Unless otherwise indicated, the articles here and in the Archive appeared on www.globalresearch.ca

Of Politics and the Pope

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach Special to the Mirror-Spectator, may 19 2016
VATICAN — Pope Francis is preparing to visit first Armenia, then Azerbaijan and Georgia. With this visit, he is trying to bring peace and hope to a region that has been recently beset by troubles. He will visit Armenia June 24-26, and in the autumn, go to Georgia and Azerbaijan. According to the program released by the Vatican press office on May 13, the Pontiff’s visit will be apostolic, but will also include political talks. On June 24, after prayers at the Mother Cathedral of Holy Echmiadizin, with greetings by the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and the Pope, he will pay a courtesy visit to President Sargsyan in the Presidential Palace. Then he will meet with civil authorities and the Diplomatic Corps in the same venue, and will deliver a speech. Following this event, he will hold a private meeting with the Catholicos at his residence.
The second day, June 25, will begin with a visit to Tzitzernakaberd Memorial Complex, after which he will go to Gumri. There he is scheduled to celebrate Holy Mass in Vartanants Square and then to visit the Holy Martyrs Armenian Catholic Cathedral.
On his return to Yerevan, he will participate in an Ecumenical Encounter and Prayer for Peace in Republic Square. On the third  day, Sunday June 26, he will meet with Catholic Bishops of Armenia in the Apostolic palace at Echmiadzin, then will participate in the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral, during which the Catholicos will deliver the homily, and the Pope, greetings.
An ecumenical lunch is planned, with the Catholicos, archibishops and bishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
There will follow a meeting with delegates and benefactors of the Apostolic Armenian Church, and a Joint Declaration will be signed. His last visit will be to the Khor Virap Monastery, at the foot of Mount Ararat near the Turkish border, for prayer.
While it is impossible to know much about the content of the events, statements and declarations in his busy schedule, it is clear from the program that recognition of the genocide, ecumenical relations and perspectives for overcoming conflict with Turkey (and Azerbaijan) are on the agenda. Based on past performance, the Pope can be expected to speak out. As the Italians would put it, he is a person who “does not have hairs on his tongue.” No wonder, then, that his visit is awaited with such hopeful expectation.
In remarks made to the Catholic News Agency, the Armenian Ambassador to the Holy See Mikayel Minasyan stressed the importance of the visit for Armenians, coming as it does at the end of the centenary of the genocide and during the Year of Mercy proclaimed by the Pope. “The Armenians made the whole world see what it is to overcome an injustice,” he said. “They gave the possibility to the world to understand what a genocide is, what the denial of genocide is,” and recalled that the very term was coined on the basis of studies made of the Armenian genocide. The centenary, he said, had also been an occasion on which to recognize those who have supported the Armenians. Pope Francis stood out among them last year, when he offered a mass for the faithful of the Armenian Rite, in commemoration of the victims on April 12.
Ambassador Minasyan highlighted the historic significance of that mass, in the Pope’s “calling things as they are, creating another term, ‘ecumenism of blood.‘ An ecumenism,” he explained, “founded on blood, because the Armenians were exterminated also because they were Christians.” Minasyan stated, “Certainly Pope Francis made one of the most fundamental steps in celebrating the Mass in St. Peter’s inviting the hierarchy of the Apostolic Armenian Church and of the Armenian Catholic Church, and proclaiming St. Gregory Narek as a doctor of the Universal Church.” Minasyan said the Armenians were anticipating the Pope‘s visit “full of joy.” The Armenian people, he said, “are waiting with great excitement to manifest their own remembrance. Pope Francis is going to Armenia to fulfill this visit in full respect and love for the Armenian people and for their history.
And also,” he added, “the recognition of what the Armenian Republic represents now in that region.” Minasyan noted that the timing of the visit is particularly meaningful, in light of continuing denial of the genocide by Turkish authorities. “We are not closing this year,” he said, “turning a page. We are opening another book and this new book is titled, ‘the fight against denialism,’ and it is yet to be seen.” He considers recognition particulalry important considering what the genocide meant for the Middle East. “Now we see that in the past 100 years the quantity, speaking in percentages, of Christians is drastically diminishing. In the past five years, it has been something truly dramatic,” he said. “I don‘t want to put it into a box, but it all started with the Armenian Genocide.”

Erdogan Overplays His Hand

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach Special to the Mirror-Spectator, May 19, 2016
BERLIN — There are good reasons to believe that on June 2, the German Bundestag (Parliament) will vote up a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. The government coalition parties, Christian Democratic Union and Christian Socialist Union (CDU-CSU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD), plus the Green party, have agreed on a unified text, after intense debate and repeated postponements.
The title of the document is “Remembering and Commemorating the Genocide against the Armenians and other Christian Minorities in the Ottoman Empire 101 Years Ago.” This must have taken Turkish President Erdogan by surprise. Over the past weeks he has acted as though the agreement his government made with the EU over the refugee crisis had given him carte blanche in dictating European policy. According to the deal, Turkish citizens should be able to enter Europe without a visa, on condition Turkey comply with the preconditions, 72 in all. Among the requirements is a reform of Turkey’s notorious anti-terrorist laws, which currently allow the government to jail and maltreat journalists and human rights activists who issue critical views of its policies.
Erdogan demanded that visa restrictions be lifted by the end of June, and when EU refused, reminding him of the conditions (demanded of any country desiring  visa-free privileges), he exploded in a fit of narcissistic rage. In public speeches he railed that if the EU did not capitulate, Turkey would “go its own way” and that the EU could negotiate with someone else.
On May 12 he escalated the rhetoric, claiming the conditions for visa freedom had been cooked up after the fact to sabotage the agreement: “Now they come with 72 criteria!” he complained. Not only; he accused the EU of providing “terrorists” weapons and money to destabilize his country. Referring to the EU’s alleged orders to terrorists, Erdogan stated: “They say: Go and divide Turkey. Do you believe that we don’t know that?” And he flatly refused to make any changes in Turkish anti-terror legislation: “Since when do you tell Turkey what to do? Who gave you this right?”    It appears that Erdogan has grossly miscalculated the relationship of political forces.
The genocide resolution which he has feared is now on the agenda in Berlin, and no matter how loud the cries of protest come from Turkey, the politicians pushing it are resolute. “It may well be that there will be anger from Ankara,” Green Party leader Cem Özdemir, one of the initiators, told the tabloid  Bild Zeitung  on May 15. “But the Bundestag does not let itself be blackmailed by a despot like Mr. Erdogan.” Pointing to the historical documents in the wartime German Foreign Ministry archives, which are irrefutable, Özdemir continued, “After the decision of the Bundestag, it will be much more difficult for Turkey to deny it any longer.” Indeed, the German role historically considered has been and remains a key factor in the entire process. The leader of the SPD parliamentary faction Thomas Oppermann commented, “Germany, as the former main ally of the Ottoman Empire, bears a special historical responsability. This applies utterly independent of day-to-day political discussion about the refugee crisis. I am opposed,” he concluded, “to a subservient manner with Erdogan.” He advised against making the mistake of taking the wrong precautions.
And as for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU, its faction leader Volker Kauder highlighted the positive contribution genocide recognition can make to reconciliation: “We want to help [Turkey] work through its past, with the aim of overcoming what divides Armenians and Turkey.” In response so far Erdogan has reportedly dispatched his ambassador to lodge a protest against this use of the term “genocide.”

German-Armenian Ties Live On In Music

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror-Spectator
WIESBADEN, Germany, MAY 12, 2016 — When Bernhard Scheidt passed away in October last year, those closest to him thought long and hard about the most appropriate way to execute his estate. The German pianist and conductor, born in 1929 in Wiesbaden, had led a long and rich life in music, excelling as a student at the Detmold College of Music, and continuing with extensive studies under authorities like Theodore W. Adorno, whose seminar in Philosophy he attended at Frankfurt University. He studied Musicology with Gennrich und Schmitz, and Music Psychology with Prof. Albert Wellek. He was also a philologist, having studied Classical Philology with the leading authority Prof. Thierfelder at the Mainz University, and delivering a final paper on Cicero’s Somnium Scipionis.

Schedit prepared for his career as a musician by studying composition, piano, choir conducting and orchestra conducting under Prof. Günter Bialas, Prof. Conrad Hansen, Prof. Rudolf Thomas and Conductor Karl Elmendorff, respectively. Throughout his long career as a performing musician, he accumulated a vast collection of musical scores, not only for piano, on which he performed, but for ensembles and full symphonic orchestras, which he conducted.

The question for Sabine Meerwein, herself a professional solo soprano and Scheidt’s long-term companion, was: on whom should she bestow the valuable scores? Who or what institution might most benefit from such a gift, and at the same time, honor his achievements and memory?

On New Year’s Eve 2015, she happened to read an article in the local newspaper, the Wiesbadener Courier, about the Mirak-Weissbach Foundation and its work in Armenia, especially in support of musical education for youth. She was especially struck by the idea of developing children through the transmission of great culture. She contacted the foundation to ask whether it might be able to identify a worthy recipient of the scores. After several discussions with Armenian musicians in Germany and, through the Armenian Embassy, contact with the Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory, it was decided to make that institution the beneficiary. On March 30, a sealed palette containing the 350 pounds of scores was picked up in Wiesbaden and began its voyage overland by truck through Turkey and Georgia to Armenia.

By the time my husband Michael and I arrived in Yerevan for our annual visit, the shipment was waiting in customs for the final bureaucratic procedures to be completed. On April 26, we visited the Conservatory, and later that day, the scores arrived at their final destination. Prof. Mher Navoyan, who greeted us warmly at the Conservatory, was delighted. As he had written in various communications with the Berlin Embassy and with us, the Conservatory would be most grateful to have such material for instruction.

Navoyan, who is chairman of the Academic Council, took us on a tour of the music school, named after the famous musicologist and composer Vardaped Komitas. His presence is everywhere. In the large entry hall, a huge bust dominates the vast wall, and greets everyone who passes through the monumental doors. In every room or corridor, as well as in the library, there are portraits of him gazing down at us. In the library, we are shown the reams of musical scores that students can borrow for research or practice. Some are organized in special collections, named after the persons who have donated their libraries to the conservatory. All the works in the library, whether scores or books, are catalogued both on index cards filed alphabetically in sturdy, traditional cabinets, with pullout drawers, all made of wood, and in computers in digital form. There are separate rooms hosting the collections of recorded music, on CD’s, records and DVD’s; here students can come to listen to and view performances.

A very special department is dedicated to ethnomusicology. In the tradition of Komitas, the department head has worked for years on compiling and editing traditional Armenian songs, which have been published in separate volumes according to region of origin. She showed us several of the volumes, as well as a huge book with the musical notation system of Komitas.

When we arrived in the office of Rector Shahen Shahinyan, Navoyan showed him some of the bound volumes that we had brought with us on the plane. These were a couple of collectors’ items which had been in bad repair, due to age and had been rebound. They included works by Beethoven and Mahler, among others, in beautiful editions. Shahinyan, who is a violinist, thanked us for the gift and wanted to know more about the foundation and the donor. My husband Michael explained that we were merely the messengers; it was Sabine Meerwein who made the donation, and we arranged for the transportation and delivery.

We learned that the Armenian musical education system has deep ties to the German system. Not only Komitas, but virtually every Armenian composer visited and/or studied in Germany, establishing a tradition that goes back in time. In the modern period, when Armenia was a Soviet republic, it had established 300 music schools, which exist to the present day. These are schools where students go for individual instruction, separately from the elementary or high schools they attend. If one considers that the population is about 3 million that represents a ratio of one music school for every 10,000 citizens! The problem that music schools, including the conservatory, face is financial backing, to provide the teaching materials required. For music schools, this may be manifest in the lack of instruments. In the case of the conservatory, it is musical scores that are extremely costly. So the hundreds of quality scores donated by Meerwein are most appropriate and highly appreciated. Given the close link between the German and Armenian musical traditions, it is also fitting that the lion’s share of the scores are for works in the classical German repertoire, from Bach and Beethoven, to Brahms, Mozart, Schumann, Schubert, and so on, issued by traditional German music publishers, many of whom hold the copyrights for the original (Urtext) editions. In addition, there are works by leading French, Italian and Russian composers. On Navoyan’s suggestion, the conservatory has decided to place these scores in a section of the library named after Bernhard Scheidt.

But the reason why this estate ended up in Yerevan is a story in itself. Neither Bernhard Scheidt nor Sabine Meerwein have Armenian roots. Or rather, Armenian family roots. As Meerwein explained when she first inquired about the foundation, her great-grandfather, Gustav Adolf Meerwein, was a Protestant pastor in Germany during World War I. Though it is not clear to what extent he might have had personal contact with Johannes Lepsius, he was well aware of his efforts to save Armenians. He knew Lepsius’s Report on the Situation of the Armenian People, which had alerted German public opinion to the genocide. In 1916, Lepsius had issued a call for Germans to save Armenian orphans, essentially by paying for their freedom and placing them in Christian foster families. Great-grandfather Meerwein had answered the call, even at the personal level. He pledged that, for every grandchild he would be blessed with, he would finance the adoption of an Armenian orphan and arrange for placement in a foster family. Sabine Meerwein estimates that up to nine Armenian children found homes this way. She said she was making the donation not only in memory of Bernhard Scheidt but also in memory of her ancestor.

The other reason why she chose Armenia had to do with her own intellectual background. Though a professional singer, she also took degrees in German and Romance literature as well as Latin American Studies. Among the five to ten books that most impressed her was Franz Werfel’s Forty Days of Musa Dagh, which showed that a person could take up the cause of the homeland and in so assuming new responsibilities, develop new qualities.

As she wrote in a short biographical sketch of Scheidt, “His outstanding activity as a teacher lives on in numerous students in their public performances and concerts today. Bernhard Scheidt’s legacy lies in the transmission and communication of the German and European interpretation tradition, which he was able to pass on to his students, thanks to his personal acquaintance with extraordinary artists like Maria Callas, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Pablo Casals, Wilhelm Kempff and Pierre Monteux.” Now it may be added that he continues to transmit this tradition through the musical scores of the works of great European composers, bequeathed to Armenian students in Yerevan.

Khachkar Dedicated in Berlin

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Special to the Mirror-Spectator MAY 3, 2016, BERLIN — Among the events in the German capital commemorating the 101st anniversary of the Armenian genocide was a special ceremony to dedicate a khachkar in memory of the victims. On the invitation of the German-Armenian Society (DAG) and the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia, a large crowd gathered on April 23 at the St. Hedwig's Cathedral for the unveiling of the impressive large stone cross. Among the honored guests were Archbishop Karekin Bekdjian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church in Germany, leaders of the German Protestant and Catholic churches, Archimandrite Serovpe Isakhanyan, members of the Bundestag (Parliament) and Berlin parliament and senate, former German ambassadors to Armenia, a representative of the Foreign Ministry, and members of the DAG as well as other Armenian organizations.

The dedication ceremony opened with remarks by Dr. Raffi Kantian, President of the DAG, and Armenian Ambassador Aschot Smbatyan. As Dr. Kantian recounted, it was on the very same place on May 14, 1919, that the first commemorative service in honor of the memory of the genocide victims took place on German soil. Such an event “would have been unthinkable during World War I, due to Imperial Germany’s alliance policy” he said; but “the young Weimar Republic made it possible.”

An article published by the DAG’s journal at the time had reported that the mass had been celebrated by members of the Mkhitarist Order from Vienna, all in the Armenian language, and sung with the participation of the St. Hedwig’s choir. The article had noted that the service constituted a protest against the Turkish crimes, a protest delivered in a dignified manner. It wrote, “The fact that it took place in the capital of the German Empire, which had been a wartime ally of the Ottomans, gave this protest heightened significance and emphasis.”

Why had this particular church hosted that service? Kantian placed it in the context of the initiative taken in September 1915 by then-Pope Benedict XV, who had sent a hand-written letter to Sultan Mehmet V condemning the massacre of Armenians. There were several leading Germans who also raised their voices, among them Archbishop Felix Cardinal von Hartmann and lawmaker Matthias Erzberger. It may be that Erzberger, who was later to serve as minister in the first Weimar Republic government, attended the church service, Kantian said. And it is certain that Elly Heuss-Knapp, wife of the later President Theodor Heuss, was there; her mother was in fact Armenian.

Kantian highlighted the role played by Johannes Lepsius in informing German public opinion of the massacres in his famous Report on the Situation of the Armenian People in Turkey of 1916, which, though soon confiscated, had a decisive impact. Not far from St. Hedwig’s Cathedral is the Berlin Cathedral, where, as Kantian recalled, a commemorative mass was celebrated last year. Following that service, German President Joachim Gauck held an unforgettable address, in which he spoke of the genocide in those words, a prelude to the historic debate that took place in the Bundestag the next day.

The khachkar, Kantian continued, should be seen as “a symbol of peace.” It is dedicated to “the memory of the destiny of innumerable Armenians who fell victim to the nationalist madness of the leadership elite of the Ottoman Empire,” as well as in memory of the other victims. He presented the khachkar also as a “symbol, carved in stone, of brotherliness, without which there would not have been a church service almost a hundred years ago, or a khachkar here today.” Special thanks went to Anna and Artur Varchapetyan, whose generosity made the stone cross possible.

Ambassador Sambatyan said he was filled “with joy that does not find words” that the khachkar was being dedicated. He added his hope that “many, especially young people, will recognize this place – here in the heart of the German capital – as a memorial, and look into the events of 1915, the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire, and gain knowledge they have not been able to find so far in school books and history lessons.”

Sharing the Gift of Music

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
YEREVAN, MAY 5, 2016, Special to the Mirror-Spectator —
Students at the Anahit Tsitsikyan Music School in Yerevan celebrated the donation of new instruments in the most appropriate fashion possible: by playing them in concert for a capacity audience of friends and family. On April 25, guests gathered in the recital hall, which had been fully renovated in 2014, by the US Embassy’s organization Helping Hands and the Fuller Center for Housing Armenia. After a brief welcoming, all stood for a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide. Over the previous days, Yerevan had hosted international events commemorating the 101st anniversary, including the Aurora Prize weekend. In her introduction, the musicology teacher stressed that, as we remember the past, we commit ourselves to securing the future, and schools like this one are crucial to that effort.

The concert opened with a piano solo, performed by a young girl who had found a new home with her family in Yerevan, after fleeing war-ravaged Syria last year. Then, with piano accompaniment, students performed alone or in groups. Instrumentalists played works for the clarinet, violin or canon – both solo and ensemble — and vocalists included a female chorus of four as well as a full mixed chorus of students of all ages, the youngest five years old. The clarinet and solo canon were among the new instruments the school had received as the result of a crowd-fundraising effort launched by Ayo! and supported, among others, by the Mirak-Weissbach Foundation (www.m-w-stiftung.org). Ayo! (www.weareayo.org) was founded two years ago by the Fund for Armenian Relief (www.farusa.org), and sponsors development projects to assist children, elderly and socially disadvantaged people in Armenia.

As the school’s principal, Diana Hovhannisyan, had told me before the performance, we were not able to hear all the new instruments for one simple reason: since the school previously lacked wind instruments, it could not offer instruction for the clarinet, trumpet, flute or saxophone. Now, it has all these instruments, two of each, and will recruit teachers to organize classes for the numerous students who have expressed a desire to learn them. One young man had studied privately with his own clarinet, and it was he who inaugurated the new instrument during the concert. In addition to these wind instruments, the school received a new canon, which made its debut as well. During our next visit, Hovhannisyan promised, we would hear a wind ensemble perform.

The program offered at the concert presented a mix of traditional Armenian music and the classical European repertoire. Youngsters who study traditional Armenian music enjoy the support of the government, which covers tuition, whereas others must foot the bill themselves. This amounts to $12 – $15 a month, a considerable amount for the families in the low-income neighborhood where the students live. And, if the school does not have instruments available, the families have to purchase them. The more progress a student makes, the more important that quality instruments, like those donated, be available, no matter what the price. As Jemma Safaryan, the Ayo! Project Manager, remarked, “The instruments they received as a gift through our project made the children more excited and happy. They strive to work even harder, as now they have the one important thing that was lacking — the instruments!”

The enthusiasm and joy the students expressed was indeed rewarding. And to see the 5-year-old Volodya Sargsyan among them was a special treat. Not only does he sing in the full mixed chorus, he is also a gifted solo drummer, as we were privileged to witness in a short session he played for us after the concert. Surely, Anahit Tsitsikyan would be proud.

Sargsyan in Berlin: A Balancing Act

Serzh Sargsyan and Joachim Gauck
By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Special to   the Mirror-Spectator, APRIL 14, 2016
BERLIN — The visit had been planned long in advance, but it could not have come at a more delicate moment. When Armenian President Serge Sargsyan (also written as Sargisian) came to Berlin on April 6 for a two-day visit, the conflict between Nagorno-Karabagh and Azerbaijan was raging and German-Turkish relations were still being shaped by concerns regarding the refugee crisis. The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel managed to walk the tightrope successfully. But not everyone cheered. Some media coverage, like a TV commentary by Arnd Henze, complained that in her joint press conference with Sargsyan, Merkel had provided a “big stage for a war lord,” letting him accuse Azerbaijan of attacking the “peaceloving people” of Karabagh, who were fighting for self-determination, “which all colonized peoples have always fought for.” The journalist criticized Merkel for “leaving the tirade without comment,” and for announcing, only in response to a question from the press, that the Azerbaijan president would visit Berlin in June. The commentator was particularly upset with the official photographs of the handshakes between the Armenian guest with Merkel and with President Joachim Gauck, which were “a present” that Sargsyan might be able to exploit as an endorsement in his country. Others noted that the issue of genocide recognition, just weeks before the April 24 date, could exacerbate frictions with Turkey.

Germany Stresses Diplomacy
Even those critical of the visit had to recognize that Germany maintains its commitment to a negotiated solution to the conflict, and is utilizing its position as rotating chair of the OSCE to exert diplomatic pressure in this direction. On April 2 German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had issued a statement saying he was “very concerned about the military escalation along the Line of Contact … and about the casualties, including among civilians.” He called on both sides “to end hostilities immediately and to respect the ceasefire in full.” He added that “There is no military solution to the conflict” and urged the two sides to “show the necessary political will to return to the negotiations in the framework of the Minsk Group.” Steinmeier spoke by telephone the same day his Armenian counterpart Eduard Nalbandian and Azerbaijan’s foreign minister the following day. Telephone contacts between Berlin and Moscow occurred on the same days and on April 4, TASS issued a statement on the convergence of views between Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Steinmeier in their conversation, a statement which reiterated the German diplomat’s words almost verbatim. When Azerbaijan and Armenia then announced a new ceasefire, Russian President Putin had spoken with his counterparts in the countries as well, demanding they respect the ceasefire and return to negotiations.
Merkel’s public statements reflected the policy of neutrality pursued by the foreign ministry. In her remarks to the press together with Sargsyan, she stressed the “utmost urgency” of efforts to guarantee an “acceptable and lasting ceasefire” and pointed to Germany’s current OSCE Chairmanship as well as its Minsk Group membership, pledging that Steinmeier would play a productive role. Merkel also focused on the economic advantages of regional peace for Armenia’s development. She acknowledged “that a conflict that has been ongoing for 23 years cannot be resolved by one visit or by relaunching efforts to achieve a solution,” but promised her government’s “constructive assistance.”
The economy was a leading issue in the talks. Germany is Armenia’s number one trade partner in the European Union, as Sargsyan was to underline in interviews. However, Berlin is not raising any objections to the decision to join the Eurasian Economic Union. Germany, Merkel said, respects Armenia’s decision. “We do not want an either-or situation,” (perhaps with Ukraine in mind?). She emphasized the need for nurturing good relations within the EU, and also between the EU and Armenia. Merkel noted that her guest had highlighted the significance of the Iran nuclear accord, and its positive repercussions. She expressed interest in and support for the reform process in Armenia. As for relations with Turkey, she said given the Karabagh situation, this was not the best time to launch any new initiatives. Germany, which was among the first countries to recognize Armenian independence, establishing diplomatic relations in January 1992, wants to develop a stable partnership.
During his stay in Germany, Sargsyan gave an extensive interview to Deutsche Welle, which dealt not only with Karabagh but also with such economic issues. He was asked about Armenia’s association with regional organizations: “Armenia has been part of the ‘Eastern Partnership’ program, which implied association prospects with the EU. But you decided in favor of the Eurasian Economic Union. What triggered this decision? Russia’s pressure? Economic calculations? Ukrainian developments?” Sargsyan answered: “I would like to make a correction: We still are a member of the ‘Eastern Partnership.’ The new phase of negotiations began in December of last year. We will sign an agreement with the EU. There was no pressure from the Russian side. We were guided by economic reasons. Russia is our biggest market and our largest trade partner. Russia has offered very favorable conditions for us within the Eurasian Economic Union, by providing a 30-percent discount on its products. My principle is taking decisions which can be realized.”

To Recognize the Genocide or Not
Last year in the centenary commemorations of the genocide, as reported in this newspaper, Germany’s President broke protocol by proclaiming in a speech following a religious ceremony in Berlin’s cathedral, that it was indeed genocide. And the following day, in a remarkable debate the Bundestag (Parliament) repeated the characterization, in all speeches by all parties. Yet, for reasons linked to the refugee crisis, and the agreements between Germany and Turkey to face it, the issue of a joint resolution being finally voted up officially, has remained on the back burner. Leading Armenian groups, like the Central Council of Armenians and the German-Armenian Society, raised the issue again prior to Sargsyan’s visit.
In his meeting with Gauck, Sargsyan said that the whole Armenian nation had received the German president’s statement with gratitude and that he, Sargsyan, was happy to be able to meet the person “who found the right word” to define the genocide. He also emphasized the importance of finalizing recognition but did not belabor the issue. When queried in his interview with Deutsche Welle how, given the stalemate, he now assessed the German position on the genocide, he answered: “Let me start by saying that the German President used very correct and precise words in his speech last year in April in Berlin Cathedral. We are grateful to him. Besides, I hope that the Bundestag will adopt a resolution prior to summer vacations.”

Let The Trumpets Sound!

YEREVAN — “The world is changing, and so are human values. Only music remains a constant spiritual island.” These wise words are those of Diana Hovhannisyan, director of the Anahit Tsitsikian Music School, in Yerevan. In a message to readers of the school’s home page (http://anahitmusicschool.com/), she points to the responsibility of parents and teachers in guaranteeing that the younger generation preserve “timeless human values,” and emphasizes the crucial role that musical education plays in this process. Music shapes the cognitive powers of a child, as well as its moral attitudes. Instead of wasting time and energy on senseless TV programs or video games, a child who learns to play a musical instrument develops intellectual rigor, learns to define goals and acquire the power of concentration to achieve them. The aim of her school, she writes, is “to foster the young generation’s spiritual development” through musical education. Whether or not a child may become a professional musician in the future, he or she “will inevitably become part of the world of music, keen to behold everything that is beautiful, devoted to things that are harmonious, kind, and timeless. He/she will learn to think, feel and live touched by the truly exquisite magic of Music.” Founded in 1987, the music school, N. 21, was named after the well-known violinist, Anahit Tsitsikian in 2007. Among its graduates are prize-winning students, many of whom have continued their studies in Armenia and abroad. In 2014, the U.S. Embassy’s organization Helping Hands and the Fuller Center for Housing Armenia renovated the recital hall, where students have the opportunity to perform for family and friends, gaining valuable experience.
Although the school had pianos and string instruments, wind instruments were lacking and most students from the local community who attend this school are not able to purchase their own. In response, AYO! (https://weareayo.org/musicschool/) launched a crowd fundraising drive in late 2014. As AYO! wrote in its project presentation, “The school now has a beautiful performance space” and “tremendously dedicated students and staff. What could be missing? Instruments!”
The Fund for Armenian Relief (http://farusa.org) backed the effort and invited the Mirak-Weissbach Foundation (www.m-w-stiftung.org), among others, to join. The funds needed for the instruments came together, and in early March it was announced that the school had received a shipment of new wind instruments, including trumpets, flutes, clarinets and saxophones. The only other item missing was furniture: to allow parents and friends to enjoy the concerts in the renovated recital hall, funds were needed to buy 120 chairs. If all goes according to plan, a concert will take place during the commemoration events around April 24th this year. (If it is “standing room only,” then not for lack of chairs….).

Anahit Tsitsikian

Anahit Tsitsikian (1926–1999) was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia. After studying under Professor Karp Dombayev at the Yerevan State Conservatory (1946–1950), she won the Stalin Scholarship and completed her graduate course at the MoscowState Conservatory in 1954. While still a child, she started to perform both as a soloist and with symphonic orchestras. Beginning in 1961 she was the principal soloist at theArmenian Philharmonic Hall. She appeared in concerts throughoutthe Republics of the former Soviet Union and in 27 countriesaround the world, and produced four vinyl discs under the Melodiya label.

Her repertoire featured the music of modern Armenian composers, whose works she often co-authored, edited and premiered. In 1950 she began teaching at the Yerevan State Conservatory where she introduced three new courses: “TheHistory and Theory of BowedInstruments,” “History of ArmenianPerforming Arts” and a course in music teaching practice. While still a student of the Conservatory, she began her research,and focused on bowing history and MusicalArchaeology, of which she was the founderin Armenia. A participant in international scientific conferences, her studies have been published in Armenia and abroad.Her artistic career included performances in over a thousand recitals, recordings of60 pieces of archived music, and texts ofmore than 300 articles and scripts for both radio and television. She was a member of many local and international organizations, among them, the Composer’s Union of Armenia, the Union of SovietComposers, the Armenian Theater Union, the Journalists Union, theWomen’s Committee of the USSR, AOKS (cultural liaison committee of Armenia with foreign countries), theHistory of World Culture Committee inthe Academy of Sciences of the SovietUnion, The World Scientific Association of Historical Archaeology, etc. Anahit Tsitsikian passed away on May 2, 1999and in that year the “Ana hit CulturalFoundation” was established to continueher work and fulfill her dreams. The mission of the foundation is to facilitate the promotion of Armenian music by supporting musicians in their professional education and work, setting up and implementing cultural programs andevents, and stimulating the integrationof Armenian music within international music.
(Adapted from http://anahitmusicschool.com/?page_id=213)


Traces of Germany in Armenian History and Culture

By Heide Rieck-Wotke – Special to the Mirror-Spectator – March 17, 2016
BOCHUM, Germany — What do we know about the footprints left since the Middle Ages in Armenia, footprints made by German emperors, bishops, researchers, artists, farmers and mountain climbers? This is the question that Armenian historian Azat Ordukhanyan delved into during a discussion with German author Heide Rieck on March12 in the Bochum University. Ordukhanyan, who is the president of the Armenian Academic Assocation 1860, has been collaborating with author Rieck on Armenian cultural events over the past several years in this city in Germany’s Ruhr region. Illustrations projected onto a screen brought the lecture to life for the capacity crowd.
The history of Germans in Armenia follows two main historical routes: the first, in the wake of the Crusades, leads through Cilicia (in today’s Turkey), the second goes from Ulm, along the Danube to the Black Sea and then via Odessa overland towards the Caucasus into the region of today’s Republic of Armenia.
As a typical example of the many German aristocrats and church leaders who crossed the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia (1080-1375) on their way to Jerusalem in the Crusades, Ordukhanyan presented the story of the end of the life of German-Roman Emperor Frederick I, known as Barbarossa. In 1190, on his crusade to Jerusalem, Barbarossa carried with him a crown, which he planned to place on the head of the Armenian Prince Levon II, making him King of Cilicia. On the evening before the festive ceremony, the German emperor wanted to refresh himself in the waters of the briskly flowing Calycadnus river. But he was never to return to the home of his host. Who can imagine what a mood Levon II fell into when he learned that his high-ranking guest from Germany had drowned? Now there was no joyous coronation celebration. A funeral instead.
The heart of Friedrick I was embalmed and buried in the Armenian Cathedral of St. Sophia of Tarsus, his mortal remains were sent on to Jerusalem, but must have been taken to Tyre (in modern-day Lebanon) due to ongoing conflict. The Armenian cathedral is no longer Armenian however. It was turned into a Turkish mosque. There one can read on a plaque:
Barbarossa’s son Henry VI made good on his father’s promise eight years later when he sent a representative to the Armenian Kingdom. In 1198 the Cardinal of Mainz, Conrad of Wittelsbach, as Papal legate and representative of the German Emperor Henry VI, crowned the Armenian Prince Levon II, making him King Levon I of Cilicia (1187-1219 also known as Leo I) in the cathedral of St. Sophia. He was also called “the lion from the mountains.” The holy unction was performed by the Armenian Catholicos Grigor Abirad.
In their book titled, The Swabians on the Black Sea Coast and in the Caucasus, Alexander Yaskorski and his son Rudolf Yaskorski documented the departure of the Brotherhood of the Children of Christ from Swabia, Hessen, Luxemburg and Bavaria. Two hundred years ago this Christian community of well over 8,000 men and women, young and old, had a goal that was far away, and yet in a sense, so near, because it was obvious: that goal was the holy mountain of Ararat. At the beginning of the 19th century, these pious Christians believed that a second flood was about to overwhelm the earth. On top of Mount Ararat they would be saved and would be able to survive by trusting God; since it had been prophesied to them that in 1836 Jesus would come back to earth. For this reason, they sent a letter to the Russian Czar Alexander I requesting permission to traverse part of the czarist territory. The request was granted without difficulty, because the mother of the czar was a German, Sophia Dorothea Augusta von Württemberg (in Russian: Maria Fyöderovna). Thus in the summer of 1816, 40 families with bags and baggage started out from Ulm on their journey — along the Danube and across the Black Sea. In Odessa they paused to rest. In February 1817 the General of the Russian-Caucasian army Yermolov gave them permission to settle 35 kilometers from Tiflis, and already by September 1817 the village named “Marienfeld“ was so well built for habitation that in Spring 1818 they could send numerous letters back home, with the message, “You can come.” Immediately 1,500 families with 5,000 children and youngsters made their way via the Danube to the East – in 14 columns, about 8,000 people, among them the aged and the sick. Three thousand of them perished along the way and many were so exhausted that they could not continue, and stayed in Odessa. Only 500 members of the Brotherhood of the Children of Christ remained true to their mission and continued on to Mount Ararat.
In Tiflis, Georgia, the settlers heard from Russian officials and soldiers that it would be too dangerous to go farther – because of the wild Kurds, Turks and Tartars. (This was the region of today’s Azerbaijan.) As a result the “Swabian villages” — Katharinenfeld, Marienfeld, Elisabethtal, Aleksandersdorf, Petersdorf, Freudenthal and Alexanderhilf — grew up about 35 kilometers from Tiflis. The settlements Neudorf, Lindau and Gnadenberg were established in Abkhazia. German was the language they spoke. In this way other German communities came into being (like Old Katharinenfeld, Annenfeld, Helenendorf, Alexejevka, Grünfeld, Eichenfeld and other places in the East, like Arzach Province, Koxt District, in the czarist period: Yelisavetpol Province, today the Republic of Azerbaijan). Around 1900 there were about 25,000 Germans in the Caucasus. Following the arrival of German troops in the Soviet Union in 1941 all Germans were relocated to Siberia and Central Asia.
There were some settlers, however, who traveled farther and in 1891 founded three German villages between Kars and Gumri (Petrovka, Estonka and Vladikars). They specialized in wine growing, forestry and hunting. Almost every village had its own school and church. Soon some Swiss also moved to this region, set up two milk and cheese factories and later sent Swiss cheese to all the lands of the Czarist empire. Each German family owned 50-70 cows. In 1914 the Russian czarist army deported many of these villagers to the Yelisavetpol Province, beyond the Ottoman Empire.
In 1921 a treaty was signed between two revolutionary movements, namely the Bolsheviks (Lenin and Stalin) and the Atatürk movement: on March 16 the Moscow Treaty and on October 13, 1921 the Treaty of Kars. In the process, the holy Mount Ararat was wrested from the Armenians.
In 1971 a grandson of German emigrants photographed a home in Petrovka near Kars, where Muslims were living. Above the door frame he recognized a wooden beam with an inscription carved in German: “Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him” (Psalm 37:5).
Only half the 8,000 Swabians, Bavarians, Hessians and Luxemburgers who had set out for Mount Ararat ever saw it. Was there a flood in the 19th century? — that is the question this author raised, and added: In the 20th century a flood enveloped mankind in such a horrendous manner that even a holy mountain could not save it…. Since 1921, Ararat no longer lies on Armenian territory.
In 1946 Stalin gave the order to German prisoners of war to blow up one of the two German churches in Tiflis. Following protests, however it was not blown up, but rather torn down, dismantled stone by stone and the stones were used for other purposes. German prisoners of war were forced by the dictator also to build a fantastic bridge in Yerevan, which, to mock them, was named the “Victory bridge.”
German Scientists in Armenia
In 1829 the German geologist and geographer Prof. Friedrich Parrot from the German University Dorpat in Estonia received permission from the Russian czar to explore Ararat. From time immemorial it had been strictly forbidden to climb the holy mountain. Parrot appealed for assistance to the Catholicos of the Armenians and in this way the young writer, researcher, pedagogue and translator Khatchatur Abovyan became his fellow-traveler. To climb the mountain, they took Russian soldiers and Armenian mountain guides from the surrounding villages with them. On September 27, 1829 at 3:15 p.m. the group reached the peak Massis (greater Ararat). They danced with joy on the ice and Abovyan placed a cross, which he had brought from Echmiadzin, on the peak. On November 8, they climbed up the “Sis” (smaller Ararat). The press throughout Europe reacted with indignation, anger and hatred to this sacrilege. Did it not even come to a trial? But with foresight the explorers had cleverly brought glacier chunks from the summit back with them. Never had the soles of their feet touched the holy mountain. Snow and ice had protected it from contact. In1845 Abovyan made the climb again, this time with the German geologist and mineralogist Prof. Otto Wilhelm Hermann von Abich (1806 – 1886) at his side. (There is a mineral named after the German researcher, called Arbichit.)
In 1914, together with the German theologian Dr. Johannes Lepsius, the Armenian writer Avetik Isakyan founded the German-Armenian Society in Berlin. Avetik Isakyan is the name of the library at Republic Square in Yerevan. The building was constructed in 1896 by the German master builder Nikolaus von der Nonne, who also built many residences that he rented out in Yerevan. For a time von der Nonne was also the mayor of Baku.
Many more such stories could have been told that evening in Bochum, had time allowed; but at the conclusion of the delightful presentation, now and again interrupted by questions from Heide Rieck-Wotke, listeners rushed to add their comments and queries.

Translated from German by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

A Special Day in the German Bundestag

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Green Party leader Cem Özdemir (left) seals the promise with a handshake with CDU Parliamentary Faction Leader Volker Kauder
BERLIN, MARCH 3, 2016 — Will the German Bundestag ever make up its mind about the genocide? This is the question raised last October when the news broke that the government coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats (CDU-CSU/SPD) had agreed to put the issue on the back burner, for an undetermined period of time. The reason, clearly, was Berlin’s concerns not to endanger negotiations with Turkey regarding the refugee crisis that is destabilizing German politics and threatening the European Union with internal strife if not dissolution. My view at the time (Armenian Mirror-Spectator, “Recognition, Realpolitik and the Ravages of War” October 22) was that the genocide resolution could wait, if necessary, but that it was urgent for German political leaders, eager to fight the root cause of the refugee crisis, to acknowledge the nefarious role played by Erdogan’s Turkey in the Syrian war. I argued that, however vital in managing refugee flows, Turkey was itself part of the problem, by virtue of its support for the so-called Islamic State. Unless that issue came to the fore, hopes to deal with the refugee crisis merely through negotiations would be in vain.
Last week, the question was raised again and in a forceful manner, when the opposition Green Party forced debate on a resolution in the Bundestag, demanding recognition of the genocide. The lengthy discussion that followed Green Party leader Cem Özdemir’s presentation ended in a highly unusual fashion: Özdemir withdrew the resolution on condition the government parties pledged to reach a vote on the issue by April 24 of the current year, a condition they accepted and sealed with a handshake. What had happened?
Parliamentary Democracy and Realpolitik
The resolution the Green Party hoped to put to a vote was a text based on an earlier all-party resolution, which the Green party had revised last fall in collaboration with experts from the coalition parties, CDU-CSU and SPD. In presenting the motion, Özdemir recalled that all parties had agreed on April 25, 2015 that what the Ottoman Turkish government had perpetrated against the Armenians was genocide. He also recalled that a hundred years ago the German parliamentarians had debated the issue, and then, as now, Realpolitik had won the day; Imperial Germany, an ally to Ottoman Turkey in the war, had explicitly admitted it would do all to keep its alliance, even if that meant the elimination of the Armenians. Özdemir said that the current government, in its plea to postpone the issue so as not to anger Erdogan, was guilty of “cynical Realpolitik,” and criticized it for allowing a foreign government to set the agenda in Berlin. For this reason, his party was presenting the resolution as its own initiative and calling for a vote. In closing, he quoted a letter sent him by Archbishop Karekin Bekjian, Primate, Diocese of the Armenian Church in Germany, who wrote that the aim was truth and recognition; the church leader pointed to the discussion process ongoing in Turkish civil society and urged German legislators to send a signal supporting this. Recognition of the genocide would signify the beginning of a democratic process.
In the energetic debate that followed, speakers for both coalition and opposition parties intervened, all announcing that their factions would not vote for this resolution. The reasons were several. For the opposition Linkspartei (The Left), an abstention would be in order for two reasons related to the content of the resolution; Ulla Jelpke, speaking for the faction, explained that, first, although using the word “Genocide” in its title, it watered down the concept in the body of the text; secondly, the role of Germany, though mentioned, was not adequately characterized as an accessory to genocide.
The speakers from the coalition parties focused instead on the timing of the Green Party’s initiative, pointing to upcoming elections in three federal states on March 13, and suggesting there were opportunistic motives behind the move. More critical, they pointed to the extraordinary European Union-Turkey meeting on refugees scheduled in Brussels for March 7. No one questioned whether or not it was genocide in 1915, and Claus Brähmig (CDU-CSU) was not the only one to repeatedly refer to the consensus achieved by all parties last April. It was rather, he argued, a question of timing. A party colleague suggested the Greens wanted to damage diplomatic relations with Turkey just ten days prior to the EU-Turkey meeting. Then, he concluded his intervention asserting that they would present the genocide resolution this semester, i.e. by summer.
Dietmar Nietan (SPD) again stressed the significance of the consensus reached last April, calling it a “moment of glory” for the Bundestag, and lamented the fact that the current debate was considerably less glorious, due to the spirit of disunity. He too argued against the vote on grounds the moment was not opportune. This prompted a question interjected by a Green Party deputy: “If today is not the right moment, then when is the right moment for the SPD?” To which Nietan replied, “It would be wrong not to reach a decision by April 24, 2016.” If there were no majority for a vote today, he said, no one in Turkey should think that a postponement meant the issue were a dead letter. He elaborated that there were no objections as to content or to the need to acknowledge German co-responsibility. In fact, he urged wide publication in several languages of the wartime archive material of the German Foreign Ministry documenting what the Germans knew and did or did not do during the genocide. (Such documentation is actually already available on the Internet at Wolfgang Gust’s www.armenocide.net.). Nietan stressed that Germany must do everything possible to avoid “sweeping the truth under the rug.”
Speaking for the CDU-CSU, Johann Wadephul introduced the idea of a compromise. Stating full agreement with Nietan, he took a further step, declaring his own “mea culpa” for the fact that the resolution last year had not been put to a vote. But, he went on, there was “no less appropriate moment” than the present to force a vote. “Can’t we sit down together and discuss this?” he asked, appealing to the Greens to jointly deliberate to reach a consensus for a vote in the foreseeable future. Concretely, he asked the Green Party to wait, adding, “We are extending our hand to you, take it.”
In a surprise move to most, Özdemir took him up on the offer, saying, if he were serious, and would include in a resolution the German role, as well as commitment to promote improvement of relations between Armenians and Turks, then he “should say so — no tricks!”
Wadephul answered, in his own name and that of his party colleagues and Nietan, reiterating that it was an honest offer; the resolution should be withdrawn on the understanding that a joint resolution would come up for a vote by April. Özdemir rose, walked over to the head of the CDU-CSU parliamentary faction Volker Kauder and demonstratively shook his hand to seal the agreement. He said it was a matter of substance, not timing. If all factions agreed to explicitly state in a resolution 1) that it was genocide, 2) that Germany was co-responsible and 3) that Germany should intervene to improve Armenian-Turkish relations, then, “if that is a promise, we withdraw our resolution.” As he noted, the pledge was being made before the eyes of representatives of Christian communities, the Armenians, Arameans, Greeks, Syrians as well as German Catholics and Protestants, who were observing the debate from the visitors’ gallery. (Although Özdemir did not mention this, Chancellor Angela Merkel was also personally present during the debate – and was seen conversing with Kauder at the conclusion.)
In response to this handshake, as much a surprise to parliamentary protocol as a traditional gesture of trust, the entire Bundestag broke out in applause. For journalist Peter Carstens, commenting in the Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung on February 28, it was a rare demonstration of functional debate: “None of them had in the past months of increasingly poisonous strife over refugees and Europe experienced anything of the sort…. it radiated just a brief feeling of happiness about this terribly laborious government form we live in, which is, though, better than all others.”
Principled Agreement or Rotten Compromise?
It would be easy to cry sell-out and accuse the German legislators of capitulating. Perhaps that was the reaction of some hardliners. But that might be a hasty judgement. As Özdemir himself acknowledged, no solution to the refugee crisis can be found without negotiating with Erdogan and helping Turkey deal with the millions of Syrians who have found refuge there. But, he said, one had to deal with an autocratic leader with more self-consciousness.
Perhaps the debate has sent such a message to Ankara. First, the Greens did succeed in forcing debate on the issue. Secondly, no one equivocated on the question of genocide and all confirmed that a consensus would be attainable. Nietan’s warning, that no one in Turkey should view the postponement as the end of the matter, places pressure on the Erdogan government, without jeopardizing negotiations on the refugee crisis. The Bundestag has in effect pledged that it will vote up a resolution recognizing the genocide by the end of April, and that cannot be music to Erdogan’s ears.
Just how critical the refugee crisis is may not be apparent to readers outside of Europe. The Merkel government has been struggling against immense pressure from abroad and within its own coalition ranks, to find a humanitarian solution to the suffering of millions of people fleeing war and terrorism. Many countries have closed their borders or refused to take in a proportionally appropriate number of refugees, and this includes the United States, a land once known for its open immigration policy. The US, with a population of over 300 million, had taken in 2,290 Syrian refugees by the end of last November, equivalent to 0.0005 percent of the 4.2 million refugees overall, according to TIME magazine on November 30, 2015. In comparison, Germany, with a population of 81 million, took in 1.1 million in 2015 alone. (Again, for comparative purposes, Turkey with 75 million people has received 2.2 million Syrian refugees, Lebanon 1.1 million, or a fourth of the whole population of 4.5 million, Jordan 630,000 (officially) or 10 percent of its population. These figures are conservative and refer only to officially registered persons.)
As should be obvious, ending the war in Syria is a precondition for solving the crisis and the temporary ceasefire has raised hopes that diplomacy may shift the current war dynamics. Both behind the scenes and in the public domain — especially the press — pressure has been mounting on Turkey to end its de facto support for ISIS. That includes NATO warnings against Turkish attacks on Kurdish anti-terror troops. The court decision to release Cumhuriyet editor Can Dündar and Ankara bureau head Erdem Gül, after three months in prison, is a political signal from inside Turkey to the world at large: the two had been imprisoned on espionage charges because they had published photos and facts showing Turkish supplies of weapons to the ISIS terrorists. In short, the truth is seeping out. The court decision to release them pending trial was violently contested by Erdogan.
Viewed in this broader political context, the extraordinary session in the Bundestag last week might be read differently. Perhaps journalist Carstens is right in considering the compromise a win-win outcome, “a compromise that made them all into winners, above all, parliamentary democracy.” Included among the eventual winners are those rightly demanding genocide recognition.