The Armenians - or was it Albanians?

What do Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Elia Kazan’s America America, and an episode of The Simpsons have in common?

June 27, 2017  |  by Creative Armenia

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf

“Armenians,” he said; or perhaps it was “Albanians….

 

He was already halfway to the House of Commons, to his Armenians, his Albanians, having settled her on the sofa, looking at his roses. And people would say, “Clarissa Dalloway is spoilt.” She cared much more for her roses than for the Armenians. Hunted out of existence, maimed, frozen, the victims of cruelty and injustice (she had heard Richard say so over and over again) — no, she could feel nothing for the Albanians, or was it the Armenians? but she loved her roses (didn’t that help the Armenians?) — the only flowers she could bear to see cut.

 

This monologue runs inside the head of Clarissa Dalloway, the eponymous character in Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway (1925), as she prepares to host a party for London’s high society. The year is 1923. The cause of the starving Armenians is paramount in Britain and America, but already the blur of victims and causes is setting in. Mrs. Dalloway’s confusion of the issue is meant to reveal her superficiality. We should not be too hard on her; she is far from the only well-meaning socialite since to have mixed up the Albanians and the Armenians — or was it the Romanians? In this passage, Woolf captured the action of a certain terrible forgetting.

Elia Kazan’s America America

From America America. On far right: Hohannes (Gregory Rozakis). Next to him: Stavros (Stathis Giallelis).

“One of the first memories I have,” said Elia Kazan, “is of sleeping in my grandmother’s bed and my grandmother telling me stories about the massacre of the Armenians, and how she and my grandfather hid Armenians in the cellar of their home.” America America (1963) begins in central Anatolia with a harrowing depiction of these massacres, orchestrated by Sultan Hamid in the 1890s — a precursor to the genocide of 1915. A young Greek man named Stavros escapes to Constantinople and eventually, with an Armenian friend named Hohannes Gardashian (no relation), gets on a ship headed for the United States. The film follows Stavros’s epic voyage to his dreamland.

 

Cut to the end of this long, messy, intense, arresting film — Kazan’s favorite work, based on a novel he wrote himself. The boat is nearing Staten Island. Stavros has gotten into trouble onboard. His friend Hohannes, dying of tuberculosis, offers to trade identities so that Stavros avoids deportation. The plan works. The young Greek checks into his new country as Hohannes. “Hohannes?” The immigration officer says. “You’re in America. How about Jack Arnez?” Stavros nods and smiles. “Jack Arnez. Jack Arnez!” Now an American, he accepts the free man’s interpretation of his dead friend’s name.

The Simpsons — “The Principal and the Pauper”

“The Principal and the Pauper”

So what’s your story, Seymour (if that is your real name)?

My real name is Armin Tamzarian… I’m an orphan from Capital City, and for those who recall my fight to outlaw teenage rudeness may be shocked to learn that I myself, was once a street punk.”

Nine seasons and two episodes in, the residents of Springfield discover the true identity of their stodgy Principal Skinner. Simpsons fans weren’t thrilled by this undermining of a beloved character. Series creator Matt Groening called it a “mistake.” Remorse was acknowledged in the episode itself, as Judge Snyder says: “And I further decree that everything will be just like it was before all this happened, and no one will ever mention it again. Under penalty of torture.” The episode guest-starred Martin Sheen as the real Seymour Skinner, whose identity Tamzarian assumed.

Principal Skinner

Ken Keeler, the writer of the episode, got the name from a chance encounter with one Armen Tamzarian – now a California Superior Court judge – who had assisted him after a car accident. That’s all there is to it, as far as we know. Yet life and art continue to refute Shakespeare’s observation about the innocence of names. In Skinner’s flashback, the “pauper” Armin Tamzarian rides his motorcycle down a path of neon lights that flash IDENTITY CRISIS.

 The principal and the judge - Armin and Armen. 

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