05 August 2013, 16:30
1745 |

Cross roads

Often our journeys in life bring us to unexpected crossroads and encounters with unlikely kindred spirits. Two women from different worlds told us their stories of courage and dedication. Baroness Cox is a representative of the British noble class. She is a former Speaker of the House of Lords. Dr. Ani Kalayjian is from an Armenian family of Genocide survivors. Caroline Cox is a nurse by profession, who was drawn into Armenian issues by her strong sense of compassion for those who are worlds away from her British up-bringing. Ani Kalayjian, who holds a degree in psychology, was drawn into her line of work trying to overcome her own family’s and community’s tragic past.

Interview with Baroness Cox

Dossier
Caroline Cox—a deputy speaker in the British House of Lords and president of Christian Solidarity— UK (United Kingdom) began her humanitarian efforts in the 1980s with convoys to Poland on behalf of the Medical Aid for Poland Fund. This introduced her to members of the Polish Solidarity movement and earned her Poland's highest award for a foreigner, the Commander Cross of the Order of Merit.
She joined Christian Solidarity International (CSI) in 1990. CSI is an interdenominational, international human-rights organization that provides aid and advocacy for persecuted Christians and others, including Muslims, suffering repression.
She was then asked to help organize a human-rights conference in Russia in 1990, which got the attention of Andrei Sakharov's widow. Mrs. Sakharov invited her to help organize a human-rights congress in Moscow to commemorate what would have been the 70th birthday of her deceased husband. Lady Caroline chaired a committee looking into human-rights abuses in the USSR. That's how she ended up crossing into Azerbaijan, waving a white flag.
Her role as the British president has enabled her to travel to and assess volatile situations throughout the world. Since 1992 she has made 15 trips to Sudan, one of which included a crew from NBC's «Dateline» covering the slave trade. Her advocacy for Armenian Christians focused world attention to the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.
 

What is your impression of people of Armenia, their culture, philosophy, their character?
If I could compare the people of Armenia in time of war, I would compare them to the heroes of ancient Greek. I have visited Armenia 64 times, and I have visited Karabakh in a time of war. The Armenians have a wonderful ability to create beauty in the ashes of destruction. I saw destroyed villages that looked like pictures of hell, and yet 400 people gathered in mourning at the local church, expressing their grief, praying in Stepanakert.

Did you notice any similarities between the Armenian and the British peoples?
Armenian people have a wonderful commitment to European culture. We saw Shakespearean Theatre in Yerevan; you also have wonderful musical traditions. We share a Christian faith, of course, even though yours is orthodox.

Many of us are fascinated by English Literature…
I want to tell you a story about how impressed I was by the fact that from young ages your children are interested in the great works of literature and in the English language. I was speaking in a church in London and there was a head teacher who wanted to help children in Karabakh. That teacher and I visited a school in Karabakh where we spoke to students aged twelve. He was amazed by how these children, even in a time of war, were fluent in two languages – Armenian and Russian – could read and write in both languages, and were learning English as their third language. As he talked about literature and books, one of the children said, “I like to read foreign authors; Mark Twain, Dorris Lessing...” And the child was so humble about his accomplishment. It’s a tribute to your passionate devotion to knowledge and to great intellectual traditions.

Can you tell me about your book about Karabakh. How did that come to be?
During the time of war, as I repeatedly visited Artsakh, I was very concerned that Azeries would tell the world lies about the war in Karabakh, so with my colleague John Eisner, who also came with me during the war, we thought that we have to put all of this information into the historical record, to turn it into a book of history of this millennium and the history of Pan-Turkism. We have to reinforce the truth that the Armenians are not the aggressors.

You have a recent project regarding Karabakh. I think that you were addressing the concept of self-determination.
I am not so sure about the concept – it’s the country. I can understand why the Armenians of Karabakh say “never again” to the idea of Azeris returning to power on their land. I guess, you can call that self-determination. That is a determination of people to make sure that national and ethnic cleansing would never happen on their land again.

How does a relatively fragile woman like you deal with danger and risk?
Obviously I had very real fear in the days of war in Karabakh. Out of fear I went home intending to never return in a time of a war – I was shot at several times and our helicopter was once shot down. So I thought, “I don’t want to go back.” It was out of very real fear. I became suspicious and shocked, even mortified after my helicopter was shot at. But one day I called a spiritually-minded friend and the next morning I went to church and the pastor read out of the gospel: “He who is not prepared shall not survive.” So, I went back to Karabakh feeling more alive and energized than I ever did before. That’s how I continued working – I went to Nigeria, Uganda, the Sudan; I just kept working. I overcame anxiety and fear, thinking I will not necessarily be shot at in a war zone. When I am with people that need my help I leave these feelings of trepidation behind, I forget about them and think only about the things that should be done in order to help those in need.

Do you think that forces guide your mission from high above – from God?
Yes, I presume that I am under divine protection; at least I know that I pray for it – I am Christian and I do pray. But I never go with complete confidence that things will go just as I like, as I pray for. As a Christian I ask God for His will, but as a Christian I understand that I might not come back. So part of being a true Christian is to be with people who are in dangerous places in the world. Part of being a Christian is holding a belief that God gives and sees much more than I can give or understand.

What is your source of courage and inspiration? Where does it come from, what is the ultimate source for you?
As I said, it comes from the Bible. It says, if people are hungry and sick, first satisfy their hunger and cure their wounds and then speak to them. In situations of war people are certainly hungry and sick – so you need to satisfy their basic needs, and they also need someone who will speak for them, on their behalf – so these are the basic principles that guide what we try to offer.

What do you think humanity is missing today – is it love, humility or something else?
We should try not to speak of humanity as a single entity; we should not generalize. There are obviously people who are trying to do their best in parts of the world, there are churches who are trying to help. I happen to be part of that kind of Christian organization – people who are passionately trying to help. And then, of course there are situations that are in desperate need of intervention. I think, part of the problem is that some countries support a general belief that the first priority of their citizens is to pursue their own national interests. I have seen injured children in Karabakh with missing extremities, and other body parts – that was a terrible crime against humanity. When I came back to Britain and met with the Foreign Minister to tell him that Azerbaijan is infringing upon the human rights of the Armenians, he had little time for me. Our meeting was very short, and he said that our country has no interest in other countries; our only interest is that there is oil interest in Azerbaijan. I was saddened and angry. And I said, “For the first time in my life I am ashamed that I am British.” And at that I left. I understand that there are commercial and other such interests, but I don’t think that any nation should disregard human rights in the pursuit of commerce, and I think that the obligation of the British people is first to ensure human rights and those of children. It should go without saying that we are a moral nation. This is an illustration of a situation that should be without compromise and should rise above international, national, or commercial interests. Politicians, unfortunately, have to balance national interests with the human rights of all people.

Can you tell me what do you like to do outside your work?
Obviously, there isn’t much I can do outside my work. But my hobby is sport – croquet, I like to play tennis very much, walking, particularly in the countryside. And also, as you know, I am a Christian, so I go to church, and I do appreciate spiritual relief. When I have time I go to a retreat. I am English, and one has to understand a strange phenomenon of being English: I like playing bridge – it has all these mathematical sequences, it’s a very complicated, but glorious pastime.

How do you feel about the atheist part of humanity? Do they have your support as well?
As we are humanitarians and human advocacy workers and, yes, we are Christians and the Bible says we should cure the sick and feed the hungry and give rest to people in need, not just Christians. Our charity organization is HART, which stands for Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust. It is supporting a rehabilitation center in Artsakh. HART is helping people who are in need. People who work there are Christians – and our love, our passion is our advocacy. We are helping people in Artsakh, Nigeria, Sudan, who are also Christians, but also we are working with people, without any intention of changing their culture, traditions, and so on.

How are you perceived in the countries where the dominant religion is other than Christian, are they skeptical, or suspicious of you?
Not at all, because they receive our unconditional support. They know what HART is, a humanitarian trust, and they know that we help people of any faith.

I understand that the Bible is the ultimate guide for you. Has it ever happened that you did something that contradicts biblical teachings?
I wouldn’t say that the Bible per se is my guide, as you know it consists of both New and Old Testaments. I would say “the word of Jesus Christ,” is my guide because it’s His word that guides me. He said “love each other,” and that is my guiding principle. The Bible, on the other hand, is interpreted in many, many ways. I don’t think I have an authority to break laws, but there were times that I acted in some unorthodox ways by crossing borders to reach people in need.

But don’t you agree that, as strange as it may seem, loving each other is sometimes the most challenging thing that can be?
Absolutely, and it also can be costly and hard. Many times I have risked my life, and we also should agree that the task of the prosecuted churches is by far the most challenging work of all.

When you encounter people that are not nearly as self-sacrificing as you are how do you encourage them to change? What do you say to them?
Well, I never see myself that way. For me it is a privilege to serve. We have so much – our liberties, security, possessions. And working in the regions at war I have met so many wonderful heroes and colleagues in so many countries – in Nigeria, Sudan, in Artsakh. Actually many wonderful people work in our rehabilitation center in Artsakh, that we are no match for.

You dedicate so much time and effort to Armenia. It seems that you almost favor our nation over any other…
That is not quite true – we love all Christians. But I have a special love for all those people with whom I work. My special affection for the Armenian people must be very clear and particularly very special affection for the Armenians of Artsakh. But I won’t favor Armenians at the expense of the rest of the world, because my cause is the freedom of the individual, and people are endangered in lots of places. But I should say that I have a special respect for the Armenian people, and particularly for their culture, the way they recover their land from ashes, the way they are devoted to their religion – so yes, they do have a special place in my heart.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
It’s when you visit people who are in these war-torn regions. It’s the joy that these victims feel knowing that they are not forgotten. It’s the way they say time and time again, “Thank you for caring about us.” And then when I return they say, “How wonderful that you could come back.” These are my greatest rewards.

What are you working on right now?
I work to help our rehabilitation center in Artsakh – to help all those who are injured, those who have diseases. I am raising money for Artsakh, for displaced people in Nigeria, in the war zone in Uganda.

What do you pray for?
I pray for physical health, stamina, patience, and courage to continue my work.
 

Interview with Dr. Kalayjian

Dossier
Dr. Ani Kalayjian is a graduate of Long Island University with a Masters and Doctor of Education degree from Teachers College, Columbia University. As a pioneering therapist, educator, director and author, she has devoted her life to bringing healing to those who have survived the devastation of disaster, whether man-made or natural. Ani Kalayjian is an internationally recognized expert on the psychological effects of trauma in disaster victims, and the author of the authoritative handbook, Disaster & Mass Trauma: Global Perspectives in Post Disaster Mental Health Management. She has worked extensively with veterans of the Gulf and Vietnam wars, with survivors of the Holocaust and Ottoman-Turkish Genocide of the Armenians, and with survivors of earthquakes and hurricanes. From 1988 to 2006 she went to Armenia, California, Cyprus, Florida, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Turkey to assist health professionals treating trauma cases after natural and human made disasters and to train psychiatrists, psychologists and general practitioners in post-trauma therapeutic interventions. Her ultimate vision is that through peaceful resolution, man's injustice to man will be prevented altogether. Dr. Kalayjian travels around the world lecturing on sociopolitical violence and the psychosocial and spiritual effects of trauma, as well as on avoiding such trauma through conflict resolution and peace education. She has private psychotherapeutic practices in Manhattan and Cliffside Park, New Jersey, where she resides, and is an adjunct Professor of Psychology at Fordham University.
 

What lead you to devote your life to helping others come to a state of balance and wholeness after trauma?
There is a joke about psychologists going into the discipline to either help themselves, their family or their community. So for me being a child of a genocide survivor the trauma was part of my daily upbringing in Syria. My family and the community at large were also grappling with this problem. In addition to old trauma there were also ongoing issue due to the war between Israel and Syria. My quest was to try to make it better, heal it, work through it and learn from it.

What are some of the similarities between your own journey and that of other individuals who have been through emotional difficulties?
There are some things that I share with the collective Armenian journey. By carrying out twenty years of different mental health outreach projects, going to different trauma zones and different countries and helping with psychological first aid we noticed we are all more alike than different. From Africa to Sri Lanka, from Spain to Argentina, from Armenia to Pakistan to Turkey, people react and deal with trauma in the same pattern. I really was humbled and very moved that we see these artificial divisions and differentiations between cultures, countries and religions, and yet basically, when it comes down to a threat or an actual trauma we are all the same. It doesn’t matter if we are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh or Jewish. We have worked with all these groups of people and it is so moving to see that we all feel the same way. This is a point I try to reinforce in my writings, lectures and research; that we need to gain a deeper understanding of humanity as a family. We are more alike than different. The positive lesson I like to emphasize is that God, the Universe, or whatever you want to call it, has presented us with this opportunity to grow, to learn from different situations, because if we don’t we will keep repeating history over and over and we will stay in the painful cycle of trauma.

Tell us about Meaningful World and Armenian American Society for Studies on Stress and Genocide (AASSSG).
We started AASSSG in 1988. This year we celebrated the 20th anniversary of AASSG which is a humanitarian not-for-profit non-governmental organization (NGO). I had just finished my doctorate at Columbia University, and I had begun going to different conferences on traumatic stress studies. I found out that there was so much research on the Holocaust but nothing at all on the Armenians and the Ottoman Turkish Genocide. That put a question mark in my head. Soon after, I called a group of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and psychiatric nurses together to form this organization. Our first priority was to research the impact of the Armenian Genocide on the survivors and the community in general. In the middle of this research, the earthquake happened in Armenia, so I put the research aside for a while and co-founded Mental Outreach to Armenia. For a year and a half I trained mental health professionals and sent them to Armenia. After the earthquake we finally concluded our research on the Armenian Genocide. AASSSG now has annual conferences with the participation of scholars who have done substantial work in the area of Genocide Studies. In addition, we have an essay contest to generate interest among the youth. We keep saying “never again” but then things like genocide keep happening. There is something inconsistent in this cycle which we are trying to explore in every possible direction; from the United Nations, to governments and from NGO’s to individuals. This is especially important for the youth because they are going to be our future decision makers. After the work we did in Armenia, I was invited to do psychological outreach programs in other trauma zones. I realized that we needed a new organization, ATOP, which is the organization that goes to other countries such as, Pakistan, Turkey, Mexico- about twenty countries in all. ATOP’s focus is to do humanitarian outreach. Meaningful World is the partnership of the various organizations that we are involved in.

How is it that an event that occurred so long ago, like the Armenia Genocide, has such an effect on people’s lives today?
It is an issue that is very much alive today, especially for the genocide survivors and their children. Denialism has perpetuated the trauma of the Armenian Genocide. It has clearly impacted generations of Armenians. It is like an open wound and a continuous state of trauma.

Have you found that one’s outlook on life affects how we deal with adversity?
A lot depends on the attitude you have, a positive or negative outlook. It really depends on what you emphasize, how you look at it, and what you do with it. Really, the choice is ours. People need to be informed about what the choices are and that is what we do. The more choices we see, the more empowered we feel. When we are emotionally stuck, we really feel helpless. That is what makes some people feel apathetic and hopeless, that makes people live like robots, go to work, come home and remain indifferent.
Do you adapt your language and style according to the cultural background of the groups you work with?
Yes. Before we do any outreach, we do a pre-assessment to explore who the survivors are and a thorough assessment of the disaster situation.

It is said that disasters can help us discover meaning in life. Do you find this to be a crucial aspect of healing?
It is important to first resolve and process the trauma before we can search for meaning. But then at some point forgiveness is an important step. How long must the Armenians wait for the Turkish government to acknowledge what happened in 1915 so that they can begin healing? When I started talking about forgiveness we started having some problems with fanatics in the Armenian community. Even our lawyer stopped responding to us because he was too angry to see forgiveness and genocide in the same sentence. People started writing articles against me. People, not really knowing what I was talking about, were attacking the concept. There is great controversy over linking the concepts of forgiveness and genocide in the same thought process. When we forgive we do not forgive the act of genocide, we forgive the people who were unconscious, ill intended or mainly in-sane.

The point you are trying to make is that forgiveness is a step towards finding peace within yourself; it does not mean to let the issue go or let the issue die.
Exactly! Forgiveness is a personal journey, it is not something political or community based. Research in the last 15 years shows that forgiveness is healthy for your body, your mind and your spirit. If we have anger we need to manage it, find the roots of it and transform it into power. So it is an individual journey. In fact, we have an Armenian Turkish reconciliation group. We started this after I went to Turkey for a conference in 1999. The purpose was to express my own personal forgiveness and ask the Turks how we can bridge this gap. How can we help them let go of this obsession with denial and embrace their history instead? I realized there was a lot of work to be done in this area. A dialogue group, we decided, would be a wonderful way to facilitate this. I'd like to stress that when I say “forgiveness” I mean an inner peace.

Yerevan Magazine, Winter, N3, 2008

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