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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 Ceyhan 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.


On the Occasion of The Saturday Mother’s 500th Vigil for the Disappeared

The Saturday Mothers at  Galatasaray Square in Istanbul

The Saturday Mothers at Galatasaray Square in Istanbul

 

Today in Istanbul The Saturday Mothers held their 500th vigil for the disappeared. When I was in Istanbul in September at an international feminist workshop on mass trauma, memorialization and activism for change, the conference participants joined The Saturday Mothers/People at their 495th weekly vigil. Most of the photos held during the demonstration were of Kurdish men who had been disappeared by the Turkish government in the 90’s. But among the sea of faces, I also saw several photos of Armenian intellectuals, such as Krikor Torosyan, who were arrested and murdered on April 24, 1915. The man who held that photograph was clearly not related to Torosyan, but here again the simple act of making visible a single, near-forgotten image transformed that space of protest into something hopeful and transcendent. The Occupy Wall Street slogan “all of our grievances are connected” was made manifest in this display of solidarity, and brought to mind the expansive humanity of the Soviet Russian writer Vasily Grossman.

 

Grossman, who lived from 1905-1964, was a Soviet Russian writer and journalist. He was also a Jew whose mother was murdered by the Nazis at Berdichev. At the close of World War II, he was one of the first journalists to see and write about the Nazi death camps in a searing piece entitled “The Hell of Treblinka.” His masterpiece, the World War II novel LIFE AND FATE, was never published during his lifetime because of the complex honesty of his portrayal of life under Stalin. The KGB confiscated the typescript in 1961, and the novel was not published in Russia until the late 1980’s.

 

In 1962, after the arrest of his novel, Grossman was offered a probably compensatory job translating a long Armenian war novel. He went to Armenia, where he wrote a memoir about his stay that is a humane and insightful meditation on Armenia and Armenians, and offers as well a subtle, understated analysis of power relations during Soviet times. In the final chapter there is a poignant description of how, at a time when anti-Semitism was rampant in the Soviet Union, during the toasts at an Armenian village wedding, local people spoke with compassion about what had happened to the Jews during the Nazi occupation. Grossman wrote,

 

Never in my life have I bowed to the ground; I have never prostrated myself before anyone. Now, however, I bow to the ground before the Armenian peasants who, during the merriment of a village wedding, spoke publicly about the agony of the Jewish nation under Hitler, about the death camps where Nazis murdered Jewish women and children.

 

We still live in a time when people’s tribal loyalties often dictate political alliances, but this gesture of solidarity described by Grossman is to me a model of how we need to reach outside our own narrow interests to take up the struggles of people beyond our immediate community. As an Armenian-American I can say it is a great thing to lobby for Armenian Genocide recognition and to advocate for the Armenian cause, but for a progressive this is insufficient. I wouldn’t hope to dictate to anyone what issues to take up or what coalitions to join. There are so many: to name only a few examples, we have the Climate Crisis, scarily militarized policing in our cities, a “war on drugs” that is in actuality a war on people of color, a lawless drone assassination program being overseen by our current president, and human rights abuses from Kurdistan to Palestine. As Grace Paley so eloquently put it, the only recognizable feature of hope is action. The time to act is always now.

 

All of Our Grievances Are Connected (Occupy Wall Street Protest in 2012)

All of Our Grievances Are Connected (Occupy Wall Street Protest in 2012)

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


I could never sell Girl Scout Cookies

blue21

 

I started writing a newsletter for friends, family and readers a few months before the March 2013 publication of my third novel, ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS. The sample below is what I posted to the NK Book Group list last week on the publication date of the She Writes Press paperback edition of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS. It’s a low volume mailing list–one or two emails a month–and if you’re interested in joining, send a note to nkbookgroup[at]gmail.com. 

7 October 2014

Today is the official publication date of the paperback edition of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS. When I was a kid I had to drop out of the Girl Scouts because I was unable to sell the cookies, and pushing my own books is always embarrassing for me, but I’m going to force myself. Assuming that you already have a copy of the hardcover, please consider buying the paperback as a gift for a friend.

Just by way of explanation, the reason you should buy my book—or buy any book by a friend, or by any author whose work you admire—is not because I will profit financially. Most writers, myself included, are lucky, if you calculate the number of hours that go into the writing, to make minimum wage for the books they publish. The idea is, however, that by buying the book you are showing the publishers that you think they should invest in my NEXT novel.

Lately I’ve been hearing about the sorry state of publishing from agent and editor friends. When the subject turns to literary fiction, they grow absolutely grim faced. This is why, if I love a book, I buy multiple copies and give them to friends. For people who care about literary culture and serious publishing, I recommend that this holiday season you take a vow to give only books. (Myself, I’ll be giving books and beautiful handcrafted items from Sunbula Fair Trade.) On a brighter note, I’m thrilled and blessed that all three of my novels are available in paperback, ebook and audio editions.

I had a great trip to Los Angeles this past weekend for the Armenians and Progressive Politics Conference at Occidental College. I was on the keynote panel on Friday evening with my friends Khatchig Mouradian and David Barsamian. I’m also excited to be working with friends on Project 2015, an effort to organize a mass fly in to Istanbul of Diaspora Armenians for the centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2015. It sounds a little sad, but it’s actually going to be an amazing act of memorialization and resistance. (More on this at it develops!)

 

Nancy Kricorian


The Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Heard

Just published in paperback by She Writes Press

Just reissued in paperback by She Writes Press

 

You hear all kinds of advice about writing, and there are dozens of handbooks offering guidance, most of it is abstract and pretty useless, or else it’s so specific that it doesn’t suit. Many years ago when I was a student, a poet and teacher gave me a piece of advice that didn’t mean much at the time, but which I understood much later to be the best writing tip ever offered to me.

“Respect your process,” is what she said, and she said it before “writing process” had become a registered trademark. Her words echo in my head at moments when I am annoyed with myself for how slowly I write, or for how much time I spend researching before I even start to write, or for the fact that I don’t have the book mapped out in my head before I begin, which means that I will have to do multiple drafts to get it where it needs to be.

What I have recognized lately, however, is that process, like everything else, doesn’t stay the same. I have written three novels, and each time, the process has been different. With the first book, as I made the transition from poetry to fiction, the only way I could possibly think about taking on something as enormous as a novel was by breaking the narrative down into 10-15 page episodic chapters. I also had two small children, and was running a small business as a literary scout for foreign publishers, so the only time I could devote to writing was Friday morning. I never had writer’s block, because if I didn’t churn out those pages once a week, the novel was never going to get done.

By the time Zabelle, a fictionalized account of my grandmother’s life as an Armenian Genocide survivor and immigrant bride, was published, I was already two years into researching my second novel, Dreams of Bread and Fire, a coming-of-age story about someone of my generation growing up in the Armenian-American community. My kids were in elementary school, I had quit the scouting business, and my writing process had changed: I wrote for two hours each day. I knew other writers who could sit at a keyboard for six hours or more a day, but for me two hours was the upper limit of productive writing time. Of course, I kept tinkering with it in my head while I was sitting on the playground or even when I was sleeping, but two hours in front of the computer was my process.

When I started researching my third novel about Armenians in Paris during the Nazi occupation, I was working twenty plus hours a week for CODEPINK Women for Peace. There were many days when being at a street demonstration against the Iraq war took precedence over laboring on the novel; still I tried to stick to the two-hour a weekday regimen. But I added a new rule: even if I didn’t have two hours, I would write for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes was enough to keep the characters and the language active in my mind so that the passive work would continue. It took me ten years to write the third book, partly because of CODEPINK and the miserable state of the world, and partly because as my kids got older they took up more space in my head than they did when they were small.

All The Light There Was, my World War II novel, was published in hardcover in 2013 and has just been reissued in paperback by She Writes Press. For two years now I’ve been researching a new novel, the fourth installment in what my editor has dubbed “The Armenian Diaspora Quartet.” It’s about Armenians in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. I haven’t started writing, and I feel anxious when I think about the fact that I don’t yet hear the sentences that will launch this story. But then I remember my mantra: “Respect your process.” I’m not entirely sure what the process will be. One of my daughters is in graduate school, and the other is a freshman in college. I’m still engaged in grassroots social justice organizing with CODEPINK, and I’ve started doing more speaking engagements, traveling, and teaching. I do know that the name of my main character is Vera, and that she grew up in the Armenian community of Bourj Hammoud before she and her family immigrated to the United States in 1980. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time with her.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian
New York City


The Armenian Heritage Trip as a Form of Resistance

Among the ruins of Ani

Among the ruins of Ani

 

I participated in an Armenian Heritage Trip to Turkey between June 18-30, 2014. On one of the last nights of our voyage, we were invited to share our thoughts. Below are the remarks, written on the tour bus, that I read to the group.

 

Between knowing that 1.5 million were killed and having heard the familial and personal stories of suffering, we have arrived at a new location by returning to the cities, towns and villages of our ancestors. The place names in narratives of 1915 now have vivid material properties.

I stood by the port in my grandmother’s hometown of Mersin. I then looked at a map and traced the trajectory between Mersin and the desert camp at Ras al Ain in Syria where she was among 8,000 Armenian orphans. She walked that distance in 1915 without shelter and with what little food she could scrounge or, much to her shame, beg.

We have seen the bridge in mountainous Zaytoun where hundreds were thrown to their deaths into the deep gorge below. The river ran red with their blood. That is a sentence I have heard many times before, but now I have seen this river. We have stood on the shores of Hazar Lake near Kharpert where 10,000 Armenians were forcibly drowned. I didn’t want to ask for a description of how this was effected, nor did I want to imagine it.

But we have also found other ways to experience these places. I imagined my grandfather as a young man crossing the Stone Bridge, dating to Roman times, over the Ceyhan River in Adana. Each of us has created new memories in the landscapes our relatives once walked. We have seen poppies and thistles by the roadsides. We have picked fruit from trees: sour cherries in Kayseri, red and the white mulberries in Zaytoun, and sweet apricots in Malatya. And some of us are going home with paprika–the famous biber of Marash.

What can we do with this new knowledge? Our very existence is testament to the resilience and tenacity of the Armenian people. And  our determination to make this voyage is a form of resistance. We refuse to allow our parents and grandparents to be forgotten. We refuse to allow erasure, fabrication and denial of our history. And as we go our different ways, I hope that each of us will find a means to bear witness to this past and to work towards a future where dignity, equality and justice are accorded to all the people of these lands.

 

Nancy Kricorian
Van, June 2014


Milestones, Celebrations and Ghosts

 

Peace Out: We just celebrated our 25th Anniversary

Peace Out: We just celebrated our 25th Anniversary

 

This is, for our family, a season of milestones and celebrations. On May 26th James and I marked our 25th wedding anniversary, and later in the week we hosted a celebratory Chinese banquet complete with Moutai (“the world’s #1 selling spirit”) and poems offered by our friends, ranging from recitations of Auden, Frost, Rukeyser, and Levertov to a limerick composed for the occasion. We also heard selections from Rosa Luxembourg’s prison letters and an eclectic list of world events from 1989 (for example, the TV show Seinfeld was launched and Beijing was put under martial law).

Our younger daughter, Djuna, will graduate from high school this week. Our elder daughter, Nona, will graduate from college two days later. And two days after that, I will be leaving for an Armenian Heritage Trip to Turkey. I have been referring to this as “Twenty Armenians on a Bus,” which a friend suggested would be a great title for a one-woman show. I thought it might make a good stand-up comedy routine. But I am also describing the voyage, primarily to non-Armenians who think of Turkey as the land of good food, fabulous bazaars and historic mosques, as a search for ghosts. The itinerary is planned around the participants, taking us to visit the cities and towns our grandparents fled during the Armenian Genocide.

As a final note, the official publication date for the paperback of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS by She Writes Press has been set for October 7, 2014. It’s already posted and available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and McNally Jackson. When I get back from Turkey in early July, I’m going to start the push to get the word out about the paperback, and to line up events for the fall and next year. I’ve come a long way since grade school when I dropped out of Girl Scouts because selling the cookies was a most mortifying experience.

 

Nancy Kricorian

P.S. For summer reading, I’d like to recommend two titles I recently read and loved: Nescio’s AMSTERDAM STORIES and THE COLLECTED STORIES OF LYDIA DAVIS.

 


Roses in June

pinkroses

They want a sweet smell from a rose and humaneness from a human.
~ Armenian proverb

 

In the parks and gardens near my New York City apartment, spring unrolls its flowered skirt in a predictable sequence: first the crocuses, followed by the daffodils, tulips, lilacs, and peonies. When June arrives the scent of roses reminds me of my childhood in our backyard garden.

 

We had rose bushes and trellised roses that ranged in color from pale pink to crimson. When I was in grade school I would cut a half-dozen red roses from the bush, pry off the thorns, wrap the stems in a damp paper towel, and then wrap that in tin foil. I brought this bouquet to school as an end-of-the-year offering for the teacher. Soon it would be summer.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


Letter to Turkey on the 99th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

sayfa 1 master_Layout 1

 

I was asked by AGOS Weekly in Istanbul to write a message to Turkey on the occasion of the 99th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, as were a dozen other Diaspora Armenian writers, academics, filmmakers, and artists. The letter is below. Beneath my letter is a response I received on this year’s Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day (April 24, 2014) via my author contact email.

 

Letter to Turkey on the 99th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Let’s sit crooked and talk straight.
~Armenian proverb

Jesus says to forgive your enemies, but what they did to us I never can forgive.
~ Mariam Kodjababian Kricorian

 

A Palestinian friend of mine told this story. Years ago as a PLO negotiator, she suggested to her Israeli counterpart that an apology for what happened in 1948 would be a nice gesture. The Israeli asked, “You want us to say we are sorry?” She replied, “An apology would go a long way.” He said, “You want us to admit that Israel was born in sin, and this we cannot do.”

What nation state did not rise or profit from crime? Israel was founded upon the violent expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. The United States of America was built upon land theft, genocide, and the forced labor of chattel slaves. The founding of the modern Turkish Republic entailed the extermination and expulsion of Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks, and the harsh repression of Kurds.

In order to justify these acts, the victims must first be made less than human in the popular imagination. After the fact, the story must be rewritten so that the despised, dispossessed, and murdered are said to have deserved their fates, and are made out, in fact, to be the perpetrators.

My grandmother, Mariam Kodjababian Kricorian, was from Mersin, Cilicia. She and her family were forced to leave their home in 1915. They were sent on a death march to the Syrian desert. Her parents and younger sisters died on the road. She and her brother were among 8,000 Armenian orphans in a camp at Ras al-Ain.

This was no accident. This was not the collateral damage of war. This was part of a concerted campaign to solve what was called “The Armenian Question” by destroying the Armenians. The goal was not only to rid Turkey of its Armenian inhabitants, but was also to appropriate their homes, lands and other properties.

To the people of Turkey, I am not asking for an apology. I would like an answer, however, to this question: What purpose does it serve to continue to deny dignity, equality and justice to the Armenians?

 

Nancy Kricorian
New York City
April 2014

(letter originally appeared in AGOS Weekly in Turkish, English and Armenian)

 

*

April 24, 2014

 

Dear Nancy:

I read your letter to the Turkish people and as a Turkish person I thank you for saying things as they are.

I wish I could call you an artist of my home country. I wish you could live in Anatolia and write beautiful, happy stories about Anatolian people. We miss all the Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and other communities who used to be our friends, neighbors, our musicians, film makers, writers. I wish I could read you, William Saroyan and Elia Kazan in Turkish. I wish I could listen to Charles Aznavour in Turkish. I wish I could listen to Gomidas long ago.We are poorer without you, without all these communities who were forced out or killed by our criminal politicians.

We were subjected to such levels of nationalistic propaganda, it took me a while to realize what we’ve done to our fellow country men. I am very embarassed to realize it so late.

You asked a question in your letter: “What purpose does it serve to continue to deny dignity, equality and justice to the Armenians?” My answer is: to justify new genocides, atrocities by nationalists and racists. If they stop denying what we did to Armenians they believe they can not justify and avoid responsibility for what we did to Anatolian Greeks, Assyrians and others and what we have been doing to Kurdish people.

I take this opportunity to tell you that I share your loss and pain, they are ours too.

My best regards,

Engin Selcuk

 

 


Happy Birthday Medz Mairig

nancyandmariam

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MEDZ MAIRIG! My Armenian grandmother Mariam Kodjababian Kricorian (1904?-1985) did not know her birth date, which was written in the family Bible that was left behind in the house in Mersin during the 1915 “Deportations.” My grandmother and her family were driven from their home as part of what later came to be called the Armenian Genocide. Her parents did not survive the forced march into the Syrian desert, and as an adult she chose April 1st as her birthday.

 

Nancy Kricorian


How I Learned to Type

beigeselectric

 

In high school, I earned an A in Mr. Finn’s typing despite the fact that at the end of the year I was still using the hunt and peck method. My mother, who had worked as a secretary until my younger sister’s birth, typed all my papers starting in fourth grade through high school. When I was in college, many of my professors accepted handwritten assignments because my printing was regular, legible, and even elegant. When typing was required, I paid an administrative assistant in the Anthropology Department to do it for me.

As the first person in my family to go to college, aside from my mother’s two years at secretarial school, I had a fear that I would get stuck in the pink collar ghetto typing other people’s writing. I would never have said that I wanted to be a writer, because although writing poetry and stories was something I had always done since I could read, being a writer was too outlandish an ambition to admit even to myself. Growing up I knew women who were teachers, nurses, and secretaries, but no writers.

I followed my heart, however, and ended up enrolled in the Writing Division at Columbia University for a graduate degree in poetry, the least lucrative form of writing possible. When I arrived in New York, I registered at a temp agency and the first thing they required was a typing test. I scored, if I remember correctly, a miserable twenty words a minute because of all the mistakes I made. So they sent me to stuff envelopes with elderly volunteers at the Combined Jewish Philanthropies. A few weeks later, through a connection in the Writing Division, I was offered a job working as a part-time assistant for writer Susan Sontag.

Susan Sontag called, and it was not as exciting as I thought it was going to be. She is basically looking for a typist, and I am not sure that my typing will be good enough. I know that if I really want this job, I am going to have to psych myself into the best typing I have ever done in my life. It is a draft of a manuscript that will have to be done once or twice more, and she needs to be there. In any case, I will get to meet her. I am going to do some positive thinking and visualizations about typing her manuscript.  ~ Journal entry, 15 October 1984

She liked me despite my typing transpositions. We worked on an article about Jean-Paul Sartre that was very interesting. THINK GOOD TYPING.                  ~ Journal entry, 18 October 1984

These were the only two entries I found in my journal about the typing problem and Susan Sontag. But I remember how stressful it was sitting at her desk with her standing behind me peering over my shoulder as I typed on her IBM Selectric. The more nervous I was the more mistakes I made, and although I believe she liked me and was trying to be her approximation of kind, her exasperated comments were withering.

I signed up for a typing class at a secretarial school in the basement of the New York Penta Hotel across the street from Madison Square Garden. Under the glare of fluorescent lighting in a room filled with rows of IBM Selectric typewriters humming and clattering away, I finally learned how to type. Soon I was able to produce a sentence without looking at my hands and with no mistakes: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Without that skill, I can’t imagine how I would ever have been able to write my first novel.

Nancy Kricorian