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Deeply, Madly, Incontrovertibly

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Some years ago at a regional film festival, a member of the festival’s board (who was also the wife of a media executive) approached me and said, “Congratulations!” I was puzzled. Had she somehow heard about the sale of my new novel? When she added, “You must be so proud of James,” I realized she was congratulating me on the fact that my husband was being awarded the festival’s screenwriting prize. When these kinds of felicitations for my spouse’s successes came my way again I was no longer confused, but I was mildly annoyed. I had my own accomplishments and didn’t feel it necessary to take credit for his, although I was indeed proud of him. But when INDIGNATION premiered at Sundance last month, I was more than ready to accept the congratulations. I had been involved with James’s directorial debut every step of the way, and had made every kind of investment—literal and figurative—that one could make. I also love and admire the film—deeply, madly, and incontrovertibly. (And I’m a tough critic, having once told my elder daughter that she was the second-best actor in the 4th grade production of Romeo and Juliet.)

The world premiere screening of INDIGNATION at the Sundance Film Festival sold out and the film won over the audience. It was delightful when everyone broke into spontaneous applause at the end of my favorite scene in the film. The Hollywood Reporter gave the film an intelligent RAVE and did a short video interview with James, and actors Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, and Tracey Letts. Lionsgate bought the North American distribution rights hours after the screening, which means the film will be coming to a theater near you later this year at a yet-to-be-determined date. And FilmNation has sold distribution rights around the globe—tell your overseas friends to look out for it. INDIGNATION’S European premiere is scheduled for February 14 at the Berlin Film Festival. I call that the best Valentine’s Day gift ever.

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


Turkey’s Renewed War on the Kurds

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Diyarbakir’s Sur District during curfew

 

Since Erdoğan’s AKP lost its super-majority in the June 2015 elections, when the progressive, pro-Kurdish HDP party crossed the 10% threshold to be seated in Parliament, the situation in Turkey’s Kurdish region has deteriorated. The peace process that had been initiated in 2013 is now in shambles. Noam Chomsky described it thus: ‘The responsibility for the present self-inflicted crisis in the country must lie squarely with Erdoğan, who perceives the Kurds—whether it is the HDP [the pro-Kurdish, left-leaning party which gained 81 seats at the last election], the PYD in Syria or the PKK [the separatist Kurdish Workers’ Party]—as obstacles to his plan to establish supreme rule for the Turkish presidency.’

 

It is beyond my expertise and the scope of this post to analyze the complicated underlying political maneuvering that gave rise to the new round of violence—with many of the involved political actors playing double and triple games. My focus here is on the way that the Turkish government’s renewed war against the PKK has had a terrible impact on civilians in the Kurdish regions of Turkey.

 

The Turkish government has mobilized its war machine in Kurdish cities, towns and villages, resulting in great suffering in the civilian population in these places. They have also arrested a number of local HDP officials and parliamentarians, accusing them of being members of the once-again demonized PKK.

 

A Turkish friend sent this update last week:

 

We receive the news of civilians, politicians, children, elderly people dying under horrifying attacks and tortures (not to mention the armed people who are involved in the fight). More than half of the country prefers to ignore, or to believe in the news reports that are provided by the government. Some want to believe that the armed forces of the state would only commit such violence to protect the unity of the country. The rest of the people are suppressed, and begin to feel almost helpless. We keep signing petitions, posting things on social media, and the ones who support the peace loudly, get arrested, tortured, or just like the human rights defender, Kurdish lawyer and the chairman of Diyarbakır Bar Association Tahir Elci, get killed.  

 

There’s a systematic and organized killing of a particular group, the Kurdish people, right in front of our eyes, and we see hundreds of them being forcibly displaced by the state. We hear that they cannot collect the dead bodies of their mothers, or their children from the street, while they lie there for ten days, rotting right before their eyes, in front of their windows. They cannot go out to retrieve the dead bodies due to the bombardment and the snipers. We hear of a grandfather getting killed on the way to the hospital, while carrying a white flag in one hand and in the other hand a three-month old baby who was hit when their house was shelled. We hear about a father seeing his son’s eye carved out when he finds him at the mortuary. It has become a horror story, and I am afraid, we are not well organized enough to come together, understand what is happening and stop this crime. Most people are helplessly waiting for it to end by itself. An artist friend in Diyarbakir, with whom I am in correspondence every day, said, ‘Everything will become ‘normal’ again, once there are enough people who have been killed.’

 

The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey recently issued a fact sheet outlining the devastating effects of recently imposed curfews, with accompanying military actions. The report states:

 

Since 16 August 2015, there have been 58 officially confirmed, open-ended and round-the-clock curfews in at least 19 districts of 7 cities (primarily Diyarbakır, Şırnak, Mardin and Hakkâri) where approximately 1 million 377 thousand people reside (according to the 2014 population census). During these officially declared curfews, fundamental rights of people such as Right to Life and Right to Health have been violated and 162 civilians (29 women, 32 children, 24 people over the age 60) lost their lives according to the data of HRFT Documentation Center.

 

In response to the violence and to the suffering of Kurdish civilians, a group of Turkish academics initiated a petition entitled “We Will Not Be Party to this Crime.” The text, which you can read in full here, summarizes what the authors see as Turkey’s human rights violations against its citizens in the Kurdish region. (The petition web site has been hacked by right-wing Turkish nationalists multiple times; if you cannot access it at the link above try this one.)

 

The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated. 

 

The petition concludes:

 

We, as academics and researchers working on and/or in Turkey, declare that we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state. We will continue advocacy with political parties, the parliament, and international public opinion until our demands are met.

 

In response to the petition, which has garnered over 1,400 signatures, including the names of many international academic celebrities including Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler, Erdoğan has called the signers in Turkey “traitors,” saying, ““You are either on the side of the state or of the terror organization and terrorists.” The Turkish Council of Education has suggested it might take legal action against the professors who have signed the petition, and the inflammatory rhetoric dropped to a new low when a notorious gangster threatened violence against academics calling for peace negotiations.

 

In the face of this brutality and repression, it is important that the international community spread awareness about what is happening in the Kurdish region and in Turkey. If you would like to take action, you can sign this petition from Amnesty calling for an end to Turkey’s arbitrary restrictions on movement. If you are an academic or a graduate student, you can add your name to “We Will Not Be Party to This Crime” by sending an email with your name and institutional affiliation to info@barisicinakademisyenler.net. Journalists, writers, and students in Turkey have issued statements in support of the scholars, and you can find these and other updates on the Bianet site.

 

There is an old Kurdish proverb that says “Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” Now is a good time to show that people who care about justice care about the Kurds.

 

Update: The day after this was posted, 21 academics in Turkey who had signed the petition “We Will Not Be Party to This Crime” were detained by Turkish police. 

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Kurdish children playing on rooftop in Diyarbakir’s Sur District. (Photo by Nancy Kricorian)

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City

 


Among The Hedgehogs

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On January 12 at the Tenement Museum, I introduced a book launch event for my friend Dawn Anahid MacKeen. Below are my brief words of introduction.

 

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” This fragment of verse by the Greek poet Archilochus was famously explored by Isaiah Berlin in his celebrated essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay About Tolstoy’s View of History.” Berlin divided thinkers into two categories—the hedgehogs and the foxes—and attempted to argue that Tolstoy was a hedgehog with foxlike tendencies. Berlin later said, “I never meant it very seriously. I meant it as a kind of an enjoyable intellectual game, but it was taken seriously.” And so without taking too seriously either the Archilochus fragment or the Berlin essay, I would like to suggest to you that Dawn and I are hedgehogs. (I have a hunch that Raffi has hedgehog-like tendencies as well, but I don’t know his work broadly enough to make that claim.) When I say that Dawn and I are literary hedgehogs, this is because each of us spent ten years researching and writing our recent books. While the foxes of the writing world were happily producing books at regular, frequent intervals, we were digging into our respective very deep holes, burrowing so deeply, in fact, that at times we even doubted that we’d be able to find our way to the surface again.

In Dawn’s case, these efforts have resulted in the book we are here to celebrate tonight. The Hundred-Year Walk is a meticulously researched, beautifully written, and thoughtful work in which Dawn has woven together memoir, travel chronicle, family lore, and political history. It is a deeply personal story, but as the subtitle indicates—An Armenian Odyssey—it is also part of a community and a communal project.

One hundred years ago, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were the victims of a horrific crime—the mass annihilation of hundreds of thousands of people, and the near complete erasure of Armenians from the lands where they had lived for many centuries, if not from the beginning of recorded history.  In the face of these devastating losses, most of those who survived were dispersed around the world where they fashioned new families and communities. These communities were bound together by religious institutions, by language, and by shared history. They were also knit together, I would argue, by the stories that they told—stories about the towns and villages that were lost, about the people who died and those who survived, and about their lives in these new lands. These stories were passed from parent to child, and more frequently from grandparent to grandchild.

But these narratives are also produced by the modern-day equivalent of the Armenian ashough or troubadours. In memoirs, novels, histories and poems, post-genocide Armenian writers—many in the Diaspora, and often using the languages of their adopted countries—have created new geographies of connection and belonging—geographies that are not simply stories of return, but stories with motion of their own, that take us to places both grounded in history and unmoored in imagination.

What Dawn has given us in The Hundred-Year Walk is a multi-generational story of resilience and survival. She and Raffi are going to talk to us now about the process of writing the book, as well as about the ways the past, the present, and the future inform and create each other. And after we hear more about Dawn’s and her grandfather’s journeys, I exhort you to buy at least two copies of her book—one for home and one for the road.

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


Fiction and Truth

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The Financial Times recently published an excellent interview (done, of course, by email) with Italian writer Elana Ferrante. There are many insightful and inspiring lines in the piece, but among my favorites is this paragraph:

I grew up in a world where it seemed normal that men (fathers, brothers, boyfriends) had the right to hit you in order to correct you, to teach you how to be a woman, ultimately for your own good. Luckily today much has changed but I still think the men who can really be trusted are a minority. Maybe this is because the milieu that shaped me was backward. Or maybe (and this is what I tend to believe) it’s because male power, whether violently or delicately imposed, is still bent on subordinating us. Too many women are humiliated every day and not just on a symbolic level. And, in the real world, too many are punished, even with death, for their insubordination.

As a novelist, I also felt a shock of pleasure and recognition in this sentence from the Ferrante interview: I have not chosen an autobiographical path, nor will I choose it in the future, because I am convinced that fiction, when it works, is more charged with truth. And Ferrante is not alone in this conviction. Doris Lessing once said, “Novels give you the matrix of emotions, give you the flavour of a time in a way formal history cannot.”

As I’m working on my new novel about Armenians in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, I’m engaged in my typical obsessive research. This is my painstaking path to historical, psychological, and fictional truth. (I once wrote a short talk about my goals in this regard.) People keep asking, how is the novel going? And in truth I haven’t started writing. I’m still in that phase of research and design where I am building the world in my head. Before my characters can inhabit it, I have to fully furnish it. It also feels as though I’m working on a big, complicated jigsaw puzzle. I now have all the edges done, and am piecing together the interior. Then the writing can begin.

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


On Pandering and Whiteness

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Critiques of the whiteness and manliness of mainstream American literary culture have again been winging around the Internet in the past few weeks. Witness Rebecca Solnit’s tongue-in-cheek response to Esquire’s “The 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read.” Solnit’s piece, entitled 80 Books No Woman Should Ever Read, is full of funny zingers. My favorite is, “Ernest Hemingway is also in my no-read zone, because if you get the model for your art from Gertrude Stein you shouldn’t be a homophobic antisemitic misogynist, and because shooting large animals should never be equated with masculinity.”

In response to Solnit, Sigal Samuel penned, “What Women Can Learn from Reading Sexist Male Writers.” Samuel argues, “If reading sexist male writers is recommended for women readers, it’s downright compulsory for women writers. We need to be intimately aware of that language, need to speak it backward and forward, so that we can make our own books relevant and, ideally, cleverly subversive to boot.”

An essay in Tin House that also made a huge splash was by acclaimed young fiction writer Claire Vaye Watkins. “On Pandering” starts off with a personal anecdote about an extremely entitled male writer who visited the campus where she was teaching and complained in a blog post that she had declined to let him share her bed. From there she discusses the way that her literary career has been shaped by watching and emulating “the boys.” She says:

I wanted to write something Cormac McCarthy would like, something Thomas Pynchon would come out of hiding to endorse, something David Foster Wallace would blurb from beyond the grave. I have been reenacting in my artmaking the undying pastime of my girlhood: watching boys, emulating them, trying to catch the attention of the ones who have no idea I exist.

The essay was well written and compelling, and I posted it to Twitter, writing,

“On Pandering” Every woman writer I know should read this essay. #feminism

My friend Randa Jarrar responded “Meh,” and I replied, “As a person who doesn’t pander but often feels marginal it was an affirmation of my choices.” We then had an interesting back and forth about the fact that as Randa put it, “Some white woman writer just realized what writers of color have known forever. And Tin White House published it.” A few other writers jumped into our conversation, which also included a discussion about whether Armenians and Arabs are white, and what “whiteness” is. It turns out that we weren’t the only ones having this kind of conversation, and Alison Herman on Flavorwire compiled some of the Tweets. And then this week a piece appeared on The Guardian in which Jamaican writer Marlon James is quoted as saying that writers of color are forced to pander to white women.

All of this made me think back on my last author newsletter in which I asked for suggestions about contemporary literary novels that deal with class inequality in America. The only recent work I could think of was Dan Woodrell’s WINTER’S BONE. I realized that my ideas about class were unconsciously restricted to “white” writers. For example, I didn’t think of Louise Erdrich’s bestselling THE ROUND HOUSE as a candidate because it was a “Native American novel” not a “class novel.” It appears that I’ve got to up my intersectionality game!

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City

 


Baghdad, Beirut, and Paris

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Your Wars, Our Dead

 

At the end of last week, we witnessed from afar horrific attacks that left scores dead and hundreds wounded in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris. These brutal and unconscionable strikes against civilians have been attributed to members of The Islamic State (ISIS), or Daesh (Da’ish).

Daesh is a loose acronym of the Arabic words that mean the same as ISIS: Al Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa’al Sham. According to The Guardian, the acronym is now an Arabic word in its own right, with its plural daw’aish meaning “bigots who impose their views on others.” The use of this name for the network of extremists who have been terrorizing people ranging from Yezidis in Northern Iraq to Parisians in the 11th Arrondissement robs them of any religious association. It is also a name that they reportedly hate.

But Daesh did not arise out of a vacuum. As Ben Norton cogently argues in his piece Our Terror Double Standard, we in the West must look to our own imperial state violence, including the disastrous, immoral, and illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq, as having created the chaos that allowed the spread of these “non-state” actors who now threaten indiscriminate violence from the Middle East to Europe.

When we mourn the terrible loss of life in Baghdad, Beirut and Paris, we must also mourn the deaths of those killed by the U.S. attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, and by a Saudi-led coalition missile strike on a Yemeni wedding party, or by a month-long Israeli assault, using U.S. weapons and funded by U.S. tax dollars, on trapped civilians in Gaza. All lives are precious.

In response to the recent wave of violence stocks of leading weapons manufacturers have soared, and the U.S. has just sold another billion dollars worth of weapons to Saudi for their bombing campaign that is terrorizing civilians and destroying the architectural heritage of Yemen. And that is why rather than joining the rallying cries for revenge and more carnage, or the xenophobic and racist calls to bar Syrian refugees from our communities, we must redouble our efforts to put an end to these ruinous wars and occupations. As Mother Jones said, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


Neapolitan Pizza and Armenian Art

 

Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, Treasures, 2015

Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, Treasures, 2015

 

My Ferrante Fever has abated, but for those of you still in the throes of it, you might want to make Neapolitan pizza or the pistachio creampuffs mentioned in My Brilliant Friend. You might have missed this piece on The Neapolitan Novels as the “anti-epic Epic,” or this one from the Los Angeles Review of Books comparing them to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.

Now that I’ve left Naples behind, at least for the moment, I’m back in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. I’m currently reading B as in Beirut by Iman Humaydan Younes. One of the four women narrators says, “Men’s fingers stay on the triggers while women look for a safe place for their children.”

Sad to say this piece is the fruit of my final collaboration with Enas Fares Ghannam through the We Are Not Number project. She has a new mentor, and I will start with another young writer in January. But I’m thrilled for her–this is her first ‘official’ publication, and it’s a beautiful essay: “A Neighborhood Ripped Apart in Gaza.”

I’ve been enjoying my semester as Writer-in-Residence at the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University. The writing workshop has one more session to go, I did my outreach program presentation for high school teachers last week, and the public event is coming up on November 9th. For those of you in New York City, I hope you will join us on November 9th at the panel discussion entitled Art And Memory: Looking Back and Moving Forward on the Centennial of Armenian Genocide. “Art critic and Hyperallergic editor-in-chief Hrag Vartanian will moderate a conversation about art making, identity, and memory with visual artist Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, photographer Diana Markosian, and novelist Nancy Kricorian.” There will be an associated exhibit of works by Silvina and Diana that will be on display at The Kevorkian Center from November 9th until February 5th.

For the 30th Anniversary celebration of the New York Foundation for the Arts’ Artists Fellowship Program, my novels will be on display as part of Stacks: Three Decades of Writing Fellows with an Installation by Anne Munges. I’ll be at the opening on November 13th, and if you’re in the city, I hope you’ll stop by.

And finally, here is a video by the Lebanese alternative rock band Mashrou’ Leila. It took some work and the help of friends, but James and I managed to snag two tickets to their sold-out show at Le Poisson Rouge on Saturday, October 31. Now that will be some fun.

 

This is the late October issue of my author newsletter. If you’d like to be added to the distribution list, send a note to nkbookgroup@gmail.com.

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


Ferrante Fever (2)

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

 

Coincident with the September 1st launch of the fourth and final installment of Elena Ferrante’s NEAPOLITAN NOVEL (if you haven’t read them yet, I recommend that you do so immediately), a flurry of reviews, articles and interviews were published. For those of you new to Ferrante, she is an Italian novelist who writes under a pen name and refuses to give in-person interviews or to do public readings, book signings or any other of the promotional work required of authors. (She is NOT on Facebook or Twitter either.)

There was an excellent interview in VANITY FAIR Magazine that started by describing the literary wars going on in Brooklyn: Karl Ove Knausgaard versus Elena Ferrante. Knausgaard is a Norwegian writer who produced a six-volume autobiographical novel entitled MY STRUGGLE. I asked a clerk at the cash register of Book Culture, our local independent bookseller, if there had been arguments among staff about the merits of the two authors—both of them having written recent much praised bestselling multi-volume autobiographical novels. Yes, she told me, each of the authors had passionate champions. I asked, “Does it break down along gender lines?” She said, “No.” But the woman behind the next register said, “Are you kidding? The women prefer Ferrante, and the men swear by Knausgaard.”

Having read all of Ferrante’s novels now available in English, and having made it through two and one half books of Knausgaard’s MY STRUGGLE, I know where my loyalties lie, although I do admire both works.

The London Review Bookshop posted on their blog a letter Ferrante wrote to her publisher before the launch of her first novel in 1991. Her words on book promotion were bracing and funny:

“I do not intend to do anything for TROUBLING LOVE, anything that might involve the public engagement of me personally. I’ve already done enough for this long story: I wrote it. If the book is worth anything, that should be sufficient. I won’t participate in discussions and conferences, if I’m invited. I won’t go and accept prizes, if any are awarded to me. I will never promote the book, especially on television, not in Italy or, as the case may be, abroad. I will be interviewed only in writing, but I would prefer to limit even that to the indispensable minimum.”

Slate published a short piece about the publisher’s decision to use “low-class” images on Ferrante’s novels, and the author’s acquiescence in this decision. The Economist ran a piece about how “a four-volume feminist novel has become an unlikely global hit.” The Atlantic published an interview with Ferrante’s American translator. And then cap it all off and prove how mainstream #FerranteFever had become, Entertainment Weekly ran an interview with the writer.

I won’t catalogue the many ecstatic reviews (you can look those up yourself), but after reading the novels, you might want to visit Ischia, an island off Naples where the novel’s narrator and heroine Elena spends time in the summer, and you might want to check out a travel piece about the place from The Guardian (with requisite quotations from the books). I’m dreaming of a trip to Naples, and hope by the time I get there an entrepreneurial guide will have a devised a walking tour of Ferrante’s City.

At this point, I have over a dozen friends and family members who have read and loved MY BRILLIANT FRIEND and the other books in the series. I’m thinking of hosting a #FerranteFever dinner in a few weeks after everyone has finished book four so we can discuss the puzzling, maddening and probably brilliant ending (don’t worry—no spoilers here!).

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


Gaza One Year Later: A Tale of Two Eids

One year ago, the people of Gaza were in the middle of  Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge,” a 50-day assault that resulted in the deaths of over 2,100 Palestinians, including 551 children. This essay by Enas Fares Ghannam, a young writer in Gaza whom  I am mentoring as part of the We Are Not Numbers project, was written during Ramadan this year as she remembered the fear-filled Eid of the summer of 2014. 

Enas Fares Ghannam in Gaza

Enas Fares Ghannam in Gaza

 

It was the day of Eid; It was another day of war; It was a time to celebrate; It was a time to die; people were praying the Eid prayer; people were praying the funeral prayer; people were decorating their houses; people were evacuating their houses; we were all going directly to heaven; we were all going directly to living hell; it was time to despair; it was time to feel hope; children were playing in swings; children were dying in swings; people were visiting to wish happy Eid; people were visiting to wish mercy for the dead. Last year’s wartime Eid was entangled in my head with this year’s peacetime celebration

The war started during the month of Ramadan last year. Ramadan is the Muslim holy month when the Quran was revealed. We fast from sunrise to sunset for the sake of Allah. At the end of Ramadan we celebrate a Little Eid, which Allah gives to us as a reward for fasting during the Holy Month. Three months later we celebrate Big Eid, which follows the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. This is when we sacrifice a goat for the sake of Allah.

*

I was in the kitchen in the middle of Ramadan last year, with my mother, preparing pizza and meat pies for Iftar, the time after sunset when we break our fast. The food looked delicious and smelled even better, especially because I was so hungry. There was an hour left until Iftar, so I went to my room, opened my laptop computer and started to follow the news about what had happened in Shujaya and the other places in Gaza.

Suddenly I heard a very loud explosion. White dust was everywhere, and I didn’t know what had happened.

My four brothers came and they were all screaming, “A missile hit the balcony. Get out right now.” One of my brothers went close to the balcony to make sure it had been hit, when another missile struck the same place. We all knew that we had to get out of there immediately. Everyone gathered on the ground floor; the children were in shock; no one said a word, but their white faces told everything about their feelings. While we were leaving a third missile hit the house. Our large family left in three cars, going different directions. Two brothers went to the homes of their respective in-laws. I was in the car with my third brother, his family and my parents. He was driving crazily, and I thought if we didn’t die from an airstrike we would definitely be killed in a car accident. We reached the house of my grandmother, which we thought would be safer, as the call for the prayer for Iftar rang out. We were all shaking involuntarily. I was trying to appear strong as we sat around my grandma’s table with the food she had prepared for her and grandpa that was now to be shared by us all, but my trembling hand holding the spoon exposed my true state. I suddenly remembered the meat pies sitting on our kitchen table, now either under a cloud of white dust and debris or entirely destroyed.

*

The little Eid of last year is still in my memory. I particularly remember when I woke up; I looked around; it was dark, no electricity, just a slight of light coming from the only window in the room. My father, mother and I were sleeping on mattresses. The day before wasn’t as joyful as last day of Ramadan usually is.

We are usually so excited to welcome the Eid. Together, with my mother, sisters, and sisters-in- law, we prepare the Eid cookies with dates. It’s part of our Eid that we serve Arabian coffee and these cookies to the guests. The night before the Eid I sit with my father and mother with loads of chocolate, toys and balloons before us, and prepare them for the children, so each one of them has a small plastic bag full of them.

*

After a week and a half staying with our relatives, I was in desperate need to go back home. I felt that I was being suffocated in this place with three families jammed together in a few rooms, the sound of explosions from afar, and the sad faces of the children. When I knew that I was going back to our home during the truce, which had just been declared, I felt like I was able to breathe again.

The roads were crowded; people were returning to their houses. Everyone was dressed in black or somber colors. I was wearing my black Abaya as well. I don’t usually wear black or an Abaya during Eid, but this time it was not possible to wear anything else; we were grieving for the dead. Without any discussion, we all dressed for mourning, feeling that wearing any other color would be a betrayal of the souls of the martyrs.

The moment I entered the house the telephone rang; I answered and heard the recorded voice of an Israeli soldier saying in broken Arabic, “Cooperate with us, you saw what happened in Shujaya and Khuzaa. Know that there is no safe place in Gaza for any of you.” My heart was beating violently.

I had heard before that people receive these calls. There are two kinds of calls, threatening ones like the one I received, and ones with a direct order to evacuate, which I feared to receive. I was shaking, listening for the word evacuation. I was imagining the situation, in seconds all kinds of scenarios passed through my head. How will we leave? Will we actually leave? Yes I guess. But how difficult it will be, to leave everything behind and go. What if anything happened to any one of my family? Then I recalled the faces of each one of them. I tried not to think of that. Can I take anything? Then I remembered how I barely had time to put on my hejab the time we fled the house because of the missile attack.

The voice stopped talking, and I hadn’t heard the order. I hung up the phone. I didn’t tell anyone about the call; I thought they would worry more, and I didn’t want to leave the house where we had all gathered during the truce for a family meal.

We were happy to see each other after a week-and-a-half separation, but we were afraid, too, that anything might happen or that the truce would be broken.

My nephew came and sat next to me, and then he asked me, “Auntie, what is the name of this Eid?”

“It’s the Little Eid,” I said.

He seemed suspicious.

Despite the horror we felt at the death and destruction all around us, I still remember the light in my heart at seeing them and sitting with them around the table for lunch, as though it were a normal Eid. In spite of little food, and the smell of the fear that controlled us while the drones buzzed over our heads, we were laughing from the heart. It had been many days since we had gathered at a table as a family.

Suddenly we heard explosions. On the radio we heard that children had been shelled when they were playing on a swing set in the beach refugee camp. Israel had broken the truce. There were bombs everywhere. We were afraid our home might be shelled again at any minute, so we hastily prepared to leave in our separate directions once more.

I was hugging everyone goodbye, and when I leaned down to embrace my nephew, he whispered in my ear, “You must be wrong. This is the big Eid; many people are being sacrificed.”

 

by Enas Fares Ghannam

 

This essay originally appeared on the site of the We Are Not Numbers Project.

Nancy Kricorian


Vartavar, The Armenian Water Festival

Celebrating Vartavar in Yerevan

Celebrating Vartavar in Yerevan

 

Vartavar (or Vardavar in its Eastern Armenian pronunciation) is a water festival that has been observed since pagan times and was adopted and adapted by Christianity. The day was originally dedicated to the pagan goddess Astghik, the goddess of water, love, and fertility. Its name comes from the roses (vart means rose in Armenian; var means go up or rise) that were offered to her during the celebration.

 

Vartavar is observed 98 days—or on the 14th Sunday—after Easter, and this year it falls on 13 July. The festival is celebrated on the streets of Yerevan where people use buckets, cups and even hoses to douse friends, family and complete strangers with water. It’s an opportunity for children to play pranks on grownups, and for everyone to cool down from the sweltering summer heat.

 

Nancy Kricorian