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The Armenian Weekly; Volume 74, No. 4; Feb. 2, 2008


1. The ARS 'Soseh' Kindergartens in Artsakh
By Michael G. Mensoian

2. Olives and Horizons: The Melkonian Class of 1968 Reunites On Board the
By Khatchig Mouradian

3. An Interview with Jazz Guitarist John Baboian
By Andy Turpin

4. 'Don't Gag Me!' Explores New Territory
By Andy Turpin

5. Vision of Death
By Yeghishe Charents
Translated by Tatul Sonentz


1. The ARS 'Soseh' Kindergartens in Artsakh
By Michael G. Mensoian

Children are a nation's most precious resource because the future belongs to
them. With that in mind, the Armenian Relief Society's (ARS) "Soseh"
Kindergarten System was created for the children of Artsakh in 1998 when the
first school was opened in Stepanakert.

This is one of many ongoing projects and programs underwritten by the ARS in
the Homeland (Armenia, Artsakh and Javakhk). It also is one of several
interrelated programs that specifically addresses the needs of young
children during the most vulnerable period of their lives.

The ARS is admirably suited for this task. The Society has had years of
experience responding to emergency situations. Founded in 1910, it has been
at the forefront in providing emergency and long-term aid to the Armenian
people during the 20th century.

The nerve center of the Society is its international headquarters in
Watertown, Mass. With the benefit of modern technology, the Central Office
is in constant contact with the various regions that form a global network
of 218 chapters operating in 24 countries.

Organized as it is, the ARS is able to respond almost immediately to an
emergency situation whether in the Homeland or anywhere in the diaspora. Its
representatives can be on the ground usually within hours to evaluate the
situation and determine the type and quantity of aid that may be required.
Once this information is forwarded to its international headquarters, the
full resources of the ARS are committed to the response. However, the role
of the ARS normally continues after the emergency nature of the situation
has ended. At that point, representatives begin the evaluation phase to
determine the type of additional long-term aid that might be necessary.

Once a cease-fire that was brokered by Russia in 1994 brought a modicum of
peace to Artsakh, the ARS shifted from the emergency operation phase to the
evaluation phase. The needs were so great that it was necessary for the
Society, and other organizations as well, to prioritize what had to be done
and best allocate the available resources to provide the greatest benefit to
the people of Artsakh.

The 1991-94 War of Liberation with Azerbaijan had claimed the lives of some
7,000 Armenian freedom fighters or azatamartiks. In addition, thousands of
Armenian families had been displaced within the war zone and from Azerbaijan
itself. The housing stock and economic infrastructure of the region were in
shambles. The fact that so many children had lost one or both parents as a
result of the prolonged conflict and the consequent uprooting of families
caused the direction that ARS assistance would take to be determined early
on. For most of these youngsters, not only was their childhood at risk, but
their future as well. In response to this dire situation, the ARS decided
that it would commit its available resources to the establishment and
maintenance of a kindergarten system, or mangabardezes, to meet the needs of
children ages three to six. This decision to aid the youngsters of Artsakh
continued a commitment to children that began in 1915 when the ARS provided
vital assistance to the orphaned children of the Armenian genocide.

Within three years of having made the decision, the first ARS "Soseh"
Kindergarten was opened in Artsakh's capital city of Stepanakert in 1998.
Its mission, simply stated, was to provide a supportive environment for the
young children of the martyrs of the war that had liberated Artsakh from
Azerbaijan. Children from needy families were also included.

Within nine years of the opening of its first mangabardez, the "Soseh"
Kindergarten System has grown to 12 kindergartens. Today, these 12
kindergartens, which operate on a 12-month basis, enroll 526 pupils from
three to six years of age. Recently, the government of the Nagorno-Karabakh
Republic lowered the age that children could enter government-operated
schools from seven years to six years. This change made the transition from
the ARS "Soseh" Kindergartens to the Artsakh school system easier.

The Society, through its worldwide regional network and its many friends,
underwrites the cost of either rehabilitating an existing structure or
building a new structure. Most of the kindergartens are sponsored by
individual donors through the ARS, who take care of their kindergartens'
entire expenses.

The full cost of these kindergartens includes the furniture, educational
equipment and supplies, the necessary educational infrastructure and the
salaries of all employees. Each kindergarten is a self-contained educational
unit, which includes a playground, kitchen and dormitories. Children are
provided three meals daily. In this nurturing environment, the Society seeks
to assuage the hurt that has been visited upon these children and to provide
an opportunity in which they are able to participate in situations that will
enable them to grow into healthy, educated young adults. The ARS supports an
annual program called "When September Comes," which provides a backpack of
educational supplies for the school children.

The ARS kindergartens offer ".the needy children of Artsakh.devoted care and
elementary education in Armenian culture." The curriculum includes directed
physical activity to develop their bodies and the appropriate levels of
instruction to facilitate learning the necessary communication and number
skills and to stimulate their innate creative abilities. The goal is not
only to have well-rounded youngsters, but to encourage them to interact with
their peers in an environment that will contribute to their emotional and
psychological well being.

This vital program would not be possible without the generous support that
the Armenian communities throughout the Diaspora have given to the various
ARS Regions and their 218 Chapters.

The "Soseh" Kindergarten System provides employment for 111 people, which,
in turn, is an important stimulant of the local economy. Another benefit
accrues where there is a single parent, usually the mother, who is now free
to seek employment knowing that her child is in a safe and nurturing ARS
"Soseh" Kindergarten.

The Armenian Relief Society will continue to expand its "Soseh" Kindergarten
System as funds become available. The need is there and the challenge will
be met. For the ARS, the education of these young children represents a
valuable investment in the future of Artsakh and Armenia.

To learn more about the ARS, call (617) 926-5892 or e-mail
[email protected]
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2. Olives and Horizons: The Melkonian Class of 1968 Reunites On Board the
By Khatchig Mouradian

"All the support I have provided to Melkonian-whether moral or
financial-does not even pay for the olives we ate there," says Vahe
Soudjian, an import/export negotiator from France, who was on board the
Costa Fortuna from Jan. 12-20 to participate in the Melkonian Class of 1968
reunion. "I owe all my successes in life to the Melkonian Educational

Twenty-one graduates of the class of 1968 (65 percent of the entire class)
and three teachers participated in the 40th anniversary reunion with their
spouses and family members. They came from Australia, Greece, Lebanon,
Cyprus, France, Abu Dhabi, the U.S. and Canada to see with their classmates
and talk about memories of a boarding school which they say gave them
everything one needs to lead a fulfilling life.

"Melkonian was a fascinating educational institute that has always fulfilled
the responsibility it was entrusted with. The graduates who are gathered
here 40 years later are living proof of that," says Sarkis Hamboyan of
Toronto, who taught history, geography and educational psychology at
Melkonian from 1965-68. "These responsibilities go beyond teaching into
hayetsi tasdiyaragutyoun. These men and women are dedicated Armenians,
actively involved in community life."

I ask him what it feels like to be surrounded by his students again. "I am
feeling at home. It's like finding a long-lost brother or sister," he says.

Businessman Vahe Halajian from New York, who currently works in Qatar, says
the reunion gave him an opportunity to reflect on the role Melkonian played
in his life. "We did not know at the time what a great place Melkonian was.
It created an environment for us to learn and, yes, to do mischievous
things." He pauses, then adds, "Melkonian was invaluable nutrition for our
minds and souls."

While several Melkoniantsis had not been in touch with their classmates,
Chahe Bardakjian, a marketing and sales director from Greece, maintained
contact. "I always look for Melkoniantsis," he said.

Mihran Jizmejian from Toronto taught at Melkonian from 1965-73 and was also
responsible for the discipline of the educational institute. He recounts how
the students who had discipline problems are the closest to him today.
According to him, the Armenian community is orphaned with the closing of

The institute might have closed its doors, but the spirit of Melkonian is
alive and well. "I, as a Melkoniantsi, together with two dedicated
Armenians, started a Saturday school in Sydney," says Boghos Mikaelian, a
mortgage broker from Australia. "Melkonian might have closed its doors, but
it opened so many new horizons."
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3. An Interview with Jazz Guitarist John Baboian
By Andy Turpin

WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)-Guitarist, composer and Watertown native John
Baboian recently released the second CD by his band, "The Be-Bop Guitars,"
titled "Freshly Painted Blues."

The album features an all-faculty guitar ensemble from Boston's Berklee
College of Music, with other faculty members playing accompaniment on the
vibes, trumpet, bass and drums in a mix of jazz standards and original
compositions from Baboian and the other band members.

Armenian Weekly-Tell me about "Freshly Painted Blues."

John Baboian-Well we got a grant from the Berklee College of Music to do a
faculty CD of music we've been performing for the last six years.

A.W.-Talk about the band.

J.B.-The band has been together since 1990, but the first CD, "The Be-Bop
Guitars & More" came out in 2000.

With nine members, six of whom are on guitars, we're definitely not the
typical band people go to see on a Saturday night. But the guitars are
always pretty consistent.

The idea was to make the five guitars sound like the five instruments of a
big band. So they have to sound similar to blend and have a sense of
harmony. But the band members' individualities come out in their solos.

A.W.-You seem to have played with a great many Italian-American musicians,
like Al Martino, Connie Francis, Frankie Avalon, Sergio Franchi, Frankie V.,
Ida Zecco. What do you attribute that to?

J.B.-There are a lot of Italian-American jazz and big band musicians that
came through the industry. I think that's just because there was a time when
a lot of these people fit well into their time period and later went on to
become Vegas-style headliners.

I don't know an exact number of how many other Armenian jazz musicians are
out there but they can be harder to find.

A.W.-Do you go in any new directions from your last CD?

J.B.-No, I'd say this is more just a smooth forward progression from where
we were, but there are more original compositions from band itself on this

A.W.-Are you performing in Armenia again or outside the U.S. anytime soon?

J.B.-I'm going to South Africa in March. We're going to perform at the Cape
Town Jazz Festival with a bass player friend of mine that does a lot of
volunteer work in the townships and play with musicians from the University
of Cape Town to put together "The Be-Bop Guitars South Africa CD."

For more information about "Freshly Painted Blues" or the "The Be-Bop
Guitars," visit the band's website at
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4. 'Don't Gag Me!' Explores New Territory
By Andy Turpin

How much cinema ground can one short film break in 9 minutes, 23 seconds? A
lot, if you're Armenian.

"Don't Gag Me" (2007), Hear Me Roar Pictures' new short from director Jeff
Cohen and Armenian-American actress/scribe Carolena Sabah, is a spoofy,
tantalizing and cheesy little gem just quick enough to be a slap and tickle
on your office coffee break.

It concerns an over-anxious man on a long overdue visit to the dentist for a
teeth cleaning. His genial hygienist is none other Sabah, who puts his
nerves at ease, and then transforms in his psychedelic pipe dream into
"Angela the Dental Dominatrix."

To say any more would spoil "Gag's" runtime, but winks, nods and whips are
all cracked in the direction of homage to 2002's "Secretary," William
Shatner's 1961 Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and Jack
Nicholson and Bill Murray's characters in "Little Shop of Horrors."

What makes "Gag" stand out culturally in Armenian short film circles,
however, is that it represents perhaps a first in unabashed "pink

The concept of the pink film originated in post-war Japan, where cultural
morays and public morals laws made cinematic pornography almost a nonentity.

Therefore, filmmakers found innovative ways in their movies and scripts to
construct storylines that were sexually charged and erotic, but which often
used humor, parody, subversive political statements and other devices to
deliver a quality film that aroused and tittered the viewer without actually
showing any skin or full nudity.

Pink films had no basis for development in the U.S. or European countries
for the most part after 1964 because conventions were breached and films
like 1967's "Belle De Jour" and 1979's "Caligula" emerged. Pink film can
only exist within nations and societies that exercise overarching degrees of
sexual repression.

Armenian-Canadian director Atom Egoyan's films, "Calendar" (1993) and
"Exotica" (1994) explore issues of sexually charged power dynamics regarding
Armenian sensuality, but do so in a serious and dramatic context without the
brevity and light-hearted subversiveness that engender true pink filmmaking.

So don't discriminate against Sabah when it comes to "Don't Gag Me" and
mistake it for being in the same category as Kardashian glam schlock. After
all, every Armenian woman deserves her 9 minutes 23 seconds of fame-even
when she's wearing knee-high leather boots.
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5. Vision of Death

Like a taut string of a discarded cello,
My heart trembles with an awesome longing-
It is the summit of my yearnings-the last lyre!
A sturdy rope and two crossed beams.
As the dark derision of my fate, or
An old, miscarried promise that I betrayed-
Behold, the beams of the gallows standing
Proud in the city, waiting for the condemned!
They stand, silent, leaning on each other,
paired pieces of wood,
And in the center quivers, loose and swaying,
A rope, as gray-in these sad days-as the doused
sorrow of my orphaned Nayirian soul.
A flameless twilight has set around me
And a silence without shadow, without egress,
without shiver,
Like the torment of our days, like the fierce
Anguish of death caging my feckless heart.
And the stores, dismal, crumbling, and the people
Who have gathered now around the beams,
So close to that dismal lyre of death-
What do they seek, so morose and grim?
And who has conjured this ferocious dream?
And who turned the bright mornings of my soul
into starless nightfall,
And a gray rope with two crossed beams?
Perhaps I, who with a moonstruck heart
Brought no fire to you from afar,
And wished that no lyre would sing praises
To the luminous, bright destiny
of Nayiri.
Let me go now, and with inconsolable
With a poet's feelings and flames,
With the dark song of my sullen days
And the last love of my Nayirian dreams,
Go on into the flickering twilight,
As a hunted kite, as a specter-
Let me give my neck to that cross-beamed
Yearning-and swing, dreadful and chaste.
Let no other victim be claimed,
No other feet come close to the gallows,
And in my eyes of the hanged,
my troubled homeland,
Let them behold your future of lights.
Let them recognize in my bulging eyes
of the hanged,
Your coming bright days-
After me, let no other victim be clamed,
Let no shadow approach the gallows.

Yeghishe Charents
June 10, 1920

Translated by Tatul Sonentz