ARMENIAN DANCES: THE MAKING OF A HISTORICAL NOVEL

Two years ago, I posted about a plan to write a history of the Armenian church where I spent much of my childhood through young adulthood. I wrote about my earliest research and its impact on me in my 2/4/19 blog post. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the sources I would need for an accurate history were not available to me. There was no consistent paper trail, and the early founders (the church was founded in 1906) were long gone. But all the research I had done up to that point convinced me that I could write it as a historical novel instead. I actually was a little relieved. I had written five previous novels and published four of them. How hard could it be to add a bit of historical perspective to a story?

Then I started reading published historical novels. It became clear to me after the first one (I’ve now read several) that writing a historical novel wasn’t like writing any of my contemporary novels or even the futuristic one, where I could just go into “the zone” and make up a story as I went along. Historical novels have to connect factually to real history. A good one flows and holds you like any other novel, but those details of person, place, things, current events, clothes, geography, living standards, and on and on—those bring the story to life for you, taking you back to the setting time and place like you’re really there.

An old high school English teacher used the phrase “glittering generalities” to describe writing that sounds pretty but says nothing, I realized, painfully, that I needed a lot more research for a substantive story about Armenian refugees escaping the horrors of persecution and annihilation in late 19th century through the early 20th century Ottoman Turkey, and starting new lives– including establishing a church, in Troy, NY. No glittering generalities allowed if you want to hold your readers. You have to lock in their hearts AND their minds.

Since that reality check, I’ve spent another two years on interviews, watching newsreels and videos of interviews with survivors of the genocide, and reading, reading reading: history books, autobibliographies, a book of postcards depicting life in the Armenian villages, doctoral dissertations, religious sources, and on and on. I photographed every page of the official church records and studied them to learn about church life in the early years. I spent six months preparing the church (which had been closed for 9 years) for a final closure service, and arranged all the details of the service. After two and a half years, I’ve finally started writing. And as I’ve shared chapters with people who know Armenian history and personal stories from family members, and the origins of the Armenian Evangelical movement, I’ve done a lot of rewriting – correcting language and facts as I proceed.

I’ve been invested in every novel I’ve written. But that investment is elevated to a new level with this one. It’s much more challenging and invigorating. I’ve formed many new friendships. And I continue to learn with each page and each interaction. I hope to complete a first draft before summer and spend the rest of the year readying for submission to agents and publishers.

(This post was prepared for a new website: https://www.wewhocreate.com. The site owner, Darrell Laurant, has a long and storied writing history. He’s responsible for the site, “Snowflakes In A Blizzard,” featuring amazing books that have not had the circulation they deserve. You should check him out!).

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THE PRODIGAL WRITER

Mea Culpa for my absence – but with an excuse.

My last post was in October 2020 – almost 4 months ago. Wow, has a lot happened since then or what?

While the world was watching the American election mess, I was quietly following in the footsteps of my paternal ancestors – having a heart attack and benefitting from modern medical science with the insertion of two stents. It sort of slowed me down for a while, and then along came the holidays and cardiac rehab, and next think I knew it was 2021.

Although I went through an unproductive period, I started the new year with getting back to business. I completed the first chapter of my Armenian story, working title Armenian Dances. I’ll share a couple of pages of that with you here.

CHAPTER ONE

Marderos

1889

Kharpert, Ottoman Empire

Marderos spotted the Kurd on horseback cresting the hill in the distance when he and his sister, Araxie, returned from school. His village was one of the few with a school for girls, at least to sixth grade. Then girls joined the other women in the family for homemaking chores. Araxie was the first girl in their family who could read and write. Their grandmother, mother and aunt were born before there was a girls’ school. Marderos thought that was sad. But it was the way it was.

The Kurds hated the Armenians. Turkish government alternately encouraged the Kurds in their hatred and cracked down on their violence. Their village and others nearby were going through one of the encouragement phases. There had been several reports of girls violated in nearby villages just in the past few weeks. Fourteen year old Marderos immediately devised a plan to keep his family safe from this Kurd. With his father, brothers and uncle away at the market in the next village, it was his responsibility.

As he secured his knife, he told the women to go to the tunnel and stay until he or the other men in the family returned. His ma’eer, Auntie and Araxie didn’t question him. This wasn’t the first time. Medz ma’eer—his grandmother—huffed her refusal and waved him away.

“They won’t bother with an old woman,” she said, with a characteristic shrug. “And if they come in, I’ll draw attention away from the others.” There was no arguing with his grandmother.

He left his family’s home, making a show of tying the money sack around his waist and headed toward the village square. He knew he would entice the Kurd to pass by the home where his grandmother, mother, aunt and sister were, and come after him and his money sack. That was the plan. He just needed to survive it.

He set off at a trot, not wanting to appear to be running from the Kurd. He heard the horse hooves by then, but still at a safe distance. He increased to a sprint.

The clack of the hooves grew louder. He chanced a glance behind him. At this pace, he was perhaps a minute or two from a near certain bloody and painful death. He had no riches to lose—the sack contained only marbles, not the gold the Kurd likely presumed. He was closing in. Of course. Marderos was fast, but no person could outrun a horse.

Unless…. Unless he could make it to the community well in the square.

The filthy Kurd, one hand on the reins and the other holding his sword high, wouldn’t follow him in the plunge. Of that, Marderos was confident. He wouldn’t risk leaving his horse that likely would run off. And he wouldn’t risk the fall to the water that may or may not be deep enough to avoid death or serious injury. And he probably couldn’t swim.

And he didn’t know the well’s secrets.

Marderos spun right abruptly and turned into a narrow alley between two houses. Maybe too narrow for the horse. At least he hoped it would slow him down or make him go around to the path to the square.

He emerged at the end of the alley and chanced another look back. The Kurd was nearly on him, not at all slowed by the alley. The well was feet away. With a burst of speed, Marderos bolted toward the well and catapulted over the rim, dropping to the water with a loud splash. The water, thankfully, was high. He had anticipated that, after the rains of the last few weeks. It was high enough for him to swim beneath the surface to the drainage pipe, but not so high that the pipe was fully immersed. When he reached the pipe he looked up. Where was the Kurd? He hauled himself up and into the pipe, grateful for once that, at fourteen, he was not fully grown yet. He could slide feet first into the pipe and see to the top of the well.

The Kurd would be furious that a boy, one carrying a sack that he believed contained coins or gold, could outrun and outsmart him. He wasn’t likely to leave without trying to get to Marderos and his sack of precious cargo.

Plunk. Pop. Splash.

The Kurd was dropping rocks into the well. Was he trying to determine how deep the water was? Maybe he thought Marderos was holding his breath under the water and would be hit by the rocks or forced to surface.

Marderos was amazed at how long the Kurd continued this. The sun, nearly overhead when he entered the well, was too low to see now. Now and again the Kurd disappeared from the top of the well and returned minutes later with a new supply of rocks—including a huge one that could have killed Marderos if he had been hit. Finally, the Kurd cursed and shouted something Marderos didn’t understand, tossed a final rock and moved away from the well opening.  Marderos began to breathe normally at last.

He listened for horse hooves taking the Kurd away, but heard nothing. Was he up there hoping to draw the Armenian boy out? He waited what felt like a very long while, what felt like hours, wary that if the Kurd had left, he might return with another plan. The sun was setting, and Marderos was beginning to feel cold. It was time to take a chance.

So then, how to get out of the well?

The light was fading. He had to move fast. He scanned the wall of the well stone by stone. Gradually, the pattern he knew was there emerged. He shimmied out of the drain and reached overhead for a stone that protruded from the others in the pattern that wouldn’t be obvious unless you knew the secret. Anchoring one foot on the top of the drain, he pushed with his feet, pulled with his hands. Feet, hands, push, search for the next stone. Pull, search again, climbing the wall that to most eyes looked fairly smooth, unless you knew about the stepping stones. Push, pull, search again, until at last, breathless, Marderos reached over the top of the well.

He stayed low, scanning the village square around him, making sure the Kurd and his horse were gone. Then he hauled himself up and out, dropping to the ground to recover from the effort before returning to his family. It was late, so possibly his father and brothers would be home by then.

He hated this. Living in fear of the Kurds and the Turks was no way to spend a life. When he was older and carried more weight in the family, he planned to convince his father and uncle that they should start a new life somewhere. His schooling taught him about other countries, places where there were more opportunities, where they could worship in their churches without fear—and most of all, no Turks and barbaric tribes threatening his family and their future. Lebanon, maybe. Or Syria. Or France. He smiled at his final thought, America. Where people were free. Where the penniless could become rich and land was plentiful, as long as you were willing to work hard. Marderos knew about working hard. He grew up watching his family working hard. But between taxes and special leins and theft and —. He stopped walking. The late day air was cool, and his wet clothes didn’t help, but that didn’t matter in the moment.

**********************************************************

The chapter continues, laying the groundwork for the trajectory of the historical novel.

Let me know what you think!

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FAREWELL TO “THE NINTH STREET CHURCH”

Saturday morning, September 26, 2020, dawned cool but promising sunshine, a very positive start for celebrating the 114 year history of the United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church (UACCC) in Troy, NY. It was bittersweet, since it also marked the final service of the church. Sixty-seven members turned out both to celebrate the church and say goodbye.

The service was officiated by Rev. Dr. Avedis Boynerian, pastor of the Armenian Memorial Church in Watertown, MA and member of the AMAA Board of Directors. Special messages on the occasion from the AEWC and the AMAA were read. Rev. Boynerian’s message, Got Is Not Done Yet, recognized the church’s long and active history and the church founders, who fled the massacres in Turkey and arrived in America intent on making new lives and building a new church community.

Participants in the service also received a recorded message from Rev. Joanne Gulezian-Hartunian, who served the church during much of the 1990’s. Her message was You Are The Church. She shared memories of church dinners and Sunday School activities and a growth of the congregation during her time there, and urged members to gather together in the future.

David Vredenberg, member of the American Guild of Organists, was guest Organist.

A very moving and symbolic point in the service was a baptism. The first baby baptized in the UACCC community was Haiganoosh H. Abajian, on September 16, 1906, as recorded in the church records. The baptism of Raffi Allan George Chalian provided a joyous and hopeful note to this final service. Together, the two baptisms became bookends for the spiritual life of the church.

At the closure of the service, attendees gathered at the altar for a group photo, followed by a COVID-friendly reception.

A history table dating back to the earliest days and photos reminded all of the experiences and spiritual strength the church provided its members for 114 years.

And so this chapter of my journey to understand the history and people who founded and grew my childhood church has ended. I’ve emerged with a stronger and more intimate understanding of the spiritual and everyday lives my ancestors and neighbors created after they escaped the hatred and massacres of the Turks and Kurds in the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth century.

The next chapter begins with recreating their stories. Let the writing begin.

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HUMAN STRENGTH

I’ve written very little of my historical fiction about Armenians so far. I’ve spent the past 18 months immersed in research. Since I’ve not written historical fiction before, part of my research has included reading several historical fictions that have done well and had at least some similarity to my topic. A number of those included books about the Jewish holocaust. And, of course, I’ve read stories by and about survivors of the Armenian massacres from 1895 through the early 1920’s.

All of the books struck me as having one stand-out similarity: the strength of the survivors–when the worst was on the horizon, when they were immersed in the horrors, and then, perhaps most amazingly, as they built new lives in new lands.

My most recent novel reading (in between non-fiction sources) included a novel and a novella written by Antonia Arslan. Skylark Farm felt disjointed to me, although it was highly praised – key storyline components seemed to disappear or shift inexplicably. However, the basic story could be discerned behind my confusion. What came through clearly was the rock-hard fortitude of the characters facing unimaginable horrors and cruelty, watching their loved ones brutally murdered, children handed off to strangers in the scant hope of giving them a chance at life.

I read Skylark Farm on Kindle. If there was any up front information, I skipped over it to get to the story.

Silent Angel was a soft cover book, and right on the title page it read “Translated by Siobhan Nash-Marshall.” Aha – that may have explained my issues with Skylark Farm. Reading Silent Angel was a joy – smooth and clear, and a beautifully touching (if tragic) story. Perhaps different translators. Perhaps a less complex (and shorter) story to translate.

Silent Angel

What struck me in both of these, as well as the stories I’d read previously, was the strength with which the Armenians dealt with abject cruelties and tragic losses–unimaginable decisions in unimaginable circumstances. Determination to accept death when there’s no alternative, and equal determination to create a new life–strengthened by the Christian Armenians’ unfaltering connection with God.

 

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BIRTH OF AN ARMENIAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY

Beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing into the first three decades of the twentieth century, a community of Protestant Armenians left the horrific persecutions of Armenian Christians in Turkey and arrived and thrived in the city of Troy, NY.  According to the church history, “This land of the free and the brave was then offering refuge to those who were persecuted, massacred, and treated with injustice. Those who had lost their freedom and liberty of worship, of press, and of speech; those who were oppressed and ill treated and whose lives were in constant danger by cruel governments, sought and found refuge in this part of the world…. Troy was not an exception in offering haven to the newcomers, so that after the massacre of 1895 in Turkey, a stream of Armenians overflowed this city.” Many of the Protestants initially settled in a 6-7 block square surrounding the Protestant Armenian church.

The church history, completed in 1946, went on to describe the city’s new arrivals: “The first immigrants were poor and bewildered. They naturally did not know the language of the country and were treated as foreigners. All these deprivations could not discourage these freedom-loving and progressive people. Especially nothing could hinder them from rebuilding their churches which they revered so much in their own country. In order to be able to quench the spiritual thirst and hunger…they gathered together and wanted to start some kind of a religious organization.”

Three of my ancestors were among the first forty-six chartered members of the Armenian Presbyterian Church they founded in 1906: Hadji S. Essegian, Boghos Essegian, and Margrit Essegian.

As happens in churches to this day, there were challenges and disagreements within the congregation, which led to a split between the Presbyterians and those of the congregation who were originally Congregationalists. The Congregationalists split off in 1910, shortly after the original church was completed.

The Congregationalists eventually built a new church, begun in 1916 while reports of slaughter, terrible massacres and deportations of Armenians in Turkey were beginning to arrive. As a result, the new church was named the Armenian Calvary Congregational Church of Troy, in commemoration of a martyred nation, holding fast to their faith, following her master to Calvary.

9th St Church in 1916

The two protestant Armenian churches reunited in 1919, choosing the new church–renamed the United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church of Troy, NY–as the place of worship, and the original Presbyterian church became the parsonage. Another of my ancestors, Paul Essegian, was elected to the first joint Board of Church Committee. As the history reads, “With a strong Church Committee and a United congregation, the Church could not fail.” Under the leadership of the first pastor, Rev. Samuel Rejebian, the church flourished.

Early Sunday School (2)

As did the Armenian community in Troy, into the 21st Century.

 

 

 

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Ha’/ee yern – I AM ARMENIAN

DSC01040 (4)DSC01041 (3)

A generation before the Holocaust, there was the Armenian genocide. Never heard of it? You’re not alone.

According to a display at the Armenian Museum in Watertown, MA, Hitler, discussing his plans to annihilate Poles and Jews, soothed his inner circle’s concerns with this: “Who still talks nowadays about the extermination of the Armenians?” He counted on the collective amnesia for people to miss the early warning signs as he proceeded with his own deadly plans.

But we, the Armenian people throughout the diaspora, remember even to today.

This past weekend, April 25th, marked the 105th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide of Christian Armenians by the Turkish empire. Armenians and Armenian churches around the world came together to commemorate the day. Armenian Apostolic Churches conducted The Order of Intecessory Prayers of the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

As I pointed out in my last post, the targeting of Christian Armenians in the Turkish Empire began long before 1915. It all was cruel and deadly. It all intended to extinguish the light of the Armenian people throughout the Turkish Empire. But the numbers or Armenians killed, maimed, tortured and sexually assaulted during the genocide years far exceeded those that came before or after.

Even today, Turkey denies the genocide and all of the murderous history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Even today, there are targeted actions to support that denial throughout the Armenian diaspora.

WE MUST NEVER FORGET.

Gu des-nu-veenk no-ren

I’LL SEE YOU AGAIN!

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THE THIRTY-YEAR GENOCIDE

I feel like I just struck gold in the research for my historical fiction!

I have amassed so many articles and books and photos and interviews. Still, I felt my mental picture of the time frame when Armenians were subjected to massacres and other forms of brutalization by the Ottoman Turks and the Kurds was disjointed and fuzzy. I wanted to get up close and personal with the Armenians and their lives before coming to America (and other countries).

When most people hear or read about the Armenian genocide, they think 1915-1918. But so much came before and after, and the whole story must be known to understand the impact on the Armenian population—those who perished as well as those who survived, escaped, and migrated to other countries, complete with the physical and emotional scars of their experiences.

And that understanding is essential to creating authentic characters and a wholly credible and moving story.

So what “gold” did I strike?

It’s The Thirty-Year Genocide, by Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi.

Thirty Year Genocide Book

The book begins in the nineteenth century Ottoman Empire, describing the lives and hardships for Christian Armenians within territory dominated by Kurdish and Ottoman Empire Moslems. It takes us through the massacres of 1894-1896, followed by the era of the Young Turks–when hope initially was high for a peaceful coexistence between Turks and Armenians, but sadly returned to a policy of genocide, culminating in the most well known massacres, homicidal deportation, forced conversion, mass rape and brutal abduction. The final chapters cover the years from 1918-1924, when the French sacrificed the Armenians, “The Armenians, , , are doomed,” William Dodd wrote to Mark Bristol on April 9, 1920. And within the same time frame came the deportation and murder of the Christian Greeks.

According the book cover, “While not justified under the teachings of Islam, the killing of two million Christians was effected through the calculated exhortation of the Turks to create a pure Muslim nation.”

The book is long and detailed, and in addition to being comprehensive on its own, it has helped bring clarity and connection to the many other resources I’ve devoured on the road to writing my upcoming novel.

My thanks to the authors of The Thirty-Year Genocide.

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BIRTH OF AN ARMENIAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY

I grew up in a community of Armenians. Every block within a 4-5 block diameter contained multiple Armenian families, and at the center of it was the church.

The groundbreaking for the first church was celebrated by the entire congregation. At the time, it was the Armenian Presbyterian Church, although most of the Protestant Armenians attended. It was completed in 1908. The church was the hub of our Armenian community’s life and the commonality we all shared.

But each family was distinct from the others. What village in the old country was their origin? How many stops did they make on their way to America? What skills did they bring with them when they fled their homeland? What struggles with the Ottoman Turks had they endured before they left their homes behind? Did they worship as Presbyterians or Congregationalists?

Some left their homeland in the mid- to late 1890’s, when the Turkish leaders initiated random massacres of individuals, of families, of entire villages–long before the more widely known Genocide that began in 1915. Some saw the clouds forming during the first decade of the 20th century, as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling and weakening, and the Young Turks were gaining power.

1.5 million Armenians did not leave in time, and were murdered with a range of “weapons” beginning in 1915. Justified as a response to World War I, the Turks killed younger men with guns, hangings, burnings, hard labor combined with starvation, and other gruesome methods. Women, children and old men were subjected to humiliation of nakedness, starvation, freezing, and the infamous walks across deserts and mountains to nowhere–including women and children being dragged to the nearest rivers to be washed away–all called “relocation.”

My little church in Troy, NY was a haven and support for those who came early. From the beginning there were internal battles–over leadership, over denomination (primarily Presbyterian vs Congregational), over personalities–that led to a breakup of the church community in 1910. The Congregationalists worshipped in borrowed space and began planning a new house of worship in 1912. The groundbreaking for that church in 1914, although the actual building of the church didn’t begin until 1916. By that time reports of slaughter and terrible massacres and deportations were arriving, leading the Congregationalists to rename the church as the “Armenian Calvary Congregational Church of Troy.” The church name commemorated a martyred nation following her master to Calvary. Newcomers, it was believed, would “revigorated the blood in the veins of the new built church” and “America would be the adopted country of Armenians.” The church would support the wave of Armenian immigrants escaping the genocide in their Americanization.

On August 27, 1916, the cornerstone was laid with fitting ceremonies. And on January 7, 1917, the first service was held in the building.

In 1914 the two Protestant Armenian churches began talks to unite, and the first union services was held in 1919. The new church became the home of the congregation and the Presbyterian church became the parsonage. The church was renamed United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church.

One of my personally favorite parts of the church are the stained glass windows that memorialize the Armenian martyrs. The mass loss of family members was immortalized, and the importance for the Armenian church community to be a source of support for arriving survivors strengthened the entire community.

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It was this history and my personal experiences growing up within the church community that connected me forever.

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ARMENIAN HISTORY AND FOOD

Armenian cookbook

I don’t usually do book reviews on this site. However, in my research for my eventual historical fiction about Armenians and their immigration to America during and following the 1915 genocide in Turkey, I came across a marvelous book that is part Armenian history and part cookbook. As the author points out: “The history of the Armenian people is written, in part, through our culinary creativity with locally found ingredients.”

Home Again: Armenian Recipes from the Ottoman Empire, by Mari A Firkatian, is a fascinating blend of food and history. The back cover tells us:

“Preserving the past in recipes and memories, Home Again turns the reader’s gaze to Armenian culinary traditions. A land at the crossroads of great empires and nomadic hordes, Armenia’s cuisine offers a tantalizing melding of the rich variety of Mediterranean produce and Eastern spices. The culinary lexicon of Armenia stands as a testament to the survival of a people over the centuries…. The author transports both the novice and experienced cook to Armenian kitchens across the former Ottoman Empire….”

Generations of Armenians linked themselves directly to the most god-fearing man mentioned in the Bible, Noah, who many Armenians consider to be their progenitor. “Not only did Noah find dry land on the slopes of Mt. Ararat, but he also planted the first vineyard there; drinking Armenian wine is to savor a gift from the hands of Noah. Hayk, the great-great-great grandson of Noah, established the nation in the region of Mt. Ararat.” Armenia’s wines, sometimes using the unique native varietals, are making a comeback that is promising to produce some magnificent vintages.

In 301 AD Armenia became the first nation to convert to Christianity.
Beginning in 1915, 1.5 million of the 2 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey—a staggering 75%–were killed.

“The killing of so many Armenians dealt a near death blow to a noble, ancient culture. If we consider not only the dead, but their stolen properties, all the unborn generations and millions of dollars of wealth stripped from the victims, then we can see the scope of this heinous crime.”

Survivors escaped and sought shelter in nearby countries. Most thought they would return to their homeland when things settled down. “With that in mind, in 1923, when…” the author’s… “family fled one final time, they headed to Gemelik, a port town, with 14 cans of olive oil. With oil as their currency, they bought passage to Greece.”

Meanwhile, back in Turkey, the official Turkish policy was to wipe the Armenian presence literally and figuratively from history.

But they couldn’t erase the culinary memory.

Much of the first third of the book is this history and a memoir, followed by a discussion of Armenian culinary traditions. And then come the recipes, beginning with appetizers.

I will leave you with one of two Hummus recipes to whet your appetite for this fascinating and delightful book!

Smooth Hummus
2 c cooked chickpeas
4 cloves garlic, mashed, with salt
1T tahini
1 lemon, juiced
Extra virgin olive oil

Blend the chickpeas with a little of the cooking liquid in a food processor.
Add as much of the cooking liquid needed to make a smooth, creamy texture.
Add garlic and salt to taste.
Add lemon juice.
Add tahini and a thin stream of extra virgin olive oil to make a smooth consistency.
Serve in a shallow dish drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, parsley to garnish, sprinkled with paprika or oregano.

Hamu naye—inch hamov e, che?
Taste this—isn’t it just the best you ever tasted?

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ARMENIAN FAIRYTALES

Tree topperShnor-ha-vor (soorp) dzu-noont! 
Merry Christmas!

During a visit with one of the Armenian women who was kind enough to let me interview her for my historical fiction, she shared a delightful find with me (actually, a few delightful finds, but first things first): her copy of The Gurabia Man, by Talene Dadian White. It’s an Armenian version of The Gingerbread Man, sprinkled with Armenian words and with a glossary and other resources at the back of the book.

Gurabia Man -- English version
What a delight! I thought immediately of my great-nephew, who will turn 3 next March, and new great-niece, who will have her first birthday in February. They have the Essegian name but are three generations removed from the last 100% Armenian Essegian in our family. I consider it my job to help them maintain their Armenian connection, however small that may be.

I rushed home from the interview and went straight to my computer and Amazon. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but Armenian versions of FIVE beloved fairytales—all in English with some Armenian words AND a few almost totally in Armenian!
Gurabia Man - Armenian version
I couldn’t have been happier if I’d struck gold! (Okay, so that’s a little exaggeration—call it literary license.) I ordered four (English sprinkled with Armenian) of the five. Jack in the Beanstalk was sold out.

I decided I’d send two (Gurabia Man and Goldilocks and the Three Bears) for this Christmas and the others at a later time. The books arrived a few days later, along with the cookie cutters I’d ordered: a gingerbread man, a pig, a dog, a donkey and a fox to go with the Gingerbread Man story, and three bears of different sizes and a girl for the Goldilocks book. I tweaked a Gurabia recipe to be able to roll the dough for cutouts. After making the cookies and decorating them (pistachios for eyes, dried apricot pieces for buttons on the Gurabia Man, raisins for eyes for the bears, and apricot pieces for eyes on the girl), I actually bubble-wrapped each cookie individually to keep them intact when they were mailed to my nephew and niece in Florida, along with a message to freeze the cookies to keep them fresh until Christmas. My nephew, father of the two young children, texted me thanks and how his 3-year-old was really into books (even “reading” some to his mom or dad at bedtime)! The cookies went directly into the freezer to be opened with the books on Christmas.

As our Armenian blood becomes more diluted with successive generations, I believe it is important to keep those generations in touch with their roots. Our ancestors suffered much, and sacrificed almost as much, leaving their beloved homes to flee to another country, giving their children and future generations a chance to survive and thrive.

Our heritage is rich and must not be forgotten.

Shnor-ha-vor nor da-ree!
Happy New Year!

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