Fiction/Poetry

The Big Story

The Big Story

By

Hrach Gregorian

“We are not petty people”   ——W.B. Yeats

                                                                                  

            Arthur Kazanjian was a newspaperman, had been all his life. No wife, no children, no hobbies; his passion was black liquor, the viscous stuff that makes men word-drunk. Ink on paper, ephemera, served up daily, read on the fly, left in the trash bin. Arthur loved the Boston dailies. He longed to escape the demiworld of second-tier suburban papers. He penned a weekly column, “Armenians of Note,” that occasionally found its way into the newswires under catchy headlines that bore little resemblance to the story’s content. More often, he sat before an aging Smith-Corona, dragging on a Pall Mall, pondering news angles, special features, “think pieces” he would mail to editors around the country; busy colleagues without the time, or the heart, to write him back. If they did respond, it was to praise the submission but question its appeal. The code words were the same, “ethnic writing,” “small-market,” “limited readership.” It came down to marketability, he knew, but he could not stop. He felt a moral obligation to tell his people’s stories. 

            Arthur was a heavy man, short and squat, his hairless dome made rubescent by tight collars, his expression was careworn beyond his years. His ties were thin, short, and out of fashion, his dark suits shapeless, fitted for when he was pounds lighter. The fastening hooks on his trousers had given out; torn-off anchors revealing casing and dangling thread. His strained belt would not accommodate another punch hole. Arthur was due for a tongue lashing from Dr. Shushanian – about his weight, his sugar, his smoking, his drinking, his high blood pressure, his cholesterol, his heart. A Harvard-trained cardiologist who had picked up the cold, clinical manner of his patrician mentors, Shushanian worried as much about the image of Armenians Arthur projected as about Arthur’s health. Shushanian felt it was his professional duty to reform the Arthurs of the world. Arthur was too lazy to find a physician he liked.

            It was Arthur’s habit to wake up at dawn, don what lay close at hand, and make his way to the local diner. He lived in the same ramshackle house he’d grown up in, left to him by a widowed mother. She had been his only parent for as long as he could remember, his father having died in Europe during the Great War, so he was told. The absence of a male figure in the house put him at a disadvantage compared to kids who had a father or older brother that could explain what was what and what was to come. Among the things that passed over him were playing ball, campouts, dating girls. He had to go it alone, find his way through a thick fog of uncertainty. He was lonely and unsure. His mother offered to look into the Big Brother program, which only made him more miserable. He didn’t blame her, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he got a raw deal, his early years putting him on a path to solitude and weirdness. His personal history and the history of his people forged a bond of victimhood that featured prominently in what he thought and how he lived. 

            A short while after leaving the house, Arthur would settle into his favorite spot at the 24-hour diner on Mt. Auburn Street, just off Watertown Square, the Boston Globe and the Herald spread before him, a coffee mug covered with ink smudges and a plate of hash browns holding down the morning news.  He would read to Tiny the owner of the place who kept an ear out while deftly maneuvering a three-hundred-pound frame between counter and grill. Tiny was Greek, the son of immigrants, like Arthur. He shared Arthur’s prejudices – the enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that. This did not diminish his annoyance at having a prime booth occupied by a headline hunter who ordered a plate of potatoes and downed endless cups of coffee. Arthur didn’t have much to spend, especially since the Big Story, his mysterious life project, had him leveraged to the hilt. He ordered the home fries because they contained traces of Tiny’s overnight grill work, bits of bacon, hamburger, and egg mixed in with the russets. A hint of ash from the Greek’s ever-present stogie gave the dish a salty tang.

            Arthur read the headlines with a seminarian’s intensity. He occasionally rocked in his seat, seemed to find hidden meaning in even the most prosaic of stories, and that was just the front-page stuff. The rest of the paper, the silly news meant to fill space, made his blood boil. How could the major dailies stoop to print such nonsense? They paid reporters to travel, stay in hotels, run up bar tabs to churn out such drivel?

            “Hey Tiny, get a loada this.” 

            “Loada what?”

            “This. This story in the news section about some kid from Wellesley crashing his graduation car. Is this news? Is this something we should know? Whose news is this?”

            “People care about that human-interest crap, Artie.”

            “Yah, what people? There’s news just as good up and down this street Tiny, up and down this street. Who decides what makes it in and what doesn’t?”

            “Don’t they got editors who decide?” Tiny asks,

            “Yeah, but so much of it is arbitrary, and so much is decided by politics and money and connections. I say our news here is as good as theirs once you get a couplah sentences into the story. The rest is just a matter of choices made by folks who have       prejudices just like you and me.”

            “So, we shouldn’t trust the news, Artie?”

            “It’s not that simple. What mainstream publications print has to do with power. Those who’ve got it will see to it that their way of seein’ the world is dominant. The newspaper guys have it so drilled into them, we all have it so drilled into us, that it comes naturally, like it’s common sense, inevitable. But see, Artie, there ain’t nothin’ natural or inevitable about it. The owners of the news outlets live on advertising. The people who buy advertising are             the rich and powerful. Yah, yah, you can be powerful without bein’ rich, but that’s the rare case. Usually you gotta get rich to have any real power. When you got real power then you don’t even have to use it. It’s what this guy Gramsci calls ‘implied power.’”

            “Gramsci? Who the hell is that, Artie?”

            “This Italian guy who wrote in the 20s and 30s.”

            “Wheredja hear about him?” 

            “I read a couple books the librarian at the East Branch recommended.”

            The last remark fell on deaf ears. Tiny was taking an order from a regular, eggs over easy, crispy bacon, home fries, and toast, the breakfast special, $2.99.  Arthur recognized the guy even from behind, his flour sack haunches draped over a swivel stool like a mushroom cap. He worked for the town. Mostly he didn’t work; knocked off at two and slept by the river till quittin’ time. His bosses knew but didn’t give a shit. A perfect union of slackers. Arthur wanted to say something about his tax dollars being misspent but the guy was spending twice what he was and was content with one cup of coffee, so, uncharacteristically, he bit his tongue. Good thing too because Tiny would not have taken kindly to such haranguing. Save the soapbox for the Big Story, Tiny would have spit. 

            Arthur turned his attention back to the papers, took a sip of coffee and found more reason to shake his head. “Imagine that,” he muttered, “another shooting in Roxbury.” He started on the crossword puzzle. He was soon stumped. He just didn’t have the knack or patience for it, nor, he feared, the vocabulary. He wondered if it was better to speak several languages reasonably well or to be a true master of one. He was convinced there was no middle ground. The Irish among his small circle of writer friends didn’t know a lick of foreign parlance, but jeez could they weave stories in their mother tongue; most spoke better offhandedly than he could write with the aid of manuals. The prosaic stuff continued to roll out of his typewriter. So be it. What he couldn’t stand was the neglect of stories he considered every bit the equal of those the big papers ran. He wolfed down a couple of mouthfuls of potatoes and thought about the Big Story. For as long as anyone could remember, Arthur made reference to the Big Story, never offering details. All he would say was it would establish his reputation as a voice of liberation. It would free his people from the shackles of unexamined beliefs. This had gone on long enough for people to joke about Artie’s pipe dream. 

            “Hey, Artie, how’s that Big Story comin’?” “Good, good,” he would answer, eager to close off discussion, the cheap sarcasm, ribbing by people who barely knew him. Arthur was a serious person, well read in the classics and modern moral philosophy. He knew the Armenian masters. He also knew the meat suit he walked around in led these simple folks to underestimate him. He wished he had held his tongue, dodged the weird tag. He didn’t want to be compared to Angelo Mastroianni’s kid pacing up and down Main Street talking to himself, talking to the traffic. Come to think of it, it wouldn’t hurt him to do some walking even if he lost his breath and his head ached. That’s what the doctor recommended at the free clinic when he started having chest pains. The quack. Nah, better go home, do some writing. He had sheaves of research to draw on. He derived little pleasure from other pursuits, it was the writing that kept him going, got him out of bed, gave him reason to soldier on. 

            He spent hours in the branch library next to the St. James Church on Mt. Auburn Street. “Conducting primary research,” he told the genial young librarian who accommodated his unusual requests. Little of the stuff he needed was in the small collection, causing an uptick in the branch’s request for interlibrary loans. The librarian didn’t mind, it added energy to early afternoons in the sleepy reference center, and the documents often piqued her interest. He would approach her sheepishly, worried lest his latest request displease her. The books, yes, but he needed her as much for the company. He had little contact with women, and she was a rare exception in his world of waitresses and dime store cashiers. He was eager for her approval, he watched her every expression, attuned to the slightest shift in temper. He needn’t have worried, she was resceptive, amused especially by his dogged search for obscure authors and hard to find manuscripts. 

            “So, Mr. Kazanjian, what will it be today?”

            “Hello Miss, I wonder how we might get our hands on Schnorhig Balayan’s ‘The   Armenians in the United States of America,’ it’s a master’s thesis she wrote at the University of Chicago back in the 20s.”

            “That shouldn’t be hard, Mr. Kazanjian; we can get it on microfiche from Michigan.” 

            He knows that, she thought.

            “Good morning Miss, I’m looking for an article by Bertha Papazian called ‘The Tragedy of Armenia,’ published in the Armenian Herald in November of 1918. Do you  think we can locate it?”

            “Well, Mr. Kazanjian, let me take a look. Hmm, it says here the Widener Library has that   number, but it’s not available for circulation. Perhaps you can make your way to Cambridge and ask the librarian there.”

            “Thank you, Miss. I’ll take the trolley over tomorrow.”

            Thus it went, month after month, the almost daily exchange between the newspaperman and the librarian. He came summer and winter, taking breaks only on Sundays and holidays and when she was on vacation. He sat at a small wooden table very near the circulation desk, shoulders hunched, a hand shading his forehead, gently turning the pages of the latest arrivals, taking copious notes. He was glad never to have mentioned the Big Story to her, and she was too discreet to ask about the purpose of his research. He was not the first aging patron in East Watertown to request esoteric titles. She enjoyed the mystery. It beat preparing Reader of the Month certificates for junior bookworms.

            A week before Thanksgiving, around when they killed the President, he stopped coming. She was a little disappointed but not too little relieved. Library patronage had picked up as people sought solace in the wake of a national tragedy. Besides church, only the library offered a common space for quiet reflection. They poured in asking for books, magazines, newspapers, anything that bore the name Kennedy. She handed books to distressed citizens using both hands as if performing a rite of communion. It was a comforting ritual, and it helped her cope with her own feelings of shock and grief. 

            She wondered when Kazanjian would return. They had never been close; still, his complete vanishment was unsettling. Where could he be? Had his research come to an end? She had to admit she missed the diversion he provided. 

II.

            Time out of context is devoid of meaning. Holidays, weddings, vacations were how the passage of time was marked by the librarian, post-Kazanjian. Not that she had forgotten him. How could she? Not a day passed without a request for a hard-to-find title by someone who brought Kazanjian to mind. She wanted to ask after him. These were people who would know his whereabouts, what he was up to. But she couldn’t bring herself to make even cloaked inquiries. She told herself her reluctance was out of respect for his privacy. This was partially true, but she knew it was not the whole reason, not even the biggest reason. Knowing attaches itself to responsibility, a burden she had no desire to assume. And yet, she too became caught up with the so-called Armenian question.  

            In the interval since his disappearance she had immersed herself in the relevant literature. It was often hard to find, but extensive. She developed a passing familiarity with the language and through considerable effort was able to carry on rudimentary conversations with the survivors that patronized her branch. Thanks largely to them, she had become a minor authority on the fate of the Armenians around the turn of the century. They, in turn, brought her trays of baked goods and promised to find her a husband. Above all, the old people brought her tales of tragedy and sorrow. Some possessed first-hand accounts of the killings during the Great War. They had seen mothers and sisters violated, fathers tortured, defenseless people driven to their death in the Syrian desert. The few men who had survived the massacres were racked with guilt, ashamed to be alive. The women moved like ghosts, each face a death mask veiled in black. They spoke without affect, in plaintive tones, barely audible.   

            Worn out by what had become two jobs, she requested a six-month leave-of-absence. She had written a grant proposal to examine Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide, the impact of such impunity on victims, and its consequences for humanitarian norms and international law. Major foundations found the thesis tendentious. Government agencies would not touch it given sensitivities about strategic relations with Turkey. Hearing of her travails, a band of supporters in East Watertown, Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, old-line Yankees, took up a collection. Over a short period, they raised more than enough to cover the librarian’s expenses. With the money in hand, she was able to secure a non-residential fellowship at the Radcliff Institute, which also offered her a modest stipend. Leave in hand, she set to work mostly in her modest apartment not far from the Harvard campus.

            Early in her research she found herself treading the same path as Arthur Kazanjian, reading documents he had once asked her to procure. It was nostalgic to find books and documents at the Widener Library that had been charged out to A. Kazanjian. She felt his presence, his ghost kept her company, kept her loneliness at bay. She wondered where the research had taken Kazanjian. Had he given up on his quest or come to some reckoning that caused him to drop out of sight? She felt a desire for more than an intellectual connection to him, to the community. 

            Four months into her sabbatical she decided it was time to prepare a short monograph. In the remaining two months, she produced a 120-page, single-spaced draft with a twenty-five-page bibliography that would come to serve as the foundation of several doctoral dissertations. She was happy with the depth of her research but not with the resulting manuscript. She felt there was not enough critical analysis to constitute what she, at least, considered an original contribution to genocide studies. She decided to mine the manuscript for themes to inform a popular piece that would resonate with the reading public. 

            Her thesis was simple and to the point. It did not matter whether hundreds of thousands or over a million Armenians died at the hands of the Young Turk dictatorship. What mattered was the deliberate formulation of a systematic plan of annihilation by Turkish authorities. This was not a new cry for justice. Armenians had been made hoarse calling for the same remedies since the 1920s, but coming as it did from a non-Armenian, from the scion of a venerable New England family, a detached observer without a personal or political axe to grind, it made a strong impression, and not a few enemies.  The popular magazines rejected her submissions because they had not been solicited, while high-brow publications, like The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, while supportive, did not think the essays would be of sufficient interest to their readership. Finally, and to her benefactors’ relief, the journal, Ararat Quarterly, agreed to devote an entire issue to her work. The Armenian financier, Kirk Kerkorian, was approached and agreed to purchase and distribute ten thousand copies. It came out in the spring of 1964. Not long after, Armenian dailies in the US and abroad picked up select passages, which then found their way into European publications. The most reprinted extracts were those that called for reparations and territorial concessions. Cited too was an extended argument about Turkey’s responsibility to assume obligations inherited from the Ottoman Empire. 

            The response of genocide deniers was rather ham handed. Articles appeared in the Turkish press and government supported outlets attacking her one-sided portrayal of “war-time incidents and relocations,” accusing Armenians of betraying their Turkish homeland, and of conspiring with Turkey’s enemies. These served to increase the librarian’s notoriety. She was invited to speak in Toronto, Los Angeles, Paris, Buenos Aires. She had an international platform to address what was close to her heart. She could travel extensively; with luck, escape the drudgery of her workaday responsibilities. Her partner urged her to take up the challenge, reminded her of the responsibility she had to the people whose hopes she had raised with her research and publications.

            She found herself back in the mental fun house that had caused her to apply for leave in the first place. She was anxious, sleepless, filled with foreboding. She knew she would never abandon her position. Justice for those who were victimized was a cardinal point in her moral compass. What she also knew was she didn’t want to be on the genocide circuit, a one-trick pony traveling from conference to conference, living on speaker fees, foundation support or handouts from private benefactors. 

            Two matters troubled her especially. The first was personal; she was deathly afraid of compromising her privacy, which would surely happen if she became a public figure. She had spent a lifetime shielding her personal affairs. Her reputation, particularly among the conservative church goers with whom she had such a deep affinity, would be destroyed in a single act of revelation. Persecution of homosexuals by civic groups and government agencies was rampant. Friends had been victimized by campaigns to portray them as untrustworthy, as dangerous, as deviant. They were forced to live underground, to take jobs far below their level of competence. Harassed by police, victimized by discriminatory laws, all too many had gone underground, living marginalized lives. Those who could not bear the isolation had resorted to extreme acts like suicide. There was no little irony in the shared predicament of homosexuals in mid-century America and outcast Armenians in early century Turkey, yet she could not risk drawing such comparisons in public. 

            The second matter was intellectual. It grew out of deep pessimism that no matter how many broadsides were published, how many rhetorical appeals made, justice could not be achieved by the Armenians in any meaningful way until and unless they had the power to compel modern Turkish regimes to accept responsibility for the crimes that had been committed by their predecessors. The power imbalance between the two peoples was just too great. She wondered if she and champions of genocide recognition were actually making matters worse by raising hope about the prospect for Turkish admission of guilt. After all, Turkey had won her war against the Armenians, had succeeded in having Armenian claims brushed aside in the Treaty of Lausanne, and had never after been held accountable in any court of law for the crime of genocide. If judgements against the Turkish regime were rendered, who would enforce them? Would the power of moral suasion turn the tide in an unforeseeable future? After a careful assessment of such considerations, she determined the best she could do was to contribute to keeping the Armenian question alive through scholarly agitation. Upon completion of her sabbatical she returned to her job at the library. Nary a murmur of complaint was heard from her Armenian patrons. They remained grateful.

III.

            We believe our lives are guided by intention, but so much that happens is by chance. Very early on a dry-cold December morning in 1964, the librarian stopped for breakfast at the only Watertown eatery open at that hour. This was not her first visit to the diner, but it was the first time she sat at the counter. She ordered the breakfast special. “Still the best deal in town,” she was told by the stubbly proprietor with the fat cigar. Friendly and efficient, he slid a warm plate before her minutes after she placed her order. A hand gently touched her shoulder, as she turned, another poured coffee into her mug. “Cream and sugar, honey?” She shook her head at the waitress and turned back to her meal. The big man had drifted to a clutch of regulars at the end of the counter. There’s a particular fraternity of early risers who draw together in well-lit diners, shoulder to shoulder like birds on a high wire. Their loneliness is different from that of nighthawks. She caught just snippets of their conversation, but she was sure she heard mention of a Kazanjian. Intrigued, she listened more intently hoping for an opportunity to make a tactful query. 

            It was quick to materialize. 

            “More coffee Miss?” the big man inquired. “Yes, please, it is delicious, like the food. And it feels so warm and cozy here on such a cold day.” “First time at the diner, Miss?” “No, no, but it is the first time I’ve sat this close to the grill. This is where everything comes alive huh?” The big man smiled broadly, revealing a mouth full of gold crowns. “I don’t mean to pry,” she added, “but I couldn’t help overhearing some of the conversation you were having with your colleagues.” “My colleagues,” he laughed, “you must be a professional. What do you do for a living?” She told him about her work at the library and a certain Arthur Kazanjian she had encountered some years ago. “I think I heard his name mentioned by someone over there.” “Oh, you mean Artie,” the big man said, “he was a regular here, spent a little, talked a lot, but I liked his company. Really interesting guy. He seemed to go off the rails a little when his mother died, it was around the same time he started on that Big Story. Hey, you must be the librarian he referred to so many times. You made such an impression on him.” 

“Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say.” 

“I mean it.” 

            “The Big Story,” she wondered aloud. “Yah, the Big Story; didn’t Artie mention it to you?” “As a matter of fact, he didn’t. By the way, I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.” “Nick, Miss, Nick Papadopoulos, but everyone calls me Tiny.” “Well, Mr. Papadopoulos, Artie, as you call him, was a ‘regular’ in my library and spent long hours conducting research for what must have been this Big Story. By the way, I apologize for neglecting to introduce myself, my name is Margaret Blake. I prefer Maggie.” “Pleased to meet you Miss, I mean Maggie. I am surprised in all that time he spent at your library Artie never brought up the Big Story. I guess he got tired of people bothering him about it. Funny how he could keep it private around you, it came up here almost daily. He was the quite the character, that Artie.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

            “So what happened to him Nick?” “Oh, Artie died not long ago.” “He died?” she cried out, quickly covering her mouth. “Yes, Miss, of a heart attack. He was only 58. Didn’t you see the obituary in the Globe?” He turned back to the grill, flipping, pressing, separating orders with a sharp-edged spatula, leaving her to ponder the unexpected news. She was surprised it affected her so deeply. Just another human-interest story. But she had found in Artie a gentle soulmate. He made her feel like her work really mattered, like she held the keys to a kingdom of knowledge. Arthur reminded her why she became a librarian in the first place. She was made happy by the thought that she was essential to fulfilling whatever arcane mission he was on. 

            “When did he die, Nick,” she asked before dropping five dollars on the counter. “Don’t remember the exact date, but I know it was in the summah. Change, Miss Maggie?” “No, keep the change. I still can’t figure out how I missed his passing.” She knew full well it was when she had been caught up in her brush with notoriety.  “It was probably in August when I take my vacation.” “August sounds right, that and the fact that it happened in Armenia.” “Armenia! How on earth did he get there? One of the few personal revelations he made to me was how his well-known activities on behalf of the Armenian Revolutionary Party, the Dashnaks, is it? precluded ever seeing the motherland.” “That’s a longer story, and as you can see I’m a little busy right now.” “I understand, Nick, and I really should be getting to work. Early staff meeting today.” “I know all about that” he sniggered, eyes-pointing to the murder of crows down-counter. He was surprised when she asked if she could come by later that day to chat about Artie, perhaps after the dinner rush was over. He agreed, suggested around eight.

            Eight sharp her flats were slapping on Tiny’s floor. “Hi Nick, how about a cup of coffee and the rest of the story, as the newsman says?” He admired her persistence. The place was relatively quiet, save for the banter of stragglers and clattering dishes. Coffee in hand, Nick led her to a nearby booth. “This was Artie’s favorite spot,” he gestured, palm up, “the guy cost me a pretty penny parking his can here every day… I miss him.” He sat down across from her, no mean feat for a man his size. Cigar in mouth, sweat glistening on his brow, he picked up the thread of the morning’s conversation.

            “You see, Miss Maggie, Artie sacrificed a lot to get out that Big Story. When he wasn’t lookin up stuff in your library, he was holed up in that damn crypt of a house spending hour after hour pulling paper outa an old typewriter. Writin wasn’t something that came easy to him. Meanwhile, it’s not like someone’s payin his bills. You saw the way he looked; hadn’t spent a dime on himself for years, he gave up the cah and walked or took the T when he had to, ate cheap food. Thank God he didn’t have a mortgage, but there were the utilities, property taxes, the maintenance he couldn’t put off, you know how it is, skip a few payments and even the small stuff adds up. He lived like this for too many years, and when he finally did finish the Big Story, he spent a couple years tryin to get someone to publish it. He first tried the big New York outfits, then smaller publishing houses, and aftah that the university presses. He didn’t want to go vanity; he couldn’t afford to do that anyway. 

            “They all turned him down. They used fancy words we don’t usually hear around here. Let’s see if I can remember some, the reporter at the Globe put em in the obituary: ‘diatribe, philippic, jeremiad,’ what the hell is a jeremiad? Sounds like a book in the Bible. A couple of editors called it ‘defeatist.’” She interrupted, “Yah, I’ve also heard those words.”  “Anyway, the bottom line was, no dice. He was in the dumps that last year. We thought it was about the writin an all. He didn’t tell us it was because he couldn’t get anyone that mattered to bring out the book. Then, almost overnight, his mood changed. He stood on a chair in the middle of the diner one morning and told everyone a major conference was being put together in Armenia around the Big Story and, miracle of miracles, he was gonna be the main event, all expenses paid. ‘Can you believe it! he shouted, Arthur Kazanjian is the principal speaker at a major conference in Yerevan organized around his book.’

            “He told us the main national publisher in Armenia was gonna print a couple thousand copies. There was one catch, it was gonna be in Russian. They were thinkin maybe an Armenian version would come later, but it wasn’t a sure thing. Still, he was so excited he could barely keep from jumpin out of his suit. We were all so happy for him. No one cared all that much about what was in the book, the look of happiness on his face is what we liked seein. I got out an old bottle of ouzo and we all drank to his success. He was a changed man. He bought a suit in Filene’s Basement, shoes at Thom McCann, even a leather briefcase at the Havad Coop. We all chipped in for that one. It took a couple months to get the special letter from the Academy of Sciences of Soviet Armenia inviting him and arranging all those travel documents. Jeez wattah rigmarole. They sent him the plane tickets for all the connecting flights he had to take to get there. A group of us took him to Logan Airport to give him a proper sendoff. I’ll never forget the big smile as he turned to wave at us one last time before he got on the plane.” 

            Nick pointed to a slender gentleman who had been sitting nearby. “Look who’s here. Miss Maggie, allow me to introduce John Boyadjian one of Artie’s oldest friends. Johnny’s known Artie since grade school.  He’s an ol’ country lawyer but we call him the professah because he’s so smaht. John has contacts in the old country and he can tell you way more about what happened with the Big Story than me.” The handoff obviously had been planned. Maggie didn’t mind. “Pleased to meet you John.” “Same here Maggie. It feels like I already know you! Artie couldn’t stop raving about what a godsend you were. Yah, Artie and I go back a long way,” reminisced John, as if the man were still alive. “We were like brothers. He referred to me as his Boswell. Funny guy. He trusted me with a lot. I think I know more about the Big Story than anyone. Christ, how much heartache the project caused him and how excited he became when I suggested a plan to get it published. 

            “You see,” Boyadjian continued, “after expending so much effort on what had become an obsession, Artie struck out with every publisher he approached. I think Nick told you about that. They didn’t think there was a market for another genocide book, and Artie wasn’t exactly a household name. He was so despondent. I thought he might kill himself. I really did. 

            “I’d edited a good chunk of Artie’s manuscript, man did it need work, so I knew the story, knew it inside out. One day, I was having a conversation with a colleague in Yerevan, an expensive call, assuming you can even get a decent connection. Well, it occurred to me that the theme of the Big Story might appeal to authorities in the Soviet nomenklatura, you know what that is right?” She didn’t take the question as a slight. “In this case it would be those who oversaw propaganda, which includes state publishing. I suggested to Artie we send a draft to Yerevan to get their reaction. Our angle was this, it came from the US, so its origin could not be impugned, and it took swipes at the Turks, no love lost between Moscow and Ankara. My contacts referred the draft to the muckety-mucks in the Soviet bureaucracy and within a relatively short period of time the order to print it was handed down. I continue to be surprised by the speed with which this was handled. You know how the Soviet bureaucracy moves. I can’t help but think that big shots in Moscow were involved and it was all somehow connected to the thawing in east-west relations that’s been going on since the Cuban missile crisis. 

            “I served as Artie’s unofficial representative, negotiated terms with people I became friends with in Yerevan. I also made all the travel arrangements. There were some stipulations Artie didn’t like but since the other side was paying for everything we had little leverage. The biggest stumbling block was the title of the book, which they also planned to use as the theme of the conference: ‘The Armenian Genocide and Turkish Responsibility,’ literal and uninspired, in the Soviet style. Artie’s preferred title, unknown to me until late in the negotiations, was ‘Owning Our Genocide.’ I gently nudged him away from the admittedly provocative title, arguing that it would be too obscure to attract all but a tiny audience. He said this did not concern him, the book was a gift to our people. I reminded him that it was being printed in Russian, so his audience would be smaller still. In any case, we had no say in the matter. Did he want it published or not? It was a Hobson’s choice; no surprise, he took it. With that we packed him off to the old country.

            “According to my sources, a big welcome had been arranged for Artie at the airport in Yerevan. Schoolgirls carrying flower bouquets and officials in black suits stood on a red carpet at the foot of the Aeroflot stairway. The first thing that would have caught his eye as he exited the plane was the snow-covered peak of Mt. Ararat, a very powerful symbol for the Armenians. I am sure at that moment other matters paled in comparison. He was on native soil.

            “In Watertown, Artie was an unhappy eccentric, in Yerevan he was a celebrity. He gave press interviews and appeared on TV. A car was made available to him. It took him to the Arzni resort to recover from his long journey. Later, in the company of multilingual college students, he visited famous monasteries, saw a performance of Carmen at the ornate Opera House in Yerevan, toured the national museum and attended a soccer match. Nights were spent in secret nightclubs open only to high ranking officials. Egged on by accommodating hosts bent on squeezing every ruble out of a rare entertainment budget, he drank vodka chased with Beluga caviar and topped rich meals with bottles of export quality cognac. As the date of the conference approached, I was told, Artie was flying high and was highly exhausted. He delivered the keynote address and participated in several roundtable discussions on the topic of genocide and state responsibility under international law. Due to delays in printing, the conferees were forced to rely on Artie’s synopsis of the book. Tired, ill-prepared and owing to breakdowns in consecutive translation, his presentation proved difficult to comprehend. In a polite wrap up session the conference organizers announced copies of the book would be made available to all attendees at a later date to permit ‘unhurried analysis of Mr. Kazanjian’s complex argumentation.’ Many toasts were offered to Artie in a closing banquet, but he was nowhere to be found. It turns out he had returned to his room and collapsed on the bed with his Filene’s Basement suit and Thom McCann shoes still on. His body was discovered the following morning by cleaning ladies. He was rushed to the hospital, but it was for naught, he had died of a massive heart attack hours before.  

            “In accordance with his will, we sold the house and liquidated his other assets (it didn’t take long) and made the necessary arrangements to have his body flown back to the US. He was buried in a family plot in the Watertown Cemetery – no known next of kin.”

            Maggie expressed her deep appreciation to John for the briefing and thanked Nick for arranging the meeting. The big man had stayed close by, soaking up additional details about Artie’s last days. Maggie ruminated on the time she had spent with Artie at the library, what a polite, gentle soul he was, and how his seriousness of purpose had inspired her to launch her own studies of the Armenian question. She asked them if they had come across her long essay in the Ararat Quarterly. They said they had not but had heard about it. She promised to send them the special issue, joking that she still had many in hand. Before leaving, she asked John how many copies of Artie’s manuscript had been produced in English. “About a dozen,” he answered. “We spent close to five hundred bucks Xeroxing and mailing them to publishers. None returned them. Then we mailed the remaining two to Yerevan.” Maggie’s heart sank. Who would translate the whole damn thing from Russian to English? “Then there’s the dog-eared draft I have at my house.” “You have a draft at your house?” she nearly shouted. “Yup, in a locked drawer in my desk.” Maggie asked if she could see it. He said he would be happy to share it with her, but she would have to read it in his office. 

IV.

            John Boyadjian lived on School Street near the Belmont line, in one of those stately Victorian houses built on the east side of Watertown at the end of the century. Dark shingled and imposing, it was defined by front- and side-facing gables and an ornate wraparound porch shaded by green awning. With four young children and John’s in-laws under one roof, all six bedrooms and a guest room were put to good use. John had prepared the family for Maggie’s visit. They stayed mostly out of sight when she came knocking on a snowy Saturday morning. John’s wife, Takouhi, greeted her warmly, took her coat and showed her to the den just off the foyer. It had wooden pocket doors that seemed stuck in a half open position. John was leaning on a leather sofa inside, pipe in hand, doing his best Atticus Finch. On a matching burgundy ottoman sat a decanter of tea and a plate of sweets. John smiled when Takouhi announced Maggie’s arrival. They were well practiced in the art of reception. Maggie had the impression she was being admitted to a physician’s office. John pointed to a tall stack of paper on a side table. “There it is, Maggie. We have some errands to run but my highly competent in-laws are around should you need anything. We hope you will stay for dinner. I am eager to have the rest of the family meet you.” 

            “Thanks John, and such a pleasure to meet you Takouhi. Thank you for the tea and pastries. I’m especially fond of nazouk. Did you make it?” “Yes, and I hope you like fresh brewed Armenian tea. I have coffee too if you like.”  Maggie waved away the offer although she would have loved a shot of soorj. John and Takouhi made a quiet exit. Maggie picked up the stack of tattered pages and made her way to a high back chair. She would sit there for the rest of the day. What she had in hand was clearly an early draft with edits and marginal comments on virtually every page. This slowed her reading considerably. She found the theme quite conventional at the beginning recounting history that was well known to her. There were the massacres of Adana presaging larger pogroms that would result in the killing of tens of thousands of Armenian men, women and children. There was the abandonment of innocent people by local and international authorities and the total failure of the world to hold the perpetrators accountable. There was the wiping out of thousands of years of Armenian history, culture, civilization, all for the sake of political expediency. Diplomacy, international law, human rights, these were words devoid of meaning for the dead and bereaved. Arthur cited the poet Siamanto’s “Grief,” written after the Hamidian massacres, to illustrate just how alone and despondent the Armenians felt. 

            Although well-documented and carefully pieced together, the account was ponderous and dull. Maggie had to admit her long essay was far the more compelling and had as much to say as the early chapters of Arthur’s tome. What Arthur had written was not news, not to Maggie, not to her most fervent patrons, not to the larger Armenian community, and certainly not to students of the genocide. All this would have been known to Arthur. Although the story remained at the core of modern Armenian identity, what he was describing was too commonplace to be characterized as a revelation or, to use his word, “big.” She read on, sensing in the cresting narrative the possibility of a dramatic turn that would reward her perseverance. She hoped this would be the case; otherwise, the whole enterprise, including her part in it, would have been in vain, thousands of hours wasted on one man’s idle amusement. She may as well have been aiding a fading shut-in to assemble the same jigsaw puzzle day after day. And what about the man? Was Arthur so mad as to have convinced himself and completely hoodwinked her about the seriousness of his life project? There had to be more.

            There was. It appeared, just in time, like the lights of a runway in heavy fog. Midway in the draft she came upon a section that immediately struck a different tone. The voice was deeper, stronger, sermonic. It read less like history and more like moral philosophy. Hard to say in which section of a bookstore it would have landed. The arguments were unlike anything she had encountered in the stacks of learned texts she had consulted in her own research. Could it be these middle passages were what had driven away publishers? She realized she had reached a watershed in the narrative when the style of exposition turned exhortative. Having dispensed with foundational details, as if to prove what followed was firmly grounded in the known, the chronicle crested in two sections with the Leninist titles “Where To Begin” and “What Is To Be Done.” He declared at the outset that the aim of the chapters was to impel a new generation of Armenian activists to move beyond the familiar trope of victimization, which he deemed defeatist and paralyzing, to embrace a wholly new vision, one he named “self-regarding justice,” that would lead to empowerment and liberation. 

            In the first of the two chapters he argued Armenians were mired in a predicament for which there was no viable solution. They faced a callous foe that had the means to turn back all attempts to achieve justice. In fact, an elaborate propaganda machine had been fashioned by the regime in Ankara to actively blunt all attempts to hold it responsible for the crime of genocide. The situation could improve in the aftermath of realignments that inevitably attend historical transformations, but prevailing conditions did not leave room for optimism. Meanwhile, precious energy was being squandered in ineffective campaigns that further demoralized a deeply scarred people. Kazanjian conceded the importance of educating the young, of keeping the memory of the genocide alive, of continuing a campaign of pressure against successive Turkish regimes, but he wondered, as no one before him had, about the psychological impact on his people of perpetual aggrievement. Was it leading to collective illness that was doing more damage than justice would do good? 

            He wanted his readers to know he was not making a virtue of necessity. His was a meditation on the meaning of justice, on forgiveness, on liberation. Arthur insisted readers consider how deeply dispiriting it would be if after they received all they were demanding, all they wished for, their soul remained unsatisfied. They would continue to suffer because hurt and pain are in the possession of the aggrieved, and no one, not even the author of the affliction, has the wherewithal to deliver relief. See the perpetrator spat on, tortured, exiled. Hear him scream in agony, smell his skin charred by fire, still the deed that is done cannot not be undone. The stain is permanent, the rent unmendable. The dark shadow cast by the sorrowful narrative is too long. For too many, particularly among the young, it blots out all that came before the genocide and all that has followed.  

            In the chapter “What Is To Be Done,” he laid out the meaning of “self-regarding justice.” He called for Armenians to embrace being in the just, which was a blessing that rendered them superior to their tormentors. He called for an understanding by the Armenians that the inability of their tormentors to admit responsibility, to accept culpability for the crimes they had committed forever cast them as ignorant and lacking virtue. These were people whose soul was in utter misalignment, rendering them an inadequate participant in any quest for justice. Armenians would do well to cut them out of the picture. They deserved only a footnote in a continuous history that stretched back to the seventh century BC and that would march forward for millennia to come. The Armenians must concentrate on the rest of their history and stop treating the Turkish genocide as the defining moment in their long, illustrious past. Let Armenologists show the Hayks outlasted the Medes, the Romans, the Sassanids, the Byzantines, the Muslims, the Seljuks, the Safavids and others. The Ottoman interruption is but a modern setback to be overcome as were all the others. To restore their humanity, to recover the life affirming quality of their character, Armenians need turn inward and draw on their civilizational reserves and achieve psychological and moral restoration. There must be whole new narratives written. 

            His call was for a celebration of the people’s resilience that was at least the equal of the chorus of lamentations. “Stop the whaling. Stop. Our story is more than myths of heroes and villains, we have for certain done as much to as has been done to us. We have killed and conquered, built great empires, menaced neighbors.” The story of the people, he argued, should be told, uninterrupted, right up to the very present. Armenian history must not be bracketed as before genocide [BG] and after genocide [AG]. It should transcend a Turk-centric orientation that taints every corner of the cultural landscape, even storytelling. The task at hand is to let the enemy know its conquest is incomplete, and there is no danger greater than an adversary left wounded. For their part, Armenians must resist falling into a state they alone can create, death through melancholy. The chapter ended with a resounding clarion call.

            Dear blood, for too long we have ceded power to the other to grant us peace. We have taken out of our hands and placed in the hands of our tormentors the authority to bring closure to our suffering. Why do we grant such agency? Who are these people to determine what constitutes closure? These are ordinary men, extremely ordinary, who have committed extraordinary evil. Let us not allow the scale of evil make them into something more than common criminals. Let us be free of them once and for all.  Let us take complete ownership of our history. Yes, we, independently. Leave them behind in the ashbin of history. They are not in a position to right their wrongs. 

            Suppose the other says, “yes, we did it, we apologize,” will you derive satisfaction from such a confession, from such an expression of regret? Now? I don’t need to hear his words to know he is guilty. And who am I to absolve him of responsibility? I don’t want to carry this burden as well. I have little doubt his maker will be far less merciful than I. He has far more time to mete out punishment. And if I witness his maker torture him for an eternity I will shrug, lose interest and go about my business with the same vacant feeling as before. I will walk away as from other horrific calamities certain I will bear witness to such carnage again. 

            And if he offers recompense, shall I accept, and in so doing put a price on incalculable loss? Will I say to the ghosts of my kinsmen “See, your pain was not a momentary blot in a sea of hot sand?  There is now a reckoning. I have taken your tormentor’s fortune, this hurts him most, this shames him.” Really? I am not willing to cash out on suffering. There is no treasure equivalent to blood. I want the wound to remain open. This is the best tribute I can pay to the dead. “Your Honor, I would like the case continued, indefinitely.”

            And what of our property? Do you want to live in those lands again? Who shall occupy the dwelling? Do you want to sit in a house of unfired brick with talk and memory your only companions? Where will we buy books, see a play, hear a concert? We have built and rebuilt in a thousand places. We have magnificent churches, cathedrals, schools and cultural centers in the most enlightened corners of the world, why would we want to return to this poor, benighted place? Why step back? Just so much nostalgic indulgence. And think of what they will say, “Well, you got all you asked for, let’s be done and turn the page. Enjoy your inheritance, no need now to keep going on about injustice. The train has arrived. Time to get off. This trip will recede from memory, and your travelogue will gather dust on some forgotten shelf.” 

            This is not enough, blood.  Nothing is enough, not the snap of the hangman’s noose, not the desecration of flesh and bone, not the killing of the kin, not the slaughter of the livestock, the burning of the crops, the salting of the soil.  We will exhale a collective “akh,” aspirating relief from a dark well deep in our souls. But there will be a day after. The day when we are no longer busied by preparations for the funeral, when the focus is off the dead, when our brothers and sisters have packed up and gone. Then we will be alone with our memories, and to our horror we will discover we are not cured, we have not been made whole. We have joined the ranks of perpetrators.

            Let us compose a new narrative, one not only of perseverance, but also of triumph. Let us write the story of how we control our destiny:  A history devoid of pathetic victimhood. Let us not allow the record to be stuck, the same sound of lamentation playing over and over again. The last was the worst but not the first tidal wave to have swept over us. After the waters recede, our rock-bound island rises again. The earth’s core determines our destiny, tectonic shifts infinitely more powerful than this empire or that. Came the Sarmatians, the Cimmerians, the Scythians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Sassanids, the Mamluks, the Arabs, the Ottomans, the Soviets. Still, we are here, we survive, we persevere. This is a narrative that can be written. Must be written. It is of ordinary people who have been attacked, enslaved, fought and died in their millions. It is about the foot soldiers who continue to march and to build and rebuild, even after their leaders, their clergy, their artists, their intellectuals have been murdered. 

            Maggie was stunned. The quality of writing, the passion was nothing like the workmanlike prose that preceded it. It was as if a voice had entered Artie’s head, had used him as a medium to deliver a message she could not, dared not, entertain. Those that could, the Armenian commentators she had read, may have considered the idea, but did not deem it worthy of expression. Was Artie’s prescription defeatist or liberating? Maggie assumed Arthur had reached the same intellectual cul-de-sac she did, but he pushed himself to think harder, to define the matter as one of emancipation born of self-empowerment rather than justice delivered by a third party. He had recast the matter such that it was radically different from the oversimplified dualism that had forced observers to see little hope of a just settlement given the gross power differential between victim and perpetrator. He had eliminated the Turks from the equation, rendered them null and void, removed atonement from any discourse on healing. This is what he had spent most of his time contemplating, this was what had slowed his progress, this was the Big Story. He ran out of patience and time trying to find a way to convey it to his people. 

            The final chapters were mostly devoted to a celebration of Armenian achievements, AG. The conclusion was more the denouement of the general argument for ownership by Armenians of the problematic. Maggie was relieved there were no more surprises. She needed the last chapters to ease her way back to more familiar ground. The crest of the narrative had led to exhilaration but no little fatigue. She needed space to work out the full implications of Arthur’s thesis, its potential impact on a host of audiences, most critically, the survivor generation. 

            It was getting dark.

V.

            John and Takouhi burst in, sleet hard on their heels. Maggie was turning over the last pages of the manuscript. Only upon their arrival did she realize how quiet the house had been, or how intent her reading, the groaning of upper floors now hard to miss. Takouhi apologized for the lateness of the hour and for serving Maggie takeout. They had been delayed by a protracted discussion with church trustees, she explained. The upside, noted the assembly that had made its way downstairs, was platters of beef and chicken kabob nestled in basmati rice; the main dishes accompanied by cooked and raw greens and several stews. Lavash, string cheese, and cucumber yogurt were also served. 

            The feast was spread across the Boyadjian dining room table, on a lace tablecloth covered with clear plastic. Informal though the occasion, they ate on china and used silverware. A crystal chandelier bathed the whole room in a soft, intimate light. Maggie was introduced to Takouhi’s parents, Avedis and Meline, and to the children. Like monks in a monastery members of the family took their place at the long table to dine together. Maggie was the honored guest, so she was seated at one end and served even before the children. 

The usual small talk ensued. She commented on how wonderful it must be to have three generations living under one roof. This was met with expressions of muted enthusiasm. The children clearly had other ideas. They eyed one another to see if anyone would break rank and shared their thoughts in that secretive language of snorts and chuckles they alone understood. Halfway through the meal, the conversation turned to the Big Story. “What about his conclusion,” John said to no one in particular, “quite something wouldn’t you say?” Maggie nodded, as did Takouhi. “Why hadn’t you told me about it?” asked Maggie in what seemed a reproving tone. “Because knowing in advance would not have had the same effect as coming upon it just when you thought there was nothing there that qualified as big,” John answered. Maggie came back, “I wonder how the Russians handled those critical chapters at the heart of Artie’s argument.” John was expecting the question and had another surprise to spring. “They excised them.” “What?” blurted Maggie, incredulously. “Yah, that was my reaction when I heard about it from my contact in Yerevan. The book finally came out months after the conference, but those chapters were nowhere to be found. The Russians thought they let the Turks off the hook and reduced the propaganda value of the publication, so they took them out. In their place they inserted language ginned up by hacks in the propaganda apparatus further implicating the Turks in the whole dirty business.” “Am I right, John, that you and your contact in Armenia probably have the only complete drafts in English?” “The only ones I know of,” John answered, moving his eyes from Maggie to Takouhi to his in-laws.

            Bored by the conversation, the children asked if they could take their dessert to the den and watch television. Takouhi cleared the table and brought out tea and coffee. Maggie wanted to help Takouhi; instead, she sat perfectly still, seized by the thought she and John were likely the sole custodians of Artie’s legacy, which could only be ensured if they saw to it that the Big Story, unaltered, was published. Only then would an otherwise conventional history take the shape of a declaration of emancipation. This is what Artie had given some of his best years to. It would be immoral to relegate it to some ash heap of eccentric ideas. She was also of the opinion that the logic of his arguments would offer spiritual and psychological relief to at least some of his intended audience. They would be empowered through ownership of their trauma, de-coupling it from its source and dealing with it independently so as to focus entirely on healing versus retribution. This had to be the first order of business. Tilting at windmills in the quest for justice was too consuming a distraction. Why should a small, victimized people carry the added burden of suing for damages? Let those that have the power to enforce justice mete it out. And let them suffer the consequences for a failure to do so. Arthur did not rule out the possibility that a legal remedy would one day be achieved, but he clearly thought civilizational restoration was possible without it. And restoration was the more immediate desideratum, particularly for the survivor generation.

            Maggie was not shy about expressing her views, particularly since she sensed general agreement around the table. It seemed to her the only issue to be settled was how Artie’s unexpurgated manuscript could be published in English and, hopefully, in Armenian. John and Takouhi said they were entirely sympathetic, but, they cautioned, Takouhi’s father did not share their view. This was no small matter. The family patriarch, now well into his seventies was a force to be reckoned with. He was an autodidact well versed in philosophy, literature and science. Although spared the horrors of his contemporaries, he was closely acquainted with their suffering from stories told by refugees who had made it to Iran, his birthplace. As a young man he had grown wealthy in the import-export business and become a prominent member of the Armenian community in Tabriz. He contributed substantial sums to build schools and clinics for the Armenian.

Diaspora in Iran and later in Europe and the US. In the late 1950s he and his wife had turned over the daily operations of their business empire to two sons and followed their college bound daughters to America. They lived rather modestly for a couple whose aid organization, the Avedis and Meline Dedarian Family Foundation, sponsored prominent Armenian charities on three continents. They moved in with Takouhi, their oldest, who was first to have children. The house in Watertown as well as one in Belmont and another in Weston were gifts from Avedis and Meline to their daughters. 

            Avedis spoke in the measured, circumspect tone of someone who knows his words carry great weight. He started by expressing his great admiration for Maggie, her work and her courage. He thanked her for her contributions to the Armenian community and to the cause of justice. To depersonalize their differences, he framed his argument in general terms. “I knew him well, Arthur Kazanjian. Poor guy never really knew the love of a woman, the embrace of a family. He invested all his emotions in his people which, I’m sorry to say, he apprehended mostly in the abstract.” Maggie feared the delicate tissue she had so painstakingly wrapped around her ideas was about to be torn to pieces. “Arthur so wanted to do something important, something big, for his mistreated landsmen,” Avedis averred, “to part the waters, to lead the persecuted to the promised land. To be a savior meant not only freeing his people but achieving a measure of personal redemption. He killed himself in the manic pursuit of this singular objective. I am afraid he suffered from what is called a messiah complex.

            “But let us not dwell on the man, let us analyze the soundness of his reasoning. He asks the Armenians to take ownership of their destiny, to remove the Turks from the equation, says bringing them to justice will not be enough to cure us of the disease of trauma. Emotional satisfaction will be fleeting, and material recompense will only cheapen the price of our suffering. 

            “I don’t know. 

            “To me these arguments are too abstract, too intellectual. I don’t believe the average Armenian, not certainly the survivor generation, will take comfort in them. You see, justice means far more than its modern, legal definition. I’m a Platonist in this regard and believe justice requires harmony in the physical being, whether it be man or the city. The head and heart are physical things that are mutually dependent. One cannot survive without the other. Asking our poor people to take ownership of their history in order to achieve true liberation makes for a creative intellectual solution but it cannot satisfy the requirements of the heart. We cannot enjoy genuine relief, healing, reconciliation, all things of the heart, without justice. Our people, strewn about as they are, bereft of a true nation, in the face of a largely indifferent world, must struggle to achieve justice for as long as it takes, because without it what the Turks set out to achieve through systematic killings will be accomplished through denial and justification. This is not a matter of turning the other cheek, of forgiving personal slights, without justice we face the real possibility of our people’s annihilation. The irony is it will be by our own hand if we adopt Arthur’s recommendation.         

“Arthur’s thesis appeals to me as much as it does to you all,” Avedis continued. “Don’t count me among Artie’s champions,” Meline interjected. “Fair enough, but to the three of you I say, Arthur wanted to be a savior. He truly loved his people and was pained by their suffering. His elegant argument is the product of deep contemplation, it demonstrates intellectual courage and moral imagination. He wanted to make matters right, to do it in his lifetime. But justice is not a time bound thing and asking our people to heal themselves in order to achieve closure is putting the horse before the cart. This is not a mere scab we bear that will heal in time, but a yawning gash in the fabric of our very being. The cosmos will not make sense to us, not for now, not forever, if the torn strands are not woven together, and for that to happen justice must prevail, for however long it takes. Arthur’s contention that justice may not lead to healing is based on a jurisprudential understanding, the philosophical one is actually more concrete, the body requires justice so that its parts are in harmony. Only when harmony between head and heart is achieved can real healing occur. There will be no closure without justice, not for the living and not for the dead, and we will forever be haunted by ghosts of our forefathers asking if their suffering was in vain.” 

            “I know you are thoughtful people,” Meline added, “and I don’t mean to waste your time repeating the obvious. I firmly believe the Big Story will see the light of day, that Arthur’s thesis will become widely known. The book should, must be available in English and Armenian so many more people, particularly those that meant the most to him, will have the opportunity to judge its merits. I share this point of view. I am also of the opinion that Arthur’s compelling intellectual solution will not lead to our salvation. The road we travel has but one destination and no exit ramps.”

            It was eleven o’clock. The children had retired hours before, the dining room table had been cleared, the last of the digestifs had been returned to the liquor cabinet. Heads were nodding as Avedis concluded his monologue. Maggie had not expected to spend so many hours at the house. A quick round of thank yous and goodnights filled the cold night air as John walked her to her car. He apologized for all the air time his father-in-law had commandeered. She said she admired the quality of his arguments but wanted to give more thought to what she had just read. Her immediate thought was how merciful God has been to end Arthur’s days he could know of the grave damage that had been done to his life’s work. Could it be he had a premonition?

            On the drive home, she thought about Artie, his lonely, manic quest. How much of his devotion to the Big Story could be characterized as compensating behavior? Would he have taken the same path if his personal life had been more fulfilling? What about her own dedication to the Armenian cause? Was she driven by a devotion to moral law or was she trying to offset personal guilt caused by conventional norms? She could not help but think the intensity of our commitment to cause is proportional to our need for redemption. We all have mixed motives; knowing more about the true source of our passions can temper our zeal, which may be good for our well-being but a loss for humanity. Maggie thought it quite possible that Augustine was compelled to produce the profoundly influential Confessions and City of God as compensation for his licentious behavior as a young man, and the world was made better for it. 

            Such ruminations kept her company as she drove home. Late night traffic lights were all flashing red as she approached Harvard Square. No one had the right of way.

10 replies »

  1. Didn’t think I would like it, but you hooked me and I very much enjoyed it. I appreciated the way the two points of view were developed. Initially convinced that Archie was right but now I’m not so sure.

  2. Avedis is my hero. What a good read. Brought out a lot of strong emotions. Sadly, what’s happening in Artsak right now is being largely ignored.

  3. A great illustration of the individual burden of researching, producing, and sharing stories of atrocities and the ripple effect on community members its impact can leave. The legacy of Artie and the Big Story are resounding. Even though he had no family, it is clear his real family was his series of daily interactions with friends at the diner and the library. Left me questioning victim ownership without justice all weekend

  4. Important, timely, and well-written.
    In this character-driven story, Mr. Gregorian gives us a reason to care about Artie’s thesis and because of our connection to the characters

  5. Important, timely, and well-written.

    In this character-driven story, Mr. Gregorian gives us a reason to care about Artie’s thesis and Avedis’ (somewhat) counter-thesis. We care about the two of them and see The Big Story through their eyes. Thus, we are left to contemplate how Armenia people can choose to move forward. , The Big Story works so well in forcing us to see those different choices and then in helping us sit in them. And – perhaps these choices are not mutually exclusive. For me, the central part of The Big Story is what is essentially Artie’s soliloquy in part IV. Regardless of the path one chooses to move forward, this piece creates a crystal clear focus that we can assent to or propose counter-arguments to. No matter our choice, it is incumbent on each of us to contemplate the issue. Nicely done.

    The Big Story can, if we choose, be seen as a metaphor for how any of us can choose to find personal power in life.
    Thanks you Mr. Gregorian.

  6. Nicely done Hrach, appreciate how you have captured these huge existential debates for Armenians, woven into a charming New England story line that draws you in with its quirky characters and cozy scenes that gave a real feel for the community. It drew me in and kept me there, and left me with many questions I never had before.

  7. Wow Hrach. Nicely done. I learned a lot about Armenian situations and stances that I hadn’t known before. The writing was easily ingested and digested! The Big Story is that you wrote a Big Story. An important story.

  8. Hrach, your characterizations are spot on, and your descriptions are so vivid, I could taste the diner and the family food. This was a compelling read and a succinct expression of the personal and political pressures a people living in diaspora would experience. The issues and arguments you so deftly depict are nothing if not timely in the wake of the horrific Hamas attack on Israel this fall. As questions of who is innocent and who is to blame swirl, and hatred engulfs the field of public discourse, the question of how to move forward to a place of lasting peace remains.

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