Archive for the ‘Armenia City in the Sky’ Category

My Voyald…

Posted: November 16, 2009 in Armenia City in the Sky

All the world’s a stage but…

By Homo sapien a.k.a Mike V.Derderian

…Jordan is my Voyald…

A year ago, I stumbled upon a book entitled Voyald by Armenian-American writer William Saroyan. I bought it for one JD, after arduously digging through piles and piles of dusty books, from a cardboard box lying around the corner of a used book Kiosk, in Down Town Amman.

I recently found out what he meant by Voyald. No, it wasn’t an ancient Armenian word.

Voyald is how world is spelled with a Brooklyn accent. Saroyan used Voyald to describe his world; the world that he found on the land of opportunities or opportunists, the latter compliments of the Bush Administration, after his family was forced out of Armenia.

Years ago my grandfather traveled to Palestine, where he met with my grandmother. Needless to say they fell in love and got married. In 1948 they moved back to Jordan, where my father was born. That was the second time they were forced out of a home. My father in turn a few years later, in 1977, met an Armenian woman from Syria, fell in love, got married and brought her back with him to his home: Jordan.  Their firstborn was me—needles to say I was their first Nakba.

Growing up I always thought of myself as a proud Jordanian of Armenian roots. Yet every now and then I meet Jordanians, who cannot comprehend the fact that I am Jordanian.

It must be the IAN at the end of my nine syllable surname. These three letters have such an amazing effect on paranoid nationalists that I meet in my line of work, and whenever I flash my Journalism ID in their suspecting faces.

My favorite type of skeptics, however, is the over analyzing taxi driver, who like many I encountered during my trips around Amman seem to start to gape in wonder at my hand as I reach out to the passenger seat belt.

No sooner the poor driver recovers from shock I am bombarded with questions. “You are not from around here are you? Where are you from?” a snoopy taxi driver would ask me after noticing my un-Jordanian Arabic accent, which is a blend of urban working class Ammanite Jordanian and metropolitan Syrian. Don’t ask!

Another question is asked after I pull the seatbelt over my not-so-slender-waist. “How did you do that?” the baffled driver inquires. “Years of grueling practice and discipline, a strict diet and adhering to traffic laws you licensed dummy!” I smugly answer in my mind.

To cut to the chase and satisfy the fierce and annoying Spanish inquisitor in him regarding my nationality I simply say, “Ok, I am made of Armenian parts proudly assembled in H.K.J. Made in Jordan not Singapore. You want to look at the manufacturers’ tag on my behind or do you want to see my national number just to make sure. Now I wouldn’t want to ruin your day by proving you wrong.”

I am born in Jordan hence I am Jordanian, period.

After reading Voyald and Other Stories I’ve realized that in order for a writer to succeed in establishing an ounce of credibility among readers, whether local or international, he either has to write about his own surrounding, or his surrounding in relation to his roots; one way or the other both will eventually collide with fascinating results.

One day I will write about my own Armenia, which is forever embedded deep in my Jordanian heart. Jordan is my country and I grew up loving it, even though at times, I am saddened and angered by the behavior of stupid drivers, idiotic traffic laws, blatant nepotism, taxes, low salaries, false bearers of creativity, the in-your-face-tribal-pride that is shamelessly displayed by some individuals, the university support JD that the ministry of finance swindled from my credit without my approval, and of course the corrupt and bigoted human specimens that I am to ashamed to acknowledge as Homo sapiens like me, who are simply trying to get a hold of a banana in a world governed by apes.

All I know is that I am a four generation Jordanian of Armenian roots and Jordan over the years has become my Voyald. No one can ever deny me of my Voyald, and no one I boldly proclaim has the right to do so.


Posted: November 16, 2009 in Armenia City in the Sky

Cinerama: April

By Mike V.Derderian

Amman, The Star

“April is a cruel time, even though the sun may shine, and the world looks in the shade as it slowly comes away, still falls the April rain, and the valleys filled with pain and you can’t tell me quite why.” With these words Rod Evans breaks nine minutes of classical and rock music in Deep Purple’s April.

Many things have been going on in my mind as I was trying to decide what to write for this week’s prelude. I watched V for Vendetta, The Little Drummer Girl and 40 Days on Musa Dagh for inspiration, however, after listening to this 12-minute song, I decided to write about the latest development in the story of my people, as April is an important date for us.

Why April when it is October? April marks the date when our Diaspora first started back in 1915. The recent news of France’s issuing a bill related to the Armenian genocide caused quite a stir and has enraged Turkey. This week’s column comes in response to the few articles written by some Jordanian writers about this sensitive issue.

Those journalists decided to use the word “Armenian genocide” as a prologue to their political columns that starts with a very thin and brief recounting of it—indicative of their ignorance to our history. Their columns would then funnel into the atrocities committed in Palestine and Iraq on a daily basis.

Some dubbed France’s bill as another blow in the face of Muslims worldwide and an insignificant monkey wrench thrown in the cogwheels of Turkey’s endeavor to join the European Union.

France’s using our strife with Turkey is probably no more than a ploy to add hardship and hurdles to Turkey’s plans of joining the European Union. Westerners never cared about anyone else save themselves and to use our tragedy so blatantly is a shameless act of cowardice. They are simply beating around the bush faster than a Mongoose after a snake, as they cannot announce “publicly” that they simply don’t want a Muslim country to become part of their league of extraordinary usurpers.

Many of our Arab “ink freedom fighter” writers forgot that Armenians have been living in the Middle East since 1915, which means over 90 years. Throughout the years Armenians have become an integral part of their host countries and helped build and contributed to society. They even adopted the Arabic language and I for example regard myself an assimilation of Armenian blood and Arab traditions.

As an Armenian it angers me to stand helpless and watch how the world and these opinionated writers describe our story and existence. Do you know how many times I heard my grandmother mourn and tell me our story and the reason why we are not living in Armenia, where we can spy the proud mountain cliffs of Ararat.

As a Middle Eastern Armenian I have always and will always be part of the Arab world no matter what happens with France’s politically driven bill. Anyone saying that Armenians and the Armenian genocide are part of the West’s blind and racist crusade should have his/her brains checked because we—especially the Armenians living in this part of the Arab world—have become deeply in-rooted in the soil of the land that took us in times of hardship and agony, which brings in this question, what are we doing here in the first place?

The following movies that I watched growing up might acquaint you with our people and help answer this question that many know the answer to but dare not acknowledge: Sergi Parajanov’s  Sayat Nova (1968), Sarky Mouradian’s 40 Days of Musa Dagh (1982), Henri Verneuil’s Mayrig (1991), Atom Egoyan’s Calendar (1993) and Ararat (2002).

Armenians are at times accused of being fanatical especially when it comes to speaking their mother tongue in the presence of Arabs, yet we would never forget how Muslim and Christian Arabs embraced us 90 years ago, when one of my ancestors decided to head out from Istanbul to Haifa and from there to Jordan, where my father was born.

I was born in Amman in 1979. I have lived here all my life surrounded by Muslims and Christians and the only time I left Jordan, my country, was when I went to university abroad. If God permits it I will never leave this country…unless…


Posted: November 16, 2009 in Armenia City in the Sky

Cinerama: Ararat

By Mike V.Derderian

Amman, The Star

A requiem for our dead written by a remorseful poet with a raven’s feather on the hide of human being that perished 90 years ago:

A child desperately holds the carcass of its dead mother,

His sister tries to carry him away,

A man mourning the decaying remains of a dead brother,

The caravan continues to sway,

A woman hurls herself off a cliff; death instead of a brothel,

‘Living in sin even for a day;

I’d rather die an Armenian woman with no shame, dear father.’

Don’t cry old man for Garineh,

When we all die one day, we shall be reunited with her up there,

In the heavens; nay, nay, nay,

I still see tears in your eyes or are those for your beloved Ardasher,

Don’t cry old man, nay, nay,

For he died fighting, unlike us, who are led like sheep to be slaughtered.

High and up in the gray sky,

An angel watches over our rising souls as they surrender their shattered—

Bodies before the day they—

Bid farewell; old man do you think that one day the cruel world will stop,

And ask a piece of broken clay,

En route to Damascus what happened to Armenians on the 24th of April;

And if Turks did actually Armenians slay!

The above poem was inspired by a BBC production about the Armenian genocide that was aired on Future Television on the night of April 24. But it was a word uttered by a Turkish woman describing the concerns of an entire nation as “petty” that triggered my inspiration.

On that night I was resolved to re-acquaint myself with my long lost heritage, starting with the 2004 film Ararat. So please do forgive my insolence in writing such a poem for those who died on their way to this part of the world, and those whom I never met except in my wildest dreams.

All my life I believed I was an Armenian, who had the soul of an Arab, mind of a westerner and the heart of human but the other day I realized that I was cursed for eternity. Once you are born an Armenian you’ll die an Armenian with one thing on your mind: What happened on that day when earth streamed with blood? A lot of books were written, a lot of people have died, and a few but touching films were shot about the memory that still singes the hearts of thousands of Armenians around the world.

Atom Egoyan’s 2002 film Ararat—as all the films I’ve seen about the Armenian genocide, like Sarky Mouradian’s 40 Days of Musa Dagh (1982) and Henri Verneuil’s masterpiece Mayrig (1992)—brilliantly utilizes the story-within-a-story plotline like no other director has done before in a film about the Armenian genocide.

Ask any Armenian and he\she, young or old, will tell you that it is the memory that grieves them most; which is exactly the angle Egoyan’s film marvelously tackles.

“You want people to know what happened, but also what continues to happen,” Egoyan said, stressing how the Turkish government and Turks still deny that the genocide ever took place. ” But I’d have to show extreme scenes of unspeakable horror, and as a filmmaker, I can’t do that without a degree of self-consciousness. In the end, I want the film to be about the stories parents tell their children, how small moments of misunderstanding create huge generational riffs.”

A memory that revolves around the lives of seven people involved in the production of a film about the genocide. Four Armenians, one Turk, a Frenchwomen and a Canadian find themselves embarking on a journey of pain, rejection, love and dejection.

The strength and sensitivity of Egoyan’s storyline that revolved around the memories of Armenian painter Arshil Gorky (1904-1948) was backed up by a cast of talented actors spearheaded by Hollywood legend Christopher Plummer, French singing icon Charles Aznavour, Eric Bogosian, David Alpay, Elias Koteas, Bruce Greenwood, Marie-Josée Croze, Arsinée Khanjian and Simon Abkarian, as the traumatized Armenian painter.

Born Vostanik-Manuk Adoyan in western Armenia in the village of Khorgom, Gorky in 1915 escaped the Turkish massacres with thousands of Armenian refugees to Yerevan, where his mother died of famine. In 1920 he left to the United States, where he lived his final days before committing suicide. An act that ended years of artistic productivity engulfed with misery.

Ararat is the story of a mother and a son; a daughter and a deceased father; a father and a son; and a director and an actor, whom all have been touched by the Armenian genocide in one way or the other. I find it hard to give you the broader image of our people’s suffering in this week’s column for lack of space, shortness of time and heartbreak. It is not easy to summarize the life of a person in a single column of words so imagine what an entire nation’s life would require.

Keep one thing though in mind, if the aforementioned genocide was related by any means to our dear cousins across the Jordan River instead of Armenians, Africans, Albanians or Palestinian, who must have broke the world record in the number of civilian fatalities per day, I think Steven Spielberg would be more than willing to direct an Oscar award wining tear-jerking film. But this time we’ll insist that it would be in Technicolor and shot using the Cinerama technique.


Posted: November 16, 2009 in Armenia City in the Sky

Cinerama: Mayrig

By Mike V.Derderian

Amman, The Star Weekly

Looking at her radiant visage, one realizes it forms the sun smiling to her husband, the supporting tree that shelters her siblings from the falling rain and from time to time her tender embrace offers warmth and comfort when life is cold and unkind to us. Still haven’t you guessed who we are talking about: well, she is a mother.

With Mother’s Day approaching and a deadline looming in the horizon for both a column and a self-explanatory gift of some sort by sons and husbands, I ask myself: what can a person possibly get for a woman who gave him the most precious gift off all, his life? A gift that he carries with him all the time, everywhere he goes, with every breath he inhales and exhales.

And as the years go by, our gratitude increases, and bringing our mothers a present with a “Best Mom” phrase on the tummy of a little teddy bear becomes less significant, for nothing really compares to the gift of life.

Just imagine a life within a life for nine months, a period during which a woman undergoes a lot of uncomfortable physiological changes that comes to an end with the sharp cry of a baby heard down the chloroform aromatized corridors of a hospital.

Holding that innocent weak child in their hands, both the tearful father and the exhausted mother lovingly and victoriously smile at each other for together they created a life; not knowing that until their baby reaches adulthood many tears will be shed.

I can already imagine your attempts in trying to decipher the strange title of this week’s film, for “Mayrig” is an Armenian word that stands for mother and is pronounced (m-īr-ēg).

When I first saw this 1992 French film, based on a novel by the late French-Armenian Henri Verneuil (who was born Ashod Malakyan) about an Armenian Family living in France, I found myself somehow relating to the main character, Azad, the little boy.

It wasn’t because he was Armenian or that during the film’s flow of events the Armenian genocide was brought into life through the artistic direction of Verenuil—who used the enchanting music of Jean Claude-petit to accompany the scenes of joy, reverie and pain found in the life of one family—but it was because Azad had a loving mother and father.

The film’s events take place during World War I, when thousands of Armenian families were forced to leave their motherland in search for a new start, a new life. For many, France was one of the choices, especially for Hagop and Araxi, Azad’s parents.

Egyptian actor Omar Sharif’s and Italian actress Claudia Cardinale’s portrayal of the Armenian parents was superb and most of all sincere; it allowed the audience a chance to see how parents work hard for their children.

To explain more, Mayrig is a term of endearment for mothers among Armenians. The term indicates how much love and respect everyone in the family bears to a mother, such was the case with Araxi (Cardinale), whom she and her two sisters Anna and Gayane worked as a seamstresses to support the family.

With such a star-studded cast—having French actors like Nathalie Roussel, Isabelle Sadoyan and Jacky Nercessian in the role of Apkar, who played the role of the tormented soul in this drama to add more emotional intensity to the already love-charged film.

Not forgetting Cedric Doucet, Tom Ponsin and Stephne Servais, the three actors who played the role of Azad at different stages of his life, the film’s plot is quite coherent and holds with no loose ends.

Verneuil attempted to present the diverse aspects of an Armenian boy’s life living in a foreign society from the boy’s perspective; as the film is narrated by Azad in the form of flashbacks that allow us to peak into precious moments in his life—like when his mother Araxi, uncovers the buttons of her dress that are actually gold coins as they arrive to France, or when she and Hagop proudly make Baklava with Azad’s help.

One of the heart breaking stories in the film is Apkar’s story, as he recounts his torture while in a mass caravan trail in the desert; a horseshoe was fixed to his bare feet with nails—how inhumane can a humans be?

This is all I will say about the movie, the rest you’ll have to find out by yourself my dear reader. Each life has another interlaced with it. No matter how far we reach into this world, there is always that influence rubbed on us by our parents. AndVerneuil’s film will trigger our minds into thinking on how will we ever repay our mothers’ for all the sacrifices they did for our sake.

Just like Azad, now I know if it weren’t for my mother’s encouragement all these years, you wouldn’t be reading this column, which I wouldn’t be writing in the first place, so to her and to all Mothers: Happy Mother’s Day.