Ara Baliozian: words with meanings

Ara Baliozian: words with meanings

Ara Baliozian, Armenian-Canadian writerAzad-Hye, Dubai, 14 October 2006: After knowing the work of Ara Baliozian (born in Athens 1936, lives in Canada) and the depth of his writings, a question pops up: Why this author is not a celebrated personality amongst the Armenians? The answer is not difficult to guess. He has been an ardent critic of the Diasporan institutions, never compromising on his principles and always courageous in telling the truth. These are virtues rarely applauded in our society, where preserving the national identity is equal to keeping old-fashioned traditions. Hence, it is not strange that someone like Baliozian is not known to the wider public.


Below is an interview with Ara Baliozian, followed by brief biography, list of publications and samples of his most recent reflections and quotations.


You are known for your opposition to the traditional way of leading Armenian public life in the Diaspora. Do Armenians in Canada (or anywhere else) lead a different kind of community life, enjoying the benefits of the democratic countries where they have settled?

My anti-establishment views are not exactly mine alone. They belong to our literature from Khorenatsi (5th century) to Zarian (20th century). As for the Armenian community in Canada or anywhere else: they are run by authoritarian and anti-democratic institutions that belong to our political parties and churches. It is an unfortunate fact that we have not yet been thoroughly de-ottomanized and de-sovietized.


Much of what you say is common and known facts but still when it is phrased bluntly it is not appreciated. How do you explain this? Is it something psychological?

Dupes and brainwashed partisans may refuse to see facts, but not Armenians with the minimum degree of common sense and decency.


How many words do you need to describe a present day Armenian? Do you need to use the same vocabulary that used to describe an Armenian of the 1950s or 1920s?

There are basically two different species: The Ottomanized and Sovietized on the one hand and the born-again human beings.


Is there a magical way of solving the existing problems in Armenia? Has there been real diagnosis of the problems?

No magic is needed. Only an enlightened community.


Do you think a strong Armenia will remember the Armenian Diaspora or it will only care for the tax-payers?

I don?t have much trust in politicians and nations as much as individuals. I expect little or nothing from our politicians, whose ethics are lower than a snake?s belly full of buck shot.


What is the most effective way to support Armenia?

By refusing to support the corrupt.


You are known to express lots of ideas in few sentences, but don?t you think that sometimes details could shed more light on a particular subject?

Since I have published 30 books and written literally thousand of commentaries I find there is an overabundance of detail in my writings.


Young Armenians need to see things more clearly: how they can achieve this?

By reading more of our great writers as opposed our self-appointed pundits and academics who have no interest in our literature, only in our Middle Ages and in the massacres.


Do you think that we should work diplomatically with Arab or Islamic countries to explain them our historical presence in the area and encourage them to recognize the Genocide, or this is something that will automatically follow as the World recognizes the Genocide?

The alternative of being diplomatic is to be undiplomatic ? not a viable option. As for Genocide recognition: Nations do whatever is in their own best interest. Ethics is for individuals not, it seems, for tribes, nations and empires. The British have a slogan: ?We have neither friends nor enemies. Only interests?.


You have translated a lot of literature work into English. Do you think by translating Armenian works into Arabic we gain the attention of the Arabs? What kind of work should we translate?

The best works, of course. But as I said, don?t expect literary masterpieces to change a politician?s mind.




Ara Baliozian is an Armenian ? Canadian author, translator, and critic, born in Athens, Greece, 1936. He received his education at the Mekhitarist College of Mourad Raphaelian in Venice, Italy, where he also studied economics and political science at the University of Ca Foscari. He now lives in Ontario, Canada, where he devotes his full time to writing. He has been published in both Armenian and English. He is also the winner of many prizes and government grants for his literary work, which includes fiction, drama, literary criticism, and translations from Armenian, French and Italian. He now mostly posts his works on different Armenian internet discussion boards.

Ara Baliozian's writings

Memoirs and Fiction

– The Horrible Silence: An Autobiographical Novella (Maral Press, 1982)

– In the New World (Voskedar, 1982)

– The Call of the Crane/The Ambitions of a Pig (Voskedar, 1983)

– The Greek Poetess and Other Writings (Impressions Publishers, 1988)


Historiographical Works

– The Armenians: Their History and Culture (AGBU Ararat Press, 1980)

– The Armenian Genocide & The West (Impressions Publishers, 1984)

Armenia Observed: An Anthology


Critical Works

– Portrait of a Genius and Other Essays (A/G Press, 1980)

– Views/Reviews/Interviews: Critical Articles, Conversations (A/G Press, 1982)

– Voices of Fear (Impressions Publishers, 1989)

– Perseverance: Ara Baliozian and the Armenian Cause (Impressions Publishers, 1990)

– That Promising Reality: New Visions & Values, The Armenian Revival (Impressions Publishers, 1992)

– Definitions: A Critical Companion to Armenian History and Culture (Impressions Publishers, 1998)

– Unpopular Opinions (Impressions Publishers, 1998)

– Fragmented Dreams: Armenians in Diaspora

– Intimate Talk

– Undiplomatic Observations

– Pages from my Diary: 1986-1995

– Conversations with Nazali Bagdasarian



– Puzant Granian, My Land, My People

– Puzant Granian, Selected Poems / 1936-1982

– Zabel Yessayan, The Gardens of Silihdar & Other Writings (Ashod Press, 1982)

– Gostan Zarian, The Traveller & His Road (Ashod Press, 1981)

– Gostan Zarian, Bancoop & the Bones of the Mammoth (Ashod Press, 1982)

– Gostan Zarian, The Island & A Man (Kar Publishing House, 1983)

– Krikor Zohrab, Zohrab: An Introduction (Kar Publishing House, 1985)



– From Plato to Sartre: Wisdom for Armenians

– Armenian wisdom : A Treasury of Quotations & Proverbs

– Dictionary of Armenian Quotations (Impressions Publishers, 1998)



An elegantly dressed, coiffed, and bejeweled lady on Armenian TV spouting all the predictable clich?s, among them: ?There is corruption in Armenia, certainly! But then there is corruption everywhere, including Canada.? With one important difference: in Canada, when exposed, the corrupt are fired, sometimes even arrested, tried and jailed. Also, I have never heard a Canadian justify corruption by saying there is corruption everywhere.


?We shouldn?t judge our brothers in the Homeland.

Are we better than they??

True! We are not. We too are at the mercy of charlatans with their perennial Panchoonie punch line, ?Mi kich pogh oughargetsek? (Send us a little money); and because I have been saying this, I have become persona non grata, and in the eyes of our chauvinists, an enemy of the people. Besides, if we don?t judge the corrupt, in a way we judge and condemn the victims at the mercy of bloodsucking parasites.


?The police stop and give you a ticket for traffic violations you didn?t commit.?

This may explain why everyone wants to emigrate except the police, who, according to a recent visitor ?are the fattest and ugliest men I have ever seen.?


?It may take two generations for our brothers in the Homeland to abandon their Soviet ways.?


Who benefits from this kind of talk? Surely not the victims. As for their victimizers: it is almost as if they were given a license to carry on with the full protection and consent of the people for another forty or fifty years ? a license for which they didn?t even apply.


I have said this before and it bears repeating: our national sport is the blame-game: we blame the ?red? massacres on the Turks and on the indifference of the Great Powers; the ?white? massacre (exodus from the Homeland and assimilation in the Diaspora) on ?social, economic, and political conditions beyond our control?; our tribalism on our climate and geography; and now, our corruption on the Kremlin. During the Soviet era I don?t remember any one of our chic Bolsheviks in the Diaspora complaining about Soviet corruption. On the contrary. We were told we were in the best of hands and we never had it so good.


?Let?s not forget that, as a state, Armenia is only a new-born child.?

And yet, when it suits us, we claim to be one of the oldest civilizations, after which we brag about the fact that at a time when most of Europe lived in huts and caves, we enjoyed a Golden Age.


To those who explain and justify our criminal conduct, may I remind them that evil triumphs only when the majority adopt a passive stance and they justify their cowardice, moral moronism, and absence of vision by engaging in charlatanism.


On reading Yervant Odian?s COUNCILMAN?S WIFE (first serialized at the turn of the last century, later published in book form in 1921) one thing becomes abundantly clear:  the Armenian community of Istanbul consisted of morally bankrupt schemers (I am being politically correct now, because ?a bunch of degenerates? would be closer to the truth) who spent their lives backbiting and plotting against one another.


What has changed? As far as I can see, only one thing: we no longer have writers like Odian willing to write about what they see and experience. What we have instead are academics and self-appointed pundits who, afraid to deal with the dark side of our collective existence (please note that I am not saying community life) feel more comfortable and safe writing about the past, and if it?s not the Middle Ages, it?s the massacres, as if we were history”? I use the word in its colloquial meaning.


If we need two generations to de-Sovietize ourselves, how many generations do we need to de-Ottomanize ourselves?


Where the corrupt are in charge, honesty will be outlawed. Where the mediocre are in charge, excellence will be suppressed. Which is why to adopt a passive stance towards the corrupt and the mediocre is to condemn the nation to the death of a thousand cuts. As for those who like to brag about our resilience, adaptability, and instinct for survival: I suggest, to drag on a degraded existence is worse than death.


Do I repeat myself? Why not? How many times are our clich?s and fallacies repeated? And I don?t mean harmless, infantile, and meaningless clich?s, like first nation this and first nation that, but dangerous ones, like the one about two generations mentioned above?.


Instead of meritocracy we have mediocracy, and instead of honesty we have charlatanism. A corrupt power structure conducts a genocidal policy towards all honest men as surely as Talaat did towards all innocent women and children. Now then, go ahead and parrot the two generations clich? with a clear conscience, if you can.


We were morally and politically right to rise against the Ottoman Empire. But we were dead wrong in our reliance on the verbal commitments of the Great Powers. Which means that even our so-called heroes behaved like dupes; even our so-called revolutionaries lacked self-reliance. And what could be more cowardly than heroes and revolutionaries who are afraid of free speech?


If you make a study of censorship and its victims (from Socrates to Solzhenitsyn) you may notice that its aim is to silence not charlatans and liars but men of integrity and truth. My final question is: Do you really believe some day in forty or fifty years our charlatans and parasites will see the light and usher in another Golden Age?


Somewhere along the line I decided that I knew not only everything I needed to know but also what others needed to know, and ever since then my life has been a concatenation of blunders, among them my decision to be not just a writer but an Armenian writer. I know now that the certainty of being right is the greatest source of error.


What is history? What else but the clash of two sets of charlatans and their dupes?


Not being a historian I must rely on the testimony of historians, and when these historians contradict one another, common sense tells me to rely on historians who are in a better position to be objective and impartial.

This automatically excludes all nationalist, tribal, and partisan historians.


In his efforts to silence me, one of our flunkeys with ?leadership qualities? (if you can imagine such an absurdity), once said to me: ?Do you really think you are the only writer who has been unfairly treated?? To which I replied: ?Of course not. That?s why I speak with the strength of many.?


Since dialogue is anti-Armenian, it follows it is a waste of time to reason with a man you can silence.


Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for two reasons: (one) in addition to being a good writer, he enjoyed Turkish popular support, and (two) he exposed the lies of Turkish propaganda. You may now guess why so far no Armenian writer has been awarded the Prize.


If we don?t betray them to the authorities, we beat them up or silence them. For Armenians divide themselves only against their enemies?. If you read the biographies of our greatest writers. What am I saying? There are no biographies of Oshagan or Zarian.


If most men disappoint us, it may be because we make too many unreasonable demands on them. On the day we convince ourselves that the average man is very much like ourselves, a bundle of contradictions and a self-centered bastard with the potential of a hero or a saint, we may be more willing to see the potential and to ignore the actual.


As the last but one Pope said when he visited a mosque, both Christians and Muslims believe in the same God who is love, mercy, and compassion. What the good Pope failed to say is that what we believe may well be propaganda.


The true aim of education consists in preparing young minds to oppose injustice even if doing so may be against one?s own self-interest.


Guenter Grass (contemporary German author and winner of the Nobel Prize): ?History is a clogged toilet. We flush and flush, but the shit keeps rising.? Why is it that we Armenians are incapable of producing such a sentence?


By ignoring the dark side of our history, we sink deeper into filth. Is it conceivable that we will wake up from this nightmare only on the day we drown?


To pretend that we had nothing to do in shaping our destiny as a nation and by extension our identity, or to pretend the Genocide was engineered by the doubletalk of the West and the savagery of the Turks, is to admit that adopting a passive stance has become an integral part of our identity, and so far we have done nothing to expose this scandal and to combat against it.


The average Armenian thinks all he has to do to discharge his patriotic duty is to make periodic contributions to our Panchoonies.


The average Greek today brags about Socrates but ignores the fact that it was average Greeks like him who condemned him to death. This is true not only of Greeks but also patriots of all nations. Patriotism is unthinkable without propaganda. No one who knows and understands history says, ?My country, right or wrong!?


When Jesus said ?They know not what they do,? he was talking about the average citizen who is capable of committing the most unspeakable crimes with a clear conscience on the grounds that his conduct is motivated by such selfless and noble principles as obedience to established laws and love of country. Even as he sinks deeper and deeper into filth, he pleads not guilty by reason of unawareness and ignorance.


Suicide is a luxury the very poor can?t afford bcause they are too busy trying to survive.


In a corrupt democracy as soon as you throw one set of rascals out, another set moves in. Very often voting consists in rejecting a barrel of rotten apples for the sake of another.


If you think you know better, sooner or later you will run across someone who knows better.


Only after we reject all role models we may discover our true selves. Role models, even the very best, have the validity of hearsay evidence.


Speaking of his Nazi past, Guenter Grass said, ?I was too young to be guilty.? I have every reason to suspect, had Germany won, he would have bragged about his service to the nation.


The only reason I concentrate on our failings is that we are in a position to do something about them. As for the failings of the rest of the world: what's the use of bitching?


Last night on CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] an interview with a Turkish novelist who was taken to court because in her latest book an Armenian character from San Francisco refers to Turks as ?butchers.? The Turks, it seems, are so eager to achieve membership in the European

Union that even a single word in a work of fiction bothers the hell out of them.


In the same way that we are brought up to believe we are a nation of heroes and martyrs, the Turks are brought up to believe they are a nation of empire builders and noble warriors, even if most of their so-called warriors were not Turks but brainwashed and castrated Christians.


Bernard-Henri Levy (contemporary French philosopher): ?Israeli writers are better politicians than Israeli politicians because imagination is a necessary ingredient of good politics. By using their imagination, writers are in a better position to understand what it means to be and feel like a Palestinian.?