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Dawn Anahid MacKeen on ‘The Hundred-Year Walk’ at Milwaukee-Armenian Cultural Event

By David Luhrssen


(Greenfield, Wis.) Dawn Anahid MacKeen grew up hearing her mother’s stories about her grandfather, Stepan Miskjian, a Genocide survivor who immigrated to America. “As a child, I was repulsed by some of those stories,” she said, speaking at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church at a Sept. 17 event ahead of Armenian Cultural Month in October.


If sometimes repulsed, she was always curious. “’It’s all in here!’ my mother said, pointing to a pair of small booklets, in Armenian, published by my grandfather in the 1960s.” This led to the discovery of a cache of his notebooks, meticulously penned in grandfather’s careful handwriting, setting down his life from before and through the Genocide.


Grandfather’s writings became the basis for MacKeen’s book, The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey. Called a “must read” by the New York Post, The Hundred-Year Walk reframes his memoirs and recounts her own journey to Turkey and Syria in 2007. She retraced his steps from his hometown in Adabazar (now Adapazari), east of Istanbul, to the Syrian city of Raqqua on the Euphrates River. Having escaped his death march through the Syrian desert, he was given sanctuary by a Bedouin leader, Sheik Hammud al-Aekleh, who sympathized with the plight of the Armenians.


Like her grandfather, MacKeen has a gift for reporting. An award-winning investigative journalist, her work appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and Smart Money. She put her career on hold to write The Hundred-Year Walk, expecting to devote two years to the undertaking. In the end, the project required 10 years to complete. She devoured published and unpublished accounts of the Genocide and traveled to Armenian libraries in Paris and Vienna. Her journey to the Near East occurred at a time, not so long ago, when Turkey sometimes seemed on the verge of opening up to the world and Syria was a stable nation. Many of the places she visited, including the Genocide Memorial at Deir Zor, have since been destroyed.


MacKeen’s greatest joy was in locating the descendants of the sheikh who protected her grandfather. “Raqqa later became the capital for ISIS, but then, it was a harmonious place of many religions and ethnicities,” she said. “I received great hospitality and couldn’t help but think of the ripple effect of one kind act—because of the sheikh, my family survived.” According to MacKeen, many of the sheikh’s descendants have fled the Syrian civil war and become refugees in Europe.


“My grandfather’s account is an important testimony to a crime against humanity,” she concluded. “His words are my family’s heirloom. I inherited his story along with the responsibility of telling it.”


MacKeen’s talk and the lively questions and answers that followed capped a busy day at St. John. The Exaltation of the Cross, a feast day on the Armenian liturgical calendar, was celebrated by the traditional Blessing of the Four Corners of the World service and the distribution of basil. St. John added a new member to its community with the baptism of Ava Torosian, daughter of Jeff and Jennifer Torosian. A luncheon hosted by family members followed the baptism and gave the visiting speaker a sense for the genuine fellowship found at St. John.


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David Luhrssen at UCLA 


On July 1, Milwaukee Armenian Community member David Luhrssen was the guest speaker at UCLA’s “I Am Armenian” program. A film series marking the centennial of the Genocide, “I Am Armenianfeatures Armenian films and discussion between guests and host Carla Garapedian. Luhrssen was invited on the strength of his recent book, Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen, the most complete account of director Rouben Mamoulian’s work in theater and film. The discussion between Luhrssen and Garapedian took place after a screening of Mamoulian’s final film, the Fred Astaire musical Silk Stockings, in the Billy Wilder Theatre at UCLA’s Hammer Museum. 


Luhrssen is the author of several books and is arts editor and film critic for Milwaukee’s weekly newspaper, the Shepherd Express. Garapedian was the anchor for BBC World News and is an award-winning filmmaker best known for her documentary on the band System of a Down, Screamers. 

For a video of their conversation, go to:

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Genocide.

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Armenian Christmas

Why Do Armenians Celebrate Christmas on January 6th?

by Hratch Tchilingirian

“Armenian Christmas,” as it is popularly called, is a culmination of celebrations of events related to Christ’s Incarnation. Theophany or Epiphany (or Astvadz-a-haytnootyoon in Armenian) means “revelation of God,” which is the central theme of the Christmas Season in the Armenian Church. During the “Armenian Christmas” season, the major events that are celebrated are the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem and His Baptism in the River Jordan. The day of this major feast in the Armenian Church is January 6th. A ceremony called “Blessing of Water” is conducted in the Armenian Church to commemorate Christ’s Baptism.

It is frequently asked as to why Armenians do not celebrate Christmas on December 25th with the rest of the world. Obviously, the exact date of Christ’s birth has not been historically established—it is neither recorded in the Gospels. However, historically, all Christian churches celebrated Christ’s birth on January 6th until the fourth century.

According to Roman Catholic sources, the date was changed from January 6th to December 25th in order to override a pagan feast dedicated to the birth of the Sun which was celebrated on December 25th. At the time Christians used to continue their observance of these pagan festivities. In order to undermine and subdue this pagan practice, the church hierarchy designated December 25th as the official date of Christmas and January 6th as the feast of Epiphany. However, Armenia was not effected by this change for the simple fact that there were no such pagan practices in Armenia, on that date, and the fact that the Armenian Church was not a satellite of the Roman Church. Thus, remaining faithful to the traditions of their forefathers, Armenians have continued to celebrate Christmas on January 6th until today.

In the Holy Land: January 19th

In the Holy Land, the Orthodox churches use the old calendar: Julian Calendar (which has a difference of thirteen days) to determine the date of the religious feasts. Accordingly, the Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 19th (January 6 in Julian Calendar) and the Greek Orthodox celebrate on January 7th (December 25 in Julian Calendar). On the day before Armenian Christmas, January 18th, the Armenian Patriarch together with the clergy and the faithful, travels from Jerusalem to the city of Bethlehem, to the Church of Nativity of Christ, where elaborate and colorful ceremonies take place. Outside, in the large square of the Church of Nativity, the Patriarch and his entourage are greeted by the Mayor of Bethlehem and City officials. A procession led by Armenian scouts and their band, advance the Patriarch into the Church of Nativity, while priests, seminarians and the faithful join in the sing of Armenian hymns. Afterwards, church services and ceremonies are conducted in the Cathedral of Nativity all night long and until the next day, January 19th.

Source: St. Andrew Information Network

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Hijacking Father’s Day …

By Katrina Fernandez

… Every Father’s Days it’s the same. An annual invitation to bash fatherhood.

Can you imagine if Mother’s Day got hijacked to such a degree.

It doesn’t build up motherhood or empower woman to tear down fathers, whether you think they deserve it or not.

Single moms, this Father’s Day lets try a different approach.

1- Don’t be bitter.

Even if you feel your bitterness is justified and caused by circumstances that may have been out of your control you have to stop and consider what message that bitterness is sending to your children, especially if you have sons.

Children internalize everything. When you speak ill of another parent in front of them they perceive it as an insult aimed at them. After all they are their father’s child.

All bitterness begets is man hating feminists out of our daughters and sons who think being a father can be replaced by a mother because their own mothers deemed fatherhood useless.

Bitterness perpetuates the cycle of abandonment.

2- Don’t ignore Father’s Day completely.

It’s OK to talk about it and celebrate Father’s Day whether the father of your child is going to be around or not. Even if you don’t think your child’s father is a good one or deserves an ounce of recognition.

Father’s Day is important because fatherhood and father’s are important. When you ignore the holiday it sends an unspoken message to your children that being a father is unimportant and not worthy of celebration.

Also, ignoring Father’s Day and avoiding the topic of conversation with your children doesn’t mask his absence anymore than ignoring a disease around a person who is ill makes them forget they’re sick.

Your child won’t forget daddy’s not around simply because you’ve elected not to talk about him. In anything, the silence punctuates the void.

Fill that absence with positive remarks about your child’s father. There has to be something you can find good to say. It doesn’t have been detailed. Say he had a nice smile and a jovial sense of humor. Say he was handsome. Whatever. I mean you were attracted to something about him at some time.

I’ve seen this scenario so many times — a woman hurting from abandonment, bitter by her burden, will cut his face out of photos and remove all evidence of his existence from her life. This isn’t a healthy reaction even if you didn’t have children with the man whose memory you hope to wipe from your mind, and it’s certainly not a healthy one to have in front of your kids.

Your child is going to be a constant reminder of that broken relationship, so those feelings need to be dealt with. Also, your child deserves to have some connection to his father. Even a distant, remote connection is better than none. Let them have pictures of their father. Encourage discussion, but also encourage prayer.

Always pray. Teach your child simple prayers early on and encourage them to pray for their fathers; living, dead, or absent.

3- Celebrate Fatherhood.

As there is biological fatherhood, there is also spiritual fatherhood and mentoring. Recognize and celebrate those relationships in your child’s life.

Grandfathers, Uncles, older male role models in the family, male teachers, Scout leaders, coaches, and your parish priest all deserve some recognition if they’ve taken on the role of mentor to your child.

If your child doesn’t have any of these male influences in their life it is imperative you go out right now and work on cultivating them. Especially if you have a son.

You’re just going to have to face the fact that you will not be able to fully teach and illustrate manhood to your sons because you lack that unique male perspective. It’s not admitting defeat or failure to recognize deficiencies in areas of our parenting and then seek outside help.

And just as boys need a male influence, girls too need to learn that not all men leave and that some men are strong and loyal and love the women in their lives.

I know the temptation is great to bash men this time of year because the hurt is so profound. Believe me, I understand completely.

However, part of being a responsible grown up and parent is to learn to deal with life’s hardships. You don’t want your children to grow up believing there is no value in fatherhood, do you? Or to teach them to be chronic victims of their circumstance and perpetuate a generational cycle of abandonment?

Of course not.

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By David Luhrssen


(Greenfield, Wis.) The Mazmanian Family took its audience on a musical world tour with Armenia as the home base. At their Oct. 26 concert at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church in Greenfield, the quartet journeyed across Eastern Europe, to Spain via Cuba, to Ireland and the U.S., but their repertoire’s heart and soul was rooted in the Armenian homeland.

Leading the San Francisco ensemble was violinist Greg Mazmanian, a veteran musician who has performed with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra along with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Ray Charles. He acted as the evening’s gracious host and humorous icebreaker in brief introductions for each piece on the program, and leading his three grown children through the selections. Ida anchored the quartet on piano with siblings Eddy and Rose joining their father on violin.

The Mazmanian Family

The Mazmanians harmonized virtuosity and entertainment in a program that included Gypsy music, a rendition of the jazz standard “Take Five” as never heard before and an original variation on the familiar melody of “Fiddler on the Roof.” The torrid flamenco rhythms of “Malaguena” by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona provided lively contrast. The Mazmanians responded to an audience request by performing a medley of Irish jigs.

Much of the evening, however, was rooted in Armenian traditional music, especially the melodies collected at the turn of the 20th century by Gomidas Vartabed and transmuted into art songs. After a standing ovation, the Mazmanians concluded their concert with a rousing encore of Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance.”

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By Lauren Gelfond Feldinger | 09:23 29.06.13 |

‘We are third-class citizens,’

says Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem


‘If Israel recognizes the Armenian genocide it won’t be the end of the world,’ says the new head of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem, which dates back to the 4th century. It might even help making the community feel less cut off from the rest of the city and country.

On a recent afternoon in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Armenian Patriarchate’s new leader was treated as royalty. Black-robed priests and pilgrims young and old, visiting from Armenia, snapped photos and grinned excitedly, as they waited in line to kiss Archbishop Nayrhan Manougian’s hand during a reception.

Elected the 97th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem in January, Manougian is now one of the top Armenian Christian leaders worldwide, in a community scattered over the globe. In Jerusalem, where the Armenian Christian presence dates back almost 1,700 years, he is also one of the most powerful Christian clerics. The Armenian patriarch shares oversight at the ancient Christian holy sites with the Greek Orthodox and Latin ‏(Roman Catholic‏) patriarchs.

But despite the historical presence, the tiny Old City Armenian community often feels sidelined, Manougian told Haaretz. As the number of community members relentlessly shrinks, and is now only a few hundred, he worries if there will be future generations. Day-to-day life, he says, is also a balancing act, finding a place between the powerful Jewish Israeli and Muslim Palestinian communities. Israeli scholars echo the same concerns.

At the core of Armenian insecurities are successive Israeli governments that have ruled over them since 1967 but never officially acknowledged the 1915 Armenian genocide or its estimated 1.5 million deaths by Ottoman Turkish forces.

Many of Jerusalem’s Armenians, including Manougian, are the children and grandchildren of the survivors of the genocide. His father fled Armenia through the desert that became known as the “death fields,” as he headed to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Born in Aleppo in 1948 and orphaned by age 5, Manougian grew up in that city, with poor relatives and the stories of the survivors around him. After seminary and ordination, serving Armenian Christians took him from Lebanon, across Europe and the United States, and to Haifa, Jaffa and finally in 1998, to Jerusalem.

Here, Armenians believe that Israel’s silence on the events of 1915 is based on maintaining favor with Turkey. “If you ask me, [recognizing the genocide] is what they have to do,” said Manougian of Israel. “What if they accept it? It won’t be the end of the world.”

Manougian also felt marginalized by Israel, while waiting five months for the state to officially recognize his title. Manougian was elected after the 2012 death of Patriarch Torkom Manoogian. Palestinian and Jordanian leaders recognized him days after the January election. Israel did not do so until June 23.

Initially, the patriarchate postponed Manougian’s inauguration, waiting for Israel to reorganize the government following its January 22 elections. But as months passed and the recognition application continued to be ignored, the patriarchate on June 4 held the inauguration anyway.

There is no law requiring it, but sending a formal letter of recognition is a Holy Land tradition dating to the Ottoman era, Manougian said. “The first [Israeli] letter was signed by Ben-Gurion.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson did not give a reason for the delay. But Dr. Amnon Ramon, a Hebrew University and Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies expert on local Christians, said that his impression was that the delay was caused by bureaucracy and lack of priority. In researching his 2012 book, “Christians and Christianity in the Jewish State” ‏(in Hebrew, published by the JIIS‏), he found that Israel’s relations with Christians and church institutions are among the lowest priorities in policy and practice of the local and national government bodies, he said.

While Ramon works on improving government relations with Christians, he also encourages Christians, including Armenians, not to allow caution to stop them from lobbying for their own needs. Christians “have to look at the Israeli side, the Palestinian side, be very cautious, and sometimes this leads them to inaction.”

Old City Armenians live more closely with the Palestinians and say their relations with them are better than with official Israel or some of their Jewish neighbors. Bishop Aris Shirvanian says that “they don’t spit on us,” referring to a phenomenon sometimes encountered by Christian clergy in the Old City.

“We have no legal problems with them,” said Bishop Aris Shirvanian. But the Palestinians have also not recognized the Armenian genocide. “The whole of the Islamic countries do not recognize the genocide because Turks are Muslims,” he said.

Being Christian in Jerusalem is complicated, he added. “When you are dealing with two sides [Israelis and Palestinians], you have to not take one side against the other.”


First to adopt Christianity

Armenians have a long, continuous presence in the city, from at least the fourth century, after Armenia was the first nation in 301 C.E. to adopt Christianity as its official faith, said Yoav Loeff, a Hebrew University teacher of Armenian language and history.

Until World War I, most of the Armenians here were monks or other church people. After the war, the numbers in Jerusalem grew, as Armenians fled the genocide and developed a vibrant lay community here. There were also artisans who came to the city in 1919 under the patronage of the British Mandate to renovate the vividly decorated ceramic tiles on the Dome of the Rock. Their craft of hand-painting tiles and ceramics deeply influenced Jerusalem’s artistic heritage. This can be seen still today on signs and architectural facades, and in the pottery in Israeli and Palestinian homes. ‏The patriarchate also opened a photography studio here in the 1850s, and the period portraits done by some of its photographers are still renowned.‏

Until the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, local Armenians lived mostly in Jerusalem, with some in Haifa, Jaffa, Lod, Ramle and Ramallah too, numbering about 25,000 in total, Manougian says. While the majority fled the war to surrounding areas − Ramallah, Jordan, Lebanon − a few thousand ended up in the Old City’s Armenian Quarter. But with growing economic and political tensions and lack of opportunities, most left over the years.

There are no official statistics, but historians estimate that there are some 3,000 people of Armenian descent in Israel, but most do not identify with the community, coming from the former Soviet Union and having married Jews.

The community’s center of life today is in the Armenian Quarter, which has an elementary school, middle school, high school, a seminary, the 12th-century St. James Cathedral, the Church of the Holy Archangels, and the Armenian manuscript library. But barely 400 Armenians live there now, down from around 1,500 in 1967, said Manougian.

“I’m afraid that if things go on like this, there won’t be any Christians left in this country,” he said, alluding to the wider phenomenon of an ongoing exodus of Christians of all denominations from the Holy Land. The city and state are not helping Armenians to flourish, he added. “Nobody knows anything about Armenia or Armenians … It’s not even on the list of their [concerns]. We don’t belong to the community − they don’t [accept] us as members. We are third-class citizens.”

Fueling this feeling are occasional spitting incidents. On June 19, for example, an Orthodox Jewish man spat at the feet of patriarch Manougian, during a procession of senior church clergy as they walked toward the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Bishop Shirvanian, who was present, said that such spitting incidents have declined during the past year, but “you never know when it will happen while walking down the street …. Most Jews are respectful, but some of the ultra-Orthodox are obstinately spitting.”

A spokesperson for the Jerusalem police spokesperson said that it received two spitting complaints from the Armenians this year. A 16-year-old and an adult were both arrested and held for several hours. “We only know about it if a complaint is filed;” added the spokesperson. “We always offer [church] processions a police escort, because of this problem.”

Freedom of movement in and out of the Old City is also unpredictable. Nestled inside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, the Armenian Quarter relies on the Jaffa Gate for access to the rest of the city.

But the city closes the gate to vehicular traffic for several hours at a time on more than 40 days a year, during large events like the recent light festival and car races, church officials say. On June 16, the Latin Patriarchate issued a statement on behalf of Old City residents, pilgrims, churches and patriarchates, which said that Jaffa Gate provides “the only access to our patriarchates, churches and convents. Instead of finding solutions to these interruptions that cause great inconvenience and disruption, the situation has gone from bad to worse.”
In recent weeks, Manougian said he had to get a police permit to travel through Jaffa Gate on the Feast of Ascension, cancel plans to attend an event at a Tel Aviv embassy, and console pilgrims denied access to the Old City holy sites, because of closures. The municipality, he said, “should have called the heads of the communities and asked them, ‘What do you think?’ Instead, they just announce and do it.”

A municipal spokesperson said that access is closed to residential vehicles only during certain hours announced in advance, during certain city festivals − such as the two days of the Formula One events and the nine days of the recent light festival. Additionally, there are sometimes temporary closures of Old City Gates on holy days of the city’s various religious groups. At those times, he said, residents with cars can use different gates.

In dealing with the Israel’s Interior Ministry, too, a frustrated patriarchate has to wait “months, or years,” says Manougian, to get visas to bring Armenians to study or teach at the quarter’s schools and seminary. Priests ordained for life to serve the Jerusalem patriarchate who do get visas find themselves having to return yearly to the Interior Ministry to renew them. Father Pakrad Derjekian, a patriarchate priest for 32 years, says that when he applied for Jerusalem residency, he was told that he had been living in the city for so many years on visas with no problem, so he should continue. Clerics are “most of the time refused for Jerusalem residency,” he said. “So we stopped applying.”

Christians of all denominations have problems getting visas to study and teach here, and those who have long-term assignments have trouble getting Jerusalem residency, confirmed Christianity researcher Yisca Harani.

There are even “Christian hospital directors and staff who dedicate their entire life to charity in state-recognized health institutions [who] are no more than temporary visa holders,” she said.


Improving dialogue

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, who attended Manougian’s June 4 inauguration, said that she doesn’t think non-resident visa procedures for the capital are stricter than in other countries. Tsur says she considers improving dialogue between Jerusalem’s communities an important part of her job. A policeman was appointed liaison between Old City Christians and Muslims and the force, and there is also a liaison in the mayor’s office for minority communities, she said.

Tsur denied that City Hall sidelines the community. The mayor’s office meets often with Armenians, includes them in events, such as the recent “Green Pilgrimage Symposium,” and assists them with projects, she said.

However, she says, when it comes to closing certain thoroughfares during festivals that tens of thousands of people will enjoy, “you can’t please everyone all the time.”

“Of all the Christian communities in Jerusalem, the relationship of the municipality with the Armenian one is extremely positive,” Tsur says. “Their contributions to the city are immense.”

The Hebrew University’s Amnon Ramon says that while Israel does have many bodies dealing with Christians − police, Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry, municipality − he doesn’t think the authorities show sufficient understanding in the way they serve the Christian communities. Israel, he says, ends up sidelining them for complex reasons: ignorance and lack of information, a memory of poor Jewish-Christian relations historically, ultra-Orthodox influence, the absence of a single body to coordinate Christian concerns, and especially a national agenda already overburdened with security, social and economic problems.

To help improve the situation, Ramon and other researchers and organizations like the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations, an NGO, bring members of Israeli state and city factions to meet Christians; he sees the benefits as being mutual.

Reflecting on Israel’s relationship with Christians in general and Armenians in particular, Manougian shrugs.

“I don’t know what [Israel] thinks. I feel that they could care less about minorities. Maybe in the back of their minds they are trying to diminish our numbers so there won’t be Armenians. Maybe? I don’t know.”

Asked to sum up in one word how Armenians here feel, Manougian replies, “unimportant.”

The Hebrew University’s Yoav Loeff, who is close to the Armenian community, speculated that, for starters, “If Israel would recognize the genocide, Armenians would feel better, because it’s the right thing to do from the moral point of view.”

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