Archive for the ‘Genocide’ Category

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 She devoured published and unpublished accounts of the Genocide and traveled to Armenian libraries in Paris and Vienna.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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(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee[ANEC])

Birth of Hagop Oshagan

(December 9, 1883)

When Hagop Oshagan, one of the foremost Armenian writers of the twentieth century, passed away at the age of 65, he left many thousands of pages of published works in newspapers and many more that were unpublished. In Beirut alone, 33 volumes of published or previously unpublished works bearing his name were published after his death, between 1958 and 2013.HagopOshagan

He was born Hagop Kufejian in the village of Sölöz, near Brusa, in Asia Minor. He was a dropout from school and an autodidact, who read voraciously the classics of the nineteenth century, including Dostoyevsky, his inspiration for his novels. He published his first story in 1902, but his literary career started after 1909 in Constantinople. By 1914 he was already known by his literary criticism and his short stories. He became, along with Gostan Zarian, Kegham Parseghian,  Taniel Varoujan, and Aharon, the founder of the short-lived monthly Mehyan, with the hope of starting a literary movement among Western Armenians that was cut short by the genocide.

He was on the Turkish list of targeted intellectuals, but he managed to escape persecution and arrest, and lived in hiding in Constantinople until early 1918, when he surreptitiously crossed the border into Bulgaria, where he married Araksi Astarjian. They would have three children, Vahe, Anahid, and Garo, of which the first two would be writers. (Vahe Oshagan would become one of the leading intellectuals of the Diaspora in the second half of the twentieth century.) They returned to Constantinople after the Armistice. Kufejian started to use the name Hagop Oshagan around 1920 in the newspaper Jagadamard. He became a teacher and continued his literary production. In 1922 he published another short-lived journal, together with Zarian, Vahan Tekeyan, Shahan Berberian, and Kegham Kavafian, but the new attempt at a literary revival was cut short by the retreat of the Allied forces from Constantinople and the victory of the Kemalist movement in Turkey. He left the city, as many other Armenian intellectuals and much of the community did, and moved back to Bulgaria. After 1924, Oshagan worked as a teacher, first in Cairo, then in Nicosia, at the Melkonian Educational Institute, and finally, after 1934, at the Seminary of Jerusalem. He forged his reputation as a charismatic literature teacher, and a demanding literary critic.

Oshagan published two collections of short writings in the early 1920s, but then he focused on his novels. His literary life was defined by the Catastrophe (he practically coined the term Aghed to name the event that had swept over Western Armenian culture in 1915), as he shifted into the literary reconstruction of the lost world. His magnum opus, Mnatsortats (The Remnants), a three-volume novel published in 1932-1934, depicted the life of a Western Armenian family and the complicated Turkish-Armenian relationship on the eve of the Catastrophe. However, he was unable to write a projected final volume where he intended to represent the deportation itself. The first volume of this novel has just been translated into English by G. M. Goshgarian.

He also wrote the “novel of Western Armenian literature,” Panorama of Western Armenian Literature, a monograph that encompassed the period 1850-1915 in ten volumes, of which only the first was published at the time of his death, and the last nine were published in the next quarter of a century.

Hagop Oshagan passed away in Aleppo on February 17, 1948, on the eve of a planned visit to the killing fields of Der Zor. He was buried at the Armenian Cemetery of the city, in an imposing funeral attended by some 20,000 people.


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(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee [ANEC])


Death of Gomidas Vartabed

(October 22, 1935)


Gomidas Vartabed was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, but he was also a victim of it, for he was never able to recover from the traumatic effects of his short-termed deportation.

Soghomon Soghomonian was born in Kütahya (Gudina), in western Turkey, on October 8, 1869. His family was Turkish-speaking.  He lost his mother when he was one year old and his father when he was ten. In 1881 he was taken to Holy Etchmiadzin, where he entered the Kevorkian Seminary.

His exceptional voice and musical abilities attracted special attention. He studied Armenian musical notes and religious music, collected popular songs, and made his first attempts at composing. In 1893 he graduated and was designated music teacher and choirmaster of the cathedral. One year later he was ordained a celibate priest, and named Gomidas in honor of Catholicos Gomidas, a musician and poet of the 7th century. In 1895, he was elevated to the rank of archimandrite (vartabed).Gomidas

He pursued musical studies in Berlin from 1896-1899. He returned to Etchmiadzin from 1899-1910. He collected close to 3,000 popular songs and dances, which he mostly arranged for choir versions. He presented his arrangements of Armenian popular and religious music in Paris (1906) with great success.

His musical programs included folk and sacred music, but his actions and ideas upset a conservative faction in Etchmiadzin. After Catholicos Mgrdich I (Khrimian Hairig) passed away in 1907, Gomidas’ situation became more problematic. He wrote that he could not breathe and was suffocating in Etchmiadzin. His formal request to become a hermit and continue his work was denied, and finally he decided to move to Constantinople.

He created the 300-member “Kusan” Choir and gave concerts in various places in the Ottoman Empire and Egypt. Five of its members (Parsegh Ganachian, Mihran Toumajan, Vartan Sarxian, Vagharshag Srvantzdian, and Haig Semerjian) took classes of musical theory with him and came to be known as the “five Gomidas students.”

In April 1915, Gomidas was arrested with more than 200 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders and exiled to Chankiri. His behavior changed along the exile route. A few weeks later, while officiating at a church service, word came that he would be sent back to Constantinople with a few other notables.

The return was very difficult for him. His friends could not understand his odd behavior and considered him mad, committing him to the Turkish Military Psychiatric Hospital. Many of his compositions and notes were dispersed and lost.

In 1919 he was sent to Paris, where he spent the rest of his life, first in a private psychiatric hospital and then in the Villejuif asylum, where he passed away. In 1936 his body was sent to Armenia and buried in the pantheon named after him, where famous personalities found their final rest. The Music Conservatory of Yerevan is named after him, as is the state chamber quartet.

Gomidas was justly termed the Father of Armenian Music, as he rescued from oblivion more than 4,000 village songs and melodies, and set the foundation for the scientific study of Armenian music. He also wrote pieces for piano and songs, fragments for comedies and operas. His version of the Holy Mass is a classic work, used to this day by the Armenian Church.

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By Harut Sassounian

I recently came across an extremely significant Islamic document that severely criticizes Turks for using religion as a cover to killing Armenian Christians.

This rarely seen document is a fatwa, or religious decree, issued in May 1909 by Grand Sheikh Salim al-Bishri of Egypt, condemning Turkish Muslims for massacring 30,000 Armenians in Adana, a major city in the Ottoman Empire.

Sheikh al-Bishri of al-Azhar Mosque, the leader of the Muslim world’s preeminent center of Islamic studies in Cairo, issued this fatwa to counter the decree issued in April 1909 by a Turkish mufti (religious leader) that urged Turks to kill Armenians because “they were against Muslims and God.”

Upon seeing a passing reference to the Egyptian fatwa on the internet, I contacted Prof. Mohammed Rifaat al-Emam, an expert on Armenian history, whom I had met during a recent visit to Cairo. Dr. al-Emam kindly sent me the original Arabic text of this important religious document, excerpts of which are presented below in English translation for the first time:

“We have seen in local newspapers agonizing news and vile reports about Muslims of some Anatolian provinces of the Ottoman Empire attacking Christians and killing them brutally. We could not believe these reports and hoped that they were false, because Islam forbids aggression, oppression, bloodshed, and harming human beings—Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike.

“Oh Muslims living in that region and elsewhere, beware of actions prohibited by Allah in His Sharia [Islamic law] and spare the blood that Allah prohibited to spill and do not transgress on anyone since Allah does not like aggressors…

“Your duty towards those who are allied with you, who entrusted their safety to you and who reside among you and next to you from Ahlul Dhimma [Jewish and Christian minorities protected under Islam], as imposed by Allah, is to uplift them as you would uplift yourselves, prevent them from what you prevent yourselves and your kinsfolk, make your strength their strength, make pride and prosperity out of your strength, and protect their monasteries and churches the way you protect your mosques and temples.

“Whoever abuses their women, draws the sword on them, and oppresses them contradicts Muslims’ pledge to Allah, which is the obligation of Muslims.

“Be informed that if what the public is hearing is true, then you have angered your Allah and did not satisfy your Prophet and the Sharia. You kept your Muslim brothers away from their religion, whose rejection became hideous by this heinous act, violating what is forbidden, and you let loose tongues of people ignorant of your religion to pronounce hideous words against all Muslims.

“Then, hear some of what your Prophet said about conditions similar to what you are in today. He said: ‘He who kills an allied person [person joined with Islam by an agreement in order to give help and support] will not smell the fragrance of Paradise, and if he smells it, that would be at a distance of 40 years.’ He also said: ‘A person who rejects a dhimmi [a person from Jewish and Christian minorities] will be whipped with flagella of fire on Judgment Day.’”

This document makes it amply clear that the Armenian massacres of 1909 and the subsequent genocide of 1915 were not the result of religious conflict between Muslim Turks and Christian Armenians. The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar rightly condemned the Turks for the mass murder of Armenians, which was committed for racist Pan-Turkic—not Pan-Islamic—reasons, along with the intent of capturing Armenian lands and properties. The various fatwa issued by Turkish muftis were intended to provoke fanatical Turkish mobs to attack and massacre innocent Armenians.

Sheikh al-Bishri’s 1909 fatwa was further reinforced by the decree issued in 1917 by al-Husayn Ibn Ali, the sharif of Mecca, ordering all Muslims to defend Armenians and “provide everything they might need…because they are the Protected People of the Muslims about whom the Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Whoever takes from them even a rope, I will be his adversary on the Day of Judgment.’”

In 2009, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan stated that “Muslims don’t commit genocide,” he was only partly right. He should have said, “Good Muslims don’t commit genocide.” The leaders of the Young Turk Party who masterminded the Armenian Genocide in 1915 were not faithful Muslims, judging by the teachings of the Quran, the Holy Book of Islam. They were simply criminals who used Islam as a convenient cover to carry out mass murder. The compassionate fatwa of the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar still rings true today as the Muslim world celebrates the end of Ramadhan.


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By Tom Vartabedian On July 4, 2012

Just when you think life has dealt you a pat hand, along comes a conniver to steal your pot.

For the past four years, members of our Armenian Genocide Education Committee of Merrimack Valley have filtered in and out of high schools north of Boston.

We’ve also expanded our reach to include schools around Greater Boston like Newton South. Scores of children have benefitted from our lessons. In most every case, instructors have been overwhelmed by the impact being made, for they, too, come out learning a valuable lesson in history.

There hasn’t been one repercussion, not even a grunt from a naysayer—until now. A vile and vindictive article from a pro-Turkish website (History of Truth) crossed my eyes bearing the headline: “Armenians Spreading Their Lies at High Schools.”

The gutless piece failed to carry a byline, thus making it more intolerable.

What’s more, a photograph of Wilmington High students holding samples of postage stamps they had designed carried the inscription: “Their Lies Reached to Schools.”

The group photo also had the two presenters that day, myself and Albert S. Movsesian. The ideas for a postage stamp were being sent to the postmaster general of the United States in an effort to get a commemorative stamp minted for the 100th anniversary in 2015.

A completely harmless project meant to both elucidate and arouse our younger non-Armenian population was slurred with malice.

The rebuttal was generated in response to an all-encompassing piece written by chairman Dro Kanayan giving readers a fairly detailed account of the progress made in schools this year. How effective has it been?

While attending a grand niece‘s Chelmsford High graduation party the week before, I approached a table occupied by students who had been addressed during a genocide class taught by Jennifer Doak.

“Hey, you look familiar. Aren’t you the guy who spoke to us about the Armenian Genocide?” a co-ed remarked.

“Yes, that’s me,” I replied. “What do you remember most about the class?”

“How difficult it was for your race to be slaughtered like that,” she replied. “We loved the story about the Calvin Coolidge Orphan Rug and how it found its way to the White House.”

The article goes go to say that the “Armenian Diaspora is spreading its lies by telling them at high schools.”

The next paragraph quoted Kanayan’s story: “Armenian researcher Dro Kanayan said for those people who feel that our elders and the youth cannot work together, don’t worry. Kanayan and both of his peers, Albert Movsesian and Tom Vartabedian, have been working together to have the so-called Armenian Genocide included in the high school curriculum on Human Rights in the Merrimack Valley.”

“They are teaching students about the so-called Armenian Genocide and Armenian culture.”

The story went on to say how we have “poisoned” the students in over 10 high schools, providing individual classroom presentation on comparative genocides over the past 100 years.

It proceeded to include other high school students, including a deaf student we encountered at Newton South who had learned about the genocide through American Sign Language.

Adding more insult to injury, a second photo was used of Dro Kanayan holding a picture of his famous grandfather General Dro, who led the siege at Bash Abaran during World War I.

I should be fuming over such poppycock. Instead, I hold no regret over those who are ill-informed and continue to show their absurdity. The more Turkey refutes historical fact, the more scornful it becomes.

The more truth will prevail and people will see how superficial the Turkish government continues to remain. What people lack in intelligence, they usually make up for in stupidity.

I recall once how vandals had climbed to the top of a billboard in Watertown and defaced a genocide sign that had been sponsored by activist/artist Daniel Varoujan Hejinian. For years, Hejinian has been putting up these notices to draw attention during April 24th.

For the most part, the Armenian papers publicized the act, but it also caught the attention of the American press, which matters more. The fact that some screwball scaled a building at night to commit an act of degradation suddenly became media hype. It appeared in newspapers and television networks, giving the Armenian Genocide more exposure than normal.

During a commemoration that week in Merrimack Valley, a local priest approached the podium and talked about the insanity.

“If that’s the way our genocide is going to catch the outside public’s eye, then let the billboards be vandalized,” he lashed out. “And let those responsible find guilt in the process.”

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Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC)

The fourth and final Russo-Turkish war of the nineteenth century (1877-1878) ended with a humiliating defeat for the Ottoman Empire and the signature of the Treaty of San Stefano on March 3, 1878. By this treaty, the Russian Empire tried to settle the Eastern Question and alter the balance of power in the Balkan Peninsula to its own advantage. Article 16 of the treaty established: “As the evacuation by the Russian troops of the territory which they occupy in Armenia, and which is to be restored to Turkey, might give rise to conflicts and complications detrimental to the maintenance of good relations between the two countries, the Sublime Porte engages to carry into effect, without further delay, the improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by Armenians, and to guarantee their security from Kurds and Circassians.” This meant that the Ottoman Empire agreed to carry reforms in Armenia under the immediate supervision of Russian troops before their evacuation.

Catholicos Nersess Varjabedian

The terms of the treaty, particularly with reference to the Balkans, alarmed the Great Powers, as well as Serbia and Greece. Russia had to agree to the organization of a congress in Berlin, where the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano would be revised. The Congress of Berlin lasted a month. An Armenian delegation was sent by Patriarch of Constantinople, Nerses Varjabedian, to present their case. Since they did not represent any country, the delegation, led by former Patriarch Meguerdich Khrimian (Khrimian Hayrig), was not allowed to participate. On July 13, the Treaty of Berlin was signed to replace the Treaty of San Stefano. Diplomatic maneuvers led by Great Britain succeeded in restoring for Turkey most of what it had lost in the war and San Stefano. Article 61 of the new treaty watered down article 16 in the following way: “The Sublime Porte undertakes to carry out, without further delay, the improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by the Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Circassians and Kurds. It will periodically make known the steps taken to this effect to the Powers, who will superintend their application.” It meant that the Ottoman Empire was supposed to carry reforms with no mention of Russian supervising forces; those reforms would be guaranteed by the European powers. Besides, the term “Armenia” had been replaced by “provinces inhabited by the Armenians.”

The Armenian delegation returned with empty hands to Constantinople. Upon his return, Khrimian Hayrig pronounced his famous homily of the Iron Ladle, in which he stated that each power at Berlin had taken a share of the contents of a great soup bowl with an iron ladle, whereas he had only a “paper ladle” (a petition) and thus could bring nothing back to the Armenian people. His sermon marked a turning point in Armenian political consciousness.

The Russo-Turkish war and the Treaty of Berlin marked the internationalization of the Armenian Question. For the next four decades, until the outbreak of World War I, Armenians would claim from the European powers that they forced Turkey to execute the promised reforms. The Turkish government would carry a policy of violence until the ultimate level: genocide.

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The Turkish Coalition of America (TCA) has been on a rampage in recent years, filing lawsuits against scholars, public officials, and civic groups who support the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

Last week, a federal appeals court put an end to TCA’s legal tirade against the University of Minnesota by unanimously upholding a federal court’s decision dismissing TCA’s baseless allegations.

The Turkish advocacy group had filed a lawsuit against Prof. Bruno Chaouat, Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota, for labeling TCA’s website and others as “unreliable.” The university’s webpage had posted the following stern admonition to students: “We do not recommend these sites. Warnings should be given to students writing papers that they should not use these sites because of denial, support by an unknown organization, or contents that are a strange mix of fact and opinion.”

Initially, TCA had complained that the inclusion of TCA’s website on the university’s list of “Unreliable Websites” violated the Turkish group’s freedom of speech. The university rejected TCA’s allegation, although, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies revised its website on Nov. 18, 2010, removing the “Unreliable Websites” and recommending new resources for genocide research. The university asserted that the revision was not prompted by TCA’s complaint and denied any wrongdoing. On Nov. 24, 2010, Prof. Chaouat posted a statement on the Center’s website explaining that the list of “Unreliable Websites” was removed because he did not want to “promote, even negatively, sources of illegitimate information.”

TCA then filed a lawsuit against the university, its president, and Prof. Chaouat, claiming that including its website on the same list as websites denying the Jewish Holocaust, stigmatized the Turkish organization. The court dismissed the lawsuit.

A three-judge panel of the 8th circuit federal appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision on May 3, 2012, ruling that the university did not violate TCA’s First Amendment rights, since it neither blocked nor restricted access to the Turkish website.

The judges also rejected the Turkish group’s second claim that it was defamed when the university stated that TCA’s website is “unreliable,” engages in “denial,” presents “a strange mix of fact and opinion,” and is an “illegitimate source of information.” In a sinister attempt to win the lawsuit, TCA claimed that its website did not deny certain underlying historical facts, affirming that “certainly hundreds of thousands of Armenians died.” However, since the Turkish website had alleged that it is “highly unlikely that a genocide charge could be sustained against the Ottoman government or its successor,” the judges ruled in favor of the university asserting that TCA had in fact engaged in “denial.”

TCA’s malicious lawsuit disturbed many US scholars who were worried that this case would set a dangerous precedent and have a chilling effect on academic freedom. The gravity of these concerns had prompted the Middle East Studies Association to demand TCA to withdraw its lawsuit.

Although TCA failed in its bullying tactics against the University of Minnesota, there is no guarantee that this Turkish group will stop suing other academic or civic organizations for refusing to cave in to Turkey’s denialist campaign. It should be noted that TCA spent $630,000 on legal fees out of its 2010 budget of $3.6 million. Significantly, no mention was made in its annual report of the sources of TCA’s funding, except a passing remark that it is “supported entirely by private donations.” The Boston Business Journal reported that Turkish-American Yalcin Ayasli, founder of Hittite Microwave Corp., contributed $30 million to TCA in 2007.

TCA engaged in the following wide ranging activities and political objectives with its $3.6 million budget in 2010:

– Delivered 75 position papers to members of Congress and US opinion leaders; – Monitored the American media; – Took a Native American business delegation to Turkey; – Lobbied the Congress against the Armenian Genocide resolution; – Advertised in Roll Call and Washington Quarterly; – Organized Summer internships in Washington for Turkish students; – Provided scholarships to African-American, Armenian-American, Hispanic American, Native American, and Turkish-American students to study in Turkish universities; – Awarded grants for academic conferences; – Offered research fellowships to professors Michael Gunter, Justin McCarthy, Hakan Yavuz, and others; – Contributed $100,000 grants to each of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations and Federation of Turkish American Associations, and a smaller amount to the Azerbaijan Society of America; – Spent $630,000 on lawsuits against various entities that support the Armenian Genocide issue; – Funded congressional trips to Turkey, and – Filed a report with the US government accusing the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) of being a “hate group.”

Given TCA’s tax-exempt charitable status, the Internal Revenue Service should investigate the legality of this Turkish group’s involvement in such extensive political and lobbying activities.


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