CHARLES AZNAVOUR: 1924-2018

Charles Aznavour (Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian), the Paris-born Armenian singer-songwriter, actor, and diplomat, who was known as “France’s Frank Sinatra”, died this month, on October 1st, 2018.

Born in 1924 to Armenian immigrants who’d fled to France amid Turkey’s perpetration of ethnic cleansing and genocide against Armenians in the early 20thcentury, Aznavour was raised by a family of artists. His father was a singer, performing in French restaurants prior to opening his own.

Aznavour dropped out of school at a young age of nine to pursue his career as an entertainer — before his 10th birthday, he’d already starred in a movie and a theater production. Despite his young age, Aznavour insisted that he was never pressured or forced to become a performer. To him, it was a natural calling. “People say that they put me on the stage, but I put myself there. It was natural. It was what I wanted to do.” 

Aznavour later shifted his focus to professional dancing. He didn’t write his first song until the age of 24 in 1950.

He got his big break when he began opening for the legendary French singer, Edith Piaf. After his distinctive rich, mellow voice caught her attention, Piaf took Aznavour under her wing, mentoring the young virtuoso. Piaf advised Aznavour to pursue a singing career.

Aznavour went on to command a career lasting 80 years. He wrote a whopping 1000 songs, sold 180 million albums, and dazzled audiences in sold-out auditoriums well into his 90’s. He sang in an astounding 8 different languages: French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Armenian, and Neapolitan.

Aznavour’s music knew no boundaries, touching upon an eclectic range of themes.

He wrote songs that by any standard were ahead of their time. In “What Makes a Man” (1972), Aznavour sang about a gay transvestite. The lyrics are overall great but especially outstanding are the lines, “Nobody has the right to be; the judge of what is right for me; tell me if you can; what make a man a man.”

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REVIEW: The Promise: A Powerful, Memorable Film

With “The Promise,” filmmaker Terry George, known for his 2004 Oscar-nominated “Hotel Rwanda,” set out to tell the story of 20th century’s first genocide.

Following the timeline of events that led to the Ottoman Empire’s perpetration of genocide against the Armenian population in 1915, the plot is centered around a love triangle between an Armenian student named Mikael Boghosian (played by Oscar Isaac), an Armenian from Paris named Ana Khesarian (played by Charlotte Le Bon) and an American reporter named Chris Myers (played superbly by Christian Bale).

Leaving his small Armenian village in the Ottoman Empire, Boghosian travels to the Turkish capital Constantinople to study medicine.

The film depicts Turkish-Armenian relations at a high point (“high” is meant in the vaguest sense). Many Turks still held venomously racist views towards Armenians, but they went to the same universities, lived in the same cities and shopped in the same markets (when walking through the market, a Turk exclaimed to him, “that Armenian pig will rip you off.”)

Shortly after, as the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War, Turkish aggression against the Armenian population became a mainstay of government policy. This film portrayed this accurately, as the blueprints for Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich soon spread to every village in the Ottoman Empire.

Turkish officers began rounding up Armenian intellectuals and businesspersons, executing them on a whim. Boghosian was yanked out of medical school and sent to a labor camp where he was effectively starved, and made to work while awaiting execution.

Miraculously, Boghosian escaped. Following his harrowing journey back to his home village in an attempt to save his family, the film vividly portrays the horrors of the Armenian genocide. From cargo trains packed full of prisoners, to their coerced death march through the desert where they were executed.

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Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy Of Appeasement And Broken Promise To The Armenians

In his initial 2008 run for office presidential candidate Barack Obama said this to the Armenian community: “Two years ago, I criticized the secretary of state for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term ‘genocide’ to describe Turkey’s slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. … As president I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

In a transcript posted on his own website (it’s now deleted and only viewable on the internet archives) Obama states:

Genocide, sadly, persists to this day, and threatens our common security and common humanity. Tragically, we are witnessing in Sudan many of the same brutal tactics – displacement, starvation, and mass slaughter – that were used by the Ottoman authorities against defenseless Armenians back in 1915 … America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that President.

This was Obama’s great paean to morality and human rights back in 2008 – Prior to him officially taking office.

Before I break down why this is one of the biggest letdowns of the Obama legacy (yes, bigger than Obamacare), here’s a quick history lesson.

As of 301 A.D., Armenia became the first Christian nation in history. For centuries, the country flourished and grew. Things took a turn for the worse roughly around the 15th century, when Armenia was absorbed by the Islamic Ottoman Empire.

As the Ottoman empire crumbled through the 1800’s, Armenians grew weary living as second-class citizens under the Islamic regime. As they pushed for independence, the Ottoman Turks objected violently. In the mid-1890’s, the Sultan unleashed an armada, massacring some 300,000 Armenians in what would be called Hamidian massacres.

Years later, during the early 20th century, Ottoman reformers known as the Young Turks ousted the Sultan. Eventually, a trio of Islamists from the Young Turks, known as the Pashas, seized power. Perceiving the resilient Christian Armenian population as a threat, they set out to exterminate them. On April 24, 1915, 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders were rounded up and shipped off to be executed.  Through the First World War, the Ottoman Turks carried out what became the first genocide of the 20th century, wiping out 75 percent of the Armenian population – a million and a half human beings.

Being masked by the scope and scale of the First World War, the unspeakable Ottoman atrocity was not instantly known to the rest of the world.

The phrase “Armenian genocide” did not even appear in the New York Times until 2004. (The New York Times taking 89 years to accurately report something is actually better than their usual record.)

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