The Voice of Victory

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Yesterday, April 26, 2015, I had the privilege of speaking in Times Square for the 100th Armenian Genocide Commemoration – a call to remember the 1.5 million Armenians massacred by Ottoman Turkey seeking to ethnically cleanse its country (a good portion of which used to be ancient Armenia).

Among writers and scholars far more qualified than I to speak on the subject, I was honored to be there because of service, because I currently chair a national Armenian women’s organization dedicated to serving our people around the world.

Sometimes when we serve, we go on unexpected journeys, learning unexpected lessons and benefiting from unexpected opportunities. Yesterday’s was the largest crowd I had ever given a speech to, and perhaps ignorance is bliss: I later learned that there were 15,000 people in the crowd, which might have been a knee-freezer had I known earlier!

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Why This Week Matters

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The purple forget-me-not flower is the official emblem of the worldwide 100th Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. See http://armeniangenocide100.org.


The week ahead is 100 years in the making.

The 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 will be commemorated this week around the world, at a variety of marches, events, services, performances and monuments, on April 24th. Those who call ourselves Armenian, or who are friends with Armenians, are all too familiar with this milestone tragedy in world history.

But many are not familiar with this, the first genocide of the 20th century — Ottoman Turkey’s systematic killings of 1.5 million Armenians – as well as Assyrians and others – in their effort to create a pan-Turkish state.

Hitler studied this atrocity when planning the Holocaust; lawyer and scholar Raphael Lemkin coined the word “genocide” in the early 1940s in response to what happened to the Armenians in 1915; documentation is clear and deep in worldwide archives — 145 articles in The New York Times alone that year, Turkish military records and memos authorizing murder, first-hand foreign diplomat accounts by letter, photos too gruesome to show here, missionary diaries, and family oral histories. Turkey wanted these enterprising Armenian Christians wiped off the face of the earth. Kill the leaders and drive the rest into the desert to die.


Henry Morgenthau Sr.
U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, 1919:

“When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact. . . . I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared to the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915.”


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Beauty Equals Good: A Beastly Myth, by February Grace (Guest Post)

It is a pleasure to welcome author February Grace to my blog this week for a guest post. I greatly admire her as a person and as a writer (see past blog entry here). Her newest novel, UPON A TIME, debuts this month.

And her perspective, now more than ever, is a meaningful one for all of us. Read her post below:

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It has bothered me for a very long time that the ‘good’ in people is represented by beauty in most fairy tales and indeed, overall in our culture.

Anyone who is less than perfect or dare I say it, less than gorgeous, is usually portrayed in these stories as being on the wrong side of the fight.

If you’d believe these tales, most disfigured people turn evil and murderous.

Born without perfect looks? Forget it, you’re doomed to evil, or at least to suffering from day one. You will be branded a ‘monster’ (I’m thinking about Quasimodo here…) or worse. Tortured, bullied, humiliated.

It’s a tired old myth that has stayed with me, leading me to ask myself a question not too long ago: what if Prince Charming’s looks were no longer flawless? Would his betrothed (you know, the girl from the ball who lost her shoe) still look at him the same way? How would he cope with the changes in his appearance, himself?

We all know that the Beast was cursed with a change in his appearance because his heart was unkind; but what if a kind-hearted person was suddenly disfigured through no fault of his own?

It happens in the real world, every day.

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My Worst Trip Ever and Why I Loved It

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I currently chair a national Armenian women’s organization that helps sustain our cultural heritage, develop Armenian women leaders and support Armenian families around the world.  Some would call it a sorority, but I consider it much deeper and stronger than that. However, one similarity is that fellow members call each other ‘sisters.’

And let’s just say that my fellow ‘sisters’ and I had an interesting travel adventure this past week, to say the least. As I write, we national officers are on the final leg of a very long trip across multiple cities and airlines.

In two weeks, we visited five chapters of our organization across the east and midwest. On our most recent trip, we had to travel through seven cities to visit three chapters. We missed two flights due to weather and plane delays. We were twice told the planes would be held for us, only to see the plane slowly back away from the gate the minute we got there, after we ran — yes, ran — through multiple terminals.

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The gate agent on one end said, “Oh yes, we called already; they’re holding the flight for you; go, go, go!”

The gate agent on the other end said, “We never got a call…”

These and other snafus resulted in two unexpected overnight stays in two different, non-visitation cities.

“But you can get your luggage at Terminal E….” And a half hour later:

“Oh, no your luggage isn’t at Terminal E; it’s at Terminal C, and you can’t access it until tomorrow.”

Then we were delayed 2.5 hrs on another flight because the pilot never showed up and the airline had to search for another pilot last minute.

In another case, our flight was delayed 4.5 hours because Vice President Joe Biden was landing at the airport on Air Force Two for a last minute visit, grounding all scheduled flights for the entire morning.

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Sometimes, our luggage made it to our destinations when we did; in other cases it did not. At one point, we got our luggage after being redirected multiple times, only to open two suitcases to find the contents soaking wet — apparently left out in the thunderous New England rain. Two of my officers caught colds and also injured their back and shoulder. And I’m not sure we ever slept more than 4 hours on any given night — and not always in a bed.

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Those who have seen the film, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, about a frazzled father and his unexpected friend, overcoming hurdle after hurdle, trying to make it home for Thanksgiving, will certainly understand the frustrations we felt.

But we love our ‘sisters.’

That’s what kept coming back to our minds.

But we love our sisters, our fellow members. And we did not want anything to get in the way of our visiting them, after they had been planning and preparing for weeks with warm anticipation.

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Sure enough, the visits to the gals of Worcester, Providence, Boston, Milwaukee and Chicago, were some of the loveliest, laughter-filled times we’ve ever had in the organization. Truly, we will never forget them. Those loving times of warm welcome and fellowship, celebration of common history, partnership in a shared vision — and laughter about all our craziness, into the wee hours — are what our organization is all about. They are what service and friendship are all about.

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When our relationships, life situations, or writing projects take us on all sorts of unexpected delays, detours, or outright stoppages, we have to remember:

But this is who I love; this is what I love; this is why and how I love.

And that sense of love-centered purpose is what enables us to keep going, to see the journey through to completion — and to be grateful, especially as Thanksgiving nears. The pockets of love that we open along the way of a disjointed journey are worth all the headaches. Most of the time.

But don’t get me wrong: I’m still writing a few letters to United Airlines and US Airways. Soon as I finish this blog. They’re gonna have to show me some love too.

Onward!

P.S. My book BRAVURA is out on Kindle — the first in the “The Music We Made” series about a group of classical musicians in 1960’s London.  You can order it here. Downloads are free through 10/20!!

When The World Listens

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak in New York City’s Times Square, during the 99th Armenian Genocide Commemoration, co-sponsored there every year by two Armenian fraternal, charitable organizations — The Knights of Vartan and the Daughters of Vartan, of which I am currently national chairman.

 

Although I’ve given talks to a variety of groups over the years, this was the first time I spoke in front of thousands, literally; with live radio and web broadcasts around the world; alongside senators, congress and city council members; in one of the most recognized public places in America; about one of the most intense issues of my lifetime: the Armenian Genocide — the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire to cleanse its nation of any non-Turkish influence, commemorated the week of April 24 every year.

 

Talk about the Armenian Genocide to any Armenian you meet, and you will learn that they lost a relative, or perhaps several, in the genocide. You’ll see their face and tone of voice change — you’ll see or even feel the sense of a wound being reopened or re-injured, yet to be healed.

 

Talk to a Turkish person, and likely they will either claim the Armenian Genocide never happened, or that it was a mere subset skirmish of World War One’s bigger battles. Only now, so many decades later, are some Turkish intellectuals acknowledging the truth — and sometimes getting jailed for it.

 

The truth is that the Armenian Genocide occurred. It was the first genocide of the 20th Century and the systematic campaign that Hitler cited and studied when preparing for the Jewish Holocaust (“Who, after all, remembers the extermination of the Armenians?” he said to his advisors). And yet despite extensive genocide documentation from Turkish, German and US governments, missionaries, journalists and diplomats in the Ottoman Empire at the time, Turkey has yet to formally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide occurred, at their hand.

 

What is it like speaking on such a public stage, about something so difficult, that’s been part of your personal and community history for so long? How far do you go? How much do you balance the past-centered frustration and the need/desire to look forward with hope and redemption? How bold do you get, knowing that some crazy in the crowd could be lobbing a bomb at you at any time for what you believe?

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All these things raced through my mind as I stood there on the podium yesterday, in front of 2,000 people, in a closed off area between 43rd and 44th Street, near where the New Year’s Eve ball drops every December 31.

 

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