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FP: How come the annihilation of the Armenians is not discussed in our media and higher culture?
Hovannisian: The two most dangerous things, explosive in combination: apathy and denial.
But at least the first is to be expected. The Armenian Genocide is by now almost a hundred years old. And that’s just about the statute of limitations on memory — unless, of course, memory is guarded and cherished and championed from the dust.
The second reason is more sinister. To this day, the Turkish government denies the reality of the Armenian Genocide, and its allies in the American government — under the influence of cowardice and politics — remain shamefully silent on the issue. And let me say that this silence is not so much a sin against the Armenian people as it is a sin against the American people. The fact is that the undeniable evidence of the Armenian Genocide was collected, in great part, by the American ambassadors, consuls, and missionaries who were stationed in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. It was Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. Ambassador to Constantinople, who saw first those massacres as “a campaign of race extermination” — the dictionary definition of “genocide.” The word itself hadn’t been coined yet, but when Raphael Lemkin, a Polish scholar of Jewish descent, did coin it in 1943, he himself applied it to the crime perpetrated by the Young Turk regime against the Armenian people.
FP: The reality of Armenia and post-Soviet “democracy”?
Hovannisian: My father moved to Armenia in 1989 with all the dream and faith and ambition in the world. But the truth is that he learned very soon that democracy would not grow so easily on soil tyrannized and communized for centuries. Today the Armenian government is ruled by “oligarchs” — a strange breed of businessman, thug, and politician — which are miniature versions of the same surrounding the Kremlin in Moscow. Elections are rigged. Corruption is rampant. And by now it is clear that Armenia has yet to overcome the shadow of Communism.
Of course my father is not the foreign minister anymore. He is the leader of the opposition Heritage Party in parliament.
FP: Share with us a bit about your writing past, how you got started.
Hovannisian: It began with sonnets to imaginary mistresses; that was in elementary school. Then, sometime in middle school, I got drawn into the dark and twisted netherworld of Edgar Allan Poe. In high school, I turned political. Frontpage, actually, was among the first magazines to publish my fury and resentment of the academic establishment: the chronic political correctness, the attack on intellectual diversity, the sabotage of academic freedom. With my friend Alec Mouhibian, whose dazzling essays you have also read on Frontpage, we put out a newsletter called “A Dose of Sense” and relished our newfound notoriety. Later at UCLA, I wrote a weekly column for The Daily Bruin, then moved out to start my own paper, The Bruin Standard — guardian of the counterculture.
I don’t write much politics anymore, but my inconsolable individualism is, I think, the evidence of those days of battle.
FP: Any feedback on the book that has surprised you?
And do you feel now, perhaps, that you have achieved some liberation with the book having been written and published? Has your relationship with the “haunt” changed? Has a bit of a weight been taken off of you?
Hovannisian: I am surprised by your interest, to be honest — and very grateful. The book has just been released to much excitement in the Armenian American communities, but it has yet to catch the attention of our national media. I get it. It does require a bit of imagination to pick up a book like mine, but I have to believe that those who invest some faith in Family of Shadows will be rewarded by it — not because its author has any special talents, but because the story itself is truly dramatic, deeply meaningful, and so relevant to our world.
As for the “haunt,” I must confess that I’ve only acquired new demons. Now I must live with the anxiety that I haven’t really done justice to my family story. You know, I realized that it’s an impossible thing to accomplish justice in words.
FP: Well, my friend, Family of Shadows is truly deeply meaningful and it’s written with a profound voice and message. I wish you healing and can only say that, in my view, your brilliant and moving book brings immeasurable justice to your family’s story. You should be proud, not only of your gigantic effort, but also of the magnanimity of heart and mind that shines through your words — and that clearly influenced you to take on this journey.
One feels after reading your book, and doing this interview with you, that one is in the company of a very special person — a person that has accomplished the justice he seeks on so many realms.
Thank you, Garin K. Hovannisian, for not allowing the truth to be buried, for bringing respect to the memory of the 1.5 Armenians who were murdered by the Turks, and for bringing to light the fascinating and profoundly meaningful narrative of your family.
It was an honor to speak with you and to be a witness of your family’s story that you have so elegantly and powerfully put into words.
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