Measure of a Man

To fathers who love, who pray, who shed a tear
As they lay down their lives, in the big ways
And sometimes the harder small ways, for our families
At home, in our communities and across borders—
I salute you.
The measure of a man is not in your brute strength
But in the lessons we learned about hard work,
Faith, service, friendship, and respect for others taught by your example.
To fathers who sacrifice without self-pity, who defy stereotypes and who encourage us
To be faith driven and to look forward in life,
I salute you.
I salute you…
Because
The measure of a man is not the car in which he drives through life, but the size of the hole left behind when he leaves it.

Happy Father’s Day to dads on earth and in our hearts.

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Silence Is Never Really Silent


I ask, “Where shall we go for dinner?” while my husband searches for a favorite bottle of wine from the wine cooler. But the question is only a formality. We each know we will choose the usual restaurant a mile down the street from our home. We’ve been there before…many times. We like the food, the noisy clientele, the atmosphere. We take the short drive to the restaurant overflowing with early diners engaged in loud conversation. We catch the eye of the bartender and immediately find two seats at the bar. It has become a ritual. He asks if he should open the bottle for us. Yes, of course. He hands us the menu knowing full well that we don’t need it. But I read it from appetizers all the way through the desserts listed, just for fun. I choose the same thing as always. My husband opts for his traditional choice of platter which we both share. We toast to gratitude as we take our first sip of wine. We nod in approval. The vineyard and vintage has been tried and tested by our palates over the years. It is full bodied, with a spicy bouquet and rich in tears that cling to the side of the glass. It is hearty and intense, with a finish that is dry yet smooth, all at once. The first glass of wine goes down quickly among talk of work and events that transpire through the day. My husband pours more wine into the glasses. The conversation shifts from our individual day to a song I heard on the radio. We talk of nostalgia, of past and present. We talk of our children and families. We talk of science, life on other planets and the future of humanity. We discuss the struggle between science and religion. Do people realize the presence of God in the lives they lead? We talk of miracles. We talk of faith. We talk of love. We talk. And then, we pause. We know the deeply felt significance of the unspoken. We understand its profound power. We sit in silence. It’s the way it has always been for the past 42 years.

Forty two years ago we met in college. There were no expectations or pressure to become someone other than who we were. We came together and it just fit. There was a sense of physical and emotional intensity – heart pounding, eyes lighting up, dizzying skyrockets and roller coaster rides – drawing strength from each other. We spent hours over a cup of coffee which turned into a glass of wine as we watched the moon take over from day into night. We talked of future, of values and families. Children to be born, challenges to overcome and ladders to climb. And though we were young we were not as reticent as wine that holds back its bouquet. We quickly discovered that allowing a pause, an aeration if you will, would round out and soften any conversation like wine that is allowed to breathe. In such pauses, we felt the power and persuasion of silence. There was such authority in those moments that the act of saying nothing spoke louder than words ever could.

Now that I’m married I consider each day what it takes to stay married and in love for 42 years. I may not have the extravagant spontaneity of last-minute weekend trips or witty conversation over champagne brunches. I believe more in the sacred of the ordinary. I believe in love that is sustained by deliberate silence and the choice to see the profundity of the silence as testaments of love and commitment rather than indicators of a spark that has died—of love communicated each time we sit at a meal together, of loud, full bodied conversations that add spice to the thoughts; sometimes rich in tears of joy or sorrow. They are hearty; they are intense with a finish that is smooth. This picture of love is decidedly real, and in its own way more romantic because of the bold weight of its reality.

I trust silence. I trust its longing for wholeness, its desire to close the breach, its passion to unite what is out of reach. Think of silence in music, the pause—that empty moment, the “rest” that connects what came before and what is to come. Consider the pause that gives poetry its rhythm, or the pause in speech that throws you into the depth of what is to come next. A moment of awareness of the present, with a nod to the past and an ear turned to the future. So too, our lives need silence—amid the bright and tangy blend of vineyards that soften the intensity of ripened nuances—the predictable eloquence of pregnant pauses shakes us to our core. It feels like home without any rationale; the love that is like a storm and like the quiet calm of the night after.

Once again we raise our glasses. In the small silences of our predictable day, I choose him, and I choose love, all over again.

“Silence is never really silent.” (John Cage, composer)

 

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Mayr Im, Mother

   To all mothers who have left the light on with their unconditional love, this day belongs to you. Mother’s Day is a word that reminds us of hope, of life, of stability and belonging, of creation and procreation, symbolized by and encompassed in the word Mother. Mother earth, Mother Nature, motherland, mother church, mother tongue, mother ship, mother board, mother of all inventions, mother of all living things…mother. Women are the keepers of the balance of humanity, the conscience of nations, the flame that lights the hearth of countries, and rise up the next generations.

To the women who lead and to those who follow. To the women who teach and to those who learn. To women young, middle or aged, with or without child, working at home or out of the home, married, single or divorced, with money or without, who use their strength and their powers to become mothers of all living things, I salute you.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY.

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Victors Write History

Triumphant victors write history. And more often than not the triumphant are the more powerful past– the male. But just as history contains many times and many truths, it also contains many people—half of them women. The recent “velvet revolution” in Armenia, regardless of its final outcome, is one which will be written by her equally triumphant victor – the female.

Women’s involvement in the creation and reformation of democratic societies from past to present day has been essential to the peaceful process of change.

As I contemplate the role of women in social, cultural, and economic history, I realize ways in which the field of change has slowly evolved. Over the periods of different historical movements, women reformers directed their activities into areas, which were merely an extension of their domestic and traditional roles. They taught school, cared for the young, the poor, the sick, and the aged. They tended to the home. They conducted their lives according to a value system indoctrinated and defined by male dominated society. As their awareness expanded, they began to turn their attention toward the needs of others, namely women. They began to take a stand for female higher education; they spoke of prostitution, of moderation, and organized women for abolition of slavery. But it wasn’t until much later that their awareness grew to recognize the need to raise their subordinate place in society. Perhaps it was the restrains of their male counterparts and the oppressive “rule” of patriarchal society that gave way to the women’s rights struggle and the winning of suffrage and the institutional and organizational history of women’s movements. Whatever the cause, a movement becomes a revolution when someone feels the pain. And it is usually those who are subjected to subordination, who are marginalized, who are least able to bear it who hurt the most. It starts with one person. Eventually that single one person becomes two and three and then multiplies to become a large percentage of the populace. Soon, everyone begins to feel it, and the outrage of the people is loud enough to rock a nation.

I am reminded that it is the quality of great leaders and the ability to solve problems, that enable a people to live peacefully with faith and hope for their children and their grandchildren. Theirs is the desire to live in a fairer society, where citizens live with dignity and where nepotism and corruption do not lead to extremes of social income inequality and poverty. Per official statistics, over one third of Armenians live in poverty and the country’s population has declined below 3 million due to both emigration and a shrinking birth rate. After two decades of discontent and anger in a morally bankrupt kleptocracy, could the nation have held onto another year of the same? No!

I have the greatest respect and admiration for the women who stood in frontlines and next to and behind the people of a nation that felt the pain and the need to implement a more democratic and just system of governance; a system which recognizes and respects the rule of law and the human rights of Armenia’s citizens. People took to the streets and squares in Yerevan, Gyumri, Vanadzor, and smaller towns and villages throughout the country. There was kindness, tolerance and courtesy in their unwavering determination for change. More and more women, young people, and disabled people, became involved in the protests. I marveled at how their patriotism was manifest by each of their talents, gifts or abilities. Some took to the streets with their musical talent, others with their gift of dance, some with voices that rose as sweet as the Gregorian chants, while others who were disabled and served within their homes took to clanking pots and pans to participate in the rally to take action. This civil awakening of a nation systematically and smoothly proved that strength is in solidarity. The bravery of both women and men who courageously stood up to protect a nation’s survival is self-preservation at its best. It’s Patriotism.

Women activists have a history of not always being welcome in public offices and key decision-making forums. We have seen that all too often. But women are no longer the oppressed and vulnerable. Their actions and voices speak with and for an entire nation.

How will historians record this movement, this “velvet revolution”?Simply put, to overlook or minimize women’s role in the making of a robust, healthy, prosperous nation would be unpatriotic. We must all become triumphant victors…in a Nation of Equity.

 

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March to Protect History

Today, Armenians commemorate those who lost their lives during the Genocide on April 24, the day in 1915 when several hundred Armenian intellectuals and professionals were arrested and executed as the start of the genocide. This was the prelude to the large-scale extermination of the Armenians in which 1.5 million Armenians died.

For Armenians throughout the world, this April 24 especially, will mark not only the continued determination of a people to seek retribution for injustices and atrocities intentionally inflicted by the Turks to eliminate the Armenians, but it will mark the civil awakening of a nation that smoothly, systematically proved yesterday that strength lies in solidarity. Disciplined and resolute, with unwavering determination and persistence, the people asked for change in the Republic of Armenia, and their voices were heard after 11 days of massive protests culminating in the resignation of Serge Sarkisian, Prime Minister. Armenia taught a lesson to many in the world…to democracies, hybrid regimes, and authoritarian states alike…. that a Peaceful Revolution, a Velvet Revolution, is powerful. The presence of tens of thousands of broad based support from different layers of society (truck drivers, shop keepers, farmers, educators, artists, physicians, the middle class, the richer, the poorer, the young, the old, etc.) proved the integrity and passion of the people of the Republic of Armenia and the Diaspora whose unified voices demanded a leadership in government that could be trusted to listen to the people.

With change comes further sacrifice. The road is long. There are many serious challenges– from socio economic to the regional challenges of peace deals with neighbors; from human rights violations that translate politics into policy; from corruption to transparency and trust in communication, to name a few. However, I have full confidence in the Armenian citizens and especially in the youth. They understand their moral obligation to speak out against the hierarchy status of power. They are educated and have the knowledge to methodically, step by step, build the institutions that will better serve the country and the Armenian people.

Yesterday, history was made. Today, we protect history. We march in thousands as one river of humanity, to speak out against the denialist mentality of the Turkish government and all governments who use their status of power to distort the truth of our history.   It is our moral obligation to speak out to honor the martyred ancestors of our history, and to advocate “Genocide, Never Again.” Together, as one, on this National Day of Remembrance of Man’s Inhumanity to Man,  we march for world recognition of  the Armenian Genocide. We march to protect our history.

 

 

 

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Genocide…Never Again Failed

In March 2018, the Center for the Prevention of Genocide published a report that “Every day, Syrian men, women, and children are falling victim to the constant bombardment of their neighborhoods, schools, markets, and hospitals.” We read about it. We hear snippets of it in the news in between reports centered on the increasing abuse of power of our politicians toward the American people. We call these attacks genocide. (March 2016 Secretary of State John Kerry called these attacks genocide against Yazidis, Christians and other minorities in the region.) Syrians are being subjected to starvation, exposure, diseases, and lack of medical care; to enforced disappearances; to chemical weapons attacks—which are banned under international law—and to torture, rape, and killings. Half the country’s pre-war population (11 Million) have been killed or forced to leave their homes. The number of Syrian refugees is rapidly rising at over 5.5 million, and another 6.1 million are internally displaced.

Calling these attacks genocide is meaningless because this great nation, the United States of America, has failed to heed the lessons of the tragic history of the first genocide of the 20th century. I repeat what the Armenians have been saying for over one hundred years when the first genocide of the century occurred at the hands of Ottoman Turkey and which, to this day, has not been recognized as mass murder in genocide but which continues to be ignored and evaded—GENOCIDE AND ETHNIC CLEANSING CONTINUE IF THE RESPONSIBLE PERPETRATOR IS NOT HELD FULLY ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE ATROCITIES OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY COMMITTED IN THE FIRST GENOCIDE OF THE 20TH CENTURY—THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE. A century after the Armenian Genocide, 7 decades after the Holocaust, and promises of Never Again, the living hell continues…Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Iraq, Burma, South Sudan and so many more…and Syria, a regime targeting its own people while the international community stands by.

From the beginning, Bashar Al Assad’s regime, like his father Hafez before him, directly targets civilians to punish and seek revenge on real or perceived opponents of the government and to secure military assets and regain territory lost to opposition fighters. Their response is with bloody assault. In 1982, unarmed protesters were mowed down by bullets and tank shells. An entire city was killed with reports of chemical attack putting the number at 20,000 while the Syrian Human Rights Watch put the number at 40,000. Still more were detained and tortured. Reports by Syrian Human Rights Committee claimed “over 25,000” or “between 30,000 and 40,000 people were killed.” This month’s exodus of civilians from Syria is a reminder of how the conflict that sparked today’s worst humanitarian catastrophe continues to hit new lows as it enters its eighth year.

Somewhere we have lost ourselves as humans. We, meaning the western “we,” who assume that we are totally separate from other countries and peoples. Somewhere, we have lost our compassion, choosing politics and material over people. It is definitely not what makes our country– a nation of immigrant mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers—great. At a glance we see hundreds of faces of children, of families. The faces have no names to a nation of materialism, mass conveniences and decisions of exclusion. But look at their faces. Their dark stained cheeks where tears have run, the barren stares, the hollow eyes. All are famished, desperate, displaced, devastated, lonely, and frightened. It is an image we’ve seen thousands of times in our history. Their clothing differentiate the dogma but they don’t separate the grief. The loss is universal. Each a picture of death asking for prayer, kindness and compassion. In the name of humanity.

Whether we want to accept it or not, we are part of this system, each one of us. We are all entitled to human rights by the very consequence of being human. If we shrug our shoulders and usurp our own power to make a change, to create even a tiny revolution of our own doing, we follow suit with the international community that has failed to uphold the commitment of “Never Again” made at the end of World War II. (Had it been made and upheld by recognition of the Armenian Genocide, perhaps the course of history would have been brighter.) Should we not rise against such atrocities? Should we not stand up and fight for ourselves and others? When will humanity become so concerned that we band together to put a stop to such injustice?

On April 24, Armenians across the globe will once again band together to march for justice. They will be taking on their shoulders the responsibility of creating a tiny revolution, with a river of humanity for a better world that professes “Never Again.” For the sake of humanity.  It starts with me. It starts with you. Because we are humanity. If we choose to be.

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Fearless Girl

A statue of a “Fearless Girl” faces the “Charging Bull” of Wall Street in New York. She was installed March 8, 2017 in honor of International Women’s Day with an inscription at the base that reads, “Know the power of women in leadership. She makes a difference.” Needless to say, Fearless Girl became an immediate hit, drawing crowds who snapped selfies or stood alongside the bronze child and mimicked her pose: hands on her hips, slight smile on her face, and her skirt and ponytail seeming to blow in the breeze. She stands a little over 4 feet tall. She’s brave, proud and strong. 

“Fearless Girl” was created by the sculptor Kristen Visbal. While the statue became the topic of discussion and stirred controversy by some who wished to have her removed, the push to make the statue permanent began shortly after her installation. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio called the statue a symbol of “standing up to fear, standing up to power, being able to find in yourself the strength to do what’s right.” He announced the decision to extend her stay until the next International Women’s Day, which is in two days. City officials in New York are still deciding what to do after March 8, 2018 when the fate of Fearless Girl will be decided.

If Charging Bull (male) represents optimism and stubbornness and stands as a symbol of American capitalism creating a better America and a better world, it stands to reason that a confident Fearless Girl should take equal part in creating a better nation and a better world. “Fearless Girl” sends a message to the financial industry about gender equality. This girl facing the bull also says to Wall Street that we need more diversification on the boards of companies because there are serious obstacles that confirm the historical imbalance in discrimination and exploitation in leadership roles. For example, it’s common knowledge that female entrepreneurs receive far less funding for their startups than men. What is surprising is just how far behind women really are. In 2017, according to PitchBook, women-led companies received only two percent of the seed money put into the startup economy. In stark contrast, companies run by men received 79 percent of the $85 billion that seed monies invested last year. The gender gap is wide. Female founders receive funding at lower levels than men. PitchBook reported that while the average deal size for companies led by men was $12 million in 2017, for women-led companies, that average was as low as $5 million. How can we talk about equality when companies are not as committed to leveling the playing field to hire or fund equally the number of women in the corporate industry? The earning gap between genders also remains imbalanced and discriminatory with women earning an average of .80 cents for every dollar earned by men in comparable work. Research also shows that men are promoted to leadership positions based on potential while women are judged on their performance. ‘Thinking’ women who talk in meetings are aggressive while men who do so are bold and smart. Gender biases. They still dominate the corporate industry all around the world. Yet there is no situation I can imagine in which women are less in comparison to men.

This year, it is even more imperative that Fearless Girl stand up to the Bull. Her fate comes in the wake of unprecedented global movement for women’s rights, equality and justice. Sexual harassment, violence and discrimination against women has captured headlines and public discourse, impelled by a rising determination for change. This year, the theme for International Women’s Day, “Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives,” is apropos. We need to help forge a better working world; a more inclusive, gender equal world.  We need role models to inspire the next generation of girls – to lead by example, to show them that no career, no future path, is out of their reach. Empowering girls is the only way to protect their rights. And for those women who have made their mark as equals in their field, we need our young people to view them as the norm, not the exception.

The greatest human rights challenge in our world is achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls from every angle. It remains the unfinished business of our time. Fearless Girl is a powerful symbol to women young and old to take on this challenge. Time is now. Empowering women shouldn’t be temporary; “Fearless Girl” must be a permanent sculpture in our minds and in our world.

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