Saturday, April 25, 2009

Obama's Armenian Genocide Remembrance message

Apparently, now that Obama has made his Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day statement, it is clear that Genocide remains an elusive word. G, according the the new Commander-in-Chief is the new N word. The following is Obama's statement regarding the Genocidal massacres that effected the lives of every single Armenian alive today.

Ninety four years ago, one of the great atrocities (Genocide) of the 20th century began. Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The Meds Yeghern (Genocide) must live on in our memories, just as it lives on in the hearts of the Armenian people.

History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Just as the terrible events (Genocide) of 1915 remind us of the dark prospect of man's inhumanity to man, reckoning with the past holds out the powerful promise of reconciliation. I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.

The best way to advance that goal right now is for the Armenian and Turkish people to address the facts of the past as a part of their efforts to move forward. I strongly support efforts by the Turkish and Armenian people to work through this painful history in a way that is honest, open, and constructive. To that end, there has been courageous and important dialogue among Armenians and Turks, and within Turkey itself. I also strongly support the efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize their bilateral relations. Under Swiss auspices, the two governments have agreed on a framework and roadmap for normalization. I commend this progress, and urge them to fulfill its promise.

Together, Armenia and Turkey can forge a relationship that is peaceful, productive and prosperous. And together, the Armenian and Turkish people will be stronger as they acknowledge their common history and recognize their common humanity.

Nothing can bring back those who were lost in the Meds Yeghern (Genocide). But the contributions that Armenians have made over the last ninety-four years stand as a testament to the talent, dynamism and resilience of the Armenian people, and as the ultimate rebuke to those who tried to destroy them. The United States of America is a far richer country because of the many Americans of Armenian descent who have contributed to our society, many of whom immigrated to this country in the aftermath of 1915. Today, I stand with them and with Armenians everywhere with a sense of friendship, solidarity, and deep respect.

As can be seen, President Obama had every opportunity to mention this crime against humanity as the textbook definition known as Genocide. Although he did use the Armenian phrase, Medz Yeghern, he still avoided that troublesome G word. Further, he used atrocities and terrible events as another descriptive term to what amounts to a Genocide. I guess from now on, we can avoid calling other Genocides as such, but use the native term for those tragedies. It should be noted that this is the closest any president has ever come to acknowledge the atrocities as a Genocide, and yet avoid the term. This is yet another small victory that brings us closer towards achieving justice. However, justice will remain elusive, as long as Turkey continues to deny the past, and the US government functions complicit with this hypocritical lack of recognition. As usual, a president has reneged on his promise of recognition, millions of Armenians are disappointed, and the Turkish government is sighing in relief. Who knew that watching the annual perpetuation of the status quo would be so dramatic?

Considering the continuous disappointment endured by Armenians throughout the world, perhaps the ultimate message to take to heart is that importance of strength and unity in preventing these occurrences in the world. Regardless of the tragic history of our people, and the lack of acceptance by those playing politics, the onus is on Armenians to not only look to the past, but build a future that strengthens our resolve. We have a nation, a country we call our own, and if we truly want to prevent our ancestor's deaths to be in vain, our lofty goals and expectations should be focused on helping Armenia emerge from obscurity and join the technological stage of the future.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Predictions on Obama's Armenian Genocide Speech

Attempting to predict what an American President may say regarding the Armenian Genocide is often a lesson in exasperation and futility. Every year, millions of Armenians across the globe hope that the leader of the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world will finally acknowledge the tragedy that befell their ancestors, and help usher in justice for the generations that followed. Their hopes are based on universal concepts of genocide recognition and the prevention of future tragedies by recognizing those that have come to pass. In addition to the Armenians, millions of Turks await the Presidential words, hoping that as usual, the taboo term Genocide will remain unmentioned. Recognizing a tragedy is one thing, but to Turks, labeling it a Genocide is like spitting in their faces. The attempt for Armenians to recognize past events, and the active obfuscation by Turks to prevent the past to surface always comes to climax on April 24th.

Currently, knowing the problematic security situation in the Middle East, and the attempts by the West to continually check Russia's influences, Turkey shall remain a high priority for regional stability. As much as Armenians hope for justice, there is very little practical reason for America to offend Turkish interests. It's one thing to continuously offend a few million Armenians, which is almost a regular event, but another thing to be the first to offend such powerful economic, political, and military interests as Turkey. In addition to this, Turkey is also somewhat of a safeguard for Israel, which finds itself surrounded by hostile neighbors, and the powerful Israeli lobby, regardless of what they vocalize in support of Armenian genocide recognition, will never fully support offending their regional allies. They may speak of justice when the Holocaust is mentioned, but if there's even a suggestion of a possible threat to Israel's stability justice will conveniently become abandoned.

As a result of this cursory analysis, an attempt at predicting Obama's Armenian Genocide speech should be an interesting exercise. "We are gathered here to commemorate a tragic event in the history of the Armenian people. The fact that the survivors have become so well integrated into American life, and have given so much to the American nation is a hopeful message to the global community. Their children, and their children's children carry the burden of these awful times with hard work, and perseverance. As we have seen in Sudan, the world must be proactive in preventing these occurrences. We have seen how relations lately, between the Armenian and Turkish governments have thawed, and will assist in any way possible to mediate further cooperation. We must not jeopardize the developing relationship, and must be supportive at constructive efforts for regional cooperation and stability. I am extremely thankful for the well meaning support I've received from my Armenian supporters, and wish to express my deepest sympathies to their tragic history. I hope that we can forge a future together of mutual understanding, trust, and peace."

Most of the attempt at guessing the speech is highly speculative, but one thing I believe will be key this year in avoiding the mention of a Genocide is that Obama will indicate that it may hurt the thawing relationship between Turkey and Armenia. It appears that the official position is slowly coalescing into the supposed prevention of meddling in a situation that must be handled by Turkey and Armenia. Never mind the fact that most Armenians effected by the Genocide are now scattered all over the world. Ultimately, we as Armenians must be strong enough to avoid the mentality of victims, and regardless of how the Genocide is actually labeled, should strive to improve the situation of our homeland. Although there is much to be said about carrying on the good fight for Genocide recognition and universal justice, we can equally become energetic towards improving Armenia's condition and situation. What good is Genocide recognition if we don't have a homeland that we can call our own?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ethnogenesis of Armenians -- The currently unpublished blog; Geography

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Striking Similarities Between Language and Evolutionary Biology

Approaching language from a biological perspective, one can't help but recognize the similarities in the evolution of both languages and biological organisms. At times, it appears as though they follow similar mechanisms. As such, determining when two languages within a language family diverged through morphological changes is not much different than determining when two species of organisms within the same family diverged. Yet, even in this similarity, a key difference between language and biology remain. We know that every single biological organism on this planet has a common ancestor. Basically, the tree of life, if taken through time in a reverse manner will eventually coalesce into just one root. All existing species have arisen from an ancestral species. To contrast, since linguistic abilities are present in our species cerebral wiring, all languages do not need to have arisen from the same source. Put two human children together in an isolated environment with no linguistic influence, and they will develop their own patterns of linguistic communication, with syntax, vocabulary, and a structure that we will identify as language. It has often been observed that identical twins, at very young ages, share certain words which we would identify as gibberish. Yet, they communicate knowing that the sounds they use are mutually identifiable for a given topic. Thus, not all languages in the world have a universal common ancestor, as do biological organisms. Instead, related languages can be placed together in groups and families, with a shared common ancestor. It's as though 15 different alien species are introduced into a planet's ecology and in time, all thrive and compete with each other, whilst also evolving. If someone then returned, they could easily group the difference species together into their last common ancestors and determine that they evolved independently. With languages though, there is greater flexibility in absorbing content from another language, even one completely unrelated. If biological organisms evolve with independent origins, then it would be much harder, perhaps even impossible, for any admixture.

Determining how languages are related to each other, either through common descent, known unsurprisingly as genetic links, or through shared contact, known as phonetic similarities, is instrumental in understanding human migrational patterns, cultural activity, and oft unrecorded history. The analysis of the contents and structure of language, known as morphology, has its analog in biology, which again unsurprisingly is called morphology (in this case, it's the formative structure, or physical appearance, of the given organism.) To provide an example that I shall endeavor to elaborate on in the next post, is the morphology of the Armenian language. Phonetically, the Armenian language is most similar to those of the Caucases (such as Georgian). In other words, the Armenian language sounds very similar to the South Caucasian languages. Superficially, this seems obvious, considering the proximity between the two. Yet, despite the phonetic similarity, genetically, Armenian is actually an Indo-European language with murky origins that date back over 5000 years. Digging further, one discovers that many Armenian words are actually Iranian in origin. To be more specific, they are loan words that were absorbed into the Armenian language during the Parthian conquest of Armenia in the 6th century BCE. This middle Iranian language of Parthian, has long since become extinct, but its influence in modern Armenian, Farsi, and other regionally effected languages is prevalent. It must be noted that although the Iranian languages also have an Indo-European genetic link, they branched long after Armenian was already an independent language. Attempting to determine which language group within the Indo-European family Armenian is most related to is even harder, because the time for changes has been so extensive, and there are sparse records that attest to early Armenian. It's only when Armenian was recorded, once an alphabet was established in the 5th century CE, that we can understand the modern changes that have been effected by subsequent migrations by Arabs, Turks, modern Persians, and Russians. As mentioned, the details of this will be further elaborated in the next post. To determine the changes that Armenian has undergone, one must look at the mutations that have resulted in pronunciation, which eventually changes the written form as well. Before the creation of a written system, languages were able to more readily change, but as literacy increased, a more conservative echo remained in linguistic features. Due to inherent migrations and proximal influences by other languages, the morphology of spoken language shifted as those of the written remained. It took a considerable amount of effort to change the literary language, and as can be attested by early languages still used in churches (such as Grabar Armenian, or in the case of Roman Catholics, Latin), some institutions were able to retain the most conservative elements. Although the early phonetics of Armenian, as it was retained by the creation of the Armenian alphabet, is used by Eastern Armenians, those in the West, mostly through proximal contact, have become phonetically aligned much more closely with Turkish. It's interesting to note then that Armenian is phonetically influenced by both Georgian and Turkish, neither of which are Indo-European languages. Morphologically, Turkish has more influence in modern Armenian, when compared to early Armenian, because of the near millennium of contact between the two. Any morphological changes to Armenian outside of phonetics due to the Caucasian languages has long since disappeared. Through this, it appears that perhaps phonetic changes are more conserved when compared to other morphological features.

The similarity between language and biology is probably related to the fact that both languages and organisms evolve through incremental changes, otherwise known as mutations. As is typical with human, large or even small populations may migrate so far, that their initial contact with their group of origin may be completely severed. In this instance, the isolated group is suddenly free to evolve their own features. The simplest example of this would be the Polynesian migrations. Each group eventually radiated across the habitable islands of Polynesia, and by analyzing the morphology of each language, whether it's Tahitian, Hawaiian, Tongan, or Maori, a common link can be determined. Further, by observing the archaeological record, as far as human inhabitation, one can correlate the changes in the language over the given time required. Similarly, in biology, by correlating the fossil record with that of the genetic differences, a greater precision is uncovered, and each discipline is further sharpened. When Charles Darwin observed the various finches in the Galapagos Islands, he noted how similar they were in appearance, only differing in the shape of their beaks. This appearance then is what's known as the phenotype of the finch. Darwin rightfully deduced that all these similar birds must have evolved from a common ancestor. Knowing that the nearest landmass was South America, he compared these finches to those of the mainland, and a key moment in biology was forged. Once molecular genetics developed, a new tool was found that was able to analyze the genetic differences between the finches and even determine how, and approximately when, they migrated between the islands. Looking at another species, it's possible that minimal differences in genotype (within the genes) can lead to significant differences in phenotype. In this example, the variable appearance of the domestic dog shows how large phenotypical differences can appear when genotype is minimally effected. Although all dogs evolved from the wolf, they vary in appearance from the teacup Chihuahua to the great Dane. These changes are a result of humans selectively breeding dogs for thousands of years, hoping to enhance their aesthetic appeal, productivity, obedience, task oriented goals, stamina, power, aggression, or any number of traits. In nature, it's the natural environment that acts as a sieve, allowing only those animals that are best suited to survive and reproduce. In human languages, a close genetic relationship can occasionally lead to significant changes in phonetic expression. In mountainous areas of the world, significant variation of dialects occur, rendering them nearly unintelligible. To continue using the Armenian language as an example, the local dialect of Armenians living in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) is so different from standard Eastern Armenian that it's mostly unintelligible. Looking at Europe, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French all have their common origins in Vulgar Latin. Initially dialects of common, or Vulgar Latin within the Roman Empire, they became increasingly divergent upon the Empire's collapse. The seemingly profound phonetic differences are muted by the orthographic similarities in the written languages. Thus, once again, one can see that phonetic changes are less conserved than those that occur in the orthographic, or written language.

In biology, convergent evolution occurs when two species, from completely different origins (distantly they're all related, but once their ancestral species radiated to form new species, they are now distinct) resemble each other superficially. Bats and birds both evolved wings to help them defy gravity and achieve powered flight. How they actually developed wings occurred in completely different ways, dependent on their inherent genetic structure. Whereas birds evolved from fast moving dinosaurs, with proto-wings that perhaps assisted them in short bursts of flight, bats evolved from small mammals that were probably able to glide from tree to tree by membranes that extended across their arms and legs. Over time, these separate species were able to reach the skies. This convergent evolution then has almost no analog with language. It is possible that two completely unrelated languages may merge, but organisms that are unrelated cannot merge together. They may exchange a few genes through retro viral elements, but for the most part, they do not have the flexibility of language. Yet, before languages come in such proximal contact that they become absorbed, some qualities of an unrelated language may become adapted. Perhaps through extended linguistic contact, the cadence of the two unrelated languages may come to resemble each other. Although phonetically, Armenian and Farsi have distinct sounds, their rhythm and cadence can be quite similar. Especially with Eastern-Armenians, the extended contact with the Persian languages has come to probably effect some qualities in the flow of pronunciation. It's similar to the cadence of Dutch and English, with a resemblance that can be uncanny at times.

Ultimately, the link between biological and linguistic evolution has an all together deeper level of prominence. If it wasn't for the evolution of our species, we wouldn't have the language ability to explain these concepts to each other. Ultimately, all language is best understood with an underlying acceptance of the importance of evolutionary biology. No respectful philologist will ever come to believe that language and evolution are two unrelated fields. Beyond this deep level of semblance, as demonstrated, languages and biological evolution share traits that can lead to mutual understanding and useful analogies for comprehending each system.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Geographical Effects on Armenian self-identity

Of the various elements contributing to the cultural distinctness of a particular ethnic group, geography plays a substantial role. It ultimately effects the technological sophistication and cultural developments of a given region of the world. The advent of agriculture, animal domestication, and metallurgy helped usher in the exponentially developing technological and cultural explosion of the modern world. We have flourished as a species, due in large part to the geographic serendipity of certain population centers, and our highly evolved social networking skills. The complex ability of human beings to continually reinvent their world, and constantly struggle to improve their condition is a milestone in the history of our species. Knowing that modern human beings have been around for 200,000 years, it wasn't until 50,000 years ago that a cultural awakening took place, in which human development and imagination flourished. Some liken it to a reorganization of the brain that may have lead to an increasingly sophisticated linguistic ability. Regardless of the biological shifts, archaeological records indicate that explosions in artistic expression and cultural relevance occurred that has increased in momentum for every progressive generation. It was at this junction in time that we may consider ourselves as having arrived as modern humans. Yet, all the trappings of our success were still thousands of years away. The agricultural revolution had to wait for the end of the last ice age, when global temperatures uncharacteristically stabilized enough for our expansive growth.

Through luck and circumstance, the land that was eventually called Armenia was located in a geographically fortuitous zone for rapid cultural growth. The available wild grains, that were soon domesticated, the wild sheep and goats, that were also quickly domesticated, and the surface deposits of copper, tin, and iron truly providing metallurgical richness were all factors in determining one of the world's first centers of sedentary life and the eventual development of civilization. In essence, the lands of Armenia possessed all the latent characteristics to help plant the seeds of modern civilization. Although ancestral populations to the Armenians were slowly discovering ways to tame nature and shape their world, the resource-rich land was highly mountanous and provided many challenges to hospitable life. The extremely unstable continental climate, raging rivers, earthquakes, volcanoes, and constant human migration through the area were all obstacles to a comfortable life. As is common amongst all humans though, these progenitors were adept at using their mental and physical tools to tame even the most difficult environments. Having a thorough understanding of the rugged terrain, their awareness payed off in ways that effected the technological revolution.

As is often the case with geography, maps will provide frames of reference to visually simplify the topics discussed and the areas in question. Generally, the Republic of Armenia today is but a small portion of the eastern end of historic Armenia. There is no simple name for this contentuous area of the world. It is a zone divided by many various names, but none that simply describe the region that was the technological and innovative cradle of civilization. The following map indicates the present-day political boundries of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, centered on the Western Asia peninsula known alternately as Asia Minor, Anatolia, or Asian Turkey.

The ancestral lands of the various people that contributed to the ethnogenesis of the Armenians can be further localized. To simplify the nomenclature, I have invented a term for this rugged land; Hurromontania. It will become obvious as we proceed through history that at some point in the late Bronze Age, a people known as the Hurrians culturally dominated this region of the world. Their influence was felt from surrounding empires that developed long after the Hurrian's assimilation and demise. The Hittites, Assyrians, Medians, Phoenecians, and even Egyptians all had their cultures influenced, whether directly or indirectly through contact with the Hurrians. Thus, due to their widespread and lasting influence, and the fact that almost all the territory that was Hurrian was eventually populated at one time or another by their semi-descendants, the Armenians, I have named this region in their honor (marked in Red, with the orange area representing the largely Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni).

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Properly Comemmorating the Armenian Genocide

Every year, as April approaches, Armenians all over the world prepare for the commemoration of the single most tragic chapter in the history of our collective consciousness; the Armenian Genocide. This event was such a stunning development in the long history of the Armenian people, that every aspect of modern Armenian culture is shaped and influenced by this focal point. In a way, it's as though Armenian history before the late 19th century was thrown into a blender and the resulting product is the modern Armenian cultural identity. As April 24th nears, these complex times of somber reflection degenerate into victimization and anger. Questions abound, as to how our ancestors allowed themselves to be slaughtered like sheep. We feel sympathy and anger for the blind and fatalistic acceptance of the approaching fate that many should have seen. We direct this anger and internal disgust at the European powers that watched as this tragedy unfolded. Further, we vilify the Turks, Kurds, and Muslims in general for what some of their ancestors did. Ultimately, the official denial by the Turkish Government, and the perceived apathy by the West is what stings the most. For most Armenians, it's almost a right of passage to raise their expectations that the year is approaching when the Turkish government finally accepts these atrocities as a genocide, and feeling truly remorseful, provides us financial and land reparations. Now, this fantasy is common to almost every Armenian, and allows for the festering of the victim mentality. Although we shouldn't allow these events to remain forgotten, and we should continue to pursue justice and acceptance, we cannot become slaves to this tragedy. Wasn't it enough for so many Armenians to be sacrificed so that those who have survived, can thrive in this world and make something of themselves? How many parents would give up their lives to know that their children would lead a better life? We no longer live under the yoke of foreign repression, and we have a country to ourselves. There is a nation called Armenia, that although small, should celebrate the fact that we've survived and thrived. This message of empowerment often falls upon deaf ears, as Armenians argue about their small differences. Having already tackled this last year (you can follow this link), I would like to commemorate the Genocide in a far more productive manner. I shall endeavor to uncover the history of the Armenian people, mainly focusing on the pre-Christian, largely unknown, era. To understand who we are as a modern community on this global stage, it is of utmost importance to uncover our origins, no matter how complex they may be. In the following posts, I will highlight various chapters of our background, with the understanding that a more complete history will lead to empowerment and self-discovery. Moreover, by celebrating the achievements of our antecedents we honor them in ways far greater than mourning or grief as the events of the past only strengthen the common bond that we all share.