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CK Garabed: Mincing Words

Three Saroyan Posters

Three Saroyan Posters

Who is not familiar with the posters that have disseminated William Saroyan’s immortal words concerning the Armenian spirit? It is probable that very few persons have taken the trouble to compare them. I was compelled to do so when I was asked to address a gathering on a suitable Saroyan subject. I knew that the text of the posters I had seen departed from the original, but the extent of the variations was brought home to me when I made it a point to compare the ones of which I knew to the original. The most glaring departure occurred with those that substituted “prayers are no more answered” for “prayers are no longer uttered.” It makes one wonder when Armenians prayers were ever answered. Furthermore, the ending phrase “see if they will not create a New Armenia” contained in three of the versions is completely gratuitous. Finally, none of the versions are faithful to the original text.

Without intent to be critical, I have set forth the major versions of which I am aware, and compared them to the original, which has been recorded by Saroyan himself in his own voice.

***

Five Versions of Saroyan Quote

Poster by Peter Nakashian:

I should
like to
see any
power
of the
world
destroy
this race,
this small
tribe of un-
important people,
whose wars have all been fought and
lost, whose structures have crumbled, litera-
ture is unread, music is unheard, and prayers
are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy
Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them in-
to the desert without bread or water. Burn
their homes and churches. Then see if they
will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when
two of them meet anywhere in the world,
see if they will not create a New Armenia.

***

Poster by Zaven Khanjian:

               I should like
              to see any power
             in this world destroy
             this race, this small
             tribe of unimportant
              people whose
               history is
               ended, whose
               wars have
               been fought
                and lost,
               whose struc-
               tures have
             crumbled, whose
           literature is unread,
whose music is unheard, and whose prayers are
no more answered. Go ahead, destroy this race!
Destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send
them from their homes into the desert Let them
have neither bread nor water. Burn their homes
and churches. Then see if they will not laugh,
again, see if they will not sing and pray again.
For when two of them meet anywhere in the
world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.

***

Poster by William Saroyan Society:

I should like to see any power of the world destroy this
race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars
have all been fought and lost, whose structures
have crumbled, literature is unread, music is
unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go
ahead, destroy that race! Destroy Armenia. See if you
can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or
water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if
they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when
two of them meet anywhere in the world,
see if they will not create a
New Armenia.

***

Kalinian-Saroyan Website:

I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race; this small tribe of unimportant people
whose history is ended, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled,
whose literature is unread, whose music is unheard, whose prayers are no longer uttered.
Go ahead, destroy this race. Let us say that it is again 1915 there is war in the world.
Destroy Armenia.
See if you can do it. Send them from their homes into the desert. Let them have neither bread nor water.
Burn their houses and their churches. See if they will not live again.
See if they will not laugh again. See if you can stop them from mocking the big ideas of the world
You sons of bitches. Go ahead, try to destroy them.

***

Original Text

I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose history is ended, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, whose literature is unread, whose music is unheard, whose prayers are no longer uttered.
Go ahead, destroy this race. Let us say that it is again 1915. There is war in the world. Destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them from their homes into the desert. Let them have neither bread nor water. Burn their houses and their churches. See if they will not live again. See if they will not laugh again. See if the race will not live again when two of them meet in a beer parlor, twenty years after, and laugh, and speak in their tongue. Go ahead, see if you can do anything about it. See if you can stop them from mocking the big ideas of the world, you sons of bitches, a couple of Armenians talking in the world, go ahead and try to destroy them.
New York, August 1935
(From Inhale, Exhale: The Armenian and the Armenian)

The original text (with two minor modifications) is the subject of recordings made by Saroyan himself in a three-disc LP set issued by Listening Library in 1973 under the title
“Here’s William Saroyan Reading His Own Stuff and Talking.”
.

6 Comments on CK Garabed: Mincing Words

  1. avatar Levon Saryan // August 8, 2009 at 9:11 am // Reply

    I have long been aware of these sanitized versions of Saroyan’s original words, especially that last line, where the venerable author vents his anger just a tad. My question is, who rewrote Saroyan’s words: the author himself, or someone else? I think we should insist on only using the original version.

  2. Although I understand why people started using/printing the sanitized version, it still irritated me. As a cousin of Saroyan, I know he was one not to mince words, and would prefer the original be printed. Let the real Saroyan be heard!

  3. avatar Avedis Hadjian // August 9, 2009 at 5:35 pm // Reply

    Much as I regret it, the altered versions of Saroyan’s saying are more memorable, and powerful, than the actual quote itself. Of course, it is inaccurate. Then again, so many memorable phrases are misquoted from the original.

  4. By the way, whatever happened to Saroyan’s children?  I know one was a writer.  What are they doing now?  Are they involved in anything Armenian? I know they are talented people.

    On a similar note, Saroyan may not have always been involved in things Armenian but he never turned his back on us.   He first wrote in the Hairenik (the English language edition) - the predecessor of this paper - in the 1930′s.  How many of our “famous” writers – those who have “made it”  in the larger American society – have bothered to write for their own people’s publications?    Indeed, how many of them have written anything about or for Armenians? 
    And not just writers, but other “successful” Armenian American, particularly elected officials, who have been politically co-opted, and dare not speak out about Armenian issues, such as the Genocide.   
    Often, the Armenian American media publicize and praise these people to the sky even when they have zero Armenian identity.   It’s pretty childish if you think about it.
    An example:  Yosef Karsh the famous, late, Canadian photographer.  What did he ever do for Armenians?   Nothing, as far as is known.  He even lived the latter part of his life in Boston but had no  contact that I know of with the Armenian community.   When one local Armenian wanted to interview him, Karsh turned him down.
    There are lots and lots of “famous” Armenian Americans like this that we go ga-ga over.  Why, I can’t understand. If they’re not proud of us, why should we be proud of them?   If they don’t act Armenian, why  should we even care about them?
    Another one?  Former US ambassador to Israel Ed Djeredjian.   Can’t stand the guy.   Writer David Ignatius.  Can’t stand the guy.   Oh, I could name more – lots more – but I won’t.  Not  now, anyway.

  5. As to Saroyan’s offspring, his daughter Lucy, a stage actress, died a few short years ago, after an unhappy last few years of life. Aram is a poet, novelist, biographer, memoirist and playwright, and, if I’m accurate on this, a university professor. He’s won awards for his poetry, and is respected in the world of literature. Aram was invited to attend the Saroyan Conference in Yerevan this past autumn, but declined. Not sure if he’s involved in anything Armenian or not. But his talent is unquestionable.

  6. Dave is so right. These puffed up pseudo Hyes get invited to sit on the dais at April 24, functions. Their names are announced, they stand up, smile and wave to the audience and are next seen when they are running for re-election and are seldom if ever seen again. Phooey. We love Saroyan for at least writing about the Armenians but could he not have found one Armenian wife along the way?

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