Culture of Courage

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A packed house at the Washington DC screening of Intent to Destroy

A packed house at the Washington DC screening of Intent to Destroy

ANCA Executive Director

Last week, I was honored to introduce Oscar-winner Terry George’s Armenian Genocide-era drama, The Promise, as part of the Smithsonian Folklife FestivalArmenia: Creating Home program’s Cultures of Survival series. Just a few hours ago, I had the chance to do the same, before a capacity crowd, for Intent to Destroy, Oscar-nominee Joe Berlinger’s remarkable documentary detailing the facts behind the Armenian Genocide, the depths of the denial, and a window into the making of The Promise, starring Oscar-winner Christian Bale.

he ANCA’s Aram Hamparian fielding questions following a capacity crowd screening of Intent to Destroy

he ANCA’s Aram Hamparian fielding questions following a capacity crowd screening of Intent to Destroy

There’s a story behind these screenings, one of quiet persistence, inspiring courage, and concrete progress.

It started about five years ago.

In October of 2013, the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Philip Kennicott broke the news about the White House pulling the plug on a plannedDecember 16th Smithsonian Institution display of the Armenian Orphan Rug, fearful of Turkish government retaliation against an official U.S. exhibition of this artifact simply because it was woven by child survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

This beautiful, one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted rug had been gifted to President Calvin Coolidge in appreciation of U.S. relief efforts, but was kept from the American people as a result of direct foreign pressure – a shocking example of Turkey’s gag-rule being enforced down to the level of the types of art that our nation’s cultural institutions are allowed to display, even at the cost of downgrading a proud chapter in American history.

It took bipartisan Congressional protest, coverage by the Washington PostNPR, the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets, a sustained nationwide ANCA grassroots campaign, and the intervention of the National Security Council to finally get the rug released the following year for a brief display in the White House Visitors Center, without – very notably – any meaningful historical context or a single mention of the Armenian Genocide.

Fast forward to this summer.

To the 2018 Folklife Festival – the Smithsonian’s signature national event, drawing millions of on-site and on-line visitors.

The Festival, this year, is hosting a remarkable Cultures of Survival series of narrative sessions and film screenings as part of its landmark Armenia: Creating Home program. These sessions underscore the central role of culture – in all its forms, from food and crafts to music and dance – in helping people survive and thrive through and beyond genocide, war crimes, and other violence, moving from displacement to resilience. Interactive sessions include “Armenians in America,” “Making Meaning: Economic and Healing Power of Craft,” “Giving Voice: Language and Cultural Survival,” “Sounding Memory: Music & Migration,” and “Tastes of Home: Food Enterprises.” The film screenings of The Promise and its companion documentary Intent to Destroy – very appropriately – speak powerfully to the culturally-inspired resilience and rebirth of Armenians and other survivors of genocide, war crimes, mass violence, and forced displacement.

The screening at America’s premier national festival of these two major films – produced through the generosity of the late Kirk Kerkorian and the leadership of Eric Esrailian – represents a high-profile challenge to Turkey’s denials and a powerful blow against those in the U.S. government who, despite past American recognition of this crime, remain actively complicit in Ankara’s obstruction of justice for the Armenian Genocide.

To the Smithsonian’s great credit, each film is cited with clear reference to the Armenian Genocide.

No bans. No gag-rules. No word games, evasive language, or euphemisms.

No cultural or artistic censorship.

Just the truth.

It took five years. Lots of work. And many brave allies.

But, together, we defended historic memory against the forces of denial – ensuring that the lessons of the past are understood and applied in seeking to prevent new atrocities.

We are, step by step, federalizing Armenian Genocide remembrance.

Against the full force of the Turkish government – building upon past recognition – we are working to ensure that the Armenian Genocide is forever condemned and appropriately commemorated across our nation’s government and civil society. We are integrating the lessons of this crime into U.S. foreign policy and educating America’s school children about its history – aggressively and relentlessly marginalizing those who, either bullied or bribed by Ankara, would dare enforce a foreign gag-rule here on American soil.

Today’s the happy ending to a long story, thanks to the inspiring courage of the Smithsonian’s leadership and our collective commitment to #KeepThePromise.
The full schedule of Cultures of Survival programming is provided below and available here.
Armenians in America
June 28, 2018 | 3 p.m. and July 7, 2018 | 1 p.m.
Hyurasenyak Stage, Armenia: Creating Home
The Armenian American Diaspora(s) are made up of several waves of migration. This session explores the legacy of Armenians in America and Armenian involvement in humanitarian efforts around the world today. Participants include historian and author of Armenians in America: A 400-year Heritage Hayk Demoyan; Armenian American entrepreneur, philanthropist and co-founder of Aurora Humanitarian Initiative Noubar Afeyan; and Chairman Emeritus and Board Director of the Near East Foundation Shant Mardirossian. This discussion is moderated by Jim Deutsch, curator, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Making Meaning: Economic and Healing Power of Craft
June 29, 2018 | 2 p.m.
Hyurasenyak Stage, Armenia: Creating Home
Survival is the singular focus for those displaced by genocide, war crimes, or other violence. Traditional craft is proven to play a role in healing trauma and also provides a livelihood that can provide financial security in unfamiliar environments. Syrian Armenian embroiderers Maral Sheuhmelian-Berberian and Ayda Sandourian discuss the role craft has played in their personal and family histories, from surviving genocide to leaving Aleppo and settling in Yerevan. This discussion is moderated by Adam Gamwell, podcast host/producer, This Anthro Life.

Giving Voice: Language and Cultural Survival
July 1, 2018 | 2 p.m.
Hyurasenyak Stage, Armenia: Creating Home
How does language shape the sustainability of culture and identity in migrant communities? What are the pressures that threaten language sustainability when people are forced to leave their communities of origin? What are some strategies for preserving language?

This session explores these questions through conversation with Armenian program participants and representatives of the D.C.-based Mayan League, an organization working to sustain Mayan culture, communities, and lands. Participants include Syrian Armenian artisan Ayda Sandurian; Levon Avdoyan, an Armenia and Georgia area specialist at the Library of Congress; and Alejandro Santiago González (Maya Ixil) and Mercedes M. Say Chaclan (Maya K’iche’) of the Mayan League. The discussion is moderated by Mary S. Linn, curator of cultural and linguistic revitalization, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Sounding Memory: Music & Migration
July 4, 2018 | 2 p.m.
Hyurasenyak Stage, Armenia: Creating Home
Music is one of the human expressions where rootedness and distant influences can be readily identified. Kumera Genet, D.C.-based musician, youth educator, and community organizer, leads a conversation with Arto Tunçboyaciyan, a renowned composer, multi-instrumentalist, and leader of the Armenian Navy Band. Their discussion explores how heritage, migration, and exile shape creative practices, and the way Armenian musical traditions have influenced and been themselves transformed through transnational experiences.

Tastes of Home: Food Enterprises
July 5, 2018 | 2 p.m.
Hyurasenyak Stage, Armenia: Creating Home
A source of sustenance and the centerpiece of social gatherings, food can function as a touchstone to heritage, a form of expression and communication, and as an avenue for improving livelihoods. Andy Shallal, D.C.-based artist, activist, and entrepreneur (owner of Busboys & Poets), leads a conversation on this topic with Armenian and U.S.-based food entrepreneurs whose businesses have been shaped by contemporary migrations caused by conflict and war. Panelists include Andranig Kilislyan of Abu Hakob, a family-owned restaurant that moved from Aleppo to Yerevan in 2014; Noobtsaa Philip Vang, founder of D.C.-based Foodhini; and Liana Aghajanian, Detroit-based journalist and producer of the Dining in Diaspora blog.


The Stuff of Thought: A Gallery Talk on Arshile Gorky’s Khorkom
June 23, 2018 | 2 p.m.
Kreeger Museum, 2401 Foxhall Road, Washington, DC
Born Vostanik Manoug Adoian in the village of Khorkom near Lake Van in the Ottoman Empire, Armenian American Arshile Gorky (c. 1902–1948) was one of the most influential painters of the twentieth century. The land of his birth—as well as the loss and suffering experienced in it—found its way into an extraordinary body of work. One such painting, Image in Khokorm, is now on view in at the Kreeger Museum. Join us for a spirited talk on the piece and what it says about place, longing, and creativity, led by museum docent Irene Abrahamian. The afternoon will include music and light refreshments.

Storytelling: History, Healing, and Hope

Films presented by ANCA Endowment Fund #KeepThePromise
June 29, 2018 | 6:30 p.m.
U.S. Navy Memorial, 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
The Promise
An Armenian Genocide-era epic of love and survival by Academy Award-winning Director Terry George, starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Academy Award winner Christian Bale.

Thursday, July 5, 2018 | 6:30 p.m.
E Street Cinemas, 555 11th Street NW
Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial and Depiction
Filmmaker Joe Berlinger meets with historians and scholars to discuss the Armenian Genocide and its denial, set during the filming “The Promise.”

Ara and Onnik Dinkjian with the New York Gypsy All-Stars
July 3, 2018 | 12:00 p.m.
Coolidge Auditorium, Jefferson Building, Library of Congress, 10 First St. SE, Washington, D.C.
Onnik Dinkjian, at 88 years old, remains America’s most renowned Armenian folk and liturgical singer. He has preserved Armenian folk songs from the villages of Anatolia in eastern Turkey, especially in the unique dialect from his ancestral city of Diyarbekir. Onnik will be joined by an ensemble that includes his son Ara, a highly accomplished oud player. Presented in partnership with the American Folklife Center.

Source: Asbarez
Link: Culture of Courage