Organized by the Hamazkayin ' Vahe Sethian" Printing & Publishing House, and under the high patronage and in the presence of His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, a book-signing event dedicated to American-Armenian writer Chris Bohjalian’s novel The Sandcastle Girls took place on Monday, December 3, 2012 at 7:00 p.m., at the Gulbenkian Hall of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia in Antelias. The event was attended by a large number of ministers, Lebanese Parliament members, representatives of various associations, and book lovers.
Hagop Havatian, director of the ' Vahe Sethian" Printing & Publishing House, opened the event by briefly presenting an overview of the book’s main points. “Author Chris Bohjalian has been touring throughout Canada and the United States to present his book, which in the past five months has sold 275,000 copies,” said Havatian. He added that the book, which was published in July 2012, is the fruit of the author’s thorough research, as well as the supportive input of Khachig Mouradian, the editor-in-chief of The Armenian Weekly and a former editor of Aztag Daily. Havatian also thanked all those who contributed to the success of this event, especially Catholicos Aram I, the guest speakers, and the performing artists.
Afterwards, Dr. Arda Ekmekji, Dean of Arts and Sciences at Haigazian University, took the stage. In her speech in English, she praised Chris Bohjalian’s literary merit, noting that his novels have been translated into more than 25 languages, and three of them have been made into movies. Dr. Ekmekji said that The Sandcastle Girls might seem like a fiction story to non-Armenians, “but to us, Armenians, each of its characters and scenes are closely related to and symbolize the Armenian Genocide.”
“The first post-Genocide generation remained silent and carried their dire memories to their grave,” added Dr. Ekmekji. “The second generation of survivors was also silent, while the young generation was interested in finding out about the fate of their ancestors. The third generation tried to find evidences that would tell about the horrors of those memories. The fourth generation revealed details about the historical facts by examining memoires and archives. Thus, The Sandcastle Girls was filmed in New York, while the screening of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh was prohibited.”
The next guest speaker was prominent Lebanese writer and academician Michel Maaiki, who highly praised Bohjalian’s book. In his speech in Arabic, Maaiki said that the book represents the collective conscience of the Genocide-stricken Armenian people. “The lines in this book reflect the traces of the Genocide that was launched by Sultan Abdul Hamid and continued by his successors,” said Maaiki, adding that “Turkey tried to eliminate the Armenian nation, perceiving it as an obstacle to building its pan-Turanic empire.” The same Turkey made an attempt to silence voices crying for freedom in 1916, in Beirut.
Maaiki also said that great works of literature and art have been born from the terrors of genocides, thus providing a brief comparative review of E. Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls and P. Picasso’s painting “Guernica,” which were inspired by the Spanish Civil War. With regard to the latter work, when the Ambassador of Germany asks Picasso whether he was the painter of that artwork, Picasso replies: “No, you made that!” On this occasion, Maaiki also made a reference to the tragic death of the Armenian poet Yeghishe Charents.
Afterwards, Chris Bohjalian took the stage and said “Thank you” in Armenian for this opportunity. Talking about his Armenian and non-Armenian family roots, Bohjalian reminisced about his childhood — how every Saturday his Swedish mother used to take him to the house of his deceased father’s parents. These visits to the Bohjalians’ home had deeply impressed him.
Bohjalian thanked the organizers of this event, as well as Catholicos Aram I. He also expressed his gratitude to Khachig Mouradian for greatly assisting with the publication of the book.
Bohjalian also mentioned the places he had visited while preparing the book, including Anjar, the orphanage established by Maria Jacobsen (where 3,600 Armenian orphans were cared for), and Yerevan.
Toward the end of the event, Catholicos Aram I addressed the audience in English and specifically highlighted the love and the message conveyed by the book. “By writing this book, Chris Bohjalian did not narrate its events, but lived them,” emphasized the Catholicos.
“This book is a quest penetrating into his true roots,” said the Catholicos. “It offers proof of the Armenian Genocide, which was systematically planned and executed by the Turkish government. Those who organized and participated in the perpetration of the Genocide should be held accountable.” He added that the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia in Antelias, which had given shelter to orphans back then, today stands as a symbol of struggle against the Genocide.
At the end, Catholicos Aram I awarded the Mesrob Mashdots Medal to Chris Bohjalian.
Afterwards, the Jenderejian brothers gave a violin performance, after which Chris Bohjalian signed copies of his book.