Hagop Oshagan:December 9, 1883-February 17, 1948

Oshagan ~~Tomorrow marks the sixty-seventh anniversary of Hagop Oshagan’s death.  He died in Aleppo, Syria, the victim of a massive heart attack, the night before he and a group of writer friends were to set out on a memorial visit to the killing fields of Der Zor.  The annotation of this photograph, in my mother, Anahid Oshagan Voskeritchian’s handwriting indicates that the heart attack began at this desk, while he was writing.

Oshagan was buried in Aleppo.  It is estimated that some 20,000 mourners were in attendance. The large turnout notwithstanding, Oshagan would have found irony, if not the cruel hand of fate, in the choice of his final resting place.  He loved Aleppo deeply, but his preference was elsewhere:   “–In the shade of Ararat: Even without a tombstone, without a sign, without an inscription:  But the hot earth on me, in the depths of my ancestors’ blood.”

The earth, light, on Hagop Oshagan. ~~





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Snow: The long, white sleep of Massachusetts…

~~For the past two weeks or so, my colleague and friend Rose Cummings, keen photographer of natural calamities which befall our New England landscape, has been posting images of the storms that have been pounding Massachusetts.  They are terrific photographs, turning the familiar into something utterly strange and otherworldly. In these photographs,  strangeness is suggestive of an eerie beauty, yes, but also of isolation, desolation, and the illusory nature of perspective itself as though the capacity for creating meaning out of such images — and of the snow itself that has brought our city’s public transport system to a standstill — has somehow been arrested.

Arrested, in both senses of the word.  Which, in the end, may be the lasting taste of this chain of storms that, we are told will extend into the weekend.  Not so much the frustrations, the crises, which we will forget.   But the gradual diminution of our pace to a crawl, then a pause, then a long, sleep-like through which the world looks like a mass of unfolding waves, too close, too far, outside our grasp somehow.

Thank you, Rose. Looking forward to your writing, too!~~


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Re-reading Michael Arlen’s “Passage to Ararat,” 2

…The story was true, I knew–a true and moving story, and one so far beyond my own experience.  But I found I wished his arm away from mine, wished away his frail hand, his tears.  “My father had committed no crime–can you believe it?  He had done nothing wrong.”  I could believe it. But I wished to be away, and out in the busy street.

Later, I thought, This cannot be Armenia, this cannot be what it is. Tears. Stories of evil times. Dark interiors and the croon of old men.  “My father had committed no crime.”  But he was killed, wasn’t he, and his brothers were killed, and his sisters were destroyed, and this old man–this boy–had been made to run and hide and to become small in his fear.  What kind of son was that?  What kind of father?

. . .

What had been so hard about it?  At first, I thought that I had been repelled by his tale of misery–that the details of his tragedy, as of a friend’s car accident or operation had been too rich to stomach.  But as soon as I thought this I knew that it was not so. I had never been squeamish about such things, and certainly not as a result of an old man’s lamentations. I realized that, instead, I was still possessed by a kind of fear.

. . .

We drove on awhile.  Saroyan talked about his children–a daughter in New York, a son in San Francisco. Family talk.  He asked me about my wife and children, about my sister, about my work. I felt something surprisingly paternal in his voice. It was a strange, deep feeling , as if we had known each other all along, when in fact I had met Saroyan only once before, briefly, a few years ago in New York, and had called him in Fresno only a week earlier to arrange our meeting.

. . .

…Then he bent down in front of a pile of dusty magazines and pulled one out.  “Did you ever see this?” he said.  It was a copy of an old English-language Armenian magazine. Saroyan opened it to an picture of my father; in fact, it was a reproduction of a photograph that had appeared on a cover of Time in 1927–now with a short not beside it on the “popular Anglo-Armenian novelist, formerly Dikran Kouyoumjian.”  Saroyan held the magazine open for a moment, and then put it down on the table. “It’s a good photo of him, isn’t it?” he said.  “Such confidence.”

“How is it that he never wrote anything serious about Armenians?” I asked.

“”I think he wasn’t that kind of writer,” Saroyan said. “He liked to be entertaining. He made a couple of good jokes about Armenians, as I remember.”

“Yes,” I said. “But how is it that you wrote all the time about Armenians and he never did?”

“I don’t know, ” said Saroyan. “Except that we all go on different journeys.  Just like you. Now you come here. And soon, I think, you must go to Erevan”

. . .

It was now midnight, or a bit later. We got in the car and drove through the silent streets of Fresno.  It was hard to tell in which direction we were going–out toward the country or in toward the downtown.  Darkened houses flicked by in the night.  “It is too bad you don’t know Armenian,” Saroyan said.  “Although you will survive.  But it is a marvelous language–marvelous sounds.  Do you know their songs? I shall sing one for you.”

Saroyan sang, rolling down the window of the car. Outside, it had begun to rain–one of those fine, sprinkling nighttime rains. Saroyan’s voice filled the car, the countryside silent except for the sound of our tires on the wet road.  “It is a song about love and injustice and about pomegranates getting ripe,” said Saroyan.  “In other words, about the important things in life.”

. . .

And so, in due course, I journeyed to Armenia–to Soviet Armenia, or what should be called more precisely the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.  Armenia is there, Saroyan had said. All right, I thought, I will go see it…


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January 19, the Christmas of the Jerusalem Armenians

Originally posted on Passages Home Blog:

~~On the occasion of the Christmas of Jerusalem Armenians, here is a re-posting from the archives.  Holy Christmas to all who carry Jerusalem in their hearts. ~~

On the evening of January 5, across the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond, Christians  participate in the re-enactment of the Nativity Story, and  break bread around a simple, mostly vegetarian meal.  All over the world, in churches that belong to the Eastern Christian denomination, the sweet fragrance of incense mixes with the voices of the faithful, the chants of the choirs with the tolling of the bells, the murmur of prayer with rustle of the cymbals and censers.

So, too, in places far away from the locus of the Christian story, here in Boston, for instance, the Orthodox churches are the sites of illumination and chant, prayer and good wishes for the new year. And while the rest of the world has gone back…

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Re-reading “Passage to Ararat” by Michael Arlen Jr.

~~There is a handful of works of literature–poems, novels, criticism– to which I return every few years the way I return to an old friend.  Michael Arlen Jr.’s “Passage to Ararat” is one such work. I read it first in the late 1970s, in Iowa City; then again in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and one more time since then, here in Boston. This will be my fourth reading which I think may be the most weighty. I have begun it only a day or two ago, of this year, the year which marks the centenary of the Ottoman Genocide of the Armenians.

A chronic marker of pages, I have already several pencil lines in the margins of this lovely gem of a book by a master stylist.  Its pages have already–and again– taken me in, taken me into Arlen’s tremble of emotion.  Unadorned, at times self-effacing and at others gently assertive, Arlen’s voice seems as powerful as it did when the book came out in 1976, the passage of the decades having neither diminished their import nor its relevance.

From time to time, I will post from the book, passages which I have loved. Familiar, yes, but also unexplored, new as though it was a first reading–which it is, of course.~~

9780374530129_p0_v2_s260x420~~At mid term, my father came alone to visit me, arriving in a chauffeur-driven car and carrying a box of chocolates.  For the first time in my life, I thought him strange–almost a stranger. I remember looking at him surreptitiously, sneaking glances at his face–looking for what?  I don’t  know.  I wanted him to tell me that we were really English, bu I didn’t know how to ask….I felt generally American, or perhaps for a while Anglo-American, but, clearly, there was also something missing. Something missing or added. I became conscious of being accompanied by a kind of shadow of “being  Armenian,” which other people sometimes noticed, or casually commented on, but which my father had said, in effect, did not exist.~~

~~Such small beginnings. That evening, for the first time, I met Armenians on my own.  Armenian women who laughed and asked too many questions. Thick-chested men who seemed always to have their arms around each other. Too many cups of coffee and small, sweet cakes. I was there–wherever there was. It was an uncertain beachhead, for I kept fighting off the desire to bolt.  Never let them get too close! But I also knew that a corner of some missing piece had briefly become visible. 

As I finally made my way toward the door, a voice called out, “You will come back!” I couldn’t tell whether it was a statement or a question.

“I will,” I said.

The journey had begun.~~

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Like Breath

A second “dispatch” from Paris in The Common.




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A city, a melody, and the past….

~~My “little” essay, Petite Fleur, has just been posted on The Common.


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