Reflections

A LONG HISTORY IN BRIEF

Of all fears, fear of free speech is the most cowardly.

Where there is deception there will also be fear of free speech.

A deceiver’s greatest fear is being exposed as a deceiver.

You may manipulate reality up to a point, after which reality will manipulate you. It happened to Napoleon. It happened to Hitler. It happened to our revolutionaries.  And it’s happening today to Bush, the leader of the mightiest empire in the world.

A LONG HISTORY IN BRIEF

Of all fears, fear of free speech is the most cowardly.

Where there is deception there will also be fear of free speech.

A deceiver’s greatest fear is being exposed as a deceiver.

You may manipulate reality up to a point, after which reality will manipulate you. It happened to Napoleon. It happened to Hitler. It happened to our revolutionaries.  And it’s happening today to Bush, the leader of the mightiest empire in the world.

Sooner or later we have no choice but to come to terms with reality as with death and taxes. How do we do that is up to each one of us. What I have been recounting in brief notes and essays so far is an outline of my own way, which may not be yours. In which case, you must devise your own. To place your hopes on others is to forfeit your freedom and ultimately to be disappointed.

When Europe entered its Dark Age, Armenia experienced a Golden Age. But when Europe experienced a Renaissance, we entered a Dark Age, which was to last 600 years that culminated in a series of massacres and dispersion; and in the Homeland, a civil war, and another Dark Age under a series of ruthless tyrants. As for freedom from the Soviet yoke, independence, and victory over the Azeris: I am told there are Armenians today who miss the good old days under Stalin.

Our Dark Age is not yet over because we continue to be at the mercy of leaders who masquerade as shepherds and are fearful of free speech because they run the risk of being exposed as swindlers on their way to the slaughterhouse.

REFLECTIONS ON PROPAGANDA

About Orizio’s book on dictators: without exception, all of them, including the most psychopathic homicidal megalomaniacs, like Idi Amin Dada, portray themselves as selfless superpatriots dedicated to the welfare of the nation. Such are the dangers of self-assessment.

“Realism implies seeing ourselves as we really are and the world as it actually is,” I read in the Op-Ed page of our paper this morning. One could say that the aim of self-assessment and propaganda consists in making us see ourselves as we are not and the world as it is not.

The beauty of propaganda is that it is invariably positive, hence its popularity. The offensiveness of criticism is that sometimes it is right.

One of the big lies in all propaganda is its refusal to identify itself as propaganda.

Propaganda makes two false claims as if they were self-evident truths: (one) you are morally superior, and (two) those who disagree with you are wrong. Both claims are false because the morally superior do not as a rule assert any kind of superiority; and disagreement or dissent, or contradiction, is an essential ingredient in all dialogue.

To silence dissent in the hope that it will fade away is an empty illusion. All dictators silence dissenters until they are themselves silenced by events over which they have no control. Churchill put it best when he said a dictator is like a man riding a tiger, and the tiger is getting hungry.

The best and most effective way to silence a writer is to stop reading him. All other ways belong to fascists and fanatics who are afraid to be exposed as bullies and cowards.

 
HATRED IS AN ENEMY OF UNDERSTANDING


There are those who would like to see me silenced because they don’t agree with what I say. Nothing unusual in that. Since time immemorial Armenians have disagreed with one another. It is said where there are two Armenians there will be three churches and the churches will be used not as places of worship but as reminders of their irreconcilable differences.

Take any random group of one hundred people regardless of race, color, and creed and in those one hundred people you will invariably find a minimum of one fool, one fanatic, one dupe, and one phony. What they think or say matters only if the silent majority (96% of the group) allows them to assume leadership positions – which, by the way, happens to be a routine occurrence in world history.

In everything I write I attempt to replace hatred with understanding. In the eyes of the above-mentioned 4%, this is seen as an unmistakable symptom of anti-Armenianism.

Nothing comes easier to some Armenians than to preach Armenianism and practice Ottomanism.

To understand the past is not the same as understanding the present. The world is no longer what it was a hundred years ago. Conditions have changed and continue to change even as I write. We have no choice but to run if we want to stand still. But pillars of salt are incapable of advancing even a fraction of an inch.

To equate anti-Turkism with pro-Armenianism amounts to saying hatred of Turks is the same as love of fellow Armenians.

Hatred closes the mind and prevents us from understanding not only others but also ourselves. That is why even religions that practice hatred preach love. Who after all has ever dared to declare to be against understanding?

It is said that when the Buddha ignored an insult by a passerby, one of his disciples wanted to retaliate. The Master stopped him with the words: “When someone offers me a bowl of rice and I am not hungry, I don’t eat it.”


SCHOOLS OF CRITICISM

We have three popular schools of criticism: (i) the verbal-abuse or hoodlum school; (ii) the censorship or shut-up-he-explained school; and (iii) the commissar school. All three schools are based on the assumption of self-assessed superiority in wisdom, morality, and patriotism.

If I were to paint myself all white and my adversaries all black, who would believe me? My guess is, not even my friends. If I were to say I am always right and those who disagree with me always wrong, who would agree with me? Not even myself, for I know better than anyone else my limitations, prejudices, and blind spots. Why is it that some of us find it so difficult coming to terms with the fact that we are more or less like everyone else, including our enemies?

For six centuries they shaped our destiny, which also means our worldview and character. During six long centuries they re-created us in their own image — not as masters but as subjects. And our subservience was so total that they declared us to be their most loyal subjects. I once asked one of our pundits, who like all self-appointed pundits is convinced just because he is Armenian he knows all there is to know about them and us, why would they massacre their most loyal subjects at a time when their very existence was in peril? He gave no answer and shortly thereafter accused me of refusing to answer my critics.

My critics: do I have them? What is a commissar if not a master whose word is law? And his word is law because a master is never wrong.

At least two readers have taken me to task recently for quoting too many dead writers, the implication being that it would be better if I were to rely on the wisdom, patriotism, morality, and authority of living charlatans.
continues unabated. Result, our enemies don’t even have to fight us; all they have to do is just walk in and claim Armenia as their own. There is an old Greek saying: “He who wants much more loses even the little that he has.” As for our mafias in Yerevan: what do they care? They can survive on their Swiss bank accounts for the rest of their lives on Rio or in Monaco. Some may even get busy working on their memoirs, except that, by the time the books are published they may have run out of readers.

Speaking of Iran: on the Op-Ed page of our paper, I read two commentaries titled “Venezuela with Iran could trigger world oil crisis,” and “Iranian people still among the most oppressed in the world.” I quote two random passages: “Ahmadinejad can use world chaos to gain hegemonic strength in the Middle East,” and “The Iranian regime is invoking the threat of a U.S. military attack – which is very real – and using that as an excuse for a major crackdown on dissidents.”
The Iranians are ahead of us: they have dissidents. We have been so successful in silencing ours that they are not even mentioned in the commentaries and editorials by our ghazetajis.

Murphy’s Law says, “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong at the worst possible time.”

After 9/11 Americans realized there had been many warning signals that had been ignored or swept under the carpet by several agencies. If there is one thing in which we excel is ignoring warning signals.

Let others sing “Mer hairenik, azad angakh,” I will continue to think “tshvar ander.”

DISSENTERS

As a teenager I loved to contradict my elders, to cut them down to size as it were. I am not surprised therefore when I am now given the same treatment by my teenage readers. It’s a phase we all go through. It can’t last. Unless of course we have on our hands a case of arrested development.

Speaking of arrested development: If, like David Barsamian, you are one of those who think Noam Chomsky is a brilliant thinker and one of the most popular American dissenters, two recent books expose him as an even more brilliant charlatan and hypocrite: THE ANTI-CHOMSKY READER, edited by Peter Collier and David Horowitz (San Francisco, 2004, 260 pages), and DO AS I SAY: PROFILES IN LIBERAL HYPOCRISY, by Peter Schweizer (New York, 2005, 257 pages). We learn here that Chomsky calls the Pentagon “one of the most evil institutions in world history.” And yet, he has himself made millions working for the American military.
At one time or another I too have been accused by some of my teenage readers of working for the CIA, the KGB, the Mossad, and the Gray Wolves.

There is a type of “critic” who believes if he “thinks” he is right, he must be right. To such a one I say, not so fast, friend. To think you are right is only half of the story. You must also appear to be right. That’s when reasonable argument or evidence comes in. Verbal abuse is less a reasonable or convincing argument and more an expression of prejudice, venom, and bad manners, or Ottomanism parading as Armenianism.

You may have noticed that charlatans are better at delivering patriotic speeches than honest men. Hitler comes to mind, the prototype of all superpatriotic charlatans.

There is something fundamentally wrong in an argument that convinced only one (namely yourself) and no one else.

If you don’t know how to read, it is advisable that you refrain from reading between the lines.

Iris Murdoch: “Everything I write is probably Hamlet in disguise.” I too could say that in everything I write, I say, “There is something rotten in the State of Denmark.”


EUPHEMISMS

When, during World War II, the Japanese forced Korean women into prostitution, they called them “comfort women” – their comfort and the Koreans’ degradation.
Some words share this in common with the moon — they have a dark side, which we ignore at our peril. Case in point: patriotism and nationalism don’t just mean love of one’s nation but also hatred not only of enemy nations but also fellow countrymen who do not agree with us.

I just finished reading a collection of interviews with some of the most bloodthirsty and ruthless dictators of the 20th century (among them Idi Amin Dada, Bokassa, Duvalier, Mengistu, and Milosevic). As you may have guessed by now, one of their favorite words is patriotism.

When we describe ourselves we also confess because we use words whose dark side we ignore. It is not at all unusual for an Armenian to speak or even to brag about his Armenian identity even as he exposes his Ottomanism. Which is why we need impartial and objective analysts much more than the Vatican needs devil’s advocates. If the Pope blunders and makes a saint out of a rascal, he harms no one. But when a political leader blunders, the result may well be defeat, massacre, and genocide.

AS I SEE IT

Armenians have been so systematically divided that no matter which side of an issue you take you will have 50% support – or rather 5%, because Armenians have also been so thoroughly alienated or marginalized that they stay away from all controversies and community affairs. Their stance may be described as somewhere between “a plague on both your houses” and "mart bidi ch’ellank.”

Speaking of Turkish pundits, Orhan Pamuk writes: “They presume to be experts on everything, because they seem to have an answer to any question…[they are] “Professors of Everything.” That’s another thing we share in common with Turks: dime-a-dozen pundits with more answers than questions.

“Is there life after death?” a reader wants to know. I don’t know. That’s a question for bishops. I am only a minor scribbler. I don’t even know if there is life after birth.

A master of the blame-game is never wrong.

There is no hatred as vicious as the hatred of a charlatan suddenly and publicly unmasked.

It is not enough to be against Turks; one must also be for something. Neither is it enough to be for Armenians: one must choose between the bloodsuckers and their victims.

Silencing dissenters only postpones the inevitable catastrophe.

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