Art and Letters at ALMA
ALMA Reception Remarks, Sunday, May 24th 2015
The World of C.K. Garabed
Esteemed Der Manuelian benefactors, honorable members of the Board, expert Curator Gary Lind-Sinanian, friends, and well-wishers: According to my philosophy, there is no such thing as a short speech. And since I intend to be brief with my remarks, I will attempt to deliver a non-speech. Any speaker worth his salt will inform his audience in advance of how long he intends to speak. I intend to speak for a half hour or so at most.
I’ll tell you what I’m going to tell you. I intend to cover four topics: 1. Public recognition of an artist. 2. Recitation of a poem 3. A review of some interesting Armenian surnames. 4. Narration of some Nasreddin Khoja tales.
As a brief introduction, permit me to tell you that I am not a man of letters, nor a fine artist, nor an accomplished musician. I am more so a dilettante, a dabbler, a jack of all arts and master of none. When you get right down to it, I see myself basically as an entertainer, and I entertain myself by entertaining others.
I’d like to make an observation about the three realms of creative thought, literature, art, and music. Whereas literature involves the use of words, art and music are non-verbal mental activities. And when I get tired of words, which does happen, I retreat into the other mysterious areas, which can be a great relief.
To sum up, I would like to say that some of the happiest moments in my life took place when I was thoroughly absorbed in creative activity. And that’s where the most meaningful moments of life reside.
Public recognition of an artist
Public recognition of an artist is highly pleasing to the artist. He may feel he deserves such recognition. However, if the artist is a mature individual, he will accept such recognition with reservations. He knows fully well that such matters are often the result of chance or promotion, or as is commonly referred to as “the breaks”. Hector Berlioz, the French composer, conductor, and music critic put it succinctly when he wrote, “The luck of having talent is not enough; one must also have a talent for luck.”
A sensible artist understands that the public cannot always be relied upon to be the arbiter of artistic taste, and thus he will prefer the genuine appreciation of the few to the sensationalistic adulation of the many.
A poem that I composed over 35 years ago and which was published in The Armenian Weekly in 1978, and which I later recited on the Armenian Radio Hour of NJ is titled ANATHEMA. Permit me to recite it for you in observance of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide:
HEY TURK! Did you think you disposed of me? That your conscience was clear because you erased your memory? That you could wash your mind of its historic bloody stains? Did you think you could eradicate my name as you did the inscriptions on the old stone churches in your midst? Did you think you could teach your children lies and then have them repeat your words and make them sound like truths because they came out of the mouths of babes? Did you think Time would heal your self-inflicted wounds? That your sins would not be visited upon your sons? Did you really think that by ignoring me you could stop me from gnawing away at your vitals? Did you really believe that you could sleep the sleep of the just? Ha!
I creep into your dreams at night I make you shudder in the dark. I inflame your guilt by magnitudes. I send a shiver down your spine. I show you pictures of your deeds: BUTCHERY and MORTIFICATION.
You called me “Kardash”; therefore I trusted you. We lived together side by side. I shared my ancient and historic homeland with you. I tilled the soil for both of us. I fashioned handicrafts for our mutual use. I infused your language and song with grace and finesse. I told myself that Christian love would bridge the gap between our worlds. I upheld the laws of the land. I fought in your army as a trustworthy subject. Too late did I discover your treachery.
History required that I play Abel to your Cain. But Abel’s story can be read and acknowledged. Not so with me. I must live with a truth that goes untrusted, unbelieved. Only I can be found telling the story and therefore am vilified for being self-serving.
“They say” I hate you. But my role is to point the accusing finger at your hatred of me. And your hatred is like a sickness that grows with self-awareness. As you strive to be equal with the civilized world, you repress more and more that which you cannot face. And the sickness continues to grow. Your aberrations will not cease. They will haunt you to spiritual death. And my curse will be upon you and your children. Never to be released! Damnation of the spirit is your rightful inheritance. And then will my revenge be complete. THE ARMENIAN
It is also on display here in the gallery in case you wish to study it
After such gravity, a little levity is in order.
A review of some interesting Armenian surnames
I don’t know if there is another language that has such interesting surnames as Armenian. I have delivered a lecture to various Armenian organizations on the etymology of Armenian surnames, including one on the Armenian Heritage Cruise. In preparation for my lecture on that occasion, I requested and received a list of passenger names that I could peruse beforehand. One name appeared rather unusual. It was Mircan Haviters. I sought him out and asked him about his name. He very kindly told me the story. In the city of Sepastia in Turkish Armenia, there lived and worked two master rug weavers. A wealthy resident of the city wished to have a rug woven, and commissioned one of the weavers to do the job. The weaver commenced the work, but when halfway through, died of consumption. The wealthy man who had commissioned the work then approached the other weaver to complete the job. This other master weaver accepted the offer, but being a proud artisan, decided to complete the job his own way. So, instead of picking up where the other had left off, he commenced from the other side and when he had gone for enough, joined the two parts. In doing so he ended up creating a rug with the nap going in opposite directions. This became a source for his being named haviters, hav (khav in old Turkish) meaning nap, and ters meaning contrary. Previously, the family name had been Manougian. (Compliments of grandson Mircan Haviters of Farmingdale, NY,whose ancestors moved from Van to Sepastia 1030 years ago.)
Another interesting name is Chukhaszian. Now, chukha in Turkish is a kind of broadcloth used in the manufacture of heavy coats, and thus by extension synonymous with winter overcoat. The suffix suz means without. Thus, without an overcoat. I wasn’t sure if it meant that the bearer of the name could not afford an overcoat, or that he didn’t need one. It wasn’t until I was introduced by my brother-in-law Ardashes Hamparian to Levon Chookaszian, Professor of Art History at Yerevan State University, when he visited the U.S that I was able to settle the matter. Levon advised that the name began with a forebear, in Sepastia, where he bravely went out in winter without an overcoat. Levon also stated that all the persons with that name and variations thereof are related, including Lily Chookasian, the famous opera singer.
George Bournoutian, historian, author, and Senior Professor of History at Iona College, has an interesting surname. When I communicated with him some time ago about his family name, I presumed that it had to do with the trade of snuff tobacco. In Turkish, burun is nose, and utu is weed, therefore burun utu is nose weed or snuff tobacco. And burun utu became conflated as burnut. He very kindly replied that it was indeed the case, as his family historically was in the snuff tobacco business.
Now, the name Chakmakjian isn’t all that unusual. But, I’d like to address it because I have some very interesting things to say about it.
If you consult a modern Turkish dictionary you will find that chakmak is defined as a striker, more specifically, a flint lighter. Therefore a chakmakji would be a purveyor of pocket lighters. But, historically, chakmak meant the steel used to strike flint such as the trigger of a flintlock gun. Therefore, a chakmakji would be defined as someone who worked on firearms.
Haroutioun Hovanes Chakmakjian, originally from Adana, Turkey, migrated to the United States and eventually became a Professor of Biological Chemistry at Tufts College Medical School. He was the Editor of The Hairenik newspaper from 1908 to 1912. He published an English-Armenian Dictionary, which is still in use.
He married a Wellesley graduate of Scottish-English extraction, and they had a son who was named Alan, who studied music and became a pianist and composer. When, in his own words, Alan discovered that his name Chakmakjian meant gunsmith, and being a pacifist, he adopted his grandfather’s name and became Alan Hovhaness, and went on to become the world-renowned composer of over 400 works, and who actually was born in nearby Somerville and for whom there is a memorial plaque in Whittemore Park, Arlington Center.
I have an interesting anecdote to relate about Alan Hovhaness. Back in the early 1950s, the ARF Committee of New York was planning a cultural event and invited Hovhaness to perform his compositions on the piano. The committee also engaged a secondary performer, a soprano named Alice Hamparian, to sing some Armenian songs, probably by Gomidas. On the appointed evening, Alice arrived, but her accompanist had not. So she called and discovered that her accompanist was too sick to leave the house. Alice broke the bad news to the chair of the committee, who promptly approached Alan, and told him what a jam they were in, and could he help out. Alan asked if the singer had her music, to which the chair replied in the affirmative. And so the show went on, with Alan sight-reading all the way. Some years later, when Alice Hamparian had become Alice Kasbarian, my wife, I asked her how it went. She replied, “He was the best accompanist I ever had.” Such is the measure of the man. Narration of some Nasreddin Khoja tales
You notice that I refer to this personage as Khoja and not Hoja, as all the other writers do. That’s because I believe that the kh sound, which was prevalent in Ottoman Turkish, and borrowed from Arabic, was supplanted by the h sound when the Turkish language was modernized and Europeanized by the scholar Hagop Martaian, at the behest of Mustafa Kemal, who afterwards bestowed upon him the honorary title of “Dilachar” which means “tongue-opener.”
Most people identify the Khoja legend with Turkish culture simply because it flourished greatly during the Ottoman Turkish era. However, just as Turkish Coffee, Turkish Bath, Turkish Towel, and Turkish Delight are not truly Turkish, the tales ought not to be appropriated strictly by the Turks, as so many other cultures contributed significantly to the extensive body of these folk tales, not least of which are the Armenians. In fact, my father told me that it was the Armenians who beautified the Turkish language. A typical Khoja tale often reveals an unusual twist in logic, or a retort by Nasreddin that is confounding and unanswerable. You will observe this in a few of the tales that I propose to narrate. 1. Khoja’s wife and donkey die 2. Beggar calls Khoja to come down 3. Khoja at the Bathhouse 4. Khoja on his deathbed Thus concludes my non-speech. I hope you were entertained.