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Meline Toumani, the Armenian Genocide and the Politics of Appeasement

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#1 Yervant1


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Posted 30 January 2015 - 11:16 AM

I've read so many articles about Meline's book *There Was and There Was Not:* and decided to ignore all of it because of her naive approach to the subject until now, this article sums it all.


Meline Toumani, the Armenian Genocide and the Politics of Appeasement

Huff Post Books

Christopher Atamian


Meline Toumani's puzzling and sometimes maddening first book *There Was and
There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia
and Beyond* purports to analyze the hatred still separating Armenians and
Turks on the eve of the one hundredth commemoration of the Armenian
Gencocide. The biggest problem with the expos©e lies perhaps in Toumani's
underlying assumptions, i.e. that Armenians and Turks all hate each other
and in equating victim and perpetrator. Toumani is usually a fluid writer,
but here she gets lost in an often muddled and contradictory analysis.

The author has a point when it comes to Genocide obsession among certain
Armenians, though by this late date, it is no longer a particularly
original one. Armenians as a group do spend a lot of time talking about and
trying to convince the world of the terrors they experienced from 1915 to
1923 when the Ottoman Turks massacred some 1.5 million Armenians along with
another 1.5 million Christian Assyrian and Pontic Greeks. For over a
decade, others have made the same point that Toumani makes and more
eloquently. Curator Neery Melkonian, for one, has said time and again that
the Armenian obsession with genocide hinders their ability to move forward
as a progressive people and reach their true, brilliant potential. And
theorist Marc Nichanian has argued that it is demeaning to keep begging the
world for recognition: everyone, including those Turks who really want to
know, are aware of what really happened from 1915 to 1923 -- the Armenian
Genocide was amply documented and written about when it happened and
afterwards for the last century.

At times, Toumani's book seems to be more of an expos©e of her own
insecurities and shame. She reproduces often demeaning stereotypes about
Armenian physical appearance, cultural traditions and all manner of details
that she would be taken to harsh task for were she writing about another
ethnic group. And after all, why shouldn't Armenians in the far-flung
diaspora obsess about the Armenian genocide, one may justifiably ask?
Unlike the Jews and the terrifying Holocaust of WWII for example, the
Armenian Genocide has never been properly acknowledged and lost property,
money and trauma never compensated by its perpetrator, the Turkish
government. The glowing reception that her book has received in the press
seems to buttress those who argue that the publishing world sometimes works
in lockstep with mainstream elites and governmental structures who have
tried their best to get Armenians to lay down their claims to reparations
and thus appease the often aggressively denialist governments of the
modern-day Republic of Turkey.

After recounting how embarrassed she was growing up by all manner of things
Armenian, Toumani recounts her four-year stay in Turkey where she meets
Turks who -- what do you know -- seem human after all. They are not
grotesque aliens, Klingons dead-set on devouring Christian children. But
who ever thought they were? Toumani spends time in Armenia as well. Upon
arriving with a friend in Yerevan, the country's capital, she writes: "I
was embarrassed. I had lured Gretchen along by telling her that Yerevan was
a beautiful city. But the city I saw now looked shabby and grim on that
first glance into the haze." (p199) Yerevan is a fact a pleasant mid-sized
city of pink tuff stone increasingly dotted with modern western-style
constructions. In what parallel cultural universe, one wonders, did Toumani
ever expect Yerevan, a city built by half-starved and tubercular genocide
survivors, to equal Istanbul the former capital of Byzantium, a city of
twelve million lining the Bosphorus?

Early on in her book, the author describes some perhaps lamentable scenes
at an Armenian summer camp in Massachusetts run by the nationalist Tashnag
party. At one point, a howling room of swarthy teenagers scream at each
other in support of or against the Lisbon Five, a group of Armenian
terrorists who, in a botched 1983 attempt to blow up the Turkish Ambassador
to Portugal, blew themselves up instead -- along with the Ambassador's wife
and a Portuguese police officer: "-An eye for an eye! -The ends justify the
means!...I noticed a young camper, Julie, weeping quietly while her friend
rubbed her back -- but then Julie was always crying about something...As
the debate continued, things grew chaotic. A folded-up metal chair slid to
the ground with a clatter...The glass in the sliding doors fogged up.
Younger kids squirmed as the older campers and counselors argued on. Some
said the men were martyrs and that Turkish denial of the genocide was too
powerful for softer measures." (p17-18) These people, Meline contends, are
somehow emblematic of the average Armenian viewpoint. But who in their
right mind would ever defend blowing up innocent people in the name of any

Had Toumani instead attended St Gregory's, another summer camp in Cape Cod
run by Mekhitarist priests, she would have found the emphasis was on
religion. At Camp Nubar, a wildly popular camp in the Catskills run by the
somewhat bourgeois*parekordzagan* or Ramgavar-affiliated AGBU, the emphasis
was on togetherness and fun. (For the record, I attended all three). It is
not my intention here to argue which "version" of Armenian life or identity
is preferable or even which one I subscribe to, if any. I am perfectly able
to think for myself as are most of my Armenian friends and colleagues. I
have always had Turkish friends and as a Harvard undergrad, I dated a
Turkish girl who later became a career denialist and Turkish diplomat.
Frustration at the Turkish Government's refusal to do the right thing, I
have always felt. Hope that one day the two people would reconcile, I have
always wished for. Hate, however, was never part of the equation.

Another example of journalistic bad faith. Toumani grew speaking Eastern
Armenian as opposed to Western Armenian like most Armenian-Americans: one
dialect's "t" is another's "d" for example, so that when she heard the term
"Hai Tad" ("Armenian Cause") at camp she didn't at first understand that it
meant "Hai Dat," as Iranian-Armenians pronounce it. Do Hai Tad and Hai Dat
really sound so different?: "Thus the words Hai Tahd did not communicate
anything to me. I sometimes imagined my elementary school classmate, Todd
Twersky, showing up unannounced at the perimeter of the campground. Hi,
Tod." (p16) I didn't speak a word of Armenian when I attended Camp
Haiastan, but I never once confused Hai Tad with any boy named Tod, and I
find it hard to believe anyone else ever did either.

Though I staunchly believe in the need for an apology from Turkey and
proper reparations, the Armenian Genocide is not something that keeps me up
at night. I suspect most Armenians are more similar to me than the
caricatured nationalists Toumani describes in her book. Her apparent
inability to comprehend the feelings of Istanbul Armenians who are trapped
between a cultural rock and a hard place -- neither Turkish enough for
Turks nor Armenian enough for Armenians -- also begs credulity for someone
so bright and well-educated as she. And when she doesn't get the
acknowledgment from ethnic Turks that she was hoping in Turkey, Toumani
admits to being more confused than before she left.

In the end Toumani's book would have been more honest and effective had she
titled it: "Ultra-Nationalism and its Discontents" and simply studied some
of the Armenian community's more right-wing members. That her book was
published in 2015 seems particularly insensitive, as if she were trying to
rub salt in the wounds of collective Armenian memory. The ultimate irony of
course is that of all the thousands of topics Armenian and non-Armenian
that Toumani could have chosen to dedicate her first book to, she chose
what else, but the very one she claims to be trying to distance herself



Edited by Yervant1, 30 January 2015 - 11:17 AM.

#2 Yervant1


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Posted 14 February 2015 - 10:17 AM


Friday, February 13th, 2015


Circumstances in the form of community reactions, discussions, and
commentary obligate me to revisit a topic I did not much want to
address in the first place since it gives the culprit what she craves
and needs to achieve her untoward desires/goals, ATTENTION.

I will start by apologizing to all those who read my December 2014
piece, "Soul-Searching, or Self Serving" for not being clear enough
about THE key aspect of my discussion of Meline Toumani's book "There
Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in
Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond." My concern is how she and her publisher
are marketing, positioning, publicizing, and pushing (much like
drug dealers do) this book. I almost don't care about its contents
and contentions. Whether what she argues and posits is brilliant or
bullshit is irrelevant to me since as it is the marketing angle that
troubles me deeply. This should have been evident from the fact that
I was concerned about this book long before it saw the light of day,
based on promotional material about it.

I had to clarify this since countless people, even those who agree with
me, have criticized me for commenting about the book and advocating
that others NOT buy it, without first having read it, myself. Anyone
reviewing my earlier piece will see that the only content of the
book I address is what she herself read aloud at the Abril Bookstore
event held for the book. The rest is about how it's being "sold"
to the public.

A related, and odd, aspect of the criticism I have received is the
"surprise" of people at my recommending NOT getting this without
reading. Funny, isn't it? I thought that was why we had book reviews
and signing events for authors and their publications, so we, as the
reading public, get a chance to sample the writer's wares and decide
based on that whether to purchase or not. After reading the reviews
Toumani herself provides links to, and listening to her in person and
on radio interviews, I concluded buying this book is a bad decision
and said so. Why should that surprise anyone?

Let's move away from the defensive nature of the paragraphs above.

Since December, much discussion has attended this book, its author,
her motivations, etc. These have occurred on hikes, online, and
everywhere in between. Two pieces well worth reading are Chris
Atamian's and James Russell's, Mahdotz Professor of Armenian Studies
at Harvard University. Peter Musurlian's original piece is also worthy
of your attention.

But all this is playing into what I have become convinced is Toumani's
game of making a name for herself. There's nothing wrong with that...

unless it is done at someone else's expense. In this case that
"someone else" is us, the Armenians, worldwide. How she's doing this
is typically self-serving, depraved, and almost nefarious.

On the most obvious level, she's playing to those who can't see beyond
their immediate, comfortable, urban-cloistered existence. These are
people who go into fits of near-hysteria if they encounter something
labeled (rightly or wrongly) as hate. There are also the types who
think, and often advise Armenians and others to, "just get over it"
since it "all happened so long ago" and somewhere else. Read the book
reviews and listen to her interviews. You'll see. I provided quotes
in my first piece.

But it gets worse. Toumani is cynically playing the part of the
"misunderstood" and "unappreciated" "martyr" of the Armenian
community. Her faux avant-garde arguments appeal to otherwise
forward-thinking and constructively-inclined people, taking advantage
of their being insufficiently informed about Armenian issues.

Remember, even if all her complaints were valid, she's making them just
to sell books and earn acclaim. She is using legitimate expressions
of concern about her doings to make herself out a martyr so she sells
books. Without referring to me by name, she mockingly referred to my
advising people not to get the book, without having read it. She is
playing the "they're picking on me" game.

A worse example of Toumani's depraved approach is a question and her
answer about what happened in Abril Bookstore at her book's event. She
flat-out lies when Leonard Lopate, her host on an interview, near the
end of their discussion asks her "Weren't you heckled at an Armenian
bookstore in Los Angeles?" and she confirms that she was. Please see
Merriam-Webster's definition of "heckle" below. What really happened
was she interrupted the questions being posed by Levon Marashlian,
Peter Musurlian, and I-- whom she describes in the interview as "three
fellows who represent the far extreme nationalistic segment of the
Armenian Diaspora"! There is video-taped proof of this. Unfortunately,
that documentation is unavailable to us. I asked the owner of Abril
Bookstore for the footage. He refused, citing his advance-promise to
Toumani that it would not be publicized. She has made an unwitting
accomplice of a fellow Armenian (honorably keeping his word), who
otherwise provides an excellent service to our community. I can only
presume that she anticipated her own boorish behavior and didn't want
the truth to come out.

Also, doesn't it make you wonder how Lopate knew about her alleged
heckling? To me, it is evident that she planted that "information"
with him so that here again, she could play the victim. You can see
how she is using that "victimization" to curry favor and pity with her
audiences to get them to buy her book. And, it is all about selling
her book. Her publisher must be doing a great job, since she has
in the last two months even been reviewed in The Economist and The
New York Times and has become a finalist for the 2014 National Book
Critics Circle Award-- how many Armenian-themed books have managed
to secure such visibility?

This kind of exposure and praise, her ability to fund a lengthy
sojourn in Turkey, and the very premise of her "personal; journey"
have many people wondering who's backing her and why. To me this
smacks of conspiracy mongering, but I feel compelled to report what
I have been confronted with.

As I often do, I will point out some good news on this front as well.

A friend apologized to me recently, saying that he'd purchased the book
already, not knowing about its flaws. This, coupled with most of the
comments people have posted to online versions of articles discussing
Toumani and/or her book, shows that, at least in our community, the
majority "gets it" about what a damaging piece of work a decade of
Toumani's life has produced. It's even possible that Toumani may yet
recognize her misguidedness, assuming she can overcome her arrogance. I
assert this based on her response to a question in an interview with
Nayat Karakose of "Agos" (Hrant Dink's publication).

When asked, "You write about how Diaspora Armenians are full of
hatred. Most of the reactions are related to this. Did you hesitate
before openly writing about the hatred?" she replied, in part, "It
has surprised me how much people focus on that word, and it bothers me.

The US media were really fixated on this word, too..." and that she
has recalibrated her response to such queries. This is what some of us
have been trying to convey to Toumani and her few hangers-on. She is
playing in the American political arena, where some forces are arrayed
against the interests of Armenians. The "hatred" fetish I mentioned
in my first article fits into the narrative that those forces use
against us, typically to subtly undercut arguments advocating Genocide
recognition. She has been living in denial of the morass into which
she has naively waded with her book.

I will not address Toumani and this book of hers any more because
she is unworthy. I don't want to publicize her. To further discuss
it is falling into the trap usually used by Turkey's denialists--
the creation and maintenance of endless debate, effectively mental
masturbation, to postpone addressing the substance of the issue
in the hopes that over time, more Armenians, like Meline Toumani,
will succumb to self-hate, self-doubt, and simple fatigue leading to
their exit from the struggle to restore full justice for the Armenian
nation and distancing themselves from their Armenian roots.

I repeat my call to NOT buy this book. And, should your non-Armenian
friends mention it to you, enlighten them about it. Explaining that
it is an example of a pathetic human being trying to "make it" at the
expense of others. It is an example of someone (ab)using her community,
expecting the community's support (purchasing books and speaking kindly
of her "work"), and giving nothing back except degrading descriptions
of that community.

Definition of heckle: - to interrupt (someone, such as a speaker or
performer) by shouting annoying or rude comments or questions - to
harass and try to disconcert with questions, challenges, or gibes:

CORRECTION: In my piece last week, I erroneously wrote LA@DC.org
as the URL for the cross-country bike ride being organized on the
Genocide's centennial. The correct address is LA2DC.org. Apologies
for any confusion and inconvenience this may have caused.

#3 Yervant1


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Posted 02 June 2015 - 10:43 AM


Arts & Culture

Toumani's "There Was and There Was Not"

There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility
in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond

By Meline Toumani Metropolitan. 286 pp. $28

A Book Review/Personal Opinion

BY RAFFI MENESHIAN (Special to Asbarez)

Meline Toumani's "There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate
and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond" is arguably one of the
more critically acclaimed Armenian Genocide themed books to come along
in years. It has been nominated as a finalist for the 2014 National
Book Critics Circle Awards in the category of autobiography and has
garnered an impressive array of glowing reviews from publications
ranging from The New York Times to The Economist. Having signed
with the imprint Metropolitan/Henry Holt/Picador, part of the
McMillan family of book publishers, Toumani has major muscle behind
promoting the memoir. Her appearances on various radio talk shows,
television programs and a recent high profile Op-Ed have had two
overtly consistent themes- 1. Armenians need to get over the issue
of Armenian Genocide recognition and 2. They have been brought up to
indiscriminately hate Turks. Yet, as many strain to recall exactly
who Meline Toumani is, her book has been met with some interest, some
anger, and a whole lot of blank stares within the Armenian community.

Upon first glance, Toumani's "journey" seems to be extremely
tantalizing and marketable, especially to those outside of Armenian
circles. The book is marketed as a fair and balanced view of the
continued Armenian Turkish chasm. It is meant for general mainstream
audiences and is designed to sell units and win literary awards. It
could do both, however, as of this writing, sales are very sluggish.

Toumani takes a humanistic approach in trying to get her point across
arguing that our (the Armenian community's) collective "obsession"
with genocide recognition has drained resources, stunted creativity,
and hurt Armenia economically. She may very well be correct, depending
on your perspective. Yet, with all of its sheen, luster, marketing
elegance, and supposed sophistication, "There Was and There Was Not"
is a surprisingly shallow, sloppy, and unfocused book that comes
across as extremely self-absorbed. The memoir exudes the spirit of a
nerdy teenager desperate for attention. Or, as Toumani has vehemently
defended in the New York Times, she comes across as a self-hating
Armenian. This concept is adapted from the term "self-hating Jew,"
a theory popularized in 1930 by German Jewish philosopher Theodor
Lessing in his "Der Judische Selbsthass."

The main premise of the book is fairly straight forward, while its
implications rather sharp. A story in three parts, Toumani takes
us through her Armenian American younger years, her time in Turkey
and Armenia, and then a final section in the United States where she
reflects on her recent experiences and gives us a big reveal. In her
early life, Toumani has conflicted feelings on how to view Turks given
her preconceived notions. Those notions, she contends, was that of
an irrational discomfort and hatred of Turks, introduced and nurtured
by the Armenian community both in the immediate and the abstract. As
she approached her mid to late 20's, her intellectual curiosity
kicked in and she decided to confront those awkward feelings. In
2005, she takes a spur of the moment trip to Turkey and ends up
spending approximately four years there attempting to get beyond
the hatred of Turks to understand them, study them, and get over
her own prejudices. Toumani then spends a small amount of time in
Armenia before returning to Turkey and then "shuts down her science
project" and returns to the U.S. in order to write her book. The
actual "journey" is not her Turkish wanderlust, rather, her emotional
and intellectual evolution during this period of her life. One part
catharsis, the other part an act of understanding the Turkish people.

It is during her time in Turkey that Toumani's book shines. Her
storytelling flows, is inspired, and we are taken into a world
many of us have never seen. The highlight of the book is her banter
with Yusuf Halacoglu, president of the Turkish Historical Society
who was entrusted with creating and upholding the official Turkish
revisionist history on the Armenian genocide. This riveting section
details a duel of wills between Toumani and Halacaglu over history,
perception, and debate acumen. She then visits the Museum of Anatolian
Civilizations where the word "Armenian" simply doesn't exist and
the official reopening of the Church of the Holy Cross on Akhtamar
Island, which had a circus-like atmosphere in which virtually no
Diasporan- Armenians attended. Interspersed between these anecdotes is
a travelogue-like narrative where Toumani is in and out of Istanbul and
Eastern Turkey. She details interactions with the likes of Hrant Dink
(for one hour), the Agos staff, Kurds, Turks, and Armenians alike. I
found it all exceptional storytelling and quite inspired. I could
genuinely feel the sincerity and purpose with which she took on the

Yet, as with any storytelling, perspective is important as well as
extremely subjective. What is also fascinating is to what length
one will go to convey that perspective. The landmark 1950 Japanese
Jidaigeki film "Roshoman" by legendary director Akira Kurosawa comes
to mind. In the film, a tragic event occurs and is retold through the
point of view of four different witnesses. Toumani's perspective should
be taken in the same light, one of many, with underlying reasons for
her narrative. She is neither right nor wrong, there was and there
was not. Toumani's reasons begin to reveal themselves throughout the
course of the book in a rather unexpected fashion.

Toumani believes that those vigorously pursuing Armenian genocide
resolutions may be harming Armenia's relationship with Turkey and
are using "hateful rhetoric" in order to chase ghosts of the past.

Additionally, she does not believe in the process with which
governments legislate terminology as it applies to historical events.

In a single breath, Toumani wishes Turkey would admit to the genocide
while arguing against putting political pressure on that country to
force an acknowledgement. It's one of many contradictions in her book.

One would argue that Armenians using constant international political
pressure have been effective in forcing Turkey down the path of its
inevitable mea culpa. Others may see it differently. Toumani is in
the latter camp. In her piece entitled " ' With This Madness, What
Art Could There Be?' " (The Nation, October 21, 2014) , Toumani asks
" I wondered whether obsession with genocide recognition was worth
its emotional and psychological price."

As a former New York Times journalist, Toumani flaunts the use
of source materials to assert her objectivity and credibility. In
the second chapter of the book entitled, "Summer Camp, Franklin,
Massachusetts, 1989" Toumani informs us that she has stumbled upon
some rather important documents- summer camp newsletters from her
youth. Within these newsletters, she selectively focuses on the
feelings of 8 to 19 year olds and what they wrote in these "Hai
Lites." She chooses to extract passages that portray children and
teenagers as being singularly obsessed with Armenian Genocide themes.

"Many of the newsletter entries imagined genocide," Toumani writes.

"Poems told of orphaned children 'A red, so red/drips so endless/Why,
Daddy? Why?' or national liberation ' but just when they think
they've got us all/we will rebuild/ One day an Armenian will find
another, and red, blue, and orange will raise high/ And not another
Armenian will have to cry.' " She continues with a few more passages
citing these camp newsletters during her specific stint in 1989. In
my own examination of these documents, I found the genocide themes
the exception rather than the rule contradicting her claim. With
each sentence, Toumani paints an improbable picture of a summer
camp that seems normal from the outside, yet within its confines,
is a place where children are taught to hate Turks through the use
of basic history lessons, Ottoman era revolutionary songs taught
within context, and guest lectures. This, in between swimming, games,
arts and crafts and other routine summer camp activities. Toumani's
deliberately dark undertones in portraying the camp when she was
a teenager are intentionally ominous. She uses it as a clever, and
misleading, literary device moving forward.

The bombshell story from this chapter she has written about, talked
about, and actively promoted in the press is where a guest lecturer
was invited to discuss the Lisbon 5 incident (1983) on "Debate Night."

She contends that the lecturer moderated a discussion on the validity
of whether such tactics (a suicide bombing) were useful in gaining
Armenian genocide recognition during that timeframe (the 1980's).

Towards the end of the debate as things were getting heated, a
counselor from San Francisco stepped in and shrieked, "you people are
all crazy." The debate abruptly ends, according to Toumani's account.

A controversial topic to be sure, but not outside the realm of what
is teachable and debatable amongst young adults given I was learning
about Nazi hunters in the aftermath of the Holocaust, the bombing of
Japanese during WW2, and slavery during that age when I was going
to middle and high school. When I read the Lisbon 5 passage, I was
startled. Not so much as to the story, but more to the fact that I
was on staff when Meline was a camper in the summer of 1989. I did not
recall this incident during that timeframe. I had heard a version of
this story a few months before the publication of Toumani's book. It
was mere coincidence that the person who was recalling this incident
was the "counselor from San Francisco" in a casual conversation
reminiscing about the past. So, like Toumani, I referred to the camp
newsletters and verified that the people she was referencing never
in fact attended during the time frame (1989) she quoted in her book.

This lecture happened in 1990 but with a tone a bit different than the
tale that Toumani tells. Whether Toumani's error in retelling a story
and the dates involved may have been as simple as streamlining her
experiences to fit the confines of her book, or sloppy fact checking
of summer camp newsletters from a former New York Times journalist,
it is nevertheless irresponsible due to the fact that she was looking
at the same source materials I was.

As the chapters roll on, another reveal begins. She looks down on many
aspects of her ethnic identity. While waiting at the Istanbul airport,
she writes, "Standing apart from the merchants, there was usually also
a few slender Armenian girls in skintight jeans, amply rogued, with
silky long hair, wearing stiletto heels and tank tops, fake breasts
distorting fake logos and suggesting a different kind of goods for
sale. Yes, here they were, my people." Or about the work that the
Armenian National Committee does, "Claims that human rights were at
stake seemed disingenuous; and when Armenian lobbying groups yoked
the cause to a platform of saving Darfur, it seemed motivated more
by PR than conscious." Lastly, Toumani's take on community events,
"I had attended awful theater by Armenian playwrights in which young
actors faked the accents of genocide survivors in kitschy attempts at
representing trauma, tugging the heartstrings of audiences who handed
them over expectantly, as if in a prearranged bargain." Her list
of targets also includes Armenian men, Hayastansi Armenian women,
Turkish Armenians of Istanbul, Armenian student clubs, Armenian
political organizations, Armenian lobbyists, Armenian volunteers, the
city of Yerevan, to anything else you can imagine. It's in the book,
and it's downright weird. What is clear is that she is above all of it.

In the final section of this memoir, Meline Toumani drops another
bombshell on the audience. The big reveal, as it were. She has moved
on from being part of a community to evolving into an individual.

Justifying a controversial decision she made omitting the word
"genocide" from her 2008 NY Times article on Komitas, she writes,
"I received an e-mail from an Armenian colleague asking me why I had
not used the word genocide. He wanted to know whether I had made that
decision or whether the paper had declined to use it. In truth, the
choice was mine. After thinking about it for a long time, longer than
I spent on the article itself, I had decided to avoid the word." The
ultimate irony here is that Komitas became mute and lost his mind as
a direct consequence of being a witness to the Armenian genocide. It
was the defining part of his life as both a victim and survivor.

Meline Toumani is an author who wants it all. She is apolitical yet
plays petty politics. She disassociates herself from the Armenian
community but uses "we" and "us" when it is to her commercial
advantage. She wants to be that independent observer yet can't help
being the story. In her April 17, 2015 NY Times piece entitled "We
Armenian Should Not Define Us," Toumani comes out swinging against
everyone from Kim Kardashian, ANC's Aram Hamparian, Prime Minister
Hovik Abrahamyan to two of the Armenian diaspora's largest newspapers
in the Asbarez and Armenian Weekly. Again, a victim. She writes in
the NY Times op-ed, "Armenian culture is deeply conservative, even
prudish, so there could be no less likely hero for this tiny nation
and its diaspora than a woman who is perhaps known for her outlandish
personal life and erotically charged public image."

"There Was and There Was Not" cannot be recommended. She throws
out some provocative ideas but never really follows through with
fleshing them out. Her scope throughout the book is too narrow, her
assertions lack context, and her tone is acerbic and arrogant. She
lacks credibility in areas where heavy-handed statements are made,
as in her throwaway statement on Nagorno-Karabakh. I suspect many of
the reviewers fawning over the book have taken Toumani at face value
and construed her opinions as fact. Well-written press releases and
a nice universal story can do that sometimes. However, what is more
disturbing is the way this book has been marketed. In her own mind and
in the eyes of her publisher, Meline Toumani has emerged a hero after
suffering as a victim of alienation from the Armenian community. She
and her marketing team have set out to blame the victim and portray
them as genocide obsessed simpletons in order to conjure up sales. An
old marketing trick, controversy sells. Those who don't like it are
considered "close minded," "ultra-nationalists," and "lack nuance,"
a calculated response to brush away valid criticisms. And yet, for
an author who bemoans the politicization and commercialization of
the Armenian genocide, she has chosen to release the book during the
general timeframe of the centennial. Commerce has no shame.


During my latest visit to Armenia in April and May 2015, I was
inspired by what I saw around me. Whether they were past colleagues,
old summer camp connections, friends, or new acquaintances, the sheer
scope of people in Armenia was impressive. Some were building a new
life there while others, like me, were there to salute the living while
paying respect to the dead. Nation builders, entrepreneurs, musicians,
thinkers, technology innovators, etc. were all transforming Armenia
in the present. Today. Right now. The mood in Armenia was upbeat,
positive, and determined. A few days after April 24, I passed by a
familiar spot on Abovyan called Artbridge Bookstore Cafe. There was a
book reading and signing taking place. It was Meline Toumani hawking
her book to a very small handful of people. Without missing a beat,
I kept walking.

Raffi Meneshian is the owner of Pomegranate Music, a classical and
world music independent record label. He is a member of the San
Francisco chapter of the Recording Academy and holds an annual vote
for the Grammy Awards. His articles have appeared in periodicals
such as Global Rhythm Magazine and the Armenian Weekly. He has an MBA
(Marketing) from the University of Massachusetts Boston and currently
lives in the Bay Area.


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