SKEPTIK TAKES ON GOLDBERG

By SKEPTIK SINIKIAN

In any given week–I receive a dozen or so emails from around the world from various readers. I try to respond to as many as I can but sometimes it will be one of those weeks where I don’t get to respond as quickly as I want or to everyone who wrote to me. In fact–I owe some folks from Bulgaria and Hungary apologies for my delays in getting back to them. This was just one of those weeks and on top of everything else–I was forwarded more e-vites (electronic invitations) to different parties or fundraisers than Paris Hilton gets in a month. That’s the great thing about being Armenian–you never have to worry about having an empty social calendar. For instance–I received an email the other day from an organization that is raising money for something called the Armenian Cosmic Ray Division (CRD).

Now the name Armenian Cosmic Ray Division may sound more like the name of a boy band from Armenia who covers 80s pop hits from groups like Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys than a serious research group. But the CRD is actually a world class scientific organization in Armenia that has made an international impact in the area of cosmic and space weather observation. I don’t know what this all means because during Earth Science class in the 8th grade–I was more interested in finding out if Tammy Portafino’s hair smelled like strawberries and cream than I was interested in learning about sun-spots and space weather. But lo and behold–Armenia’s science community is making an impact in international research and all thanks to this little research facility nestled atop Mount Aragats in Armenia. And their work is important to you as well because many everyday services such as cell phones–weather reports–TV programs–and even safe airline flights and electricity depend on accurate and reliable space weather forecasting. See–I bet you didn’t know that. Next time you’re chatting it up at Starbucks on your Nokia Razor phone trying to look important for the ladies while talking to your grandmother–remember that your cell phone service relies on a group of Armenian scientists who spend morning eating "khash"* and evenings studying the stars. (*Khash is Armenian menudo–or menudo is Mexican khash depending on your perspective) Anyway–you can learn more about the CRD by visiting www.crdfriends.org.

Another reader forwarded me an excerpt from an interview with documentary filmmaker Andrew Goldberg and the Kurdish Media in New York–which was published online on May 14–2006 and can be found at www.KurdishMedia.com. Goldberg was the guy who made the documentary "The Armenian Genocide" that PBS wanted to show followed by a panel discussion/debate with denier propagandists pushing the Turkish agenda and Armenian-American authors and scholars. The idea of having a legitimate documentary on the Genocide followed by folks "debating" a non-debatable issue which remains a sensitive topic because of Turkish proactive denial is reminiscent of a twisted sideshow from a three ring circus. It was such a big deal that PBS received tens of thousands of emails from Armenian Americans and from Turks around the country and the globe. The Armenia’s were writing to not have the panel aired after the documentary. The Turks were writing to have the documentary pulled entirely.

When I read the question in the Kurdish Media interview and Goldberg’s response–I felt the need to put in my two cents’ worth. Particularly since I actually attended his screening in LA–made a pretty decent contribution for my own meager means and also bought one of the overpriced DVDs (it was selling for 30 bucks but it was for a good cause–right?) Anyway–here’s the question and Goldberg’s answer:

KurdishMedia: "Do you have any future plans to further explore the Armenian genocide or other historical events in the region?"

Goldberg: "No. This was a very upsetting experience for me. Seeing PBS get so incredibly assaulted by the whole world–justified or not–was very upsetting to watch. Seeing Congressmen try to stop PBS from showing either the film or the panel–regardless of the value of either–reminded me of Turkey where government controls the media. Terrifying. For the record–I never want to live in a country where the government tells the press what to do. The people can always speak out instead. Our government cannot even build a sidewalk and yet we are [to] take seriously their nonsensical efforts at censorship? Again–no matter how offensive something is–the government cannot be the ones to tell us what we can and cannot say. It must only be the people and the viewers.

Going on–being attacked–often with fabrications–by nationalists in the Armenian press in California was very upsetting and uncalled for. In my opinion–it is press like this that only harms efforts at recognition. It divides rather than unites and prevents any consistent voice to speak for the issues.

Furthermore–raising money was nearly impossible. I was told by one of our funders that a man named Walter Karabian actually suggested that supporting our efforts was a mistake! But we were able to finish the film and we are very–very proud of what we achieved for journalism and for human rights.

As for the Armenian organizations such as ANCA (Armenian National Committee) and the Armenian Assembly? We tried to work with them many times but we found them to be entirely non-responsive. The AGBU [Armenian General Benevolent Union] on the other hand was amazing–outstanding–and incredible. They were truly wonderful to work with and I wish I had such talented and generous people to work with on all our projects."

Mark Twain–one of the sharpest American satirists of all time once said that "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt." If Goldberg read Twain–then he’d have saved him the embarrassment that I’m about to spank him with. First of all–in the previous part of his interview (which I didn’t print due to space limitations but you can read online)–Goldberg dishes out a critique that there is not enough research being done by non Armenia’s on the Genocide. Well DUH!! But there’s still work being done by non-Armenia’s scholars such as Donald Miller and Israel Charney to name a few. But he’s right. More can be done. Yet in the same breath he mentions that his film was funded exclusively by Armenia’s.

What I’d like to ask Mr. Goldberg is why he didn’t receive any funding from any other sources? Why did the Armenian community have to foot the bill one more time? Was it because we’re so generous and hospitable? Well–that can’t be the case at all–because as Mr. Goldberg said "As for the Armenian organizations such as ANCA (Armenian National Committee) and the Armenian Assembly? We tried to work with them many times but we found them to be entirely non-responsive." This was the statement that caught my eye. First of all–let me just say that I do not know of the Assembly’s activities–nor do I particularly care. But I do have first hand sources that after reading the Goldberg interview–informed me that the ANCA worked as hard as they could to help him with this screenings in Washington–DC. Yet at the same time–they urged community members and activists to urge PBS to not air the panel following the documentary. They did all this while working on the dozens of other issues they usually work on–Artsakh–aid to Armenia–State Department issues in the Caucasus–etc.

I don’t know what Goldberg expected from the ANCA? It’s not like his documentary was earth-shattering or presented anything new that we hadn’t seen before. Every week the ANCA is approached by folks who are working on different projects that require some assistance–and how does a group that’s extremely limited in resources decide who and what to help and how much? I don’t envy them at all. Not only that–but Goldberg’s documentaries remind me of the yellow jacket books that you see at Borders with titles like "Poker for Dummies." Goldberg’s previous works and films on Armenia’s (although well-shot and edited) usually neglect key elements that do not do justice to the subject matter. I never commented on this before because it was never an issue before and because I didn’t know that Goldberg was involved in these previous movies. But here’s a BIG example from his past movie about Armenia’s titled "Armenia’s: A Story of Survival," which aired on PBS a few years ago. The movie chronicled the early history of Armenia’s through Christianity and eventually to modern day Armenia and the struggles in Artsakh. But here’s what pissed me off about the movie–it talked about the difficulties Armenia has developing as a democracy and how the Soviet system has embedded a lot of corruption. This was said/implied while showing an image of your classic Yerevan police officer with a huge pot belly waving a baton. Soon after this image–the movie ends. I had issues with this scene and I’ll tell you why?

Now here’s my question to you and my critique of Goldberg. If you’re making a documentary about Armenia’s and survival–what do you think has been the most critical event of the last twenty years that has affected Armenia as a nation? What image of the last twenty years conveys survival more than the war in Artsakh? If you said the 1988 earthquake in Armenia–which killed over 25,000 people and left over half a million people homeless in a country of a population of roughly 3 million–then you should be making documentaries instead of Goldberg. And right after this earthquake–our neighbors–Turkey and Azerbaijan–in violation of US laws–cut off the railway lines and prevented Armenia from receiving any humanitarian aid (that’s right? HUMANITARIAN) and still do so today. This led to one of the largest humanitarian aid airlifts in the history of the world–making the Berlin Airlift seem like a Boy Scout Canned Food Drive. And Armenia has been surviving like this since then. SINCE 1989!! But did Goldberg cover this critical–crucial–indispensable portion of Armenia’s recent history which still affects its economic development and even drives a few desperate people to desperate measures??? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Instead–he showed a fat Yerevan cop with a fat belly! That’s just poor filmmaking and there are no excuses for that.

When I met Goldberg at his film’s premier in Hollywood–I congratulated him on a job well done. I hadn’t made the connection between the two films he’d worked on at the time because I usually don’t care much about stuff like this. I’m usually only pissed off for about three hours and then I forget about it. But reading Goldberg’s statement blasting Armenian community organizations in Washington DC and then doing some research on my own just brought back the frustration. And it made me realize that sometimes–if you want something done right–I guess you just have to do it yourself. So–I’m going to go buy a video camera today. I’ll see you next week.

Skeptik Sinikian asks Mr. Goldberg to respond to his article by writing to SkeptikSinikian@aol.com. He promises to publish Goldberg’s entire letter response–unedited–on his blog at www.Sinikian.blogspot.com.

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