenian Diaspora where Armenian identity does not require Armenian-language knowledge. We all know Armenian Americans who identified as Armenian but went from cradle to grave not speaking much Armenian at all. They experienced their Armenian ethnicity in a way that was different—but not quantitatively “better”—than an Armenian with Armenian-language proficiency.
In my third-generation experience growing up in an Armenian-American community, the very fact that we spoke a certain level and kind of Armenian informed and continues to influence a unique and beautifully fraught Armenian-American condition. And yet, Armenian identity survives, and people take the affirmative step of naming themselves Armenian, whatever their Armenian language skills.
But that’s not the end of the conversation. We have a problem. Too many have concluded that because Armenian identity survives a lack of Armenian-language knowledge, Armenian language learning is not necessary. It’s a reason why student enrollment in our Armenian-language one-day schools continues to decline steadily: Those schools increasingly have to cater to children who come to school already understanding the language; thus, unintentionally, they marginalize hundreds of non-Armenian-speaking children whose academic needs can’t be met well in today’s traditional Armenian school classroom.
When are we going to ask the question that we still haven’t adequately answered, even after all the years that have led us to today: How can we teach Armenian as a Second Language in a safe and systemic way and convince thousands of families that have abandoned the language to return to the classroom so that they and their children can deepen their Armenian experience, and in doing so strengthen the Armenian Nation?
The journey to language proficiency isn’t easy. But it’s worth taking, even as the journey starts with Armenian identity firmly in hand, head, and heart.
It’s Saturday morning, and I’m in class at Mourad Armenian School, Providence, R.I. My classmates are Armenian American-born peers and we are reading textbooks filled with many difficult and mysterious words not heard at home. We are among the last generation of children whose genocide survivor grandparents are living, so we hear Armenian regularly and even speak it to older generations. At annual year-end hanteses (concert), we recite poems and perform roles in plays, not completely understanding what we are saying and hoping we don’t embarrass ourselves and our families by stumbling and mispronouncing words in a language we have been taught is sacred and precious. A language whose erosion is a sign of assimilation, waste, and loss. We try to make our parents and grandparents proud.
I’m in Lebanon with five other college students from the United States who have been selected by the Eastern Armenian Prelacy to spend six weeks in Bikfaya learning Armenian language, history, and culture. Our stay has been underwritten by Kevork Hovnanian. A trip to Syria by way of Ainjar (Anjar) takes us to Aleppo, Damascus, Der Zor, and Kessab. In Aleppo, a fellow student and I are assigned to stay with a family that includes three sisters and a female visiting cousin. We seem to be interacting well and the family hosts us all for a pleasant dinner on our last night in the city. My roommate gets sick and goes to bed early. I follow later after everyone has left. The sisters and cousin crowd in the bedroom doorway. They ask me questions that I try to answer in my expanding, but still child-level Armenian. The atmosphere turns when the cousin responds, “Jib, jib, jib,” at my efforts and the mocking begins. I start to cry and tell them in Armenian that they’re breaking my heart, that we are the same, that we are all Armenian. But we are not the same and my baby Armenian words don’t move them. I tell them to leave me alone, and after they leave I weep for the loss of something I can’t identify.
I’m in Radnor, Penn., at the home of poet Vahe Oshagan and my fiancĂ©, Hayg, son of Vahe and grandson of Hagop Oshagan, the revered Armenian literary critic and novelist. I’m listening very hard to Hayg’s conversation with his father, paying attention to words, idioms, inflections, and tenses, and saying as little as possible. I cannot participate fully in this high-stakes dialogue, full of nuance and fast and fluent observations in Armenian. I rehearse sentences and try to fit them into conversation when I can. I watch for signs and prompts. By the end of the evening, I’m exhausted. This construct repeats over the years.
It’s my wedding day, and I’m dancing with my new father-in-law at the reception. He asks, “You’re going to speak Armenian?” It’s a statement wrapped in a question. “I’ll try,” I promise in Armenian.
Hayg and I are walking back to our apartment on the University of Wisconsin Madison campus, and I’m three months pregnant with our first child. I have chosen this day to fulfill my promise to speak Armenian. This is the day I start to build the capacity that will allow Armenian to be the language of our home, the language of our family, the language of our firstborn. Hayg says something to me in Armenian and I respond in Armenian. And we continue from there.
After several weeks of conversation, my Armenian comes out of my mouth more fluently, if not always perfectly. I can better recall and use the Armenian words buried in my brain. I still talk to myself to practice what I’m going to say, to try out that more precise word, to elevate my expression. I make mistakes and feel anger and shame when corrected, but I carry on to keep the promises I’ve made to others and myself. For my family’s sake. For my sake.
Years pass and my Armenian is stronger. Vocabulary is situational, so mine revolves around home, school, work, and meetings. I’m conversant in Armenian, and know my share of 25-cent words. I read the Hairenik Weekly—using the Armenian school lessons of decades past—to build vocabulary or correct pronunciation of certain words, seeing the spelling. My children speak Armenian and attend Armenian school. For an Armenian whose family has been in the U.S. for nearly 100 years, I’m satisfied with my achievement, but never completely relaxed using the fruits of that achievement.
I’m at a community event that has babies and toddlers everywhere, and Armenian is in the air because Armenian is the language spoken to small children, by instinct and impulse. Pari (good),char (naughty), yegour (come), voch (no), gatig (milk). In this moment, these are not baby words. They are gold among the tin of English. The Armenian words are few, but they are present and they resonate, said with love and memory. For some parents and grandparents, these words and others like them are all that is left to say. But they are beautiful and meaningful to the listening children who will only pass on these few remnants of Armenian themselves without more Armenian language learning opportunities.
I’m at Detroit’s Armenian Relief Society (ARS ) Zavarian Armenian School on opening day and see five-year-old Sevana Derderian enrolling for the new school year. It’s her first Armenian-school experience, and I watch her as I speak to her mother. There are few non-Armenian-speaking peers in the room, and the parents of Sevana’s friends have chosen not to enroll their children. I wonder how Sevana will feel about herself in the dynamics of a class filled mostly with children from homes where Armenian is spoken regularly. Will she crack a code that others already know innately? I silently make a wish that she won’t learn to connect Armenian-language learning with negative feelings that hurt her heart and spirit.
* * *
Xenoglossophobia. This is the fear of foreign-language learning. It’s my theory that thousands of Diasporan Armenians suffer from this phobia, which teachers of second languages debate and discuss.
University of Texas Austin foreign-language educator Elaine Horwitz says that, for many, foreign language learning can be filled with anxiety and can negatively impact learning.
“I think that there’s some amount of inherent anxiety in language learning, because A, it’s just difficult, time-consuming and complicated, and B, I think that for some people it’s a threat to our self-concept,” she told Inside Higher Ed. “We can’t be ourselves when we speak the language. We have to be limited just to whatever it is that we can say.”
Second-language scholar Alexander Z. Guiora has written that learning a second language is “a profoundly unsettling psychological proposition because it directly threatens an individual’s self-concept and worldview.”
Armenian-American parents who have bad memories of Armenian school and have not sent their children to avoid their negative experiences will recognize Guiora’s additional observation that students learning a second language—even when it is the language of their ancestors—“experience apprehension, worry, even dread. They exhibit avoidance behavior such as missing class and postponing homework.”
There has been much discussion in the Armenian press recently about reconciling differences between Western and Eastern Armenian and protecting Western Armenian generally as we continue reflecting on the meaning of our nationhood in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide’s centennial observance and in the run up to the 100th anniversary of the first Armenian Republic’s establishment.
As a community and nation, we may also want to focus on the survival of Western Armenian’s use throughout the Diaspora and on ways to rebuild an Armenian-language learning infrastructure that will teach Armenian as a Second Language using a strong, relevant, and systematic curriculum that meets children where they are and builds to a satisfactory and satisfying language-proficiency level.
“One shot” classes that have Armenian as a Second Language learners for a year or two and disband because of teacher or student discontinuity, together with piecemeal approaches in integrated classrooms, only perpetuate both the current atmosphere of parent abandonment of our Armenian one-day schools and the derision and eye-rolling that greets the question, “Are you sending your child to Armenian school this year?”
Continuing patchwork solutions to halfheartedly teach Armenian to non-Armenian-speaking Armenian children will only continue to keep Armenian Americans away from most of today’s Armenian schools. Parents will not send their non-Armenian-speaking children to a place where their understanding of themselves as Armenian may be threatened. The emotional connection between the non-Armenian-speaker’s language-learning discomfort and their Armenian identity may create the conflation that leads to that destructive question: Am I a “real” Armenian if I don’t know Armenian?
The sooner we implement and advance an Armenian-language learning environment for non-Armenian-speakers that deepens their Armenian experience in a safe and supportive space, the sooner the lingering divisions in our communities based on language and experience with language will blur, especially as the influx of fresh native Armenian speakers diminishes throughout the eastern U.S.
Until that happens, old debate questions about identity and language will pit us against each other and serve as a distraction, until we come together and confront the real danger we face together: the absence of a meaningful plan to shape the destiny of Western Armenian’s relevance, learning and use in our eastern U.S. communities, and the mindset of too many Armenian Americans who have concluded in the full embrace of their Armenian identity that it is not worth learning and using the language of their ancestors.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Hamparian: ‘In Defense of Christians Is America’s Answer to a Century of Indifference’

In Defense of Christians 2017 Summit Kicks Off with Press Conference Featuring Key Religious Leaders and Program Sponsors; Ecumenical Prayer Service at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral

WASHINGTON—Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian commended In Defense of Christians (IDC) on a year of progress in protecting Christian communities across the Middle East, and called on U.S. leaders to elevate America’s response to global suffering, threats to faith, dangers to democracy and diversity worldwide—from the field of politics to the plane of morality.
ANCA’s Aram Hamparian offering remarks at the opening press conference of the In Defense of Christians 2017 Summit in Washington (Photo: ANCA)
Hamparian’s remarks came during Tuesday’s inaugural press conference for IDC’s 2017 Summit, “American Leadership and Securing the Future of Christians in the Middle East,” cosponsored by the ANCA, The Philos Project, Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), and the Lebanese Information Center. The press conference began with poignant remarks by His Beatitude Moran Mor Bechara Boutros al-Rai, the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and all the East and His Beatitude John Yazigi, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, moderated by IDC Vice-President and Senior Policy Adviser Andrew Doran.
“We are great when we are good. We are great because we are good,” said Hamparian. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And this is a city full of folks who will try. We need not choose between being strong or just. We can, and must, be both.”
Hamparian’s complete remarks are available on the ANCA YouTube page:
The complete press conference is available on the In Defense of Christians Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/indefenseofchristians/.
Following the press conference, IDC summit participants gathered at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle for an Ecumenical Prayer Service for Christians in the Middle East. His Excellency Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., served as celebrant of the prayer service, which included the participation of Patriarch al-Rai; Patriarch Yazigi; His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America; and Most Rev. Nicholas James Samra, Bishop of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton. The Service also featured evangelical ecumenical representatives, including Rev. Berdj Djambazian, Minister to the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America, and Rev. Johnnie Moore, Founder and CEO of the Kairos Company, along with numerous Apostolic Church Prelates, other clergy, and religious leaders.
His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan’s reading is available below.
Rev. Berdj Djambazian’s reading is available below.
Internationally acclaimed Lebanese singer Mrs. Abeer Nehme performed moving renditions of Christian hymns in Arabic and Aramaic, a 5,000-year-old Coptic funeral procession song, and angelic performances of Giligia and Der Voghormia (Lord Have Mercy).
Mrs. Nehme’s rendition of Giligia is available below.
An IDC Summit supporter since its inception in 2014 and cosponsor since 2016, the ANCA will be lending its voice to a series of policy-driven panel discussions and hands-on advocacy workshops, as well as meetings with Members of Congress on October 25th and 26th. The convention’s advocacy agenda features strong support for a just resolution of the Armenian Genocide and will include lobbying visits in support of H.Res.220, a bipartisan measure seeks to apply the lessons of the Armenian Genocide in preventing new atrocities across the Middle East.
A capacity crowd of religious leaders, journalists, and supporters of Christian communities in the Middle East at the In Defense of Christians Summit 2017 opening press conference in Washington (Photo: ANCA)
ANCA representatives will be making presentations throughout the conference, which will focus on the following advocacy priorities: security and stability in Lebanon; emergency relief for victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria; allies and accountability in the Middle East; recognition of the Armenian Genocide; and Legal punishment for ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other perpetrators of genocide.
The IDC Solidarity Dinner, to be held Wednesday evening, Oct. 25, will include keynote remarks by Vice-President Mike Pence and will offer special honors to longtime human rights champion Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

From Baku with ‘Blacklists’: For the Love of Azerbaijan, Just Shut Up Already, Mr. Hajiyev

Hikmet Hajiyev is on a roll these days.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s latest victim? None other than American food and television icon Anthony Bourdain, who was recently in Armenia and Artsakh to produce a segment on the region for his CNN television show, “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.”
Bourdain was recently in Armenia and Artsakh to produce a segment on the region for his CNN television show
Speaking to Russia’s RIA Novosti, Hajiyev confirmed that Bourdain would be put on the now-infamous (and ever-growing) Azerbaijani “blacklist” for “illegally visiting the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.”
In 2013, Hajiyev’s Foreign Ministry issued a list, which disclosed the names of more than 300 individuals from more than 40 countries, who had visited the Republic of Artsakh “without Baku’s permission.”
They were listed as “persona non grata”—unacceptable and unwelcome in Azerbaijan. Today, that list—published right on Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry’s website—has ballooned to nearly 700.
Parliamentarians, scientists, academics, artists, journalists, entertainers (the list goes on)—all of them accused of undermining “the national sovereignty and territorial unity” of Azerbaijan.
Late last week, Hajiyev tried something new and personally attacked—and threatened—Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian in a series of tweets, accusing him of being a terrorist, racist, and a “mafia boss.”
“The Foreign Affairs [Ministry] is ‘punching down’ when it punches a lobby,” Hamparian said about Hajiyev’s latest move.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Dr. Henry Theriault Engages Community in Conversation on Genocide Studies

BELMONT, Mass. (A.W.)—The National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR)/Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Lecture Series on Contemporary Armenian Issues presented “Setting the Agenda: Genocide Studies Today and the Place of the Armenian Genocide” on Sept. 21.
The program featured a conversation with Dr. Henry Theriault (L) and Marc Mamigonian (R) (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)
The program featured a conversation with Dr. Henry Theriault, who was recently elected president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) and is associate vice president for academic affairs at Worcester State University. Joining Dr. Theriault in conversation was NAASR Academic Director Marc Mamigonian .
In his introductions, Mamigonian said that the intention of the event was to start a discussion about the state of genocide studies today and the place of Armenian Genocide studies within the field, and urged audience members to engage in the conversation.
“As president of IAGS, I really want to think of ways to move the organization forward. We’re at a particularly difficult political time in the U.S. and globally,” Theriualt said in his opening, citing recent developments across the United States, Turkey, and Europe. “We’re seeing a return in some of the same issues that we thought we had made progress against in the last 50 years, 30 years, twenty years,” Theriault noted.
According to Theriault, IAGS is one of the many organizations that can have a real impact in terms of public education and advocacy in a difficult political climate domestically and internationally and opened the floor for comments and suggestions from the audience.
Theriault has served as founding co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal Genocide Studies International, and he chaired the Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group; he was lead author of its 2015 final report. His autobiographical narrative, “Out of the Shadow of War and Genocide,” was included in Advancing Genocide Studies: Personal Accounts and Insights from Scholars in the Field (2015), edited by Samuel Totten. After 19 years on the faculty in the philosophy department at Worcester State, in 2017 he became associate vice president for academic affairs there.
A scholar who has been a leading voice among of genocide studies over the past decade and more, and now as president of IAGS, a position to which he was elected in June 2017, Theriault is among those setting the agenda for genocide studies. In his IAGS inaugural address, he stated that “genocide studies has been at the forefront of recent human rights advances…. Demagogues attack the sensibilities [that] genocide studies engenders. Our work is a crucial challenge to their propaganda. IAGS must strive against this marginalization while innovatively expanding the field, especially creating space for emerging scholars particularly vulnerable to this backlash.”