Category: History

Stepinac, “el santo exterminador” que puede ser el próximo santo del Papa Francisco (por Ignacio Montes de Oca)


Ignacio Montes de Oca

 

La guerra entre el águila y el dragón está en marcha

 

Por Ignacio Montes de Oca

El Papa Francisco I enfrenta un frente de conflicto permanente e innecesario al no definir u postura respecto a  la santificación de un personaje que fue cómplice de la maquinaria de muerte nazi en los Balcanes y de la muerte de al menos un millón de personas. Se trata de Alojzije Stepinac, el temido jefe de los sacerdotes que integraban las bandas de ustashas, los grupos de exterminio del régimen croata durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial.

La columna clerical

El 6 de abril de 1945, las columnas alemanas e italianas avanzaron sobre el reino de Yugoslavia. La abrumadora superioridad bélica y la traición de pro fascistas protegidos por la iglesia católica local, les permitieron conquistar en menos de dos semanas todo el territorio yugoslavo. De inmediato, nombraron un gobierno títere liderado por Ante Pavelic, que a partir de entonces pasó a ser el dictador de la “nación croata católica” y anexó una gran parte de Bosnia Herzegovina.

Los ustashas se reunían en monasterios e iglesias o bajo la cobertura de Acción Católica, todos ellos dependientes del obispado de Zagreb. Tal era la militancia de los sacerdotes que uno de ellos, el cura Radoslav Cilavas, fue jefe de la milicia que tomó un puesto militar antes de la llegada de los invasores y otro, el sacerdote Grga Peinovic, líder de la “Hermandad de Cruzados”, fue puesto a cargo de la oficina central de propaganda de los ustashas.

Además del reconocimiento inmediato de Berlín y Roma, Ante Pavelic fue admitido como autoridad de Croacia por el Vaticano, que envió su beneplácito a través del obispo de Zagreb, Alojzije Stepinac. En mayo de 1941, el Papa recibió a Pavelic en una audiencia gestionada por el mismo obispo.

Pero Stepinac además se integró como jefe del bloque clerical en el parlamento formado a pedido de Pavelic para formular las nuevas leyes que, entre otras medidas, habilitó la segregación y el confinamiento de serbios, judíos y gitanos en los campos de concentración que se apresuraron a construir en todo el territorio.

Las imágenes de Stepinac y una docena de clérigos saludando con el brazo derecho en alto en los actos oficiales en los que acompañaban a Pavelic, sobreviven como muestra del fervor con que una parte de la iglesia croata se sumó al régimen nazi implantado en ese país.

Pero lo realmente grave fueron los curas que respondían a Stepinac y que se sumaron a los escuadrones de la muerte del gobierno nazi. Se denominaban “ustashas” y estaban formados por ultranacionalistas que seguían a Pavelic. Dentro de ellos, prestaban servicio curas convencidos de las mismas ideas radicalizadas de violencia y exterminio. Jesuitas, franciscanos y miembros de otras comunidades de la iglesia católica se calzaron los uniformes ustashas y se lanzaron a vaciar aldeas enteras de serbios en un proceso de limpieza étnica que se cobró la vida de al menos 300.000 personas.

Milo Budak, ministro de educación ustasha, explicó el plan “Para las minorías como los serbios, judíos y gitanos, tenemos tres millones de balas. Mataremos un tercio de la población serbia, deportaremos a otro tercio y al resto los convertiremos (a la fe católica)”

Los documentos de posguerra contienen relatos extraordinariamente violentos de la actividad de los grupos que concretaron esa estrategia y hacen hincapié en la particular ferocidad de los sacerdotes ustashas. El 30 de abril de 1941 se aprobó una ley que declaraba a Croacia como nación católica y a partir de entonces se forzaba la conversión de los 3 millones de serbios que en su inmensa mayoría pertenecían a la iglesia ortodoxa, hermanada con la fe de la mayoría de los eslavos que habitaban desde esa nación hasta Moscú. Pero además se ordenó que se precediera en igual medida con los 45.000 judíos y los 20.000 gitanos que habitaban Croacia y Bosnia Herzegovina. Aquello era una impostura, ya que al mismo tiempo que se daba la orden de cambio de fe, comenzó una tremenda campaña de ataques ustashas contra esas comunidades.

Por eso, aunque muchos obedecieron la orden de conversión, no pudieron salvarse. En la aldea serbia de Glina, los ustashas juntaron a los pobladores el 4 de agosto de 1941. Tanto los que mostraban certificados de conversión como los que no lo tenían, fueron encerrados en la iglesia ortodoxa local por orden del clérigo católico de la localidad. Luego fueron quemados vivos y los que intentaban escapar o esconderse, eran masacrados con hachas y cuchillos por las hordas lideradas por curas convertidos en oficiales de los escuadrones de la muerte de Pavelic y Stepinac. El único superviviente de Glina, Ljubo Jadnak, dio detalles precisos de la masacre.

En Zagreb, en junio de ese mismo año, los ustashas les habían ordenado a los judíos que juntasen una tonelada de oro para no ser enviados a los campos de concentración. Reunida la suma, cientos de ellos fueron subidos a los camiones militares y nunca más volvieron. Otros, cayeron en emboscadas montadas en las salidas de la capital por los ustashas. El oro, según consta en los registros, fue repartido entre Pavelic y Stepinac. Un grupo de 800 judíos fue enviado el 15 de julio como presente a Hitler. Murieron en Aushwitz a poco de ser recibidos.

Según una investigación del diario alemán Der Spiegel, bajo el gobierno de Pavelic se cometió la más amplia efectiva masacre judía de la era judía. El 95% fue asesinado, proporción que supera al 91% de los judíos exterminados en Holanda.

Todo ello sucedía bajo la mirada del jefe de la iglesia local, el obispo Stepinac que mientras tanto atesoraba millones en bienes que eran robados en iglesias ortodoxas y hogares de los “infieles” que eran atacados por sus subalternos. Cada uno de estos eventos era avisado al Papa Pio II en el Vaticano por la red de información de la iglesia y pese a ello el cardenal siguió en su puesto y ocasionalmente viajó a la Santa Sede a reunirse con sus superiores.

Y el aporte de Stepinac se amplió a los campos de la muerte de Pavelic. En el complejo de Jasenovac, funcionó un grupo de centros de exterminio en los que se asesinaron a por lo menos 600.000 personas. Tal era la brutalidad de los métodos usados allí, que oficiales de las SS nazis como Herman Neubacher que sabían de lo que sucedía en Aushwitz y Treblinka, escribieron reportes a Berlín horrorizados por el nivel de salvajismo que desplegaban los ustashas y en particular los sacerdotes que prestaban servicio dentro de sus instalaciones. Apenas sobrevivieron 86 personas de las cientos de miles que entraron en Jasenovac.

Uno de los curas más crueles del campo era Mirsolav Majstorovic, ex secretario de Stepinac. En un juicio posterior admitió haber matado 100 prisioneros con sus propias manos. Al ser condenado, se le encontró culpable de ordenar el asesinato de otros 30.000.  Pero el peor de todos fue el franciscano Petar Brzica, teniente de los ustashas de Jasenovac. El 29 de agosto se anunció la llegada de un nuevo contingente de prisioneros al campo y notaron que debían hacer lugar en las barracas. Se organizó una competencia para ver quien asesinaba más prisioneros usando solo un cuchillo. Ganó el cura Brzica y su cuenta fue 1.360 degüellos. Por ese record hasta hoy no superado, ganó un reloj de oro que previamente había sido robado a uno de los cautivos. Las pruebas constan en los documentos que se guardan en el archivo gubernamental de Belgrado.

En los campos de exterminio fueron ultimados también numerosos sacerdotes católicos que se animaron a levantar la voz contra la masacre. Y con ellos religiosos serbios como el cura ciego Kulen Vakuf que tuvo que oír como mataban a toda su familia antes de ser ejecutado o Branko Dobrosavljevic, desmembrado y despellejado vivo en un suplicio aplicado por los sacerdotes ustashas de Jasenovac. Stepinac fue informado de las condenas a los curas de su iglesia, pero nunca usó su poder para impedir ni su confinamiento, ni las torturas o la muerte que sabían que les esperaba.

 

El cardenal canta hasta morir

El 8 de mayo de 1945, las tropas rusas y los partisanos yugoslavos liderados por Tito entraron a Zagreb. Horas antes, los ustashas huyeron en masa hacia Italia y Austria, para luego terminar refugiados en otros países, la mayoría de ellos en Argentina a donde llegaron por la misma ruta que usó Ante Pavelic y que fue pavimentada por el Vaticano y el gobierno peronista.

Pero Alojzije Stepinac permaneció en Zagreb por orden de sus superiores. Allí comenzó la parte de la historia que pretende llevarlo al santoral católico.

Stepinac fue detenido el 17 de mayo y encarcelado por un tiempo a la espera de su proceso por colaboracionismo. Fue sometido a un proceso judicial que comenzó en octubre de 1946, en el que se expusieron las pruebas y testigos en su contra. En el proceso, admitió parte de su responsabilidad en el exterminio llevado adelante por los ustashas y su autorización implícita para que los sacerdotes participaran de ella.

Se le sentenció a 16 años de trabajo forzado por el delito de “alta traición”. No obstante, permaneció solo 5 años en la cárcel de Lepoglova y luego su condena fue cambiada por el arresto en el monasterio de Krašić, su ciudad natal. El papa Pio XII excomulgó a todos los funcionarios que participaron en el juicio como forma de protesta por lo que consideró un proceso judicial injusto. Era la respuesta del pontífice ante los pedidos fallidos a Tito para que el cardenal fuera amnistiado. El Papa fue más allá y en 1951nombró cardenal al arzobispo Stepinac mientras permanecía prisionero. La escalada condujo a la ruptura de las relaciones entre Yugoslavia y el Vaticano en diciembre de 1957. El 10 de mayo de 1960, el ex obispo de Zagreb murió de una trombosis.

El 9 de octubre de 1981 el papa Juan Pablo II abrió el proceso de beatificación de Stepinac. El Pontífice lo proclamó “mártir de la iglesia católica” en noviembre de 1998. La noticia provocó un fuerte rechazo de entidades judías y de la iglesia ortodoxa serbia, que consideraron aquella medida como una provocación innecesaria. Pese a las críticas, el papa beatificó a Stepinac el 3 de octubre de 1998 en la Basílica croata de Marija Bistrica.

En los siguientes trece años, la cuestión Stepinac estuvo aletargada. Pero el 8 de julio de 2011, el Papa Benedicto XIV asistió a la tumba del cardenal en la catedral de Zagreb y oró de rodillas ante su sepulcro. Aquella imagen despertó otra vez la furia de organizaciones ortodoxas y judías.

El arribo de Francisco al sillón de San Pedro pareció dar por terminado el “affaire Stepinac”. El acercamiento del nuevo Pontífice con otras religiones incluyó gestos muy fuertes hacia los sectores ortodoxos en donde se enrola la iglesia serbia. El encuentro entre el Santo Padre y el patriarca de la Iglesia rusa Kiril en la Habana el 12 de febrero de 2016, fue un evento histórico que vino a cerrar el cisma que había separado a ambas iglesias desde el año 1054. Francisco pronunció ese día un esperanzado “¡Por fin!” para expresar su satisfacción por el acercamiento con la mayor iglesia de Oriente.

Sin embargo, mientras católicos y ortodoxos intercambiaban halagos mutuos, en el Vaticano se creaba discretamente una comisión para revisar la biografía Stepinac. Ese cuerpo, aprobado por Francisco, se integró con expertos de la iglesia ortodoxa serbia, la curia croata y representantes del Vaticano. Se les dio un plazo de 12 meses para terminar de hacer su tarea y emitir un informe documentado que abarque la trayectoria del cardenal de Zagreb, más allá de sus acciones durante el gobierno de Pavelic.

La comisión tuvo un primer encuentro el 12 de julio de 2016 en el Vaticano y volvió a reunirse en Zagreb el 17 y 18 de octubre. Cuando se conoció la existencia de esa comisión, surgieron las primeras protestas de parte de grupos serbios que se oponen a cualquier intento de recuperar a la figura de Stepinac y de parte de los familiares de víctimas de Pavelic.

El Vaticano se apuró a aclarar que el trabajo de la comisión no tiene relación alguna con el proceso de canonización, que en rigor debe ser llevado adelante por otro organismo clerical, la Congregación para la Causa de los Santos. Los voceros explicaron que para convertir a Stepinac en santo católico, primero se debe probar que el obispo croata tuvo una vida dedicada a los valores católicos y la existencia de por lo menos un milagro que sostenga la pretensión de santificarlo.

No obstante, para los sectores más críticos sostienen que la comisión es el paso previo a la santificación y que los documentos presentados en su juicio y otros que fueron surgiendo desde el fin de la Segunda Guerra Mundial son suficientes para dar por tierra con cualquier intento por salvar su imagen. Y que, frente al resurgimiento de los sectores que rescatan positivamente el rol de los ustashas en Croacia, el solo intento de reivindicar al obispo de Pavelic puede reabrir las heridas heredadas de la guerra en la Ex Yugoslavia ocurrida entre 1991 y 2001. Esa preocupación alcanza particularmente a los serbios que aun habitan la nación surgida en 1992.

A estos elementos, se le suma el anuncio de la próxima apertura de los archivos del Vaticano en el periodo que comprende la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Allí, será posible encontrar las piezas que faltan para explicar el apoyo y la tolerancia de la Santa Sede con la masacre en los Balcanes, en las que muchos miembros del clero tomaron parte.

Quienes se alarman por la canonización del beato nazi temen que el ex cardenal Bergoglio haga pesar la influencia de su ex confesor, el austro-croata franciscano Bersilao Ostojic, que en el pasado fuera una de las autoridades del colegio Cardenal Stepinac, una institución educativa de le localidad de Hurlingham sostenida por la comunidad croata argentina y que lleva el nombre del obispo de Pavelic.

El 6 de junio, el papa se reunió con Andrej Plenković, presidente de Croacia. En esa reunión, Francisco I le pidió paciencia por el asunto Stepinac. Queda claro que el Vaticano no renuncia a su intento para convertir al acusado de genocidio en santo. Mientras tanto, las organizaciones católicas que gravitan en torno a la oficina de propaganda papal insisten en presentar supuestas muestras de la intención del obispo a favor de perseguidos judíos y ortodoxos.

El pontífice argentino heredó un problema mayor. La actividad de la comisión canonizadora de Stepinac no se detuvo y tampoco el Papa mostró intención de frenar el proceso. Hasta hoy, la biografía del cardenal fue arreglada en el Vaticano y se borraron todas las partes de su colaboracionismo, para ser reemplazadas por una improbable actitud de ayuda hacia los fugitivos judíos y una piedad de igual carácter con los sacerdotes que tuvieron la bravura para oponerse a Pavelic y sus ustashas.

Resta todavía probar que realizó algún milagro. Quizás la santificación sea ese prodigio, habida cuenta la calidad y cantidad de crímenes que rodean la vida del ex obispo de Zagreb. El Papa que nació en la misma tierra que fue santuario de Ante Pavelic en la posguerra, tendrá la última palabra.

 

Acerca de Ignacio Montes de Oca

Cancel Culture Salad: Women, The Confederacy, Tupac Shakur, Barack Obama, and Robert E. Lee, an article by David Garyan

July 28th, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

Cancel Culture Salad: Women, The Confederacy, Tupac Shakur, Barack Obama, and Robert E. Lee

In one of the most empowering moments for women not just in the US, but all across the world perhaps, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took the House floor and issued one of the strongest statements not only in defense of herself, but she also spoke in a way that gave voice to countless women who’ve had to endure similar insults, such as “disgusting,” and “fucking bitch,” which were just two of the remarks that Congressman Ted Yoho directed at her. Subsequently, Yoho attempted to justify himself by stating the following: “Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language. The offensive name calling, words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues and if they were construed that way, I apologize for their misunderstanding.” Little did the man know that he was dealing with an empowered individual who wasn’t going to concede an argument simply because, at 29, she became the youngest woman to ever serve in the US Congress while Yoho has been married for 45 years. In a charged speech, Ocasio-Cortez addressed the Congressman’s remarks in the following way: “Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.” Indeed, this isn’t simply what we want from our women today—it’s what we expect in the 21st century, and rightly so.

Still, is it possible to say—without defending Yoho—that individuals can’t be reduced to one action, that they’re incredibly complex, that people who aspire to goodness and even those who actually manage to achieve great things do have flaws, sometimes even serious ones? In the age of cancel culture, we need to be incredibly careful about choosing the conditions, traits, and characteristics with which to measure the so-called “goodness” of people. With regard to misogyny, things still haven’t improved much in the way men treat women. The president’s well-known 2005 remarks in the presence of Billy Bush that were revealed during the 2016 campaign highlight this problem very clearly—while many men today might not be so vocal as Trump about their desires as they were in the past, it’s unlikely to believe that male psychology itself has changed very much. Thus, while grabbing them by the pussy is perhaps not something males are comfortable expressing right now, it’s nevertheless something they’re comfortable thinking in private.

Whatever the case may be, this article is neither meant to defend sexist men, misogyny, Ted Yoho, nor is its purpose to justify occasional insults by men towards women simply because all individuals possess “complexity.” What this article will attempt, however, is precisely to take the first step in proposing the following: People should try their best to move beyond an individual’s flaws—even at times when those shortcomings are quite serious—but only if said individual would never wish harm upon someone had they not been in the state that caused them to insult or hurt another human being, whether voluntarily or out of ignorance.

The fact that every person has flaws is nothing new; however, the harsh nature of how we’re perceiving these shortcomings—the overemphasis on people’s negative traits—isn’t a recipe for success either. As an idealist, one perhaps too far on the side of Don Quixote, I’ve always wanted individuals to be more or less perfect, and that’s perhaps why I’ve struggled with friendships, relationships, and other basic human engagements all my life. It’s disappointing when people don’t live up to expectations; at the same time, it’s extremely exhilarating when someone you know does measure up to your level of perfection—if only for a little while; a day after my 33rd birthday, I think I’m really beginning to “accept” that; naturally, this is something I’ve known for a long time, but there’s a big difference between knowing something (or someone) and actually living with it (or someone); the former implies distance while the latter implies complete intimacy. In no way should the meaning here be construed purely on the basis of human relationships; in fact, my point is meant to be understood philosophically.

I’ve always been fascinated by the demons that afflict individuals and also my own suffering. In a short story called “Cynthia,” written by Aldous Huxley and published in the collection, Limbo, the author wrote the following: “I can sympathize with people’s pains, but not with their pleasures. There is something curiously boring about somebody else’s happiness.” The story is about a man named Lykeham who projects an image of perfection onto a woman he admires and also himself; the narrator who flashes back to the story which occurred fifty years ago eventually makes it known that Lykeham is neither the Apollo he describes himself to be (probably closer to Hephaestus) and we likewise get the sense that the woman too may be far from perfect herself, mainly because “here was chaste Cynthia giving herself to him in the most unequivocal fashion.” Either way, this article is also neither about Aldous Huxley nor is it about whether beauty plays any role in a man’s ability to attract women. What this article will attempt, however, is take yet another bold step: To argue that Aldous Huxley was on to something when he contrasted the way we perceive human beings in our own imagination and how, in turn, those human beings actually are in comparison to those imagined realities we hold in our heads.

Besides just an artistic fascination with people’s demons, along with the narrow focus of how suffering may contribute to the creative process for artists, I really didn’t start thinking about the issue of flaws very seriously until I rediscovered the music of Tupac Shakur. Before I even begin the main discussion of our topic (finally), I must first take the time to settle an unrelated issue: Contrary to what many people, along with the staff at Billboard (who don’t even include him in their ten greatest of all time) like to believe, Tupac was the most remarkable and illustrious rapper of our time. No one in the history of rap (for better or worse) even came close to displaying the type of lyrical and musical range that Tupac showcased during his short 25 years of life—not to mention starring in six movies (three released posthumously).

It’s precisely this musical “range” that will help not only drive but round out the argument already introduced. Let’s begin matters this way: Any genuine fan of the great rapper knows that there really isn’t one Tupac, but, actually, two such personalities—perhaps it’s for this reason that his name appears as 2Pac on almost every album, including one of his best-selling, All Eyez On Me.

What I mean to stress is that the man embodied, to an extreme extent, the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde attributes that are, in fact, found in all individuals, perhaps not in the same degree, but this really isn’t the main point. The more relevant thing to say would be the following: As I listened to songs from the great rapper in the spirit of Dr. Jekyll and others recorded with the sensibilities of Mr. Hyde, it quickly occurred to me that Tupac, in the 21st century, could either have been the most gentle feminist or the cruelest misogynist—depending on which part of his catalog you burned or destroyed and which musical legacy you left for the cancel culture generation to discover. Ultimately, however, it would be senseless to erase any part of Tupac’s artistic output to try and rewrite or even revise his legacy, again for better or worse. Music, unlike statues, is much harder to tear town, and perhaps it’s because of this timelessness that we must confront the man known as Tupac Shakur and deal with him in terms of “Keep Ya Head Up” while also reconciling ourselves with “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch” and “There U Go,” a song in which he says “Can’t turn a ho into housewife,” and this isn’t even the worst line on this particular tune.

Let’s however start with what I consider Tupac’s greatest recording and perhaps even the most powerful song in all of rap—that would, naturally, be the aforementioned “Keep Ya Head Up.” I can think of no other rapper, especially one so “masculine” as Tupac, who could even begin to approach the type of tenderness that he displayed in the aforementioned track. Released when he was only 22, the song discusses poverty, racial injustice, but most of all it focuses on the plight of women, which will be a general theme throughout the article. The misogyny in early rap music is rampant; from music videos sexualizing women to promoting unchecked promiscuity on the part of the male—all while calling women who act the same way sluts—Tupac is but one piece in this puzzle. The difference, however, is that, unlike the rest, he had a vulnerable side to him that almost no one during the gangsta rap era came close to possessing. Even today, one is hard-pressed to find an artist who’s willing to risk the type of vulnerability that Tupac offered in one of his sincerest songs.

Since Mr. Hyde is never far away, however, the opposite side offers the other extreme—Tupac’s rampant sexism and misogyny; even if we continue with the theme of women and skip perhaps the cruelest diss track in rap history, “Hit ‘Em Up,” where he insults the rap group Mobb Deep, a member of which, Prodigy (now deceased), suffered from sickle-cell anemia (again probably not the worst thing he did on this particular recording), Tupac’s “range,” so to say, really becomes apparent. In the song “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch,” he portrays women who sleep around as the embodiment of vice—without realizing himself, perhaps, that he was glorifying the “playa” lifestyle on almost every track; the double-standard is so blatant here it’s surprising that an intelligent individual like Tupac never questioned his own logic or perhaps didn’t even realize the hypocrisy. All that, even, wouldn’t have been a problem had he not insulted a Civil Rights activist by the name of C. DeLores Tucker in the same song.

It’s true that after marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 and forming the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom in 1990 with 15 other African American men and women, Tucker dedicated the remaining years of her life to speaking out against the misogynistic and sexually explicit lyrics of gangsta rap. In turn, according to 2005 Washington Post article, “Rappers called her ‘narrow-minded.’ Some ridiculed her in their lyrics. She was sued by two record companies.” In one of his other misogynistic masterpieces, “How Do U Want It,” which is in many ways far less offensive than “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch,” Tupac gives a clue as to the reason for his anger: “Instead of tryin’ to help a nigga, you destroy a brother,” meaning that Tucker’s refusal to support black rap artists was a stab in the back, mainly because a great number of them, like Tupac, had come from impoverished backgrounds and her desire to silence their message was an attempt to subjugate the black nation and keep it from being empowered, an ideology which, according to the rappers, ran contrary to her own civil rights values of free speech and expression.

It should be noted that the ten million dollar lawsuit Tucker brought against Tupac for both songs was eventually dismissed in court, which, ironically cited the same reasoning as he did for its dismissal. According to the RCFP (a non-profit organization press organization founded in Washington D.C. in 1970): “In explaining its holding in an unpublished opinion, the court wrote that the reference to Tucker ‘did not tend to injure her reputation, her business or profession, or expose her to public hatred, contempt or ridicule and thus were not defamatory.’ The court described the reference to Tucker as an opinion ‘that Tucker was out to hurt rather than to help her fellow African-Americans.'” Along roughly similar lines, an LA Times article appeared which described the civil rights leader’s own failures and faults—being fired by Philadelphia Governor Milton Shapp for allegedly asking “state employees to write speeches for which she collected $65,000 in honorariums, some of the money from charities under her supervision.” Many rap artists, thus, justified their accusations on these grounds but what Tucker’s actions in fact do is simply confirm the message of my entire article, something that Sandra Mills, her campaign manager during the good activist’s failed bid for Congress, echoed in the same LA Times piece: “Everybody has some baggage in their past and in C. DeLores Tucker’s case, the baggage is in bad property management, but I don’t see how that diminishes in any way the public service she is performing for African Americans by fighting against the negative lyric content in rap music.” In the same sense, we may apply this to not only Tupac, but all the others like him who’ve at some point in their lives striven for a better world in which no one can really be perfect.

Now, let’s slow down a minute; no one wants to rehabilitate Robert E. Lee, for example, just because he stated the following in an 1856 letter written to his wife: “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country.” Similarly no one wants to romanticize the entire Confederacy simply because at one point in 1864 Patrick Cleburne, an Irish-born American Major General in the Confederate Army, once wrote a pamphlet urging Jefferson Davis to arm the slaves and free them after the war. Indeed, even the Confederacy and the people who served within it were incredibly complex; nevertheless, there’s a fundamental difference in the way we must apply this logic for our purposes—while the Confederacy can’t get a pass, because it was fighting to protect slavery, individuals like Tupac and others who championed and continue to fight for a better world do deserve some latitude for their shortcomings because they were doing precisely that: Using their power or art to change society for the better.

It may often be the case that it’s too late for art to change society—the only thing it can achieve is remind people of a horrific past in the hopes that its message can prevent similar things from happening again at some point in the future; if art has such power, perhaps we can interpret its ability to renew society as a genuine way to reform the world at large, but prospects remain bleak. In the song, “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” Tupac raps about a twelve year old girl who gets pregnant. Loosely based on a true story of a person the same age, a New York Times article which Tupac had supposedly read or heard about talks about a girl who is “already an orphan, a rape victim and a mother. Now, two days after her newborn son was rescued from the maw of a trash compactor, she has become something more—a symbol of the violence that stalks the young in some corners of this city.” Such instances of violence, despair, and hopelessness are precisely the things which Tupac wanted to highlight—it was his way of bringing more attention to these issues.

It might not be Tupac in his most tender moment, but the level of social awareness in the aforementioned song is high, speaking in the most modest sense; likewise, in a very conservative manner, the track “Run tha Streetz,” is the exact opposite of “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” to say the least. Tupac wastes no time telling listeners in the opening lines exactly where women stand: “the secret on how to keep a playa / some love makin’ and homecookin’, I’ll see you later.” Not to mention he later repeats the fact that women should prepare meals for him—this time saying please. Tupac’s assumption that women must stay in the kitchen is yet again not the worst thing that happens on this track but it nevertheless astonishes—how could a man with such sensitivities, the man who wrote “Keep Ya Head Up” and “Dear Mama,” stoop so low? To his credit (whatever is left of it in this instance anyways), Tupac does, at the very least, feature a female vocalist (Michel’le) on this track, and she raps the following lines: “it’s a man’s world / But real women make the shit go around.” Once more, I wish to stress that complexity within individuals doesn’t simply excuse whatever mistakes they happened to make; what it should do, however, is give us the opportunity to think about the demons which many good people have; as I’ve said, we can excuse these negative qualities, if, overall, the person has for the most part dedicated themselves towards fighting for justice.

Speaking of struggling for a righteous cause, no one else in Tupac’s family (except the man himself) embodied that trait better than his mother, Afeni Shakur. Having joined the Black Panther Party in 1968 at the age of 21, she wrote for the organization and eventually became a section leader for the Harlem chapter. Along with other Black Panther members, she was arrested in 1969 and subsequently charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to blow up police stations and other public places in New York. Already pregnant with Tupac during her trial in 1971, she chose to represent herself, interviewing witnesses and arguing in court. A 1971 New York Times article states that she, along with the other members, were acquitted and that Mrs. Shakur was “eight months pregnant, [and] represented herself during the trial.” The latter alone, without the former, would’ve been a major accomplishment by itself.

Recognizing the struggles which his mother endured to raise him, Tupac wrote “Dear Mama” as a tribute to the most meaningful woman in his life. Additionally, like in “Run tha Streetz,” he naturally mentions that a woman cooks for him (in this case his mother); however, this naturally has no sexist or misogynistic undertones because, firstly, he talks about himself as a child, and, secondly, he also mentions that his mother “comes home from work late,” meaning that, although she lives in poverty, she’s an empowered individual because of her capability to both work and prepare a good meal for her son—one of the traditional values of motherhood.

As already mentioned, one of the lines in “There U Go” is “Can’t turn a ho into a housewife.” The line is very denigrating because many prostitutes don’t consciously choose to be one—they’re often forced into the profession by proxy of human trafficking or because of poor financial resources, as Tupac himself admits in “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” Furthermore, the fact that his own mother, while never being a prostitute, herself had to undergo hard times and poverty, makes it even stranger that Tupac would speak of women in this way, especially since his mom did manage to overcome difficult obstacles while also being able to raise a child. The song goes on to state blatant hypocrisies such as this:

We’re to assume that only men have the right to be irresponsible in clubs, to stay out late, dress up in flamboyant ways, and so on. The double-standard is so blatant that Tupac himself admits it: “It’s all good, ’cause there you go / Me I’ma still be a player, all day baby.” There’s a fundamental disconnect between the type of leisure that Tupac allows himself (and by extension all men), and the type of activities that women are supposed to partake in (staying home, cooking, and raising children).

A lesser known song in Tupac’s catalogue called “Mama’s Just a Little Girl,” from the posthumously released 2002 album Better Dayz, has a somewhat similar message to “Brenda’s Got a Baby.”

However, despite the fact that the baby also dies in the end, Tupac concludes the song with a heartfelt message, along with the fact that he’s probably the only figure in gangsta rap to use the archaic word “thee” in a song:

The rose that grew from concrete is the most powerful metaphor, in my opinion, that Tupac ever created; it’s a genuine poetic image in the sense that it can live without music or even his lyrical ability. As Tupac stated numerous times, the phenomenon of a rose growing from the concrete is something so strange and distinct—for this to happen the rose must have a type of will to live that’s unequaled by the majority of life. He wrote a poem by the same name, further symbolizing the message that unique and beautiful things can come from hostile environments, but, likewise, stressing the fact that phenomena like these require the greatest willpower on the part of such individuals in order for them to grow in environments everyone claims they can’t survive in.

The final song I’d like to contrast is “How Do U Want It.” I’ve purposely chosen to end on Tupac’s Mr. Hyde side to really symbolize the fact that people who are in essence good, those who strive for a better world, and those who actually do make some positive changes within it, aren’t perfect—they may even have, as in the case of Tupac, very serious flaws, but this shouldn’t stop us from celebrating these individuals freely without ourselves being harassed, cancelled, or humiliated; anyways, all this is really material for the conclusion, so let’s discuss the actual song before we pursue those matters further.

As we’ve already seen and as Tupac himself stated on numerous occasions, he was someone who appreciated women, for better or worse. The song can, perhaps, be considered a parallel of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” for the rap community. It celebrates the female form, sexuality, and worldly pleasures in general—probably to an extent which crossed a few boundaries that Gaye’s song didn’t; I say this only because in a track which talks about casual sex with multiple women and hitting “switches on bitches like I been fixed with hydraulics,” Tupac, somehow, finds a way to diss the ever-present C. Delores Tucker, who was already an unattractive woman of about 69 at the time Tupac released the record in 1996; surely, I don’t have to explain the relevance of the age in this matter.

Additionally, the fact that Tupac includes a mention of Bill Clinton in a song about wild sexual escapades is also a statement to his, should we say, talent? I can’t speak for Bob Dole, but it seems that contrary to Tupac’s premature criticism, the jolly Bill Clinton of forty-nine years really wasn’t too old to know how the game is told, given that his decision to have an affair with a twenty-two year old intern called Monika Lewinsky doesn’t really favor Tupac’s assessment so well, although in his defense, the good rapper himself had already been dead for three years at that point.

Well, it’s always good when humor can be brought into a serious environment, but returning to weightier issues, Tupac is the best person to illustrate why we must give people with serious flaws a chance. I’ve said it and I’ll repeat it again: Tupac was the greatest rapper in terms of lyrical composition and delivery, along with being the most influential spokesperson for social justice in that genre. He was a real artist—an actor, a poet, and a soldier for peace, even though his post-imprisonment career began to symbolize the latter less and less. Still, there’s evidence that Tupac wanted to walk away from the gangsta rap lifestyle. Even before signing the actual contract with Death Row Records, his manager and two of his lawyers, “argued vigorously with Tupac about his decision to go to Death Row,” according to a 1997 New Yorker article called “The Takedown of Tupac.” The late rapper, while still in prison, responded to his manager, Watani Tyehimba, in the following way: “I know I’m selling my soul to the devil.” Suge Knight paid Tupac’s bail in exchange for Tupac’s services at Death Row.

Charles Ogletree, his criminal and civil defense lawyer is quoted as saying the following: “I remember seeing him just before his twenty-fifth birthday. He felt it was a glorious day. He never imagined he’d live to be twenty-five—but there was a sadness in his eyes, because he still had these chains binding him. This [Death Row Records] was not where he wanted to be. I said, ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ He said, ‘Can I be a lawyer?’ I said, ‘You’d be a damn good lawyer!’ I sent him a Harvard Law School sweatshirt.” Had Tupac fulfilled his dream and actually become an attorney, what would he have said about the times we find ourselves in? There’s that would make one believe he didn’t have the intellectual capability to attain academic success—just watch this 1992 MTV interview in which he was already speaking about the dangers of living in a Trump-influenced environment, even going so far as mentioning the mogul’s name—and you’ll be convinced by the way he articulates his points that the man was clearly no idiot. Certainly he had flaws and yes he was reckless, but we shouldn’t burn half his catalog and write him out as a human being because of them. When I do wonder what Tupac would’ve said about our times, I watch this video and it becomes apparent that it’s not difficult to image his own take on the Black Lives Matter movement and social unrest in general.

If the previous statement and interview, however, didn’t do much to convince, perhaps a more “reputable” figure might. Here’s what President Obama himself had to say in Rolling Stone about the so-called “woke” culture back in 2019: “The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids, and share certain things with you. I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media—there is this sense sometimes of the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people, and that’s enough. If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself. Did you see how woke I was, I called you out. Then I’m going to get on my TV and watch my show … That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far.” It’s always nice to see that a former president (and a sane one at that) can confirm what you have to say. So let the outrage come. I can handle it.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, 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.

Yesterday Karabakh, Today Artsakh, part II, an article by David Garyan

July 23rd, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

Part I

Yesterday Karabakh, Today Artsakh, part II

As a follow-up to my article on the situation in Artsakh, I wanted to take the time to further underscore the fact that, despite Armenia’s victory in the conflict, the area remains disputed and isn’t recognized on the international level or by any UN member state. I wrote the article in response to the all hateful propaganda directed towards Armenians, which I’d been encountering on the internet over the past weeks, as the conflict was starting to escalate; and if there’s despicable propaganda on one side, you can be sure the same phenomenon is playing out in the other aisle as well. I can’t stress enough that both camps are guilty, but it seems like the majority of Turkish or Azeri people with whom I’ve had discussions just want to highlight the wrongdoings of the other side and never their own. I’m sure individuals from Turkey and Azerbaijan feel the same way when they encounter an Armenian, which is precisely why tensions escalate quickly and haphazardly, as was the case in Los Angeles recently, where Armenian protesters clashed with Azeris. According to the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), the Azeris who showed up to the protest were chanting “Death to Armenia.” The newspaper which published the story didn’t confirm this but did embed ANCA’s Twitter post about the matter into the actual article.

Given the contentious history, there are always excuses for any hostilities between the peoples of both nations. On the Armenian side, for example, there’s much to be said about the Baku pogrom or Sumgait massacre, but very few openly comment on the horrors of Khojaly, for example. Why is that? Before we even get into a discussion of the various massacres committed by each side, let’s take a moment to focus on the current situation. It’s only natural for both sides to blame each other for breaking the ceasefire and each camp has in the past been guilty of violating it; there can no doubt about that. In the most recent case, however, if we only look at the 170 signatories who signed the UN global ceasefire appeal during the COVID crisis, we see that Armenia’s name is on the list, and Azerbaijan’s name isn’t. What do we make of this?

Again, there’s really been enough finger-pointing and the purpose of this article is to offer a complementary perspective to my first piece which set out to describe some of Artsakh’s history and the important figures that were either responsible for its foundation or who later shaped it in some meaningful way; along with the inclusion of some history, I also used various statements by US senators and representatives in order to truly highlight the fact that Artsakh is a disputed region. While internationally it’s recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the presence of Armenians in the area goes back thousands of years and the arbitrary transfer of the region to Azerbaijan by Stalin in 1921 played an essential role in Armenia’s decision to occupy the territory roughly seventy years later; thus, by using the statements of US senators and representatives, the article aimed to show that even in America—which, at the federal level, recognizes the region as part of Azerbaijan—the only thing which remains clear is that Artsakh is a disputed territory; it may belong to Azerbaijan, but self-determination has always proven to be a thorn in the side concerning issues like this.

It’s for all those aforementioned reasons that a complementary piece to the initial article is necessary in order to further show that while international recognition of the territory has never been disputed, international support in this matter isn’t only given to Azerbaijan, whose guilt alongside that of Armenia will be discussed.

In the interest of fairness, let’s begin with Armenia’s wrongdoing and subsequently discuss that of Azerbaijan. For starters, the Nagorno-Karabakh War resulted in Azerbaijan losing around twenty percent of its territory and displacing, according to a UN report, over 800,000 civilians. What Azeri authorities consistently fail to mention, however, is that, likewise, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there were “360,000 ethnic Armenians who arrived in Armenia from Azerbaijan from 1988 to 1993 as a result of the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.” So displacement, unlike Azeri authorities would have us believe, isn’t really a one-way street.

Both sides suffered a great deal and the important thing isn’t to make it a competition but to acknowledge the humanity of both sides, which leads to the next point: During the Nagorno-Karabakh War, atrocities were committed by Armenian and Azeri forces alike. Again, in the interest of fairness, let’s begin with those committed by Armenians: The most notable in this respect is the 1992 Khojaly Massacre; the Azeri government claims that more than 600 lives were lost, but a 1993 Human Rights Watch report states the following:

On the Azeri side, no discussion can be complete without first mentioning the 1988 Sumgait pogrom. Again, like Azeri sources, those of Armenia are exceptionally liberal when it comes to calculating death-toll estimates, placing the number at over 200 while a Minorities at Risk (more about this project) report records the Armenian casualties at twenty-six, along with six dead Azeris. Although much lower than the figures at Khojaly, the more unfortunate thing about this is that Armenia experienced a devastating earthquake only ten months later, killing over 25,000 people and leaving over 500,000 without homes. According to another report by the same agency: “In the ensuing relief effort, Azerbaijan continued to block all shipments into Armenia. In response to what Azerbaijan authorities saw as attempts to annex Karabakh, Azerbaijan moved to punish Armenia and Armenians by firing Armenian workers and expelling them from their homes in Azerbaijan.” All this happened during a period when Armenia was experiencing its most severe crisis; now, they’ve refused to sign a UN ceasefire agreement during a pandemic. Let me ask: Where’s the humanity in that? In 1988, I was only one year old when the earthquake hit. My mother carried me out of a building in her arms, but enough sentimentality. Instead here’s an image from that event depicting what seems to be two men digging for survivors.

In many respects the Khojaly massacre perpetrated by Armenian forces was an act of revenge for the horrors of Sumgait; the former was orchestrated on the 26th of February, 1992 while the latter occurred on the 26th of February, 1988, culminating on March 1st of that same year. It’s this vicious cycle that I mention in the first article that causes so many problems in the resolution of this conflict. Payback after payback and it really doesn’t matter at this point who started the most recent fighting or even who began it in the first place—the only thing that matters is who’ll be the one to decide that it’s over.

Let’s continue with another Azeri massacre of Armenians—in this case Maragha—in which, according to multiple Amnesty International (AI) reports, between 45 to 100 people were killed, and not simply that, as stated by one source; their bodies were disfigured and indiscriminately thrown into mass graves. This particular AI document  states the following and the full report quoted below can be viewed here:

This dossier compiled in 1993 by the same agency gives a lower death-toll and this is meant to demonstrate that there can be contrasting perspectives in eyewitness accounts, along with the fact that different reports may focus on important matters that another source may choose to leave out—things such as hostages that were never found or wounded individuals who didn’t necessarily perish during or immediately after the massacre but nevertheless died as a result of their injuries later on; naturally, we may give both sides the benefit of such doubts.

One of the biggest atrocities committed by Armenian forces was during the Capture of Shusha; this can be considered the turning point of the war as it signified the first major victory for the country. Azerbaijan claims that more than 193 lives were lost. I couldn’t find official data on this, but, in the interest of solidarity, let’s just say this was the case. Due to the heavy fighting, the city was reduced to rubble, as this picture shows.

James Carney’s article “Carnage in Karabakh” in Time magazine had this to say about the extent of the damage: “scarcely a single building escaped damage in Stepanakert.” War doesn’t justify the killing of civilians, so let’s not pretend otherwise, even if it serves Armenian interests to use that rationale. Who are we really benefiting with arguments like this when they can just as easily be made by the other side? What’s interesting is that seventy-two years ago a massacre against the Armenians was carried out in this very same city, causing the destruction of the entire Armenian-populated quarter; according to Thomas de Waal‘s book, Black Garden, approximately 500 people lost their lives and the event resulted in the removal of the town’s entire Armenian population.

Indeed, though deadly and gruesome, the massacres during the Nagorno-Karabakh War didn’t amount to nearly the same casualties as those which occurred before and immediately after the creation of the Soviet Union, which was able to suppress and shelve the conflict not long after its formation, relatively speaking.

The so-called March Days were responsible for over 10,000 casualties. Orchestrated by the Bolsheviks with the help of the Dashnaktsutyun (the Armenian Revolutionary Federation), it was an attempt to suppress a possible revolt against Soviet authorities by Azerbajain’s Musavat Party. To demonstrate how dirty politics in fact are, we may simply look at this example: During the period of Soviet Azerbaijan, more precisely in 1978, the country’s leader at the time, Heydar Aliev, issued the following statement at a meeting dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the birth of Stepan Shahumian (the man who helped the Bolsheviks orchestrate the March Days) in Baku on October 11, 1978: “В марте 1918 года мусаватисты подняли антисоветский мятеж в Баку, намереваясь задушить Советскую власть. Благодаря решительным и твердым мерам, принятым большевиками, мятеж был ликвидирован.” The verbatim English translation is as follows: “In March 1918, the Musavatists launched an anti-Soviet revolt in Baku, intending to strangle Soviet power. Thanks to the decisive and firm measures taken by the Bolsheviks, the rebellion was liquidated.” Exactly twenty years later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, of course, that very same leader, Heydar Aliev, according to a UN General Assembly Security Council report, issued a very different statement: “Taking advantage of the situation following the end of the First World War and the February and October 1917 revolutions in Russia, the Armenian nationalists began to pursue the implementation of their plans under the banner of Bolshevism. Under the watchword of combating counter-revolutionary elements, in March 1918, the Baku commune began to implement a criminal plan aimed at eliminating Azerbaijanis from the whole of Baku province.” What version are we really to believe?

The only thing crystal-clear here is that the same man isn’t simply an individual of his time, but a politician of it. Thus, which politician are we to believe—Soviet Aliev or the post-Soviet one? Should we believe that the Bolsheviks with the help of Stepan Shahumian are heroes for crushing an anti-Soviet revolt in Baku or that those very same Bolsheviks with the help of that traitorous Armenian were responsible for killing more than 12,000 people? Perhaps we can simplify things by complicating the issue with the addition of a scholar: According to Michael Smith’s article, “Anatomy of Rumor: Murder Scandal, the Musavat Party and Narrative of the Russian Revolution in Baku, 1917–1920,” which states: “The results of the March events were immediate and total for the Musavat. Several hundreds of its members were killed in the fighting; up to 12,000 Muslim civilians perished; thousands of others fled Baku in a mass exodus.” Issues like these are exactly what I was trying to highlight rather subtly in my first article, but since the point may not have gotten across to some people, I’ve decided to take a more direct approach. Let me pose the question again: Which Heydar Aliev do we believe?

Moving right back along now to Azeri atrocities committed against the Armenians. Aptly named the September Days, it’s not difficult to realize at this point that this event was an act of revenge for the March Days—a sort of reverse Khojaly, if you will. A 1995 Human Rights Watch report summarizes the two events nicely, although their death toll for the March Days could’ve perhaps been higher, but who cares about a few lives here and there, right? One death can be a genocide if there’s enough hate involved.

What do all these unfortunate events show? Precisely what I was trying to suggest in the first article: “Indeed, Azeris will never forget the atrocities of Khojaly while at the same time deliberately choosing to ignore the pogroms committed against Armenians in Sumgait, Baku, and Stepanakert; however, this has more to do with realizing political objectives than any kind of genuine hate for a people.” In this conflict, when one side has committed or commits an atrocity against the other side, it really isn’t that difficult to find something equivalent that has happened at some point in the past, or will probably happen in the future; all this needs to stop.

While Armenian and Azeri politicians are busy pointing fingers, people are dying; that was another thing which I initially attempted to illustrate by using the statements of US senators and representatives. The back-and-forth will never stop; tomorrow, an Azeri will find some other international lawmaker to back up his own cause and what will that really do to further the relations between the two countries themselves? Something else is needed—something besides politics. A few people I’ve spoken to about this disagree—they believe politics is the only solution. When I mentioned that our family knows an Armenian man and an Azeri woman who are married to each other, one person even discounted such cultural contact as not really relevant in the process towards building better relations between the respective countries; I find that very hard to believe.

Politics isn’t everything because the majority of Armenians and Azeris aren’t actually politicians; they’re just regular people. It’s therefore up to us to build bridges, to form bonds and go places where governments can’t take us. It’s my firm belief that the true resolution to this conflict will not come from the political arena but from Armenians and Azeris themselves. The eighteenth-century Armenian poet Sayat-Nova, who wrote both in Armenian and Azeri, along with Georgian as well, thought of himself, according to de Waal, precisely “as a bridge builder.” The poet was most content when, in de Waal’s words, he could move “between the different nations and regions of the Caucasus,” never tied down to a single identity. In one of his Azeri poems, he writes:

The word “nation” in the poem is ambiguous; however, Sayat-Nova’s biographer, Charles Dorsett (quoted in de Waal), states the following about why the poet may have chosen that specific word: “What nation? If the Armenian nation, or the Georgian, why is the poem in Azeri? It would seem his horizons are broader, and that he is thinking in such terms such as the Caucasian unity, in which Armenian, Georgian, and Azeri might live together in harmony, under the beneficent rule of a wise leader like Irakli II, and Azeri, as the common language, was the best vehicle for the message.” An Armenian poet writing in Azeri? Truly, this is something that both sides probably wouldn’t want to acknowledge, but it’s precisely what proves my point—politics isn’t the solution. It’s the power of art and culture that will serve to mediate whatever differences exist between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, 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.

Yesterday Karabakh, Today Artsakh, part I, an article by David Garyan

July 22nd, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

Part II

Yesterday Karabakh, Today Artsakh, part I

The recent escalation in violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is an unfortunate event in what has become a long struggle for self-determination in the case of Armenia and preserving the integrity of national borders in the case of Azerbaijan.

The area, historically known as Artsakh, has always retained a strong Armenian character, both in terms of culture and religion. David Marhall Lang, one of the most notable British scholars on Armenian, Georgian, and Bulgarian history, traces the territory’s name back to an ancient Armenian king: “Historically speaking, the evidence of Armenian occupation is overwhelming. The area’s ancient name of Artsakh probably recalls the name of King Artashes I (190-159 B.C.), founder of the Artaxiad dynasty.” Moreover, in line with Lang’s argument, the emergence of cities such as Tigranakert, probably founded by Tigranes the Great, or perhaps even his father, provide further scholarly evidence that Armenians inhabited the area long before there was even a nation called Azerbaijan.

Ten years ago an archaeological museum was opened in the city with the aim of studying and preserving the ancient Armenian ruins.

Likewise, places like Amaras Monastery, dating back to the fourth century AD, show the extent to which Armenian religious sights have impacted the region. Founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator, the grounds later served as the site where his remains where buried in 338; it’s this religious leader who converted his people from paganism to Christianity, effectively making Armenia the first nation to adopt the religion as its official faith in 301—twelve years before Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, after which it took ten more years for Rome to do what the aforementioned saint had already done twenty-two years ago in his own land. Indeed, it was also in Amaras, at the beginning of the fifth century that Mesrop Mashtots—a medieval Armenian linguist and theologian who invented the unique Armenian alphabet—founded the first school that would use the script which would go on to serve Armenians to this day.

According to Peter Brown in his book, Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World, published by Harvard University Press, Mashtots “also created the Georgian and Caucasian-Albanian alphabets, based on the Armenian model.” Hence, Mashtots proved to be a man who was interested in worldly pursuits—in the sense that he was a theologian who didn’t simply concern himself with the agenda of his own people. Below is a picture of the simple yet picturesque monastery which has captured the imagination of both Armenians and foreigners alike.

Another important testament to the Armenian presence in the area is Gandzasar, a thirteenth-century Armenian-Apostolic cathedral built between 1216 and 1238. To this day, Azeri attempts to whitewash Armenian history in the region have led to efforts which try to portray the monastery as the cultural and religious heir of Caucasian Albania;  an Economist article from 1997 highlights just one of the ways in which the Azeri political apparatus manipulates history for their own ends: “Those sculpted men who built the church and hundreds of others like it were not Armenians at all, the Baku scholars have argued, but Albanians. And the Albanians, they add, were the ancestors of the Azerbaijanis.” Such skulduggery has been challenged by various scholars, including the noted Russian historian Victor Schnirelmann, and recognized American scholar on Armenian studies, Robert Hewsen; the former has made numerous statements (written in Russian) regarding Azerbaijan’s attempt to shift Armenian intellectuals and monuments from the past into the sphere of Albanian history while the latter wrote the following in his book, Armenia: A Historical Atlas: “Scholars should be on guard when using Soviet and post-Soviet Azeri editions of Azeri, Persian, and even Russian and Western European sources printed in Baku. These have been edited to remove references to Armenians and have been distributed in large numbers in recent years. When utilizing such sources, the researchers should seek out pre-Soviet editions wherever possible.” Along with this, the successful obliteration of medieval Armenian khachkars (stone cross carvings) in the city Djulfa to erase any traces of Armenian presence is an event The LA Times has called cultural genocide.

While it’s a sad and unfortunate matter that some nations choose to destroy monuments for the purpose of erasing people’s legacies in specific regions, our purpose is better served if we analyze Azerbaijan’s manipulation of history; the latter dilemma is something the Economist, at least in Gandzasar’s supposed Albanian heritage (as claimed by the Azeris) is also quick to point out: “This is nonsense. According to most historians, the Albanians, a Caucasian people first recorded by the Romans, simply disappeared around the 10th century and became assimilated with their neighbours. All that remained was a territorial name, which the eastern branch of the Armenian church took for its diocese.” There can be no denying that Artsakh has always been a frontier land and that Armenians, too, have engaged in historical revisionism; what can’t be disputed, however, is the overwhelming historical proof that Armenians have resided in the territory long before the Muslims ever arrived—the only confirmation one needs for this is simple math: Islam is a religion founded approximately seven centuries after the birth of Christ; Tigranes the Great, meanwhile, founded Tigranakert—by the most modest calculations—fifty years before Jesus himself was even born; thus, it’s not even Christians who were already establishing ancient cities in Artsakh, but pagan Armenians. The presence of many religious sites such as Gandzasar Monastery (pictured below) show how firmly people renounced their polytheism in order to embrace a monotheistic faith.

Following a war with Iran, the Russian Empire formally annexed what’s today once again known as Artsakh in 1813; however, after the Russian Empire itself collapsed in 1918 and the short-lived republics of Armenian and Azerbaijan were born in 1918, conflicts over the region really began to take shape. Under the leadership of the USSR, hostilities were shelved as the expression of nationality was discouraged in the interest of building a greater Soviet identity.

There’s neither enough space nor time to discuss all the incredibly complex history of the region; what’s relevant to mention, however, is that in 1921, in an effort to bring Turkey under its communist sphere of influence, Joseph Stalin formally transferred the Armenian-settled highlands of Artsakh to Azerbaijan (the Turks and Azeris share many cultural and ethnic ties). As the notable historian Robert Service wrote in his biography of Stalin: “There was a demand from the Azerbaijani communist leadership in Baku for Karabakh, an Armenian-inhabited enclave butting into Azerbaijan, to be made part of Azerbaijan; and the Armenian communists fiercely opposed this on the ground that Karabakh should belong to Armenia. Ruling the Caucasus was never going to be easy after the wars fought between the Azeris and Armenians from 1918. But on balance it was Stalin’s judgement that the Azerbaijani authorities should be placated. Revolutionary pragmatism was his main motive. The Party Central Committee in Moscow gave high priority to winning support for the Communist International across Asia.” Hence, it was this transfer (the motive of which was to spread Soviet influence at the expense of undermining the national integrity of regions), that arguably, has been the root cause of many troubles in the area, and perhaps the underlying cause for the Nagorno-Karabakh War, when the Soviet Union (which had managed to suppress inter-ethnic tensions) collapsed and led to the resurgence of hostilities between the neighboring countries.

After the conclusion of the conflict in 1994, the area, today once more known as Artsakh, fell under the full control of Armenia and is until now heavily dependent on it; the breakaway republic remains unrecognized by the international community, although regional governments such as those of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, the California State Assembly, Georgia, and Hawaii, just to name a few, have recognized the region’s independence on the grounds of self-determination. Furthermore, cities such as Glendale, California (where almost half the population is of Armenian descent) have renamed their streets to show solidarity with the republic; previously called Maryland, lawmakers in a historic move about two years ago opted to rename one of the town’s most scenic strips in honor of its Armenian-American citizens, who’ve done so much to improve the community throughout the years. This is a picture of me standing at that intersection last year with the awareness that I would shortly depart for Italy to study human rights at the University of Bologna.

Similar measures have been taken in cities like Watertown, Massachusetts, as the state, like California, is also home to a large number of people who claim Armenian descent.

In fact as early as the 19th century, notable American personalities such as the feminist and human rights advocate Alicia Stone Blackwell, were beginning to be fascinated by Armenian culture and even translated poets such as Bedros Tourian into English. Without going too much off-topic, Tourian was at the height of his creative powers when he suddenly died at the age of 21 from tuberculosis. During his short life, Tourian wrote numerous poems and plays and was well-versed in writers like Victor Hugo and Alphonse de Lamartine, having read them in the original French. Perhaps his most poignant poem, “Complaints,” is the author’s plight in having to accept his own mortality. Though somewhat dated, Blackwell’s translation nevertheless offers a powerful glimpse into the author’s resistance against fate, which is captured in these two stanzas:

Shifting back to the area of our discussion, in the interest of fairness, it’s best to acknowledge right away that not only were both sides guilty of mass atrocities during the Nagorno-Karabakh War, but that to this day one side is responsible for some bloodshed that the other side has retaliated against and visa versa—the vicious cycle continues, which is why collaborative efforts such as this joint Armenian-Azerbaijani documentary on the region have more potential to mend differences than the efforts of politicians. Indeed, Azeris will never forget the atrocities of Khojaly while at the same time deliberately choosing to ignore the pogroms committed against Armenians in Sumgait, Baku, and Stepanakert; however, this has more to do with realizing political objectives than any kind of genuine hate for a people. Bring individuals of various faiths and nationalities around a dinner table and they’ll find ways to resolve their differences; I’ve always been a firm believer in this. In my own program, there are Turks and Azeris with whom I’ve established friendly relations, further proving that politics and people are not as inseparable as society has made us believe.

It’s unfortunate that war had to erupt; based on the principle of self-determination, however, Armenians should have the right to create their own republic, especially given the fact they form and have historically constituted the majority in this region.

The right to self-determination is supported by a large number of senators and representatives within the US government. Furthermore, the Pallone Amendment, which recently passed into law and was co-sponsored in the House Committee on Rules by Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), and Jackie Speier (D-CA), will enhance the oversight of human rights violations around the world; as stated by Frank Pallone himself, the recent aggression by Azerbaijan against Armenia was a key factor in the passage of this particular amendment: “This amendment is especially important now as Azerbaijan threatens Armenia’s safety and sovereignty with offensive attacks staged by Azeri armed forces in Armenia’s Tavush region. The United States should not be aiding and abetting reckless, autocratic states with appalling human rights records for any reason.” Along with the the recent money laundering schemes by Azerbaijan, which were instrumental in securing the release of the officer who murdered Gurgen Margaryan in Hungary (also my article on this topic), the passage of this resolution couldn’t be more timely.

Let’s return, however, to the amendment of Frank Pallone Jr. and the general discussion of support for Artsakh by various US senators and representatives. Regarding the importance which American foreign aid plays in the region, Rep. TJ Cox, a democrat from California issued the following statement:

Along with this, a letter signed by congressmen and women Jackie Speier, Adam Schiff, Gus M. Bilirakis, and Frank Pallone Jr. was drafted, expressing great concern over the recent escalation in violence and demanding greater accountability on the part of Azerbaijan. In the same vein, individual congressmen and women have issued their own statements of concern and the need for greater accountability.

Congressman Tony Cardenas, representing the 29th District of California stated this:

New Jersey Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez stated:

Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, representing the 38th District of California issued the following statement:

The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, whose city recognized the independence of Artsakh posted the following on Twitter:

 

Congressman Josh Gottheimer, representing the 5th District of New Jersey stated the following on Twitter page:

Congressman Jim Costa, representing the 16th District of California gave this statement:

Congresswoman Katherine Clark, representing the 5th District of Massachusetts stated this:

Lastly, Devin Nunes, representing the 22nd District of California called on Turkey to cease threatening Armenia in the following Twitter post:

Turkey has repeatedly called Armenia’s presence in Artsakh an illegal occupation. Ankara itself doesn’t realize, however, that its military intervention in Cyprus and the subsequent control over half the island isn’t recognized by the international community or any UN member state. As James Ker-Lindsay writes in his book, An Island in Europe: “Concerning the situation in Cyprus, the UN concludes in its resolutions that the proclamation of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ (TRNC) is void. The international community collectively refuses any recognition of this entity. Hence, only one state exists on the island, the Republic of Cyprus, whose northern part is occupied by foreign forces. Classified as illegal under international law, the occupation of the northern part leads automatically to an illegal occupation of EU territory since Cyprus’s accession.” The Turkish government, along with Azerbaijan, should thus exercise caution when they threaten to blow up Armenian nuclear power plants, given that harebrained schemes like this would only worsen their own situation—the radioactive material emitted from such an explosion would cover not only all of Azerbaijan, but also Western Turkey. Indeed, Armenia would be greatly harmed, but in the attempt to pay back their foe, the entity dealing out this retribution would suffer the same damage as the enemy he’s inflicting it upon.

It must be repeated that I’ve never had problems with the Azeris and Turks that I’ve gotten to know personally; however, when I see blatant propaganda being posted on the internet by individuals of those nationalities claiming that Armenians have been and continue to be the sole aggressor in this conflict, I must speak out. We’re a small nation and it’s been too long that we’ve had to stand back and watch the greater powers either carve out, map, or exterminate our nation—all the while making promises they were never intending to keep. Where’s Wilsonian Armenia today? Why did the Western powers not do more to ensure that the Treaty of Sèvres was properly honored after WWI? In comparison to the land promised below, our country is a shadow of what it should’ve been. It’s no longer possible to stand back and watch. It’s no longer possible to assume that greater powers will act in our best interest; the consequences of such assumptions have been clear.

It’s true that every nation gets short-changed and every country loses territory; however, some incur more loses than others. Armenia has forfeited plenty over the years and been on the receiving end of political deals gone bad. While the French were busy getting back Alsace-Lorraine and the Italians were annexing South Tyrol, Armenians were being exterminated on the very land where they had lived for years while losing precisely that territory they were being exterminated on, mainly because a government refused to honor legitimate treaty obligations. Whether something similar will happen, no one but God knows. The only certain thing is that Artsakh—whether historically or now—has always gravitated towards Armenia and it belongs there today, even if that sense of belonging isn’t honored by the rest of the world.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, 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.

Seeing the Netherlands, an article by David Garyan

July 14th, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

Seeing the Netherlands

Before I even begin describing my experiences in the beautiful country known as the Netherlands, I’d like to point out right away that, despite having stayed in Amsterdam for three nights, none of the pictures in this article were taken in that city. Don’t get me wrong—I think the capital is an amazing place to visit and many people looking for thrills of various sorts will find plenty of opportunities to partake in whatever activity they desire, but I’d like to go a less conventional way. I don’t want to reduce this country to just one city. Let’s just say that I, myself, took full advantage of everything that Amsterdam had to offer, but if I may be real frank, the best and most fulfilling experiences didn’t actually happen there—they occurred in places like Utrecht, Delft, The Hague, and Den Bosch.

The reason why so many people are drawn to the capital and rarely visit other places in the country—which from an aesthetic point of view are just as, if not more impressive, than Amsterdam itself—is because a lot of tourists unknowingly (and perhaps even deliberately) misinterpret Dutch tolerance as a right to be reckless; this couldn’t be further from the truth. The real reason, in fact, why sex work and soft drugs like marijuana are legal in the country (the former exists only in some cities while the latter can be found almost everywhere) really has its roots in the Dutch belief that each and every human being should have the right to decide in a sensible way about the matters pertaining to their own health; this is a fundamental rule of Dutch society and it’s based on the idea that individuals have not only the right, but also the inherent ability to exercise their own reason and prudence for the purpose of making sound decisions that coincide with their existential tastes and preferences.

I can only speak from the perspective of my own people and thus I’ll say that the typical (in this case young) US traveler arrives in Amsterdam, spends three or four days doing all sorts of reckless things there, and then leaves with the belief that he or she has “seen” the Netherlands, so to say; to witness a country, however, is to experience, at the very least, another city that’s different in character, culture, or perhaps even size. As someone currently residing in Italy, I can tell you that life is far from similar if you compare places like Venice and Rome. To the question of which city (or cities) represent the so-called authentic Italian spirit, however, no one can say—and perhaps there’s really no answer to this question, but to stay in Rome for three days only to leave immediately after just to claim you’ve visited Bel Paese is kind of pathetic. You’ll neither find Italy just in Rome, Venice, Naples, or Palermo alone; perhaps, however, you may succeed through the combination of experiences that are gained by having visited two or more of those places—truly, you may begin approaching the feeling of what it means to be “Italian” by looking at the sculpture of nationality from different angles, not just glancing at it directly for a second and walking away.

The Netherlands are no different in this regard. Many people use Holland to describe the entire land, but actually the whole nation is divided into twelve provinces which together constitute the Netherlands—North and South Holland are just two of those aforementioned territories; having said that, getting around the entire country is incredibly easy. The trains are fast, efficient, and clean—I expected nothing less from the Dutch, and, of course, the level of trust on which the ticket system relies on restores your belief in the goodness of humanity. Let’s just say it’s not difficult to walk behind someone who’s scanned their pass and then walk to your train (where vouchers, at least in my experience, were never checked); even in stations like Utrecht, where no physical barriers are present, people nevertheless scanned their passes as they entered and exited. Accountability, honesty, and respect for the rules—this is perhaps why the country has been one of the most successful in dealing with the coronavirus and is today, once again, not just open, but also thriving. In Italy, on the other hand, discotheques and nightclubs either remain totally closed or have begun opening with very strict distancing rules; additionally, masks are still absolutely mandatory when going to the supermarket or any kind of indoor establishment, for that matter.

The Netherlands, for their part, have been so successful at dealing with the pandemic that Amsterdam has even decided to reopen its Red Light District (as of July 1st) during a worldwide pandemic—it was supposed to restart in September; almost comically, the only place where people still wear masks more or less regularly is on the train. Again, accountability, honesty, and respect for the rules—as a writer I’ve never really possessed any of those virtues in great quantities, but I’m starting to realize that art does exist in order, consistency, and caution—all traits which, nevertheless, go against the principles of “passion” that fuel creativity. Indeed, I must say there’s something incredibly admirable to be found in those qualities which the Dutch hold in such high regard; whatever opinion you may have about the people, you can’t accuse them of lacking imagination. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), around “17% of the entire land area has been reclaimed from the sea or lakes.” My point is that while the so-called “creative” Italians are letting Venice sink, the Dutch, since at least the 16th century, have been raising (quite literally, in fact) large portions of their country from under the water—that, in and of itself, is the greatest artistic achievement a country can claim for itself. The following image shows the difference in the amount of territorial expansion that was achieved with land reclamation techniques.

Truly, enough philosophizing, however—any philosopher knows it’s easy to fall in love with a country when you’ve first visited it and it likewise doesn’t take much effort to get sick of a place when you’ve spent almost a year living there; that’s why, in the interest of Dutch prudence and caution, I won’t give a hasty response as to where I’d ultimately prefer to settle down. All I can state with relative confidence is that having traveled more or less extensively throughout Europe at this point, I know that I still love Italy and everything it has to offer.

Let’s at last move away from abstract discussions now and focus on what actually matters—experiencing the Netherlands outside of Amsterdam. My relationship with the country really goes back to when I was a nine or ten year old kid, living in Germany; the precise details elude me but my parents found an organization dedicated to enriching the lives of young kids and this establishment was in the business of organizing yearly summer trips to the island of Ameland, where I ended up going for two summers. Despite the fact that more than twenty years have passed, I still remember some of the rules, duties, and activities: Whatever primitive technologies we did possess at home (Game Boys and other gadgets from the nineties), these were strictly forbidden; every kid had to help in the kitchen at least twice during their month-long stay; a special disco-styled dance (the lighting equipment was pretty awesome) was organized in your honor if you were lucky enough to be born in the right month of summer; that was the case for me as I was born on July 26th; furthermore, those who had birthdays also received presents which weren’t cheap, let’s just say. I remember getting a high-quality soccer ball on one occasion and I was able to play with it for many years. Other things I remember are swimming in the cold North Sea and repeatedly being warned about the tides by the camp counselors; all these things are distant memories, however, and despite the impression I’m giving here of being able to throw around details left and right, there isn’t really much I can recall from those times, except that I never felt happier at any point in my life; perhaps this is why the Netherlands hold such a special place in my imagination.

Maybe it’s not so much the Netherlands I missed and more so the easiness and effortlessness of my childhood, but when I set foot on Dutch soil again, I realized it was both. The hustle and bustle of the capital helped me drown this bittersweet nostalgia for some time, but when I left Amsterdam and arrived in The Hague, the thought—for some odd reason or other—that life is incredibly difficult for all of us came to me. Even for those who’re wealthy and have every privilege imaginable (I have neither of those things), the certainty that there can never be another childhood, that greed, hunger, and crime do constitute a part of our world (perhaps even making up an unchangeable aspect of it) is a realization that no amount of money or status can change; as I marveled at the International Court of Justice, I thought about all of those things. The impressive nature of the building did give me some reassurance that perhaps it is possible to rid the world of its problems with human institutions, but then I remembered everything that my professors had said about the ineffectiveness of the UN, its inability to stop genocides, and all the other plethora of problems that continue to exist. For a moment, however, I felt at peace standing next to this structure; in the attempt to rediscover my youth, I just imagined that it was a magical fortress which protected the world from every misfortune and inside it no bad thing could happen either. Maybe my expression in this photo shows that.

After spending some time in the city center of The Hague, I walked to the beach and discovered one of the liveliest scenes that a coastline can offer: a modern pier next to which people were bungee jumping from a crane, a tall Ferris wheel, and varied dining opportunities along along with dynamic gaming scenes all around. This shot I took from the pier really gives you an idea of how big everything is; the entire shoreline offers various entertainment opportunities for adults and kids alike.

The next city I visited was Delft. A classic university town in the most pleasant sense, it’s home to the Delft University of Technology, which is one of the best universities in the Netherlands; likewise, according to recent data, it’s one of the top fifteen engineering and technology schools in the world.

Due to the contributions of Dutch Golden Age scientists such as Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and Martinus Beijerinck, Delft is often considered the birthplace of microbiology.

Architecturally, the city is quite stunning. Here’s the picture of the main square and not far from it there once stood the home of the great painter Johannes Vermeer, whose painting The Girl with the Pearl Earring has become one of the centerpieces in the art world. Walking among the canals and enjoying the seclusion and silence of this city proved to be a very memorable experience and one I’d like to have again.

Trees line the waterfront and when their leaves fall, they create a type of moss that really adds to the character of Delft. One of most stunning views I captured was this one.

The following day I decided to visit Utrecht, which Lonely Planet calls an unsung gem of the Netherlands, and when I saw it for myself, I realized why. The city with its canals, dining scene, and architectural offerings feels both medieval and modern at the same time. Surely, you’ll find crowds and many people out and about; however, where Amsterdam is noisy and stressful, Utrecht is calm and relaxed. I simply couldn’t resist asking someone to take a picture here. The entire city pretty much looks like this and there are endless opportunities to enjoy a coffee or meal right on the waterfront.

In terms of its history, Utrecht was actually the cultural center in the Dutch Golden Age before it was surpassed by Amsterdam. It was the location where the famous Peace of Utrecht was signed: Since he died childless in 1700, Charles II of Spain, in his last will, had named Philip of Anjou (grandson of Louis XIV) as his successor. The other great European powers, however, weren’t prepared to tolerate the possible merger of such powers like Spain and France. What the treaties, therefore, accomplished is that it allowed Philip to assume the Spanish crown by permanently giving up his right to the French throne. The treaties were, thus, an essential component of maintaining the balance of power in Europe. Since the eighth century, Utrecht has also served as the religious center of the Netherlands and the Dutch Roman Catholic leader, called the Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht, has his seat in the city. It’s the location of Utrecht University, the largest institution of higher learning in the Netherlands. The famous Dom Tower, completed in 1382, was, unfortunately, undergoing major renovations and couldn’t be seen.

The next location I visited is officially called ‘s-Hertogenbosch (no, neither the apostrophe nor the hyphen are typos). Furthermore, despite the fact that the aforementioned name is the very one you’ll see above the entrance to the train station, most locals simply refer to their city as Den Bosch; it’s quite picturesque and quaint. Although there were plenty of people in the main square, I still consider the city a well-kept secret in the Netherlands. One of its claims to fame is being the place where Hieronymus Bosch lived and died, along with the fact that the oldest brick building (pictured below) in the Netherlands is located in the main square.

St. John’s Cathedral, the burial site of Hieronymus Bosch, looks as impressive from the outside as it does when gazing at the interior. In vain, I tried taking a good picture of both, but none of them did the cathedral any justice. Instead, here’s the plaque on the ground which commemorates the burial of the famous artist, whose depictions of hell are so vivid and intriguing that I consider them to be what the Divine Comedy would’ve looked like had Dante chosen to become a painter.

For the time he lived (the 15th and 16th centuries), Bosch’s paintings really are some of the most original and idiosyncratic that ever existed. So many people praise the vision of Salvador Dali’s composition without ever having heard of the man who really had one of the most fantastic imaginations any painter can have. This particular image is a closeup of The Harrowing of Hell.

It’s only fitting, then, that the great citizen of this city which bears a name just as eccentric as his own (Hieronymus) should pay tribute to the artist with a statue right in the main square. The less strange thing, of course, is that few tourists really look at it and perhaps not many even know who he is; instead they sit around the master, enjoying whatever tasty beverage or snack they’ve just purchased—ah, the beauty of travel and relaxation.

The main square is rather busy, not just with restaurants but also with food trucks serving traditional Dutch-style seafood. To escape that scene for a bit, I stumbled upon this incredible place by pure chance. Sit and think about whatever comes to mind—it’s both a blessing and curse to be free.

I finished my trip in Eindhoven, which in all honesty, I wouldn’t have taken the time to visit had my departing flight not been from there. Aside from the fact that it’s very modern and clean, along with the beautiful St. Catherine’s Church in the center, I really have only two things to discuss in terms of this city—the classic example of Dutch organization and also my scenic walk to the airport. The former is highlighted in the picture below.

As you can see, the sidewalk is divided into two halves, each side serving to accommodate one flow of traffic; this is just one measure enacted by the Dutch government in the wake of the coronavirus—to make movement more efficient and to decrease congestion, which leads directly into my next point: The pride with which the people maintain not just their infrastructure but also their natural world can easily be seen here. Although the country is one of the flattest in the world, the amount of amazing nature is never in short supply. On every train ride out of Amsterdam, I saw some of the most pristine and well-kept landscapes. The decision not to take the bus which I’d already paid for and instead walk to the airport, thus, seemed only natural, as discovering the Dutch countryside was one of the things few I didn’t do.

I would like to end this article with a quote I saw painted on the side of a building in Den Bosch. I did a quick translation on my phone and the literal one is as follows: The feeling that you are just a bit bigger today than you were yesterday; it probably means that each and every day offers us an opportunity to grow and if we seize it, we realize our potential—that would be the most standard interpretation.

Since we’re in Den Bosch, however, I take it to mean something else; for me it’s that bittersweet nostalgia I described earlier—the realization that you’re no longer a child in the country you once experienced the greatest happiness in and have now returned to as an adult who, at that exact moment, is longing for those very days you’ll never have back. You’re now a little bigger than you were over twenty years ago and the past is even less likely to come back the more you try to convince an empty house that it needs a lamp at night. So go. Live. Whatever has happened has already happened. The people who really want you in their lives won’t keep trying to run away.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, 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.