Ara Baliozian: Ways and means
Posted 17 May 2001 - 06:11 AM
Sometimes I am asked: "How do you explain the fact that there aren’t too many writers who write as you do?" My answer: Because most of them were brutally silenced in the Ottoman Empire and the Soviet Union, and by censorship in the Diaspora. Or, if you prefer, by legal means (de jure) under criminal regimes, and de facto in the Diaspora.
On Style: I love brilliant stylists like Nabokov, but I prefer writers (like Peguy) who have something so compelling to communicate that their words fall from them like stones with the minimum of artifice and craftsmanship. The same applies to music: compare J.S. Bach to Gregorian Chant.
There are people out there who have not read a single story from THE ARABIAN NIGHTS or a single page from WAR AND PEACE who tell me: "Why don’t you write a story for a change?" They have trouble following me when I explain that I will be more than happy to write a story on the day I understand the plot of our own story, the story of our collective existence.
Men of faith: I have yet to meet one who didn’t think he had a monopoly on truth, and did not confuse politics with theology or compromise with heresy.
The ugly Armenian: He is everywhere. He cannot be ignored. He cannot be swept under the rug. He cannot be placed on the sidewalk in a plastic bag to be picked up on the following day by the garbage truck. He is loud even when he whispers. He believes by downgrading others he upgrades himself. He is convinced the most effective way to assert his own superior brand of wisdom is by calling anyone who disagrees with him an idiot. Which is why I don’t hesitate to say that a good Turk is better than an ugly Armenian; and if I had a choice, I’d rather live in a democratic Turkey than a fascist Armenia.
A good chauvinist should be blind in one eye; both, of course, would be preferable.
Posted 17 May 2001 - 11:21 PM
It has been said that there is a Turk in all of us but some prefer to call him by other names: partisans, for instance, call him "loyalty to the party."
Which reminds me of a passage in Odian where he tells us, with all his passion for talking, "Comrade Panchoonie misused words repeatedly, often perverting their meaning altogether. One day he picked up a valuable vase from the table and slammed it to the floor, shattering it into a hundred pieces."
When his father scolds him, little Panchoonie justifies his act of vandalism by saying: "I fixed it." "What do you mean you fixed it?" his father demands: "you broke it!" "No, father, I fixed it."
"Almost all controversy would cease," Descartes tells us, "if there was agreement between philosophers as to the meaning of terms." If philosophers have so far failed to develop a consensus, what chance do we have?
How easily man is deceived by beautiful words and noble sentiments? How many times I have myself been taken in! I could spend the rest of my life banging my head again a stone wall.
I love the American expression: "What’s your racket?"
In one of his meditations, Marcus Aurelius says, it’s a waste of time hating your enemy because very soon you will both be dead anyway. It is to be noted that this emperor was also a commander in chief who fought many battles against the enemies of the Empire. I wonder if he ever said to his soldiers: "Don’t bother hating the enemy: just kill him!"
Discussion forums on the internet have taught me one thing that I didn’t know before: namely, not all Armenians are more civilized than Turks.
I don’t criticize anyone as an Armenian but as a human being. There are so many definitions of Armenianism and so many rascals who have abused that term that I no longer know what it really means and what it stands for. But I know something about human beings because I have been one all my life.
Which is why, whenever a fellow Armenian starts waving the flag at me, I immediately conclude that what he really intends to do with it is to cover his nakedness.
You may have noticed that, when an intelligent man behaves stupidly, the reasons he invents to justify his conduct will be even more stupid.
Posted 18 May 2001 - 09:32 AM
God: A supreme being who stands for truth, love, compassion and mercy but who appears to inspire His followers with intolerance, dogmatism, hatred, torture, war, and massacre.
Massacre: To the fanatic it’s the will of Allah, to civilized nations it’s "C’est la guerre," to Americans it’s "collateral damage," to many others it’s "ethnic cleansing." Very much like beauty, massacre too appears to be in the eye of the beholder.
Good old Moses was a windbag. Any editor could have told him his ten commandments were nine too many. All he needed to carve was a single brief positive statement: "Be kind," or "Behave decently." A kind person does not go around lying, thieving, killing and coveting asses. It wouldn’t even occur to a decent man to massacre defenseless women and children, unless of course he is ordered to do so by his religious leaders.
Man is a reasonable being and armed with that conviction he feels fully qualified to behave in an unreasonable manner.
An Armenian writer writing for Armenians will say Turks are bloodthirsty savages. A Turkish writer writing for Turks will say Armenians are lying giaours. I consider it a waste of time reading both. I’d much prefer to read a writer who writes as a human being as opposed to a member of a club, tribe, nation or race. As a human being I know that some Turks risked their lives to save Armenians, others were against it (genocide) and still others had nothing to do with it.
I am suspicious of all talk of patriotism or love of country that masks a specific political agenda or partisan platform. Such love always implies hatred not only of the enemy (some of whom may well be friends) but also friends who don’t share the same agenda or platform. Partisan patriotism is an oxymoron with the emphasis on the last two syllables.
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Posted 18 May 2001 - 11:21 PM
If one does not make one’s mistakes when young, one is bound to make them when old with far more catastrophic consequences. The problem with me is that after committing my share of blunder when young, I keep committing many more when old: as a boy I wanted to be a writer; as an old man I have become an Armenian writer.
What is Armenianism? As soon as it is defined it will become clear that there is a great deal of humbuggery in it.
You cannot be a member of an Armenian political party and be committed to democratic principles, in the same way that you cannot be a bordello madam and be a virgin.
A bishop once wrote me a letter in which he said he had been forced into early retired by fornicating rascals who call themselves bishops. The letter ended by blessing me for my crusade.
An Oriental carpet dealer once phoned saying I was absolutely right in my low opinion of Oriental carpet dealers.
I can truly say therefore that some of my best friends are bishops and Oriental carpet dealers.
Some Armenians remind me of Turks without a yataghan, but according to Zarian, an Armenian’s tongue can be sharper and cut deeper than a Turk’s yataghan.
When two crooks get together they call each other men of honor.
When it comes to political corruption, graft, prostitution, homosexuality, massive unemployment, electoral fraud, mass exodus, substance abuse, and a thousand other problems, our chauvinists claim we are like the rest of mankind; but in every other respect, we are superior.
Posted 19 May 2001 - 06:17 AM
Inmates should not be in charge of the asylum. Flies should not teach eagles how to fly. And Armenians should not speak of the lessons of history when they have themselves failed to learn the most important lesson of history: namely, a house divided against itself is destined to lose.
What if existence, life, death, space and time are only a handful of concepts among countless others which our mind is not equipped to grasp?
If war is a product of hatred and greed it’s because entire generations were brought up to view hatred and greed as patriotic duties.
Sometimes petty annoyances are harder to bear than great tragedies whose weight makes them appear inevitable as if ordained by God or the invisible forces of the universe.
All persecuted minorities and victims tend to view freedom as the freedom to persecute and victimize.
Somewhere someone may discover a method of communication that will eliminate all possibility of misunderstanding; but so far and throughout our millennial history such a one has not yet made an appearance among us or anywhere else for that matter.
Posted 20 May 2001 - 06:39 AM
By writing I hope to change the world.
I know this to be an illusion on my part
but I go on writing.
Notwithstanding the fact that so far
I have failed to change the mind of a single partisan or priest,
I go on writing in the hope that some day
I may hit on the right combination of words and ideas
that will connect.
I know this to be another illusion
but I go on writing in the hope that
the invisible forces of history and the universe
will combine to create the kind of fertile soil
in which ideas may germinate into actions.
If this is another illusion, so be it!
Posted 20 May 2001 - 10:00 AM
Like all perennial losers we are paranoiacs; and like all paranoiacs we see conspiracies in every dark corner and locked room. Conspiracies are a fact of history and present-day reality, of course, but we see them even when the only evidence we can produce is rooted in our fertile imagination.
I speak from experience.
I have readers, even friends and relatives, who are convinced I am not what I pretend to be but a secret agent in league with the devil, all because I hold a mirror up to them and they don’t like what they see there.
I have been accused of Tashnag membership or sympathies by Ramgavars and vice versa, all because I count among my friends members of both parties.
Both Anteliassagans and Etchmiadznagans have called me a paid agent of the Vatican, all because I once identified myself as a Catholic.
Armenians know (though, when it suits them, they pretend not to know) that an Armenian writer cannot survive without the financial support of a political party or power structure, and since I have been a full-time writer for almost thirty years now and have also been consistently critical of all our institutions, they assume I must have the support of some nefarious entity from hell.
So far I have not been accused of being, like Gostan Zarian, a mezzo-gigolo (he married the daughter of an American banker) perhaps because I am single. But I suspect even if I were to marry an orphan without a single penny to her name, I shall be accused of marrying money.
Posted 21 May 2001 - 05:58 AM
What could be more innocent and even patriotic than to say, "Our homeland is our only hope for survival. I see no future in the Diaspora." But I believe condemning the Diaspora to irrelevance amounts to committing genocide by other means and committing genocide comes naturally to all Ottomanized Armenians.
As an alienated Armenian, I speak in the name of alienated Armenians everywhere, which means I speak in the name of the vast majority, and my message is as follows: Those who alienated us may consider themselves as representatives of the nation but they are nothing of the kind: what they are is a trashy collection of bunglers, windbags and wheeler-dealers who have been successful only in dividing the nation and alienating the majority.
My ideas are not mine; they belong to the world of ideas, some of which are as old as mankind. If they seem strange to you it may be because you have not allowed them to register on your consciousness.
If you say I am wrong, I may ascribe it to my failure to make my position clear.
If you say I am a bad writer, I may accept that as a challenge and try harder.
If you give me advice on how and what to write, I may ask you to prove that you are yourself capable of producing a single honest line.
But if you try to silence me, I shall have to inform you that you are barking up the wrong tree, in the wrong orchard, and on the wrong continent.
Posted 21 May 2001 - 09:48 AM
It has become obvious that my critics and I have been traveling on different roads: I, on the road of our dissidents, and they, on the road of our chauvinist propagandists.
There are crooks and there are honest men, but they are few and far between, Far more numerous are the crooks who have successfully brainwashed themselves into believing they are honest men.
Voicing morally superior sentiments is not the same as being morally superior. If it were, every sermonizer would be a saint.
Let the Turks deny our genocide all they want, but let us not deny the humanity of our fellow men because that would be genocide by other means.
When an Armenian speaks about Armenia and says the same things as Hitler did when he spoke about Germany, I have every reason to smell a rat and to say there is something rotten in the state of Denmark.
Where there are commissars of culture, there will be no culture.
Writers like Abovian and Zarian believed in their ability to change things – or rather, in the power of words and ideas to change our perception of reality. Today’s writers and scholars believe in one thing only: taking care of number one.
For our bosses and bishops, literature has only one purpose: to cover up their lies, and to misrepresent their blunders as triumphs of statesmanship.
Posted 22 May 2001 - 08:58 AM
Anonymous: "A thousand friends are too few, one enemy is too many."
Raffi: "Even those among us who have taken it upon themselves to educate the people
are nothing but uneducated ignoramuses."
Karekin Nejdeh: "To struggle in defense of what is right is not a calamity but a blessing."
Krikor Zohrab: "Oppression corrupts everything it touches,
including the highest moral virtues."
Yeznig Palig: "A hungry vegetarian can be as dangerous as any carnivore."
Derenik Demirjian: "Every Armenian has another Armenian whom he considers his mortal enemy."
Anonymous: "The drowning man has no fear of rain."
Ruben Ter-Minassian: "Our cultural achievements and intellectual abilities may be superior to those of our neighbors, but without solidarity we are bound to be defeated, victimized, and exterminated."
Karekin Nejdeh: "Undermining the morality of a nation amounts to undermining its strength."
Anonymous: "Sugar may be sweet but bread is better."
Yeghishe: "Solidarity is the mother of good deeds, divisiveness of evil ones."
Gostan Zarian: "Greater wisdom imposes a greater strain upon a man."
Neshan Beshigtashlian: "Suicide: the brave deed of a coward."
Puzant Granian: "We have many national benefactors but not a single national writer."
Anonymous: "In his own home a mouse is a lion."
Raffi: "It is not unusual for the wise to be misled by wisdom. Sometimes what is needed is audacity verging on madness."
Gostan Zarian: "A man is rich to the degree that he has enriched life. A man is creative to the degree that he has made a contribution to the re-creation of the universe."
Yervant Odian: "Man has good as well as bad instincts, but the bad have a longer life span than the good."
Anonymous: "Hope for the best but be prepared for the worst."
Anonymous: "Trust a new friend as much as you would trust an old enemy."
Anonymous: "Only God gives without expecting anything in return."
Anonymous: "If you say what you want to say, you will hear what you don’t want to hear."
Posted 22 May 2001 - 10:59 AM
In politics, the most important question to be answered is not what is just or morally superior but what action has a better chance to succeed. To ignore this point is to make the erroneous assumption that we live in a world where the just is destined to prevail over the unjust. We Armenians more than anyone else ought to know by now that in life, in history and politics, the just and the compassionate may lose and the ruthless and the unjust may win. The wise know when to adapt and accept reality on its own terms as fools go on speculating endlessly in a labyrinth of abstractions, morality and metaphysics. Nothing comes more easily to man than to reserve moral superiority for himself; much more difficult to come to grips with reality and to decide what must be done.
After being persecuted for millennia, sometimes even after a single military defeat, a nation is bound to produce a lunatic fringe. Examples: the rise of the KKK in the South after the American Civil War, and the Nazis after the defeat of Germany in World War I. Our political parties represent the nation only in the very limited sense that a lunatic fringe represents the people. This may explain why so far we have failed again and again to develop a consensus. Consensus is reached only by rational beings willing to do what’s in the best interest of the nation. This to me is as clear as daylight, but try to explain it to our partisans who consider themselves the brains of the people.
Posted 23 May 2001 - 06:06 AM
Understanding is not a purely intellectual act but a disposition of the heart and mind working in harmony.
In our environment honesty is rare, and worse: an honest man doesn’t have much of a chance to survive. I am personally acquainted with two honest fund-raisers both of whom resigned and, as far as I know, no one wanted to know why because (my guess is) everyone assumed it was because they had refused to cooperate with shady characters in charge of the enterprise.
Is it possible for a sensible or sensitive man to live in the middle of so much ignorance, greed, stupidity and evil and maintain his mental balance? One must be slightly unbalanced to be normal.
I don’t write for fools and fanatics but for reasons of their own they keep reading me.
Two reasons why I believe we may have friends among the Turks and enemies among our fellow Armenians: (1) some of the bloodiest confrontations in the history of mankind were civil wars, and (2) statistics show that the chances of being murdered by a member of the family are much higher than by a total stranger.
In the eyes of our chauvinists I am guilty of the most unforgivable crime: refusal to recycle chauvinist crap.
If you are honest, all you may succeed in doing is uniting all the charlatans, fanatics, and crooks against you.
Posted 23 May 2001 - 10:12 AM
If you ask yourself who I may be, well I'm the Imasdun of the diasporan forum.
Ah and will not post to criticise them, just some interesting ones worthy of being posted in a larger scale(Turkish world)
[ May 23, 2001: Message edited by: Domino ]
Posted 23 May 2001 - 10:39 AM
A charlatan will never say, "I deceive and mislead because I am a charlatan"; and a fanatic will never say, "I speak or think or feel as I do because I happen to be a member of the lunatic fringe." What they will say instead is: "I speak the honest truth because I am a man of honor. I love my people. Everything I say and do is motivated by selfless dedication to God and Country." And strange as it may seem, there will be those who will believe them.
Even if you are as wise as Socrates and as compassionate as Christ, you will provoke hatred. Did I say "even?" make it "especially!"
How to make an Armenian enemy for life? Catch him in a contradiction or lie. Be objective. Do not recycle chauvinist or partisan crap. Be honest. Question his evidence or source of information. Doubt his integrity.
So what if we are survivors? That means nothing to me. So what if a thousand years from now there will be Armenians on the planet? That means nothing to me either, in the same way that the survival of Kurds and Gypsies means nothing to the world.
There is an idiot in all of us, including the most wise. Likewise, there is a killer in all of us, compliments of our reptilian ancestors. This may explain why sometimes intelligent men are deceived by fools, and decent men are misled by criminal psychopaths; and here, I could make a long list of illustrious names who supported Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin.
When the eminent French poet Paul Valéry was once asked by a friend, " Why do you allow critics to upset you? Most of them are fools who don’t even make an effort to understand what you are saying." He replied: "When a mad dog bites, it hurts."
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Posted 23 May 2001 - 10:57 AM
Posted 24 May 2001 - 05:56 AM
The question that comes up again and again is: "The whole world is divided – there are divisions everywhere: why should we be different?" This question is raised as if it has never been answered. But it has, many times. So here we go again.
Division is a single word with many shades, meanings and definitions – from static to dynamic.
There are divisions with a specific purpose, destination or aim, and there are divisions that are meaningless, aimless and ultimately self defeating.
There are division in which one side represents the thesis and the other the antithesis that eventually result in synthesis, and there are divisions that represent nothing but bloated egos.
There are functional divisions and dysfunctional divisions.
In biology, cells divide to promote growth and they also divide (as in cancer) to promote death.
There are divisions in which both sides engage in dialogue and there are divisions that are monologues that never cross.
There are divisions that reflect the self-interest of specific groups (poor/rich) and there are divisions that reflect fossilized misconceptions that represent nothing but the powers and privileges of non-representative clans.
There are political divisions (conservatives/liberals) and there are tribal divisions.
There are American or French divisions and there are Kurdish or Gypsy divisions.
And now you may guess to which variety our own divisions belong.
Posted 18 June 2001 - 05:01 PM
Member # 271
posted June 09, 2001 07:48AM
Reason is [must be] open to reason.
In real life, however, reason is almost always contaminated by prejudice, faith, mystical insight or some other irrational component (such as fear or hope) of whose existence we may be totally unaware.
When two reasonable men disagree, it may be because either one or both are allowing the irrational component within them to guide their reason. But that amounts to saying that these two men are no longer men of reason.
Anthropologists divide societies and cultures into two groups: hot and cold; the hot ones (those of the West) are analytical, rational, progressive; the cold ones are primitive tribes, static, ritualistic, superstitious.
By rejecting intellectuals, we reject analysis, and by accepting the authority of the boss and the bishop (or political or religious leadership) we subscribe to superstition and propaganda.
It is a fact that intellectuals have played a marginal role in our history; their ideas (unlike the ideas of Rousseau and Voltaire who prepared the grounds for the French Revolution) never penetrated the consciousness of the masses; and the reason for that is that the masses in the Ottoman Empire were enslaved by the tyranny of the sultan and his representatives (our patriarchs and amiras).
The situation is the same today: our intellectual class has been systematically exterminated by our bosses and bishops and the Armenian people continue to be at the mercy of God and capital (make it, Capital and god), superstition and propaganda.
The message of love has been with us for 2000 years!
It isn’t fail-safe; you cannot teach love to Talaat, Hitler, Stalin and their successors.
A favorite French philosopher of mine (Merleau-Ponty) once said that the challenge we confront today is unmasking deceivers.
I don’t see any contradiction in these two attitudes (loving and unmasking); let each go about his business and if they succeed in loving or unmasking, mankind is bound to be the ultimate beneficiary!
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Posted 16 July 2001 - 10:08 AM
"Hye lineluts araj, petk a mard linel!"
Garegin Ter-Haroutunyan (Njdeh)
After reading a reference to Armenian prostitutes in a recent essay,, one of my gentle readers (of whom, as you probably know, we have a great many) suggested that my own mother may well have been a prostitute. The sad truth is, my mother, like most mothers (and probably your own too), was brainwashed to look down at prostitutes but as far I know she did nothing to expose or combat the corrupt power structure that drives some women to prostitution.
Dear gentle reader: I am sure you are a far better person than my mother and your mother, and you have done everything in your power to give an end to this social evil.
And speaking of mothers: I am sure your father too, who is no doubt a gentleman, never knowingly walked past a house of prostitution and he too did his utmost to abolish this social cancer.
Posted 17 July 2001 - 06:10 AM
What is it exactly? Can we define it? Instead of expressing my own views, I will quote two objective observers:
Krikor Zohrab: "We, all of us, condemn prostitution. Yet, how many of us engage in it? Lawyers who perjure themselves for a few pieces of silver; journalists who sell their conscience to vested interests; doctors who prolong a useless treatment; young men who marry wealth. In what way are they different from common prostitutes?"
Bertrand Russell: "Often and often, a marriage hardly differs from prostitution, except being harder to escape from."
What is the difference between an Armenian who is proud to be an Armenian and a Turk who is proud to be a Turk?
If we ask this question to an Armenian, he will say the Turk doesn’t know any better because he has been brainwashed by his political leadership; and if we ask the same question to a Turk, he will return the compliment. If, on the other hand, we were to ask a third party, say, a Patagonian, a Nigerian or Cambodian who knows as much about Armenian or Turkish history as an Armenian and Turk know about Patagonian, Nigerian or Cambodian history, my guess is they will say there has been some brainwashing on both Armenian and Turkish sides.
How to solve this puzzle? The jury is still out on that one.
(By the way, I am not a revisionist: I know the Turkish version to be a big lie; but I also have every reason to suspect that the version of our own politicians cannot be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth because politics and truth are incompatible concepts.)
What is patriotism? It is a form of prostitution in which we surrender our minds and souls to our politicians, in exchange of what? The license to hate the enemy; to feel morally superior; to prepare the grounds for a future war; the license to kill and the privilege to die.
Posted 17 July 2001 - 10:07 AM
What could be more universal than the need to assert superiority?
What could be more symptomatic of inferiority than assessing oneself as superior?
Has anyone ever seen a truly superior man asserting superiority?
Is there a single human being on earth who has not beheld the contemptible spectacle of a poor devil trying desperately to assert superiority and convincing no one, not even himself?
There you have it, my friends: our situation.
Sometimes we forget that an outsider – be he an American, Canadian or Patagonian – does not have to study the past to know what happened to us or how trustworthy our testimony is: all he has to do is read about our visceral disagreements in our partisan press and observe the ease with which each side distorts reality in order to score points or to assert superiority.
And what about us on this forum? In what way are we better or more tolerant or more civilized than our gutter press?
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