ACOM Book Club News for October

The ACOM Book Club met on October 20, 2016, in the St. Sahag lounge.

In attendance this time were Andrea, Francis, Tom, Azad, Natasha, Peter, Al, Cynthia and me. Also, Janet Rith-Najarian made a special trip from Bemidji for the meeting, and also connected her husband, Steve, in through a remote video link. Father Tadeos dropped in for a few minutes, too.
This month's book was "Four Years in the Mountains of Kurdistan" by Aram Haigaz. The reason for Janet making the special trip is that the main character in the book is Steve's great uncle, so there truly is a family connection. Janet provided more information about the story. For example, Steve's great-grandmother on his mother's side of the family tracked down as many members of their extended family as she could after the war was over and brought them to Constantinople, provided a place for them to live, and, in many cases, provided for their education. Another note, 10,000 Armenians lived in the village where the author's family was before the genocide. Only 50 of them survived.

We had red wine, semi-sweet pomegranate wine, fresh lavash, walnuts, string cheese, crab apples, cookies and date-filled pastries.

Natasha posed the question as to whether there is any organization which recognizes Turks who helped Armenians to survive the genocide. No one in the group had a ready answer for that.
Francis commented that he thought that the book was very well written and that it flowed very nicely. He also compared this book to "Birds Without Wings" because of the way that it described life with multiple racial/cultural groups in the Ottoman villages.

Janet commented that the book was written because the author kept a daily journal and, at his children's request, gathered them together into a book. The book was originally written in Armenian and had been translated into French first then, more recently, into English.

Francis compared the way that Armenians were treated in the Ottoman Empire, being looked at as second class citizens, with the way that they were treated in Iran, where they had more respect.

Janet made the point that the Kurds, rather than being related to the Turks, actually are genetically connected to the Persians. Somebody pointed out that Saladin was a Kurd.

A little time was spent commenting on some of the favorite foods identified in the book. Francis said that his father loved eating cream and honey. He loved the cream from the top of the pail. He would dip lavash into it and then add honey to the lavash.

Andrea noted the author's love of bread and the love that he expressed for the horse. Also, she noted another character's love for his ox, as the sole survivor of his family farm, and the way he focused on the cherry wood trailer.

Steve expressed the opinion that his great-grandmother was a very strong woman and had a great determination to survive. She put her kids in an orphanage during the war because she had to travel to Constantinople to work as a seamstress making army uniforms. Because of the important work that she was doing, she was warned ahead of time about the genocide and was able to avoid being caught up in it. She put so much effort into her own survival and that of her other family members, though, that once she moved to the U.S. and could relax, she ended up close to a nervous breakdown.

Andrea noted that in many parts of his story, Aram was walking a fine line with the possibility of being killed.

Tom noted that while Aram was technically a slave, he in many cases was treated like a son of the family.

The book contains many references to the refugees having gold coins sewed into their clothing to be available to help them survive. Francis has many gold coins from the 1920s that he got from his mother. Azad mentioned how the gold coins that his family had were so valuable to them in their escape from the genocide.

Francis mentioned the comment in the book that the Armenian god must be weak and clumsy to have let such a horrible thing happen. The question came up as to how many Jews and Armenians lost their faith because of what happened to them.

Andrea commented on how the author regretted his act of getting another man found guilty and being punished for something that he, Aram, had done.

Azad said that he really liked the book, but did not like it that the author included a sex scene in the book. He felt that it wasn't necessary and, he thought, changed the tone of the book.

Peter made the comment that this book seemed like a post-apocalyptic story, like they were survivors of a major apocalypse. The Armenians were destroyed but, actually, Turkish society was destroyed, too.

Andrea pointed out the discussions in the book among the Turks and Kurds that when the Armenians were killed, a lot of the local resources were gone. There were no doctors, blacksmiths, etc. Andrea and Cynthia agreed that the Turks and Kurds only regretted the killing of the Armenians, though, when they, themselves, were inconvenienced.

In reference to Steve's great-grandmother doing the work of helping her family to survive, Janet made the point that many Armenian families became used to matriarchies because so many of the survivors of the genocide were women.

This led to a side discussion about the treatment of women in old Armenian society and Middle Eastern society in general. When an Armenian woman married she moved into her husband's family's house. She was not even allowed to talk in the house until she had had a child. Cynthia commented on how even today boys are treated better than girls. When she brings presents to a house in Armenia where Fuller Center is going to be working, the boys assume that the presents are for them and the girls hold back. The boys always get the toys and get to ride bikes, etc. The girls don't.

At this point, Peter had to leave. It was time for the big game between The Pack and Da Bears, ya know.

Francis and Natasha commented on the "hex scene", where the 1st wife asked Aram to help her do sorcery to prevent the 2nd wife from having a son.

Janet commented on the "us versus them" attitude of most of the people, but Steve pointed out that there were inter-marriages between the groups. Someone referred to the comments in the book identifying light-skinned and dark-skinned servants.

By this point, we had been talking for two hours and it was time to close out the discussion. There were three proposals for the books for November and December. We tentatively chose "Fool" by Raffi for November and "The Musician's Secret" by Litty Matthew for December, with "The Gardens of Silihdar" by Zabel Yessayan for a future month. I say tentatively because if people are unable to find copies of "Fool" we may move "The Musician's Secret" up to November instead.

The next meeting will be Thursday, November 17th, at 7:00 PM at St. Sahag. I hope to see you all there.


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