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Turkey: “I will defend myself as if the laws existed.”

Istanbul University

 

Last week I received the message below from a friend in Turkey who teaches at a university in Istanbul. She did not want her name mentioned, because at a time when someone can be jailed for a critical Tweet or Facebook post, people are censoring their social media postings for fear of arrest. But she did want me to share the information, and to call on people to help spread the word about what is going on in Turkey. You can find further updates via Endangered Scholars Worldwide, Turkey Purge, and Bianet. PEN American Center has taken up the case of Aslı Erdoğan, a novelist who is mentioned in the final paragraph of my friend’s missive, and I would also like to point out that this crackdown against dissent, while taking a tremendous toll on scholars and journalists, has hit Turkey’s Kurds most heavily.

 

 

7 January 2017

 

Dear friends and colleagues,

Alas, an additional 631 academics have been expelled from universities all over Turkey with a new decree last night. Forty-one of these are Academics for Peace signatories, and among them are very valuable scholars and intellectuals. The government deliberately chooses a piecemeal approach to purge the peace signatories, including a certain number of them into larger lists, instead of attacking them frontally and en masse. They know that a frontal and exclusive attack would arouse too much international uproar. The new tactic is to wait for university presidents to hand in a list of signatories to authorities, thus implicating them in the process. Only a few presidents have had the courage to resist, but for how long? Another decree is said to be on its way, this time to hit two major Istanbul universities.

Through a different tactic, Prof. Istar Gozaydin was arrested (yes, arrested!) because of her tweets criticizing the government. She is one of the founders of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, a highly respected NGO in the field of human rights and refugee assistance.
Tweets or any other totally arbitrary excuse are enough to accuse and detain dissidents now. Ahmet Şık, one of the last remaining investigative journalists in Turkey, was detained and arrested because of his tweets and news stories in the daily Cumhuriyet. Ironically (or tragically or both) Şık was previously imprisoned in 2011-2012 for an unpublished book, The Imam’s Army, which denounced Fethullah Gülen as a dark force manipulating the Turkish political scene. Şık was imprisoned by the Gülenists—and now, the AKP government, once Gülen’s ally but today its greatest foe, is accusing Şık of plotting with the Gülenists against the regime. Şık is also charged with being a member of a radical leftist group and of the armed Kurdish organization, the PKK. He might as well have also been accused of being a Jehovah’s Witness, a Tamil guerrilla, and a Templar Knight! They have abandoned all semblance of credibility—or whatever remains of it.

There is no proof as to the “terrorist connections” of any of the detained or arrested dissidents. The trial of ten journalists of the daily Cumhuriyet newspaper was postponed due to lack of evidence, but they are still being held in prison. The only good news we’ve heard in the past few months was the release of writer Aslı Erdoğan, the linguist Necmiye Alpay and the Özgür Gündem newspaper editor Zana Kaya at the end of December, but they are still to be tried for terrorist propaganda and face life imprisonment if convicted. In her defense statement Aslı Erdoğan ridiculed the charges against her and said: “I will defend myself as if the laws existed.”

The “as if” is what’s tragic in this country. We do need help; Western pressure does count.


Horsemen of the Apocalypse

“Satan bound for 1000 years” from The Great Bible of Pieter Mortier (circa 1700 A.D.)

 

When I have been calling Donald Trump’s roster of cabinet members and advisors “The Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” I have meant this term both metaphorically and literally. The metaphorical part has to do with the doom, chaos, and destruction I believe they are planning to unleash on national institutions, groups, individuals, and even the globe. The literal part has to do with the end times Evangelical Christians in their ranks. Trump’s cabinet picks are a mix of craven business leaders looking to enrich themselves and their friends as they pillage the public commons, and Evangelical Christians with perhaps similar goals, but a different world view. I have been focused on this aspect of the cabal because I was raised in an Evangelical Christian church and household so this cult is familiar. (Here’s a poem that talks about the anxiety this caused me as a child.) It turns out that 81% of white Evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump.

 

END TIMES THEOLOGY

 

What is their “End Times” theology and how does it mesh with Trump’s worldview? In an op-ed from September 2016, history professor Matthew Avery Sutton explained it thus:

 

Trump’s ideas meld perfectly with evangelical apocalyptic expectations as the battle of Armageddon nears. He promises to seize power and to use it for them. He claims he would restore religious liberty to evangelicals. He would prohibit Muslims from entering the country. He would defend Israel at all costs. He would fight abortion by adding conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. He would rebuild the American military. He would destroy the nation’s enemies. He would keep individual citizens well-armed and prepared for battle.  

This is a man, in other words, who is not just seeking to beat Clinton. He is seeking to wage a real-world battle against evangelicals’ enemies and a spiritual battle against the Antichrist.

Vice President elect Mike Pence is an Evangelical Christian. He belongs to the College Park Church in Indianapolis. (You can read a transcript of a 2011 sermon delivered at the College Park Church that covers the Second Coming of Christ.) Betsy DeVos, who was named as Trump’s choice for Education Secretary and is the sister of Blackwater founder Eric Prince, is an Evangelical Christian. Some of the other prospective cabinet members are somewhat cagey about the specific brand of Christianity they practice, but based on my experience and understanding of the dog whistles and “secret signs” used in this particular cult it seems that Nikki Haley (UN Ambassador) and Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency), Tom Price (Health and Human Services) are also adherents.

What are the real world impacts of this theology? For one, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s climate-denying Environmental Protection Agency pick, has publicly stated his intention to dismantle the Obama Administration’s climate agenda. It turns out that many End Times Evangelicals are not concerned about Global Warming because they believe the warming of the planet and concomitant disasters are either caused by God’s direct intervention or are signs pointing towards Christ’s Second Coming and the end of the world. Why worry about melting ice caps, calamitous hurricanes, drought, famine, flooding, and war when you believe it is all part of God’s Biblically ordained plan and a sign of your imminent ascension to heaven?

 

ANGLING FOR ARMAGEDDON

Another fairly alarming aspect to this End Times theology has implications for U.S. policy towards Israel, Palestine and the Middle East. Evangelical Christian-Zionist groups such as Christians United for Israel, Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, and Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (in the occupied West Bank) champion unconditional support for the Israeli government because it fits into their vision of what needs to happen in order to hasten the return of Jesus.  Right-wing Zionists in the U.S. and Israel receive Christian Zionist support for Israel and for Jews with enthusiasm, but the underlying belief system of Christian Zionism is at best utilitarian in its vision of Jews. The founding of the state of Israel has been interpreted as one of the first signs of the nearness of Christ’s return, fulfilling a prophecy made in the Old Testament book of Isaiah.  The only way that Jews can be “saved” is if they abandon Judaism and convert to (Evangelical) Christianity, so during the Apocalypse, most Jews will suffer the terrible fate of all other non-believers of either eternal hellfire, the Tribulation, or both. (At one point, I was fairly familiar with at least one version of the Second Coming timeline, but it is complicated and based on arcane interpretations of both Old Testament and New Testament Prophecy.) End times theology predicates Christ’s return on the destruction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Third Jewish Temple. Right-wing Israeli settlers have plans to rebuild the Temple that would provoke a violent uprising by Palestinians and an international crisis. Christian Zionists are playing with proverbial fire in their support for Israel’s settlement enterprise, moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the Judaization of East Jerusalem. In their designs on the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, they are literally angling for an apocalyptic battle of Armageddon in the Holy Land.


From the Archive: The Rapture

A Jesus Sky portending the Second Coming of Christ

A Jesus Sky portending the Second Coming of Christ

This poem from the archive, which was published in the Spring 1988 issue of The Graham House Review, has been on my mind lately as the incoming Trump Administration has announced its cabinet picks, with “End Times” Evangelical Christians among them. I was raised in the Armenian Evangelical Church, and a copy of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth was on the end table next to my father’s armchair. As a child I had been coached to ask Jesus into my heart as my Lord and Savior, but I was never entirely convinced that my attempts had been successful (I have a poem about this experience as well). One New Year’s Eve I went to church with my grandmother where we watched a film that enacted what would happen in the during Christ’s Second Coming. Fortunately, the movie didn’t cover the more terrifying aspects: The Tribulation, the Anti-Christ, or Armageddon. It just showed The Rapture, the taking up of believers. A pilot disappeared from his seat in the cockpit. A man rolled over in bed to find his wife gone. A Christian singer disappeared from a performance on a television talk show, the microphone fallen to the stage floor. “The Rapture” was an account of the fate I had envisioned awaiting me.

 

The Rapture

 

 

I imagined coming down the back walk

after school, swinging my lunch box

and the thermos shifting inside.

 

Today was different, something odd

about the light breaking

from behind the clouds in ribbons.

 

My grandmother was not on the back porch.

The kitchen table was spread with flour

and dough rising under its towel, dirty bowls

in the sink, my mother nowhere to be seen.

 

And then I knew: the Second Coming.

Jesus had taken them, the believers,

from the fist of the heart to the tips

of the fingers and shining eyes.

 

The whole family, snapped up

in broad daylight while I walked home,

uninvited, unasked, abandoned.

 

I sat on the back step with the cat,

another unbeliever, waiting for the Beast,

the bloody water, the Tribulation.

Nancy Kricorian


A Change of the Right Sort

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I think now that we should maintain ourselves by a process similar to molting in birds. A change of the right sort helps us to overhaul our ideas, so that our souls may recreate themselves, venture into a higher atmosphere with bolder wings, and arouse and quicken other interests.      ~ Helen Keller 

 

 

This month I am leaving the staff of CODEPINK Women for Peace after thirteen years and the Executive Committee of the Armenia Tree Project after fifteen. I am proud of the work that both groups do, and have found deep satisfaction in these associations. But it’s time to move on, or as Helen Keller suggests, it’s time to lose some feathers and grow new ones. This week I sent the below letter to my friends and CODEPINK coalition partners letting them know about the move.

 

 

Dear Friends,
I wanted to let you all know that I will be leaving the staff of CODEPINK at the end of this month. It’s been a good long run–thirteen years–and it’s time for me to move on. CODEPINK’s Palestine work will be continued by Ariel Gold, with whom I’ve been working on our boycott campaigns for over a year. I will be transferring the codepinknyc email address to a new staff person who will be doing local organizing (please let me know if you want that contact when the details are hammered out). I will continue to run the Stolen Beauty Twitter feed and to do coalition work around the Ahava boycott campaign.

I am grateful to the CODEPINK team–its staff (present and past), and the many passionate volunteers–as well as to all the partners I have worked with over the years. I am proud of what we have accomplished together, and I look forward to future collaborations as we prepare to take on the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who are gathering on the near horizon. I plan to spend more time writing my fourth novel, to do some traveling with the peripatetic spouse, and likely to seek out new vehicles for local organizing.

With fond regards,

 

Nancy K

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


Resistance and Other Occupations

 

Water protector at Standing Rock encampment

Water protector at Standing Rock encampment

In the wake of the demoralizing election results and the terrifying prospect of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse taking over the government of this country, in our household we are attempting to institute a “harm reduction” program where we limit our intake of news and social media to certain hours of the day. Long walks also help, and reading classic fiction. I found some solace in this list of 25 Works of Poetry and Fiction to Inspire Resistance, and in talking with other politically engaged friends about what our next steps should be.

 

In the “Know Your Enemy” department, if you haven’t already, please take a look at the Hollywood Reporter’s interview with “Trump strategist” Steve Bannon. Mike Davis’s analysis of the election results is useful, as is Robin Kelley’s After Trump, which provides analysis as well as recommendations for action. Public Books have compiled a list of ways to get involved in the resistance.

 

Charles M. Blow, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote a sizzling piece entitled No, Mr. Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along, penned after Donald Trump’s meeting with Blow’s colleagues. It is well worth reading the entire column, but this was a highlight:

 

I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your ‘I hope we can all get along’ plea: Never.”

 

Masha Gessen, a Russian and American journalist and author, has written two eloquent and angry post-election pieces for the New York Review of Books in which she warns against “normalization” of the incoming administration. In the first, entitled Autocracy: Rules for Survival, she uses her experience in Putin’s Russia to recommend a course of action for the looming Trump Presidency. The second, Trump: The Choice We Face, recounts her great-grandfather’s experience in the Bialystok ghetto during World War II as a grim example of what happens when one makes accommodations with a reprehensible regime. One of history’s lessons, she says, is that “the people who wanted to keep the people fed ended up compiling lists of their neighbors to be killed.”

 

As I’m talking with other organizers and activists about how we create stronger coalitions and build new vehicles for organizing, I came across this heartening piece by Michael Hardt and Sandro Mezzadra about The Power of the Movements Facing Trump. They conclude:

 

“So, yes, every time the Trump government does or says something outrageous, go out in the streets in protest — and take your friends, and your parents, and anyone else you can find. There will be plenty of occasions. But behind the protests there must be a complex web of relations that extend both horizontally — that is, intersectionally, and in coalition across the various movements — and vertically, beyond the local and even the national to form relations and alliances with movements elsewhere. That is the only sound foundation for eventually transforming the many discrete protests into an effective and lasting project for social transformation.”

 

One of the movements cited in Hardt and Mezzadra’s piece is The Standing Rock Sioux’s encampment and protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The water protectors have received an outpouring of support from around the country, and will continue to need our solidarity in the coming weeks. Check out a list of ways to donate, as well as the #StandingRockSyllabus created by NYC Stands With Standing Rock.

 

I’ve been thinking a great deal about an old Armenian proverb: The voice of the people is louder than the roar of the cannon. In the current moment, the job seems to be to amplify the voice of the humane in the human.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


Daughter and Father Exchange the Morning After the Election

Nina Katchadourian’s “Monument to the Unelected” at the Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park, Brooklyn (Photo by Allison Meier for Hyperallergic)

Nina Katchadourian’s “Monument to the Unelected” at the Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park, Brooklyn (Photo by Allison Meier for Hyperallergic)

 

Yesterday we all woke up to the terrifying reality that Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. A few hours after the election had been ‘called’, my 24-year-old daughter Nona sent a text to her dad (and my spouse) James, who was traveling on business, looking for reassurance. I found some solace in their exchange.

 

Nona:
Are you awake? I’m laying on Claire’s couch in existential dread about a republican majority and a human fart filled noxious gas as president. I know you said you lived through Reagan but a) he has a legacy of having fucked a lot of shit up so tbh* not a great example (I get it, we survived, but we certainly would be better off today without Reagonomics) and b) Trump’s rhetoric is way more terrifying and c) he has validated insane white supremacists who will now come out of the woodwork and be fuckin wild and d) what if he appoints crazies to the Supreme Court and makes abortion illegal/actually starts a campaign of terror where he deports people/makes gay marriage illegal again or makes an executive order that trans people can’t use whatever bathroom they want/IS NOT IMPEACHED

I guess that is to say: how will this be ok?

*
James:
I would say this: it’s not ok and has never been ok. The rights we are worried about losing today have already de facto been taken from or never fully granted to most Americans and most people. We now wake up from the fog of pretending that the slow drip of neoliberal criminality and imperial hubris in which our political culture is now fully bathed was somehow an unintended or collateral side effect. We have now been given the privilege of joining the struggle as comrades rather than cognoscenti, as we in our relatively privileged pocket of the culture sometimes imagine ourselves to be. Of course you are already fully engaged in struggle as a young queer woman and as a thinking human being, among other identities. Now more than ever the paths, with your help, will be cleared to connect and join with many more amazing people and communities in struggle, in powerful ways yet to be imagined!

 

 

*tbh = to be honest

 

Nancy Kricorian


Armenian Feminists respond to “Global Armenians” advertisement in the New York Times

 

adrugArmenian feminists say they are tired of exclusion and tokenism in community institutions. “One is not enough.”

 

The below open letter and pledge were developed by a group of Armenian feminists residing in the United States, Canada, England, and Armenia in response to a full page ad underwritten by the IDeA Foundation of Armenia that ran in the New York Times on 28 October 2016. (The text of the ad and the list of its signatories can be found here.)

 

Over 80 Armenian feminists, both women and men, from Armenia and throughout the Armenian diaspora, decried the gender disparity in the “Global Armenians” advertisement signatories list, which they see as symptomatic of the sidelining of women in Armenian communal institutions. The New York Times ad was signed by 22 men and one woman. As a means to address the ongoing exclusion and tokenism represented by the ad, and which they say is endemic in Armenian organizations around the world, the feminists pledged to condition their involvement in Armenian community forums on the presence of other women. Those who signed the pledge come from a variety of professions and hail from cities ranging from Los Angeles, Toronto, and New York to London, Paris, Berlin and and Yerevan. Among the signers are prominent feminist activists from Armenia, including Lara Aharonian and Maro Martosian; producer and actor Arsinee Khanjian and filmmaker Atom Egoyan from Canada; novelist Chris Bohjalian, human rights leader Sarah Leah Whitson, journalist Lara Setrakian, and photographer Scout Tufankjian from the U.S.; and Berlin-based artist Silvina Der Meguerditchian. Academics from the U.S., U.K., and France are heavily represented.

Rachel Goshgarian, one of the signers who also helped draft the feminist statement, said, “Both women and men play integral parts in Armenian communities, but it’s too rare that we see women in important leadership roles within our community organizations and too often that we see women being ‘invited’ to contribute as token members of our community and then barely listened to or heard.”

Armine Ishkanian stated, “I think it is high time this issue of excluding Armenian women was called out because despite past criticism about the gender imbalance in Armenian circles, things are getting worse.”

TEXT OF FEMINIST LETTER PLUS SIGNATURES

On October 28th, a full-page advertisement appeared in the New York Times claiming to represent “Global Armenians” and sounding a call for unified action.  It was signed by 22 men and one woman.  Armenian women are leaders, thinkers, artists, teachers, and philanthropists around the world, but with one exception, these women were not among its signatories. While it is an open letter and invites others to join, the discrepancy in participation between men and women cannot be ignored. The letter itself calls upon the government of Armenia to adopt “strategies based on inclusiveness and collective action,” but the process of drafting and publishing the letter should have modeled those same ideals. In an effort towards preventing this kind of exclusion and tokenism, we the undersigned pledge to condition our involvement in Armenian community forums on the participation of other women. One is not enough.

 

Signatories (as of 1 November 2016)

If you would like to add your name to this letter and pledge, please sign here.

Nancy Agabian (U.S.) Liana Aghajanian (U.S.)
Lara Aharonian (Armenia) Michael Aram (U.S.)
Nora Armani (U.S.) Sophia Armen (U.S.)
Mika Artyan (U.K.) Sebouh Aslanian (U.S.)
Shushan Avagyan (Armenia) Lily Balian (U.S.)
Dr. Karen Babayan (U.K.) Peter Balakian (U.S.)
Houri Berberian (U.S.) Nvair Beylerian (U.S.)
Zarmine Boghosian (U.S.) Eric Bogosian (U.S.)
Chris Bohjalian (U.S.) Vicken Cheterian (Switzerland)
Silvina Der Meguerditchian (Germany) Lerna Ekmekcioglu (U.S.)
Atom Egoyan (Canada) Ayda Erbal (U.S)
Sarah Ignatius (U.S.) Armine Ishkanian (U.K.)
Anna K. Gargarian (Armenia) Olga Ghazaryan (U.K.)
Carina Karapetian Giorgi (U.S.) Rachel Goshgarian (U.S.)
Houry Geudelikian (U.S.) Ani Ross Grubb (U.S.)
Veken Gueyikian (U.S.) JoAnn Janjigian (U.S.)
Dr. Ani Kalayjian (U.S.) Sossie Kasbarian (U.K.)
Silva Katchigian (U.S.) Maral Kerovpyan (France)
Virginia Pattie Kerovpyan (France) Shushan Kerovpyan (France)
Arsinee Khanjian (Canada) Ani Kharajian (U.S.)
Taline Kochayan (France) Dickran Kouymjian (France)
Lola Koundakjian (U.S.) Stefanie Kundakjian (France)
Nancy Kricorian (U.S.) Marc Mamigonian (U.S.)
Armen Marsoobian (U.S.) Maro Matosian (Armenia)
Markar Melkonian (U.S.) Barbara Merguerian (U.S.)
Muriel Mirak-Weissbach (Germany) Khatchig Mouradian (U.S.)
Joanne Randa Nucho (U.S.) Carolyn Rapkievian (U.S.)
Aline Ohanesian (U.S.) Ara Oshagan (U.S.)
Susan Pattie (U.K.) Jennifer Phillips (U.S.)
Nelli Sargsyan (U.S.) Judith Saryan (U.S.)
Elyse Semerdjian (U.S.) Lara Setrakian (U.S.)
Anna Shahnazaryan (Armenia) Tamar Shirinian (U.S.)
Jason Sohigian (U.S.) Ronald Grigor Suny (U.S.)
Anoush F. Terjanian (U.S.) Lori Megerdichian Terrizzi (U.S.)
Karina Totah (U.S.) Sara Janjigian Trifiro (U.S.)
Khachig Tololyan (U.S.) Scout Tufankjian (U.S.)
Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte (U.S.) Anahid Ugurlayan (U.S.)
Hrag Vartanian (U.S.) Nicole Vartanian   (U.S.)
Dana E. Walwrath (U.S.) Seta White (U.K.)
Sarah Leah Whitson (U.S.) Lilit Yenokyan (U.S.)
Linda Yepoyan (U.S.) Meldia Yesayan (U.S)
Houry Youssoufian (U.S.)

 


Not Writing

#bakingnotwriting

#bakingnotwriting

 

Soon after I signed the contract for my second novel, my agent at the time suggested that I start writing reviews. She explained, “First novels are easy. You get lots of reviews without much trying, but with a second novel, it’s much harder. The way to get reviews for your own book is to write them.” It sounded like a terrible idea—I would only want to write reviews for books that I loved. If the book were bad or even mediocre, I could only think of how much time would be wasted. And then I hated the idea of saying mean things in print about another writer’s work even if the book were abysmal. I had noticed in the New York Times Book Review that the editors seemed to assign titles in two ways—they either gave the book to someone who wrote similar work and would be likely to praise it, or to someone whose work was so dissimilar that they were likely to loathe it. I decided to ignore the advice, although I felt a pang when my second novel was published and it received only seven mainstream reviews (less than a quarter of what the first novel had garnered).

After declining to write reviews, about five years ago I decided that I would no longer write jacket blurbs for other writers. I thought that I either had to go the Gary Shteyngart route and offer praise to anyone who asked, or to quit writing blurbs altogether. I admired Shteyngart’s stamina and felt grateful to the people who offered advance praise for my novels—among them Chris Bohjalian, whose graciousness is legendary—but my Armenian Evangelical upbringing had made polite prevarication a painful exercise. Declining all was a way to avoid having to choose, which would hurt people’s feelings, or having to lie, endorsing something about which I felt little to no enthusiasm. Earlier this year when the editor of the American edition of Atef Abu Seif’s The Drone Eats with Me sent me an advanced reading copy (known in the business as an ARC) soliciting a quotation, I told her that while I wasn’t writing blurbs, I would read the book and if I liked it I would write a review. Happily, I loved it, and I wrote a review for In these Times.

As a counter to my literary parsimony, I will say that when I love a book, I loudly share my enthusiasm with friends and on social media platforms. If I adore a book, I will buy a dozen copies and give them as birthday and holiday gifts. Some titles that I have distributed in this way include Vasily Grossman’s An Armenian Sketchbook, Suad Amiry’s Sharon and My Mother-in-Law, and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. My current passion is Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women, a dazzlingly smart series of prose poems about writing, work, love, parenting, sewing, shopping, literature, philosophy, late capitalism, and not writing. Boyer’s book, full of wry observations, artfully muted fury, as well as surprising humor and tenderness, reminds me of the work of poet Anne Carson and micro-story writer Lydia Davis, except with an explicit class analysis.

Boyer describes a shopping outing with her young daughter, where their meager budget results in sadness and weeping when mother tells the daughter they cannot afford the desired pair of shoes. When the mother is on the verge of tears herself, the daughter admonishes her, “ ‘I am still a child and am learning to control my impulses and emotions. you have had many years of dreams and realities to learn from so there is no excuse for you to cry.’” In “A Woman Shopping,” Boyer outlines a book she would like to write with the same title as the poem. It ends, “But who would publish this book and who, also, would shop for it? And how could it be literature if it is not coyly against literature, but sincerely against it, as it is also against ourselves?”

In an interview posted on the Poetry Foundation site, Boyer explains,

This is probably totally obvious to anyone who has read the book, but I’ll still say it: by “garments,” I mean “literature.” And literature is against us. And when I say “literature,” I mean something with historical specificity, seen with all of its brutality intact, with our own intact too, not as we might define it from its exceptions, despite how these exceptions are honorable and instructive and how much we might ground our work in them.

And this is going to get kind of long, so I apologize for that, but by “us” I actually mean a lot of people: against all but the wealthiest women and girls, all but the wealthiest queer people, against the poor, against the people who have to sell the hours of their lives to survive, against the ugly or infirm, against the colonized and the enslaved, against mothers and other people who do unpaid reproductive labor, against almost everyone who isn’t white—everyone who has been taken from, everyone who makes and maintains the world that the few then claim it is their right to own. And by “against,” many of us know this “literature” contains violent sentiments toward us, is full of painful exclusions, but that isn’t even the core of its opposition to us. How “literature” is also against us is that it is a magic circle drawn around the language games of a class of people—the rich and powerful and those who serve or have served them. It gives (or appears to give, like any mystification) these words a permission and a weight, dangles the ugliness in our faces and names it beauty, gleefully shows off stupidity and claims it as what is wise.

Part of what I admire and identify with here is Boyer’s refusal to bow down to literary gatekeepers while stubbornly continuing to write. In the pieces “Not Writing” and “What is ‘Not Writing,” Boyer describes the forces making writing difficult, if not impossible, for her as a working class woman, a single mother, and an outsider to high “culture.” But the production of these poems defies these obstacles—from illness to envy. She says, “There is envy which is also mixed with repulsion at those who do not have a long list of not writing to do.”

In closing, here is one of my favorite passages in Garments Against Women from “The Innocent Question.”

On the local radio show a man who won a Pulitzer prize in fiction explained that one must write every day because if a person does not write everyday a person forgets how to access the subconscious. If one did not write everyday then whenever a person comes back to writing she would have to learn to write from the beginning again. This has always been my plan. I would like to not know how to write, also to know no words. I believe this prize winning novelist believed that the mind had two places, the conscious and subconscious, and that literature could only come out of the subconscious mind, but that language preferred to live in the conscious one. This is wrong. Language prefers to live on the internet.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


The Opposite of Coals to Newcastle

Mrs. Alice Kharibian (photo courtesy of Alexandra Kharibian)

Mrs. Alice Kharibian (photo courtesy of Alexandra Kharibian)

 

Last week as I was preparing to head downtown for breakfast with an acquaintance who runs a small press, I considered bringing him a copy of one of my novels. I had known him during my days running a literary scouting business, before having published a book, and hadn’t seen him in years. But wasn’t bringing a book to a publisher akin to carrying coals to Newcastle? In the years that I worked as a literary scout—reading dozens of books, bound galleys, and manuscripts each week—when someone gave me a book as a gift, I felt slightly queasy. It was like what you might experience at the end of a pie-eating contest if someone put another slice of pie in front of you.  

This train of thought reminded me of the time long ago when I went to visit Alice Kharibian, my grandmother’s lifelong friend who was the model for the Arsinee character in Zabelle, my first novel. Mrs. Kharibian had agreed to tell me the story of how she and my recently deceased grandmother had together survived the Deportations of 1915, also known as the Armenian Genocide.  My father and I drove to Jamaica Plain, where Mrs. Kharbian lived, and I brought her a bouquet of flowers.

When I handed her the flowers, Mrs. Kharibian, who was known to be frank, said, “Honey, why did you bring me those? My son’s a florist. You should have brought me some meat.” She put them in a vase nonetheless, and then we sat down for a long session of storytelling with the tape recorder rolling (as the tape did roll in those days).

It was then that she told me about how close to starvation she and my grandmother had been during their days as orphaned girls at Ras al Ain in the Syrian Desert. One of the stories, which I put to use in my novel, was about their finding a dead and rotting camel by the side of the road. The carcass was full of maggots, but they managed to use the ragged lid of a tin can to cut flesh from it and then roasted the meat over an open flame. “We couldn’t stand to eat it,” she told me, “but we sold it to others, and with the pennies we got, we were able to buy some bread.”

On the way home my meat cutter father told me that when he had given my grandmother a ride to her friend’s house, it was his habit to bring Mrs. Kharibian a good cut of meat—steak, sirloin tips, or some lamb chops. 

That afternoon, when Mrs. Kharibian explained to me how she and my grandmother had survived while tens of thousands around them had perished, she said, “Your grandmother was so wishy-washy. If it wasn’t for me telling her what to do, she would have been dead in the desert. I had to be jarbeeg for both of us.” (Jarbeeg is the Armenian word for clever.)

Mrs. Kharibian was clever, tough, and bossy, all of which served her and my grandmother well for survival.  At my grandmother’s funeral, she sat down beside me and said, “We were girls together in the desert. What will I do now without her?”

 

Nancy Kricorian

22 September 2016, New York City


When Violence Enters the House

 

Istanbul, 24 April 2015

Istanbul, 24 April 2015  (photo by Filip Warwick)

 

When violence enters the house, justice escapes through the skylight.

~ Armenian proverb

 

As an amateur observer of Turkey’s internal and external politics, it is strange to think back on my three visits to the country—June 2014, September 2015, and April 2015—when I was full of hope about reconnecting to the land where my grandparents were born. During the first journey—my Armenian Heritage Trip to Turkey, or Twenty Armenians on a Bus (with lots of jokes and weeping)—we covered about one third of the country, ranging from Istanbul to Mersin, from Adana to Aintab, from Ani and Van to Diyarbakir. While we were in Diyarbakir, we attended services at the beautifully restored Sourp Giragos Armenian Church in the city’s historic Sur district. In September 2014, I participated in the Istanbul meetings of Columbia’s Women Mobilizing Memory Workshop, deepening friendships with progressive Turkish academics and graduate students I had met under the workshop’s auspices. In April 2015, I was part of Project 2015, an effort to bring hundreds of Armenians from around the world to Istanbul to commemorate the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. On April 24, we gathered with over ten thousand people in front of the French Consulate on Istiklal Avenue near Taksim Square for a vigil of remembrance, and my friend Heghnar Watenpaugh read a beautiful speech entitled “Let Us Make a New Beginning” in Armenian and Turkish.

 

Fast forward to the summer of 2015. (I won’t go into the complicated details of the June 2015 Turkish elections, but you can read about them here. The elections were “redone” in November 2015, and you can read about that here.) The peace process between Erdogan’s ruling AKP party and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fell apart, and the Turkish Army placed a number of Kurdish cities and towns under round-the-clock military curfew. Things devolved further in the Kurdish region during the fall of 2015 and the winter of 2016. The Kurdish population of Diyarbakir’s Sur was placed under military siege, and vast swaths of the neighborhood was laid waste. In March 2016, the Turkish government expropriated much of the district, including Sourp Giragos, and slated the area for “urban renewal.”

 

In January 2016, many progressive Turkish and Kurdish academics, horrified by the civilian casualties in the Kurdish region, signed and circulated a petition entitled “Academics for Peace” that called for renewed negotiations between the government and the Kurds. Erdogan branded the signatories traitors, and many were arrested and fired from their teaching positions. A number of international academic bodies circulated petitions in support of their colleagues in Turkey and of academic freedom.

 

This summer’s failed coup attempt only worsened an increasingly grim political situation. The military coup was a terrible idea—at least 290 people died, and more than 1,400 were wounded. It is good that it failed, but the subsequent crackdown has facilitated a witch-hunt against Kurds and progressive voices. Several pro-government figures intimated that Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan’s former ally and now the accused mastermind of the attempted coup, is in fact an Armenian. (After years of genocide denial and concomitant brainwashing, many in Turkey consider Armenians to be ultra-traitors, and there has been a recent uptick in anti-Armenian racism in political speech and the media.) As the Turkish ruling party rounded up accused coup-plotters, many opposition journalists, academics and writers have been detained. Many leaders in the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish progressive alliance, who had already been subject to harassment and arrest starting in early 2016, are under further threat as they were excluded from a post-coup meeting between Erdogan and opposition parties.

 

The Turkish government’s machinations in Syria, where the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) are seen as a greater threat than ISIS, have always been complicated, as all parties in the region are playing double and triple games, with the U.S. trying to draw Turkey into the fight against ISIS while still maintaining its relationship with the YPG. Just this week, Turkish troops crossed the border into Syria with American air support, and they attacked NOT ISIS positions, but targeted YPG units in Jarablus and other Kurdish towns, killing and wounding dozens of civilians. The situation is still volatile, and it is unclear how all this will play out over the next month, although it appears that the U.S. may be abandoning their Kurdish allies. Also this week, the Turkish government conditioned permission for German lawmakers to visit the Incirlik Air Base on Germany’s stepping back from its recent recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

 

On April 24, 2015, before the commemoration began on Istiklal, I participated in an Armenian Wishing Tree “public art ritual” that I had helped to conceptualize. The tree was designed and created by Turkish artist Hale Tenger. I had brought a strip of cloth—actually the waistband of one of my grandmother’s half-aprons–with the names of my grandparents written on it to tie to the tree. Knotting the cloth to the tree was surprisingly moving—there was something about the individual gesture that made the clamor and crowds fade into the background and I was alone with my memory of my Armenian grandparents who had survived such horror, and alone also with sadness about what had been lost in these lands. Yet I was also united with the people—Armenians, Turks, Kurds, Greeks, and others—who joined me in tying their own wishes for a new beginning and a better future onto the tree. In the year-and-a-half since that moment, dark days have descended on many of those comrades, which makes our unity and shared destiny that much more precious than ever.

 

Nancy Kricorian