ararat - suren manvelyan

A couple of weeks ago I asked why Muslim groups in the US supported Turkey in genocide denial. One theory was that Muslims saw themselves as incapable of committing genocide.

Erdogan, it turns out, said just this in defence of Sudan’s Omar al Bashir in 2009.

But a better reason for supporting genocide denial is one based in Islamic law. At the turn of the century, Armenians were protesting unfair taxation and treatment by an Islamic government. Declaring themselves equal to Muslims was dangerous to the umma, and the secular Young Turks therefore had strong support among their subjects when they declared all Armenians a threat to society.

20th century Turkey was built on the Ottoman remnants of unfair tax laws and building restrictions. Similar policies continue today.  The Islamist practice of denying building permits for new churches – the same policy across the Islamic world in countries such as Egypt – is alive and well in Turkey, and continues to form the basis for discrimination against its Armenian minority. The Greek Orthodox church in Turkey, still the ‘primus inter pares‘ authority, is still not able to rebuild the the 70 or so churches that were destroyed in 1955.

The continued discriminatory legal code is one clue to why Ottoman, Young Turk, Nationalist, and Islamist narratives all agree that Armenians were a legitimate threat in 1915.

The Byzantine military historian Edward Luttwak recently reviewed Ronald Grigor Suny’s book, ‘They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else’: A History of the Armenian Genocide‘ (Suny is a historian from the University of Michigan, and formerly U. Chicago, and Luttwak apparently “raises cattle in the Amazon”).

There were a couple details that caught my eye – ones that don’t usually make it into news reports:

1) Erdogan freely uses the word genocide in criticism of nations that persecute Muslim minorities (Chinese + Uighus, Israel + Palestine)

2) Jewish, Orthodox, and Armenian minorities continued to pay discriminatory taxes in the 20th century – in the 40s and 50s, sometimes more than 200% higher than Muslim counterparts. These were the same policies that Armenians were protesting in 1896. Pogroms destroyed some 73 Orthodox churches in 1955, none of which are allowed to be rebuilt today.

3) The initial pluralism of the Young Turks (Ben Gurion was among the future leaders, and studied in Istanbul) was rejected partly because of fear that Muslims would be eclipsed by the patriotism of non-Muslim talent. A secular Turkey would have also given Armenians an advantage in the business world.

4) Decades after Edward Said’s Orientalism, Islamists continue to deflect criticism by pointing out colonial hypocrisy.

Davutoğlu called the (EU) resolution (to recognize the Armenian Genocide) ‘a reflection of Europe’s racism … where are those aboriginal people? Where are the Native Americans? Where are the tribes of Africa? How were they wiped out from history?’

This is all very true, but it simply panders to the much expanded (and appropriate) Western guilt based on Natural Law, where Erdogan shows none because Muslims are apparently incapable of evil.

In Canada, we are just now coming to terms with the “cultural genocide” of Aboriginal peoples – especially the government program of taking children away from their families to “kill the Indian in the child.” This really was an attempt to wipe out a distinct heritage, and it was partly based on religious motives.

One of the prerequisites for the Truth and Reconciliation process was an increased secularism.  In other words, religious pride (sometimes indistinguishable from nationalist pride) kept Canadians from acknowledging the evil done to their neighbors for 100 years. This religious pride was a product not only of sermons, but a long tradition of legal discrimination against Aboriginals.

Despite their calls of hypocrisy, it is precisely the secular natural law view of human rights that Islamist groups refuse to acknowledge – Islamic law, as far as I know, admits of no natural law readings of justice.

It is from this brotherhood of religious pride that American Muslim groups declare solidarity with Turkish policy. And it is not just an interpretation of history that American Muslims support, but a legal code – one that led to the events they deny.

As of last week, Erdogan’s Justice and Development party is no longer in majority. In an interview with Foreign Policy, one party official blamed you know who: “There’s an economic lobby in the world, which is under the hand of the Jewish lobby, and these are the ones who want the AKP to fall. Not only the Jewish lobby, there is another movement – the Crusaders. Because the AKP government is the voice of the Muslims in Turkey, and all the world.”

The idea that Turkey would be the voice of the umma was perhaps a policy objective of the AKP. Whether they could ever achieve this, one thing remains constant – the continued discrimination toward minorities in Turkey based on religion that has been handed down through the Ottoman legal code.

By signing on to Armenian genocide denial rather than call for legal reforms, American Muslims are hinting that Islamic Law can never be superceded by Natural Law. It will be interesting to see whether their view changes if a secular democratic process in Turkey leads to the acknowledgement of past evil.

Upcoming posts

In three weeks we’ll be back in Winnipeg. Today the kids were playing “going to Winnipeg” by putting on all their winter clothes. After a month hiatus from writing, I have a couple things on my mind now that I should write about.

1) Finally a post related to education. It involves applying some teaching strategies from Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion and reflecting on the highs and lows of middle school madness.

2) Peace talks in Colombia. The father of one of my classmates in Colombia (Russell Stendal) is involved in peace talks in Cuba between the Marxist guerrillas and the government. Because of his frequent visits to the FARC, he was arrested for “rebellion” and promptly set free (Feb. 20). His daughters, Lisa and Aletheia, made a film about their incredible mediation between FARC and Paramilitary forces.

3) And finally, I will be saying farewell to Armenia after a great but short five months, and gearing for Tbilisi, Georgia. A top 10 list of things I will miss about Armenia is in order, and maybe that promised interview with Armenian refugees from Aleppo, Syria.

Jane’s Music Teacher

hasmik musicToday we went to an amazing concert by the Shoghaken Armenian folk ensemble, and Jane’s music teacher, Hasmik Harutyunyan. She was very happy to see Jane at the concert and made sure to take a picture with her afterwards! This was one of the best concerts I’ve been to in a long time.

jane and hasmiks

Jane with music teacher Hasmik Harutyunyan, and her kindergarden teacher, Hasmik Vardanian.

Here are a couple clips from other youtube recordings: This one switches to 9/8 rhythm: Our favourite instruments were the blul, shvi, and the qanun (and of course the duduk). Here is Levon Tevanyan on the blul and then shvi: I’m not sure what the difference between a qanun and a dulcimer is. Karine Hovhannisian is really great: And of course, the apricot wood, double reed duduk: As you might have guessed, Hasmik and the Shoghaken ensemble are world wide performers. They also featured on the Silk Road recording project, and in the film Ararat. Goodnight…

Persian territory


About halfway from Yerevan to the 13th century monastery of Tatev, there are large gates on an alpine mountain pass that signal the beginning of Persian territory – or at least, the end of Russian natural gas delivery, and the beginning of Iran’s in the southern province of Syunik. Another 50km and we would’ve been in Iran.


To get there we drove past the border with the Azeri controlled Nakhijevan region, where sniper fire at night led to building these 15 ft sand walls along the road. Stalin, in his wisdom, gave Nakhijevan to the Azeris in the 30s. The Azeris have apparently broken the ceasefire 300 times in the last week, but no longer on this highway, thank God. Further down the road we also saw tank outposts.



We didn’t take many pictures on the road – so you’re missing the many many villagers trying to sell homemade vodka (we bought the apricot kind – really amazing stuff!!), and also all the people picking mushrooms in the mountain plains after a couple days of rain. Buckets and buckets of mushrooms for sale on top of the hoods of Ladas and Volgas.



There’s an Armenian saying that goes: “if you don’t want to have a baby, just kill the stork”. There are plenty living on the power lines of this town.


The ancient mountain plain of Sisian – evidence of human culture since 12,000 BC.


David and Kajia, some university friends from Canada, joined us on our journey.


Karahunj is a megalith site that some scholars claim is 7,500 yrs old. The Petroglyphs however date back to 12,000 BC. One of them shows the first depiction of human dancing.



Rachel is trying to make a fire the old way.




DSCF3879To get to Tatev Monastery, we took the longest cable car in the world, which dips up and down twice.


Here’s a professional photo from the other side:


Tatev is a 9th century monastery – the spiritual centre of Armenia during the middle ages. It produced scholars, philosophers, painters, etc. who kept Armenia from joining the Roman Catholic church. During one of the Persian invasions, the route up the mountain to the monastery was cut off. Luckily the monks had dug a tunnel all the way to the bottom of the mountain – needless to say, the Persians were in awe at how long the monks held out.


The monk’s cells face the sheer cliff. Here’s a bread oven. The bakers get the best view of all!


Everyone told us that Tatev was a mystical place with strong “energy”. Our favourite place, however, was Noravank, built in the red canyons further north.



Maybe this was because we could finally hike a bit, and climb up to a cave in the cliffs.





I loved the architecture of Noravank. I felt like the scale was perfect, and there was a heightened sense of other-worldliness. All of the details and carvings seemed to fit the place and the site so well. This is definitely my favourite church in Armenia.






From Carr’s blog, Rough Type:

11. Personal correspondence grows less interesting as the speed of its delivery quickens.

19. Instagram shows us what a world without art looks like.

23. Hell is other selfies.

26. Who you are is what you do between notifications.

28. People in love leave the sparsest data trails.

50. A bird resembles us most when it flies into a window.

Tsitsernakaberd April 25


The most striking part of Tsitsernakaberd is the communal walk up the hill toward the memorial – 25 minutes contemplating the death marches of Armenians 100 years ago.


American born Garin Hovannisian writes in The Atlantic about his father’s 2013 presidential bid in Armenia:

Political experts offered ideas about what our strategy ought to be: exude power and confidence in victory. Dress your candidate in the finest suits. Surround him with bodyguards. No more stops in villages to plant trees and such. The Soviet psychology doesn’t respond to Western notions of childish compassion—only to fear, to power, to reality.

What these experts didn’t consider was that my father had no concern for reality. He would be campaigning against reality itself. He wanted to displace not just a president but also the entire culture of fear and cynicism that had taken root in his land. As his director of publicity, I wasn’t planning to run a political campaign, either. I wanted to present my father as a living embodiment of what it meant to be an Armenian—noble, defiant, emotional, even self-contradicting. We were determined, in short, to run a campaign of complete fiction: the first literary presidential race in history.