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Burying the ghosts of Armenia’s past

Burying the ghosts of Armenia’s past

Keith Garebian, PhD’73, has published 17 books over the last 27 years, but his latest release might be the one closest to his heart--and his most controversial.

Keith Garebian’s fourth book of poetry, Children of Ararat (Frontenac House, $15.95), relives the horrors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, which saw the massacre of more than one million ethnic Armenians in Turkey at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.

Although the word “genocide” has been used to describe those events, the Republic of Turkey denies the word accurately depicts what happened.

Born in India to an Anglo-Indian mother and Armenian father, Garebian immigrated to Canada in 1961. He says his latest book was inspired by the life of his father, who at age five lost both his parents and three sisters during the genocide.

[Keith Garebian]Poet Keith Garebianhas written 17
books over the past 27 years. His
latest may be his most controversial.
(Photo by Jane Switzer)

“I figured I owed my father homage because we never had a good relationship for most of his life,” he says. “We came to a sort of reconciliation towards the end of his life, but I figured I owed him homage. I also wanted to bury the dead because it’s a subject that’s been denied by Turkey systematically for 95 years.”

Garebian says he approached the book with “passion and conviction” in order to paint a realistic portrait of the genocide and its victims.

“In this book I’m identifying with my father and with Armenian victims. I’m giving them a voice, they’re speaking through me.”

In April, Children of Ararat was named one of 10 winners of Frontenac House’s Dektet 2010 poetry competition. The entries were judged by prominent Canadian poets bill bissett, George Elliott Clarke, PhD’93, and Alice Major using a blind selection process.

Garebian wasn’t sure what the panel’s reaction to his book would be, given its controversial subject and political overtones. “I was very pleased and surprised to think that three very disparate poets of their calibre would have recognized whatever there was in this manuscript,” he says.

Garebian explains his book evolved over time, when ongoing inspiration kept him writing until the 11th hour. “I kept writing almost to the end before the deadline for the publisher,” he says. “I just kept writing new poems.”

Garebian speculates that Turkish officials will denounce his book; he knows they already have a copy for perusal--his publisher recently received a telephone order from the Turkish embassy.

Although his poems bring the horrors of the genocide to public consciousness, the legacy of trauma and denial continue without any kind of regret or reparation from Turkey. There’s no such thing as closure, Garebian says, when he still can’t trace the origins of his father’s family or prove the loss they endured.

“How could I prove a loss? [The Turks] deliberately destroyed records because they didn’t want any trace of Armenians. So how can I find genealogy? I cannot.”

[Queen's Alumni Review 2010-3 cover]