BY CHAD SELWESKI,
Macomb Daily Staff Writer
A former newspaper editor who spent many late nights working a second shift pecking away at a manual typewriter in his basement has finally seen all those pages come to life.
Mitch Kehetian, a longtime Macomb Daily editor, is releasing his first book, “Giants of the Earth,” which tells of the struggles and persecution of the Armenian people. Kehetian, known equally as a proud Armenian and sage journalist, said the book project began more than three decades ago.
“Actually, the 13 chapters were written in the 1970s and early ’80s. And then I just let it sit. I figured I’d present it some day to my grandchildren as a memoir,” Kehetian said.
One of the book’s highlights is a description of the first of Kehetian’s five trips to his homeland, an eight-day journey in 1969 that ended with a prayer at his aunt’s mountaintop gravesite overlooking the Euphrates River.
Family members had long encouraged Kehetian to complete the book. The finished product is dedicated to a cousin, Rev. Vartan Kassabian, a priest in the Armenian Church, who died suddenly 18 months ago and never saw the publication he had longed to read.
“Giants of the Earth” recounts Kehetian’s discovery of his heritage in historical “Turkish-held” Armenia and his search for his father’s sister, Parancim, who hadn’t been seen since 1947. On this literary journey, the author shares antique snapshots of Armenia and explores the country’s history from its early existence 2,000 years ago to the death and devastation it suffered during the genocide of 1915-23 at the hands of the Turkish-led OttomanEmpire.
“I want people to know there has been a race of people there for 2,000 years and the genocide was not based on religion. This was not a jihad by Muslims. This was a systematic plan to eradicate the Armenians and move them out of the interior area,” said Kehetian, 79.
On Capitol Hill, efforts to recognize the genocide victims, estimated at more than 1 million, have been the subject of contention in numerous resolutions proposed by the House and Senate. Each time, the Armenian-American community was overpowered by political pressures from Turkey, which has consistently disputed the genocide label, and concerns expressed by the State Department, which views Islamic Turkey as a key, strategically located U.S. ally.
In Washington, the tensions were so high between the Armenian and Turkish communities that Kehetian in 1969 stood little chance of gaining a passport and approval to travel deep into the interior of the barren, depopulated homeland of his ancestors in Turkish-held Armenia. The trip was made possible by the behind-the-scenes efforts of a powerful Polish-American congressman from Detroit’s East Side, Lucien Nedzi, and Secretary of State William Rogers A copy of an airgram from Rogers’ office to the American Embassy in Ankara enlisting its assistance in helping Kehetian in his mission is included in the memoir. The “limited official use” airgram refers to “various cities in Eastern Turkey once heavily populated by Armenians” – and a FYI alert that Kehetian has discovered that “a relative survived Turkish massacres several decades ago.”
The author said the Armenian-American community, consisting of 1.5 million people, was dismayed after they supported Barack Obama in 2008. On the observance of Armenian Memorial Day last April.Obama’s presidential proclamation referred to the 1915-23 slaughter as a “great calamity,” not genocide. While campaigning for president Obama said he would be a president who recognizes the massacre of the Armenians as a genocide.
After his retirement in November 2005 after spending more than 50 years in journalism, Kehetian eventually returned to his transcript and added a prologue and epilogue.
Kehetian wrote the book “newspaper style,” not in scholarly prose. “Giants of the Earth” is not targeted at first generation Armenian-Americans who know the homeland’s history well, or the second generation who earned their heritage through word of mouth. The author’s audience, he hopes, will be the third generation.
“I want that third generation to know what really happened,” he said, “and I want them to understand why the Armenians still seek justice.”
Kehetian, a native Detroiter, was president of the Detroit Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists. He served for 13 years as a governing board trustee at Central Michigan University. In 2006 Wayne State University’s Journalism Department honored the former Macomb Daily editor with its coveted “Lifetime Achievement Award” for “championing the public’s right to know” for more than 50 years.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “Giants of the Earth.” 160 pages, is published by Publish America. For information to order, log on to: www.publishamerica.net/product88361.html