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The Armenian Weekly; Volume 74, No. 15; April 19, 2008

Features:


1. An Interview with David Krikorian

2. My Mother: the Genocide Survivor
By Tom Vartabedian

3. Bringing the Mountain to the Village
Noor Short Play Festival Brings the Humor and Insight of the Middle East Mosaic to New York
By Andy Turpin

***

1. An Interview with David Krikorian

Last week, the Armenian Weekly conducted an interview with David
H. Krikorian, an Armenian-American from Ohio's Second District
running, as an Independent, for a seat in the House of
Representatives. This is Krikorian's first interview since he
announced his candidacy.

Armenian Weekly'You have never held political office before. Why have
you decided to run for the House of Representatives now?

David H. Krikorian'Over the past few years I have watched the
unfolding of what is now the greatest financial crisis in America's
history. I could no longer stand on the sidelines and watch
politicians'who are unable or unwilling to confront these major issues
directly and effectively'continue to bungle our country and my
children's future. It is a time of great challenge and the country
needs effective, honest leadership and better management than that
which our current government is providing. Bottom line, we are in
trouble and I can help by being a voice of integrity and of creative,
effective solutions to what is the greatest financial challenge we
have faced since the Great Depression.

A.W.'How would you go about solving this financial challenge?

D.K.'We need a return to an asset-backed currency and it is my strong
belief that before long the nation will return to a form of the gold
standard. The consequence of a lower dollar for Americans is a lower
standard of living as the prices we pay for everything'from food to
energy to manufactured good from overseas'continue to rise. I want to
return to an asset-backed currency to fix this. There is also a need
for less corporate influence on our government. Financial companies
have lobbied Congress to make poor decisions regarding the
deregulation of the financial industry and the creation of our
shadowy banking system, whereby traditional banking institutions have
been replaced by an alphabet soup of hedge funds and investment
banks. Only solid financial regulations can form the cornerstone of
well-functioning capital markets and instill a sense of confidence in
our citizens. Right now this confidence is gone and this is why we
are experiencing severe credit market turmoil. The Fed's negligent
money creation policy is the main cause of our soaring inflation.

A.W.'What else is your campaign focusing on?

D.K.'I am in favor of a smaller, more efficient government that
understands its limited role in American society. Currently, it is
out of control, consuming vast amounts of our tax dollars and
invading many facets of our lives. Because the government is so
large, it requires increased tax receipts to function, which in turn
leads to higher taxes. I am not against paying taxes but what I would
want to see is better spending habits by the federal government. Our
tax system is also obscenely complicated. I am in favor of a
drastically simplified tax code, as well as an approach to spending
that treats our tax dollars with the same respect it takes us to earn
a living. Education, however, is the single best place to spend tax
dollars. Education is the investment we must make to insure a bright
future for our country. While overall I do not favor tax increases,
education is the one area where I would rather spend than save,
provided competent people are in charge of its finances and
reasonable expenditures.

A.W.'What do you hope to accomplish once you are in office?

D.K.'The first major change that I can bring about is simply winning
the election. There has not been an Independent candidate who works
for the people elected to Congress in a long time. My election to the
House of Representatives would serve as an example to a great many
people out there to work for the people instead of a political
party. It would serve as a wake-up call to the two main parties to
shape-up and start representing the citizens of the country instead of
the corporations and their own self-interests. A representative should
represent his or her constituents up to the legislative branch of
government instead of representing their party's ideals down to their
constituents.

A.W.'There are already two other people in the race. What are you
bringing to the campaign that is different from your opponents?

D.K.'The main difference is that I have an extensive background in
economics and business. Neither of my opponents has ever started or
run a company or created jobs like I have. Neither has the extensive
financial experience or financial education like I have. While I
think both are well-intentioned people, they are merely puppets for
the desires of their respective political parties. This past January
and February, I spoke with over 3,000 of my constituents to determine
if they felt as I do that Congress no longer represents the people. I
heard it over and over again from the people that they want something
different than what the two parties are currently providing. The
incumbent, Jean Schmidt, is a George Bush Republican and a
rubber-stamp for failed neo-conservative policies. A Representative
should represent his or her district in the legislative branch of
government; this representative represents her party's policies and
the President's policies to us. This is not the way representative
government was meant to function.

A.W.'Talk about your work in your community, in general, and in the
Armenian community, specifically.

D.K.'I have worked on numerous political campaigns including
representative races and school levies. I coach baseball for my son's
youth team and serve as the co-president of my community neighborhood
association. I serve as the chairperson of the ANC of Ohio, and have
played a leading role in trying to establish an Armenian Church
presence in Cincinnati. We had our first service, perhaps the first
Armenian service ever in Cincinnati, this past January and we are
currently forming a church board to establish plans for our next
service.

As for direct action, my commitment to the proper recognition of
historical facts, Armenian or otherwise, will never be
compromised. Last year, I called on Governor Strickland of Ohio to
officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, which he did, making Ohio
the 40th state to do so. Additionally, the mayors of Ohio's largest
cities'Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus'each recognized the
Armenian Genocide when I asked them to do so. This past October, I
hosted a fundraising event for `Not On My Watch' at the Freedom
Center in Cincinnati, where we held the Ohio premier of the
documentary film `Screamers' and Nick Clooney provided the keynote
remarks. My focus locally has been in the area of genocide awareness
and prevention. In addition to organizing the Armenian political
voice in Ohio, I have visited with several representatives locally
and in Washington to recognize the Armenian Genocide and to do more
to stop the genocide in Darfur. I also represent the Armenian
community in the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for Darfur.

A.W.'Are you planning on addressing the current crisis in Darfur at
the congressional and federal levels?

D.K.'The sad fact of the matter is that Congress has passed several
pieces of legislation with good intentions to stop or minimize the
violence in Darfur that have unfortunately produced little in the way
of results. I would urge the President to take bolder action in
Darfur, including holding a high-level conference on Darfur with world
leaders, and especially China, aimed at restarting the Darfur peace
process. More importantly, we must take a stronger approach against
the al-Bashir government and hit them where it hurts with increased
sanctions and even selected air strikes designed to hurt the Sudanese
government economically. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof
outlined what I believe to be a very good action plan to stop the
violence. The consistent behavior of the Sudanese government has
proven that our congressional resolutions to date have been nothing
more than feel good actions on our part. At some point, we must simply
take a stand and say enough is enough.

***

Krikorian's Opponent: A Genocide Denier

Krikorian's main opponent this election season is incumbent Jean
Schmidt, a fervent denier of the Armenian Genocide. As this interview
was being conducted, the Armenian Weekly acquired a copy of a Feb. 17,
2008 email sent to the Turkish community in Ohio, in which the Turkish
lobby invited its constituents to a fundraising `luncheon reception'
in support of Schmidt's 2008 congressional campaign. Although the
email does not mention Krikorian by name, it does refer to him as the
Armenian-American running against Schmidt for the district's
congressional seat. Unfortunately, this is yet more proof that the
Turkish lobby is willing to use any means possible, and monetary means
in particular, to continue its active and extensive denial of the
Armenian Genocide.

The following is an excerpt of the email:

`Congresswoman Schmidt is one of the few members of congress who
actually read Guenter Lewy's book [The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman
Turkey: A Disputed Genocide] about the genocide and is one of the few
members of congress who actually doesn't believe it was genocide. An
Armenian American is running against her in the election because she
opposes the resolution. We have a member of congress from Ohio who is
willing to stand up to the Armenian lobby, and it is important for the
Turkish American community to support her.'

------------------------------------------- ----------------------

2. My Mother: the Genocide Survivor By Tom Vartabedian

There are two remaining survivors of the Armenian Genocide in my
city. One is Hymayag Vosgarichian, a 94-year-old retired shoe worker
who introduced me to the Armenian community when I first moved here
from Somerville (Mass.) in 1966.

He gave me credibility and a better understanding of my heritage.

The other is my mother, a 96-year-old resident of a nearby nursing
home who continues to wear her lineage proudly.

She gave me life.

This marks the 93rd anniversary of the Ottoman-Turkish rampage upon
our tiny nation. By the time this genocide ended (1915-1923), one and
a half million victims were put to death and another million
disbursed.

An entire homeland was reduced to a shambles while the free world
stood around and did nothing. To this day, the Turkish government
denies such a genocide and our own country of America shamefully
refuses to acknowledge it.

Such denial remains a travesty for the survivor.

Mr. Vosgarichian still lives independently under the care of his wife
Sara, despite the loss of his eyesight. What money he earned in the
factories has provided him a meager lifestyle. Much of it has been
donated to Armenian charity over the years, putting the less fortunate
before himself.

He introduced me to the ARF in Haverhill. I was so young, I could have
been considered the mascot. They were men old enough to be my father
and grandfather. I thank him for being my `godfather.'

My mother came from the village of Diyarbekir. She was 3 when the
invading hordes destroyed her home. She and her younger sister watched
in horror as their father was put to death and corralled into a death
march with their mother through the merciless Syrian desert.

Along the way, they encountered torment, disease, starvation,
exhaustion, and untold indignity. My mother was livid with details.

`Our family was among those devastated by a Turkish bullet,' she'd
say, wiping away a tear. `In the round-up of our town, hundreds of men
were gathered together and executed on the spot.'

She would pause to collect her thoughts, catch a breath, and then
continue.

`Their only crime was that they had been born. Mass graves were dug
for the victims. We lost our homes but not our dignity. Of course we
can forget. Out of this tragedy comes hope. We must prevent further
genocides by using ourselves as an example.'

The sisters survived the bloody trek and wound up inside an
orphanage. Like many immigrants, they found their way to Ellis Island
and from there to Massachusetts, where they opened a candy store in
Somerville before marrying off and raising families of their own.

If you pry into her past to find clues to her vibrancy in old age, Mom
will preface her memories with this:

`I always worked hard. And God has been my savior. Whatever your life,
make sure you have room for God and the church.'

She sits in her wheelchair with a clear mind, waiting for an
opportunity to reminisce and tell the others about her proud
ancestry. Some call her the `pilaf woman,' because of her continued
love for rice pilaf. Others may refer to her as the clairvoyant
Armenian woman who tells fortunes from coffee cups and reads cards.

The standing joke around the nursing home is the stuffed peppers she's
occasionally served at dinner. To her, it's dolma.

`They brought over an Armenian cook just for you,' I'd say, kiddingly.

`They ought to send him back,' she would retaliate. `Not the way I
would make it.'

Her favorite movie, ironically, is `My Big, Fat Greek Wedding.' She's
seen it at least 20 times, possibly relating to her own diluted
ethnicity. A copy of the DVD bears her name.

Visits have become a daily ritual. Often, five grandchildren will drop
by. The place really lights up when six great-grandchildren come
barging through the door. As a girl, she picked blueberries in Newton
(Mass.) and helped her parents with the family business'Jenny's Sweet
Shop'which for a time occupied a movie theater in Porter Square.

`I fixed up the most beautiful windows,' she recalled.

Once, she advertised gumdrops by building a house of candy and placing
it under a blue painted sky.

Jenny's Sweet Shop later moved to Davis Square, Somerville, and
reopened as an ice cream parlor. It was there she met her future
husband Edward, whose family was also in the business of serving up
snacks and sweet treats.

One day, Edward Vartabedian visited the store to find out how the
family made and priced their popcorn. Six months later, he returned to
Jennie's Sweet Shop to invite the young woman for a ride in his new
Oldsmobile proving, in fact, that he was `sweet' on Jennie. (is this
his mother's name?)

The ride became part of family history when the car was struck by a
drunken driver on Storrow Drive.

Fortunately, the red stain on Jennie's white dress turned out to be
from a bagful of spilled cherries she had on her lap. The courtship
continued for a few more dates. The Olds got fixed with $300 in
insurance money. And soon after that, the couple wed.

In 1946, they opened the Broadway Coffee Shop in Somerville. Had it
not been for mom's acute business sense, the place would never have
lasted 30 years. She remained the chief cook and bottle washer. And
like the old school immigrants, they worked seven full days a week
with little or no help, except from the two sons.

I dreaded the place but had no choice.

`You want college?' she mandated. `Then you work for it. Nothing is
free in this world.'

Mother remembers walking a mile home from the coffee shop with the
day's receipts carefully tucked away in her bag. In those days you
could do that and nobody bothered you.

My parents worked side-by-side and the only reprieve was an occasional
movie next door in the theater. Mom would send us there to get us out
of her hair on a Saturday afternoon.

Church was a vital tradition with the family. Mom was Armenian
Catholic and Dad was Episcopalian.

For a while, I was alternating churches but eventually gravitated to
the Catholic side and the Church of Holy Cross in Harvard Square
where, upon mother's insistence, I became an altar boy and eventually
studied a year at the Mekhitarist Monastery in Vienna. Her golden
moment was preparing dinner one evening for the late Gregory Peter XV
Cardinal Agagianian, who was among those considered to become Pope in
the 1950's.

Given our religious affiliations, we were a family of religious
minorities inside the minority race and mom was the disciplinarian. I
had my independence as an older teen, provided I chummed around with
Armenians.

`It's 1 a.m. and you're just coming home?' I remember one
conversation.

`I was with Armenians and there was a dance,' I said.

`In that case, you're excused,' she shot back. `Did you meet a nice
girl?'

She insisted we marry Armenian and keep the sacred heritage aglow. My
brother didn't. I did. The flame has never been extinguished, even to
this day.

When cancer took my father's life at the age of 66, the business was
sold, sending my mother off to work for the city of Somerville as an
assistant in the medical clinic.

Her duties included traveling around to senior centers taking blood
pressures and helping citizens decipher complicated insurance forms.

She was there well past the octogenarian stage before retiring. For
the next 10 years, she drove herself to the gym daily and served as a
role model. Through shrewd investments and a strong spiritual bond,
life was good.

Club members looked admiringly at the petite woman who showed up in
her blue sweatpants and sweatshirt. They agreed the 90-year-old could
pass for 60.

Her formula was not a simple one but she lived by it. `You'll always
stay young if you live honestly, eat slowly, sleep sufficiently, work
industriously, worship faithfully'and lie a little about your age.'

My aunt died this year in Haverhill at age 94, reducing the number of
survivors from 3 to 2. My mother remains the embodiment of spirit, to
this day scarred by the horrific past of her childhood. The same could
be said for Mr. Vosgarichian.

This week is marked by a series of commemorations throughout the
world. In Haverhill, a proclamation was issued by Mayor James
Fiorentini and the Armenian colors (red, blue, and orange) were flown
from City Hall.

The annual gathering of survivors in Merrimack Valley continues to
wane, given the age. Up until a year ago, my mother stood front and
center with the red carnation in her hand, signaling the blood that
was shed.

She would sing the `Hayr Mer' and kiss the Armenian cross hung around
her neck. Visages of the genocide would come surging back as if the
wound was fresh.

`Der Astvadz,' she would say in her native tongue.

Her frail condition makes it difficult for prolonged observances
now. The spirit is willing, not the body.

`I'm getting tired,' she said. `Every year I go to these programs and
every year I hear the same messages. My heart fills with grief.'

I took her hand and said, `It's for the children. Your presence will
motivate them. You bring history with you to these events.'

`In that case, make sure you get me there.'

My mother and Mr. Vosgarichian were among the fortunate few who
escaped the gendarme, living proof that a heritage 2,500 years old
cannot be diminished by a single blow.

Their resiliency continues to remain a vital trait. By strengthening
human virtue and demonstrating the spirit of cooperation, we can make
the world a better place where people can live together in peace and
harmony.

No survivor would ever deny that. Most of all, my mother.
------------------------------------------ -------------------

3. Bringing the Mountain to the Village Noor Short Play Festival
Brings the Humor and Insight of the Middle East Mosaic to New York By
Andy Turpin

NEW YORK (A.W.)'On April 6, Al Nazemian and Nora Armani, producers and
actors in the First Annual Noor Short Play Festival to commence in
Greenwich Village, spoke to the Weekly about the festival and its
mission to bring the comic flavor and social poignancy that embodies
today's Middle East to a New York audience.

Nazemian said of the festival's program that `it encompasses the
entire Middle East, including Israel.'

`If you don't include everyone in the conflict then you just
perpetuate the animosity,' Armani added.

She talked about `Khawaga Story,' one of the more topical plays in the
festival. `It's an adaptation about Egyptian Jews who left the country
during Nasser's revolution and thought Egypt was no longer a good
place for them to be. It's based on roughly 28 interviews but for now
it's just a one-woman piece, to be further developed later.'

Nazemian then spoke about another of the festival's plays, `The Sort
of Happy Ending to the Sad Tale of Mr. Ali Ali.' He revealed, `There
are Larry King and George W. Bush characters, and the whole play ends
in a rap song.'

More theologically based and theatrically enticing is scribe Scott
McMorrow's rendition of the renowned medieval love poem, `The
Rubbaiyat of Omar Khayyam.' Nazemian summarized a particularly moving
scene to be played out onstage where the poet `talks to a clay bowl,
played by a woman, who tempts him to drink her. It's very sensual.'

He continued, `He proceeds to have a kind of religious orgasm as the
play progresses, and her to have a physical one,' symbolizing the
grounding, but also limiting, metaphorical clay of earthly pleasure
compared to spiritual ecstasy.

Nazemian explained that while such a scene is hardly taboo on the New
York stage, for its time, and even in parts of today's Muslim world,
such expressionism pushes boundaries. `Even in his lifetime, Omar
Khayyam had a lot of detractors that thought he was not a good
Muslim,' he noted.

Speaking to the fact that few of the festival's playwrights are Arab
or Muslim, Nazemian, a veteran performer of the New York Arab-American
Comedy Festival, responded, `The last thing we want this to be is a
Middle East festival that only caters to Middle Easterners. I would
say about 80 percent of those that attend the Arab Comedy Festival are
Arab. We don't want that for this.'

`There's incredible interest in this festival all around from theater
circles, and even the widow of the Shah of Iran wrote us a very
sympathetic email apologizing that she would not be able to attend any
of the performances but lended her support.'

Nazemian went on to talk about the show's comedic aspects, which blend
social commentary and laughs. `Saddam's Crapper,' he said, `is very
funny. There's a CNN reporter during the Iraq invasion who is thrilled
to be able to talk to anyone. He ends up interviewing the maid who
cleans Saddam Hussein's personal bathroom.'

He went on, `When he asks her if she cleans other rooms, she tells
him, `No, only here.' As the story continues it really becomes a play
about having power when the reporter has to use the bathroom and she
won't let him.'

Another piece, `Trigger Happy,' is about two Blackwater mercenaries
and an Iraqi dentist. `Because of the chaos in the country, no one
cares about their teeth, so the dentist is unemployed. He's scavenging
for food, which he keeps under his coat, when the Blackwater partners
see the bulges in his clothes and begin to interrogate him. When they
open his coat and see he's just looking for food, there's a line:
`Holy shit, he's a suicide snack bar.''

Armani then spoke about the play `Train,' saying, `It's the only piece
first performed at the Arab-American Comedy Festival that can also be
played as a sketch. It's a love story about a couple'both
half-Arab'that joke with each other how together they make one whole
Arab. They complete each other.'

Commenting on the controversial issues raised in some of these plays,
Nazemian said, `We look at everything from a comedic point of
view. But the underlying issues, such as the use of torture and water
boarding involved in `Mr. Ali Ali' is very serious. It's like the film
`Rendition' but more comedic.'

Armani added, `I've also cast a lot of the characters written as men
as women. Casting against type gives you more interesting things on
stage in a piece like this.'

`At the end of the day,' Armani said, `this is theater, not politics.'