Not Writing




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


Urgent Appeal from Women in Armenia


Police and Barbed Wire Blockade in Yerevan, 7/16

Police and Barbed Wire Blockade in Yerevan (Photo by  Babken Der Grigorian, 7/30/16)


I received the below appeal from a friend in Armenia. The stand-off between the police and the “Daredevils of Sassoun” who have occupied the Erebuni police station has drawn crowds of civil society activists into the streets. For background on the situation read this article from Open Democracy. For an account of Friday night’s events, read this from The Guardian.


The anger and despair in Armenia about the oligarchs (also known as gangster capitalists) who are running the country are at flood levels. While many disagree with the methods of the men currently blockaded in the police station, there is a widespread disgust with state violence used against civil society activists and the unchecked corruption and venality of the current government. The women signatories of the below message are calling for action and support from Armenians in the Diaspora, as well as from global citizens.



Dear Friends,

Please take into consideration and disseminate this call from the women signatories based in Armenia to the Diaspora.




Yesterday, on July 29 2016, an act of State terror was organized in Erebuni (Yerevan) where people have been protesting for the last twelve days. The local media documented numerous incidents of torture and ill treatment by the Police of RA and its special units, including kidnappings, unlawful detentions, enforced disappearances, setting people’s houses on fire, intimidation and violence against children and elderly. The police also stormed into random people’s homes, terrorizing and beating them and their family members, severely brutalized injured people who were seeking help in hospitals, and beat hundreds of people held in police stations.


To adequately address these acts of police brutality and mass violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, we, civil society members in Armenia, NEED the following SUPPORT from the ARMENIAN DIASPORA:


  • We need PUBLIC FIGURES to COME TO ARMENIA to raise awareness and to stop the violence unleashed by the regime against the peaceful citizens of Armenia (we are specifically calling on Loris Tjeknavorian, Rakel Dink, Serj Tankian, Cher, Margaret Ajemian Ahnert, Garry Kasparov, Atom Egoyan, Patrick Devedjian, David Barsamian, and other influential Armenians and non-Armenians);


  • Sensitize the Armenian diasporan media and demand that the media TELL THE TRUTH, covering what is actually happening in Armenia NOW to effectively stops state violence;


  • SENSITIZE THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA to start covering the state terror in Armenia;


  • Organize RALLIES in front of ARMENIAN EMBASSIES, block the events with the participation of Armenian officials, do other actions to delegitimize everything done by Armenian officials;


  • Organize RALLIES in front of INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS, notably the UN;


  • Put pressure on all Diasporan entities, including individuals to cut funding for the Armenian government or government-backed projects;


  • Put pressure on international institutions that fund the government through loans and grants;


Any other support by which the Diaspora can help to deprive the current regime of authority and reputation, funding resources and the psychological and authoritative support of institutions, states, etc.




Gayane Abrahamyan

Anahit Simonyan

Lara Aharonian

Gayane Hambardzumyan

Anna Shahnazaryan

Lusine Talalyan

Arpi Adamyan

Shushan Avagyan

Zaruhi Hovhannisyan

Maro Matosyan

Nvard Manasyan

Arpine Galfayan



UPDATE: On the night of 31 July 2016, the “Daredevils of Sassoun” surrendered to police, ending the 15-day standoff. All 20 were arrested. One of them said, “We have done our part, now it’s the people’s turn to ensure fundamental change in Armenia.”

On August 1st, 2016 Human Right Watch issued a report on the Armenian police’s use of excessive force at the July 29th protest.


Nancy Kricorian

New York City

Midsummer Update




In the past few weeks, the world has witnessed a series of murderous attacks, ranging from the U.S. “mistakenly” killing more than 70 civilians in Syria, and suicide assaults in France and Afghanistan, as well as a failed coup in Turkey, which has now resulted in a purge against suspected plotters as well as a witch hunt against journalists and academics. The presidential election pageant, which seems to be stretching into infinity, would be hilarious if it weren’t so terrifying. My mood was buoyed by watching from afar as my CODEPINK friends and colleagues disrupted the proceedings at both conventions.


This Friday my spouse James Schamus’s directorial debut will be opening in New York City and Los Angeles, rolling out in other markets in the following weeks. There was a fine profile of James in this past Sunday’s New York Times Arts section. Billboard Magazine ran a piece about the 1950’s pop song James and composer Jay Wadley wrote for the film. So far most of the reviews have been great, with many more to post in the next days and weeks. I particularly liked this one from Deadline: “As for Schamus, whose previous screenplays have largely been collaborations with Ang Lee, he turns in an extremely accomplished directorial debut proving there is great life beyond the executive suites in Hollywood.” And I must share the Rolling Stone review by Peter Travers: “Schamus reveals his gifts as a filmmaker who respect the words and the space between them in equal measure.”


In literary news, my review of Atef Abu Saif’s The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary was published in the July issue of IN THESE TIMES Magazine. I thought this article about “The Subtle Art of Translating Foreign Fiction” was worth sharing—and it has a few paragraphs for those still recovering from #FerranteFever. Also, there is a new (non-fiction) Ferrante book being published by Europa Editions in the fall—Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey. Another fascinating glimpse into the writing life is this thoughtful piece by Viet Thanh Nguyen, entitled “Winning the Pulitzer changed the value of my book and myself.”


And finally I wanted to share this beautiful essay and accompanying photograph by Antoine Agoudjian in which he pays tribute to Armenian resilience in the face of terrible loss.




Nancy Kricorian



The Birds of Beirut


Mar Mikhael steps, Beirut

I arrived in Beirut on Friday night, and on Saturday my hosts drove me to the Armenian village of Anjar in the Bekaa Valley, close to the Syrian border. The women of the ABC Book Club had set up a large television set and thirty chairs on a spacious home patio. Members of the book club made short speeches about the history of their group, an introduction to my work, and a brief reading from my second novel, DREAMS OF BREAD AND FIRE, which they had read and discussed. Then I presented my “Armenian Diaspora Quartet” slideshow, weaving in two poems, “The Angel” and “Homage to Bourj Hammoud.” After the presentation, we ate homemade Armenian and Lebanese desserts in the garden. My favorite was a fruitcake called kumba, a specialty of Anjar (made from a recipe the Armenians of Musa Ler had brought with them in the late 30’s). My hosts insisted that I take home the entire platter of kumba. When I asked, “What will I do with all this?” I was told, “It has no eggs or butter; it keeps forever. Eat what you like, and at the end of the week you can put it in your suitcase.” (Believe me, I did it.)

The next evening was April 24th, and I went with friends to the Armenian Genocide vigil in Martyrs’ Square in downtown Beirut. After listening to the speeches for a while, we walked around the soulless ghost town that is the Solidere reconstruction of the old Souk area. The following day when I ventured out on my own—trying to get to the Sursock Museum to see the Assadour show—I got horribly lost. When I had showed the receptionist at the hotel a map, and asked for directions from the hotel to the museum, she looked at the map as though she had little idea of what it was, let alone how to read it. People in Beirut don’t use maps, and the available ones are pretty terrible, so for a person such as myself with absolutely no sense of direction, navigating the city was a challenge. A soldier at an intersection noticed my confusion, asked me where I was going, told me that I was very far from my destination (I had walked for fifteen minutes in the opposite direction), and explained that the only way for me to get there was by taxi.

The rest of the week, volunteer guides—old friends, new friends, and an aspiring fiction writer who is a student at Haigazian University—accompanied me. They were all locals who negotiated the maze of streets without maps. After the first afternoon of walking around in Bourj Hammoud, I despaired of ever being able to properly situate my characters in the space. But by the final day of my trip, I had determined the street where the Serinossians resided, the church they attended, the school where the children were enrolled, the father’s occupation, and his place of work. For later reference, I took photos of old wooden houses, mid-century apartment buildings with balconies and awnings, Armenian schools, Armenian churches, streets signs, and old doors. I also identified a few common birds: laughing dove, house sparrow, rock dove, and white wagtail. In Bourj Hammoud and Nor Hadjin I saw canaries in wire cages and zebra finches in wooden ones.

Equally importantly, I heard stories of the war years—the kinds of anecdotes that provide me with the small details I need to create the narrative world of the novel. Here is one line I heard that opened up a universe of feeling: “Sundays were sad days—because the ships took them to Cyprus, and from there they flew away.”


Nancy Kricorian

New York City

Raise Your Pen For Freedom

My contribution to the #RaiseYourPenForFreedom social media campaign

My contribution to the #RaiseYourPenForFreedom social media campaign


Last year at this time I was in Istanbul for Armenian Genocide Centennial commemorative events. It was a sad milestone, but it was also a time that was full of hope. Our Project 2015 organizing team and almost two hundred participants had flown in from New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Yerevan, Beirut, and other cities. My experiences in Istanbul that week were so inspiring that I was fully planning to return the following year, thinking that I would even go to Diarbakir, the de facto capital of Turkey’s Kurdish region, for the 101st anniversary of the genocide on April 24, 2016.

Last April my friends in Istanbul—Turks, Armenians, Kurds, and ex-pat Americans—were excited about the prospects for the upcoming elections in June 2015. They were supporting HDP (the People’s Democratic Party, a left-wing and anti-nationalist coalition), many of them electioneering for the party and all of them hoping that it would cross the 10% threshold for entering the Turkish parliament. There was jubilation when they succeeded.

Fast-forward to a year later and the situation in Turkey is worse than I could have imagined possible. Erdogan’s failure to win the super majority he needed to change the constitution and to consolidate his presidential power led him to reignite the war against the Kurds. Kurdish towns and cities were placed under military sieges with round-the-clock curfews lasting for weeks and months. The district of Sur in Diyarbakir, where the recently restored Sourp Giragos Armenian Church is located and where I visited in June 2014, is now a blasted-out war zone under threat of an “urban renewal” project that is a combination of a construction boondoggle for Erdogan’s cronies and a “cleansing” program aimed at the PPK (The Kurdistan Workers Party), but also at poor and working class Kurds. The church itself has been slated for expropriation by the government.

Turkish nationalists inside and outside the government whipped up anti-Kurdish sentiment, accusing anyone who criticized the war on Kurdish cities and towns of supporting terrorism. Once again rumors spread purporting that members of the PKK were actually Armenians, those perennial traitors to the Turkish state.

Added to all this, there have been a number of bombing attacks, two claimed by ISIS in Istanbul tourist districts, one in Suruc, and one in Ankara attributed to an offshoot of the PKK. The Turkish government continues to play a double game with regard to the Syrian war, seeing the Kurdish YPG militants in Northern Syria who are fighting ISIS under U.S. protection as a bigger threat than ISIS itself. (Admittedly all the political actors involved in the Syrian Civil War are playing double and even triple games.)

In January academics in Turkey signed and circulated a peace petition entitled “We Will Not Be Party to This Crime,” denouncing the renewed state violence in the Kurdish southeast. Within days, a witch-hunt had started against the professors and graduate students who had signed the letter, with twenty-seven of them temporarily detained, and dozens suspended and fired from their jobs. International professional associations and many academic institutions sent letters and petitions to the Turkish government decrying this crackdown on academic freedom and free speech. But in March three professors were arrested and charged with “Propagandizing for a Terrorist Organization.” This week the arrested academics will go on trial in Istanbul, and a call for a social media solidarity campaign has gone out under the hashtag #RaiseYourPenForFreedom.

I decided I wouldn’t be going back to Istanbul or Diyarbakir this April; instead I’m heading to Beirut on a research trip for my current fiction project. Turkey’s democracy has been on a downward trajectory this year—sad for me from afar, but devastating for the Kurdish communities that have been subjected to brutal military siege, and frightening for the academics and journalists who are threatened and harassed for their dissent. As HDP’s co-chair Selahattan Demirtas put it in his New York Times op-ed last week, “By ending the peace process with the P.K.K., by creating a repressive security state, by shelving the rule of law and by cracking down on free speech, he is drowning what is left of Turkey’s democracy — making this country more susceptible to radicalism and internal conflict than ever.”


Nancy Kricorian

New York City

Homage to Bourj Hammoud

Have you heard a thrush sing while its nest burns in the wind? —Khalil Gibran

Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon, 1930's

Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon, 1930’s

Listen. In the morning you can hear the bright strike of hammers and the rasp of saws. Children carry sand from the riverbanks in their school satchels. First they build the church, then the school, and finally a house for each family according to its means. The tents and shacks are taken down one by one. Each family plants a mulberry tree and tends its garden.

The remnants of Marash create a new Marash. And so also Nor Sis, Nor Adana, Nor Giligia, and Nor Hadjin are made. You can hear the sounds of the trades learned in the orphanage workshops: carpenter’s plane, sewing machine and cobbler’s bench. The sharp smell of the tannery is in the air and in their clothes. All Beirut wears their shoes.

Look at the children outside the church in their freshly pressed clothes, and the girls have ribbons in their hair. Look at the food spread on the luncheon table and the hands that pass the platters. Someone has told a joke and there is laughter. Someone pulls an instrument from its case.

Speak of those times, or don’t, when the parties take up arms against each other. How the women of one church throw boiling water out the window on the men with guns. When all Beirut stops fighting, for how many more weeks do the Armenian men continue to shed each other’s blood?

Speak then of the flowering: the neighborhood children grow tall. Among them are musicians, actors, painters and poets. In this world their parents have rebuilt from ashes, they now believe anything is possible, and everything is new.

Remember this: when the Civil War comes, neutrality is no amulet against the bullets and the bombs. Jewelers flee the downtown souk for Bourj Hammoud, where the militiamen patrol the night and then also the day. So many boats leave the port. Carrying leather suitcases to the airports, so many are exiled again.

Remember Nor Adana, Nor Marash, Nor Sis. Men still play backgammon and grill meat on braziers on the sidewalk. Remember the narrow alleys and wooden houses of Sanjak Camp, razed for a shopping plaza. Oh people of long memory, listen, look, speak, remember: your stories are a homeland.


“Homage to Bourj Hammoud” appeared in the 2015 PEN World Voices Online Anthology

Nancy Kricorian

New York City

Journey to Hope and Back



Diyarbakir’s Sur District after several months of military siege


In the space of eighteen months I traveled to Turkey three times—in June 2014 on an Armenian Heritage Trip throughout the country that I wrote about for Guernica; in September 2014 to Istanbul as part of Columbia University’s Women Mobilizing Memory Workshop; and again in April 2015 to Istanbul for events commemorating the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.

For an Armenian in the post-genocide Diaspora, several generations removed from ancestral home places and collective trauma, going to Turkey was a fraught experience, but I forged important bonds in the land where my grandparents were born. Among other inspiring and moving experiences, I visited their hometowns, and I went to Sunday services at the newly restored Sour Giragos Armenian church in Kurdish Diyarbakir’s Sur District. While in mainstream society and the media I observed denial about exactly what happened to the Armenians in 1915, as well as a disturbing current of anti-Armenian “racism” (for want of a better word), I became friends with progressive Turkish and Kurdish artists and intellectuals. We talked openly about the Armenian Genocide, and I learned more about Turkey’s complicated internal politics and history. When I left Istanbul at the end of April 2015, I fully expected that I would return in 2016 to continue the relationships and work we had begun, and even imagined that I would be in Diyarbakir to commemorate the one-hundred-and-first anniversary of the genocide.

Many of my new friends campaigned for HDP (People’s Democratic Party), a progressive, multicultural and pro-Kurdish party, in the lead-up to the June 2015 elections. When HDP crossed the required 11% threshold for entrance to the parliament—and even surpassed it by taking 13% of the vote—there was much jubilation. This was for a short time a season of hope.

When Turkish President Erdogan and his AKP party did not achieve a parliamentary super-majority that would allow them to rewrite the Turkish constitution, the government reignited its war against the Kurds in the summer of 2015 and forced another round of elections in November. It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss the many dismal events since July 2015, or the complicated internal and external politics involving the civil war in Syria, a massive refugee crisis, and the double and triple games being playing by all political actors in the region. But brutal, months-long military sieges have reduced many Kurdish neighborhoods and towns in Turkey’s southeast to rubble. Several suicide bombings have strewn dozens of bodies across the streets of Ankara, Suruc, and Istanbul. Erdogan’s renewed war on the Kurds has turned into a war against a thousand academics who signed a peace petition. Things have now devolved so far that freedom of the press, academic freedom, and freedom of speech are under threat in Turkey.

My Turkish and Kurdish academic friends who signed the peace petition are awaiting arrest and fear an imminent travel ban. And the neighborhood where Sourp Giragos is situated—where I had hoped to be on 24 April 2016—has become a bombed-out war zone.

In this dire situation, I look back on last year’s hopeful connections and realize that now, more than ever, the work of commemorating and recognizing the Armenian Genocide of 100 years ago is and must be intimately bound up with the ongoing struggle for justice for the Kurds and the fight for civil and human rights for all who live in Turkey.


UPDATE: The day after I wrote this, there was a deadly bombing attack on Istanbul’s popular Istiklal Avenue pedestrian shopping district. This is the same street on which we gathered with thousands of people in front of the French Consulate on 24 April 2015 for a solemn commemoration of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. (19 March 2016)

Nancy Kricorian

New York, NY

An Armenian-American Translated Into Arabic

Nancy page


This week, because of the interest and good offices of my friend poet and editor Najwan Darwish, Al Araby in London published an interview I did with Elise Aghazarian. I met Elise and her family in Jerusalem and Ramallah during the 2010 Palestine Festival of Literature. Elise also translated my short prose piece “Homage to Bourj Hammoud.” (The English version can be found here.) I wish that I could read Arabic, but I have heard from friends that Elise did a beautiful job with both the interview and the translation. I love the photo of children playing in Sanjak Camp that she chose to illustrate the Bourj Hammoud piece.

Nancy Kricorian

New York City