THE ARMENIAN TAPESTRY

IMG_2753

A-no’o-nus Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse. Hal’/lee a-me-ree-ga-tsee yem.
Hos yem.

My name is Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse. I am Armenian American.
I am here.DSC00675

It has been a while since I have posted about my Armenian book project. Happily, that is because I’ve been immersed in the edits and preparations for the publication of my fourth novel, The Eyes Have It. But thoughts and actions related to sharing a story about Armenians and their immigration to America during the genocide years under the Ottoman Turks have never been far from my mind.

My research into the early Armenian immigrants, including my grandparents, has been going slowly. As an example, I requested a copy of my grandmother’s death certificate and was told it would take 4-6 months. I know when she died, but no one, even the oldest surviving family members, knows the cause of her death at the age of fifty-five.

Since I anticipate writing this story as historical fiction rather than non-fiction, the exact cause of one character’s death isn’t essential. But it could provide some insights into her and her lifestyle.

Who, really, was Sultan?

Characters in any story must spring to life for the reader. The more I can learn about each of them, the more alive and real they will seem. What did they like to do? How did they spend their time each day? How did they interact with others, both family and non-family? How did their origin influence all of this?

How similar and different were they from other immigrants who may or may not be related? How did the immigrants from, say, Kharpoot (like my ancestors) differ from those who came from Van, or from Marash, or Adana, or Aleppo?

How did the circumstances surrounding their leaving Armenia or Turkey influence them? Their age? Before or after the worst of the massacres? Surely a woman—with or without children—who was driven on a forced march through the desert, watching the deaths of so many—including children—at the cruel hands of the Turkish soldiers, that woman, as a survivor, likely would have a different life view from one who fled the threat of massacre. One who watched family members gunned down or hung or otherwise tortured would evolve differently from someone who escaped before the worst of times.

And how did their experiences translate into how they interacted with their children, the first generation of Armenian Americans? And how did the experience of those first-generation children affect how they lived, married, and interacted with their own children?

These are the puzzle pieces I must locate and place into the bigger picture I hope to create–the tapestry woven by these Armenians and their families and friends.

Who are these people?

Early Sunday School

Bedk e meg-neem hee-ma.
Gu des-nu-veenk no-ren.

I must go now.
I’ll see you again

Posted in Armenians, family, Genocide, Grief and Loss, Immigrants, Resilience, Strength, survival | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

COMING EARLY FALL…

 THE EYES HAVE IT!

Star-crossed lovers, 21st century style.

“With her new novel, Dawn Lajeunesse proves she understands the human heart as well as any writer working today, and she knows how to make a reader’s heart thump hard—with anticipation, with sorrow, with fear, and with joy. The Eyes Have It is an intelligent, poignant, rewarding experience.”—Mark Spencer, author of A Haunted Love Story: the Ghosts of the Allen House

Finished-Ebook image

Two editing reviews completed, one to go.

WATCH FOR UPDATES AND PROMOTIONS!

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HANG ON TO THE HOPE!

I don’t often post any book reviews. But one just released by a friend of mine caused me to make an exception. It’s a fast read, but don’t be surprised to find yourself going back and re-reading parts that touched you at the core of your personal experience.

The Cycle of Grief, by Betty Gurak, is one of the most moving, personal approaches to handling the loss of a loved one that I’ve ever read. It’s not long. It doesn’t get mired in psychological concepts or formal studies. Its a documentary of one woman’s experience of the shock of the sudden loss of her husband and the journey she traveled as she made her way through the darkest days, months and years to where she finds herself now.

Betty's Grief Book

Betty takes us on a multi-year journey, from the initial shock and disbelief through the stages as she experienced them, told in a combination of narrative and poetry and illustrated beautifully by her grandson-in-law.  “It was a tree so full of life when sorrow came to play. A barren tree took its place, its leaves had blown away.”

“Tom never made it back to our home. At the fourth hole, the Lord decided to call him to His home instead. It was then that the brick wall made its appearance.”

Betty describes the darkness that descended. ” The cries became louder, the pain deeper.” She believed her heart would never heal.

She talks of the things that helped her through that time. “Writing for me was like listening to music–soothing.”

And the times she closed herself away. “There were days I would sit on Tom’s recliner and wrap an imaginary cocoon around me; a place where nothing could hurt me again.”

On the rare occasions when something caused her to laugh, she felt guilty. “I put my hand to my mouth in hopes no one would know the laughter came from me…. How dare I laugh like that…. I didn’t know how I was expected to act.”

Months later she noticed the wall was beginning to crumble–just a bit…the darkness was showing signs of hope….

“In time I began to see another change in the brick wall…. It was starting to lose its hold on me as it continued to crumble… Brightness began to filter through the holes…. The hope continued.”

“I am seeing that, just as the tree goes through its cycle of life, so must I go through the cycle of grief.”

“…happiness will return, but you have to be willing to let it in. Get involved with something that makes you happy. Find something you like, and maybe you can share it with others.”

Betty found solace in her writing, and chose to let the readers know they are not alone.

Anyone who has gone or is going through their own cycle of grief will find Betty’s story will help you through your own journey.

“I still think of you every day, but now it puts a smile on my face.”

Betty's Husband

Find Betty’s book on Amazon at:

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=betty+gurak&crid=1Z8GWEHCCV6FW&sprefix=Betty+Gurak%2Caps%2C136&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_11

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Ain’t it funny…

How time slips away!

Sometimes schedules collide to make time disappear. However if pressed, I could point to the many pleasures and tasks that have consumed my time.

Time Flies

The biggest of that: my publisher sent the results of the comprehensive edit they completed for my review, comment, revisions and/or acceptance. What an experience!  I had to review page by page, read the edits, add/change/delete text based on the comments, and respond with my impressions. There wasn’t a single page without some kind of edit, although many were simple, like adding a quotation mark I missed, or removing a comma. But there also were more significant comments and recommendations, some of which were a little bruising–although I knew on some level the editor was right, the comments stung just the same.

letters flying out of the book

And then there were the obvious clashes of generations. I’m a retiree. I probably have close to 50 years on the editor, which means my life experiences–and therefore my attitudes–were different.

Once again, I had to step back and think about what the editor was saying and why. My novel targets young adults. It’s suitable for older readers, but the fact that two high school seniors are the main characters means it would be categorized as YA. “Self,” I said, “You haven’t been in high school in over fifty years, AND you haven’t had children in high school. Translation: you know NEXT TO NOTHING about being a teen in 2019.

I reached deep inside me to find some genuine humility. Some edit suggestions I still disagreed with. As an example, I had the main character saying she wouldn’t walk home from her summer job when she finished work at midnight because it wasn’t safe, and would be just asking for trouble. The editor said that implied that girls are responsible if attacked, and not the attacker. The top of my head nearly blew off. “Are you nuts?” I thought. Just because it’s not politically correct to say a girl might be inviting trouble walking home alone at midnight doesn’t make it any less dangerous. There are lots of predators out there who don’t care about what’s politically correct. If they see vulnerability, as in a young female the predator outweighs by half her weight, and if they are so inclined, they will take advantage of the opportunity. It has nothing to do with political correctness. It’s about common sense safety. I did compromise on this – I took out the part about “inviting trouble” and just left that it wasn’t safe.

There were a lot of examples like this. I had to keep reminding myself that the book targets young women OF TODAY, not of my generation. So I yielded or at least modified (reluctantly) on many such examples.

Editors aren’t your personal friend. They have a job to do: help you make your book the best, most professional and most salable product possible. This editor showed that she knew her job and had honed her skills to a level of excellence. I didn’t like it. It didn’t feel good. But it was necessary.

So, just when I was thinking, “I should NEVER try to write another young adult story”, I came to the editor’s final comment:

“Job well done! This is among the very finest manuscripts we’ve seen from (this publisher) in eight years.”

Holy smokes! I wasn’t prepared for that!

Bottom line: no manuscript is perfect. The writer is too close to it. A skilled editor can view it through a different lens. The edits may bruise, but the outcome is a much better product.

Now I hope the reviewers agree and her comments are reflected in sales!

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ARMENIAN POLITICS AND RELIGION

Just when I thought I’d hit on a topic with no political overtones. . . .

At dinner with my Armenian cousins a couple of months ago, my older cousin shared the story of his sister’s wedding which might not have happened. He said a family friend approached their father about Araxy’s fiancé, warning him against allowing his daughter to marry this man. “He is Tashnug (also known as Dashnak)!” the friend exclaimed. “You are Rumgavar!” My uncle was, apparently, unmoved. Bottom line, my cousin married the Tashnug – they had three children and lived happily for many decades.

As my cousin was telling this story, I was confused. I had never heard the terms before. But I didn’t want to admit my ignorance so I let it go. I tried to search for the terms, but didn’t know the proper spelling, so nothing turned up.

Fast forward a couple of months. I was making cream kadayif with my new friends at the Armenian Apostolic Church. Two of the more elderly women were talking about “the other Armenian church” in the area. “They are Tashnugs,” one said, with a swipe of her hand. “We are Rumgavars.”

There were those terms again.

“Are those political terms?” I ventured to ask, hoping they’d take pity on me, a humble Protestant, and explain.

The elder of the two ladies nodded. No further explanation.

“How do you spell them?” I asked, hoping to search for the information that was not being shared.

The two ladies looked at each other and shrugged.

So I took the question to an Armenian friend. Here is what it boiled down to: “Tashnugs” view Turkey as their homeland. It was theirs before it was the Turks’, and they’re still prepared to fight to the death to get it back. Rumgavars view their homeland as Russian/Communist, and are content with the homeland they now have.

Armenian Revolutionary Federation Sheild (2)

Tashnugs (Dashnaks) are the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, an Armenian nationalist and socialist political party founded in 1890. They traditionally advocated democratic socialism and have been a member of the Socialist International since 2003. It is the most politically oriented of the organizations and has been one of the staunchest supporters of Armenian nationalism. The party campaigns for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the right to reparations. It also advocates the establishment of United Armenia, partially based on the Treaty of Sevres of 1920. In 1918 the party was instrumental in the creation of the First Republic of Armenia, which fell to the Soviet communists in 1920. After its leadership was exiled by the communists, the ARF established itself within Armenian diaspora communities, where it helped Armenians preserve their cultural identity. After the fall of the USSR, it returned to Armenia, where it now has a presence as a minor party in Armenia’s parliament. The party lost political representation after the 2018 Armenian parliamentary election after receiving only 3.89% of the votes, which is lower than the 5% minimum required for representation in the parliament.

Armenian Democratic Liberal Party Sheild (3)
Rumgavars are the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party – an Armenian political party in the Armenian diaspora, including the Middle East, Europe, the Americas and Australia. The Rumgavar party advocates liberalism and capitalism, unlike the other two classical Armenian political parties (Social Democrat Hunchakian Party and the Constituent Democratic Party) which both have the leftist ideology. It was established in Constantinople in 1921 as a result of the unification of 3 political parties: the Armenakan Party, the Liberal Party of the Reformed Hunchakians, and the Constituent Democratic Party. The Armenakan Party was founded in 1885 by Mekertich Portukalian as part of the national movement in Van in the Ottoman Empire. In the Armenian parliamentary elections on May 25, 2003, the party won 2.9% of the popular vote but no seats. Ever since, the party has lost all presence in the political landscape of Armenia. A few pockets of its presence exist in the diaspora with ever-decreasing numbers, a far cry from their heyday during the Soviet era.

In the 21st century, most Armenians are Christians (94.8% and are members of Armenia’s own church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the oldest Christian churches. It was founded in the 1st century AD, and in 301 AD became the first branch of Christianity to become a state religion.

According to a Pew Research publication in December 2018 Armenia is the 2nd most religious country among 34 European nations, with 79% of respondents saying they believe in God with absolute certainty.

The largest minority Christian churches in Armenia are composed of new converts to Protestant and non-trinitarian Christianity, a combined total of about 38,989 persons (1.3%). Non-Christian religions have only a few adherents.

No surprises, actually, that political parties within other countries battle ideology. The surprise for me came in the form of how the political party of our Armenian ancestors translates into competition within religious sectors here in America.

 

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IN THE BEGINNING…

My grandfather (medz ha’/eer) and grandmother (medz ma’/eer) immigrated from Kharpert (also known as Harpoot) in Armenia. Don’t try to find Kharpert on a map of Armenia–it’s no longer there. Kharpert was one of the casualties of the Armenian genocide, along with many of its citizens. According to Richard G. Hovannisian, Kharpert “…was truly a crossroads of ancient civilizations, where Hurrian, Urartian, Semitic and Indo-European peoples met and mixed, as did their customs, religions and vocabulary. Through Kharpert…passed the famous royal military army of the Persian Achaemenians and later the major supply routes of the Romans. Here lay a fertile plain, traversed by tributaries and branches of the Aratsani or Eurphrates River. The shimmering waters and the waves of grain made this the Golden Plain (Voski Dasht) of Kharpert.”

Truly a historic land, the local inhabitants endured generation after generation under Arab, Turkic, Mongol, Turkmen, and Ottoman dominion. Even through the difficulties endured under the dominations, Armenian life on the Golden Plain continued uninterrupted until 1915. Most Armenian children were in school, and literacy was becoming universal for boys. Many villages also operated primary schools for girls. These focused on reading, writing and arithmetic as well as sewing and training for homemaking.

Hardships of life were made bearable by a religious calendar filled with holy days that involved both fasting and feasting. Weddings lasted as long as seven days and seven nights. All but the smallest villages had an Armenian Apostolic Church, and many larger villages had Protestant and/or Catholic congregations. The church was the most prominent structure in all the villages.

Extensive emigration to the United States took place in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, driven by economic and political forces. They traveled overland to the seaport of Samsun, followed by taxing sea journeys via Constantinople and Marseilles to Ellis Island or other U.S. ports of entry. Men usually intended to stay only long enough to return home to purchase land or open a business. Their brides and children were left behind in the care of the extended family during their absence. Tragically, the massacres and genocide tore them apart.

Many members of all families, including my ancestors, perished during the genocide years. My grandfather left Kharpert in 1895 after marrying my grandmother, who was eleven years old at the time. (I do not know if they consummated the marriage at that time, although I know their first child wasn’t born until 1908.) My grandfather became a naturalized citizen in 1905. My grandmother arrived, according to public records, in 1907 or 1908 (existing records conflict). Between then and 1918 she produced five children–my father was the youngest.

While there are indications that my grandmother missed her homeland, the family as a whole embraced being Americans. As more family members joined them from “the old country,” some of the elders were less inclined to assimilate. But their offspring were so American they resisted speaking the language of their parents’ homeland (either Armenian or Turkish or both). The men fought in WWI and WWII. Armenian and Turkish was never spoken in the home I grew up in, unless elder family members were present – and even then it was a mix of Armenian and English! One of my aunts taught us how to count in Armenian, and of course a few swear words! But mostly they were so content in their new world, they increasingly left the old world behind.

Which isn’t always entirely a good thing, because that connection with your roots is a drive in all of us who didn’t have that first hand knowledge. That’s why so many services like Ancestry.com are so popular. There seems to be a drive in most of us to know who we are at the level of our genes – where we came from.

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BOOK TALK CATCH-UP

A lot has happened since January, when I began posting topics related to my new project about Armenians: the genocide, mass migration by survivors, and the generations of Armenian Americans they produced. That project is a long way from done, since I’m still in the research phase and haven’t begun to do any actual writing. All in good time.

Meanwhile, after a string (yes, a LONG string) of rejections by publishers and non-responses by agents, I’m happy to say I have a publisher for The Eyes Have It!!! Currently still in negotiations, I will provide updates in the coming weeks and months.

While I’m still happy-dancing, I’m also still immersing myself in experiences that feed my Armenian soul (in more ways than one!). Yesterday, I joined 15 or so women (and one man) at St Peter’s Armenian Church for a day of making Cheoreg (an Armenian sweet yeast roll) in preparation for their massive annual festival on June 1 and 2. What fun! Their stories abound, and vary from a recent immigrant from present-day Armenia, to a woman who was adopted as a baby and raised in an Italian family. She didn’t know she was Armenian until she took an ancestry DNA test! She now knows she’s 50% Armenian and 50% Italian. She’s searched out and met some of her Armenian relatives, most of whom didn’t know she existed (and for the few who did, she was a “family secret.”) These gatherings to prepare for the festival continue throughout the month of May. I’m signed up for only 2 more, due to a packed schedule. But if any time opens up, I will be sure to sign up for more! Yesterday’s efforts yielded 1039 rolls:

IMG_2934 (2) And because we packaged them 6 to a bag, there was one left over. One roll, torn into 15 pieces…but that tiny piece was pure heaven!

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