From ‘Whispers’ to Loud Demands of Justice


By Edmond Y. Azadian

The Armenian communities around the world preserve collectively the language, history, traditions, religion and memory. They are the ones to react in massive waves to injustices, to the denials of the Genocide and they can mobilize forces for political action. One would surmise that major actions in dramatizing the Genocide issue must always come from the mainstream Armenian communities. But it is not always the case.

Yes, we can generate an impact when we rally at New York’s Times Square for a Genocide memorial service, with some political reverberations. But history has proven time and again, that world-class artists or celebrities who are not political activists per se, have contributed in a major way to the recognition of the Genocide by touching the conscience of mankind, rather than by straightforward political activism.

I came to this realization recently by reading about a book which was not written nor published in a large Armenian community, yet is receiving international attention and fame.

First, a bit of background: We seldom hear about the Romanian-Armenian community, which has a history that dates back almost 1,000 years. When the medieval city of Ani was overrun by the Seljuks, the Armenian population dispersed throughout Crimea and in Eastern Europe, settling particularly in Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria. In the second half of the 20th century, that part of Europe was shut off from the rest of the world. And the example I would like to cite to generalize the phenomenon comes from that part of the world, from Romania, to be exact.

Indeed a novel was published in Bucharest in 2006 and it is now making waves throughout Latin America. The novel is titled, The Book of Whispers, and the author is Varoujan Vosganian, who has also served as the minister of economy and finance of Romania. The novel is based on the memoirs of his grandfather, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide.

Although the author is fluent in Western Armenian, his book was written in Romanian in order to reach a broader audience.

The novel has already been translated into Hebrew, French, Swedish, Bulgarian, German, Italian and Spanish. At the present time, it enjoys a great popularity in Latin American countries. The Spanish-speaking people have noted commonalities between Vosgaranian’s novel and the works of Colombian Nobel Prize winner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, especially in terms of its mystical style. Many rave reviews have appeared in the Latin American press about the book.

In an interview with the Colombian paper, La Semana, Vosganian confided that he is an admirer of Marquez and that he regards the author’s One Hundred Years of Solitude as one of his favorite pieces of literature.

Vosganian was recently invited to Bogota, Colombia, to attend a literary festival honoring Marquez.

The reader of this column can guess what happened next: Turkish officials in Romania have tried to stop the publication of the novel to no avail. They have also tried the same in Latin America, but the move has backfired and raised the profile — and thus popularity of the novel — further. In fact, the book has even been presented on television.

Sometimes a single book can do more than an entire committee in a way a community may not be able to achieve.

This novel is not a memoir, per se, nor is it a narrative of the events of the Genocide. It has literary merit, written in Marquezian spirit. Vosganian says it is not the job of the novelist to moralize or give answers to the issues raised in a literary work. The writer has to give the truth and the conclusion must be left to the readers.

Vosganian’s case is one example. There are many similar individuals and cases, which prove that there is a latent force in history, buried deep down, and we never know when and how that force will surface and dramatize the plight of the Armenians. Another example is Charles Aznavour, who after attaining international fame, dedicated himself to Armenian advocacy. Who would imagine that a second-or third-generation Italian-Armenian in Padua, Italy, professor of comparative literature Antonia Arslan, would come up with a best-selling novel, Skylark Farm, that once again dramatizes the Armenian Genocide in literary form. The story, based on her grandfather, made a lot of noise in her native Italy, and was turned into a movie by the noted Italian producer/directors, the Taviani brothers. Chris Bohjalian, a popular American novelist, had never touched upon Armenian subjects in his novels. He had made his literary fame through his novels addressing the human condition, and almost all centered in his home state of Vermont. However, the question of the Armenian Genocide was brewing in his blood and this genetic memory eventually gave rise to his latest bestseller. The Sandcastle Girls, which the author believes reflects his inner self, his love, has become his best work, if not one of the most popular.

No one has assigned any responsibility to the writers and artists to uphold the recognition of the Genocide. They are personally driven by a deep-rooted atavism which erupts volcanically as these artists deal with their inner truths and the histories which have shaped them.

One of the most famous examples of the profound political contribution by an artist is Serj Tankian, the former leader singer of the popular heavy metal band, System of a Down, and a successful solo artist. Tankian, the child of Lebanese-Armenian immigrants who was raised in Los Angeles, is the idol of many young fans. He spontaneously announced in his concerts attended by thousands of fans: “It was a Genocide.”

Soprano Hasmik Papian was approached by an admiring journalist after her stellar performance of the opera “Norma” at NY’s Metropolitan Opera and was asked to what does she ascribe her unusual talent. “I am an Armenian,” was her response.

That self-appointed mission can extend over other frontiers too. For example, Kirk Kerkorian, who has never been in the mainstream of Armenian life, even had all the reasons to resent his Armenian affiliation, because he had been denied a scholarship. And now he has been contributing to Armenia many millions of dollars.

And lest we forget, the dubiously-famous Kim Kardashian, who is known for many things, none of which are remotely intellectual. A steady stream of scandalous (to use a quaint word rarely used now) photos and videos featuring Kardashian in various states of undress with or without partners, has brought her much fame. However, on April 24 when she Tweeted, “Today we all need to stand together & remember the 1.5 million people who were massacred in the Armenian Genocide, April 24th, 1915,” she was re-Tweeted thousands of times and her statement was covered by many major mainstream sites on the Internet, reaching millions of people.

No one will confuse Kardashian with Vahakn Dadrian, Richard Hovannisian or Taner Akçam in terms of scholarship, yet she is able to reach more people than any of those eminent scholars, which in and of itself is a sad commentary on our society.

Cher, in her turn, shared the agony of Armenia during the devastating 1988 earthquake.

This is a phenomenon that we will encounter time and again in our history. There will always be hidden activists who will come forward to contribute to the Armenian cause. This is a fortunate stroke of luck.

Does that mean that mainstream Armenian life is incapable of producing such figures or phenomena? Of course not. But the need to reveal the truth about the Armenian Genocide always will erupt at unexpected moments by unexpected talents to illuminate our path to the future. We have to have confidence that the “whispers” in Vosganian’s novel will amplify in time to become loud demands for justice worldwide.