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DETROIT, Mich. (A.W.)—The Detroit Armenian community has always been a major force in the diaspora and December’s flurry of non-stop activities proved that there is no such thing as hibernation for the committed residents of the city who put the world on wheels.

Suzanne Khardalian (L) and Dr. Ara Sanjian during the discussion following the screening of 'Grandma's Tattoos' in Detroit.

The Armenians of metro Detroit have gone from survivor generation laborers and minor business owners to respected industrialists and members of leading professions. Their start in the gritty neighborhood of Delray has now ensconced them in comfortable, fashionable suburban residential areas like Farmington Hills, Birmingham, Canton, Novi, Bloomfield Hills, and the Gross Pointes. We have gone from humble beginnings at the Zavarian Agoump in Delray, to the vastness of the Findlater Armenian Community Center, and now to the present group of buildings in Dearborn, comprised of St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church (Prelacy), coupled with the Azadamard Armenian Community Center, and the jewel in the crown, the nearby Tower for Senior Citizen living.

In Southfield, we have the landmark gold-domed St. John’s Armenian Apostolic Church (Diocese), which succeeded the Oakman Blvd. facility. The church property is joined by a veteran’s hall, gymnasium, and one of the finest day schools in existence, the Alex and Marie Manoogian AGBU charter school, which goes all the way through high school.

Also in Southfield is the Armenian Congregational Church and Fellowship Hall, which hosts many lectures and other activities, bringing the Armenian community together in brotherhood.

We are equally proud of the actively growing Armenian Catholic Church presently in Livonia. They host one of the most important events in Armenian history, the commemoration of the Battle of Vartanantz, which is attended by members of the entire community. Services are always followed by a very generous buffet prepared by their ladies auxiliary.

 

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SOUTHFIELD—On Friday evening, Dec. 2, renowned historian and noted author Dr. George Bournoutian paid another visit to the Detroit area and attracted a large crowd to hear his talk on his latest book, The 1823 Russian Survey of the Karabagh Province: A Primary Source on the Demography and Economy of Karabagh.

The lecture was held at the AGBU School, where earlier in the day he had addressed the students of the school; he was warmly received with his enthusiastic style and friendly demeanor, and the student body requested the upper school’s principal, Osep Torossian, to have Bournoutian return to lecture them again. Torossian was gratified to know that because of Bournoutian, two of his students declared history as their majors.

Bournoutian is a professor of East European and Middle Eastern studies at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. He is an avid world traveler and speaks five languages. He has written a vast arsenal of publications. Boston’s Joe Dagdigian says, “I think Prof. Bournoutian is phenomenal. I have most of his books and have read many of them, but he writes faster than I can read.”

Bournoutian was introduced by David Terzibashian, who told the audience to be ready for a very exciting presentation. They were not disappointed.

In his introductory remarks, Dr. Ara Sanjian, the director of the Armenian Research Center at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, said there is now an academic and paper war concerning Bournoutian’s book. The Turks and Azeris have mobilized their communities to negate the work of Bounoutian and others who have researched and established an accurate account of the history of Armenians in Karabagh. Maps were given to everyone making the discussion easier to follow.

The following text is taken from the provided information: “In 1823, following the flight of the last Muslim Khan to Iran, the Russians conducted a thorough survey of the Karabagh Province, which included the Zangezur region as well. The survey listed every village and nomad camp, enumerated the number of its inhabitants in 1822, listed the various taxes paid to the treasury in 1822, and most importantly, listed every village according to the ethnicity of its inhabitants, Armenian or Tatar (Azeri). The term we now know as Azerbaijan did not exist until the 20th century. For the last 20 years the Azerbaijani government and its historians have claimed that Armenians arrived in Karabagh only after 1828. They have even deleted material on the Armenians from the new editions of their own primary sources written in the 19th century. The Russian survey proves beyond a reasonable shadow of a doubt that in 1822, six years before 1828, the Armenians formed the overwhelming (95 percent) majority of the population of the villages of Zangezur, as well as in the districts which form the territory known as Nagorno-Karabagh today.”

“The survey is a very rare document of some 350 pages. No copies exist in the U.S. and only a handful of copies exist in the former USSR. Dr. Bournoutian has managed to locate a copy from the Moscow Central Library and has translated the entire survey, with extensive notes commentary into English.”

This effort took him 6 months, working 10 hours daily for 7 days a week. Bournoutian has established for all time that there was an Armenian presence in all of Karabagh prior to 1828—over 96 percent in Mountainous Karabagh and over 83 percent in Zangezur.

Unfortunately some historians changed, doctored, or deleted references to the Armenian presence in certain reproductions of the survey, and these doctored copies were sent to universities in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

Bournoutian and Robert Galichian, in London, are the only two currently challenging Azeri claims that Armenians never lived east of the Arpachay River, or that even Yerevan isn’t Armenian. Following the genocide, Armenians no longer live openly in eastern Turkey, adding to the Azeris’ convenient claim of our non-existence.

Bournoutian’s research thereby repudiates the thought that we need more fighters and soldiers, and less intellectuals. It is the dedicated scholarly research of people like him that prove that we need both—fedayees and scholars. Armenians have both, and the paper and academic wars continue.

Your support is needed by purchasing the researched books and raising awareness of the attempts being made to alter our history, and to encourage scholars to continue with their important work.

This lecture was sponsored by the AGBU Detroit Chapter, the Knights of Vartan Detroit Chapter, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the Armenian Research Center, and the Tekeyan Cultural Association.

 

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DEARBORN—On Dec. 7, the Armenian Research Center and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, in cooperation with the AGBU Alex and Marie Manoogian School, the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Michigan, the Cultural Society of Armenians from Istanbul, and the Knights of Vartan “Nareg Shavarshan” Lodge, presented Suzanne Khardalian’s stirring documentary film “Grandma’s Tattoos.”

Khardalian’s grandmother, Khanoum, was a victim of the Armenian Genocide. While at least 1.5 million Armenians were mercilessly slaughtered during this time period and for some years after, thousands of Armenian women, young girls, and boys were captured and taken away to lead a life most would consider a fate worse than death. They were led to a life of prostitution and slavery.

The Turks, Kurds, and Arabs who captured, traded, or “owned” these enslaved Armenians made it obvious by the terrible markings they put on their face, chest, and fingers: tattoos. You could not hide what you had become, branded like cattle. The strife of these ownership markings led to terrible emotional stress and shame for the unfortunate Armenians who lived this inhuman existence. Imprisoned in their own minds, their bodies used for hedonistic pleasure, they often found themselves marked as “dirty” and “unwanted” even by their own people, if they were fortunate enough to gain their freedom.

In 1919 at the end of World War I, the Allied Forces reclaimed 90,819 Armenian young girls and children who were brutally forced to become prostitutes to survive or had given birth to children after forced or arranged marriages or rape. It is a hideous fate that apparently God could not reverse, just like the genocide. These women were tattooed to show who they belonged to. Just think how many hundreds of thousands more Armenians we would have today if this injustice was not perpetrated.

European and American missionaries picked up and saved thousands of refugees, who were later scattered over the world to places like Beirut, Marseilles, and Fresno, living with their secrets without revealing what tortures and shame they had endured.

When you look back at your family and friends who had somehow survived the genocide, did you ever think of the horrors they kept locked in their mind, what hell they were exposed to before landing on free shores? Now, so much has been revealed through the efforts of one woman, Suzanne Khardalian.

Khardalian’s grandmother was described as unloving, not one to hug or show love, as a wicked woman who despised human contact. It is no wonder. Khardalian has seen the same situation in Bosnia and Darfur.

Khardalian directs the film, which was produced by her Swedish husband PeA Holmquist. They have made many films together.

“Grandma’a Tattoos” explores the topic that was forbidden in Khardalian’s home in Beirut. The filmmaker recently started asking her relatives and sisters questions about the tattoos, and discovered the trauma her grandmother lived with. Information was not easily volunteered. They prefered to keep the past a secret, but all secrets are eventually revealed.

Khardalian is seen in the desert of Der Zor, where on the sand’s surface she easily finds the bones of her ancestors bleached from the hot sun. She bends down to find a tooth and other bone fragments. Her guide points out thousands of Armenian graves, as far as the eye can see.

The film opens with a gentle scene, a man rowing a boat on the calm Euphrates River, never leaving you to think this was the beginning of a horrible life for Khanoum, the young victim. It is this oarsman, a Kurd, who picks up the young 12-year-old girl and her mother with the guile that he will save their lives. He rapes the young girl, makes her his concubine, and for five years her fate is sealed with the shame the tattoos represent.

The film is jarring. Not a sound was to be heard throughout the whole screening. A mesmerized audience contained their own thoughts, remembering the terrible details of the genocide. Not all Armenians were killed; some escaped through pure luck, some converted to Islam to save their lives, and, unfortunately, thousands became victims of their blue-tinted tattoos. Many women chose to sacrifice their lives by jumping into the rocky rivers, thereby drowning themselves.

I remember Robert Barsamian’s art exhibit last April at the Jewish Holocaust Center in West Bloomfield, where for the first time the new director of the center, Stephen Goldman, welcomed the work focused on the Armenian Genocide. One painting in particular shall never be forgotten: It was a portrait that demonstrated the height of evil, depravity, and savagery. It was called “Slave Girl.”

It was a somber-faced, beautiful Armenian woman cloaked in black, with long, dark hair and a horizontal line of tattoos on her chin and neck, and many more passing down vertically to her breast bone. There were so many markings you could cry. They depicted the number of times she had been sold into slavery.

These women and children ended up in the tents of Arabs, Turks, and Kurds, bearing their children, living a day to day life of hell on earth. No family, no country. Just humiliation. What human tenderness and kind emotion could they ever be capable of?

Barsamian’s art and films, like the one produced by Khardalian, must be shown to the world to reveal and counteract the denial of the Turks.

Pray for these forgotten women that they now have peace. No woman or child should be exposed to such a horrible life, but horrible people are capable of much depravity.

The film ended. The lights were turned back on. I looked around me, seeing saddened, somber faces, shaken by what they had just viewed. Tears were wiped. These people are familiar with the details of the genocide, and yet they were momentarily quiet, still, trying to understand what they had just seen.

Many had questions and some made statements. One very elderly Vanetsi survivor shouted loudly, “I have seen all this!, I was part of this! I was there! Don’t tell me to be quiet. I was there!”

Our thanks to Khardalian and Holmquist for bringing to the screen the no-longer secret of “Grandma’s Tattoos.” As local filmmaker Hrayr Toukhanian said, “Suzanne successfully brought to life a circumstance about which few had any knowledge.

 

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TROY—It was in the Belian Center in this suburb that a refreshing evening of art was presented on Dec. 9, featuring four students close to concluding their studies at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit.

The exhibit was called “A Common Thread,” appropriately named because all four are of partial or full Armenian heritage, proudly reflected that in their creations.

The glossy postcard arrived as promised by May Kafafian, the mother of Levon Kafafian, 23, one of the featured artists, who has decided art will be his life’s work. His specialty is fabric design. “Talking about our next generation,” May Kafafian, began, “Not all but some of our youth feel their roots very strongly. It may not be connected to anything we have done as parents. I like to think it is in their genes.”

The exhibit started with a wine and elaborate Armenian mezza for the more than 200 guests who nibbled while walking through the all-white brightly lit interiors of the Belian showroom, owned by Zabel Belian and her dentist son Raffi. It will run through Dec. 16 and features the works of Ryan Adkins, Levon Kafafian, Esther Rubyan, and Michael Stamboulian.

Levon explains the idea behind “A Common Thread”: “It comes from the folklore belief that we are all connected by the strings of fate. The common thread runs through all of us, especially as the four of us share a common heritage—that of Armenian descent. This exhibition is about how our origins metamorphose within us and emerge as individual expressions of the merger of our heritage and personal experience. Each student-artist has created their own interpretation of what they see as their own trans-ethnic identities.”

As an employee of Hagopian World of Rugs in Birmingham, he is surrounded by beauty, color, and the essence of design in the thousands of rugs on display in the glamorous showroom. He is a junior in fiber design and will be presenting a dining room showcase, primarily in textile.

Levon says his work is strongly influenced by his Armenian heritage, as is the postcard of his design. It is dark maroon in color; he and I simultaneously declared it is the color of blood, so much of which has been shed by our ancestors. Running across the length of the card are narrow bands of red, blue, and orange, like threads.

Esther Rubyan, 21, Water is one of a series of edited photos of models in blacklight body paint about the elements and spirituality. She is a junior pursuing a double major in fine arts and photography. She works as a nightlife photographer for the Metro Times newspaper. She will be showing a series of photography prints.

Ryan Adkins, 21, yarn wallpaper is a previous yarn installation, creating an aesthetically appealing space out of little material and minimum effect on the wall on which it is installed. He is an interior design senior, graduating in two weeks. This is his second show; the first was a part of the Detroit Design Festival titled “Urban Hollow.” He has worked as a design assistant at Wallace Consulting, a Detroit area interior design firm. He will be presenting a yarn installation.

Michael Stamboulian, 23, is a senior in metals, pursuing a minor in animation. He works at the university as a work study student. He will show a collection of holloware and sculpture in metal and glass.

The artists beamed as they greeted guests, obviously pleased at the turnout and the positive comments of encouragement. Perhaps proudest of all was Khatchig Kafafian, Levon’s father, who has supported his son through several curriculum changes and is happily pleased to discover he has immense talent. He said, “Who knew?” as he continually snapped photos and offered refreshments to art-goers. Seems Levon has inherited some of Dad’s talent.

It was a night to remember and all eyes will be on these developing young Armenian artists as we wish them success and happiness in their chosen field of creativity.

 

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DEARBORN—On Dec. 10, the Detroit “Azadamard” Gomideh invited the community to celebrate the 121st anniversary of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) at 7:30 p.m. at the Armenian Community Center (ACC) on Ford Rd. A delicious complimentary dinner was provided to all guests. The program speaker was Mher Karakashian from Montreal, Canada. To be honored was Archpriest Dr. Gorun Shrikian and the ACC mortgage burning committee.

The popular annual event is an accounting of the ARF to the community. Gomideh Chairman Raffi Ourlian warmly welcomed the guests to the celebration, saying the ARF was born to defend the people. “Our work is not over,” he continued. “We have more to accomplish for the Armenian Cause, Javakhk, and Karabagh. The ARF has always put the community’s needs above that of the individual.”

Oulian invited the clergy to give the opening prayer. Msgr. Andon Atamian of St. Vartan Armenian Catholic Church, Rev. Fr. Daron Stephanian of St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church, and Pastor Makarios Darawi of the Armenian Congregational Church gave the opening and closing prayers. Anahid Movsesian sang the American and Armenian National Anthems, joined by the audience. Nanor Andonian gave a recitation in Armenian.

Ourlian introduced featured guest speaker Mher Karakashian, a teacher at Montreal’s St. Hagop School and a producer/director of the Horizon TV program.

Speaking in both Armenian and English, two of the five languages he knows, Karakashian discussed the issue of the Armenian-Turkey protocols and the 31st World Congress. He said that the present regime in Armenia needs to be changed—not just the faces but the attitudes—and that socially just policies must be implemented for the advancement of the Armenian people.

“No matter what the outcome of the election, we must give the individual a constructive life, social justice, and democratic reforms,” he said. “Their long-awaited aspirations must be fulfilled. Our people have always trusted us.”

Karakashian said it is time to put our house in order. It is time to change the way the government in Armenia operates, no longer doing business the same way. The genocide is a proven fact and no longer needs to be defended. Other matters press for attention. The Turks have organized a hateful initiative together with the Azeris, which we must work against.

“The work of the ARF continues. And how do we accomplish our goals? Those familiar with our work know we continue to work for the strength and good of our people.”

“No matter how dark the horizon, the Tashnagtsutiun creates an army of liberation… You, my dear friends, ARF members, and hamagirs, are our strength,” he concluded.

Archpriest Shrikian addressed the group, most of whom were his parishioners before his retirement. He told of the people who rallied to end the ACC’s debt. “We wanted to make this building mortgage free and we did,” he said. One by one their names were called, and Allie Krikorian and Armen Derderian delivered their earned reward, a beautifully designed plaque by Khatchig Kafafian.

The annual accounting of the Detroit Gomideh concluded with a rededication to the strengthening of Armenia and Karabagh. This is how it has been for 121 years and shall continue to be. Congratulations to Archpriest Der Gorun Shrikian and to all the award recipients.

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