It was King Solomon, the wisest man to walk the globe, who stated in the Book of Ecclesiastes “what do workers gain from their toil?”
That toil is what my father and many visionaries had as they opened Armenian schools around the country. And today, those schools are reeling from an attack 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 Taniel Varoujan’s poem Antasdan. After coming home from school, our daily routine has been eat a snack – do homework – eat dinner – practice for Armenian ampopoum or essay tests – then hang out and talk before bed. 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 day, Sophene was smiling as she explained the beautiful positive message in the poem by Varoujan. I asked if she knew how Varoujan died (we know this – he was tied to a tree by Turkish gendarmes and cut into pieces) but I didn’t know if she was ready for such a brutal reality.
She was. Informed by her teacher, she explained these horrors to me. 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։
In the Eastern corner of the earth
Let there be peace…
Let sweat, not blood, flow
In the broad vein of the furrow…
And at the toll of each hamlet’s bell
Let there rise hymns of exaltation.
It is a month later. I left work to visit the necropolis of Colma to visit my newly deceased father’s grave. When I visit his grave, I am filled with peace, since he is buried next to 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, ponder and and then run out to Traders Joe’s 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 Joe’s and to re-read the message. 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 shourch bar while decorating the school with numerous yerakouyns.
It took me a few minutes to process this information. I immediately have a flashback to Sophene reciting the poem “Antasdan”- about the hope which Varoujan 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։
At the Western part of the earth
Let there be fecundity …
Let each star sparkle with dew,
And each husk be cast in gold
And as the sheep graze on the hills
Let bud and blossom bloom.
Perhaps this is an allusion to the book of Ecclesiastes—is this what Varoujan 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։
At the Northern part of the earth
Let there be abundance …
In the golden sea of the wheat field
Let the scythe swim incessantly
And as gates of granaries open wide
Jubilation let there be.
Perhaps this is the abundance that drove people to open Armenian schools across the nation. The metaphorical golden wheat fields in Antasdan thrive in the yards and classrooms of our Armenian schools, where our people grow and harvest the seeds and granaries.
This news did not bring me fear or hate or anger. It helped me realize the circular nature 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. But I agree with her.
As for Varoujan’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 Varoujan’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։
At the Southern part of the earth
Let all things bear fruit…
Let the honey thrive in the beehive
And may the wine run over the cups
And when brides bake the blessed bread
Let the sound of song rise and spread.
Poem translated by Tatul-Sonentz.