Book Review: ‘The History of the Armenian Speaking People’

The History of the Armenian Speaking People (2018)
By Michael Boyajian
Published by Jera Studios Publishing
pp.653
Available on Amazon

The History of the Armenian Speaking People is an accessible read for those interested in reaching a better understanding of Armenian history. Author and historian, Michael Boyajian, has written 24 books and is currently writing another. Eight of his books pertain to Armenian history and culture.

Boyajian’s renaissance of Armenian history is a refreshing introductory course about new topics unfamiliar to most readers who have not done research nor are aware of this historical genre. His paperbacks include a wide range of diversity which do not include Armenian history in other works. The author’s expertise in history goes beyond his formal college studies. He holds an undergraduate degree in history from The State University of New York, Stony Brook and a JD from Brooklyn College Law School, NY. He is a retired attorney and a former human rights judge.

Although he is serious about his craft, some of Boyajian’s humor comes through in his writing (especially in his “Author’s Note,” in which he reveals he likes writing his draft with several types of pens, including his Montblanc rollerball, Cross rollerball pen, and a red or blue Pilot Precision pen). His unorthodox style and lack of linear historical methodology have been criticized by some; however, he manages to keep the attention of his readers. He is a great storyteller and a maverick among historians of non-fiction. Boyajian has the ability to revive history with his comparisons of characters and events, both past and present. In sum, any reader unfamiliar with Armenian history and culture will gain a great deal of knowledge about the subject in a vernacular style. Like an eccentric but motivating professor, he doesn’t want you to agree with him, but he wants you to think and be motivated by his research since he is not often objective. For his critics, he offers the following message in the “Author’s Note” if they are bothered by sections in the text which may be from previously published books he authored in the past year: “…in the words of Captain James Kirk, c’est la vie or like the police chief said to the captain in Jaws, ‘It’s my charter, my party.’”

The book is divided into units that describe historical eras which transformed the legacy and longevity of the Armenians. References after each unit are worthwhile for more in-depth study of the subject matter. Each unit is written with a historical analysis of past and present events. Boyajian also personalizes the text by referring to his family’s history from time to time.

In Unit One, Proto Armenian and the Spoken Language, the author writes about the prototype Armenians who are some of the first humans on earth. Boyajjan mentions contemporary scholars George A. Bournoutian and Simon Payaslian and their views about the relationship of the Armenian language to the “fusion theory” that it is Indo-European. Furthermore, he reiterates the Armenian belief that they descended from Noah’s lineage. King Darius of Persia believed the Urartu and the Armenians were one of the same people. Furthermore, Armenians spoke the language of the Persians before the Common Era, and they spoke other languages when dominated by foreign powers. The author included a unique timeline for the general reader audience on the evolution of the Armenian language. Most importantly, he mentions the region occupied by the Armenians who spoke a language Urartians used several thousand years before the common era. Other groups in the area used derivations of the ancient language.

The Persian Empire is the focus of Unit Two. He emphasizes the semi-independence of the Armenians and the administrative division of rule in the local provinces. Furthermore, the author compares the Persian Empire to the Roman and Greek Empires.

In Unit Three – Alexander The Great, Boyajian discusses the conquests of Alexander and his glory referred to as “kleos.” He claims sources are divided on whether Alexander conquered Armenia. The acquisitions and lands conquered by Alexander add to his reputation. The Armenians were admirers of the Hellenists and became the leaders, soldiers and scholars of the Byzantine Empire. The unit includes a multiplicity of examples of Armenian influences worldwide in various eras.

The author actually moves through historical progressions too rapidly here. The unit can be helpful for references.

For those readers who enjoy the Romans and Byzantium history, Units Four and Five provide an overview of the existence of Armenians in western civilization. Historians of the west have overlooked and minimized the role played by the Armenians and their small kingdom.

Boyajian reiterates how the “father of western history” Herodotus revealed the Armenians nearly 2500 years ago. The Roman and Byzantine Empires were the “superpowers” of the world. Armenians prevailed by avoiding a collision so they “danced” to survive the power of Rome. They were a “client kingdom” which kept the peace. Although a common saying one often hears “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” is a proverb attributed to a Christian saint in the fourth century, the saying is attributed to a saint who had been visiting Milan which had nothing to do with the Armenians. Certainly, the Armenians were placating the Romans while they continued to exist near the eastern edge of the Roman Empire. The proverb is meaningful when applied to Armenia’s co-existence. Let’s not forget the spectacular leadership of Tigranes II, the Great. Armenia’s cultural progress is attributed to his military power and economic entity.

The material on women, law and engineering is very informative. The incorporation of the Temple of Garni, which was a gift from the Roman Empire to Armenians, is fascinating for readers. He makes excellent comparisons of Roman foreign policy to the contemporary world and the United States. He refutes contemporary Turkish claims that the Armenians were ready to overthrow their regime under the Young Turks justifying their action against their most productive minority. Many facets of Armenian history are compared to modern times and international history of many nations. Moreover, he challenges the long held beliefs in the west of the views of British historian, Edward Gibbon of yesteryear. It was Gibbon who held the view that the modern world’s origins were from the Greeks and Romans. Clearly, Boyajian discusses Gibbon’s “debasement of the power and glory of Byzantium.” In the Byzantine Empire, he augments the research which manifests the role played by Armenians in positions of leadership at different levels. The Armenians played a different role in each empire but survived until modern times when the Young Turks turned against the Armenians for political and ideological reasons. The author approaches modern history never forgetting the Armenians and the stewardship of their small kingdom which they inhabited for thousands of years.

Unit Six – The Ottoman Empire — pertains to the conquest of the Turkish Ottomans who originated in Central Asia. They conquered the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, and they thought of themselves as Romans. The Turks “oppressed” their “minority groups” like the Greeks and Armenians. Later, during the modern era, they orchestrated the Armenian Genocide of more than 1.5 million Armenians and other victims. Here as elsewhere in his text, the author includes the genocide of 1915 and its ramifications. He mentions the small community of 50,000 Armenians who still live in Turkey. He does not mention the small number of Turks who have discovered their Armenian roots through DNA tests which the Turkish government has frowned upon. Some were Islamized by fear of being exterminated since many were orphaned during the genocide and could not gain their freedom. Further, he includes their two greatest leaders: Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century and “Ataturk” in the 20th century.

New Julfa is Unit Seven of the text. The author writes about the survival of the Armenians and their befriending the famous Shah Abbas of Persia. Here, he writes about Armenian art and the manifestation of “Khachkars” (crosses). The author in his usual relevant style refers to a potpourri of topics from the World Trade Center tragedy of 9/11 to the desecration of Armenian monuments by Azerbaijanis against the memory of Armenian civilization. Boyajian inserts the killing of his own grandfather in the Armenian Genocide, and his being taken away by the gendarmes when he heard  “…a knock on his door…” in 1915 as so many Armenians heard. The author compares and synthesizes tragic events of the past and present for his readers. The section is highlighted by Armenians’ influence on Persian history and the Persian Empire. He discusses Armenian artisans and churches and reviews international trade. Armenian merchants of Persia formed interlocking connections and became very wealthy. He also mentions the views of contemporary Armenians whose ancestry goes back to Julfa and who now live in the Los Angeles area.

In Unit Eight – India, the author describes the Indian culture and how the Armenians admired their views. The Armenian community amassed a great deal of wealth since many were merchants in oceanic trade, especially silk and textiles. When Armenians left their homeland, many started a new diaspora in India. Boyajian points out that many Indians today are not aware of the Armenian presence in their country especially in yesteryears. The Armenians disappeared off their radar with no explanation of the phenomenon. Here in this unit, Boyajian includes the words of his cousin Craig Simonian who lived in remote parts of the world as a missionary. His ancestors once inhabited lands usurped by the Ottoman Turks. Like the Armenians of India, they returned to their homeland of Armenia. Boyajian calls on his cousin to express his perspective and stay in contemporary Armenia leaving the comforts of the United States. Simonian’s emotion exudes his longing for his past and memory of relatives who lived before he was born. He considers Armenia his “motherland.” The unit is informative about Indian literature and their empires. The development of Armenian churches is also important for posterity to know of the greater Armenian diaspora historically worldwide. Suffice it to say, the development of Armenian churches in modern times and the British intrusion of India are mentioned. The author also mentions the plight of the Armenians out of the country by modern times fearing the adverse effects of the economy when India “…was aligned with the Soviet Bloc… .” The reader can remain optimistic in the review of India and Armenian churches that “remain silent monuments to a great people with a long history in South Asia.”

Unit Nine – The Genocide is where the author makes parallels to the Native Americans, Africans from the slave trade and the Jewish Holocaust. He refers to the “transgenerational trauma” the Armenian case had on his ancestors and even his descendants today. The author refers to the denial of the Armenian Genocide by the state of Turkey in contemporary times.

Furthermore, he implicates German complicity with the Ottoman Turks in their quest to destroy the Armenian people and their existence. The German government, in recent years, has admitted the Second Reich’s collusion with the Ottoman Turks during World War I and the Armenian Genocide. Boyajian likens the phrase “never to forget” from the Jewish community to the Armenian tragedy of 1915.

Unit Ten – Paris is based on a paperback recently authored for remembrance. He extols the writers and intellectuals who visited Paris before and after World War I. The unit like the book is unmatched in content, style and progression. Boyajian and his wife experienced the splendors of Paris back in 2007. He expounds on the years after World War I—the magnificent beauties of the city with its monuments, parks, museums, boulevards, streets, restaurants, cathedrals and the entire geographic milieu. He mentions the pubs and cafes where intellectuals, authors and eccentrics congregated for long discussions. Boyajian quotes the famous American writer Ernest Hemingway, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then whenever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

French intellectuals and writers were there before World War I and had their renaissance in the city by the late nineteenth century. When Boyajian turns to the Armenian Genocide and the generation of Armenian writers who escaped the Genocide of 1915 to settle in France, we realize once more that others were not so lucky as victims of what many historians call the “first genocide of the twentieth century.” The author also identifies the contributions of a handful of Armenian writers and intellectuals, who were not recognized by the rest of the world. Nevertheless, they were traumatized by their experiences and their loss of family and friends. Paris served as an oasis and haven for survivors who were seeking “joy after the sorrow.” Some readers of Boyajian’s text may have never heard of them, but they have been given more attention in contemporary times for many reasons. Their works have since been translated into many languages around the world along with their accomplishments outside of literature. Moreover unlike the Armenians, the American erudite writers who visited Paris sought pleasure, isolation and solace. The Armenians became part of a greater diaspora. They connected to other compatriots who survived the genocide and who were also seeking security and independence. Boyajian recalled his time at the State University of New York at Stony Brook when he reflected on his professors who discussed the great luminary Russian writers like Tolstoy, Chekov and Dostoyevsky. Moreover, the author does identify the few Armenians trying to convey to the reader their presence in Paris to those unfamiliar with their names. So let me close the unit review by mentioning a few of the Armenians who were in Paris for those who wish to learn more about them. The following list is incomplete here: Boghos Nubar, Aram Andonian, Yeghishe Ayvazian, Vasken Shushanian, Levon Shant and Zabel Yessayan. I have told the author the book— like the unit—should have been longer. It is a wonderful read of an important social history. Boyajian ends the unit like the book with one word in Armenian “Apagan” in translation meaning “forward” to the future.

Unit Eleven – The Twentieth Century and Today pertains to the Diaspora and where Armenians relocated both after the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and the Spitak earthquake of 1988. In the aftermath of the genocide, Boyajian gets personal and shares more about his family, his ethos and his identity as an Armenian American growing up in the United States. He mentions how his paternal grandfather Krikor (George) Kulhanjian came to America nearly 100 years ago, obtained a menial job, learned how to speak, read, and write in his third language and ultimately became a US citizen. Boyajian mentions how his grandfather befriended a customer who was an immigrant from Italy by the name of Bernard Castro of Castro Convertible beds in New York City. The author reflects about the success of his own father in the photo engraving business after serving in action in World War II in the Army Air Corps. His father had true grit like many of the “great generation.” The unit is poignant in the successes of Armenians.

In Unit Twelve – Epilogue, Boyajian asks a rhetorical question: “So what is the future of the Armenian speaking people?” He discusses the status of the Republic of Armenia and its East/West relations. He also talks about the force of the Diaspora’s intellectual network and its connection to Armenia. It is constantly developing which adds to the reality and importance of technology.

Moreover, he discusses the memory of the Armenian Genocide being kept alive and the existence of Armenian churches worldwide. The Turkish government today and in the past has continually refuted the existence of the Armenian Genocide and has rescinded any responsibility. The government refuses to come to grips with the mistakes of its former regime which has not withstood worldwide criticism. It maligns itself from other nations who have expressed their views on the world stage about the reality of the Armenian Genocide. The cry for impunity will be continued so long as there is freedom loving people and the existence of civilized nations around the world. The author ends on optimistic notes as stated by his belief that technology will perpetuate the Armenian people and their culture as well as legacy for generations.

The author also emphasizes the perpetuation of the Armenian language and the activities and existence of the Armenian church in the diaspora. He realizes and states that multicultural households should not resist their heritage in the global diaspora outside of Armenia. He ends the unit with “Apagan—forward ever forward.”

The author ends the volume with these words before the Epilogue: “We can go on because the Armenians are seemingly omnipresent but enough said.”

Gary Kulhanjian

Gary Kulhanjian

Gary A. Kulhanjian is a social historian and educator who holds three degrees in history, social science, and the humanities. Kulhanjian served three New Jersey governors on the New Jersey Commission for Holocaust Education representing the Armenian community. The reviewer is published in several journals, newspapers and books. He is the author of two monographs about Armenian immigration to the United States in the first half of twentieth century. He currently lives in California.
Gary Kulhanjian

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