Armenian Embassy Hosts Book Launch in BerlinBy Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
BERLIN, JUNE 7, 2014 — Armenians are famous for their books, from the illustrated manuscripts of the Bible and other religious works, to printed works in all areas of learning.
A new little book written by an Armenian and about Armenians has been attracting public attention in the United States. This is the volume by Dr. Hagop Martin Deranian, which tells the story of an oriental rug, woven by Armenian orphan girls in Ghazir, Lebanon and sent in 1925 to Calvin Coolidge, then president of the United States, as a token of gratitude to the American people for their support for survivors of the Genocide. On May 28, the German edition of Deranian’s book, Präsident Calvin Coolidge und der Armenische Waisenteppich, was officially presented at an event hosted by the Armenian Ambassador to Germany, Dr. Vahan Hovhannisyan. Complimentary copies of the book were made available to participants. It is sure to send ripples through the intellectual and political world here as well.
Speaking to a gathering of invited guests, among them members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of the Armenian community, both from the church and cultural circles, and prominent figures in German-Armenian relations, like Dr. Rolf Hosfeld, director of the Lepsius House in Potsdam, and Armenologist Prof. Armenuhi Drost-Abarjan, as well as press, Hovhannisyan pointed to the significance of the date: May 28 marks the anniversary of the founding of the first Armenian Republic. He noted that earlier in the day he had attended the official opening of an exhibition at the German Historical Museum on the First World War. The fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had spoken there testified to the importance attributed here to commemoration of that horrendous conflict which marked a watershed in modern history. It was, as the Armenian ambassador stressed, in the context of that upheaval that the Genocide was planned and executed. Not only Armenians of the Diaspora have a special relationship to that tragedy, but also citizens in the modern Republic of Armenia, among them members of his wife’s family who were survivors.
Turning to the book, Hovhannisyan summarized the moving story of the rug woven by the orphan girls and thanked all those including the publisher Schiler-Verlag (represented at the event by editor Tim Mücke) for making the German version possible.
As the author was not able to be there in person, I had the honor of introducing his book. The presentation drew largely on the afterword written especially for the German translation by Dr. Ara Ghazarians, editor and curator of the Armenian Cultural Foundation, which published the English version. In it, Ghazarians chronicled the political debate unleashed by the Smithsonian Institution’s request to the White House to have the rug on loan for an exhibition last December. As readers of the Mirror-Spectator know, that event was cancelled after the White House reversed its decision to make the rug available for public display. On the heels of a Washington Post article on the issue, a barrage of critical articles, discussions, essays, reports, press conferences and media coverage of the issue followed. It was mooted that behind the White House’s curious behavior political pressure had been exerted, in order to protect Turkish-American relations which might be affected by display of the rug.
Political figures sympathetic to the Armenian cause along with Armenian advocacy groups mobilized to exert further pressure on the White House until, just prior to the Berlin event, the news broke that it had finally agreed to allow public display of the beautiful rug next Autumn.
In my remarks, I stressed the particular poetical power of this book to raise questions about the 1915 Genocide, without engaging in political arguments or polemics. Simply put, if those Armenian orphan girls wove that rug in Ghazir and sent it to Coolidge as a gesture of gratitude, then that raises questions: gratitude for what? What did he as president, or what did the Americans as a people, do for these orphans? And why? Why, indeed, were they orphans? Who or what killed their parents and their families? And why? Just as the book has detonated a minor political earthquake in the US, so, it is hoped, the same may occur in Germany. In this country, with its large Turkish community, many groups have begun preparations for commemorations of the centennial of the Genocide next year, and Deranian’s book offers a precious contribution to that process.
Bea-Ehlers Kerbekian, an Armenian-German actress in Berlin, delivered a dramatic reading of selections from the book, which traced for the participants the story of the rug. Before and after her moving rendition of the account, music was provided by Lusine Arakelyan, a talented young Armenian singer who is visiting Germany. Arakelyan, born in Gumri, has completed studies in piano and singing, including a master’s degree at the Yerevan Conservatory, and has won numerous competitions.
Currently in Germany for a series of auditions and competitions (including at the Komitas Festival in early June), she gave a solo concert on June 1 at church in Berlin. Organized by a relatively new cultural initiative, the Association of European and Armenian Experts (AEAE), the concert introduced Arakelyan’s vast repertoire, from songs by Komitas to opera arias from Verdi and vocal works by German, Russian and Armenian composers.
Artak Kirakosyan, who welcomed guests to the concert, is cultural director of the AEAE, himself a renowned tenor who has sung also at Armenian commemorative events.
Just a day after the embassy reception, Dr. Deranian’s book again became the focus of discussion at another gathering in the German capital. This was one of a series of meetings organized by Armenian artist Archi Galentz of the Interior DaSein atelier, together with a “think-tank” called Sprechsaal. For over a month, the two cultural circles have organized lectures, book presentations, film showings and art exhibits, all on the theme, “Armenia, Armenia.” On May 29, in the context of a book presentation on an Armenian theme, the orphan rug book was introduced.
One woman from the Armenian cultural community burst out with her rave review of the book, which, she said, she had received at the embassy reception and, once having begun, could not put it down. Plans are afoot for further presentations of the book in Germany, including at the Lepsius House in Potsdam.