Tulipa armena

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Article about the Tulip and Armenia and Canada... by Antoine Terjanian

May 5, 2005

Ottawa Tulip Festival, May 2005

It is that time of year after the Winterlude season is over, when Ottawa starts attracting tourists again. It is the time of the world famous “Ottawa Tulip Festival”.

The festival originated with the generosity of HRH Princess (later Queen) Juliana of the Netherlands and the Dutch people. HRH expressed her gratitude to Ottawa, where one of her daughters was born and where she and her family found refuge during the Second World War, by sending us an annual gift of 20,000 bulbs of tulips.

Ottawa photographer, Malak Karsh, in love with the beauty of the tulip, conceived the idea of the “Tulip festival.” He founded it and promoted it. His Armenian family having escaped from Mardin, after the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, Malak was familiar with the splendor of this flower in his original homeland. When it was decided that playing on the Tulipomania of the XVIIIth century would bring an exotic flavour to the Tulip festival, Malak worked on the idea and brought it to fruition. In his typical spirit of “Peace and Friendship” he involved the Turkish Embassy in the project, and a Turkish pavilion has been part of the Ottawa Tulip Festival for a few years now. Some people now believe that tulips originated in Turkey, and a few are even aware that Sultan Ahmed III bankrupted the Sublime Porte (The Ottoman government) in 1730 because he speculated on Tulips as the bubble burst at the height of Tulipomania.

In her recent book “The Tulip”, even famous gardener-author, Anna Pavord, forgets that when she went hunting for one particularly beautiful variety of “brilliant red tulips”[1] in “Eastern Turkey”, she had actually set foot in “Historic Armenia”. Pavord recounts her first encounter with a truly indigenous variety of tulips there: Tulipa Armena. She writes: “…On the road between Askale and Tercan (sic)[2], we came across an isolated group of tulips, with at least two dozen flowers in full bloom…..We excavated one bulb and,…established that it must be T. armena, for it did not have much wool under its tunic[3].” Then, on the same page, Pavord goes to describe a strange encounter with an Erzerum wolf. She writes: “The …T.armena conundrum was rolling around my head like a riddle. I opened my eyes to find a wolf silhouetted against the sun… Only inches from my eyes, were the tulips, brilliant red blazes in the foreground. Behind them was the wolf, stark against the sky. When I sat up, it bolted away, disappearing into a low cave under a neighboring rock crag. The conjunction of the two was …enigmatic… I thought still of these tulips, slashes of brilliant blood welling from the bare… slopes of the mountain. Wolves were nothing to them… Millennia had passed by on this slope, while the wild tulip slowly, joyously had evolved and regenerated itself. Even now,…the tulips were plotting new feats, re-inventing themselves in ways that we could never dream of.”

I am as puzzled by this encounter with the wolf as Pavord seems to be. It brings to mind the very recent attempt by the Turkish government to change the scientific names of local animals. In a story aired last March by the BBC[4], an official with Turkey's Ministry of the Environment was quoted as saying that many old names were contrary to Turkish unity: "Unfortunately there are many other species in Turkey which were named this way with ill intentions. This ill intent is so obvious that even species only found in our country were given names against Turkey’s unity," a ministry statement quoted by Reuters news agency said. Some Turkish officials say the names are being used to argue that Armenians or Kurds had lived in the areas where the animals were found. The name changes affect the following: Red fox, known as Vulpes Vulpes Kurdistanica, would become Vulpes Vulpes. Wild sheep, called Ovis Armeniana, would become Ovis Orientalis Anatolicus. Roe deer, known as Capreolus Capreolus Armenus, would become Capreolus Cuprelus Capreolus.

Will the Turkish government also attempt to rename T. armena, this brilliant red beautiful wild tulip? Will they try to change the name of the apricot from Prunus Armeniaca? How far will they go to try and wipeout any evidence of Armenians from their historic homeland? How far will the genocide extend? I do sincerely hope that Turkish citizens of good will, will on their own put an end to these deceitful tactics of their government.

Perhaps Pavord’s vision was prophetic. Like the Armenians, the brilliant red tulips did regenerate themselves. Gagach is the Armenian name for tulips, and every year on April 24, mountains of these gagachs, brought by individuals in memory of their fallen family members, accumulate in front of the eternal flame at the Genocide memorial in Yerevan, Armenia[5].

So next time you visit beautiful Ottawa in May for the Tulip Festival, remember it might as well be named “Gagach Festival”.

Antoine S. Terjanian

is an Ottawa resident who spent one year working for sustainable development in the Republic of Armenia, as a volunteer.


[1] Pavord, Anna. “The Tulip” ISBN 1-58234-130-3, Bloomsbury, UK 1999. pp 19-21.

[2] Tercan, while pronounced ‘terjan’ by the Turks, is the spelling in the Turkish new alphabet of the ancient Armenian name « Terjan » which means in Armenian ‘Dear Lord’. This author should know better the meaning of his own patronymic.

[3] I can vouch for that ;-)

[4] See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4328285.stm

[5] See photo: http://www.genocideevents.com/html/armenia14.html