Archive for the ‘News’ Category

The Untold Story of How the YMCA Saved Lives During the Genocide


By David Luhrssen

 

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(MIlwaukee, Wis.) During the beleaguered years of the First Armenian Republic (1918-1920), two Americans traveled the length of the country in a rickety motorcar over unpaved roads on a mission to aid the refugees. They may have saved as many as 100,000 lives and left behind a priceless documentary record of the Genocide.

 

On Sunday, April 7, Dr. Rouben Adalian, Director of the Armenian National Institute in Washington DC, spoke at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church about those two Americans, John Elder and James Arroll. They were YMCA volunteers, initially sent to Russia to boost morale in America’s World War I ally. With the rise of the Bolsheviks, Elder and Arroll found themselves in Russian Armenia. The challenges they faced were catastrophic in scale.

 

From May through October 1918, Elder and Arroll witnessed the carnage as Turkish forces drove across the border into the fragile Armenian Republic. The YMCA volunteers organized relief in Armenia as part of an overall American effort to aid millions of hungry and displaced people across Europe and the Near East, yet Elder and Arroll had fewer assets at their disposal than their counterparts in Belgium and other countries. For many months they were the only Americans in Armenia and served as their country’s unofficial representatives to the republic. The resources they worked with were slender. They established an orphanage consisting of nothing more than an empty room without beds or furnishings of any kind, only a roof to keep out the rain.

 

Elder and Arroll were also responsible for a trove of photographs showing the ravaged faces and emaciated bodies of refugees, the mass graves and the decimated towns left by the retreating Turks. One especially chilling image, displayed by Adalian in PowerPoint, shows a woman picking a dirt field looking for scraps of food.

 

Elder and Arroll’s work was long forgotten until Adalian, who earned a Ph.D in history under Richard Hovannisian, pieced together their story. However, as he conceded, many things remain unknown about the pair of humanitarian adventurers who played a decisive but unsung role in assisting Armenia during a time of great peril.

https://www.armenian-genocide.org/files/american_relief.pdf

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VAROUJAN KHEDESHIAN

THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY 
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

 

Birth of Varoujan Khedeshian
(April 7, 1937)

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Varoujan Khedeshian was one of the most innovative directors of Armenian theater in the Diaspora during the second half of the twentieth century.

He was born on April 7, 1937, in Aley (Lebanon). At the age of sixteen, he debuted in the Hamazkayin “Kaspar Ipekian” dramatic troupe, directed by Georges Sarkissian, another famous name of Diasporan theater.

In 1960 he went to London to study at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. He graduated in 1965 and returned to Lebanon, where he joined the Hamazkayin “Levon Shant” dramatic troupe. Two years later, he founded the “Theatre 67” dramatic troupe, which had a very important role in the Lebanese Armenian community until the beginning of the civil war in 1975. Khedeshian was noted for staging works from the Armenian and international repertoire that went outside the mold of tradition, introducing the audience to contemporary works by playwrights like Arthur Miller, Peter Weiss, Edward Albee, and Neil Simon. He would maintain this approach when he took over the direction of the “Kaspar Ipekian” from 1989-2000. He translated a total of 22 plays from English into Armenian.

Some of the works he directed included, along with “Ancient Gods” and “The Emperor” (Levon Shant), “By the Road of Heaven” and “Up to Where?” (Hagop Oshagan), “Alafranca,” “The Oriental Dentist,” and “Brother Balthazar” (Hagop Baronian), “The Piper of the Mountains of Armenia” (Hamasdegh), world-famous works like “The Merchant of Venice” (William Shakespeare), “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (Edward Albee), “Marat/Sade” (Peter Weiss), “The Crucible,” “View from the Bridge,” “The Price,” and “All My Sons” (Arthur Miller), “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” and “Barefoot in the Park” (Neil Simon), “The Master Builder” (Henrik Ibsen), “Romulus the Great” (Friedrich Dürrenmatt), “The Venetian Twins” (Carlo Goldoni), “The Caretaker” (Harold Pinter).

From 1979-1987 Khedeshian staged five dramatic performances in Armenia, both in Yerevan and Leninakan (now Gyumri), and received the “Bedros Atamian” medal in 1987, becoming the first Diasporan Armenian who earned this award during the Soviet period.

His decades-long theatrical activity earned him multiple accolades and several distinctions late in life. In 2000 he was decorated with the “St. Mesrob Mashdots” order of the Holy See of Cilicia by Catholicos Aram I and the Hamazkayin order by the Central Executive Board of this organization. In 2008 the Ministry of Culture of Armenia awarded him its gold medal, and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II bestowed upon him the “St. Sahag-St. Mesrob” medal of the Armenian Church. Meanwhile, in 2004 he had received the order of the Institute of Arts of Lebanese University, where he had taught dramatic art from 1971-1999.

Varoujan Khedeshian passed away on December 28, 2015, in Beirut, at the age of sixty-eight.

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Milwaukee Armenian Fest

By David Luhrssen

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On July 22, St. John the Baptist Armenian Church in Greenfield, WI, held Milwaukee’s annual Armenian Fest. The festival has grown in recent years from its origins as a church-family picnic into a regionally recognized event that draws attention from the local news media and has gained a large non-Armenian audience.

The lack of leftover food from this year’s Armenian Fest is an indicator that 2018 was the event’s most successful year to date.

Armenian Fest’s main attraction remains the food. The offerings are almost entirely homemade from old family recipes and include pilaf, boreg, sarma, yalanjee, hummus and desserts such as paklava and borma as well as beef and chicken shish-kabobs grilled over an open fire. But the festival also kept the crowd engaged with live music by Chicago’s Hye Vibes, Racine’s Stepan Froonjian and performances by Chicago’s  Hamazkayin Sardarabad Dancers. Armenian wine, beer, preserves and honey were sold along with books, CDs and t-shirts.

Armenian Fest has become the Milwaukee Armenian community’s opportunity to give southeastern Wisconsin a taste of Armenian food, culture and hospitality.

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By David Luhrssen

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(South Milwaukee, WI) On Sunday, June 17, over 85 Armenians from Southeast Wisconsin gathered for Outdoor Divine Liturgy and a madagh (memorial) meal at Holy Resurrection Armenian Cemetery in South Milwaukee. The date, Father’s Day, was chosen as an occasion for remembering the founding fathers of the cemetery as well as family members buried there. It also coincided with the 70th anniversary of the cemetery’s consecration.

South Milwaukee played an important role in the history of Armenian immigration to the U.S. As an industrial suburb of Milwaukee, South Milwaukee was one of the first destinations for Armenians fleeing the massacres of the 1890s because of the enormous need for factory workers at Bucyrus Eerie, one of America’s largest manufacturers of mining machinery before its purchase in recent years by Caterpillar. The first wave of immigrants was joined after World War I by an influx of Genocide survivors. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was the site where visiting Armenian priests conducted liturgy in South Milwaukee until 1924, when the growing community established Holy Resurrection Armenian Church. The city’s Armenians were buried in St. Mark’s cemetery until 1948, when the community purchased the plot of land adjacent to St. Mark’s cemetery, that became one of only a handful of Armenian cemeteries in the U.S.

“Those early immigrants realized the sense of loss of homeland and family—they somehow knew that their physical bodies could never go back,” said Armen Hajinian, deacon at Holy Resurrection and president of the cemetery board. “Walking through the headstones you’ll read ‘Born in Armenia’ and see their names or phrases written in Armenian. It is one last attempt at reclamation of their losses.”


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The June 17 liturgy was celebrated by Very Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian, Vicar of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church. He was assisted by Rev. Fr. Sahak Kaishian of Holy Resurrection and Rev. Fr. Nareg Keutelian of St. John the Baptist Church of Greenfield, along with deacons and choir from both churches. In his homily, the Vicar confessed that he had never previously performed liturgy in a cemetery, but upon reflection, realized that Christian worship began, in a sense, in a cemetery at the empty tomb of Jesus on the first Easter Sunday.

Afterward, he conducted a requiem for all souls buried in the cemetery, including Very Rev. Fr. Soukias Kalfaian, pastor of Holy Resurrection’s parish for many years, and performed the blessing of the madagh, provided by Mr. Mark Keishian, a longtime parishioner of Holy Resurrection.

During the Madagh luncheon on the cemetery grounds, the Mayor of South Milwaukee, Mr. Erik Brooks recounted the great contributions the early Armenian settlers made to the city and commended their descendants for continuing in their forefathers’ footsteps.

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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.

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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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HAGOP VARTANIAN

THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

[ANEC]

 

Birth of Hagop Vartovian
(August 18, 1830)

 

The foundation of Turkish theater is linked to a controversial name: Hagop Vartovian.

 

He was born as Hagop Gulluyan on August 18, 1830, in Constantinople. We know little about his first years, except that he went to school from 1846-1848. He debuted as an actor in May 1862, playing with the Oriental Theater in the last performance of their first season. He later moved to Smyrna, where he translated his last name into Armenian and turned it from Gulluyan into Vartovian (Turkish gülli/Armenian vartov “with rose(s)”). In 1862-1863 he acted and directed the Vaspurakan group, which played in Armenian, French, Turkish, and Greek. In 1867 he was back in Constantinople as director of the Asiatic Society group, and played Macbeth in William Shakespeare’s homonymous play, which marked the first time that the Bard entered the Western Armenian stage (after a performance in 1865 in the Mekhitarist school system without female characters). In 1869 the group was renamed Ottoman Theater, and it would cement Vartovian’s fame. In the same year, he premiered Vart and Shoushan, one of the plays of eighteen-year-old poet Bedros Tourian (1851-1872), who became one of his authors.

 

The great fire of Pera (nowadays Beyoglu) in May 1870 engulfed the entire district. Actress Azniv Hrachia, one of its witnesses, wrote in her memoirs: “The fire of Pera came suddenly; I cannot describe that terrible catastrophe, that horrible day as it was. I will just say that the entire neighborhood of Pera was in flames; the wealthy became poor, the mothers were left without children, and the children without mothers. There was not a single family with one or two members missing. Many families were found asphyxiated in the stone houses as a group. The fire did not only devour an infinite wealth, but also thousands of lives. Pera was in flames from fourteen sides, as if the fire was coming from the sky. Many people were burned in the streets.”

 

The fire destroyed all the theaters and decorations of Pera, as well as the dwellings of many actors and actresses. Only the group of Hagop Vartovian, which functioned in the neighborhood of Gedikpasha, was able to continue regular performances during the 1870-1871 season. In the same year, Vartovian ensured a ten-year permit from the Sultan, with the support of Prime Minister Ali Pasha, as the only theater allowed to present performances in Turkish. The group played in Scutari (Uskudar) in the summer, and it also had performances in Kadikoy and Pera. It had an eighty-people organization behind it, including actors, singers, and dancers, but also the auxiliary staff. The famous satirist Hagop Baronian wrote in a profile of Vartovian: “To say the truth, thanks to Vartovian’s tireless work our nation today has a theater. Once he organized the group, he hired translators and started to criticize the flaws of the nation with foreign plays, like that man who slaps a stranger and thinks to have stricken the son.”

 

The Ottoman Theater continued functioning until its dissolution in 1882. Vartovian had to sell everything to make a living and maintain his wife and three children. For a while, he was designated director of the court’s theater group. However, following the wishes of Sultan Abdul Hamid, he converted to Islam and adopted the name of Güllü Agop. He passed away on February 2, 1898, and was buried in the Yahya Efendi cemetery of Beshiktash

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Sardarabad and Arax Dancers Enact Armenia’s Rebirth

Wisconsin concert draws Armenians and non-Armenians

By David Luhrssen

(South Milwaukee, WI) On Oct. 8, Wisconsin was treated to a rare opportunity to witness Armenian dance traditions presented with contemporary flair. Over eighty five dancers from the Sardarabad Dance Ensemble of Hamazkayin Chicago and the Arax Dance Group of Hamazkayin Detroit took the stage at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center in a performance whose focus was the resilience of Armenia’s people and culture.

The dance concert began with a multi-media presentation incorporating visual projections depicting the Armenian Genocide and a recitation in English and Armenian of Siamanto’s poem “Strangled.” Immediately afterward, an ensemble of performers filled the stage with “Rebirth,” a dance work portraying the commitment to life after the carnage of genocide.

The repertoire in the fast-paced, two-hour program represented many historically Armenian districts, including Sasoon, Artashat, Shirak, Van, Javakhk and Zangezur. Several dances commemorated historical events such as the battles of Avarayr and Sardarabad along with recent struggles in Nagorno-Karabakh. Other dances depicted the grace and beauty of Armenian women and the vibrancy of contemporary Armenian life.

Not unlike such popular Irish shows as Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, the Sardarabad Dance Ensemble packaged tradition in a multi-media production that told the story of a particular people and their civilization. The performers ranged in age from children through adults and balanced heel-kicking athleticism with interpretive grace.

The location of the performance was significant. South Milwaukee, an industrial suburb of Milwaukee, was a magnet for refugees fleeing the Turkish massacres of the 1890s and became one of the first Armenian communities in the U.S. The dance concert was sponsored by St. John the Baptist Armenian Church in the nearby suburb of Greenfield in celebration of Armenian Cultural Month. The event was publicized in the local media as part of the Milwaukee area Armenian community’s commitment to raising awareness.

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