Circumstances in the form of community reactions, discussions, and commentary obligate me to revisit a topic I did not much want to address in the first place since it gives the culprit what she craves and needs to achieve her untoward desires/goals, ATTENTION.
I will start by apologizing to all those who read my December 2014 piece, “Soul-Searching, or Self Serving” for not being clear enough about THE key aspect of my discussion of Meline Toumani’s book “There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond.” My concern is how she and her publisher are marketing, positioning, publicizing, and pushing (much like drug dealers do) this book. I almost don’t care about its contents and contentions. Whether what she argues and posits is brilliant or bullshit is irrelevant to me since as it is the marketing angle that troubles me deeply. This should have been evident from the fact that I was concerned about this book long before it saw the light of day, based on promotional material about it.
I had to clarify this since countless people, even those who agree with me, have criticized me for commenting about the book and advocating that others NOT buy it, without first having read it, myself. Anyone reviewing my earlier piece will see that the only content of the book I address is what she herself read aloud at the Abril Bookstore event held for the book. The rest is about how it’s being “sold” to the public.
A related, and odd, aspect of the criticism I have received is the “surprise” of people at my recommending NOT getting this without reading. Funny, isn’t it? I thought that was why we had book reviews and signing events for authors and their publications, so we, as the reading public, get a chance to sample the writer’s wares and decide based on that whether to purchase or not. After reading the reviews Toumani herself provides links to, and listening to her in person and on radio interviews, I concluded buying this book is a bad decision and said so. Why should that surprise anyone?
Let’s move away from the defensive nature of the paragraphs above.
Since December, much discussion has attended this book, its author, her motivations, etc. These have occurred on hikes, online, and everywhere in between. Two pieces well worth reading are Chris Atamian’s and James Russell’s, Mahdotz Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University. Peter Musurlian’s original piece is also worthy of your attention.
But all this is playing into what I have become convinced is Toumani’s game of making a name for herself. There’s nothing wrong with that… unless it is done at someone else’s expense. In this case that “someone else” is us, the Armenians, worldwide. How she’s doing this is typically self-serving, depraved, and almost nefarious.
On the most obvious level, she’s playing to those who can’t see beyond their immediate, comfortable, urban-cloistered existence. These are people who go into fits of near-hysteria if they encounter something labeled (rightly or wrongly) as hate. There are also the types who think, and often advise Armenians and others to, “just get over it” since it “all happened so long ago” and somewhere else. Read the book reviews and listen to her interviews. You’ll see. I provided quotes in my first piece.
But it gets worse. Toumani is cynically playing the part of the “misunderstood” and “unappreciated” “martyr” of the Armenian community. Her faux avant-garde arguments appeal to otherwise forward-thinking and constructively-inclined people, taking advantage of their being insufficiently informed about Armenian issues.
Remember, even if all her complaints were valid, she’s making them just to sell books and earn acclaim. She is using legitimate expressions of concern about her doings to make herself out a martyr so she sells books. Without referring to me by name, she mockingly referred to my advising people not to get the book, without having read it. She is playing the “they’re picking on me” game.
A worse example of Toumani’s depraved approach is a question and her answer about what happened in Abril Bookstore at her book’s event. She flat-out lies when Leonard Lopate, her host on an interview, near the end of their discussion asks her “Weren’t you heckled at an Armenian bookstore in Los Angeles?” and she confirms that she was. Please see Merriam-Webster’s definition of “heckle” below. What really happened was she interrupted the questions being posed by Levon Marashlian, Peter Musurlian, and I— whom she describes in the interview as “three fellows who represent the far extreme nationalistic segment of the Armenian Diaspora”! There is video-taped proof of this. Unfortunately, that documentation is unavailable to us. I asked the owner of Abril Bookstore for the footage. He refused, citing his advance-promise to Toumani that it would not be publicized. She has made an unwitting accomplice of a fellow Armenian (honorably keeping his word), who otherwise provides an excellent service to our community. I can only presume that she anticipated her own boorish behavior and didn’t want the truth to come out.
Also, doesn’t it make you wonder how Lopate knew about her alleged heckling? To me, it is evident that she planted that “information” with him so that here again, she could play the victim. You can see how she is using that “victimization” to curry favor and pity with her audiences to get them to buy her book. And, it is all about selling her book. Her publisher must be doing a great job, since she has in the last two months even been reviewed in The Economist and The New York Times and has become a finalist for the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award— how many Armenian-themed books have managed to secure such visibility?
This kind of exposure and praise, her ability to fund a lengthy sojourn in Turkey, and the very premise of her “personal; journey” have many people wondering who’s backing her and why. To me this smacks of conspiracy mongering, but I feel compelled to report what I have been confronted with.
As I often do, I will point out some good news on this front as well. A friend apologized to me recently, saying that he’d purchased the book already, not knowing about its flaws. This, coupled with most of the comments people have posted to online versions of articles discussing Toumani and/or her book, shows that, at least in our community, the majority “gets it” about what a damaging piece of work a decade of Toumani’s life has produced. It’s even possible that Toumani may yet recognize her misguidedness, assuming she can overcome her arrogance. I assert this based on her response to a question in an interview with Nayat Karaköse of “Agos” (Hrant Dink’s publication).
When asked, “You write about how Diaspora Armenians are full of hatred. Most of the reactions are related to this. Did you hesitate before openly writing about the hatred?” she replied, in part, “It has surprised me how much people focus on that word, and it bothers me. The US media were really fixated on this word, too…” and that she has recalibrated her response to such queries. This is what some of us have been trying to convey to Toumani and her few hangers-on. She is playing in the American political arena, where some forces are arrayed against the interests of Armenians. The “hatred” fetish I mentioned in my first article fits into the narrative that those forces use against us, typically to subtly undercut arguments advocating Genocide recognition. She has been living in denial of the morass into which she has naively waded with her book.
I will not address Toumani and this book of hers any more because she is unworthy. I don’t want to publicize her. To further discuss it is falling into the trap usually used by Turkey’s denialists— the creation and maintenance of endless debate, effectively mental masturbation, to postpone addressing the substance of the issue in the hopes that over time, more Armenians, like Meline Toumani, will succumb to self-hate, self-doubt, and simple fatigue leading to their exit from the struggle to restore full justice for the Armenian nation and distancing themselves from their Armenian roots.
I repeat my call to NOT buy this book. And, should your non-Armenian friends mention it to you, enlighten them about it. Explaining that it is an example of a pathetic human being trying to “make it” at the expense of others. It is an example of someone (ab)using her community, expecting the community’s support (purchasing books and speaking kindly of her “work”), and giving nothing back except degrading descriptions of that community.
Definition of heckle:
— to interrupt (someone, such as a speaker or performer) by shouting annoying or rude comments or questions
— to harass and try to disconcert with questions, challenges, or gibes: badger
CORRECTION: In my piece last week, I erroneously wrote LA@DC.org as the URL for the cross-country bike ride being organized on the Genocide’s centennial. The correct address is LA2DC.org. Apologies for any confusion and inconvenience this may have caused.