Book Review: The Gendarme

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Last night I commemorated the centennial of the Armenian Genocide by visiting San Francisco’s city hall, which was lit up in red, blue, and orange to match the Armenian flag.

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Unfortunately, the fire department forbid me and the hundreds of people waiting outside to join the speeches and dance performance in the already packed hall, so I left with nothing but a few good photos.

Image via Goodreads

This experience mirrored my minor disappointment while reading Mark T. Mustian’s The Gendarme (2010). The historical fiction novel is narrated by Ahmet Khan, or his preferred Americanized name Emmett Conn, who is in his 90s and suffering from disturbing dreams caused by a brain tumor.

These dreams are actually flashbacks during the Armenian Genocide, in which Emmett participated as a gendarme–a Turkish soldier. His job was to send Armenian deportees through the desert to Syria, but he quickly learned that this march was to their deaths as both countries’ governments had no intention of keeping them alive.

During the trek, Emmett falls in love with an inappropriately young Armenian girl named Araxie. Despite the barbarity he commits on this journey, he risks his life to protect hers. When they finally arrive in Syria, he must decide how to escape their wretched fate.

I must warn you that this book is horrifyingly graphic. Not only do Emmett and his fellow gendarmes sexually assault and murder innocent people, those who are spared succumb to debilitating diseases. It takes a long time before the reader can sympathize with Emmett for being on the wrong side of history.

However, in the end, I felt pity for this man for his life of suffering, both when he was young committing atrocities and in his old age when his family commits him to an institution for his mental instability. You are already aware that Emmett and Araxie did not escape the genocide together, and it’s especially heartbreaking to watch Emmett realize his crimes after decades of post-traumatic repression.

The Gendarme isn’t the most well-written story, and many readers will find its nonlinear structure aggravating. I should also point out that although Mustian and I are both Armenians, I appreciated reading a Turk’s perspective–however abhorrent it may be.

This book cannot compare to The Sandcastle Girls in terms of literary prowess, but both are excellent tales of this historical tragedy that does not get enough attention. The Gendarme made me sob at the end, but more importantly, it made me grateful for what my ancestors suffered so that my family could live on.

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Never Forget 1915: Commemorating the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide

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For those who know me closely, you’ll know that April 24th is an important day to me, but because I’ve gained quite a few new followers since last year, I’ll explain why.

I’m Armenian, one of many in an ethnic group that usually goes unnoticed. Most odars, or “outsiders,” only know about us if they live in Californian cities like Fresno and Glendale with large Armenian populations, or are otherwise big fans of the Kardashian Klan.

April 24th is culturally significant, because it marks the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, a historical tragedy in which 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Turks during World War I due to religious differences and political agenda.

This year is especially monumental, because it’s the centennial anniversary of the genocide, which historians estimate as beginning in 1915 and ending in 1923. 100 years have passed since our ancestors were stolen from their homes and sent on death marches, either killed by mass shootings, burnings, and hangings, or by the starvation and disease they suffered in the desert.

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Why does this event matter after all this time? Because to this day, Turkey denies that a genocide ever occurred, citing these deaths as grossly overestimated and merely casualties in a time of civil war. Even in 2015, it is illegal to criticize the Turkish government, and many journalists have been arrested for speaking the truth. The United States, fearful of losing a strategic military alliance, has cowardly remained silent on the issue and also refuses to recognize this monstrosity as genocide.

My ancestors may have survived such a terrifying time, but we Armenians are all affected by this injustice. Unlike the Jewish population who has received recognition of Germany’s wrongdoings during WWII via the Nuremberg Trials, Armenians are ignored and dismissed year after year.

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“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” – Adolf Hitler, before invading Poland in 1939

This centennial is no different, and I fear that generations of Armenian-Americans–including myself–will die having seen no change, until the diaspora has become so small and diluted that there’s no one left to care. After all, I’m only 25% Armenian. I highly doubt that someone 1/64th Armenian is going to be all that bothered by what her ancestors suffered long ago.

Regardless of this bleak outlook, I believe that everyone in the world needs to hear our story. Every year until my very last, I will spread awareness of this abominable crime, and I urge you to do the same. You don’t have to be Armenian to tell someone about the meaning behind today, so please educate those around you. The more people who know what truly happened, the less likely it will be forgotten.

For those of you in the Bay Area, I will be at San Francisco City Hall tonight to commemorate the genocide’s centennial. The rest of you should come back to Book Club Babe tomorrow for my book review of The Gendarme by Mark Mustian, a story about a Turkish soldier who falls in love with his Armenian deportee.

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I also recommend The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

And for more information on the Armenian Genocide, please read my previous posts (2014, 2013, 2012). Thank you for your support!

Honoring Armenian Genocide Memorial Day

For those who have been reading my blog, you already know that I’m deeply proud of my Armenian heritage. But if you’re new to Book Club Babe, today is the 98th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, a horrific tragedy in which over 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Turks during World War I.

I won’t go into too much detail of the historical event, since I’ve already done so in last year’s post, but I encourage you to educate yourself on the genocide, given that Turkey, the United States, and many other countries still fail to recognize it as such.

But this year, I didn’t want to dwell on my ongoing frustration with the American government valuing military alliances over human rights. Instead, I wanted to share some fun facts on Armenians and their culture. It’s a shame that most of the world has never even heard of this country, met any of its amazing people, or eaten any of its delicious food!

So let’s jump right into the trivia!

Capital city of Yerevan

10 Fun Facts about Armenia

1.     Armenia is a tiny country, only about 11,500 square miles. That’s smaller than the state of Maryland!

2.     Written records of the Armenian language date back to the 5th century CE. It has since evolved to have 38 letters, much to the dismay of Armenian-language learners.

3.     And despite its tiny geographical size, two Armenian dialects exist: Eastern and Western. Some differences are seen in a swapping of letters, from b to p and k to g (For example, you say “hello” as “barev” in Eastern and “parev” in Western).

4.     Armenians call their country “Hayastan,” which has led to the modern members of the diaspora to refer to themselves as “Hyes.” So if you see a bumper sticker declaring “Hye Pride”–no, it’s not a misspelled proclamation of drug abuse!

5.     On the flip side, anyone who is not a “Hye” is called an “odar,” an outsider.

6.     The national currency is the Armenian Dram. The rate as of today is $1 USD = $416 AMD.

7.     Armenia officially achieved independence in 1991, after thousands of years of being controlled by “Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols, Persians, Ottoman Turks, and Russians.”

8.     The Armenian Genocide is a reminder of how different the country is compared to its neighbors. Labeled as everything from Eastern European, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern, it’s difficult to explain its geograpical uniqueness. But to this day, it remains predominantly Christian, despite horrendous efforts to change that through ethnic cleansing.

9.     The Armenian Apostolic Church is the world’s oldest national church and observes  Christmas on January 6th to coincide with the Epiphany. The Roman Catholic Church also observed this date until the 4th century CE when it allegedly changed the date to December 25th to undermine pagan winter solstice celebrations like Saturnalia.

10.     There are some fabulous famous people of Armenian descent. The easiest way to tell is to spot surnames that end in “-ian” or “-yan,” which means “issued from-” So “Petrosian” is the Armenian version of “Peterson.”

Cher in Armenia, 1993

Here’s a list of celebrities of Armenian heritage:

  • Andre Agassi, tennis player
  • Ross Bagdasarian, creator of “Alvin and the Chipmunks”
  • Cher (Cherylin Sarkissian), singer/actress
  • System of a Down, rock band
  • Dita von Teese, burlesque artist
  • Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. (adopted by Armenian woman, Clara Hagopian, who taught him the language)
  • Princess Diana (ok, she’s only 1/64th Armenian, but once a Hye, always a Hye!)

So there’s plenty of other famous Armenians besides the Kardashians! (Thank goodness!)

Took the words right out of my mouth, Kourtney!

Anyways, I hope that you learned a lot about my culture. Please share these fun facts with everyone you meet today to honor Armenian Genocide Memorial Day!

The Armenian Genocide continued: Siamanto’s “The Dance”

The poet Siamanto

I hope you all read my post about the Armenian Genocide earlier today (if not, click here!). Now I would like to share my favorite poem about the genocide, written by Siamanto (Atom Yarjanian) who was murdered by the Turks in 1915. Note: If you are easily disturbed, I would advise you to not read this poem, as it discusses the genocide quite graphically. You have been warned!

“The Dance”

And as her tears drowned in her blue eyes,
On a field of ash where Armenian life was still dying,
This is what the witness of our horror, the German woman narrated:

“This story which I tell you and which cannot be told,
I saw with my cruel human eyes,
From the window of my safe house which looked on hell,
Crushing my teeth from my terrible rage…
With my cruelly human eyes I saw .
It was in Garden city, which was turned to a pile of ashes.
The corpses were piled high to the top of the trees,
And from the waters, from the fountains, from the streams, from the roads,
The rebellious murmur of your blood…
Still speaks now its vengeance into my ears…

O, don’t be shocked when I tell you this story which cannot be told…
Let men understand the crime of man against man,
Under the sun of two days, on the road to the cemetery
The evil of man against man,
Let all the hearts of the world know…
That morning in death’s shadow was a Sunday,
The first and helpless Sunday which rose over the corpses,
When inside my room, from evening to dawn,
Bending over the agony of a girl slashed with a sword,
I was wetting her death with my tears…
Suddenly from afar a black, beastly mob
Brutally whipping the twenty brides who were with them,
Stood in a vineyard singing songs of debauchery.

Leaving the poor dying girl on her mattress,
I approached the balcony of my window which looked on hell…
In the vineyard the black mob became a forest.
A savage roared to the brides: “You must dance,
You must dance when our drum sounds.”
And the whips started wildly cracking on the bodies
Of the Armenian women who were missing death…
Twenty brides, hand in hand, started their round dance…
The tears flowed from their eyes like wounds,
Ah, how much I envied my wounded neighbor,
Because I heard, that with a peaceful moan,
Cursing the universe, the poor beautiful Armenian girl,
To her young dove spirit gave wings toward the stars…
In vain I moved my fists against the mob.
“You must dance”, roared the furious crowd,
“You must dance until your death, lustfully and lasciviously,
Our eyes are thirsty for your movements and your death…”

The twenty beautiful brides fell to the ground exhausted…

“Stand up”, they shrieked, waving their naked swords like snakes…
Then someone brought to the mob a barrel of oil…
O, human justice, let me spit at your forehead…!
They anointed the twenty brides hastily with that liquid…

“You must dance”, they roared, “here is a perfume for you which even Arabia does not have…”
Then they ignited the naked bodies of the brides with a torch,
And the charcoaled corpses rolled from dance to death…

In my terror I closed the shutters of my window like a storm,

And approaching my lonely dead girl I asked:
“How can I dig my eyes out, how can I dig them out, tell me…?”

I love this poem, because it is one of the few first-hand accounts of the genocide, and although it is extremely sad and tragic, it’s evidence of the horrors of the massacres. Again, I urge you to research this historical event and share what you learn with those around you. I have many viewers from all over the world, and we owe it to ourselves to spread this knowledge and promote global recognition.

You can make a difference!

The Armenian Genocide: Not to be Forgotten

The Armenian Flag

For most people, today is just another Tuesday, but for the Armenian community, it’s the 97th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Because most of you are completely unaware of this event, I’d like to share some information about the tragedy.

Now, even though I’m only 25% Armenian, I identify more with Armenian culture than any within my Caucasian background. Bordered by Turkey, Georgia, Iran, and Azerbaijan, it’s a small country about the size of Maryland. Conquered by everyone from the Persians and Romans to the Soviet Union, it wasn’t officially recognized as its own country until 1991.

While modern Armenia suffers from the second worst economy in the world (Forbes, 2011), its population of over 3.5 million citizens and a large diaspora centered in California (Fresno and Glendale, specifically) has created an extremely close-knit, proud community.

As generations lack the Armenian language and enter in interracial marriages, the culture will lose its prominence, but hopefully, we can continue to share our experiences and educate the world about our people.

One of the ways we can raise awareness is to discuss the single most important event in our history: The Armenian Genocide. Because Armenia is a tiny Christian nation in the Islamic Middle East (rumor has it that Noah’s ark landed on Mt. Ararat), Muslim groups have tried to exterminate their religious enemies.

Mount Ararat in Armenia

From 1915-1923, about 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman Turks–predominantly through death marches, mass burnings, drownings, and hangings. I won’t show any graphic photographs of the massacres, but if you Googled images of the Armenian Genocide, you would find plenty of evidence.

Despite this evidence, Turkey and various other countries still continue to deny the existence of this genocide, claiming that the Armenians brought violence upon themselves by initiating conflict. Because of this denial, there’s a strong animosity between Armenia and Turkey. The E.U. has also refused Turkey entry, partly because it has yet to admit its past wrongdoings.

However, even the United States has yet to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, and often refuses to use the term ‘genocide’ in media. President Obama promised during his campaign that he would finally offer recognition, but has not fulfilled that promise.

The reason behind this decision is because the U.S. shares a military base in Turkey, and Turkey has warned the U.S. that if it were to recognize the genocide, that alliance would disintegrate. Most presidents and lawmakers have been too afraid to lose that strategic location in the Middle East.

Why does this 97-year-old event still matter? Unlike the Jewish population, the Armenians did not get the Nuremberg Trials. We suffered just as traumatic of an ethnic-cleansing, but much of the world refuses to acknowledge that it even happened. In fact, Hitler allegedly declared this statement one week before invading Poland in 1939:

Now I dare you to look an Armenian in the face and tell her that she has no reason to feel frustrated, resentful, and upset. Even though my great-grandfather escaped the genocide by fleeing to America with his family (Note: legally, given that he had a job waiting for him when he arrived, as did much of the Armenian community), I have many friends who lost a relative or several. That pain still cuts deep.

We lost half of our population in just a few years, and our culture has never fully recovered. Not to mention, when we as a globe ignore genocide, we silently allow more genocide to continue. And that is an issue everybody should care about.

What do Armenians want? Besides global recognition, many Armenians would appreciate Turkey to pay reparations and include the genocide in schools, since all references have been censored from textbooks. We want to be able to coexist and respect one another’s religious beliefs, so that we can move forward diplomatically. We want the next generation to be more knowledgeable and tolerant of each other’s culture.

And, of course, we never want the Armenian Genocide to be forgotten.

I hope that you have learned a lot about Armenia and its tragedy, so please share this information with somebody today. By raising awareness, we can make the world a better, more tolerant place. And please feel free to comment or ask questions, because this is an issue near and dear to my heart.

Later today, I will also write a post about my favorite poem surrounding the Armenian Genocide. So keep a look out!

Shnorhakal em! (Thank you!)