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Things Literary and Armenian

Eric Bogosian, Ronald Suny, and Nancy Kricorian at PEN World Voices Armenian Genocide Panel, 6 May 2015

Eric Bogosian, Ronald Suny, and Nancy Kricorian at PEN World Voices Armenian Genocide Panel, 6 May 2015

 

On May 6, I participated in the PEN World Voices Festival Armenian Genocide: A Dark Paradigm panel along with Peter Balakian, Eric Bogosian, Maureen Freely, Robert Jay Lifton, Ron Suny, and Ragip Zarakoglu. The audio recording of the full session has been posted online.

If you live in New York, New Jersey or Boston you probably saw the super-obnoxious “happy butterfly” Armenian Genocide denial roadside billboards sponsored by a group calling itself “Fact Check Armenia.” This piece from Boston Magazine takes The Boston Globe to task for running the print ad on the same day that they called for genocide recognition in an editorial. There is also discussion of The New York Times’ refusal to run similar ads.

The Armenian Church has filed suit in Turkey for the return of church properties in historic Sis, now called Kozan, in Adana Province. In Istanbul, Nor Zartonk and human rights activists have been staging an occupation of the site of Kamp Armen, an Armenian orphanage and summer camp that was expropriated by the Turkish state, to save the buildings from demolition. The late Hrant Dink’s affiliation with the camp has aroused local sympathies and inspired Istanbul Armenians to take to the street in an unprecedented fashion.

Occupation of Kamp Armen

Occupation of Kamp Armen

Next week I’ll be attending Book Expo America for the first time since I closed my foreign literary scouting business in 2000. I’ll be doing a book presentation on Wednesday, May 27 at the “Armenian Pavilion,” and on Thursday, May 28 I’ll be helping to staff the She Writes Press booth.

I’m looking towards June as a time when my life will calm down and I’ll get back to work on my Beirut novel. As part of that project, I’ve signed up for an elementary Arabic language class. In a month-long summer course, I’m not expecting to learn the language as much as to be in its presence. There is an Armenian saying, “You are as many people as the languages you know.” The research I do for my novels and the creation of the characters and their worlds enrich my life in manifold ways.

 

Nancy Kricorian

NYC


Letter to Palestine (With Armenian Proverbs)

 

 

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In a foreign place, the exile has no face.

You wake up in the morning and forget where you are. The smell of coffee from the kitchen. The sound of slippers across the linoleum floor. It could be any country.

When you look in the mirror you see the eyes of your grandfather. He expects something from you, but he won’t tell you what.

Better to go into captivity with the whole village than to go to a wedding alone.

The fabric was torn. With scraps you have made a tent, you have fashioned a kite, you have sewn a dress, you have wrapped yourself in a flag.

They have separated you with gun, grenade, barbed wire, wall, prison, passport. They have underestimated your will.

The hungry dream of bread, the thirsty of water.

Passing from one village to the next, without obstacle, without document, without your heart thumping up near your throat.

Turning the key in the lock, you enter through a door you have never passed through before except in your grandmother’s stories and in your dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

First published in Clockhouse Review, Volume 2, 2014.

I read this piece at the PEN World Voices Festival Armenian Genocide panel on 6 May 2015, as reported in The Guardian.


“Standing With, But Not Standing For”

PEN Literary Gala

PEN Literary Gala

 

This week, controversy erupted when six writers who were scheduled to be “table hosts” at PEN’s Gala Fundraiser on May 5th pulled out of the event because they didn’t believe that French newspaper Charlie Hebdo should be awarded the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. This was first reported in the New York Times, and then Glenn Greenwald posted about it at The Intercept, also including the texts of letters exchanged between some PEN members and PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel.

This morning I was among the first thirty PEN members to sign an open letter on the issue. The circulation of the open letter was reported by Vulture this afternoon, and now there are discussions raging in the comments sections of various articles, on Twitter and Facebook, with people lining up on one side or other of the debate. As this is going on, more writers are adding their names to the open letter.

My spouse James Schamus offered a clarifying comment.

I mourn the terrible murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff.

I stand in solidarity with those who fight against the scourge of intolerance, censorship and bigotry.

 I know that the defense of free speech and a free press means defending principles that allow, in practice, for speech that offends and that is often, at its worst, even hateful.

 But defending the rights of all to free expression should not require of me the obligation to award, condone, or applaud any particular expression, even expression made by those who have been cruelly and violently silenced.

 I will stand beside Charlie Hebdo and all others in the fight to guarantee freedom of expression for all. I will not, however, stand and applaud for Charlie Hebdo, at a gala awards dinner or anywhere else. 

I am not Charlie Hebdo.

 

UPDATE:

2 May 2015

The list of signatories has grown to close to 200 by this morning, and the vitriol against the writers who signed is intense. I am dismayed that some people don’t seem to understand the distinction between supporting Charlie Hebdo’s RIGHT to publish what they will and declining to support the granting of this award. Clearly the damn has broken among New Yorkers who no longer want their commitment to free speech to become conflated with crude bigotry.

 

Nancy Kricorian


The Kardashians, Pope Francis, and the Armenian Genocide

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The Kardashians at the Armenian Genocide Memorial, 10 April 2015

 

On April 24, 1915 over 200 Armenian intellectuals, clergy, lawmakers, and other leaders in Constantinople were arrested and sent by train to Ankara. Most of them were subsequently killed. This attack on the Armenian leadership was the opening chapter of a concerted genocidal campaign by the Ottoman government against its Armenian subjects. The deportations, slaughter, monumental land and property theft, and forced assimilation of widows and orphans decimated Armenian communities throughout Anatolia, Cilicia and other regions of what is now Turkey. Dispossessed and traumatized Armenians who survived these horrors were dispersed around the globe.

Armenians observe April 24th as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. April 2015 marks the centennial of the genocide, and there are commemorative events scheduled in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Paris, Istanbul, Diyarbakir, Yerevan, and around the world. The Turkish government, which has for decades mobilized denialist propaganda in textbooks, press accounts, academic conferences, and world forums to undercut Armenian claims, went so far this year as to move Gallipoli commemorative events—usually held on March 18 to mark the Battle of Çanakkale and also remembered on April 25th as Anzac Day—to April 24, 2015 in a bid to deflect attention on the occasion of the Armenian Genocide Centennial.

TV celebrity and social media sensation Kim Kardashian’s recent visit to Armenia generated an enormous volume of publicity about the Armenian Genocide in many unusual outlets, such as this piece on E Online: “Kardashians Take Armenia! 10 Fascinating Facts to Know about the Country’s Culture and History.” A carefully staged and art directed visit to the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial in Yerevan was widely reported, including on Buzzfeed. Kim’s sister Khloe Kardashian posted to her Instagram feed:

“My sister and I are trying to bring awareness not only to our Armenian genocide but genocides and human slaughter in general. Knowledge is power! If we know better than hopefully we shall do better. Genocides, massacres, human slaughter… are despicable acts attempting to wipe out an entire race is not what God intended. Educating people as to what happened in history is our duty. It is also our duty to not be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation no matter their race or creed. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

I’m on the board of Project 2015, an effort to organize a mass fly-in of Armenians for centennial commemorative events in Istanbul. Our team has been working with partners in Turkey for six months to plan a series of events, including a concert, an Armenian Heritage tour of Istanbul, a public outdoor vigil, an academic conference, and a public art ritual. I’ve been closely involved in the conceptualization of this final event, and drafted the press advisory that went out at the end of last week announcing the Wishing Tree Public Art Ritual to Honor Victims and Survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

On the eve of these commemorations, Pope Francis gave a public address in which he referred to the Armenian Genocide, thereby angering the Turkish government. While these centennial commemorations are an opportunity to focus the world’s attention on the Armenian Genocide, once the clamor has subsided we will continue our long struggle in a variety of forms and forums for justice and redress.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


News: Los Angeles, Istanbul, Toronto, Gaza

Banksy in Gaza, 2/15

Banksy in Gaza, 2/15

 

In the spring of 2013, around the launch of my third novel ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS, I started sending out a newsletter of sorts, usually twice or three times a month, to friends, family and interested readers. Below is the latest missive. If you’d like to be on the mailing list, drop me a line at nkbookgroup@gmail.com. 

 

Dear Friends,

I’m sending you a quick update because I wanted to share with you this week’s highlights! I had a great trip to Los Angeles—it was an utter delight to escape from NYC’s interminable winter and have a taste of spring in California. My two talks went well, and I got to hang out with old friends and new.

Herewith, as I promised last time, is Project 2015’s two-minute promo video in which I explain why I’m going to Istanbul for the Armenian Genocide Centennial Commemoration. Please watch and share. (And maybe you want to join us in Istanbul?)

On Friday, Armenian students in Toronto organized a brilliant action at a lecture by two speakers who specialize in genocide denial. My friend Corey Robin posted the article to Facebook with this commentary:

This, by a group of Armenian activists at the University of Toronto, really is the best kind of protest against loathsome speech (in this case, against two denialists of the Armenian Genocide, one of whom is a prominent American conservative). The student activists didn’t try to stop or ban the speeches. They just allowed the speakers to say a tiny bit, then turned their backs on them, prompting furious but futile attempts to get the activists kicked out, and then walked out en masse, leaving the speakers with a pitiful audience of 20 supporters. This is the way to shut down (without shouting down) denialists, racists, and the like: f*ck with their heads, disrupt through silence, and demoralize the sh*t out of them.

And last, but not least, earlier this week the street artist Banksy revealed new works and a brief “travel” video that he shot in Gaza. As the artist wrote on a wall in Gaza, “If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful—we don’t remain neutral.”

May it soon be Spring.

Best,

Nancy K

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


Ferrante Fever

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True confession: in ten days, I have read five novels by Elena Ferrante. I picked up a copy of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, Book One of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, at a local bookstore, and tore through the pages in a frenzy. We are introduced to a pair of girls from Naples, Elena and Lila, whose friendship spans from the late forties until the first decade of the 21st century. Elena is our first-person narrator and not always reliable guide, who upon learning that her friend has disappeared at the age of 66, goes back to the first days of their complex, fierce and competitive friendship as young girls. We are plunged into a post-war, working class neighborhood in Naples where life is lived with great intensity and passion. It is also a violent world—men beat their wives, parents beat their children, and children kick their dogs. Elena and Lila are what we would now call “gifted” children. They are determined to use their intelligence and drive to lift themselves out of poverty and to escape from the drudgery and hardship they see in their mothers’ lives.

Who is Elena Ferrante? She writes under a pseudonym, believing that her books should be able to assert themselves without her “patronage,” and has been called “the literary sensation nobody knows.” Many critics, including James Wood in The New Yorker and Rachel Donadio in The New York Review of Books, have been singing her praises. She recently did a Q & A via email with The New York Times.

Her prose, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, is not showy at the level of “craft.” What make the books compelling, even riveting, are the unflinching descriptions of negative emotions and impulses that women experience and usually leave unsaid: terror, fury, jealousy, self-hatred, and more. Ferrante is above all a great storyteller, and there is a narrative drive that makes her work propulsive and addictive.

I’m not going to give a plot summary, but suffice it to say that on the last page MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, Elena describes a shocking scene at the wedding of her best friend Lila. It is a cliffhanger. (As an aside, the term ‘cliffhanger” originates from Thomas Hardy’s 1873 serialized novel A PAIR OF BLUE EYES. A character is hanging from a cliff at the end of one of the chapters, and readers at the time wouldn’t know what happened to the young man until the subsequent chapter ran in the next month’s paper.)

I scurried out to buy Books Two and Three of Ferrante’s series, which I galloped through in quick succession. The fourth and final book was published in Italian towards the end of 2014, and the English translation will appear stateside in September 2015. How could I possibly wait until then? I was suffering from Ferrante Fever. (Yes—there is even a Twitter hashtag #FerranteFever.) I dashed out to the bookstore and bought two of Ferrante’s earlier, shorter novels, THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT and THE LOST DAUGHTER, which I inhaled within 48 hours. These earlier works are much shorter and less complex in terms of plot and characters than the Neapolitan novels—they feel almost like studies on the themes that are taken up on the broader canvas of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND. I just ordered a copy of TROUBLING LOVE, the one available Ferrante translation I haven’t read, and I’m counting the days until the publication of Book Four of the Neapolitan novels, THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD.

 

Nancy Kricorian


The Nightmare of Publication and the Happy Afterlife of Books

novels

 

NIGHTMARE

Much has been made of the analogy between publishing a novel and giving birth to a child. Having given birth to two children and published three novels, I can say the two things have very little in common. One of traits they do share is that the pain involved is quickly forgotten, almost erased from memory, so that one is willing to undertake the process again. When I was in labor with my first child—a labor that lasted 24 hours—at the height of the agony, I insisted that my spouse repeat this sentence, “I promise I will never let you do this again.” Of course, several years later I was the one lobbying for another child, and when I went into labor a second time, the pain of the first rose up in my bodily memory like a hammer, and I thought, “Oh no! I didn’t want to do this again.” But by that point I had no choice.

About six months before the publication of my first novel, I had lunch with a writer friend who had already published three books. He kindly offered to pen a laudatory quotation for use on my novel’s back cover, and we talked shop about publishers, first print runs, foreign rights sales, and the like. I was working as a literary scout for international publishers at the time so I knew a fair amount about the business, but I was a neophyte as an author. When he said, “The three months around publication are a complete nightmare,” I was shocked. For years I had been longing to hold in my hands a copy of a book with my name printed on the cover. Wasn’t that the whole point of writing? Wasn’t that every unpublished writer’s dream? And here he was telling me that the achievement of my heart’s desire was going to make me miserable. I didn’t believe him, and even if I had believed him, it wouldn’t have made any difference because, as with childbirth, no amount of intellectual knowledge can prepare you for the lived experience.

Yet when the novel Zabelle was published in early 1998 I entered, as he had predicted, a dreadful realm where I couldn’t see the cover of a newspaper or magazine, including automotive trade rags, without wondering if my book were reviewed in its pages. I read all the reviews, getting a quick, temporary high from the good ones, and inadvertently memorizing the nasty bits from the bad ones. In the middle of the night the derisive comments would come echoing up in the voice of a wicked Disney Queen. The book tour had similar highs and lows—at one reading there were over a hundred people in the audience and for an hour I felt like a rock star; at the next gig only five souls showed up and I felt humiliated. I checked my Amazon.com sales rank on a daily, if not hourly, basis. I was still working in publishing then, and when I heard news about novels my editor had subsequently purchased, I was jealous if she had paid higher advances for them than she had for mine. I was, in fact, suffering from jealousy about what other “literary” (as opposed to commercial) writers that I knew had achieved: advances, print runs, foreign sales, film sales, starred reviews, twelve-city book tours, awards, honors, speaking gigs, and teaching positions.

But eventually the publication ordeal was in the past, the anxieties receded, and life got back to relative normal—until the aftershocks of the paperback launch a year later. It was difficult, if not impossible, to work on another novel during the months around publication of the hardcover and later the paperback. Then I was finally writing again—working on a second book. I went through a similar process when that one was published in 2003, except that it was a less successful book (fewer reviews, fewer copies sold, no translation sales). The Armenian community had avidly embraced Zabelle, which was a fictionalized account of my grandmother’s life as an Armenian genocide survivor and immigrant bride. The second book, Dreams of Bread and Fire, was a coming of age story about a half-Armenian young woman named Ani Silver who hops a freight train, has sex, experiments with drugs, and gets involved with a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary who sets off a bomb outside a Turkish airlines office. Two years after the 9/11 attacks was not a great moment for a book with a bomb in it, and if Zabelle was everyone’s beloved grandmother and mother, Ani was the daughter and granddaughter nobody wanted. If I had titled the book The Bad Armenian Girl it would have sold more copies. But my imagination resists commercial considerations.

I started my third novel not undaunted, but definitely unbowed. By the time the All the Light There Was, a novel about Maral Pegorian, a young Armenian girl growing to maturity in Paris during World War II, came out, the publishing world had undergone a sea change. While the book was a success in many regards—I earned out my advance, I sold over three times as many copies as I had of the previous book, and it was well reviewed—the process was fraught for all the old reasons and a few new ones. In addition to the mainstream reviewers and Amazon customer comments, there were now dozens if not hundreds of places people could vent their feelings about a book: Goodreads, Library Thing, and professional, literary and personal blogs. No matter how many four- and five-star reviews my book accrued, I had to train myself NOT to pay attention to the snarky one-star reviews. Then, in what seemed like an unimaginable setback, the publisher decided not to do a paperback. For a few weeks I was devastated, but rather than wallowing in despair, I followed my hero Grace Paley’s dictum, “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.” My agent was able to get the publisher to revert the paperback rights, and I approached my friends at She Writes Press about the possibility of doing the paperback with them. She Writes was in the business of producing paperback originals, but the publisher told me I was the third writer who had recently approached her with this kind of reprint saga and they would indeed be able to help me.

The paperback of All the Light There Was appeared in October 2014, and the sales have been good, far outstripping the low expectations of the hardcover publisher. Now I’m starting work on my next novel, the fourth in what my editor has labeled The Armenian Diaspora Quartet. I have been researching for over a year—the book will be focused on an Armenian family in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. I haven’t started writing yet, and my psychotherapist asked me, “Are you sure, after how hard the publication process was on you, that you want to do another one?” I answered, “The writing is the good part, and the rest… I’ll deal with that when the time comes. I’m such a slow writer that it won’t be for another five years in any event.”

 

HAPPY AFTERLIFE

The other aspect to all this is that, despite my complaints and pains, all three of my novels are still in print. And when I reference the “happy afterlife of books,” I’m using the word happy in its original, archaic meaning. The word “hap” comes from Middle English for chance, luck, or fortune. I have the great good fortune that my books are available in paperback, in e-book versions, and in audio format. I have even recently signed a contract for a French edition of my second novel. I am lucky and grateful.

Each time after the promotional push around publication, I’ve had the feeling that my novel, which has the shelf life of yogurt in the brick-and-mortar bookstores, has been laid to rest. As far as the publisher is concerned, it’s done and they have moved on to the next season’s titles, but the funny thing is that my books are out in the world—in libraries, in people’s homes, available through online retailers, and in second-hand bookstores—and they continue to circulate and to have lives of their own, lives that I know nothing about except when I see a new customer comment on Goodreads, or when someone contacts me via Twitter or Facebook to express appreciation, or when I receive a fan letter through my agent. Another way that I’m fortunate is that I have a readership that cares about my work. I’m a minor celebrity in a minority community. At a recent Armenian fundraiser, a man seated at my table, when he found out that I was the author of Zabelle, told me that his mother has kept a copy of the book on her nightstand for many years. I love the idea that Zabelle Chahasbanian, Ani Silver, and Maral Pegorian are living in the hearts of unknown readers. It gives me the necessary drive to breathe life into my new heroine. Her name is Vera Serinossian.

 

Nancy Kricorian


My Favorite Books of 2014

It’s the time of year when everyone is putting out Top Ten lists and gift recommendations. Here is my minimalist response—three of my favorite books of the year: a graphic memoir by Roz Chast, a collection of poems by Najwan Darwish, and a new translation of a 1935 memoir by Zabel Yessayan. Happy reading and happy New Year!

 

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Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? Bloomsbury USA (May 2014)

In her first memoir, cartoonist Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.

 

 

 

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Najwan Darwish, Nothing More to Lose (translated from the Arabic by Kareen James Abu-Zeid), New York Review of Books Poets (April 2014)

Nothing More to Lose is the first collection of poems by Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish to appear in English. Hailed across the Arab world and beyond, Darwish’s poetry walks the razor’s edge between despair and resistance, between dark humor and harsh political realities. With incisive imagery and passionate lyricism, Darwish confronts themes of equality and justice while offering a radical, more inclusive, rewriting of what it means to be both Arab and Palestinian living in Jerusalem, his birthplace.

 

 

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Zabel Yessayan, The Gardens of Silidhar (translated from the Armenian by Jennifer Manoukian), AIWA Press (2014)

This memoir originally published in Armenian in 1935, is a beautiful, evocative narrative of Yessayan’s childhood and a vivid account of Armenian community life in Constantinople (Istanbul) at the end of the nineteenth century. Author, educator, and social activist, Zabel Yessayan (1878-1943) is recognized today as one of the greatest writers in Western Armenian literature.

 

Nancy Kricorian


Palestinian Fiction, National Book Awards, and Armenians to Istanbul

Marash Embroidery

Marash Embroidery

 

My article “That Country Beyond Our Reach: Palestinian Fiction Since 1967” is available for free download to the first 50 “colleagues” who click on this link. It is part of a special Palestine issue (edited by my friend Rachel Holmes) of the U.K. literary journal Wasifiri.

I wanted to share a few edifying links about book publishing from the National Book Awards Benefit Dinner in New York City on November 19. I was not there, but the proceedings attracted a great deal of media and social media attention because of a practically sublime speech from one writer and a shocking and appalling joke by another. Ursula K. LeGuin, who accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award, gave a beautiful and inspiring speech. You can read the transcript here and watch the video here. There is much to love in what she said, but this was my favorite paragraph:

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) made a racist watermelon joke after Jacqueline Woodson was handed the National Book Award in the young adult category for her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. Handler issued an apology via Twitter and, to his credit, donated money to the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Woodson penned an op-ed for the New York Times entitled, “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke.”

In terms of things Armenian, lavash bread was added to UNESCO’s list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Fethiye Cetin, Turkish human rights attorney and author of the memoir My Grandmother, was interviewed by Pinar Tremblay on AL Monitor: Turkish Woman’s Search Gives Voice to Islamized Armenians. And System of A Down announced they would be commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide with a “Wake Up The Souls Tour.” I’m continuing my work with Project 2015 to organize a mass fly in of Armenians to Istanbul for April 24, 2015. When the web site launches I will let you know, but for now you can LIKE the Facebook page or follow on Twitter.

And because I’m supposed to be pushing the paperback of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS, let me remind you that books make great holiday gifts. I will be happy to autograph and inscribe copies!

 

Nancy Kricorian


Armenian Resistance to Erasure, Disappearance and Denial

The Armenian Quarter of Adana

The Armenian Quarter of Adana

 

Just because both sides have suffered, it doesn’t mean that the pain is “mutual”

 

Nancy Kricorian, author of the famous novel Zabelle, has returned to Istanbul after the Anatolian trip she took in the footsteps of her grandmother. She met with us to share what remains with her, with questions on her mind and memories in her notebook.

 

 

Interview from the 26 September 2014 issue of AGOS Turkish-Armenian Weekly (translation from the Turkish by Cihan Tekay)

 

 

By FATİH GÖKHAN DİLER

 

Nancy Kricorian, Armenian-American author of the famous bestseller novel Zabelle, was in Istanbul last week. Kricorian toured Anatolia during the summer months, in the footsteps of her grandmother, the protagonist of her novel Zabelle. The “Armenian Heritage Tour,” which has been taking place since 1994, has almost become a pilgrimage for the participants; hundreds of Armenians have traveled around Anatolia with this tour in the last 20 years. The itinerary takes shape with input from participants, as they want to see the places where their relatives and families used to live. Kricorian says: “We call this trip ‘pilgrimage’ and ourselves ‘pilgrims.’ But it has nothing to do with going on a pilgrimage: it is truly a form of resistance; a resistance against being erased from this land, against disappearance and denial.” Nancy Kricorian, who returned to Istanbul as the invitee of Columbia Global Centers, shared with us what remains with her [from the trip], with the questions on her mind and the memories in her notebook.

 

How was the Anatolian tour? How did you feel when you encountered the heritage of Armenians?

 

The trip was wonderful, but at the same time exhausting. We were on the bus for 10 hours each day. I say we covered as much as a third of the country. We also faced many challenges; everywhere we went, we experienced moments of sadness and bouts of crying. For example, when we arrived in Elazığ, one of the participants, Dikran Fabricatorian, started telling us the story of his family. He had never been there and he wanted to see if any traces of his family remained. During that period, Dikran’s grandfather Krikor had started a weaving workshop in Elazığ. The silk that he weaved was of such high quality that he even started getting orders from abroad. Because his business was so successful, the Ottoman sultan changed Krikor’s last name from Ipekjian [Ipek means silk in Turkish] to Fabricatorian. After Krikor died in 1902, his five sons took over the workshop. They expanded their business and opened two big factories. The five sons built five mansions adjacent to each other. In 1915, they were all killed, and their wives and children were exiled. One of these children is the father of Dikran Fabricatorian. These five mansions were demolished in the 1950s, and apartment buildings were built in their place, but they retained the name ‘Five Brothers.’ We were walking on a crowded avenue, twenty of us following Dikran and the guide, until we saw the signs: ‘Five Brothers Building’ and ‘Five Brothers Passage.’

 

Can you tell us a little about your group?

 

We had a wonderful group: there were many Armenian participants from Australia, the United States and other places. There were other interesting people in the group as well. For example, two Norwegian women were on the bus with us. One of them was an historian who was retracing the travels of a Norwegian missionary who took care of Armenian orphans between 1915 and 1918. The other was a student of this historian-scholar and a documentary filmmaker. She was filming a documentary about the same missionary. Thus, we also sought what they were looking for; we toured German hospitals, orphanages, etc. This Norwegian missionary worked in many places from Marash to Van and we followed in her footsteps. One day we were so exhausted from all the driving that I suggested to them that they issue a disclaimer at the end of the film when they complete it, saying: “No animals were harmed during the making of this film, but some Armenians were made to suffer!”

 

Can you tell us about your grandmother’s story?

 

She was born and raised in Mersin, her parents and siblings died on the way during the deportations, and she lived with her brother in a refugee camp at Ras al-Ain. Then they were taken to an orphanage. However, she didn’t want to stay in the orphanage, and I wish I had her asked her why. She decided to leave the orphanage with her brother, and from there she first went to Mersin, then to Cyprus. In Cyprus, her path crossed with that of my grandfather’s, who had migrated from Adana in 1911, and the story moves to Massachusetts, United States. That is also where I was born and raised. My first novel Zabelle is a work of fiction that builds on the story of my grandmother. It is not completely her story; it is a work of fiction that draws from the stories my grandmother told me, from other stories I heard at church, and from pieces that I wrote inspired by these stories. When it was first published in 1998, it suddenly became very popular. Zabelle was the grandmother everyone loved very much; the novel was very popular in the American-Armenian community. It was translated to Turkish and published by Pencere Publishing under the title Zabel (2003)My second book, Dreams of Bread and Fire, was not met with the same enthusiasm. I should have named it The Bad Armenian Girl. The daughter that no one wants – her life has sex, drugs and the like. Of course, the Armenian community did not embrace this character.

 

You define the tour as a kind of resistance.

 

Yes, doing this tour is a kind of resistance. It is a way of saying, “We still exist and we are still here.” At first, I felt very sad. It felt as though we were chasing ghosts. Then, however, whenever we prayed in a church converted to a wedding hall, a barn, a mosque, or to a museum with a gigantic Turkish flag hanging in front of it, I started feeling something which affected me deeply: this is a kind of resistance for me. I have never been a religious person and I always considered religion as a tool of repression, but I was weeping every time I visited these churches that are no longer churches. And this is actually the strange part: we call this trip a “pilgrimage” and ourselves “pilgrims.” But it has nothing to do with going on pilgrimage: it is truly a form of resistance, a resistance against being erased from this land, against disappearance and denial.

After you completed the trip, you asked yourself a question on your blog: “What will I do with this knowledge that I have acquired?” Have you found the answer in the meantime?

 

I completed this trip two months ago, and I am still processing it. We have been talking about issues like resistance, memory, and mobilizing memory for change. Sometimes it feels a bit academic to think about such keywords and I’m ambivalent. There are people in Turkey who go out on the streets and say, “We are all Hrant, we are all Armenians,” and I don’t actually find this convincing. I hear people saying, “But this is an expression of solidarity.” Okay, but then it makes me ask what people did after walking the streets shouting this slogan. I also know that those who live here and those in the Diaspora might feel differently. I am still in the process of thinking about all this.

 

Are there any other things that bother you in a similar way?

 

The other thing that bothers me is the discourse of “Our common Anatolian pain.” I refuse dialogue as an “industry” and as an equivalence between the two sides. I reject the discourse of “Our common Anatolian pain,” which comes to mean, “you have suffered, and so have we.” Just because both sides have suffered, it doesn’t mean that the pain is mutual. If we want to come to a mutual understanding, then the truth has to emerge first. There is also the issue of the massive dispossession and transfer of wealth, which is not talked about except in terms of suffering. This [Armenian dispossession] is the exact source of the wealth of some of the richest Turkish families. A Palestinian friend of mine, who was a negotiator in the Israel/Palestine issue, told an Israeli negotiator that the Israelis could at least apologize for what they  did in 1948. The answer she received was that this was impossible to do because it would mean acknowledging that the state of Israel was born in sin. The founding mythology of the Turkish state is firmly bound up with its Republican and Turkish identity, but this state is founded on the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians, the banishment of the entire Greek community, and the repression enacted on the Kurds for decades.

 

End

 

Sidebar:

From the Notebook:

“Flowers” and “The Bridge”

 

My grandmother always said: “We come from near Tarsus, do you know St. Paul of Tarsus? I was born in Mersin, your grandfather came from Adana.” I had not tried to find Adana and Mersin on a map until after my grandmother died.

 

When we were traveling south past the Toros Mountains, we started seeing the road signs for Mersin, Tarsus and Adana. Our guide warned me that no traces of the Armenians remained in Mersin. Everything had vanished. No churches, no schools, nothing…

 

So I gave up trying to look for traces, and I started imagining that long ago my grandmother had walked those same streets I was walking. I imagined drinking from the same fountain, looking at the same sky. There were palm trees by the roadside, followed by pink oleanders and tall thistles.

 

Then we went to the port, where the boats were tied up and the Mediterranean lay behind them. My grandmother had seen the same sky and had taken strolls on the same beach. How she loved her garden in New England! How much she must have loved the pink and white oleanders, bougainvilleas and red hibiscus flowers in Mersin.

 

In Adana, we went to the old Armenian neighborhood, and there was construction on the main road there. The old, worn charm of the avenue, which can still be felt on some side streets, has been replaced with a kind of “gentrified” sameness. From there, we walked to the Big Clock Tower, built by two Armenian architects in the 19th century, but that had also been shrouded for renovation. Our guide informed us that in the 1909 Adana massacres, when more than two thousand Armenians had been murdered, the Turkish crowd had gathered at this clock tower before the attacks. My grandfather left Adana in 1911 in order to go to America.

 

Today, none of the churches or Armenian schools still stand in Adana. This is another place from which we have been completely erased. Then we went to the Taşköprü (“Stone Bridge”) over the Seyhan River, a relic from Roman times. My grandfather died when I was 3 years old. I imagine a young man from a faded photograph. He wears a coal-grey suit and his mustache has been freshly combed. He walks over the bridge with a newspaper under his arm. The traces of Armenian presence are there for those who know how to look, but the memory that carries these traces has been repressed.