BY SEVANA PANOSIAN
That toil is what my father and many visionaries had as they opened Armenian schools around the country. And today, those schools were attacked by villains who attempted to shed darkness on the light.
My 12 year old who is a student at San Francisco’s KZV Armenian school, is marching around the house reciting and practicing Varoujian’s poem Antasdan. Our daily routine at home is to come home – eat a snack – do homework – eat dinner – practice for Armenian ampopoum or essay tests – then hang out and talk. Generally, this turns into a discussion about what they learned or in this case, what Sophene is learning since my older daughter is in the vortex of high school.
One of these days, Sophene smiled and explained the beautiful positivity in the poem by Varoujan. I asked her if she knew how Taniel Varoujian died (we know this – he was tried to a tree by Turkish gendarmes and cut up slice by slice) but I didn’t know if she was ready for such a brutal reality.
She was. Informed by her teacher, she explained to me these horrors. She then asked me the profound question, “Mom, how does someone do that to a person, a poet?”
I didn’t know how to answer her. I just had her recite the first stanza…
Արեւելեան կողմն աշխարհի
Խաղաղութի՜ւն թող ըլլայ…
Ո՜չ արիւններ, քրտինք հոսին
Լայն երակին մէջ ակօսին.
Ու երբ հնչէ կոչնակն ամէն գիւղակի՝
Օրհներգութ՜իւն թող ըլլայ։
It is a month later. I left work to visit the necropolis of Colma to visit my newly deceased father’s grave. Sometimes I go there and am filled with peace as he is buried by all of the deceased Armenians of the San Francisco Armenian community – friends of his who had the vision to open the Bay Area’s only Armenian school. I say my prayers, ask myself some questions, and then run out to Traders Joes to figure out dinner.
As I drive across Brotherhood Way in San Francisco to pick up my younger daughter from Armenian Dance lessons, I receive a text from my older daughter Areni stating the following:
“Armenian Schools in California Vandalized with Turkish Flags”
I have to stop my car in the parking lot of Trader Joes and try to re-read the note. I click on Facebook and my heart and soul are appalled by the images of the attacks on our beloved Armenian schools.
Is this real?
She goes on to tell me that her friends stayed in school after the “attack” and proudly danced shourj bar while decorating the school with numerous yerakouyns.
It took me a few minutes to process this information. Again, I automatically have a flashback to Sophene reciting the poem “Antasdan”- about the hope which Varoujian alluded to throughout the piece – about how the Armenian people have been, in essence, forced into exile and sent to the four corners of the earth:
Արեւմտեան կողմն աշխարհի
Բերրիութի՜ւն թող ըլլայ…
Ամէն աստղէ ցօղ կայլակի,
Ու ամէն հասկ ձուլէ ոսկի.
Եւ ոչխարներն երբ սարին վրայ արածին՛
Ծիլ ու ծաղիկ թող ըլլայ։
Perhaps this is an allusion to the book of Ecclesiastes -is this what Varoujian was thinking as he was staring at the forest as gendarmes sliced his innocent body? Was there hope?
Հիւսիսային կողն աշխարհի
Առատութի՜ւն թող ըլլայ…
Ոսկի ծովուն մէջ ցորեանին
Յաւէտ լողայ թող գերանդին.
Ու լայն ամբարն աղուներուն երբ բացուի՛
Բերկրութիւն թող ըլլայ։
Perhaps this is the abundance that drove people to open Armenian schools across the nation. The metaphorical golden wheat fields in Antasdan and in the yards and classrooms of our Armenian schools grow and harvest the seeds granaries of our people.
Today’s news did not bring me fear or hate or anger. It brought me a realization of circularity of our culture – the Armenian people’s resilience, and our ability to grow seeds and harvest our culture throughout the four corners of the earth.
In a metaphorical way – today, many of us felt the sting and pain of hate – disgusted, we cursed under our breath, donned our Armenian flags, played our Armenian music, and reassured our children that we, the Armenian people, will rise to excellence in every corner and every field of the professional world. We reminded our children of the many successful leaders who have graduated from Armenian schools and reassured our children that the community will protect and uphold the foundations of these institutions.
For every hateful statement by the Turkish government, every threat, and every vicious attack on our schools, our response must be in our deep and stubborn attachment to strengthening our roots, and teaching our children the Armenian language. As the book of Ecclesiastes states…what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun.
As I spoke to my older daughter about the crimes against Southern California’s Armenian schools she told me this, “Mom, if people think Armenians are stuck in the past, let them see the present, and begin to worry about the future.” I proudly stared at my Areni and though she would be horrified that I quoted her in this article, I agree with her.
As for Varoujian’s poignant and hopeful end to his Antasdan, let us till the soil which seems to be the envy of the Turkish government – let us foster the growth of our children – our hives – let us hear their voices recite Varoujian’s poems – let that be the honey of our hives – and let this act of violence be the reminder of our bread, our communion, as a nation living in exile who tills the love of our language and culture in our children and future. Let this act be the reawakening and rebirth of our forefathers goals to uphold our language in desert sands while the wind of hate wrongfully attempts to erase our identity, language, and hope.
Հարաւային կողմն աշխարհի
Պըտղաբերում թող ըլլայ…
Ծաղկի՜ մեղրը փեթակներուն,
Յորդի՜ գինին բաժակներուն.
Ու երբ թխեն հարսերը հացը բարի՛
Սիրերգութի՜ւն թող ըլլայ։