Dr. Ani Kalayjian Discusses Her Efforts on Dealing with Trauma at TCA Book Event


By Shoghig Chalian

TENAFLY, N.J. — The Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA) of NY/NJ sponsored a book talk with Dr. Ani Kalayjian — psychologist, board-certified expert on traumatic stress, board member of the United Nations non-governmental organization Human Rights Committee, chair of monitoring committee and disaster prevention committees of the American Psychological association’s International division — and presented the two-volume book of Mass Trauma and Emotional Healing around the world that she coauthored. She was the chief editor for her book, Forgiveness and Reconciliation Psychological Pathways to Conflict Transformation and Peace Building.

Dr. Vagheenag Tarpinian, a member of the TCA NY/NJ Committee, welcomed the attendees and presented Kalayjian as an ADL and TCA member and a founding member of the TCA Mher Megerdichian theatrical group, and gave a synopsis of the books and invited her for the slide show presentation.

The presentation addressed post-trauma growth, making meaning of it and the challenges of practicing forgiveness. The challenges included: how to integrate past traumas into our psyche, how not to react to old hurt and pain, as well as, building peace in one’s self which would affect the family, and in turn the community, and ultimately, our universe. Kalayjian presented her case of being threatened while in Istanbul, as she was attempting to present her research findings on the Armenian Genocide survivors’ Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and how she went back there when they had an earthquake, and further explained how that act helped her in her own healing process.

Currently, Kalayjian has collaborative research on trauma forgiveness and healing in Sierra Leone, Armenia and the US and has organized and delivered 25 post-disaster humanitarian outreach projects.

Kalayjian presented research findings on demonstrating how practicing forgiveness is essential for individual health, collective community health and transformation of horizontal violence. (Horizontal violence can be towards our family members, brother and sisters, community members and organizations.) She said that forgiveness releases people from a paralyzing past by helping them to enjoy the present, and envision a future without judgment, resentment, anger or sadness. According to Kalayjian’s research, conducted 80 years after the Ottoman Turkish Genocide of Armenians, resentment and anger continues in the hearts of many survivors due to the ongoing Turkish government’s denial of the Genocide. It is true that the expression of remorse by the perpetrator to a victim would have an enormous healing value, however in this case, the anger towards the perpetrators’ denial has made it difficult to forgive.

Kalayjian further enlightened us of how psychotherapy practices have revealed that holding a grudge is detrimental to one’s physical, mental, emotional, ecological and spiritual health. When individuals have anger against themselves and/or perpetrators, this anger forces them to feel helpless, as they are expecting something that has not happened for over 94 years. This power of transformation is important to embrace; and she went on to state that if this shift does not occur, then we are doomed to pass it on to seven next generations.

Kalayjian went further in sharing the sevenstep bio (psychological) and eco (spiritual) model that she developed. Through these seven steps, various aspects of dispute, conflict, betrayal, humiliation or disagreements are assessed, identified, explored and processed. Some of the points that stood out were the lessons, meaning or positive associations that one discovers as a result of the disaster, based on Victor Frankl’s logotherapeutic priniciples. Also the seventh step includes releasing fear, uncertainty and resentment, using breathing techniques, towards self-empowerment as well as to engender gratitude, compassion, faith, strength and forgiveness in response to disasters.

She also shared some of the myths regarding forgiveness compiled from her lectures around the world, such as “If I forgive, I will forget” or the enemy will be sent free, there will be no justice, and the need for anger to survive or waiting for the enemy to acknowledge and ask for forgiveness first. These were the points brought up as well from some of the attendees of this presentation, as they were addressed at the question-and-answer session, which needs to be explored further. Kalayjian further clarified that forgiveness does not mean forgetting or stopping our reparation requests. Since we are waiting for the acceptance of the act which in this writer’s opinion is an essential turning point, we can choose to stay victims or continue on strengthening our self by acknowledging that “for they do not know what they were doing,” as Jesus proclaimed when they crucified him, and go on with faith that has helped us survive and strengthen our nation, on an individual level, impacting our families, communities and organizations.

The famous quote of William Saroyan comes to mind, “Go ahead, destroy us, destroy Armenia, but when two Armenians come together, anywhere in the world, we build a new Armenia!” These are the Armenian communities that he was talking about — the rich culture and heritage that we preserve. This is the message that emerged for me, after the talk discussions, that challenged the issue of forgetting vs. forgiveness: we also need to pay attention to our inner psychological well-being; our emotional well- being that in turn affects our physical well-being, in order to survive, strengthen the self, elevating oneself from a victimized state to a state and a degree of “forgiveness” that preserves the self and our communities, and in unison, have the strength and courage to confront those who deny and try to make the world forget.

Kalayjian concluded that practicing forgiveness is essential for creation of peace on the interpersonal and intrapersonal levels as ultimately for creating peace and reconciliation worldwide. As the Dalai Lama once said, “Peace for example starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us.”

Kalayjian stated that this is an introduction to the subject; we can go deeper by conducting workshops in the future; the discussion amongst the attendees continued around the refreshment table, and was televised by K. Kocharian of the Voice of Armenia television.