Category: Current Affairs

Democratic Skullfuckery: Neil Young, Joe Rogan, and Art Spiegelman, an article by David Garyan

Trento, Italy


Democratic Skullfuckery: Neil Young, Joe Rogan, and Art Spiegelman

Various thinkers throughout the ages, such as Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, and Madison, have criticized democracy. Plato believed that excessive liberty in democracy is its very undoing: “is it not the excess and greed of this and the neglect of all other things that revolutionizes this constitution too and prepares the way for the necessity of a dictatorship?” Aristotle, writing nearly around the same time, cautioned against extreme democracies, in which the will of the people supersedes the law: “where the laws are not sovereign, then demagogues arise; for the common people become a single composite monarch, since the many are sovereign not as individuals but collectively.” In other words, democracy becomes mob rule.

Hobbes preferred the stability of monarchy over the instability of democracy: “The riches, power, and honour of a monarch arise only from the riches, strength, and reputation of his subjects … whereas in a democracy, or aristocracy, the public prosperity confers not so much to the private fortune of one that is corrupt, or ambitious, as doth many times a perfidious advice, a treacherous action, or a civil war.”  In other words, a strong, stable, prosperous society is less likely to create civil unrest.

James Madison took the Aristotelian view, that majority opinion is likely based on passion rather than reason, which can lead to chaos: “In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates; every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” Indeed, it was a democratic vote that put Socrates to death, not tyranny or monarchy—or perhaps the excesses of democracy had led to tyranny, as Plato argued. Who knows?

Whatever you may believe, democracy today is suffering from a total meltdown. The political climate surrounding the pandemic, along with the banning of books has made this all too clear. Let’s begin with the latter and move towards the less interesting virulent arena—less interesting only because it’s been discussed to death.

The Tennessee School Board’s recent banning of Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel, Maus, has created a new conundrum—an added layer to the already difficult-to-navigate waters surrounding freedom of speech and public safety. On one hand, we have a Pulitzer Prize winning author and illustrator, who created one of the most magnificent pieces of Shoah literature ever conceived. On the other hand, we have Joe Rogan, an American UFC color commentator and TV personality turned anti-vax podcaster, who, together with Canadian Neil Young, have essentially sunk the popular streaming platform Spotify. It looks like Spiegelman and Rogan are on totally opposite spectrums, and that seems to be the case—upon closer inspection, however, they do have one little thing in common: Their right to freedom of speech.

Below are protesters supporting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s dissent in the landmark case Abrams v. United States (1919). Along with Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Holmes argued that “the principle of the right to free speech is always the same. It is only the present danger of immediate evil or an intent to bring it about that warrants Congress in setting a limit to the expression of opinion where private rights are not concerned.” The case in question dealt with sedition. Now imagine if Supreme Court judges were stripped of their ability to dissent in cases that dealt with national security, much less protesters being allowed to protest the decision.

Let’s forget Holmes and his dissent, however. In defending Spiegelman and denouncing Rogan, many will immediately point out that the former’s work is based on totally verifiable facts—on completely honest historicity, while the latter is simply a right-wing nutjob. Duly noted. It still doesn’t change the fact that in a democratic society we must try our best to protect all freedom of speech—even the speech we disagree with. It’s important to highlight the difference between “trying to protect all freedoms of speech” as opposed to “actually protecting all speech.” John A. Powell, a Berkeley scholar and one of the foremost authorities on the topic, distinguishes between speech which aims to create dialogue, and speech which merely aims to demonize. He emphasizes how people often take advantage of the First Amendment simply to demonize others. In this way, these individuals are exploiting the Constitution’s democratic principles to achieve their racist agendas. Their main aim is racism, not dialogue, and Powell argues that such speech shouldn’t be protected, since it’s not about communication at all, but rather the desire to harm—a psychological assault, if you will, no different from a physical one: “Assaultive racist speech functions as a preemptive strike. The racial invective is experienced as a blow, not a proffered idea, and once the blow is struck, it is unlikely that dialogue will follow. Racial insults are undeserving of first amendment protection because the perpetrator’s intention is not to discover truth or initiate dialogue but to injure the victim.” Nothing we can disagree with here.

Having now established the boundaries of free speech, it’s time to return to the topic. Spiegelman and Rogan—the former an artistic transmitter of the ultimate truth; the latter a semi-conspiracy theorist at best. The reality is that the democratic struggle for both is essentially the same. Today, The Guardian ran an article on Spiegelman with the following subtitle: “Since his early days in the underground comix scene, Spiegleman has reveled in ‘saying the unsayable’ and subverting convention.” The issue isn’t that they misspelled the great artist’s name, but that on the very same day they ran an article on Rogan with the following headline: “Can Joe Rogan change?” He may be a bit of a wacko, but why should he? If, for years, Spiegelman had the privilege of saying the unsayable, are we really allowed, in a democratic society, to take that very same privilege away from Rogan—even if we disagree with what he says, even if what he says isn’t entirely accurate? In a democracy we can’t have it both ways. We can’t have the United States when we want democracy, and the Soviet Union when we want safety and decorum. We must live in one system or another.

The right to exercise one’s freedom of speech has always brought with it certain perils, regardless of whether the speech offered undeniable truth, or whether it was dubious at best. Under the First Amendment, things like flag burning and even the burning of Bibles are allowed because such freedom is healthy for a democratic, free society. While these actions bring with them certain dangers, they’re nevertheless necessary ingredients for the vitality of our democracy.

When, after 9/11, there was an incredible backlash against the Muslim community—to the extent that Balbir Singh Sodhi (a Sikh, not a Muslim man, wearing the traditional beard and turban) was gunned down at a Chevron gas station in irrational retaliation for the attacks—no Muslim or even Sikh ever thought of shaving his beard to eliminate the “threats” facing him then. The dangers inherent to the freedom of expression were worth bearing in the name of one’s choices, beliefs, and lifestyle.

The same must be said for the other so called “dangers” we associate with the freedom of expression. A democratic society—as powerful and robust as the American one—must have the institutional capability to bear the rhetorical impact made by speech that passes the aforementioned Powell test. American democracy must come equipped with some sort of linguistic airbag that prevents the death of freedom no matter how gravely any given rhetorical impact affects it.

All this leads to the less interesting side of things: Neil Young—an aging self-righteous rocker who penned the hit “Keep on Rockin’ in The Free World,” a song he should’ve called “Keep on Rockin’ in the Fully Vaccinated Better-Agree-With-Everything-I-Say-Free World.” We should’ve seen it coming from a mile away. Neil Young is a selfish, entitled, Canadian rock star (not that we should hold it against him). We should’ve known this as early as 1970, when Mr. Young had the good sense—not—to write a song called “Southern Man,” essentially dissing that whole part of our country, but for this he was swiftly posterized by the great Ronnie Van Zant in “Sweet Home Alabama:” “Well I hope Neil Young will remember / A southern man don’t need him around anyhow.” Good for you, Ronnie.

Neil Young should shut his mouth and not concern himself with business that doesn’t concern him. If America ever suffers the misfortune of totally succumbing to fascism or communism, it will precisely be Neil Young who’ll be denouncing fellow artists and compatriots left and right—the perfect Beria or Goebbels for Stalin and Hitler, respectively. And one more thing, Neil: All the songs you’ve ever written are essentially one song. And that’s not my opinion—take it from Dana Carvey. Click below to hear “every Neil Young song you’ve ever heard.”

Here we have an aging hippy who in the ’60s was spreading messages of freedom and peace—a man singing proudly about transcending our differences. Well, it only took fifty or so years for him to become a capitalist tool, getting in bed with a billion-dollar corporation to try and silence someone whose views he disagrees with. Here’s a tip, Neil: You shouldn’t have said “They can have Rogan or Young. Not Both.” You should’ve just pulled your music and gone your own way. That would’ve been emblematic of the freedom you so espouse—a real protest. But the scheming attitude of trying to get a platform to cancel someone you don’t agree with so this very platform can continue to play your music is a bit pathetic coming from a guy who wrote many songs that all sound like one song. Again, I didn’t say it.

In the interest of countering “misinformation,” Neil Young should probably delete his Facebook page with 2.6 million followers, his Instagram page with almost 250,000 followers, and any other social media website where misinformation is spread, especially as it relates to COVID, only one of the many problems plaguing our planet today. If you didn’t already know, Facebook’s response to human rights abuses is so slow in many parts of the world, that Mexican drug cartels, for example, “were using Facebook to recruit, train and pay hit men … the company didn’t stop the cartel from posting on Facebook or Instagram, the company’s photo-sharing site.” So, why just Spotify, Neil? Scared you’ll fall into obscurity? Be a man and do the real difficult thing, won’t you? Get off the grid.

The doublethink in today’s society is off the charts. Orwell would’ve been proud. American democracy is being shit on, and Facebook is having a field day with it. All the users posting and reposting the news of every single debonair band pulling their music are complicit in what I can only call an orchestrated virtual stinkfest of hollow solidarity resembling the day after Coachella. The next person to pull their tracks from Spotify better be a suburbanite Neil Young garage cover band that once had a decent following in remote parts of Winnipeg, until they finally realized the futility of trying to score with those songs, and so they humbly called it quits. I’ll have it no other way.


About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

The Curious Case of Democracy in Ethiopia and Armenia, an article by David Garyan

Ravenna, Italy


The Curious Case of Democracy in Ethiopia and Armenia

What might two landlocked countries—one in the Horn of Africa and the other thousands of miles away in the Caucasus, sandwiched between two hostile powers—have in common? Well, more than the fact that they’re landlocked, actually. I’m talking, of course, about Ethiopia and Armenia; for the former, having no access to water is a condition, we might say, that developed relatively recently, at least in historical terms, while for the latter, the same predicament has held for at least a hundred years. The event which brought about Ethiopia’s loss of its Red Sea coastline was the Eritrean War of Independence, lasting from 1961 to 1991, which resulted in Eritrea becoming an officially recognized country in 1993; for Armenia, meanwhile, the loss of its access to water came about because of Turkey’s refusal to uphold the terms set out by the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, which would’ve granted the small Christian country access to the Black Sea, along with regaining some of its historical lands, such as Kars. For the geographically, inept, here’s the Horn of Africa with the current post-1993 borders. Having placed it in many other articles, I won’t bother with the Armenian map this time.

Already, we have touched upon one general feature both countries have in common—loss—but this term is so vague, loose, and abstract that everyone, from the Chukchi people living on the tip of Russia’s shores all the way back round to the coast of Alaska inhabited by the Inuit, have experienced it. More interesting and to the point is the other commonality (quite uncanny, indeed) between Africa and the Caucasus—and this is Christianity.

A fact perhaps recognized by a large number of Ethiopians and Armenians—yet something almost universally unknown by the majority of people—is that both nations are among the first official Christian states in the entire world. Indeed, the religion was practiced in a clandestine capacity throughout Greece and Rome, with apostles such as Paul traveling to Athens, where he gave a speech on the famous Areopagus (once the place for the city’s council of elders 500 years before Christ’s birth), and Peter, arguably the most famous among them, whose upside-down crucifixion in the Eternal City has come to be viewed as the ultimate sign of humility towards God. Below is Caravaggio’s famous depiction of the event.

Contrary to popular perceptions, Christianity, at that time, was nothing more than a cult, really—a threat posed to the establishment no different than the one many controversial sects project today, which is why it was brutally oppressed beginning with Nero all the way down to Diocletian, and probably subsequent emperors as well.

It wasn’t until Constantine’s own conversion to Christianity in 312 AD, an event that brought about the Edict of Milan, which finally decriminalized Christian worship in the Empire. We can, thus, see Rome as one of the first Christian states, but not the first, which was Armenia (having adopted the religion officially in 301 AD) followed by Rome twelve years later, and then Ethiopia, after it likewise made Christianity its formal state religion in 330 AD.

Besides its unique Christian heritage, Ethiopia is an incredibly fascinating, complex country, full of linguistic diversity and ancient culture. Like Armenia, it managed to preserve its Christian heritage during the rise of Islam, and it’s the only country to have resisted colonial rule; in this sense, it attained the privilege of being born with the legacy of having already been a free, independent state after the Scramble for Africa (many scholars also include Liberia in this respect, but since the country’s existence began with the settlement of the American Colonization Society, it’s Ethiopia, with its ancient history, that truly represents the definition of what it means to be free of foreign powers). Indeed, it was 125 years ago that Ethiopia, under the command of Emperor Menelik II, defeated a heavily armed Italian force at the Battle of Adwa, securing its independence; in this respect, Ethiopia is the only African country to have won a decisive military victory against a European power.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the colors of the Ethiopian flag figure so heavily not only in the African cultural consciousness, but also the imagination of the entire world. The ever-present green, yellow, and red are even highly emblematic of Reggae music and the genre’s most famous proponent, Bob Marley, was, in fact, Jamaican.

It’s likewise no coincidence that both the establishment and headquarters of the African Union (a continental body consisting of fifty-five African states, roughly equivalent to that of the EU) have their basis in Addis Ababa, the capital and largest city of Ethiopia.

The country is widely considered by many scholars to be the place where modern humans originated from. The unearthing of two fossils have been recognized, according to a report by Nature magazine, to be “the oldest known members of our species,” and additionally the “discovery adds yet more weight to the argument that Africa, and Ethiopia in particular, was the birthplace of humans.” Pretty impressive.

That’s a lot of responsibility for a country to bear, which is why it was a founding member of the UN and continues to be one of the strongest economies in East Africa—accomplishments which have not managed to bring the country out of poverty, hunger, and corruption. Armenia, in many ways, suffers from the same problems. Although the distinction of being the civilizational cradle can’t be conferred upon this tiny Caucasus country, its problems nevertheless can be traced back to the Soviet influence that took hold of the society. Much less known is the fact, however, that Ethiopia, too, was under communist rule for quite some time. Naturally, although geography prevented the nation from becoming a part of the USSR, it was nevertheless ruled by the Derg, which was essentially a Soviet-backed military dictatorship.

Another aspect that’s not often mentioned is that the Cold War is in many respects a misnomer, especially as it relates to Africa. Everyone is aware of the events surrounding Vietnam, but not many know that the US and USSR, in fact, conducted the majority of their proxy wars in Africa. In this sense, the conflict was very much a “hot war” because there was actual fighting and much of it was fierce, as in the Angolan Civil War, which continued until 2002.

Besides the communist influence that couldn’t be any more foreign to the cultures of both countries, there are also modern civilizational ties between Ethiopia and Armenia. In 1924, on a trip to Jerusalem, Haile Selassie I, visited an Armenian monastery and there he encountered forty orphans who had escaped the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide. The so-called “Arba Lijoch” children made such an impression on him that the Emperor decided to adopt them all and bring them to Ethiopia, where they apparently received instruction in music. Thus, according to an article in How Africa, the Armenian influence on modern Ethiopian music is clearly visible. Under the tutelage of musical director, Kevork Nalbandian, also an orphan of Armenian descent, Selassie asked Nalbandian to compose a coronation hymn on his behalf, and on November 2nd, 1930, “the anthem, Marsh Teferi, was unveiled with the Arba Lijoch performing and Prince Ras Tafari becoming the Emperor of Ethiopia, King of Kings, Haile Selassie I.” The group of orphans continued to perform in the imperial brass band. Emperor Selassie is pictured below.

According to the Joshua Project, there are still 700 Armenians living in Ethiopia today, although a March BBC article from this year puts the figure at under a 100.

Despite the fact that their numbers were never very big, Armenians have contributed positively to the development of Ethiopia throughout the years; ever since their arrival, they’ve “played a vital role in the court of Emperor Menelik II. And later, in the early 20th Century, a community settled that went on to have an economic and cultural impact,” according to the same BBC article quoted above. It must also be noted that trade between the two peoples can confidently be traced back to the first century AD. Under Emperor Haile Selassie, the country embarked on a rapid modernization program and “Armenian courtiers, businessmen and traders played an important role in this transition,” further highlighting the impact this small, yet influential community had on Ethiopian society.

Besides their contributions to music and culture, the alphabets of both countries also bear uncanny resemblances to one another. The similarities are indeed incredible and, according to a 2003 article published in the International Journal of Ethiopian Studies, Ayele Bekerie provides three hypotheses for the emergence of the Armenian alphabet: The first is that it was entirely invented by one man, Mesrop Mashtots, which is the commonly-held view among the majority of Armenians; the second hypothesis states that the alphabet emerged out of previous, older alphabets that were present or known to Mashtots at the time; the third hypothesis, and perhaps the most interesting, is that “Jerusalem, the most sacred city of Christianity, is the likely candidate for the place of scholarly exchanges between Ethiopians and Armenians,” and this is why the similarities arose in the first place. Given that both countries are pretty much the first Christian states in the world, it’s highly likely that their interaction in Christianity’s holiest city may have been responsible for shaping Armenia’s writing system, which was invented in 405 AD.

The so-called Geʽez script, which the Ethiopian language uses, had already been in existence for approximately 300 years by that point so its presence in Jerusalem before the invention of Armenia’s alphabet wouldn’t have been a far-fetched possibility, by any stretch of the imagination.

It’s not really surprising, then, that both countries decided to round out this strange year, 2020, much the same way, embroiled in political turmoil and war. The similarities between PM Abiy Ahmed and PM Nikol Pashinyan are almost eerie; they’re basically the same age—44 and 45, respectively; they both assumed office in 2018, promising to bring sweeping, revolutionary political changes, which they did bring. Pashinyan, for his part, took radical steps to rid the state of corruption, which brought unprecedented freedoms and economic growth to the nation while Abiy made similar reforms to allow for greater liberties and transparency; he made peace with Eritrea, which earned him a Nobel Prize in 2019 and reconciled religious tensions within the country.

Both leaders were widely praised for their liberal, progressive reforms, until those measures started to backfire. In the case of Pashinyan, the liberalization measures alienated Armenia’s closest ally, Russia, which made the fragile Republic of Artsakh (Armenia has a mutual defense agreement with Russia) very much susceptible to war and Azerbaijan certainly took advantage of that—by starting a conflict which they were sure to win and the aftermath of this victory ended up erasing all confidence that the public had in Pashinyan’s ability to lead the country (external events destabilizing internal progress, in a sense); Abiy’s problems, on the other hand, emerged internally. On his part, the democratization caused some ethnic groups within the country, such as the Tigrayans, to feel excluded, mainly because Abiy was an Oromo, and the hallmark of his political career had been fighting for the social and economic rights of his own ethnic group.

When the Tigrayans decided to revolt, Abiy started an offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (a regional political party of considerable power that for 27 years dominated the Ethiopian political landscape until Abiy came to power) on November 4th, and roughly three weeks later, captured the Tigray capital of Mekele. This should’ve ended the war but a recent article in the Washington Post paints a much bleaker picture: “The TPLF’s leadership remains largely intact despite abandoning Mekele last week. On Thursday, in a message aired on a regional television network, one prominent leader called on supporters to ‘rise and deploy to battle in tens of thousands.’ TPLF officials did not respond to requests for comment and have kept their whereabouts secret.” That the TPLF, like Azerbaijan, is willing to fight until the very end isn’t promising, at least so far as the status quo is concerned. Below is an image of the horrors currently engulfing the country.

The strange thing is that these occurrences aren’t anomalies. In fact, much of Africa in the 90’s was experiencing rapid waves of democratization, and contrary to the expected positive results people were hoping for, the outcome was utterly negative. Take a nation like Ivory Coast, for example; it achieved independence from France in 1960 and saw a man by the name of Félix Houphouët-Boigny come to power. Under his moderate political leadership, the country prospered and became one of the most stable in the entire continent. Like other African states at the time, the government functioned with one-party elections, which ensured stability and efficiency.

During the 1970’s and 80’s, however, when the oil crisis and the neoliberal reforms of the Washington Consensus began to take a toll on the “economic miracle” of Ivory Coast, conflicting interests and dissenting voices could no longer be appeased and placated with the same success. Calls for multi-party elections were increasingly on the rise and although Houphouët-Boigny conceded to these reforms (he nevertheless ended up winning his first contested election in 1990), his death in 1993 brought an end to the stability the country had enjoyed for so long.

The generally favorable attitude towards immigrants under Houphouët-Boigny’s leadership subsequently disappeared, with ethnic clashes occurring regularly, and a full-scale civil war eventually erupted in 2002. Occurrences like these were quite common throughout Africa in the 90’s and 2000’s, further highlighting the fact that democratization, while appealing and preferable, is nevertheless a risky business, especially if it opens the door for conflicting interests and gives those previously excluded the “right” to fight for them in a liberalized environment which has invariably allowed it.

Indeed, both Pashinyan and Abiy entered the political scene at the same time with similar idealistic visions for their countries, but their premierships have increasingly focused on repressing those voices which either have a different vision of what “freedom” means to them or the ones who feel like they’re excluded from it. Only time will tell how people will remember the legacies of these men.


About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

In the Midst of War: Family, Friendship, and Death, an article by Armen Palyan

Yerevan, Armenia


In the Midst of War: Family, Friendship, and Death

In his book, Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies, the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana said the following: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” With the countless wars humanity has fought and the countless ones that will have to be fought still, it really isn’t difficult to accept the reality captured in Santayana’s sentiment—those possessing the privilege of being able to read what’s written here will at some point or other be exposed to war, if they haven’t been already. The extent of this exposure will vary greatly for each individual and depend on factors that are both completely outside of a person’s control but also very much within: For one, we can’t all choose to be born in Switzerland; at the same time, however, people can exercise agency; they can try building closer relationships with the people who hate them and thereby attempt to prevent an attack, but this has rarely produced results, especially if you reside in a country situated between two nations with whom both borders are closed—the land to the west is the one who committed genocide against you one hundred years ago and the one to the east is hell-bent on “recapturing” the lands on which your people have lived on for thousands of years; to make the situation even more absurd, the land to the west has now decided to help the land in the east achieve their vain ambitions.

That’s precisely the fate my friend, Garik Arevikyan, inherited when he was born on November 7th, 1997, in a little Armenian village called Panik, with a population of just over 2,000 residents. Indeed, it was both Garik’s great fortune and also misfortune to be born on this ancient land, which has seen conquerors of every complexion and temperament; from the raging Mongol to the blond-bearded Russian, back to the stately Roman, all the way down to the mystical Arab. That the Turk—who had almost once conquered all of Europe—likewise, at some point, also made his presence felt in Armenia is, therefore, not a surprise; what’s surprising is that he has come back, attempting to exercise his dominion over this tiny nation yet again. It’s not all bad, however; in the same vein, Garik was born in a country with an incredibly rich history, one which goes back far longer than anything the Turks or Azeris can claim. A quick look at this map showing territories held by Armenia roughly 2000 years ago reveals no trace of either Turkey or Azerbaijan—for the mere fact that the Turks entered Europe a mere 600 years ago, more or less.

I’ve always believed in free will—at the same time, I’ve never questioned the power of fate, of destiny’s cold expression that never changes, even when it’s confronted by the most desperate pleas for mercy on the part of humanity; that’s the world Garik was born into and not just because his birthplace was Armenia but because in the end we’re all, as individuals, bound by this oath—this is especially true for Armenians, however. Looking in from the outside, very few understand our existential struggle. As the great Armenian-American writer, William Saroyan, once wrote: “our wars have all been fought and lost,” (so much for the present) and though we’ve laughed in the face of every enemy, something which allowed us—until this very day—to preserve our ancient traditions and Christianity in an environment very much hostile to them, I’m not sure how much longer we can continue to do it. I think forever sounds reasonable enough and I’ll continue to believe that just to honor my friend, Garik, who made the ultimate sacrifice.

I met Garik in 2017, when I decided to attend my first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu course in Yerevan. The head trainer (sensei) paired me up with him; at the time, I thought he would be an easy challenger—just a skinny, innocent-looking kid. Before I knew it, he had forced me into submission three or four times in what must’ve been less than five minutes. I was dumbfounded, but it was precisely Garik’s talent that made me fall in love with the sport, which I continue practicing to this day.

Garik’s talent, work-ethic, and determination was infectious—it made a great impression on me. As a white belt, he was already having great success in various competitions, winning the AJP Tour in 2018, previously known as UAJJF Russia National Pro when Garik won it; below is the picture of him with his medal.

It seemed like my best friend never suffered fatigue during training; he was absolutely committed to achieving greatness. His energy was my fuel and when he was called up for military service, I began spending less time at the dojo. I dearly missed my friend and his competitiveness; challenging him was like playing chess with human bodies.

Garik didn’t abandon the principles of hard work, integrity, and honesty when he was sent to serve. In the military, he utilized the grit he had developed during his martial arts training to help him get through the dangers and difficulties of war. He saw his closest friends die around him and said that he was heading into a dark place, stating he had become martaspan—literally translated as mankiller or people-killer. Even strong individuals like Garik, however—built to endure every physical and psychological difficulty—are just people in the end; they’re searching for what we all want, which is love, compassion, and understanding, as this picture shows so well.

After enduring horrors in Jabrail, where he was first stationed, Garik was transferred to Martuni, where he died under rocket fire, supposedly when he was asleep. During his thirty-three days of combat, he described sleeping no more than one or two hours, as the enemy was shelling them uninterruptedly.

My fondest memory of him occurred in December of last year. During a short period of leave from the military, he called me and I invited him to dinner at one of the best restaurants in Yerevan to celebrate our reunion; it was also the last time I saw him. After our meal, I hugged him, not knowing there would never be another chance. Shortly after, he returned to his military duties and I to my civilian ones. I thought of him often, eagerly awaiting his return; I think of him now, knowing it’s not to be.

Garik passed away some time between October 31st and November 1st; it’s not exactly clear. What can’t be doubted, however, is that he died just about a week before his 23rd birthday and less than two weeks before the ceasefire. His birthday on November 7th will now be the most difficult day of my life, not simply because Garik is gone, that his funeral had to be conducted in a closed casket manner, that he leaves behind a sister, his father and mother, but because my own brother, Tigran, passed away on the very same day one year ago. What else can I do but post their pictures here?

What other choice do I have but to live for their memories? I can do nothing else but live for the memories of family and friends. I must do this. Defeat is no longer an option.


About Armen Palyan

Armen Palyan was born in the United States but returned to his homeland in order to study dentistry. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Yerevan. This is his first publication.


El problema de las elecciones en EEUU recién comienza (por Ignacio Montes de Oca)

Ignacio Montes de Oca


El problema de las elecciones en EEUU recién comienza


Por Ignacio Montes de Oca

Trump subió la apuesta y denunció que Biden se proclamó ganador a través de los medios sin esperar los resultados finales. En parte tiene razón, los medios tuvieron una injerencia inédita en estas elecciones que se tradujo en un trato muy poco periodístico de las noticias de la campaña, la difusión de las denuncias contra uno u otro e incluso disposiciones editoriales poco habituales como la decisión de cortar un discurso del presidente alegando que mentía. En ese contexto, perdida la objetividad, desde el lado contrario se legitimó el dudar de las noticias del triunfo de Biden y de todas las noticias relacionadas con los resultados electorales, las denuncias de fraude, las refutaciones a ellas y las cifras que se iban publicando. Y las redes, en particular Twitter, no estuvieron ajenas a esta toma de posición. El cuestionamiento de Twitter a los posteos de Trump marcó la asunción de las redes como actor político con derecho a veto. Cada cuenta fue construyendo su propio ganador y demonizando al que considera derrotado. Al final de ese proceso, presenciamos un escenario donde cada cual tiene su presidente electo, su autoridad legitimada por la opinión frente a hechos que al final no resultan confiables. En resumen, se perdió la posibilidad de que exista una realidad y en lugar de ella se construyeron realidades hechas a medida de los partidarios de uno u otro candidato.

La novela electoral abre una nueva y arriesgada instancia en la que el riesgo de un poder bicéfalo puede agudizar las tensiones y, quizás, desatar la violencia. Las manifestaciones a favor de los dos candidatos están cargadas de fanatismo, promesas de venganza y, en algunos sitios, de armas capaces de desatar una cadena de hechos que eleve el nivel de tensión en el que transcurrió la campaña. Debemos recordar que en EEUU y en escenarios como el actual cargado de tensiones, un hecho de violencia es sucedido por otro en represalia y así hasta que cambian las condiciones o se impone una autoridad que, por ahora, no está claramente definida. Luego de la muerte de Floyd hubo al menos 20 muertes asociadas con la reacción, es una realidad que no debemos pasar por alto. Por eso la peligrosidad del escenario tenso de los días posteriores a las elecciones.

Y en eso tienen muchas responsabilidades los candidatos, sus comités de campaña y los medios que se enrolaron en la disputa. Tanto Trump como Biden dejaron en un lugar secundario las propuestas para concentrarse en convencer al electorado de la inhabilidad de su oponente. Y en todo caso, las propuestas iban dirigidas a confrontar con desprecio sugerencias y archivos del otro.

Trump acusó a su oponente de no ser apto para el cargo al que se postulaba. Su comité, de deslizar a la prensa afín las denuncias de corrupción y pedófila contra su hijo, Hunter Biden. La prensa republicana de resaltar los logros de Trump como un imposible de emular en caso de gobernar sus oponentes y de despreciar cada logro de la gestión anterior como argumento constante de campaña. En ese contexto, instalaron la idea de un oponente senil e incapaz de sobrellevar e incluso de entender las complejidades de presidir la nación mas poderosa del planeta en un momento crucial, con todas las presiones personales que ello implica. Y en el ámbito exterior, todos ellos instalaron la idea de un escenario en el que una disputa en escalada con China demandaba un líder nacionalista y de personalidad fuerte que encajaba en Trump y no era posible hallar en Biden. Y no olvidaron sugerir que era “amigo de China” y de las disctaduras enemigas de EEUU.

Biden resaltó con insistencia el carácter inestable de su oponente, dando a entender que aquella personalidad no solo era responsable de todos los males del presente, sino que además iba a agudizarlos si continuaba en la presidencia. Desde el comité demócrata, se operó la imagen del presidente como un evasor asociado con los fraudes corporativos y también se deslizó la idea que pudo haber tenido un rol en las orgías con menores que organizaba Jeffrey Epsetin en el pasado. La prensa afín, que por lejos era más numerosa e influyente en centros urbanos se encargó de instalar la imagen de un presidente desaforado, fuera de sí y preocupado solo por satisfacer los intereses de los poderosos mientras ignoraba las muertes de la pandemia. Y en el plano exterior, criticó el aislacionismo y culpó a Trump de afectar la economía local con sus decisiones estratégicas a las que presentaron como un capricho de un aspirante a autócrata.

En realidad, las elecciones del martes 3 de noviembre fueron el resultado de un proceso en el que los norteamericanos tuvieron que hacer dos elecciones: por un lado elegir un presidente y por el otro se vieron forzados a tomar posición frente a los dilemas que plantearon los candidatos a lo largo de la campaña y cuyas urgencias se volvían, como eran presentadas, como una cuestión de vida o muerte para la nación.

Es comprensible entonces que el ánimo de muchos esté caldeado y que ni Trump ni Biden hayan esperado el resultado final para admitir una derrota o un fracaso. La primera elección es sencilla y se resuelve con el voto. La segunda es imposible de solucionar por ahora dado que las dudas y temores instalados en la campaña no pudieron ser resueltos con un ganador claro. Por el contrario, la mitad que no vea satisfecha su expectativa quedará presa de la duda instalada respecto a si las promesas apocalípticas están en vías de cumplirse.

Y eso conduce a una explicación sobre la actitud de ambos contendientes. Por primera vez en años EEUU no eligió un presidente sino una salida a una encrucijada muy compleja. Y ninguna de las salidas satisface a al mitad perdedora que ahora debe hacer frente a un futuro negro instalado por candidatos, comités y medios.

Pero además hay cuestiones concretas a la vista. Biden propone deshacer algunas de las medidas centrales de la gestión Trump. Entre ellas dar marcha atrás con la reforma impositiva que favoreció a las empresas, finalizar la política monetaria de endeudamiento  y fortalecer al sistema público de salud. Pero además aumentar las regulaciones en materia ambiental que supuso una caída de costos de muchos sectores y avanzar en un sistema temporal para que los aportes impositivos sean progresivos, lo cual impactaría sobre las empresas, los empresarios  el nivel de inversión en un momento en que la economía está especialmente necesitada en ese campo. Trump, por supuesto, no solo se propone sostener las reformas mencionadas, sino que además prometió un mayor inventivo a las empresas y en el campo exterior profundizar el proteccionismo, la lucha económica contra China para tener mayor protagonismo económico global y bajar el gasto estatal una vez superada la emergencia de la pandemia.

Dicho en palabras breves, Trump propone un estado afín a las empresas para crear empleo y una política exterior enérgica, mientras Biden apoya la idea de un sistema de asistencia más extendido frente a la crisis y la necesidad de regulaciones más sofisticadas para lograr un crecimiento más armónico que rápido. Y acuerdos exteriores menos furiosos y más conversados, al estilo de lo que se hacía en tiempo de Barak Obama cuando Biden operaba como embajador itinerante de esos arreglos. Son visiones a veces opuestas, pero ambas tienen costos diferentes, beneficiarios distintos y parten de diagnósticos quizás opuestos de la naturaleza de la mayor crisis que atraviesa EEUU desde el gan derrumbe de 1929.

El problema de fondo es que en cualquiera de los dos modelos propuestos se hace necesario que exista tanto legitimidad de origen como un liderazgo basado en acuerdos de fondo entre los dos partidos que dominan la escena política norteamericana. Porque esa nación depende de la aprobación del Congreso para cada medida y si el ambiente de confrontación se traslada a las cámaras del Congreso, conduciría a una parálisis política que, sin importar quien sea finalmente proclamado, profundizaría la crisis generada por la pandemia de coronavirus.

Y esos desacuerdos luego llegan a la calle. La brutalidad policial estadounidense es un fenómeno tan viejo como la existencia misma de esa fuerza. Pero la muerte de George Floyd en mayo de 2020 desencadenó una ola de protestas desproporcionada, que reveló el potencial de violencia que anidaba en la sociedad norteamericana. Las protestas del Black Lives Matter pronto se derivaron a reclamos más profundas como el sistema de reparto de la riqueza, cuestionamientos de orden racial, religioso y hasta de género y, finalmente, se convirtieron en un factor de oposición a Trump y sus políticas en un contexto  de crisis agudizado por la pandemia, al que numerosos grupos explicaron por la postura del presidente frente a la aparición de virus. Tanta violencia preexistente fue canalizada en la campaña.

Sucede que tanto Trump como Biden sabían que con la base electoral no les alcanzaba para logra el triunfo. Fueron a buscar a indecisos y apáticos con un discurso de batalla para llevarlos a las urnas. Y lo lograron. El nivel del 68% de votantes es el más alto en décadas. Pero ese nivel de interés se logró por medio de discursos que dejaron un rastro importante de ánimo de revancha, miedos y una violencia retórica que ya desembocó varias veces en violencia física en disturbios, vandalismo, algún linchamiento y la muerte de algunos manifestantes a manos de adversarios en la previa al 3 de noviembre.

Esa violencia es el dato central de toda esta crisis y el factor que debiera preocupar hacia el futuro, habida cuenta que no se resuelve con un resultado electoral. Por el contrario, sea cual fuera el desenlace, se potencia por la defensa o rechazo al resultado. Porque junto a las protestas de los sectores opuestos a la presidencia surgió desde el otro lado un grupo igual de radicalizado que un poco reaccionó en defensa de las políticas oficiales, pero mucho más por el riesgo que sienten por la actividad de esa masa a la que consideran portadora de peligros tan antiguos como arraigados: ideas socialistas, deseos de aprovechar la situación para tomar sus propiedades y bienes y el siempre irresuelto peligro de un escenario anárquico en el que el país se deslice de un presente de superpotencia a una inmensa arena de lucha directa dirimida por las armas, cuya presencia se registra en una por cada habitante de EEUU.

Entonces, la estrategia de desgraciar y destruir al oponente utilizada por ambos candidatos, partidos y partidarios, tuvo una consecuencia. Atrapados por su propio discurso, ninguno de los contendientes está en condiciones de aceptar el resultado dado que al hacerlo estarían entregando a los EEUU a todos los peligros que estuvieron describiendo durante el año anterior. Y aunque lo hicieran, es tarde porque ya le han quitado al otro su legitimidad ante una mitad del pueblo que acudió a las urnas.

Los políticos de uno y otro bando se encuentran ante una encrucijada igual de difícil. Los congresistas deberán lidiar con un presidente deslegitimado ante una parte importante del electorado, sin importar quien sea electo. Cada decisión a favor o en contra los expondrá a preguntas en sus distritos de los que depende su continuidad. Y luego está la imagen, un activo que los políticos norteamericanos consideran a veces el más decisivo de sus carteras políticas. Con los medio adoptando una posición de fiscales políticos con mayor entusiasmo, ahora deberán hacer frente a un escrutinio doble al que antes esquivaban con relativa facilidad.

Esto pareciera sr un asunto menor en un ambiente normal. Después de todo, los políticos están acostumbrados a lidiar con electores y periodistas. Pero puede suceder que ante la falta de definición electoral se aplique Enmienda 12 de la Constitución  y sean los congresistas los que deban elegir el presidente y a su vice. Dado que la demanda presentada por Trump podría llegar a la corte Suprema y ese trámite tardar postergarse más allá del 15 de diciembre que es la fecha límite para elegir un mandatario, no es ilógico pensar en la posibilidad que finalmente sean los hombres del Congreso los que deban resolver la disputa.

Y por más que no se eligiese presidente por la Enmienda 12, la instalación de un escenario de confrontación aguda los obligará a trabajar en un ambiente en donde la mitad será gobernada por un presidente al que se le atribuirá una ilegitimidad de origen.

Ante esa instancia cada uno de los legisladores deberá sopesar las presiones de la calle, de sus electores, de los empresarios y de sus propios compañeros para deshacer el entuerto creado por la competencia feroz entre los dos contendientes. Y esa decisión no solo tendrá un efecto profundo en la vida cotidiana de cada habitante del país, sino que además delegará la responsabilidad en cada uno de ellos. Lo que suceda y el nombre del elegido será facturada al Congreso cuya distancia con el electorado en muchísimo menor que en el caso del presidente. A diferencia de otros países, la representación directa implica que un error de cálculo de un legislador apoyando al político adversario al que su público desea, puede conducir al fin de su carrera política y más aún en un ambiente de ánimos enervados como el actual.

Se sabe que las diferencias entre republicanos y demócratas al llegar al Congreso suelen ser relativas. Hubo republicanos con Biden y demócratas que dieron su apoyo a las iniciativas de Trump sin molestias ideológicas severas.

Y en ese sentido, todo puede pasar una vez que el asunto de la Enmienda 12 llegue al Congreso. Y dada la cantidad de intereses en juego y la acción simultanea de la presión civil y la actividad de los grupos de presión interesados por un resultado, es imposible afirmar que cualquier conclusión refleje necesariamente el resultado de las urnas. Por el contrario, puede ser tan diferente y dar lugar a compromisos tan distintos, que podrían cambiar el futuro inmediato de un modo tan fuerte como la elección presidencial frustrada.

Y entonces deberán optar entre dos candidatos cuya elección tiene factores positivos y negativos en cualquier escenario que surja. Si respaldan a Trump le darán el ímpetu que necesita para avanzar en la construcción de una presidencia fuerte, con un grado de discrecionalidad mayor a la aceptable dentro del rango tradicional de los EEUU. Si eligen a Biden, tendrán una figura menos polémica, pero al mismo tiempo un interlocutor más accesible pero más sensible también a tomar medidas estratégicas que podrían tener un impacto económico objetivamente negativo como una postura más restrictiva frente a la pandemia (que incluye quizás confinamientos todavía no ensayados por Trump), una actitud regulatoria contraria a los intereses de los sponsors en cada distrito y un gasto estatal más elevado que impactaría tanto en el valor de la moneda como en la estructura impositiva actual.

En cualquiera de los casos, soportarían una presión constante de los medios locales y nacionales que los abordarían con la misma actitud militante a favor de uno u otro modelo, dado que si hubo un despliegue más político que periodístico durante la campaña, nada hace pensar que adoptarían una postura diferente en caso de ser decisores de la disputa por el nuevo presidente o el nuevo modelo de estado y país en el contexto de crisis en el que asumieron en nuevo rol.

La demanda conjunta de la calle, los medios y los grupos de presión se da, como vimos, en un contexto de violencia retórica y a veces directa instalada desde que se inició la campaña. EEUU se debate en un escenario pocas veces visto de tensiones irresueltas todavía y que por el momento parecen lejanas a concluir, incluso luego de dirimirse el nombre del próximo presidente. Trump y Biden, en su deseo por ser el próximo presidente, crearon junto a sus comités y medios afiliados un contexto de paranoias, presagios de desastre y descalificación un ambiente que no presagia una salida sencilla. EEUU no eligió presidente, eligió meterse en un estilo de política confrontativa y sucia que era propia de naciones a las que criticaba. El país de las barras y las estrellas se enfermó de violencia y ahora debe encontrar el modo de salirse de un pantano en el que está atorado. La mitad empuja para un lado y la otra para el opuesto. Así, es poco probable que se resuelva el dilema planteado por dos adversarios que convirtieron la disputa entre dos competidores en una lucha entre enemigos declarados.


Acerca de Ignacio Montes de Oca


Armenia and Israel: Politically Divorced, Culturally United, an article by David Garyan

Ravenna, Italy


Armenia and Israel: Politically Divorced, Culturally United

In this time of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the latter being supported by Turkey and Islamic jihadists, I really don’t know if the ordinary people of these respective nations can really be friends anymore. Even before the conflict, it’s difficult to deny that ethnic tensions—between common individuals as well—have always existed. Indeed, as mature adults, we can all take part in the song and dance of politeness; we can even smile at each other without placing any warmth into our gestures; we can pretend and continue to live as if nothing serious is happening or has happened in the past, but this would all be a lie. In the end, the shallow politeness thoroughly meaningless because, let’s face it, for a Turkish person, it’s easier to establish a sense of camaraderie with someone from Azerbaijan, and, likewise, an Armenian would face fewer challenges becoming friends with individuals from Greece, just as an example.

Many times already I’ve stated that as an idealist in the Don Quixote style I’ve always thought and continue to think that everyone deserves to be judged based on their own experiences and traits, but why is this so difficult to do? Moreover, why can it be that the former premise’s logic sounds so true on the surface, yet, the very fundamental argument itself should be so hard to embrace in real life? In the most realistic sense, I don’t think it’s quite controversial to say, just as an example, that ordinary Jews and Palestinians would have a harder time forming lasting friendships with each other than with another party whose nation both individuals, respectively, aren’t engaged in a conflict with; let’s stop being idealistic for a second and recognize that wars between states (whether historical or current), genocides (again, historical or current), or any other conflicts certainly do affect, to a large extent, how everyday citizens affected by them will engage one another.

Why is the truth so hard to accept? The victims, in the case of the Jewish nation, for example, can be comforted in their suffering (relatively speaking) if the perpetrator—Germany—takes every conceivable step to not only apologize but also make amends. Even after all the reparations Germany has paid over the years—even after all the genocide memorials it has erected (like the one below in Berlin, which I visited in 2018) to commemorate the Shoah, many survivors of that tragic event, like Sonia Warshawski, still refuse to “forgive,” which is understandable, as per her logic.

For Warshawski, who stated the following, forgiveness was something that had to come from God, not herself: “I shall never forget. I shall never forgive. Why I say I cannot forgive? Because forgiveness, in my opinion, has borders. How in the world can I tell you I forgive? I will feel ashamed, embarrassed, what I have seen those people dying, those terrible things. Who am I that I can forgive? This has to come from a higher power. Not from me. This is impossible. I would be wrong.” Her statement makes sense in the end because she ultimately concludes it by saying there’s no hatred in her heart; that would be self-destructive, but forgiveness is another thing.

If that’s the standard we were to apply, then, how are Armenians supposed to feel anything but animosity towards the Turkish state, which has, for one, made no attempt to pay any reparations, and secondly, refused to recognize our own suffering; in addition, what are we supposed to do when, to this day, the vehement campaign of denial continues? It naturally benefits the perpetrator’s state (both in terms of politics and mentality) for the victim to stay silent and pretend like nothing has happened. In this respect, to be quite honest, I’m always a little upset when Turkish people are extremely nice to me. Although I appreciate it, I often feel cheated because while their gestures can be interpreted in very positive ways, the positivity of such “friendliness” also plays a large role in pushing this unresolved issue of the genocide, along with the general tension between us (which does exist), further into the corner; that’s exactly what I mean by the song and dance of politeness—the more “positive” it is, the more damage it really does, and the harder it tries to be friendly, the more forceful this effort of taking out the obvious “tension” from the equation becomes.

Now, am I saying Jews and Palestinians can’t be friends? No, because there are plenty examples of that and even marriages between the two (the most famous being a celebrity union between Lucy Aharish, the “first Arab to anchor a Hebrew-language program on Israeli television,” according to Deutsche Welle, and Tzachi Halevi, an Arabic speaking Jewish actor who appeared in a Netflix TV show called Fauda). Suffice it to say, there was plenty of backlash, according to that same Deutsche Welle article, which only proves my point, but still, things like this happen and are by no means an impossibility. “We’re signing a peace accord,” the couple joked to an Israeli newspaper.

Likewise, am I saying Armenians and Turks can only hate each other? No, because there are plenty examples which prove the contrary and marriages too. Like in the case of Israelis and Palestinians, just think of the Turkish-born Armenian academic Daron Acemoglu (one of the pre-eminent economists in the world and the most cited one in the past ten years who married his Turkish spouse—another academic, Asuman Özdağlar, with whom he has two children).

Indeed, things like this may and do happen, but that’s not the point at all. While Acemoglu’s marriage hasn’t brought about the same criticism as the aforementioned Israeli-Palestinian one, it’s nevertheless a rare occurrence because of the animosities that such marriages can create, as we’ve already seen. What I’m saying, thus, is that it’s better, especially now, not to deceive ourselves regarding the tension which exists and has always existed between our peoples. To say that Armenians respect Turks and Azeris as much as they respect everyone else would be a mistake because that’s not true by any stretch of the imagination, and neither is it true for the other parties involved. If we pretend there are no problems and continue going about our business, smiling at each other, continuing the song and dance of politeness, then we miss the chance to solve the very issues we have—entirely for the reason that we do continue going about our lives in a manner that suggests there are no problems at all. We pretend there are none, so there must be none. Resolutions, however, don’t come out of nowhere; they arise precisely out of conflicts, and only through our willingness to face them can they truly manifest.

Well, why am I saying all of this—the article is about Jewish and Armenian cultural connections, solidarity, and similarities. Like all of my pieces that meander, however, there’s also a point, here, for all that I’ve written as well. Now that Israel is openly selling weapons to Azerbaijan and making no qualms about it, the natural tendency would be to ignore the problem and go on with our existence; nevertheless, I think this approach would entail making the same mistake as I’ve described above—the pleasant song and dance of politeness that means absolutely nothing to anybody.

Instead of playing games with my emotions and hiding the way I feel, I would like to come out and say that, yes, I’m deeply troubled and upset by the realpolitik Israel is conducting. As a nation which has endured genocide as well, and one which actively promotes their suffering as “unique” from what other people have suffered, I find it rather discouraging that their government would act in this manner.

Naturally, it’s quite unfortunate that, unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia has very little it can offer Israel, as highlighted by a recent opinion piece published in Haaretz, aptly titled, “Disunited by Genocide: How Armenia’s Relations With Israel Have Come to a Dead End.” Indeed, as the author says, firstly, we don’t have oil; secondly, we neither have money to buy Israeli weapons nor can we provide the much-needed bases for their planes to use in case Iran gets belligerent—it’s imperative for us to get along with Iran because together with Georgia (the only other border open to us) we have no more outlets to the world. However, Israel hates Iran because it’s their number one enemy, and so it goes ad nauseam; furthermore, Israel has been relying on Azeri oil for decades and the former’s relations with Iran aren’t exactly great. Isn’t it just a wonderful example of having your hands tied? As the author writes, “From Israel’s perspective, the notional brotherhood between Armenians and Jews, sharing the same destiny as victims of genocide, was not as meaningful as robust economic, strategic, and cultural relations with Turkey.” Enough said.

Truly, in the end, it doesn’t matter that Jerusalem—one of the holiest sites in the world—has an Armenian Quarter; it doesn’t matter that both people suffered unspeakable horrors and that there are many Armenians who protected Jews during the Shoah (according to the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, there are 24 such names to be found among the Righteous Among the Nations); it doesn’t matter that Armenians will forever be indebted to some of the greatest Jewish writers like Franz Werfel, Vasily Grossman, and Osip Mandelstam (pictured below in his more fortunate years) for bringing international attention to their suffering. None of this culture, solidarity, and history really matters for politics because it’s no different than trying to feed a starving person with religion; it’s all good and well, but the lofty sentiments are simply of no use for the person who needs something tangible—food, clothing, and oil, perhaps.

By no means am I drawing a parallel between Israel and a starving person; what I am doing is highlighting the fact that for countries to ensure political stability, they need something more than lofty ideals to bring it about. We can’t offer Israel any of that because like them, we find ourselves, once again, in the same position of being surrounded by hostile powers—the US, thousands of miles away, is basically the only lifeline Israel has, while Russia, much nearer for us, is our own equivalent. We must play by their tune or risk being wiped out, and, thus, any Western reform that Armenia wants to institute—well, it better think twice about that, because if Russia doesn’t like it, then goodbye to that security, which is by and large exactly how things transpired during the leadership of the progressive Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who most likely took it a little too far with his ambitious Western reforms; Russia is, hence, not to “rushing” to help us during our most pressing time of need. After all, it’s not difficult to imagine what Putin is thinking: If you want help, go ask America and Europe, both of whom you’ve been courting these past two years. Fair enough, I guess.

Again, what’s the point? The point is precisely politics and it’s nothing personal. At the end of the day, although I’m angry with Israel’s continued selling of weapons to Azerbaijan, I can’t let go of my sympathy towards the Jewish people themselves, along with the solidarity our people ultimately share, and the impact their writers and artists have made on our culture, and visa versa. I still plan on visiting Israel, walking among the streets of the Armenian Quarter, touching the Western Wall, visiting the Dead Sea, and lively Tel-Aviv.

When all the dust has settled, so to speak, at least in the context of politics, I really don’t think this hypothetical question is relevant to our discussion: Would Armenia, for example, placed in the same difficult geopolitical position of necessity, sell weapons to Palestine—with the knowledge that they would use them to attack Israel? I don’t like to think about it because, if forced, as Israel today is, Armenia would probably act much the same way, and the reason for this being that culture and religion, like I’ve already said, provide no sustenance for the physical body; ultimately, politics deal very little with the metaphysical realm, insofar as ideals concern their existence, at the very least.

This article, however, is about culture and history; on these pages, the shared pain of genocide and suffering do matter. Werfel, Grossman, and Mandelstam can be heard. The historical presence of Armenians in the city of Jerusalem is relevant and is certainly felt. I must admit that I feel positively overwhelmed as I write this. In a strange way, I feel more connection to Israel than I’ve ever felt. I want to go there, take in the history, talk to the people, listen to their stories, tell them where I’m from, and just connect with them on a human level—outside the context of politics. I know this is possible because of how much we really have in common with each other. It’s a history that no amount of money, oil, economic advantage, or military superiority can equal.

Anyone who studies the past will be aware that the Ottoman Empire had to collapse in order for the Jews to have a chance at statehood in Palestine, a territory which the aforementioned empire controlled at that time. After WWI, as most of us know, that empire crumbled, and with this development arose the opportunity for the English finally to realize the goal of the Balfour Declaration, effectively leading to the creation of a Jewish state some thirty years later, something which wouldn’t have been possible without the Ottoman defeat that necessitated their relinquishing of Palestine to the victorious British. And today, while the mighty Turks have long gone, the Armenian presence in Jerusalem has remained.

I feel incredibly proud that we should have the distinction of having our own quarter, and while many people feel that it separates us from the rest of the Christian community in the city, I feel just the opposite, despite the fact that according to Adnan Abu Odeh’s article, “Religious Inclusion, Political Inclusion: Jerusalem as an Undivided Capital,” published in the Catholic University Law Review, “Armenians consider their quarter to be part of the Christian Quarter.” I certainly sympathize with this notion; however, Christianity itself is something unique for the Armenians as they were the first nation to adopt it as their official state religion.

Indeed, the Armenian presence in Jerusalem predates the Turkish arrival by at least a thousand years, when the former began arriving to the holy city shortly after their conversion to Christianity in the fourth century, whereas the Turks entered Europe only in the 14th century, and Jerusalem even later, in the 16th century; clearly, then, it isn’t “our city” or a city “from us,” as the great dictator known as Erdogan recently claimed—one of his most outrageous but nevertheless not his sole asinine remark.

Places aren’t the only thing which links Jewish people with Armenians. There are also important figures. I will not discuss every last person, historical personality, and event that connects our people; my aim will be to mention those Jews, like Werfel, Grossman, and Mandelstam, who’ve spoken and written at length about Armenia, mainly to try and convince my fellow countrymen that while it’s completely acceptable to be angry at Israel at this moment (let’s not fall prey to the song and dance of politeness), we shouldn’t forget that the Jewish people themselves are really not our enemies. In my heart, I’m convinced that the majority of Jews don’t approve of this particular action their government has taken, if only on a moral level. I believe that the people living in a nation which has endured the Shoah (an event so recent that some survivors are with us to this day) stand in solidarity with Armenians during our difficult time and it’s completely inconceivable to me how so many people with a direct and indirect connection to such a horrific event could be anything but upset—on a moral level—with the current actions of their government.

As I’ve said, there’s no room for politics in this article; it’s about people like Franz Werfel, without whom the Armenian Genocide would’ve been mostly forgotten had he not written The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. So powerful and popular was the book, that the Turkish lobby had to go through considerable lengths just to stop the movie from being made by MGM. In his foreword to the almost 900-page novel, Werfel wrote the following: “This book was conceived in March of the year 1929, during the course of a stay in Damascus. The miserable sight of maimed and famished-looking refugee children, working in a carpet factory, gave me the final impulse to snatch the incomprehensible destiny of the Armenian people from the Hell of all that had taken place.” When I read the book a year ago, I couldn’t for one second—nor did I want to—ever put down the book. I must reiterate that it’s definitely not an understatement to say that the event would’ve been largely forgotten were it not for Werfel’s efforts. Here he is pictured with representatives of the French-Armenian community, most likely in Paris.

A less well-known example is Vasily Grossman—the great Russian novelist, and dissident. Born on December 12th, 1905, in Berdichev, Ukraine, he volunteered to become a frontline correspondent after the outbreak of WWII. Along with being present at the Battle of Moscow, the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Kursk, and the Battle of Berlin, his account of the horrors at the Treblinka and Majdanek concentration camps are among the first eyewitness accounts of Nazi atrocities committed against the Jews. His extensive 1944 account, The Hell of Treblinka, was used at the Nuremberg Trials as evidence by the prosecution.

After the war, Grossman (pictured below) returned home, but became increasingly dissatisfied with the Soviet Regime and its repressiveness. In the 1950s, he began writing his long novel, Life and Fate, whose central premise was that communism and fascism are essentially alike, despite the fact that the former defeated the latter and liberated Europe from it. Shortly after submitting it for publication in 1959, the KGB raided his apartment, seized the carbon copies, his notebooks, and typewriter ribbons—it was naturally to Grossman’s advantage, however, that they didn’t know he was keeping two other copies of the novel with his friends. Still, Grossman died, in 1964, never knowing whether his work would ever be read. In 1974, with the help of the great dissident, Andrei Sakharov, the novel was smuggled out of the country by his friend Semyon Lipkin and it was published in 1980 in the West for the first time. Russia itself followed along in 1988.

When Grossman got into trouble with the Soviets, he was sent to Armenia by the authorities with the hopes that the trip would take his mind off the matter and get him to write something different. It was precisely this trip which produced the non-fiction work, The Armenian Sketchbook, the cover of which you see below.

Grossman spent his time in the country visiting the country’s most important sites, such as the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the oldest one in the world, along with Lake Sevan, and the Temple of Garni, the only Greco-Roman structure in the post-Soviet states, built in the first or second century of the Common Era. One of the most poignant passages from the book is the ending, where he describes a wedding scene: The speeches and toasts seem to be unrelated to the occasion, but he finally understands that they have everything to do with the wedding and Grossman at last realizes that he has been accepted into the Armenian circle, so to speak. He writes: “Never in my life have I bowed to the ground; I have never prostrated before anyone. Now, however, I bow to the ground before the Armenian peasants who, during the merriment of a village wedding, spoke publicly about the agony of the Jewish nation under Hitler, about the death camps where Nazis murdered Jewish women and children. I bow to everyone who, silently, sadly, and solemnly, listened to these speeches.” It’s for writers like this—books which will exist for as long as humanity lives—that Armenians must be thankful for. We must look past the politics and somehow reconcile our anger with Israel (which, again, like in the case of Turkey, we are justified in expressing) to see that the issue Armenian-Jewish relations is far more subtle and complex than we think it to be.

The last important Jewish figure who wrote about Armenia is Osip Mandelstam. Considered one of the greatest Russian poet, if not the greatest of the twentieth century, Mandelstam was the quintessential dissident. In the 1930s he was twice arrested by Stalin and sent into exile—the second time he was given five years in a labor camp, where he ultimately died. Due to the sensitive nature of his work, he often couldn’t even write it down. His wife, Nadezhda, a name which means “hope” in Russian (certainly a tragedy for him to have a wife with that name when there was so little of it left for him), would usually commit his poems to memory and write them down later.

Mandelstam visited Armenia in 1930 and stayed for eight months. In the midst of the ancient culture and picturesque countryside, the great poet rediscovered his creativity and composed one of his most powerful poems, inspired by the burnt-red landscape, ancient churches, and mountains. His visit produced the prose work, Journey to Armenia, along with his Armenian poetry cycle, which Ian Probstein so generously translated for Interlitq, along with commentary, and it can be read here. An excerpt worth quoting:

I always feel that my spirits are lifted when I read Mandelstam’s words, because as Probstein said, for Mandelstam, “even in Voronezh exile (1935-1937), which he perceives as ‘a lion’s den’ alluding to Daniel, he is still thirsty of life and thinks of an earthly paradise. Hence he viewed his brief journey to Armenia in 1930 not as escape from his harsh reality but as a discovery of the roots of humanity and civilizations.” It’s with this thirst for life, I believe, that we Armenians should move forward and continue living. We now face the same difficulties that Mandelstam encountered during his own life and we owe it to this great Jewish poet to continue fighting our own battles with the same courage and determination—until the very end.


About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.