Below is the text of Chris Bohjalian’s acceptance speech after receiving the ANCA-WR Arts & Letters Award.
Sha-nor-hah-kal-em. (Thank You).
Indsi hamar meds baDIV eh. (This is a great honor for me).
I am very honored – and I am grateful beyond words to the ANCA, and to this region in particular, for embracing “The Sandcastle Girls” so passionately and so powerfully from day one.
But I have to confess something. And it begins with a story.
My father’s parents – my grandparents – Leo and Haigoohi Bohjalian were Genocide survivors, but like many survivors, they took their stories to their graves. We know almost nothing of what they endured in that innermost ring of Dante’s Inferno that was 1915.
We know a few details:
Leo and Haigoohi arrived together in the U.S. in 1927 and built the majestic brick monolith that was my favorite of all the homes I or anyone in my family lived in when I was growing up. My father was born in 1928, and by the standards of the 1930s that house in that neighborhood could only be called exotic.
When my father started kindergarten in Tuckahoe, NY in 1934, he could not speak a word of English – couldn’t even ask where the boys’ room was.
The only time I ever heard him speak Armenian was when he was teasing his parents or bickering with them.
As a result, I do not speak Armenian.
When I was discussing “The Sandcastle Girls” last Thursday morning with the high school students at Sourp Hagop in Montreal, the principal asked me how I could nurture my Armenian soul without speaking the language, and suddenly, unexpectedly, I confessed something to her and the students – something that was made manifest to me at the AYF Olympics in Boston in September, when I was listening to men my age from across North America reminiscing about their summers at Camp Haiastan;
Something that was made manifest to me when I had stood in the sun at Kermesse in Watertown in July;
Something that was made manifest to me that moment at Sourp Hagop, when I looked into the amphitheatre and saw those wonderful, inspiring students;
Something that was made manifest to me on August 1, when I spoke on Capitol Hill about the importance of our story and Genocide Recognition.
I loved my father and he was an absolutely wonderful dad; I dedicated this novel to him.
But I have been like a boy who is standing outside a glass door – his fingers pressed again the glass – and is looking inside at a party.
All of you thank me with this award for bringing the Armenian Genocide to hundreds of thousands of readers who know nothing of our story.
But I owe you more – far more. I should be thanking all of you for opening that door and inviting me inside with open arms – and, in the process, helping me to rediscover and celebrate the geography of my Armenian soul. You have taken a once jaded, cynical novelist and ignited inside me the flame of justice and a passion for righteousness and recognition. I will always be deeply appreciative of everyone at the ANCA for that gift and, yes, to the man I call the Godfather of this novel: Khatchig Mouradian.
One more thing: AmeriguyE Hye TadE hants-nah-hum-puh arta-rout-ion Dzaynn eh. (The Armenian National Committee of America is the voice of justice).