Medz Yeghern: The 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

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The official banner commemorating the centennial anniversary of the Armenian genocide in the UK.

 

 

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A depiction of the Syrian desert death marches.

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A map of the Ottoman empire of 1914.

 

April 24, 1915 marks the date that started the carnage sealing the fate of an estimated 800 thousand to 1.5 million Armenian people who were systematically murdered at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in what has come to be known as the Armenian Genocide. Similar to the Jewish holocaust of World War II, the Armenian genocide was the governmental extermination of Armenians as a minority within the region that is now known as the Republic of Turkey. The first cycle of this bloodbath (that didn’t end until 7 years later in 1922), involved the mass murders and forced subjugation of physical labor of the young and robust male population. The second cycle of the Armenian genocide involved the Syrian death marches.

Women, children, and elderly in large numbers were marched southward to the Syrian deserts where they were then subject to frequent incidents of rape, robbery, and physical abuse. Many died on these marches from starvation, and lack of water. Those who tried to stop and take a break were shot on site.

The ancient Armenians had inhabited what was known as their homeland for many years prior to the Turk invasion in the eleventh century. With this invasion came significant problems for the Armenian population. For one, the Turks were mostly followers of the Muslim religion and began to rule while labeling Armenian Christians as second class citizens denying them their right to vote and going so far as to tax them for identifying as Christian.

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A painted depiction of a meeting of the Young Turks political group.

 

With the growing trend of Turkish nationalism came the creation of a political group known as the Young Turks who were an ultra nationalist organization whose political ideologies included the end goal of a wholly Muslim and Turkish state. Behind the smoke of World War I, the Ottoman Turks began their attack on the Armenians starting by targeting the thousands of Armenian soldiers enlisted in the Turkish army. This event is known to the Armenian people as “Medz Yeghern” meaning Great Crime. On the 24th of this month, the Armenian community, along with its sympathizers remembered this time of sadness in fellowship with marches, rallies and speeches centered around this harrowing topic. However, Armenians today face another hurdle concerning this 20th century genocide—recognition that it was a genocide in the first place.

 

100 years later, the modern Turkish government does not recognize the massacre at Anatolia to be deemed a genocide. Perhaps even more surprising (to me anyway) is the fact that the United States and Israel are also among the ranks of the few nations who also refuse to use the language specific to genocide when talking about the event. Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide comes from claims within the Turkish and Azerbaijan governments that there was no plot to exterminate the Armenian race, but that there was a more complicated inter-ethnic war taking place, that Muslim Turks were also killed during that time, and that the numbers produced by scholars concerning the number of Armenian dead are inflated.

Speculation has been made that President Obama’s refusal to use the term genocide is largely because of the United State’s alliance with Turkey— despite that a majority of 43 states have declared their agreement that the massacre of 1915 was indeed a genocide. This year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the event, a recorded 130 thousand people marched in Los Angeles from Little Armenia to the Turkish Consulate in solidarity. On the eastern side of the United States, there was also a gathering of thousands of Armenian-American youth in Times Square where they marched waving the Armenian flag,  wearing Red carnations and chanting, “Turkey is responsible for genocide”.

It would seem that 100 years later, Armenia still has something to fight for—even if it’s just the recognition their bloodied history deserves.

Armenian-American rally in New York for the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Armenian-American rally in New York for the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Deaf Culture Across the Globe: The life of the deaf in France, India and the U.S.

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deaf pride

The universal symbol for deaf pride

Deaf Culture describes the social beliefs, behaviors, literature, art, values, traditions and shared customs that unite those within the deaf and hard of hearing community. This community finds solidarity in the issues faced in being deaf, and the use of sign language as a main mode of communication. A huge difference in perception of deafness between the “hearing” community and members of the Deaf culture, is that deaf people view their lifestyles as a different human experience instead of a disability.

Because of the deaf community’s minority population in comparison to that of the hearing community, they are often faced with the prejudices similar to those of other oppressed groups. Accommodation for people who are deaf has grown, and more awareness is being spread for those who are unfamiliar with deaf culture. Here, we will be taking a glimpse into what deaf life has been and currently is, in three countries. These countries being India, France, and the United States.

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The French flag

The first school for the deaf, whose current name is Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris (INJS) was opened in 1760 in Paris,France by Charles-Michel de l’Épée. The school was started when l’Épée, a philanthropic educator who is now popularly dubbed “The Father of the Deaf”, met 2 young girls who were hearing impaired and in need of an instructor. l’Épée is also credited with being the creator of the world’s first sign alphabet for the deaf. Currently, France is a part of the European Union of the deaf, which is a non-profit that is the only organization that represents the interests of deaf Europeans at a union level. The National Federation of France for the Deaf is another major program in France, geared toward deaf support and awareness on a governmental level.

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The flag of India

In modern day India, deaf entrepreneurship is a reoccurring issue that exists as a result of the heavy social and societal stigmas placed on those identified as being deaf or Hard of Hearing. Hinduism, which is the predominant religion in India, is historically known as including text (specifically in the Law code of Manu) that can be interpreted as oppressing those who are deaf. In the Law Code of Manu, it states that a person who is deaf should not be allowed to own property, but is to rely on the charity of others in their daily lives. This text and examples like these, along with preexisting negative views of deaf people as the “other” has made India one of the most difficult and least accommodating places in the world for those who are deaf/Hard of Hearing.

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A translated copy of Manu’s code of Law

Because of India’s overwhelming size and population, there is a large and colorful variation of dialects of sign language within the country—making communication between deaf people in India difficult as well. According to an article on joshuaproject.net, there are 10-15 million deaf people in India, and that this large deaf population is poorly connected and uniformed of the resources within their community geared towards helping them. The main approach in classrooms toward the deaf community in India is the oral way of teaching. Leaving the education of members of the deaf community neglected due to a need in labor workers.

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The United States Flag

The United States is seen as one of the more progressive countries in terms of accommodation for the deaf and HoH. While legislation and social awareness campaigns have been responsible in large part for the U.S.’s growing success in this area, the installation of deaf culture in media and television has proven to be pretty impressive and helpful. For example, Switched at Birth is an ABC network show that surrounds the life of two teenage girls who find out that they were, well, switched at birth. One of the girls, Daphne Vasquez, has been deaf since a young age due to an infection that she caught when she was still in infancy. Watching the show, you learn many things about the deaf and deaf culture. The television series features multiple deaf actors and shines light on common misconceptions that the hearing population has about the deaf community by showing rather than telling.

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The television poster for Switched at Birth

However, the U.S. is not without its setbacks concerning awareness and accommodation for those of the deaf community. While many large public and private institutions (like the University of Missouri) have interpreters, a discouraging amount of Americans are still pretty ignorant when it comes to what deaf people can and can’t do as a result of their inability to hear. The United states has two similar but different forms of sign language. There’s the more commonly used American sign language (ASL) and the lesser known signed English language. The key difference between these two is that ASL deals more with gestures that include entire phrases, while English sign language works more with word by word translations.  Common complaints of those who are deaf in the U.S. is the need for those who are talking to face them when doing so. If communication is done by lip-reading, this social interaction requires 100% visibility on part of the deaf person involved. Discrimination against those who are deaf in America is still a very current problem even on the judicial level. On March 31,2015, a federal court ruled that three Indiana judges discriminated against a deaf citizen. In this case, the citizen, Steve Prakel wanted to attend his mother’s court proceedings and requested an interpreter in order to be able to do so. Despite multiple requests, the judges refused him accommodation and did not install an interpreter.

A more popular incident that occurred in South Africa, but was broadcast internationally that shed a light on the issue of oppression within the deaf community is the Nelson Mandela memorial debacle of 2013 .

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A meme of Thami Jantjie

During President Obama’s speech in address to the memorial, government recruited interpreter Thami Jantjie made a bunch of fake signs that upset the deaf community at large. Random gesticulations and childish motions comprised Jantjie’s “interpretation” of President Obama’s speech, and the problem wasn’t addressed until after the speech was finished. This was a problem that would have presumably been addressed much more quickly had Jantjie been posing as a translator for an oral language.

To sum up this post, the world still has a lot more growing to do in terms of learning about and accepting deaf culture, (some more than others).

Up Helly Aa: A Scottish Tradition and a town on fire

 

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Photo cred: uphellyaa.org

 Picture this: It’s late January in Scotland and from your hotel window you see what appears to be thousands of men march past in varying degrees of viking garb carrying weapons and chanting in unison. The sleepy town of Lerwick once darkened by the night sky, now lit orange and yellow with the glow of fire. A large wooden galley in the shape of a dragon sits on a lake, built solely for the purpose of the evening’s festivities. Eventually, the marching stops and all of the heavily costumed men or guizers led by a man in an ornate raven-feathered helmet, chants above them all in a rousing call and response as voices rise higher and higher.

 All at once, the town is flooded with silence. The Jarl, the leader of the group elected by fellow guizers (donning the raven-feathered helmet) makes a signal and a bugle horn is sounded- thousands of torches are thrown onto the dragon boat. This is Up Helly Aa.

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Lerwick,Scotland-The burning of the boat. Photo cred: David Gifford photography

 Up Helly Aa, despite being a fairly modern holiday, has a rich history. Celebrated in the Shetland region of Scotland with its origins dating back to the early 1800’s, it is celebrated in a total of nine Shetland towns, the largest celebration being held in Lerwick. Up helly aa was at first a week long event with very little organization and plenty of drinking, chanting, dancing and merriment. In older times, non-participating villagers would open up their homes for the drunken men to sleep or eat food and recharge for another round of revelry. The holiday is celebrated on the last Tuesday of January in order to commemorate the end of the yule season.

 Up Helly Aa consists of 3 main events; The burning of the boat, the procession, and the grand feasts and performances in town halls. For four months, thousands of townspeople combine resources, time and skill to build the ornate dragon galley that gets burned down by torch fire at the beginning of the festivities.

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 Photo cred: uphellyaa.org

 The procession begins thereafter where all men sporting the custom uniform of the year carry lighted torches around the town parading to the song of Up Helly Aa whose chorus goes:

“Grand old Vikings ruled upon the ocean vast,

Their brave battle-songs still thunder on the blast;

Their wild war-cry comes a-ringing from the past;

We answer it “A-oi”!

Roll their glory down the ages,

Sons of warriors and sages,

When the fight for Freedom rages,

Be bold and strong as they!”

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Lerwick town hall where the Jarl Guizer is granted “freedom of the town for 24 hours. Photo cred: David Gifford Photography

 Town halls open up for themed parties in which members of different guizers (cleverly named for their viking disguises) perform their skits for rowdy crowds. Most of these hall parties are pretty exclusive with a few exceptions. Some halls are open to the public for those who purchase a ticket to participate in the festivities. Here, eating, drinking and dancing takes place-and it is the goal of each guizer to dance with at least one lady in the hall.

 The next morning, those in a state of hangover and exhaustion from the night prior get an entire day to recover-the Wednesday after is the actual Up Helly Aa day where school, work and most shops are closed for the holiday. On Thursday, everything returns to normal; the ferocious viking men of Up Helly Aa go back to their day jobs, the pungent odor of soot eventually wafts from the air, and preparation for the next year’s Up Helly Aa begin in Autumn.

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(The Town of Lerwick) Photo cred: Redbubble.com