About my Book and Armenian Churches in Turkey ….

I recently exchanged notes with Liz, a very good friend and sorority sister from the UW. In 1952 she and 60 Delta Zetas stuck their necks out to host an exchange student from Iraq, thus facilitating my attendance at the UW. She and I recently ran into each other at an ESU function. The ESU (English Speaking Union) raises money for students interested in literature in general and Shakespeare in particular. We are also in the same Opera Preview group.

Hi Aida,

I have gotten to the train trip now. What a book—loss, hardship, romance … Can’t wait to finish!!

I was interested to read your ESU piece, and that you now have an Armenian church locally. But what a surprise to pick up the Seattle Times the other day and find the article about that Armenian church in Turkey. (I saved the article, but can’t put my hands on it at the moment.) I thought there was nothing left in Turkey to do with the Armenians! But when I think about it I realize there would be historical buildings. Wow, to think that Armenia was the first Christian nation.

Hope to see you soon……

Liz

Here is my response:

Hello Liz – so glad you’re enjoying my book. So far, everyone who’s read it has positive comments. I feel very good about it, and I’m sure my mom is looking down on earth wondering about the future comments about her later life.

Incidentally, due to great demand, I have begun the sequel to Between the Two Rivers. Haven’t tagged it with a title yet.

Oh, yes. You can’t travel through Turkey, especially in its eastern regions and Lake Van, without becoming awestruck at the sight of so many dilapidated Armenian churches.

I have a DVD about a recent service conducted on the Island of Akhtamar in one of the oldest Armenian churches, converted to a museum by the Turks. For one day this year they allowed the Armenian clergy to congregate from the Diaspora and hold a mass.

See you the earliest at Bellini’s perhaps,

Aida

More from my Armenian friend …

More from the Armenian Friend I quoted in my last post:

KCLS (King County Library System) has bought at least 7 copies of your book (& there are 10 people waiting on hold for it, too!)

Good luck, Aida, and I can’t wait for the sequel!

My response to this and his earlier message:

You are very generous with your compliments. I accept and thank you greatly.

There is very little from my imagination in the book. The language is mine, of course, but the content is more than ninety percent my mom’s—whether spoken or written.

I did juggle the timing of some events to immerse the reader into the flow of her life. But other than that, it is Mannig from start to finish.

The hardest thing was not to immerse my emotions into the horror of the genocide. I knew Americans wouldn’t want to read too much sadness. In any case, my mother had an upbeat attitude about her survival, so even that element of the story is hers.

More Kind Words from my Readers …

From a Fellow Armenian:

I finally got the chance to sit down and read your book—and when I did, I devoured it in about 3 days! What a great writer you are! Such rich detail, so evocative & emotional, such passion & feeling! Certainly your mother couldn’t have told you ALL of this? And although you didn’t dwell on the horrors of the Genocide, I was happy to read your book, which still contained so much hope.

I can’t wait for any sequel— and also wonder when Hollywood will film it? (With you starring as Romella perhaps?!)

My mother’s mother came from Keskin Madin near Ankara, which I visited in 1983, but I never heard much about their own story in getting out (through France & Canada I believe).

And a Non-Armenian:

After reading your outstanding book I wished I had some Armenian heritage in my half Irish and half Swedish parentage.

I love all your family members. Your portraits of them make for such rich reading—all parts of your mother’s extraordinary story by you.

Your Haji-Doo’s words: “If it is written in the heart it will be written by the hand,” certainly became the heart of your ability to write such an important book.

Many thanks, Aida, and may God continue to give you that grand voice to write another related book.

Thank you, Roger Page of Island Books

I would like to share a letter I wrote to the Mercer Island Reporter:

Dear Editor,

I would like to thank Roger Page, the Mercer Island community, and my family and friends for a memorable evening at Island Books.

On Friday, July 16th, Roger provided me the opportunity and hospitality to talk about my recently published book, Between the Two Rivers: A Story of the Armenian Genocide.

The stacks at the bookstore were rolled away to create a spacious area. Sixty supporters trekked to Island Books from as far away as Hood Canal, Bainbridge Island and Mt. Vernon. It felt wonderful to be among such a warm and receptive group. My deepest gratitude to all.

Island Books deserves a special award for its first-class treatment of local authors. Roger, a thousand thank yous!

Aida Kouyoumjian

A Meeting with Congressman Reichert … Cont’d

Lerna Shirinian, Reichert Representative Lincoln Van Der Veen, Aida Kouyoumjian, Ashot Khachatryan

Lerna Shirinian, Reichert Representative Lincoln Van Der Veen, Aida Kouyoumjian, Ashot Khachatryan

ANCA-WR: Washington State Activists Rally Support For Key Issues

  • From: “Haig Hovsepian” <haig@anca.org>
  • Date: Thu, 19 Aug 2010 18:06:14 PDT



Armenian National Committee-Western Region
104 North Belmont Street, Suite 200
Glendale, California 91206
Tel: (818) 500-1918

PRESS RELEASE

August 18, 2010
Contact: Lerna Shirinian
Tel: (818) 500-1918


WASHINGTON STATE ACTIVISTS RALLY SUPPORT FOR KEY ARMENIAN AMERICAN ISSUES
 
SEATTLE, WA---Representatives of the Armenian National Committee of
America-Western Region (ANCA-WR) and activists from the Armenian National
Committee of America-Washington State (ANCA-WA) Chapter participated in a
series of meetings in Washington State last week to educate members of
Congress on range of community concerns and rally support for Armenian
American issues.

ANCA-WA Chapter Chairman Vacheh Haghnazarian along with WA residents Chris
Ajemian, John Pashaian, Aida Kouyoumjian, Ashot Khachatryan, and Norayr
Gazarian visited the offices of US Representatives Jay Inslee (WA-01-D),
Rick Larsen (WA-02-D), Jim McDermott (WA-07-D), Dave Reichert (WA-08-R), and
Adam Smith (WA-09-D). They were joined by ANCA-WR Government Relations
Director Lerna Shirinian for the meetings.

To Read More, click here.

A Lovely Reader Review

I received the following snail-mail from Catherine in Bellevue:

From the opening quotes, which I find to be very telling, to the end of Between the Two Rivers, I was completely caught up in the story of Mannig. She suffered terrible tragedy and loss, and yet was still determined to live the life she had in front of her. She had such strong will; I was so impressed by her persistence and her insistence that she was going to remain with her sister, that she was going to be educated, that she would not be a slave. It is amazing to think that someone so young had such determination. I must confess when Mardiros fell in love with her—he was so old!—I cringed a bit, but I was completely entranced by their love story. I just had to know how the book ended. It had a happy ending, and books with happy endings are the best kind. I wanted to know more about Mannig. How did she fare? Was she happy? Did she receive the education that was so important to her? What happened to her sister, who was horribly treated during the genocide? What happened to the displaced Armenians? Are they back home again?

I loved Between the Two Rivers and I want to know more. I highly recommend this book as a good read and great story.

My Reading at the Mercer Island Library

I had another successful book signing and the weather prompted many to seek the air-conditioned Library for respite.

They also enjoyed Starbucks coffee and Cosco Nazook (Armenian pasty) provided by the Librarian. (When she ran out of the Nazook, I brought in a tray I had made myself at home, and brought along, just in case. Well the opportunity came very quickly. The library anticipated 10-12 people only.)

There were 30 people, not counting myself. Most of them were from Seattle, and personally I knew only a handful of the guests.

There were several Americanized-Armenians I was delighted to meet for the first time, and they were curious about the existing Armenian community in King County.

Two guests who had actually known my mother gave us tidbits about her I had forgotten; one was a folk-dance teacher who had learned an Armenian dance from my mom, the other related some of the wisdom my mom had shared with her, such as, “What’s in the heart shows in the eyes.”

I was showered with compliments/questions/comments at the end of the presentation:

You are a very good speaker. You engage your audience fully. I could hear you for another hour and wouldn’t have enough.

I’ve heard you before but you make a very entertaining presentation. I’m glad I came again.

I’m here because my daughter urged me to come. She got your flyer about your book-signing slid under her windshield wiper of her car, parked at MI Starbucks.

I suspected you’d be good, but your presentation was phenomenal. You are something special.

Why can’t I get your book at the University Bookstore?

One friend came from Whidbey Island especially for the book signing.

A Meeting with Congressman Reichert

I feel as if I have accomplished a coup.

At noon on Wednesday, August 11, I along with two other Armenians (one from L.A., one from Bellevue) met with my congressman, Dave Reichert, the Republican Congressional representative of Washington’s 8th congressional district. He has been receptive previously to the plight of the Armenians, so we consider him a good guy. We wish you, too, could vote for him.

Here is the problem:

Every nation in the world—except the US—recognizes the horrific Genocide of WWI.

We, the Armenians of the Diaspora, especially in the U.S., pursue our Congressional Representatives every year to introduce a bill in Congress to recognize the Genocide. Every presidential candidate since Nixon has also promised to recognize the Genocide and the Armenians have filled their coffers with the hope of the promise. BUT, as soon as he is elected, every President (including Obama) has refused to keep his promise and pressure Turkey to admit the events of WWI.

The problem is we, the U.S, have military bases in Turkey, and the current Turkish leadership holds that fact as ransom. Even if a bill is passed in the House, the President doesn’t sign it, and the issue goes down the drain until April of the next year. So every year we petition a new bill, and it goes on and on …

The purpose of Wednesday’s meeting with Congressman Reichert was to inform him and his staff about current Armenian issues, specifically H.RES.252, regarding the Armenian Genocide—the same issues that he had fought for in previous years, but not this current one—yet.

We had a great dialogue in his office for 45 minutes—a success, in itself.

My personal coup was when Dave Reichert bought a copy of my book and requested my autograph.

Normally a constituent donates toward a candidate’s campaign. In my case, the candidate (well, he asked his assistant to pay) contributed toward the welfare of the constituent.

I want to save that $20.00 bill and frame it among with my other memorabilia!

My Responses to a College Student Researching the Armenian Genocide

I received an e-mail from Shana, a student researching the Armenian Genocide. This is my response:

Dear Shana,

I’ve attempted to answer your questions (in bold letters within the context of your letter) and hope my answers will help you with your paper.

Please feel free to connect me again. I’m delighted with your dedication, the depth of your questions and your promotion of Armenian-ness.

Dear Ms. Kouyoumjian,

I’m presently studying the Armenian Genocide with Dr. Mary Johnson at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. I’m in the process of a final project focusing on the experiences of Armenian women and children and the legacies they have passed down to future generations.  Dr. Johnson suggested that I read your book to help me in my research.

I’m absolutely delighted that your professor has introduced the subject of the Armenian Genocide—a subject little known in the U.S.

I could not put your book down. I was consumed by your rich, detailed descriptions of your mother’s experiences. I was instantly pulled into a world of anguish, despair, perseverance, resourcefulness, devotion, hope and pride. It touched me and, in many ways, changed my life forever. I first wanted to thank you for sharing her story, your story and the Armenian story. I will never forget her story.

Thank you so very much for your kind words—so does my mother, from heaven. It was she who instilled in me the value of memory and thus history.

Dr. Johnson has informed me that you were kind enough to answer some questions I had pertaining to the Armenian Genocide and the impact it had on you, your sister and your mother.  I realize that you must be extremely busy, so I appreciate your time.

Question 1: I felt a real pivotal point in the book is when the orphans gathered around the brazier and began their lamentations about their horrific experiences during the genocide. And Manning thought “it never occurred to her the orphanage had evolved to gather survivors in one place to commemorate the massacred.”  Until this point Manning tried to cover up these images with happy thoughts … her yellow dress or her time in kindergarten. However, it was then that Manning realized the importance of remembering and the importance of family. Was this always true for your family? While I realize because of the details of the book, that you must have spoken with your mother on many occasions about the genocide, at what age do you remember understanding what your mother had endured and the effects of the genocide? (Sorry, I guess there was more than one question)

Many readers have commented on that chapter, Weeping Meeting (my mom’s words.) Your question is penetrating. I think my mom’s story began with the lullabies she sing-songed to us as infants in early childhood. We didn’t have children’s books to be read at bedtime, as you do in the U.S.; so she and my dad alternated telling  us bedtime stories; they almost always involved stories about their own families and their childhoods. That my mom’s was so horrific left an impression on me and my siblings forever. Every Armenian has similar experiences and histories. So If I hadn’t hear about the details at home, I would have heard them in the homes of other Armenians—that is true in the old country or in the Diaspora.

I can’t tell you how or when the importance of my mom’s experiences occurred to me, because it was a given that family and sibling relationships held a prominent place in our lives, and I suspect in most Armenian families. Ethnically, we’re bound to uphold each other in all aspects of life, lest we completely perish. We are a very small population, and it’s because of our devotion to our ethnicity that we have survived as a people since Noah landed on Mt. Ararat. Mt. Ararat is the Armenian nation’s symbolic heart, although currently it is located in Turkey, but visible from Yerevan—the capital of Armenia since 1991, when Armenia claimed independence from the Soviet Union.

Question 2:  Did your mother ever talk about why she thought she (and her sister) had survived the genocide when so many Armenians perished?

She often questioned why God didn’t protect the rest of her family from the massacre. She used to say, “I’m not necessarily a good person, nor my perished family wicked; why were my sister and me spared? My mother professed to be Christian—she was a member of the Mercer Island Covenant Church and believed in the ever after—but even during her last days, she questioned why she was spared.

Question 3: If someone asks you why Armenians continue to talk about an event that happened so many years ago, what is your answer?

The Armenian Genocide is considered by historians as the first genocide of the 20th century. Both my mom and I (and every surviving Armenian, too, I suspect) believe that had the Armenians, the International literati and world intelligentsia written , talked , advertised, made movies about the tragedy that annihilated 1.5-2 million Armenians during WWI, perhaps Hitler might not have proceeded with his plans to annihilate the Jewish people. (I have quoted Hitler at the beginning of my book.)

Question 4: Do you think the lack of recognition and justice for the Armenian genocide continues to haunt the Armenian people?

Yes, definitely. We need closure to this tragedy. No Armenian, alive or gone, will rest until the perpetrators of such a heinous act apologize. All we need is a simple apology that during the latter days of the Ottoman Empire and its leaders did perpetrate the killing of ethnic Armenians who lived on the lands that historically were part of the Armenian Kingdoms. There’s a lot of history, which I can’t go into here. But Armenians were Ottoman subjects/citizens (just like I am an Armenian, and a U.S. citizen). They lived on those lands after losing their kingdom, under the Persian Empires, the Greeks, Romans, and Islam and finally under the Ottoman Empire. They contributed—as civilians or part of the government—to the occupying empire, and many excelled as citizens, such as my Grandfather on my dad’s side. The Ottoman Sultan had dubbed him a Bey/Pasha (title) for his philanthropic as well as civic contribution to the Sultanate.

Question 5: In your Epilogue, you wrote how your mother stated that she lived under many banners, but didn’t belong to any of them, only saying that she was an Armenian and in 1982 an American.  Having a very diverse background yourself, how do you identify yourself?

I often introduce myself as a Triple A person; first, A is for Armenian, my ethnic heritage; second A is for Arabic, due to my formative education; and third A is for American, a citizenship by choice.

Question 6:  How do you and your family now commemorate the genocide?

My children are only 50% Armenian; their dad’s family has been in America for many generations. So they lack much of the pride that we Armenians feel. My kids love Armenian food, and perhaps that’s the extent of it, unfortunately. Oh, they know about the Genocide …

By the way, please use a capital G for genocide when you write/talk about the Armenian Genocide. The word genocide was coined by Rafael Lemkin, a Polish scholar in his description of the atrocities perpetrated by the Turks on the Armenian. He wrote something to the effect … “what happened to the Armenians during WWI was no less than a Geno-cide …” Check the UN definition for Genocide which was adopted in 1948.

… However, I and the world’s Armenian population commemorate April 24 every year as the day the onslaught of the Genocide, in Istanbul (then Constantinople) in 1915. The Diaspora Armenians gather publicly—usually it is a church gathering—on that day and remember our ancestors who perished during WWI. This is a world-wide commemoration—in the U.S., Europe, Asia, South America and anywhere there is an Armenian community.

Question 7: Lastly, what kinds of traditions, rituals, customs or legacies have been passed down to you about the Armenian culture and have you passed them on to future generations?

All the above to the 100% Armenians; otherwise it is predominantly the food. In the U.S., Armenian cuisine is very popular.

We try to maintain our language. Whenever two Armenians get together, we begin speaking in Armenian. We may not continue during the whole meeting, though; we teach the language to our children (except in the U.S.—somehow, we can’t really impose fluency on them here—and I don’t know why; maybe because English is so much more fun!!!!). Whenever we learn about an Armenian celebrity, we can’t stop talking/writing about them. For instance: William Saroyan; Anastas Mikoyan; Michael Arlen; Cher; Mike Connors; Rouben Mamoulian; Andre Agassi; etc.

A Preview of the Sequel to Between the Two Rivers

Here is a note from Kelly, the youngest sister of a friend:

I just finished your book, and I was absolutely fascinated!  Your descriptions put such vivid images in my mind, as though I were there next to your mother, hearing and seeing everything.

But you left me so hungry for more information—an epilogue, if you will!  Did Mannig ever get to go to school? What instruments did she learn? Did her in-laws accept her and come to love her? When were the children born? Did her sister and brother-in-law come to the US?

What a marvelous tribute to a remarkable woman, and yes—a remarkable man!

Here is my response:

The Answers to your wonderful questions will definitely make it into the plot of the sequel to Between the Two Rivers!

Adrine and her husband never left Baghdad. They had four children, all of whom were educated either in the US or in Paris. They (my cousins) are scattered now throughout Beirut, Rome and Baghdad.

Mannig learned to play the piano and became an accomplished pianist; she entertained many groups in the Seattle area in the 1980s. She did not go to school, but teachers were brought home to tutor her. My Dad taught her English and French.

The Kouyoumjians—except one sister-in-law—loved her because my grandmother decided to accept her as a full-fledged Armenian.

As for the rest of the details, they will have to wait! Otherwise, where would the suspense be?