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Armenia


The Women’s March and the Long Struggle Ahead

 

To be part of a crowd of over half-a-million people is an experience both intimate and abstractly large. Three moments during the speeches at the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. particularly held that balance for me. Sophie Cruz, a six-year-old girl whose parents are undocumented immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico, moved us all to tears with her beautiful and elegant words, spoken in English and then in Spanish, saying, “Let us fight with love, faith, and courage, so that our families will not be destroyed.” African-American civil rights activist and revolutionary Angela Davis told the assembled, “We dedicate ourselves to collective resistance.” Linda Sarsour, an organizer from New York City and one of the national co-chairs of the march, declared herself “unapologetically Muslim-American, unapologetically Palestinian-American, unapologetically from Brooklyn, New York.” She went on to tell us, “If you want to know if you are going the right way, follow women of color, sisters and brothers. We know where to go, because when we fight for justice, we fight for it for all people, for all our communities.”

 

It was an exhilarating, exhausting, and empowering experience to take to the streets with hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children who are determined to fight against the Trump Administration and its assaults on women, the disabled, immigrants, the indigenous, LGBTQ people, our public educational system, our environment, and our civil and human rights. I couldn’t help but remember other mass mobilizations I have joined. In 2003 millions of people took to the streets around the globe in attempt to prevent the Iraq War. George W. Bush dismissed us then, saying he didn’t pay much attention to “focus groups.” We were unable to stop the Iraq War, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, destabilized the entire region, and led eventually to the horrible carnage and destruction we have been witnessing in Syria. Marches and rallies are important sources of strength and inspiration—but that strength must be used for the long struggles that follow.

 

I was pleased to learn from newspaper reports that the huge defiant crowds only steps from his seat of power enraged Donald Trump, and I have to believe that if we are able to harness the passion and determination of so many people taking political action for the first time, that we will be able to protect our most vulnerable individuals and organizations. If we succeed, our cities will become sanctuaries for the undocumented, our states will enact legislation mitigating the harms coming from Washington, and our mass civil disobedience against gas pipelines and other projects that threaten our air and water will engulf and stop corporate pillage. We will wrest control of the Democratic Party from the neoliberal establishment that backed the disastrous candidacy of Hillary Clinton, and put accountable elected officials into office. But I have to be honest. I’m afraid, and I’m unsure of exactly where best to focus my energies when the attacks on the values and institutions I care about are coming not daily, but hourly.

 

For now I join the ranks of my friends in Palestine, where Trump’s collaboration with the Israeli right wing will cause untold suffering. I join my friends in Armenia, who struggle every day against the kind of kleptocracy Trump now installs here in the U.S. I join my friends in Turkey, where harshly repressive measures are targeting journalists and academics, and in its Kurdish region, where violence has destroyed much of the architectural heritage of Diyarbakir’s Sur and where many communities have been subject to state terror.

 

I join a global community that struggles against tyranny and amplifies the humane in the human. As American writer and activist Grace Paley put it: “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.” I hope, because I act.

 

Nancy Kricorian

January 2017

New York City

 

Written for Agos Turkish-Armenian weekly
https://web.archive.org/web/20170126065707/http://www.agos.com.tr/tr/yazi/17561/trumptan-sonra-umut-ve-eylem

 

 


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

TEXT OF FEMINIST LETTER PLUS SIGNATURES

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

 

Signatories (as of 1 November 2016)

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

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

 


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.

 

PLEASE DISSEMINATE THIS MESSAGE NOW!

 

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.

 

WE NEED YOUR PRESENCE!

 

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


Neapolitan Pizza and Armenian Art

 

Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, Treasures, 2015

Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, Treasures, 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


Vartavar, The Armenian Water Festival

Celebrating Vartavar in Yerevan

Celebrating Vartavar in Yerevan

 

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

 

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

 

Nancy Kricorian


The Kardashians, Pope Francis, and the Armenian Genocide

Kim-Kardashian--Visiting-the-Armenian-Genocide-Memorial--12-662x909

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


Remembering the 1988 Armenian Earthquake

 

Armenia Earthquake Destruction

 

December 7, 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of the Spitak earthquake of 1988. This natural disaster in Armenia killed as many as 50,000 people and injured as many as 130,000 in the northern regions of Lori and Shirak. I wrote this poem in the weeks after the tragedy. 

 

The Survivor

 

All this pain is for which of our sins?
~ Catholicos Vazken I, December 1988

 

In this dream you walk past
the school’s sheared facade;
from their desks the children
call and wave. A teacher
points at a map of Armenia.
The ceilings drop like eyelids.

You wake to another dream
of soot-stained faced around
a fire fueled by broken chairs.
You wish the earth would
swallow the rows of coffins
in the playing field. The living

search for what they want
not to find; their eyes catch
like hooks at your skin.
You should have been the
hand of God reaching into
the school–the children

could have climbed onto
your palm that would hover
over the town until the earth
was still. But instead they
line up to write their names
in the book at heaven’s door.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

Originally published in PARNASSUS: Poetry in Review (1992)


Equality Armenia

 

I am proud to have been part of a global coalition that drafted, signed and disseminated this statement in support of LGBT rights in Armenia. You can read the full text and the list of signatories below. (And you can watch an interview about the issue that I did via Skype with Civilnet Armenia TV.)       N.K. 

 

FamousArmenians-300x245

 

More than two-dozen prominent Armenians in the Diaspora have signed a statement supporting equality and justice for all in Armenia. Among the signatories are poet Diana Der Hovanessian, filmmaker Atom Egoyan, actor and producer Arsinée Khanjian, musician Serge Tankian, and photographer Scout Tufankjian. This array of Armenian artists, intellectuals and professionals felt moved to release this statement in the light of anti-gay legislation that was recently proposed in Yerevan. “This anti-gay legislation is part of a disturbing pattern of intolerance for marginalized people and opposition voices in Armenia,” said publisher Veken Gueyikian. Writer Nancy Agabian said, “People of conscience must not stand by as our LGBT cousins are targeted and demonized.” The statement represents their collective commitment to human rights and to Armenia’s nascent civil society movements.

 

For more background see:

Armenian Gay and Lesbian Alliance Statement Against Armenian Police Proposal

Amnesty Documents Widespread harassment of Armenia’s LGBT Community

Human Rights Watch Letter to Armenian President Regarding Proposed Anti-LGBT Legislation

Armenian translation here.

 

STATEMENT

“In response to reports of draft ‘anti-propaganda’ legislation in Armenia, modeled on Russia’s recently passed and widely condemned bill, we, the undersigned members of the global Armenian community, say such attempts to codify anti-gay prejudice into law are contrary to our values. We believe in dignity, equality and the right to self-expression for all people regardless of religion, sexual orientation, gender, or race.”

 

SIGNATORIES:

Nancy Agabian

Mika Artyan

Arlene Avakian

Peter Balakian

Anthony Barsamian

David Barsamian

Eve Beglarian

Chris Bohjalian

Melissa Boyajian

Diana Der Hovanessian

Atom Egoyan

Dahlia Elsayed

Houry Geudelekian

Veken Gueyikian

Nonny Hogrogian

Aris Janigian

Nina Katchadourian

Nishan Kazazian

Arsinee Khanjian

David Kherdian

Nancy Kricorian

Micheline Aharonian Marcom

Neery Melkonian

Arthur Nersesian

Joan Aghajanian Quinn

Aram Saroyan

Serj Tankian

Scout Tufankjian

Hrag Vartanian


One Armenian Girl: “This is what I remember”

The Kodjababian Family, Mersin, Cilicia, Ottoman Empire, circa 1910

The Kodjababian Family, Mersin, Cilicia, Ottoman Empire, circa 1910

 

On April 24th, 1915, several hundred Armenian community leaders, writers and intellectuals in Constantinople were rounded up and deported, launching what would become a mass slaughter and exile of the Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Each year on April 24th, Armenians around the world commemorate what has variously been called the Great Crime, the Deportations, the Massacres, and the Genocide. The poem below was inspired by stories that my grandmother told me of her experiences during the Deportations and in the years immediately following.

 

 

ARMENIA

For Mariam Kodjababian Kricorian

 

I. Syria

This is what I remember:
I would make fine stitches
in scraps of cloth and my father
would look up from his work
and praise my tiny row of seeds.
I loved to sit among the buttons
and bolts of cloth and hear the rock
of the pedal and sewing machine.

One winter morning when the snow
drifts stood as high as my head,
my father swung me to his shoulders
and carried me two miles to school
past the white mountains of cedar.

I don’t know why it happened.
A notice nailed to the wall
in my eighth year and we gathered
few belongings, and all our people
marched and stumbled toward Syria.

My mother fell by the road,
and we left her there.
The great dark birds followed us.
The soldiers were dogs, and we became
less than nothing in the desert.

My father died, and my small sisters
grew thinner to their deaths.
There was me and my brother Sarkis,
and the black tent flapping in the sand.

 

II. Cyprus

There were twenty beds to make,
double back the stiff cuff of sheet
over the rough blanket, the cotton cover,
and baste it all together twenty times.

Then the long boards of the floors,
quick dance of the broom, splash
of the pail and the mop and thirty
stairs from the top
to the bottom of the inn.

My uncle’s wife had me earn my keep.
My brother was made an apprentice
to the drunken tailor in the next village,
where straight seams happened in the morning
and not much in the afternoon.

He arrived late one night at the inn,
a tall narrow man in American suits.
His stare made my hands tremble
and the milk pitcher smash to the floor
when I served his meal.
He tucked notes in my apron pocket
when he passed me in the hall.
I tore them up unopened.
I was sixteen and he twice my age.

My uncle asked, Mariam, will you go
with this man to America?

We left Cyprus one week later
on a ship as big as our village.
My name was made Mary, my age eighteen.
I never saw my brother again.

 

III. Egypt

Our wedding picture was taken
in Cairo. My husband’s cousin
helped me with the row
of small buttons down the back
of the ivory satin gown; she loaned me
gold earrings and a bracelet.
I sat in a chair and my feet
in their pale shoes barely
grazed the floor.
Leo stood beside me,
a hand on my shoulder,
staring straight into the eye
of the machine and the man
under the black cloth behind it.
With the flash of light
I saw the fierce sun of the desert,
and felt the fear rise up,
great wings beating against my ribs.
I saw Sarkis waving from the pier.
I thought of letting my long hair down,
and nothing else.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

 

This poem was originally published in WITNESS in its Spring 1988 Issue.

 

 

 

 

 


On Vasily Grossman’s “An Armenian Sketchbook”

"An Armenian Sketchbook" by Vasily Grossman

“An Armenian Sketchbook” by Vasily Grossman

I discovered the work of Russian writer Vasily Grossman (1905-1964) a few years ago through his masterpiece, the World War II novel LIFE AND FATE. At the time, I had steeped myself in the literature of World War II because of work on my own novel, ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS, which is set in Paris during the Nazi Occupation, and Grossman’s book was a stunning surprise. Just a few weeks ago I picked up the newly published ARMENIAN SKETCHBOOK by Grossman. It is a memoir of the two months he spent in Soviet Armenia in late 1961, soon after LIFE AND FATE was suppressed by the authorities because of its unflinching portrayal of life in Stalinist Russia. Rather than imprisoning the author, they buried his book. LIFE AND FATE, which existed as a long-hidden typescript that Grossman had left with a friend, was finally published in the late 80’s, but Grossman died without knowing that his masterwork would see the light of day.

In ARMENIAN SKETCHBOOK, Grossman manages a combination of reverence for nature and for what is best in people with irreverence for the venality of corrupt officials and the baleful influence of nationalism. There is a beautiful and deeply humane scene at the end of the book when Grossman is a guest at an Armenian peasant wedding, and an old man rises to speak in Armenian; when his words are translated, Grossman is amazed to hear him speak of the connection between the terrible suffering of the Jews in World War II and the great catastrophe the Armenians endured in 1915. For Grossman, whose mother was killed in the Nazi massacres of Jews in Berdichev in September 1941, this was a profound moment of mutual recognition. Reading his work a half century later, I was privileged to share that recognition with him.

 

Nancy Kricorian

This post originally appeared on Writers Read