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Archive for August, 2015

Towards a more integrated Caribbean

Posted by admin On August - 13 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

by Susan Gosine

Imagine a community where every citizen is secure and has the opportunity to realize his or her potential with guaranteed human rights and social justice. None can deny the allure of such a life or the unlikeliness of its occurrence. But one has the purity of visions. And it’s the vision of the Member States of the Caribbean Community to provide a future of sustainable development for all the people.

Touting the cause at the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar said “we have been doing our part as a sub-region of a small island and low lying developing States to foster regional integration in support of the sustainable development of all of our peoples.”

During her visit to New York she celebrated Trinidad and Tobago’s Republic Day at a gala ceremony hosted by the local TT Consulate and hoisted a Trinidad and Tobago flag outside the UN Building to commemorate the occasion.

In her address, she said: “CARICOM Heads of State and Government have agreed on the vision of a Caribbean Community that is integrated, inclusive and resilient; driven by knowledge, excellence, innovation and productivity. A Community where every citizen is secure and has the opportunity to realize his or her potential with guaranteed human rights and social justice; and can contribute to, and share in, its economic, social and cultural prosperity. A Community which is a unified and competitive force in the global arena.”

The vision was part of a Strategic Framework Plan aimed at a time between 2015 and 2019. Accordingly, it will focus on building economic, social, environmental and technological resilience through a coordinated foreign policy and research and development innovation. Meanwhile, a Post 2015 Development Agenda requested by the CARICOM Heads of State and Government has been working on the eradication of poverty as a central pillar.

Persad-Bissessar said broader measures must create a global policy environment that was more conducive to the achievement of objectives, and afforded greater policy coherence in trade, finance, environment and development. With limited exports and a slim resource base, the focus was on nurturing and developing human resources through innovation and entrepreneurship. It focused fully on the realization of human right to development and a life of dignity.

“Consistent with this approach, the region continues to advance the global cause of truth, justice, and reconciliation, within the context of reparatory justice for the victims and descendants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

She said the region was determined to engage in reparatory dialogue with former slave owning European Nations to discuss living the legacies of these crimes. “This is a critically vital element of the social-economic development aspirations of the region as the victims of these crimes and their descendants were left in a state of social, psychological, economic and cultural deprivation. In addition, they have been left in a state of disenfranchisement that has ensured their suffering and debilitation today, and from which only reparatory action can alleviate their suffering. Sustainable development cannot be achieved in an environment where people are denied their basic rights to live free from fear.”

For those reasons, she said, Trinidad and Tobago was concerned about the developments in the Ukraine and other parts of the globe which has caused pain and suffering to hundreds of innocent victims. “They too must be allowed to live freely. At the same time we note with grave concern the continued failure to find a lasting solution to the decades-old Arab Israeli conflict which caused tremendous loss of life and destruction of property in the Gazza Strip, and left emotional and psychological scars to those families who lost two thousand of their loved ones.”

Trinidad and Tobago remains committed to the negotiation of the two-State solution as the preferred means to bring lasting peace to the region so that the people of Palestine, so long denied their rightful place in the international community can live in larger freedom with their Israeli brothers and sisters. To this end, we also call for the implementation of all relevant Security Council resolutions geared towards resolution of the conflict and the lifting of the illegal embargo imposed on the Palestinian people since 2005.

She said terrorism continues to undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity and peace and security of the peoples of the Middle East and further afield and the resolution adopted by the Security Council would be the catalyst for international cooperation against terrorism.

Genocide survivors remember

Posted by admin On August - 13 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

By Susan Gosine

They came riding in wheelchairs and tottering on walkers, the very old, some their visions waning and their voices mere whispers. Only death can keep them away from this propitious occasion.

Swaddled in warm clothing on this cool spring day their forlorn faces are a reflection of the painful words buried in their timeworn eyes. Relics of the past, they are, tokens of a transgression cast upon them 99 years ago. They are survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, an embarrassing reminder to the world of the dictatorship of the then Young Turks government.

The group grew rapidly; the survivors came from everywhere in New York State. And as the banner of red, blue and orange of the Armenian flag was unfolded with the words, “Turkey is Guilty of Genocide: Denying the Undeniable is a Crime,” emblazoned across it, the atmosphere changed. The curious stopped to inquire. The customary din at 43rd Street and Broadway, Times Square, New York, lulled; traffic slowed, hurrying footsteps stilled, and loud voices dropped to a murmur.

Thousands of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, accompanied by their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends and supporters assembled at the cross-section of the street, on the afternoon of Sunday April 27 to commemorate the 99th year since the Armenian Genocide had taken place.

The procession proceeded to New York’s St. Vartan’s Cathedral at 34th Street and 2nd Avenue, for a commemorative service. As a prelude to the service, two light beams were lit and projected into the sky on Thursday April 24. They will remain lighting for 99 hours to honour the 1.5 million Armenians killed from 1915 to 1923 by the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire. The intent was to exterminate the Armenians. The genocide, also known as the Armenian Massacre, started with the arrest of 250 Armenian community leaders and academics.

The annual parade is organised by the Knights & Daughters of Vartan. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese, said, “In memory of victims of the Armenian Genocide, we illuminate the sky in New York City to shed light on Genocide. We shall never forget their sacrifice and the historical truth of the first genocide of the 20th Century.”

Centenarians Perouze Kalousdian and Azniv Guiragossian were among the survivors. Although their lives, like those of other survivors, have been scarred by torture and death, and a relentless struggle against an oppressive regime for accountability, their spirits have endured. It would take more than the Ottoman Empire’s cruelty to break their resolve. Their presence at the remembrance of the most horrible time of their lives is a testament of their resolve to survive and procreate despite the threat of annihilation by the Young Turks who had called themselves the Committee of Unity and Progress.

In a soft voice, Guiragossian born in 1914, told of how she was kidnapped when she was one year old and made to live with a Turkish family for four years until she was returned to her parents. Kalousdian was born in 1909. She was six years old when the genocide took place.

Guiragossian’s father had died just weeks before the attack on the Armenians. She was forced to march with her mother through the Syrian Desert to the concentration camps. She saw her mother give birth to a child that died from lack of proper care, then she (the mother) too, died two months later. After the march Guiragossian was sent to an orphanage. At age 16, she married a choral director. And in the 1950s they moved to New York. “When I think of it I cry. Sometimes I go to bed thinking about my life. I was a little girl, but I am strong,” she said.

Kalousdian saw the Turks take young men over the age of 15 and threw them from a bridge into the Euphrates River to drown. “The Turks have done us much harm. We were living like animals. I hate them. They came and took us out of our homes and took our homes for themselves. I was crying and asked my mother what happened to our homes,” she said.

After the attack Kalousdian and her mother worked as maids for the Turkish leaders. One day they ran away to Syria. They lived there for three years then migrated to the United States where they were reunited with her father. He had somehow managed to escape from Turkey before the genocide.

The centenarians live at the New York Armenian Home for the Aged in Flushing, New York.

A parade of pride

Posted by admin On August - 13 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

By Susan Gosine

Amid the rattle of the A Train, the drone of car engines, the flight of hurrying feet, the clatter of high-heel shoes and the buzz of polite conversations, a recognisable melody catches my attention. It is distant but distinct, a vestige of my past that warms my heart under a deceitful sun on this cold New York morning.

This group of Trinis came with their own musical instruments to participate in the Phagwah celebrations in Queens, New York.

Chowtal, a captivating rhythm, which symbolises the Hindu festival of colours, Holi, also called Phagwa, blasts from massive speakers mounted on a decorated truck, in the middle of a procession on Liberty Avenue, Queens.

It is just after 10:30 a.m. on Sunday March 16, 2014, Phagwa Day. It marks 15 years since I last heard Chowtal. The joyous chants are sung in a series of repetitions, ranging from six to eight times, in a chorus.

Traditionally, a Bhojpuri musical genre, Chowtal is sung by two rows of singers who face-off in cordial competition while beating the dholak and majeera. This artificial staging of acoustic outpourings from the boom boxes seems oddly misplaced in the midst of Liberty Avenue’s commercial hubbub.

Ahead of the truck, a group of men, among them, founders of the Phagwa Parade Committee, clad in traditional white dhotis and kurtas, leads the 26th Annual Phagwa Parade, in Richmond Hill, Queens. The procession hastens on, growing rapidly as pedestrians join in. Swaddled in heavy coats, wind breakers, hats, gloves and thick sweaters they brace the unsympathetic cold and proceed harmoniously, under the watchful eyes of police, to Smokey Oval Park. They have come from many areas to celebrate Phagwa in Queens, the only place in New York State where the celebration is held.

Colourful floats bear doe-eyed beauty pageant queens, tassa drummers, businessmen and religious and political leaders to the park where the festival continues with a cultural show of music, song and dance. Alcohol, powder smearing or spraying of abeer, coloured water,  are not permitted during the parade.

Within minutes the parade veers off Liberty Avenue and down 125th Street to the park. In a blur it disappears from sight. Street sounds resume, and those, who minutes before had thronged the sidewalk to witness the spectacle, return to their Sunday practices.

This, however, is not just a typical community parade. “It is a parade of pride,” says Simran Kotra, an immigrant from India, who travels with her family of six by train from Jackson Heights, to celebrate with the Trinidadian and Guyanese immigrants. It is their fifth year in the parade.

“Holi is our festival. We are proud to be a part of this celebration and we must support it. If not here, we will have to go to New Jersey to celebrate. Holi brings a part of India to us.  The cold cannot keep me away from this riot of colours. The weather will get better, it is still early, wait until later, you will see,” she says, and runs off to catch up with the parade.

Once inside the park restrictions are more relaxed. Participants peel of coats and windbreakers and immediately engage in a spirited celebration of Phagwa. A cloud of purple, green, blue and yellow waft into the air as they toss handfuls after handfuls of the colored powders at each other. And pichakaarees, home made syringe-like hand pumps, hiss sharply when they squirt abeer on each other.

In spite of the cold and although confined to the concrete walks in the park, the celebration develops enormously locking colorful memories into the minds of those fortunate to witness its splendor.

The Phagwa Parade is a boisterous festival of propitious significance to the Hindu community in New York. It displays a celebration of togetherness, joy, mirth, music, dance and the beginning of the season of spring. Since its first staging in 1990, it has become one of the largest parades in Queens.

Traditionally, Phagwa, the oldest among Hindu festivals, falls in the month of Phalgun. Every year it is celebrated in early March on the day after the full moon. According to Hindu mythology, Phagwa also commemorates Prahalad’s devotion to Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva’s killing of Kamadeva, and the divine love of Radha and Krishna. Most significant, however, is its ushering in of spring. But on this cold day, the only spring that manifests itself in New York is the colours of Phagwa and the laughter and gaiety of those celebrating it.