Dad’s $0.02 on the Armenian Genocide (Guest Post)

armenian_genocide_intent_to_destroyA couple of years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the Serbian massacre in Srebrenica, Bosnia, I wrote about the Bosnian Genocide of 1992 – 1995 when a quarter of a million Bosniaks were wiped out, tortured and imprisoned in concentration camps. (Another 200,000 fled or were unaccounted for). In the middle of Europe. At the end of the 20th century.

What astonished me then, as well as now, was how few people in general (and Americans in particular) seemed to remember the horrible tragedy, a mere 20 years after it happened. Equally few remembered Kosovo. The same year the world commemorated the 70th year liberation of Auschwitz with the famous cry “Never Again”, we were already forgetting much more recent history.

It DID happen again. And again.

Before the Jewish Holocaust, there was the Armenian Genocide. Hitler famously used people’s collective short attention spans when he scoffed “Who today remembers the Armenians?” in preparation for his “Final Solution”.

Yesterday, my father (who is a World War II expert historian and has once before achieved near rock-star status among the readers of this blog) wrote me a letter about the Armenian Genocide, which was recently portrayed in a movie starring Christian Bale, “The Promise”. (Since we couldn’t see it in the theatre, we saw “The Zookeeper’s Wife” instead – an excellent family film that follows the Nazi invasion of Poland and a family that rescued over 300 Jews.) I would have like to be able to review “The Promise”, but as it highlighted a tragic part of history (still denied by the Turkish government), I decided to share his letter instead.

At one Armenian center after another, throughout the Ottoman Empire, on a certain daye (and the dates show  sequence), the public crier went through the streets announcing that every male Armenian must present himself forewith at the government Government building….The men presented themselves in their working clothes, leaving their shops and work-roos open, their plows on the fields, their cattle on the mountainside. When they arrived, they were thrown without explanation into prison, kept in batches, roped man to man along some southerly or southeasterly road. They had not long to ponder over their plight for they were halted and massacred at the first lonely place off the road.

– Viscount Bryce, “The Treatment of Armenians”, 1916

“Marie –

Even though we’re not seeing “The Promise” today, I’ve written down a few observations about the Armenian Genocide 1915 – 1921, which cost 1 ¾ million Armenians, of both sexes and all ages, their lives.

Although Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were under the rule of the Ottoman (Turkish) Sultanate, from the time of the fall of Constantinople in mid-15th century they and the Jewish population had been not only tolerated by the Muslim government but often their administrative talents had been recognized and appreciated. A number held posts of importance in the Ottoman Empire’s governmental bureaucracy, without their Christian religion being an impediment in any way.

So too it was in Moorish Spain – El Andulus; today’s Andalusia, where the Muslim government scrupulously respected the freedom of religion of the Christian and Jewish communities (“millets”) recognized, along with Muslims, as “Peoples of the Book”.

I don’t fully understand, in light of the above, just why the Armenian Genocide took place when and where it did. Perhaps the fact that the Ottoman Turks allied with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in WWI, AND the part of historic Armenia, north of Ararat, was coming under Russian-Leninist influence in 1917-1919 had something to do with it. [Even in 1946-47, Stalin made threats against Turkey hinting at a possible invasion. The Turkish reply? In effect: “Come if you dare, but be prepared to pay a terribly high price.”  “Uncle Joe” Stalin backed down.]

Turkish official tormenting starving Armenian children with bread

A book on the Armenian Genocide: The Slaughterhouse Province (“Vilayets” in Turkish) came out, I think about 25 years ago. Available from Worcester Public Library – the main one downtown. Its impact in part, and its credibility derive from the fact that the U.S. Consul to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morganthau, Sr. and his Armenian “manservant” left the country with a number of photos of murdered Armenians – men, women and children – by the hundreds, especially in northeastern Turkey, around Lake Van. Morganthau, of course, had diplomatic immunity, which enabled him to avoid any kind of luggage search when the two men exited Turkey.

Dr. Deranian, a friend of mine, now deceased, gave me the enclosed photocopy – sorry about the rather poor reproductive quality! He urged me, years ago, to become better informed about the Armenian tragedy. I regretfully assured him that my hands were completely full with my years of “total immersion” in the Holocaust. I think he understood.

Final note: Abe S., (“Uncle Abe” to you three kids) was one of the lucky ones – his parents escaped to Smyrna (now Izmir) on the Ionian Coast where he was born in 1923, then coming to NYC as a small child.


~ Dad”


“My best friend has just been hospitalized. How can I help her?”


From “Ilira”

By Marie O’Toole

All of us, at one time or another, have had a friend or relative in the hospital. Sometimes it is the sudden onset of illness which leaves a patient’s family members in a bewildering situation. Other times, and unfortunate accident can lead to months of treatment and physical therapy. Whatever the situation, medical crises are times when friends and family are most needed. What are some practical ways you can be a “friend in need” while a loved one is sick or injured?

When Visiting at the Hospital

Being alone in a hospital is often frightening, and it is always boring. You will surely want to visit your friend, but check the hospital’s policy first on guests (what hours they are allowed; if she is in the intensive care unit, if she will be able to receive visitors at all). If your friend has just given birth, be sure to ask her wishes before you visit – not all new moms want visitors at the hospital, and would prefer you come to see her and the baby once they are at home.

Three things to keep in mind when visiting at the hospital:

  • Be respectful in the length of time you stay. Depending on your friend’s medical condition, she may need more quiet rest than you realize, and she may not be able to focus on a conversation for very long. This is especially true in cases of serious illness or if she is on pain medication, which cause extreme drowsiness. If she is sharing the room with another patient, do not stay longer than an hour as longer visits make it difficult for the roommate to rest.
  • Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap before entering the room. Many infections are spread in hospitals, and the first line of prevention is frequent hand-washing. If your friend has a compromised immune system, (for example, if she is receiving chemotherapy), this is crucial. Precautions such as masks and gloves are often used by visitors with cancer patients, as well. Being especially careful with hygiene (and postponing a visit if you are sick yourself) is very important for your friend’s well-being.
  • Letters (and other personal touches) mean a lot. While enduring a tedious hospital stay, patients will appreciate the knowledge that friends are thinking of and praying for them. It’s fun (and helps the time pass more quickly) to look at photo albums and remember things you’ve done together, read personal notes, or enjoy a book you’ve selected with her in mind. Books make excellent gifts, as do electronic devices. Avoid bringing balloons, as many patients have latex allergies.

Depending on how sick your friend is and her personal wishes, it might be a good idea to avoid bringing young children to the hospital. Also, visits in the evening should be avoided, especially by several people at once. You will want to be considerate of the other patients on the unit, and noise created by visitors may make it difficult for them to rest. Keep in mind that your friend may not be able to focus on you or even stay awake for a long visit, and that is perfectly ok. Friends and family members visiting patients with extended illnesses or lengthy hospital stays often bring knitting or other things to keep their hands busy while just sitting quietly. It is not necessary to engage her in conversation all the time; your presence itself is comforting.

When She Returns Home

Don’t forget your friend still needs you after discharge. If she has a family, they have likely pulled together to take care of her and each other during her hospitalization, and practical help would be a blessing to them. Once she has gone home, some ways to serve her as she continues to recuperate are:

Shopping. This is the single-most difficult task for someone recovering from an illness or injury. An offer to take a list from her and purchase what she needs may be greatly appreciated.

Cooking. Each meal provided by a thoughtful friend means one less evening she will have to be on her feet in the kitchen. Preparing meals that can be frozen for future use (for example, soups; moussaka; roasted meat) is always a good idea.

Child care. If your friend has small children, offering to take them on outings or watch them for a few hours so she can rest can be a real blessing to her. Caring for young children, while a joy, takes much energy and so taking them for a few hours will give her some much-needed rest.

When a woman has been hospitalized, her family feels her absence very keenly and will surely need this help. The compassion you demonstrate by visiting with her and making sure her needs are met after she goes home will encourage her tremendously, and help her to recover more quickly.  Don’t forget that when you are assisting your friend, you are also serving the needs of her husband and children (if she has them) and being the “fragrance of Christ” (‘’’ 2 Corinthians 2:15) in this way.

“Shoqja ime e ngushtë sapo u shtrua në spital. Si mund ta ndihmoj?”


Nga Marie O’Toole

(“Ilira”, Maj 2017). Perkthues: Elson Farka. (Lexoni në anglisht ketu).

Të gjithë ne, në një moment të jetës, kemi pasur një mik apo të afërm në spital. Ndonjëherë është pikërisht fillimi i papritur i sëmundjes ai që i lë anëtarët e familjes së pacientit në një situatë të pakëndshme. Herë të tjera, një aksident fatkeq mund të çojë në muaj të tërë me trajtime dhe terapi fizike. Pavarësisht situatës, në fatkeqësi të tilla mjekësore, miqtë dhe familja janë ata që i duam më shumë pranë vetes. Cilat janë disa mënyra praktike si të tregohesh një “mik i vërtetë” kur një person i dashur për ty është sëmurë ose i plagosur?

Gjatë vizitës në spital

Të qenit vetëm në spital është shpesh e frikshme dhe pothuajse gjithmonë e mërzitshme. Ti me siguri dëshiron të vizitosh shoqen tënde, por si fillim informohu me rregullat e spitalit për vizitorët (orari i lejuar; nëse ajo është në reanimacion, nëse ajo mund të takojë vizitorë). Nëse shoqja jote sapo ka lindur fëmijë, sigurohu ta pyesësh për dëshirat e saj para se ta vizitosh – jo të gjitha nënat e reja duan vizitorë në spital, dhe preferojnë më shumë vizitat sapo ato të kthehen në shtëpi me foshnjat e tyre.

Tri gjëra që duhet të mbash mend kur të shkosh për vizitë në spital:

  • Respekto kohëzgjatjen e vizitës

Në varësi të gjendjes mjekësore të shoqes tënde, ajo mund të ketë nevojë për më shumë pushim sesa mendon ti, dhe mund të mos jetë e aftë të përqendrohet në bisedë për një kohë të gjatë. Kjo është veçanërisht e vërtetë në rastet me sëmundje të rënda, ose nëse shoqja jote po merr mjekim për dhimbjen, e cila mund të shkaktojë përgjumje ekstreme. Nëse ajo është në të njëjtën dhomë me një paciente tjetër, mos qëndro më gjatë se një orë sepse vizitat e gjata e bëjnë të vështirë që ajo të pushojë.

  • Laj duart me sapun antibakterial para se të hysh në dhomë

Shumë infeksione përhapen në spital, dhe hapi i parë i parandalimit është larja e shpeshtë e duarve. Nëse shoqja jote ka sistem imunitar të ulur, (për shembull, nëse ajo po trajtohet me kemoterapi), kjo gjë është shumë e rëndësishme. Masat paraprake, siç janë vendosja e maskës dhe e dorezave, përdoren shpesh nga vizitorët e pacientëve me kancer. Të qenit e kujdesshme sidomos me higjenën (dhe shtyrja e vizitës nëse je vetë sëmurë) është shumë e rëndësishme për mirëqenien e shoqes tënde.

  • Letrat (dhe gjërat e tjera personale) kanë domethënie të madhe

Gjatë qëndrimit të tyre të gjatë në spital, pacientët do ta vlerësonin shumë faktin që miqtë po mendojnë dhe po luten për ta. Është kënaqësi (dhe të ndihmon të kalosh kohën) të shikosh albumet e fotografive dhe të kujtosh gjërat që keni bërë bashkë, të lexosh shënimet personale, ose kur asaj i pëlqen një libër që ti e ke zgjedhur kur po mendoje për të. Librat janë dhurata të shkëlqyera, ashtu siç janë edhe pajisjet elektronike. Mos sill tullumbace, sepse shumë pacientë kanë alergji nga lateksi.

Në varësi të gjendjes shëndetësore të shoqes tënde dhe të dëshirave personale të saj, mund të jetë një ide e mirë që të mos sjellësh fëmijë të vegjël në spital. Gjithashtu, vizitat gjatë mbrëmjes duhen shmangur, sidomos kur ka shumë vizitorë në të njëjtën kohë. Duhet të konsiderosh edhe pacientët e tjerë, sepse zhurmat që bëjnë vizitorët mund ta bëjnë të vështirë për ata të pushojnë. Mos harro që shoqja jote mund të mos jetë në gjendje të përqendrohet te ti, ose të qëndrojë zgjuar për shumë kohë, gjë që është krejtësisht normale dhe e kuptueshme.

Miqtë dhe anëtarët e familjes që vizitojnë pacientët me sëmundje kronike, ose ata që qëndrojnë gjatë në spital shpesh marrin me vete shtiza për të bërë punë dore, ose gjëra të tjera sa për të mbajtur duart e tyre të zëna, ndërkohë thjesht rrinë ulur në heshtje. Nuk është e nevojshme të bisedosh me të gjatë gjithë kohës; vetë prania jote është inkurajuese.

Kur Ajo Kthehet në Shtëpi

Mos harro që shoqja jote ka nevojë për ty edhe pas largimit nga spitali. Nëse ajo ka një familje, me shumë mundësi ata janë mbledhur së bashku për t’u kujdesur për të dhe për dhe njëri-tjetrin gjatë qëndrimit të saj në spital, dhe një ndihmesë sado e vogël nga ana jote do të ishte bekim për ta. Pasi kthehet në shtëpi, disa mënyra për t’i shërbyer asaj teksa ajo vazhdon të shërohet janë:

Të bërit pazar. Kjo është shumë e vështirë për t’u realizuar nga dikush që po shërohet nga një sëmundje. Të shkosh të bësh pazar dhe të blesh listën e gjërave që shoqja jote ka nevojë është një ndihmesë e madhe për të.

Të gatuarit. Një vakt i gatuar nga një mik do të thotë një mbrëmje më pak për të qëndruar në këmbë në kuzhinë. Përdorimi i ushqimeve të ngrira për t’i konsumuar më vonë (për shembull, supat; mishi i pjekur) është gjithmonë një ide e mirë.

Kujdesi për fëmijët. Nëse shoqja jote ka fëmijë të vegjël, do të ishte një bekim i vërtetë për të nëse ti del shëtitje ose kujdesesh për ta për disa orë. Fëmijët e vegjël, edhe pse janë gëzim familjar, kërkojë shumë përkushtim dhe kujdesje e cila të lodh shumë dhe kështu shëtitjet për disa orë i mundësojnë shoqes tënde një pushim shumë të nevojshëm.

Kur një grua është e shtruar në spital, familja e ndien shumë mungesën e saj dhe me siguri edhe kjo e fundit do ketë nevojë për ndihmë. Dhembshuria që ti i tregon gjatë vizitës dhe siguria që nevojat e saj janë plotësuar pasi ajo shkon në shtëpi, mund ta inkurajojnë jashtëzakonisht shumë, dhe ta ndihmojnë për t’u shëruar më shpejt. Mos harro se kur je duke ndihmuar shoqen tënde, ti je duke u shërbyer edhe nevojave të burrit dhe të fëmijëve saj (nëse ajo ka) dhe në këtë mënyrë je gjithashtu edhe “aroma e Krishtit” (2 Korintasve 2:15).

Open Letter to Adult Children of Patients



By Marie O’Toole

Dear Son or Daughter:

I just interpreted for your father or mother. It may have been our first encounter; or I may have had the pleasure of knowing him or her for a good many years. The medical encounter proceeded just as always: pleasantries; information relayed; test results discussed; plan of treatment considered.

Today you worried that you offended me.

You didn’t.

You see, we medical interpreters are a perceptive group with thick skin. And we care about your parent, who is far more than the medical record number we write on our Service Verification Forms.

I realize, as does the healthcare provider, how well you speak English. Even moreso, how you care for your ailing parent. You are your parent’s best advocate, and that’s why I appreciate your presence. Some of you work in healthcare in the United States; some of you have battled diseases such as cancer yourself. All of you, it seems, come to the exam room far better equipped than I, a mere linguist, to help Mom or Dad make the best healthcare decisions for him or herself.

And of course, you all understand the constraints of HIPPA law; consent forms; waivers of services (if you decline my services). None of this is personal, and the implications of serious illnesses such as cancer naturally make a family want to turn inward.

I am often an uninvited witness to your very personal pain. I get that. And I respect it.

More than that, I am incredibly grateful to YOU.

Sometimes, the doctor pauses mid-sentence in order to allow me time to consequitively interpret his or her sentence and as I do so, you pick up on the fact that I don’t understand where he or she is going with it. Focused purely on linguistics, I may have missed the gravity of the situation and you interject something. No, you did NOT offend me. Do not apologize, as you often do, for reeling off crucial medical information that only you would know during an appointment. You have all this information in your head; the physician needs to know it.

I am there purely as an interpreter – a conduit of language. I am not the one who has sat up with your mother or father countless nights, through nausea, pain, or other symptoms. Do NOT apologize for interjecting.

Sometimes you catch my eye, as if to communicate the gravity of what the doctor is saying. This is especially true when we are with an oncologist, and timeframes such as months and years are being relayed. The relief you all show at not having to be the interpreter in those situations is palpable, and I sense your deference to let me interpret this painful information from language to language.

As I do my job, I hope and believe I do not come across as overly-clinical and sterile. Once, when interpreting a terminal cancer diagnosis, I had to fix my mind on getting the accents on the correct syllable and noun declension so that I would not burst into tears myself. As a mother, I dread the pediatrics floor. As a daughter, I pray not to be in your shoes.

You asked the physician additional questions in English, and feared I was offended. I wasn’t.

You see, there is only one person who matters right now: your mum or dad. You have information inside your head that neither I nor the doctor are privy to; by all means, share it. I’m no stranger to cross-conversation (hey, I lived in the Balkans for years!) so I can easily interpret the additional information simultaneously into mum or dad’s ear. Stop worrying about me and focus on your parent.

I saw how relieved your eyes were today when I interpreted every word the doctor said, with the appropriate gravity – and YOU didn’t have to be the one to deliver bad news. The brief second of eye contact we made spoke volumes, and in that moment I again realized that we are a part of a team. Team “Your Parent”.

You corrected a mistake I made, and feared I was offended. I wasn’t.

Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. I lack the hubris, even after 16 years in the profession, to think that I am incapable of making an error either in medical terminology or syntax. I learned Bulgarian as a young adult, so while I may enjoy near-native fluency of the language, I carried my medical dictionaries around for years after becoming certified as an interpreter. And you know what? Many times, your English is better than my Bulgarian. I realize that I still have an accent in Bulgarian, even after 25 years. Please rest assured that your proficiency in English does not offend me.

And thank you for allowing me to enter into what is, often, an incredibly sensitive and painful time for your family. I have often (MANY times!) been racked with guilt after leaving an assignment (a precious encounter with your mum or dad, and often you) that I had to impersonally rush off to my next assignment with an LEP (Limited English Speaker) at a neighboring hospital. I worry that I come across as cold, uncaring, and impersonal. I rationalize such thoughts by reminding myself that I am an interpreter; not a patient advocate. And healthcare professionals are trained in the art of emotional detachment from their patients.

See, I missed that day in “detachment training”. But many years of experience of having the privilege of being part of your intimate circle has taught me much.

The Bible says to rejoice with those who rejoice; and mourn with those who mourn. This morning, I interpreted for a gentleman whose cancer remains in remission. Good news is easy to interpret, and I’m objectively glad for him. This afternoon, your father presented with additional malignant growths outside the area of radiation, and I had to interpret hard facts. I am deeply sorry. Maybe I don’t always show it in the exam room, especially as new pages come in, but I truly do care and want everything to be alright.

A few of you have found me on Facebook or social media, and thanked me for my “compassion” towards your ailing parent. I am ashamed to admit I did not even remember being particularly compassionate, even though I truly did care – I was concerned that my rushing off to another appointment would be seen as coldness.

We are a team, you and I. You have the best interest of your beloved parent at heart; and in a professional, much more detached way, so do I. At BIDMC, (one of the hospitals at which I interpret), their slogan is “Human First”. I am a human…..a mother; a sister; a daughter; first – I understand to a certain point what you are going through, and can empathize. And then I am a medical interpreter. Trained; linguistically adept; and socially neutral, completely at your service.

Thank you for allowing me to be part your “team”. Please know that I love my career, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to speak into your parent’s life, even if only as an interpreter. A reassuring glance; a smile, a hand squeeze….these are the things people remember. If I incorrectly conjugated a verb in Bulgarian, I beg your pardon. And I thank you for your indulgence in accepting my assistance as a linguist on your parent’s team.

I value every one of you.


Marie O’Toole

Bulgarian – English  Interpreter