and by the Wicked Local Winchester march 8, 2010.
By Nicole Laskowski/Staff Writer
GateHouse News Service
Posted Mar 08, 2010 @ 01:25 PM
Winchester, MA — Muriel Mirak-Weissbach may have grown up in the quiet neighborhoods of Winchester and Arlington, but she’s no stranger to the fallout of conflict.
Instead, for Mirak-Weissbach, the daughter of two Armenian genocide survivors, it was all around her when she was growing up. Even if she didn’t realize it back then. Even if it only became clear and then clearer as she grew older.
The linchpin of clarity came as Mirak-Weissbach, now a resident of Germany, traveled again into the fallout of conflict.
Always interested in politics, Mirak-Weissbach became involved in the political movements in Germany during the 60s and 70s. And as the years turned from one to the next, her interests also turned — to the work of the Arab and Islamic world.
In 1991, after Dessert Storm, she led an initiative called the Committee to Save the Children in Iraq, assisted by the Chaldean Church of Iraq and a human rights organization called the International Progress Organization. The group put together humanitarian aid in the form of food and medicine and, in even in the face of an embargo on the country, delivered it to the people of Iraq. The group was also able transport some of the children who most needed medical attention back to children’s hospitals in Virginia and Germany.
She took these stories home with her, back to Arlington, and shared them with her mother. Stories that were so close to her mother’s own experiences in Armenia, they soon unlocked memories long buried away.
And so began the journey of “Through the Wall of Fire: Armenia-Iraq-Palestine From Wrath to Reconciliation,” a book focused on conflict, struggle and finally hope told through the eyes of children.
Q. Each section – Armenia, Iraq and Palestine – focuses on the stories of children. Why?
A It’s my understanding that if one can grasp the nature of the trauma they went through, one can somehow open one’s heart to the catastrophes and find the courage to identify the forces ultimately behind these tragedies. And my argument is that in order to overcome these conflicts, one has to first come to terms with historical reality, but there is no collective guilt. Instead, there was a discreet group backed by powerful international people. That has to be acknowledged in order to be forgiven.
Q So the message here is forgiveness?
A To forgive and forget. But to forgive, you first have to acknowledge it happened. Peace could only come about if each side acted in the interest and the benefit of the other. It’s a noble concept. I believe this can be achieved.
Q But this doesn’t just happen. How can these countries get to the place you’re talking about?
A The example I chose at the end of the book is a metaphor for how this could unfold. In an experiment launched by the Argentine-Israeli musician Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said … an orchestra made up of Israeli and Palestinian (and other Arab) youth to play great classical music.
They had to find kids willing to enter such an experiment … They practiced in daytime with Barenboim. In evenings, at least three or four times a week, they had open-ended discussions with Said about everything. In the course of these discussions, these kids learned about the tragedies of the other side.
At the height of Gaza war in January 2009, the orchestra was beginning a world tour to celebrate their 10-year jubilee. Because of hostilities in Gaza, they couldn’t play, and they shifted their venue to Berlin.
The concert sold out immediately after it was announced … It was overwhelming. Here you have this brutal insanity taking place in Gaza. And here you see Israelis and Palestinians really struggling to communicate great ideas in music. This for me — I was struggling with the book at the time — and then after seeing this concert, I thought, this is the key. This is how Israelis and Palestinians should be relating to each other … The experiment proves that people can change fundamentally.
Q What is the “Wall of Fire?”
A The title comes from an episode of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” It was an important work for me when I was younger.
Dante goes through Hell, Purgatory and then wants to enter Paradise. Virgil tells him he can, but that he will have to go through a Wall of Fire to get there. He is terrified, since the flames remind him of the suffering in Hell. Virgil tells him: On the other side of the Wall of Fire is Beatrice. Suddenly there’s a change inside Dante. The name somehow sparked an internal change in his emotional outlook. Instead of being obsessed with fears or himself, he’s focusing on someone else, his beloved, on a loving relationship. And at this point he goes through flames, and on other side, he reaches Beatrice.
I chose the title as a metaphor for the emotional challenge, I believe, the political leadership and the populations in these areas are faced with.
If someone signs a piece of paper, it’s not going to bring peace. Because peace is not the absence of war. It’s a transformation of an adversarial relationship into a relationship of cooperation.
Q Did you have to travel through your own 'Wall of Fire' to write this book.
A I knew somewhat about what my parents’ suffered, but I didn’t really learn the details of it until the 1990s. After many years of work in this field and a lot of travel in the region, I decided to write the book. This came out of a certain sense of reflecting back on what had shaped my decisions to become politically active and a political analyst and journalist in these areas.
I had to work through what my parents actually experienced. And doing research of what my parents experienced was like going through Dante’s hell … Confronting the brutality of that genocide in the context of the insanity of the First World War, it was an intellectual and emotional confrontation that I can compare to this wall of fire. In reading accounts, there is a tendency to be bitter, to hate, to blame. I had to really confront that and say it’s not true. It’s not a population, the Turks, who actually did this. I had to reorganize my emotional attitude toward these events and toward my own personal background. And I had to overcome it.
Muriel Mirak-Weissbach’s book “Through the Wall of Fire” is available at NAASR, 395 Concord Avenue, Belmont; Armenian Cultural Foundation, 441 Mystic Street, Arlington; St. James Armenian Apostolic Church, 465 Mount Auburn St., Watertown; www.abrilbooks.com and amazon.com.
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