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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 She devoured published and unpublished accounts of the Genocide and traveled to Armenian libraries in Paris and Vienna.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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UAF ENDS SHIPMENTS

The Board of Directors of the United Armenian Fund announced that the non-profit organization ended its operations on November 30, 2015, following the recent passing away of its main benefactor, Mr. Kirk Kerkorian, preceded by the closing down of his Lincy Foundation.

After 26 years of providing humanitarian aid to Armenia and Artsakh, the five major Armenian American religious and charitable organizations that formed the UAF have decided to concentrate their attention and resources on other projects that they sponsor and fund in Armenia and the Diaspora.

The leaders of UAF member organizations expressed their gratitude to Mr. Kerkorian for his generosity, who through his Lincy Foundation, contributed tens of millions of dollars over the past quarter century to fund the UAF’s operations, including the shipment of hundreds of millions of dollars of relief supplies to Armenia and Artsakh by air and sea.

The UAF was formed shortly after the devastating 1988 earthquake in Armenia to provide much needed humanitarian aid to the destitute survivors in the earthquake zone. But, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the blockade of Armenia by Turkey and Azerbaijan, the UAF decided to expand its mission to include the entire population of Armenia and Artsakh.

Over the years the UAF acquired, shipped and distributed all types of relief supplies, including medicines and medical equipment, agricultural equipment, seeds, computers, books, toys, winter clothing and shoes to hospitals, clinics, schools, orphanages, and hundreds of charitable organizations throughout Armenia and Artsakh.

The UAF Board of Directors thanked the many generous donors who contributed large quantities of vital goods and supplies to the UAF ever since 1989. The Board also commended the UAF staff—President Harut Sassounian and Administrative Assistant Nouritza Abujamra—for their dedicated service to the organization and the needs of the people in Armenia and Artsakah.

In the past 26 years, the UAF has delivered to Armenia and Artsakh a total of $720 million worth of relief supplies on board 159 airlifts and 2,260 sea containers.

The UAF is the collective effort of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, Armenian Missionary Association of America, Armenian Relief Society, Diocese of he Armenian Church of America, and the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Source: Eastern Prelacy’s Crossroads E-Newsletter

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“The Dream Must be Continued”

Richard Hovanissian on Genocide and Denial

at Marquette Law School

By David Luhrssen

 

(Milwaukee, Wis.) Prof. Richard Hovanissian opened his Oct. 18, 2015, talk at Marquette University Law School by reflecting on this year’s centennial observation of the Armenian Genocide. The UCLA professor emeritus commented on the amount of good press and academic conferences the Armenian cause received in 2015, Pope Francis’ proclamation, and the unity shown by the Armenian community. But the events of a century ago and their ongoing implications, rather than the commemoration, were the primary subject of his talk. The event, sponsored by the Wisconsin Armenian Genocide Centenary Committee, drew an overflow audience.

 

Speaking extemporaneously from a deep well of emotion as he articulated the horror of the Genocide, Hovanissian recounted memories of growing up in California as the child of survivors. When he began his academic career he had no thought of becoming one of America’s foremost authorities on the Genocide and focused instead on Armenia’s First Republic. “I backed into this field because my father was called a liar,” Hovanissian said, referring to his work of refuting Genocide deniers. He denounced the Turkish Coalition of America, funded by a Turkish-American industrialist, for “expending millions of dollars to silence the Armenian case. It may be discouraging but one doesn’t stop. The dream must be continued.”

 

Hovanissian asked the question: “What have we learned after 100 years?” He began his answer by citing “utter admiration” for the resilience shown by the survivors. “After seeing such cruelty, how could they ever sing and dance and joke again? But most did recover and recreated an existence—a new space.”

 

The initial strategy of the Kemalists, not to deny as much as prevent discussion, crumbled after 1965 when Armenians from around the world from Yerevan to New York, took to the streets in protest on the 50th anniversary of the Genocide. He added that the trial of Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann “opened the door. The Holocaust is now not just part of Jewish history but part of human history. The Armenian Genocide should be remembered as the prototype for the mass killings of the 20th century. It set the model.”

Prof. Richard Hovanissian speaks at Marquette University Law School

Prof. Richard Hovanissian speaks at Marquette University Law School

 

Hovanissian suggested ideology and technology as the causes of such mass killings. In the case of the Genocide, the ideology was the extreme nationalism of Turkism and the technology was the telegraph, which allowed Talaat Pasha to wire instructions to subordinates across the Ottoman Empire and to expect detailed reports in return. The outbreak of World War I gave the Turkish regime its opportunity. Without the cover of war, Hovanissian suggested, the Genocide might never have occurred.

 

He added that in every story he has collected of Genocide survivors, “there was a good Turk, or a good Muslim, who sheltered Armenian victims.”

 

Although the war against the memory of the Genocide continues to be waged by the present Turkish government and its lobbyists, Hovanissian sees reason for optimism. “There is a crack in the wall,” he said. “Young Turkish intellectuals are challenging the official narrative and using the ‘G’ word, which even the President of the United States is afraid to use.”

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SOAR-WISCONSIN REPORT

SOAR-Wisconsin Field Trip to Armenia
April 19-29, 2015

 

Our Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief (SOAR) Wisconsin chapter delegation included the two chapter co-presidents (Dr. Chuck and Mary Kay Hajinian), the vice president (Harry Aghjian), and the treasurer (Leon A. Saryan).   SOAR is a charitable organization recognized by the US government under applicable law. The purpose of our visit was to visit an orphanage to which our chapter has provided assistance and to evaluate the economic, historical and social makeup of the people to better understand the orphan situation in Armenia.

 

On our first day we met with the SOAR representative in Armenia, Siranoush Hovannesian.  She escorted us to the Mari Izmirlian orphanage in northeast Yerevan, which we first visited in 2013 and which our chapter has supported financially in the past.  This facility cares for children who are handicapped, disabled, or otherwise have special needs.   The number of children being cared for has climbed to 110 from 90 two years ago.  Staff salaries and basic essentials are covered by the government’s Ministry for Social Services, but very little money is allotted to capital needs and facility upgrades.

SOAR-Wisconsin vice president Harry Aghjian and his wife Casey at Lake Sevan, Armenia

SOAR-Wisconsin vice president Harry Aghjian and his wife Casey at Lake Sevan, Armenia

 

We were able to observe several improvements from our visit two years earlier, made possible in large part by donations from our SOAR chapter and other diaspora organizations.   Sinks now had faucets, toilets had seats, and damaged walls were painted.  Fire-damaged areas were repaired.  Medical and kitchen refrigerators donated by our chapter two years earlier have been installed.  Also, many children have been provided with new beds, mattresses, and closets for their clothing.  We noted that bronze plaques have been mounted acknowledging the Wisconsin and Chicago chapters of SOAR for their donations.

 

We met with the orphanage staff and found them deeply appreciative and committed to the care of these children. This is a government sponsored home where workers are not highly compensated.  To do this work of caring, cooking, cleaning up these kids requires a special heart.  This staff seems to have that.

 

We were also able to assess additional needs:  another forty new beds and mattresses, kitchen equipment (commercial blenders, a commercial bread slicer, food processors, large pots and pans etc.) are needed.  Another large commercial refrigerator is also needed (estimated at $5000) as well as some additional new washing machines and clothes dryers.

 

During our meeting with Siranoush, we delivered 14 large bottles of multi-vitamins for orphan children donated and carried to Armenia by the SOAR-WI chapter.  We also gave her over 5000 custom-prepared prayer cards in English and Armenian. These prayer cards were designed by Wisconsin SOAR members and Father Yeghia Hairabedian of Glendale, California thru Renewal in Christ Ministries. The cards have a picture of Christ with children and an encouraging spiritual prayer for the children to recite.  Some cards were also given to a pastor to take to Jordan and Syria for refugees and orphans.

 

We also delivered over $2000 worth of dental supplies to support the establishment of dental clinics in Armenia’s orphanages.  Partially at our initiative, the Mari Izmirilian Orphanage has a new two-operatory dental clinic operated by a Polish dentist who comes to Armenia twice a year to care for all the children at that orphanage.  Siranoush was instructed to distribute the dental supplies as she saw fit.

 

We also met with several Armenian institutional directors to discuss synergy with SOAR, including Vahram Kazhoyan (vahram@rocketmail.com).  Vahram wears multiple “hats” for the government and helps oversee NGO’s.  He is the hospitality spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry and works as a Goodwill Ambassador.  He was instrumental in working with businessman James Tufenkian in setting up a shelter for battered women in Yerevan.  We also met James Tufenkian and stayed at his hotel.

Casey Aghjian with SOAR sponsored orphans

Casey Aghjian with SOAR sponsored orphans

While in Yerevan, we also met with an NGO for Syrian-Armenian refugees. This “New Aleppo” group are relocating families and orphans. These numbers are as high as 16,000 people.  We met with families whose ancestors operated ran orphanages during the Genocide. Dr. Hajinian was interviewed on Armenian H3 television, a Danish newspaper and the New York Times published my comments.  Others in our group were also interviewed.

 

During the visit the Wisconsin SOAR officers were able to observe the general status of living conditions that make orphanage institutions essential for the social fabric of the country.

 

We returned with a new list of needs for the Mari Izmirlian Orphanage and introduced many to the work of SOAR.

 

Document prepared by Dr. Chuck Hajinian, President, SOAR-Wisconsin, and Dr. L. A. Saryan, Treasurer, SOAR-Wisconsin.

June 1, 2015

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

[ANEC]

 

 

Death of Hamo Ohanjanian

(July 31, 1947)

Ohanjanian was a prominent member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in the first half of the twentieth century and also served as Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia.

 

He was born in Akhalkalak (Javakhk, nowadays Georgia) in 1873. After his elementary studies in his birthplace, he moved to Tiflis, where he graduated from the Russian lyceum. He entered medical school in Moscow (1892), where he joined the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and because of his participation in student agitation, he was left out of the university. He returned to Tiflis, and in 1899 he continued his studies in Lausanne (Switzerland), which he finished in 1902. He returned to Tiflis in 1902, where he became a leading figure of the party, and in 1905 was elected a member of the Eastern Bureau of the A.R.F. He would coordinate the popular action that opposed the confiscation of the properties of the Armenian Church in 1903 and he established relations with Russian and Georgian revolutionaries during the revolutionary movements of Russia in 1905-1907. He played an important role in the crucial A.R.F. Fourth General Assembly (Vienna, 1907), where he helped preserve the unity of the party by stopping extreme-left and extreme-right wing dissension.

Hamo Ohanjanian

Hamo Ohanjanian

 

In 1908 the Czarist government launched a persecution against revolutionary parties, including the A.R.F. Ohanjanian, together with 160 party members, was arrested. He was sentenced to hard labor in Siberia during the infamous “Trial of the Tashnagtsutiun” in 1912. Roubina Areshian, one of the organizers of the failed attempt against Sultan Abdul Hamid in 1905, followed him there and married him.

 

In 1915 Ohanjanian was set free thanks to the intercession of Catholicos Kevork V and Caucasus viceroy Ilarion Vorontsov-Dashkov. He returned to Tiflis and assisted the volunteer battalions as a physician, as well as the refugees from Western Armenia.

 

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, he departed to Petrograd and Kharkov to exhort Armenians to bring their help to the refugees. In May 1918 he participated in the battle of Gharakilise, where his elder son (born from his first marriage to Olga Vavileva) was killed.

 

After the birth of Armenia, Ohanjanian became a member of the Delegation of the Republic presided by Avetis Aharonian to participate in the Peace Conference in Europe. He remained in the West until the beginning of 1920. In October 1919 he was elected member of the A.R.F. Bureau during its Ninth General Assembly held in Yerevan.

 

He returned to the Armenian capital in January 1920 as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the cabinet of Alexander Khatisian. Following the failed Bolshevik uprising of May 1, 1920, Khatisian resigned, and Ohanjanian was charged with forming a new government on May 5, 1920. It was called the Bureau-Government, because all of its members were members of the A.R.F. Bureau.

 

Ohanjanian’s premiership coincided with the most crucial period of the Republic of Armenia, which would practically lead to its demise. The Treaty of Sevres was signed on August 10, 1920, but the following Armeno-Turkish war, started in September, ended with the defeat of the Armenian army. Ohanjanian resigned on November 23, 1920. Simon Vratzian would become the fourth and last prime minister, and ten days later the Soviet regime was established.

 

Ohanjanian, with other A.R.F. leaders, was imprisoned in January 1921 during the wave of terror that followed the Sovietization. The prisoners were saved by the popular rebellion of February 1921. After the end of the rebellion in April 1921, Ohanjanian moved to Zangezur and then to Iran. In the end, he settled in Egypt, where he would live until his death.

 

Besides his political activities as a party member, Ohanjanian, well-aware of the importance of language and culture for the preservation and development of the Armenian identity in the Diaspora, became a founding member of the Hamazkayin Cultural Association in 1928 and its chairman for the next 18 years. He also provided important support for the establishment of the Armenian Lyceum of Beirut in 1930.

 

The former prime minister of the Republic of Armenia passed away on July 31, 1947 in Cairo, where he was buried.

 

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