Sunday, April 30, 2023

Hesaid-Shesaid Disease

58. Hesaid-Shesaid Disease (30 April 2023)

It's springtime, and the Mediterranean is not
too cold for a swim. (2 Apr. 2023 - AUB, Beirut)

Supermarkets in the U.S. have (or used to have) bulletin boards near the entrance, a place to post community activity announcements, job advertisements, lost dog posters, Fire Prevention Week fliers, you name it. Occasionally I would notice someone standing and examining each notice; but usually these bulletin boards were merely something to pass on your way out or your way into the store. Now, times have changed, and the bulletin board as well as its relative, the newspaper gossip column, have transformed into a new, electronic format, eagerly consumed by people the world over.

Lake Laziza – stagnant waters
collecting in the site of yet another
useless construction project.
(27 Mar. 2023 - Mar Mikhael)

            Social media platforms guide the thinking of so many people, young and old. Sometimes it guides its users to access well-thought-out writings about important issues or events. Often it entices us into habits that divert us from looking deeply or critically into topics. I would propose that our God-given minds and consciences are also “platforms” to help us consider what is true, or beautiful, or healthy, as well as what is “good, acceptable and perfect” (cf. Romans 12.2). The condition of today’s “marketplace of ideas” – a condition that predates the Internet – swarms with lies and half-truths, as well as with vested interests, mixed together with Truth. Separating the worthwhile from the worthless is akin to trying to separate the ingredients of a tabbouleh salad once it is mixed.

            But effort must be spent in separating the good and bad, no matter how painstaking the task. The discipline of deep thinking, including research and debate, is crucial to avoiding a relativism, antagonism and shallowness. And it is a rare, perhaps endangered, species.

Another sign of spring, high in the mountains
of Lebanon (10 Mar. 2023 - Azzounieh)

            At one time newspapers and periodicals bristled with the pointed tips of journalistic and academic inquiry. They played an essential role in in piercing shells of deceit and kept the “He said-She said Disease”, so prevalent in partisan and entertainment “news”. It pushed back the waves of mendacity of the powerful, and challenged vested interests. Where there should be courageous truth-telling, too often news reports are filled with “he said this, but, on the other hand, she said that”. A shrug of the shoulders, and on to the next story.

             And this is why April is the bitterest month for Armenians. They suffer from the “Hesaid-Shesaid Disease” that runs rampant in popular and populist media. Their just cause, and the unacknowledged and unpunished crime against them, has been turned into a target of the propaganda war by those responsible – the governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan. The Armenian nation, in its struggling Eastern portion, and its exiled Western portion, has been seated at a table replete with impotent statements of sympathy from world powers demonstrating their prowess in verbal gymnastics.

And this is why we now have 24-hour
electricity. And a working elevator.
(6 Apr. 2023 - Geitawi, Beirut)

           Caught in such a worldwide web as this, it is no wonder that militant groups have emerged from among all subjugated people groups, and not just from Armenians. Those who are silenced or sidelined from public forums can often see no other way than this: to force the powerful to pay attention to (and sometimes feel on their own skin) the injustices that are freely roaming the streets of every city and country, easily ignored by an otherwise occupied public. Sadly, the chronic disenfranchisement of such people groups leads to their disarray, dismemberment and dissolution, something widely observed among my people. 

        Allowing “Hesaid-Shesaid Disease” to spread unchecked may be intentional. It enables genocidal regimes to bend the wills of “great powers” who don’t want to endanger their access to resources. It allows Turkey and Azerbaijan to declare historic Armenian lands and culture as its own. It emboldens them to claim that Armenia and Armenians never existed. It gives them a green light to persist in their genocidal policies, both “soft genocide” and “hard genocide”. It gives credence to Hitler’s dismissal of concerns over his genocide against the Polish people, telling his generals in 1939 to abandon their humanitarian scruples: “Who speaks nowadays of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Armenian scouts headed to their Saturday
meeting, while street lights are being
replaced with solar-powered LED fixtures.
(15 Apr. 2023 - Khalil Bedawi, Beirut)

            The disease has no cure. It is as old as the dialogue between Adam and God in the Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 3.9-13) and ingrained within the human heart. Although it cannot be eradicated, it can – and must – be kept at bay. As mentioned earlier, deep and rigorous thinking is one of the necessary treatment regimens. Another is careful and considerate listening, something that takes time and commitment. And time is one of the casualties of the information/entertainment glut engulfing the world. The third treatment is to “make love your aim” or to “follow the way of love” (cf. I Corinthians 14.1). Loving others as yourself. Loving the truth. Loving (including a fear of) God. 

LebCat 58 - Not sure how I got into this
building (UAECNE HQ). Could you provide
me with an escape route? Please?
(26 Mar. 2023 - Geitawi, Beirut)
                            April 24th – Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day – has come and gone, with various and sundry observances here in Lebanon and in many places throughout the world. It was noted by the diseased as well. The governor of Istanbul forbade its observance for the second year in a row. Azerbaijan increased its propaganda about the nefarious designs of the Armenian government, and intensified its military aggression against Armenia and Artsakh. Therefore, I have no choice but to do my part to combat this disease with faith in God, for the sake of my descendants and the inheritance of their rightful legacy.   [LNB]

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Dead Foxes

57. Dead Foxes (28 February 2023)

Commemorating 35 years since Azerbaijan
began targeting Armenians for
extermination. (26 Feb. 2023 - Beirut)

Earlier this month, while driving along the coastal highway, I slowed down behind a line of cars and trucks exiting and noticed an animal lying alongside the roadway, obviously dead. From a distance I could tell it was too large to be a cat, too small to be a dog, and my guess was confirmed as I slowly crept alongside… a red fox. I was happy and sad at the same time; happy that there is still wildlife in this overbuilt metro area, and sad that it met this fate. I realize that those in rural places might not share my dismay, considering the losses they may incur because of foxes. Here this death is sadly poignant. While actual foxes become road kill, human foxes are left alive. And the “fox hunters” trying to pursue this latter kind are systematically eliminated, and the foxes pretending to be humans continue their sadistic rule over the henhouse.

Empty since the port blast, Lebanon's electric
company building - gutted, just like the service
it provides (20 Feb. 2023 - Mar Mikhael-Beirut)

            One of the more insidious of that species is now facing a “natural disaster” of his own making. Over the years he granted waivers for poorly constructed housing in exchange for ballot-box loyalty, so that he could establish full political control. That narcissism transformed the tragedy of this region’s February 6 earthquake into an unmitigated disaster. Will he be held accountable for the crimes he is now heaping upon the corrupt lower-level operatives? Not if the spin doctors around him can do their psyops job well, and transform this fox’s image into, let’s say, that of a pussy-cat. A devout, embattled fighter for the rights of the ordinary citizen. A strong leader his country needs to rebuild it and make it proud. Any of a raft of addictive lies that people in so many lands believe, sad to say.
The value of $300 in local currency, in
2019 (right) and 2023 (27 Feb. 2023 - Beirut)

Meanwhile, others try to dodge the traffic that would run them over and put an end to their positive impact. Though contributing to the betterment of society, and though they are not the ones able to cause a fundamental, systemic change in the status quo, yet their activity is nonetheless significant in the long term. Unlike the wealthy foxes who continue to find ways to launder their money or sink it into building more empty buildings in the capital, they are a different sort of investor. They sink their time and effort into human capital; into teaching students to think, into inculcating character and faith into young people, into creating cultural riches to feed the souls of generations yet unborn. The anniversaries of the region’s Armenian institutions (churches, schools and so forth) are reminders of the deep investment our forebears made to rebuild and sustain a broken nation after the Genocide, making the Middle East’s Armenian communities the powerhouse of the Diaspora. And it continues to serve in that capacity, feeding and nurturing Armenian identity but with a frighteningly small number of visionary laborers engaged in this crucial work.

As spring approaches, tree branches and
neighborhood generators begin to
sprout offshoots
(27 Feb. 2023 - Bourj Hammoud)

            Who are they? First of all, they are teachers of all subjects and in all manners. Especially focusing on language, history and culture, they might be using state-of-the-art methods and materials, or they might be solidly stuck in the 19th century in their approach, but at least they are making an effort. Others who develop new, relevant materials for various grade and knowledge levels are also part of that army, along with those who digitize existing materials (a special shout-out to the Armenian National Library in this regard). Then there is anyone making a difference in just one child’s or adult’s awareness or self-awareness of his (or her) identity as an Armenian. I would also include “influencers”, who know how to make effective use of information media and place it or disseminate it in easy-to-find locations. Really, in our world so full of foxes, all Armenians should be engaged in this effort on the micro or macro scale, and spend less time self-absorbed in things that do not satisfy (see Isaiah 55.1-2) or edify, such as self-promotion on social media platforms.

A reminder to continue being visionary,
despite it all
(28 Feb. 2023 - Gemmayzeh-Beirut)

            I’ve noticed that Armenians (myself included) tend to put things in life-or-death terms; maybe it is because Armenians, like nearly all minorities, face life-or-death realities much more frequently than majority populations. Majority populations and those intent on a homogenized, globalized mono-culture, tend to object to this existential angst, seeing it as unnecessary (which it isn’t) or disruptive (which it must be). The angst felt among Armenians here in the Middle East is because they are battered and dishonored, treated as collateral damage by the major foxes and their sub-foxes who play at political and financial war. As it was a century ago, so it is today. Enabled by a disengaged international community, foxes circle around Armenia and Artsakh, drooling over the thought of ruling over an emptied henhouse, expertly using propaganda, lies, threats and a sham “protest” to lay hold of the remainder of the Armenian homeland devoid of Armenians.

LebCat 57: Hard at work receiving phone bill
payments. This may explain a few things about
the system. (28 Feb. 2023 -
            When the Lord Jesus faced off against the oppression his people were bearing, he dared call the ruler of that day a “fox” (Lk. 13.32). It was a calculated, public insult, and a challenge to his duplicitous authority. Despite the deadly actions of all manners of foxes, God will accomplish his purposes, he will bring hope and healing to the downtrodden, and will revitalize life within all who trust in his Son.   [LNB]

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

With Whom Is God Pleased

56. With Whom Is God Pleased? (3 January 2023)

A glimpse of Christmas joy in the
neighborhood, powered by
(30 Dec. 2022 - Geitawi, Beirut)

Holidays in Lebanon, especially in the winter, have fallen off my list of favorites, probably in no small part due to the lack of electricity we (and so many other Lebanese) experience at home. The offices where I work close, meaning that our building’s generator stays off. Our subscription for supplemental power covers only about half of the day, anyway, bringing inside temperatures close to what is outside. And municipal power supply continues to emulate Halley’s Comet in its rare appearances. Combining all the national holidays with the ones of various religious denominations, plus Armenian holidays, here in Lebanon we experience close to a month each year of these “off” days.

            But there is another layer of distaste. Holidays are too often turned into platforms for social and political assertiveness, rather than times of rest, reflection, redirection and rededication. Firecrackers (and bullets) fill the air over neighborhoods where a particular holiday is most observed. Not to forget the obligatory firecrackers and fireworks launched at important life events, such as funerals and weddings, or your World Cup football team scoring a goal. We were able to watch three games of this year’s football “Mondial” in early December since we were visiting Armenia for a week. There, games were broadcast on Armenian state television for anyone to view. Here was a different story, as is the case with so many things. The sounds of firecrackers and nearby fans yelling would prompt us to refresh the official website in order to see the latest scores — a somewhat anticlimactic method.

Constructing the "New Year's tree" at the
Yerevan train station
(30 Nov. 2022 - Yerevan, Armenia)

            In this particular season the biblical phrase, “Peace on earth, good will towards men,” is widely touted, or more commonly quoted simply as “Peace on earth”, without involving men (in the generic sense) or good will. The more intricate version of Luke 2.14, “Peace on earth among those with whom God is pleased,” is avoided, likely because it doesn’t fit neatly into 21st century greeting cards (i.e., social media platforms and posts), and likely also because it states that there is a God, also implying that this God makes judgments. About us. Also not fitting popular sensitivities in these oversensitive times.

A garden of Armenian letters seemingly
growing out of stones, hopefully an inspiration,
more than just a tourist attraction.
(29 Nov. 2022 - near Artashavan, Armenia)
            Whether or not it plays well in mass culture, a question sticks in my mind: With whom is God pleased these days? My immediate guess is “no one”, as evidenced by the lack of peace on earth. The lofty goal of peacemaking is left largely untouched, while nations allegedly aim for (but fail to reach) the lower goal of temporary cease-fires. Yet even where cease-fires are attained there are always those who find ways to continue their aggression.

            Since mid-December and continuing into the New Year, Azerbaijan-sponsored phony “environmental activists” have been blocking the only lifeline for food or medicine or transit that Artsakh Armenians have, the “Lachin corridor” linking it to Armenia. Add to this the Azeri government and industries that are driving all of this, entities that blithely cut off energy supplies to Artsakh in the cold of winter. Add to this the inaction of those charged with keeping the road open, allowing the situation to be created. And finally add to this the meaningless verbal bravado (and little more) of world powers, busying themselves with statements and resolutions condemning the blockade, but unwilling to intervene in a sovereign country. If all of this looks and sounds like world powers’ failure to prevent the Genocide in 1915, there’s a good reason for that. Summing it all up, it immolates the dove of peace over the flames of war.

A mural depicting Old Beirut, in a park where
an old Beirut building was torn down.
(8 Dec. 2022 - Geitawi, Beirut)
            Peacemaking can be torn apart in various ways: by individuals, societies, companies, governments, you name it. It does not have to be done in the obtuse ways that Armenia’s rapacious neighbors are so fond of. Sometimes it can be as subtle as tolerating inept (fill in the name of your favorite country) governance, or by making self-centeredness and self-indulgence a societal value, or in disdaining others in order to elevate yourself.

            Yet despite all attempts to kill it, peacemaking is alive, and peacemakers are at work. Whenever we hear about or witness a teacher who goes beyond the lesson plan and above the minimum requirements to help her class learn to relate with care for each other, there peace is being inculcated. Last week I was in a store in Bourj Hammoud when an older fellow in tattered clothes stood at the door with his hand raised in greeting - not for a handout. The Arab worker (who happens to speak Armenian) addressed him affectionately, giving and receiving words of blessing; this, too, is peace-building. When someone in the course of a conversation asks me to pray for him right there on the spot, God’s peace hovers over both of us and enables us to express more grace to others.

Christmas bazaar at the Zvartnots Center,
which brings hope and love to special needs
(22 Dec. 2022 - Nor Sis, Bourj Hammoud)

            That message to the shepherds heralding “peace” at Christ’s birth is more of a challenge to self-absorbed humanity than a statement of present reality. The One whose appearance they announced made it his aim to establish peace through servanthood and a particular act of sacrifice. It grew more intense and pervasive as he grew “in stature and in God and man’s favor” . We might strain to see those around us who join him in this endeavor, but the thread that joins each instance together, shining with the angelic light seen outside ancient Bethlehem, is that of service.

            Serving others, motivated by love, produces peace. And only God himself can fill and refill that love.

LebCat 56: Since the electric company isn't
using these anyway, I'll just settle in.
(30 Dec. 2022 - Mar Mikhael, Beirut)
            Since “Armenian Christmas” is but three days away, an Armenian greeting on the occasion and a wish for God-pleasing peacemaking: Christ is born and revealed; blessed is the revelation of Christ!*   [LNB]

*Քրիստոս ծնաւ եւ յայտնեցաւ. օրհնեա՛լ է յայտնութիւնն Քրիստոսի։