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The Armenian Weekly; Volume 74, No. 20; May 24, 2008


1. Bad Luck, Great Book
'1001 Nights in Iraq' Blends Biographical High Adventure in Iraq and Blues
Song Fortunes
By Andy Turpin

2. Gregorian Provides Aid in Rwanda
By Tom Vartabedian


1. '1001 Nights in Iraq' Blends Biographical High Adventure in Iraq and
Blues Song Fortunes
By Andy Turpin

WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)-Shant Kenderian could very well be named an
"army-of-one" walking treatise on the meaning of empathy after what he
managed to overcome and live through in his bizarre early adult career as an
American resident, captive behind the Iraqi iron curtain, forced to serve
Saddam Hussein in both the Iran-Iraq and Persian Gulf wars as a shanghaied
engineer and sailor.

Kenderian chronicles his unintended war-POW memoir in 1001 Nights in Iraq:
The Shocking Story of An American Forced to Fight for Saddam Against the
Country He Loves (Atria press, 2007).

The title of the book of course is a play on the mythical romances of Sinbad
the Sailor from the 1001 Arabian Nights entertainment and through Kenderian's
experiences. And though he's seemingly not the sort of person who by nature
seeks out international intrigue, he weaves a tale that is just as deserving
as a sequel to those fabled stories.

During his early childhood, Kenderian and his siblings left Iraq with their
mother to America after an aggravated home life became apparent. Raised in
the U.S. through high school, primarily around the Chicago area, Kenderian
had the all-American experience of your typical Armenian youth of an
immigrant family. He succeeded in his studies and became a brilliant

Seeking to patch up relations with his father in Baghdad as he lay on his
deathbed, Kenderian traveled back to Iraq to see him. His timing-arriving
just before Saddam's declaration of war against Iran-was impeccably bad. Not
considered a full citizen of the U.S. and holding an Iraqi passport,
Kenderian was press-ganged to serve in the war.

Following his service, Kenderian refused several high power engineering jobs
in Iraq, determined like Odysseus to get back to his family in America.
Cataclysmically, just before he was approved to return to the U.S, the
Persian Gulf war broke out and he was privateered into the Iraqi navy all
over again.

What unfolds is a tale of military heroism and Iraqi dictatorial war
ineptitude, all in the tradition of "Catch-22" and "All Quiet on the Western
Front," but in real time. The book is also a voice of reasoned insight for
average Americans into demystifying the oriental mystique of Iraq and
showing its history to be less of a Chinese puzzle and more akin to a faulty
game of charades.

Perhaps because of his engineering, as opposed to literary, background
Kenderian uses precise but concisely truthful language to tell all the
details of his story. One such is his insight to the heinous cruelty of
Saddam's domestic criminal punishments when he witnesses the pubic execution
of petty thieves by recounting, "367 bullets to kill five men and one boy.
The boy had raised his knees at the last second to protect his chest, but
that didn't stop the bullets. He was sixteen and had stolen a watch."

Likewise, unlike some Armenian memoirists, Kenderian presents a very even
keel when speaking to his genuine love and respect for his Iraqi Muslim
comrades. He writes of one memorable conversation he had with his pious
superior officer: "'You know, I think I could be a good Christian,' he
confided to me one day. 'I'm sure you could. You're probably a good Muslim,
too,' I replied. In turn, he explained to me some Islamic and Arab tribal
traditions that a city boy, especially a Christian Armenian one, would not
be familiar with. They helped me better understand the people I dealt with
on a daily basis."

When Kenderian's unit is captured by U.S. coalition forces after a harrowing
high seas landmine and air raid escape, Kenderian relates the equally
arduous and sometimes darkly funny other side of his tale.

That is: his struggle to show his American intelligence interrogators that
the lovable P.O.W endeared to all the soldiers that meet him as "Mr.
Chicago" is not in fact a Soviet-trained Sam Reilly Iraqi super-spy, but
rather a well-educated man, with the creative ingenuity of MacGyver imbued
in many nice Armenian guys, who happens to speak several languages. The
cosmic irony, Kenderian notes, is that his prison number is "007."

Several scenes of Kenderian's interrogations are very well written with as
much comic flare as suspense, particularly in light of the humor of the
latest "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay' foray whose experience
Kenderian's mirrors at points.

Armenian readers themselves will laugh and start to wonder whether even the
average Armenian's educational experience is so unique that they too could
be mistaken for a terrorist or super-spy if not careful at the airport.

Yet, Kenderian's sense of humanity and fair play runs deep even when
speaking of his sometimes-overzealous U.S. military captors. He makes sure
to mention that, when his true identity and story was thoroughly vetted and
proven unbelievable but true by his interrogators, that a particularly
dignified officer he deemed "John Wayne" made a great gesture of apologetic
reconciliation to Kenderian for his initial incredulity.

Kenderian writes, "There were many gestures that defined a gentleman, but
none exceeded that of an officer apologizing to an enemy P.O.W. soldier for
not believing the answers that he gave during an interrogation."

Today, Kenderian works for the Aerospace Corporation in the Los Angeles area
where he lives with his wife and three children. But for the rest of us,
1001 Nights in Iraq is a memoir that shouldn't at all be overlooked as "yet
another book on Iraq," but rather bought as a story that will go down as
sweet as halva and stands as a enduring lesson in love.

Especially as a retort to anyone that thinks they're having a bad run of
things compared to the next guy.

Shant Kenderian is the next guy-and he's still got a smile for everyone.
---------------------------------------- --------------------------

2. Gregorian Provides Aid in Rwanda
By Tom Vartabedian

CHELMSFORD, Mass.-Either Felix Gregorian is a glutton for punishment or a
glutton for human service.

He ran a marathon for St. Gregory Church in North Andover, donating what
proceeds he earned along the way to the building fund.

Next came his military service in the Middle East, surrounded by enemy fire
and the risk of mortality.

His latest experience came in Rwanda where he just returned from a two-week
tour in that turbulent land, assisting a top cardiac team from Brigham and
Women's Hospital.

By the time he was done, Gregorian helped carry out 11 heart surgeries in
six days. His job as a respiratory therapist was taken to-heart!

"Like the Armenians, Rwanda knows what genocide is all about," he said.
"They suffered their tragic losses in 1994. This was a genuine humanitarian
medical trip. These people are very grateful for what they have. A great
sense of grace and intellectualism shines right out of their faces."

The 36-member group called Team Heart Rwanda left the United States April
2nd and returned on the 13th. Gregorian was joined by a full complement of
heart surgeons, physicians, an anesthesia team, nurses, coordinators, and
one other respiratory therapist.

Their mission consisted of repairing heart valves, led by the hospital's top
cardiac staff. The program was aimed at furthering the principles of
access-to-care in resource-limited surroundings; health care education for
the poor; and enhancing community partnerships internationally.

The need for heart surgery in Rwanda remains crucial. The country has
approximately 400 physicians and 4,000 nurses to care for a population of 10
million. It lacks the resources to deliver chronic interventions and perform
life-saving operations to help the most critical patients.

"We could just repair hearts, but together we can change hearts," said
Gregorian. "There will never be any gender, cultural, religious, racial, or
political discrimination in our operating room where we work. To walk away
and leave a sustainable program staffed by African doctors and nurses is our
greatest dream."

Gregorian's job was taking care of the breathing machines once the patients
returned from ICU. Such a mission was the first for any such U.S. medical
team in Rwanda.

The crew arrived at Kigali Airport during the night and was transported by
van to a hotel 20 miles away. Accommodations were good with a variety of
fish, lamb, and chicken on the menu.

"We got to sample many different types of salad and almost a dozen different
tasteful breads," he described. "The coffee was great and everyone brought
some of it back to the states."

Gregorian wasted no time in carrying out his mission. The first patient was
a 23-year-old finance student who originally lived in the Congo.

The youngest was a 17-year-old who had lost his father and two siblings
during the genocide. In contrast, the oldest was a 42-year-old female.
Another 26-year-old came from a Zimbabwe refugee camp and did well despite a
language barrier and lack of schooling.

"All in all, they were a bunch of smart and wonderful people," said
Gregorian. "The patients were cared for extremely well. We were excited to
build this long-term relationship that will benefit countless Rwandans for
years to come."

Over the next 7-10 years, Team Heart Rwanda will work closely with the
hospital to help establish a comprehensive program to treat rheumatic heart

Gregorian returned in time to join his fellow compatriots on the Armenian
Genocide Commemorative Committee of Merrimack Valley during an April 24th

He also celebrated the acceptance of his son Greg into Virginia Tech, while
another son Dro is currently attending Annapolis. His wife Candace is
employed as a pharmacist. The family continues to remain very active in
church affairs.

Gregorian finds solace in helping his fellow man, no matter how great the
challenge. Two years ago, looking to help his church, he launched a campaign
to run his first marathon in Boston.

Hardly an accomplished distance runner, he proceeded along the 26-mile route
with firm resolve while calling individuals on his cell photo to keep them
abreast of his progress. The money he raised from pledges went to his
favorite charity-the Armenian Church.

Gregorian was tendered a hero's welcome after returning home from a year's
tour of duty in battled-scarred Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. His job
there was teaching medical procedures to allied forces with the Army Reserve
108th Institutional Training Division based in Charlotte, N.C.

"All I could think about was my family, my church, and my community," he
said. "We're very fortunate to be living in America-that's the bottom line."

Gregorian immediately rejoined the Genocide Commemorative Committee in
Merrimack Valley and offered to design a memorial pin commemorating the

The result was a work of art. On one end of the lapel pin was a wavering
American flag, joined by the Armenian tricolor on the other. Sandwiched in
between was a design of Mount Ararat with the Dzidzernagapert (Armenian
Genocide Memorial in Yerevan) in the foreground. Above was the inscription:
"Our Responsibility: The Truth," with the date "April 24, 1915" below.

Gregorian subsidized the cost himself and distributed some 300 pins on the
day of the observance.

"I'm very proud to be an Armenian-American," he said. "If we can all
contribute in some way, the world would be a better place. Without our
heritage, we come up empty. Hopefully, if I can make a difference, others
will follow."