post archive

Armenian


Land of Armenians

 

Lawn sign in Watertown, Massachusetts, 6/16

Last week I returned to my hometown of Watertown, Massachusetts to visit my parents, to do research for my novel in the archives of the two English-language Armenian newspapers, and to attend a board meeting of the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (otherwise known as NAASR). While skimming back issues for articles about the Lebanese Civil War, I found a small item in the Armenian-Mirror Spectator about myself: “Nancy Kricorian, a 9th-grade student at the East Junior High School in Watertown, was the winner of the recent Bicentennial Poster Contest and her poster becomes the official Town of Watertown Bicentennial Poster.” At the offices of the Armenian Weekly I fell upon an absolute treasure trove of reports about what was going in the Armenian precincts of Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.

 

My parents and I had dinner on Friday evening at the Armenian Memorial Church’s annual fair, where I saw some old family friends and classmates. On Saturday when I walked two miles from my parents’ apartment complex to NAASR’s offices in Belmont, I passed a lawn sign that said, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” The message was printed first in Armenian, second in English, and third in Arabic. (I’m happy to report that because of my regular Armenian lessons I was able to read and understand the Armenian text.) On Saturday afternoon I stopped to pick up some fruit at Armenian-owned Arax Market, where I loved the Armenian conversations going on around me, and then I went to Armenian-owned Fastachi (they do mail order!) to purchase some nuts and chocolates for my family. I really hit peak East Watertown nostalgia on this trip, and felt deeply Armenian.

 

My compatriots are in the news lately. The New York Times ran a profile of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, “our midfield Armenian” who plays for Manchester United. Heno (his Armenian diminutive) is also called “the Armenian magician,” and you can see why if you watch this video of his breathtaking “scorpion kick” goal, which was ranked as the number one goal of the season. Forbes Magazine profiled Carolyn Rafaelian, the billionaire founder of bangle brand Alex and Ani. The Ajam Media Collective ran a piece about singer Seta Hagopian, the “Fairuz of Iraq.” Smithsonian Magazine featured an Armenian cosmetics company that is using ancient botanical recipes in their products. The Armenian Weekly posted a beautiful and moving tribute to Sarkis Balabanian (1882-1963), who risked his life to save hundreds of Armenian children during the Genocide. Michael Winship wrote a piece entitled “The Internet Won’t Let Armenia Go Away” that covers the propaganda war being waged by Turkey against The Promise, an epic Armenian Genocide film funded by the late Kirk Kerkorian.

 

Winship also mentions last week’s firestorm over Turkish President Erdogan’s visit to Washington, D.C. The meeting between Trump and Erdogan did not garner much press attention, but Erdogan’s bodyguards’ assault on peaceful protesters sure did. Around two dozen Kurds, Armenians, and leftist Turks, including young women, older people and children, had gathered to protest outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence during Erdogan’s visit. Erdogan’s security detail with the aid of some right-wing counter-protesters violently attacked the protesters, leaving eleven people injured, nine of whom were hospitalized. There was some speculation, based on several videos, that Erdogan himself had ordered his bodyguards to attack the protesters. Everyone from the Washington Post editorial page to Senator John McCain weighed in. The Turkish government went on the attack, blaming the D.C. police for their ‘aggressive actions’ and demanding an apology from the U.S. government. It is almost laughable that the Turkish government, which spends millions of dollars in the U.S. each year for lobbying and propaganda, a great deal of it focused on preventing efforts at Armenian Genocide recognition and a good part spent on demonizing Kurds, has generated so much ill will in such a short time.

 

On the literary front, the Palestine Festival of Literature has just finished its latest season, and next month its tenth anniversary anthology entitled THIS IS NOT A BORDER will be published by Bloomsbury. Having participated in PalFest in 2010, I was invited to contribute to the anthology and wrote a short piece called “Stories from the Armenian Quarter.” In advance of the launch of her second novel (twenty years after the publication of her first novel THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS), Arundhati Roy was profiled in VOGUE. She will be doing a nine-city North American tour in support of THE MINISTRY OF UTMOST HAPPINESS. We will be going to the Brooklyn event at BAM.

 

On the film front, I will shamelessly plug two films produced by my spouse. If you haven’t already, you should watch Kitty Green’s brilliant, disturbing, and moving “hybrid documentary” CASTING JONBENET on Netflix. James has just returned from the Cannes Film Festival where Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s PRAYER BEFORE DAWN, which will be released in North America by A24 later this year, received a ten-minute standing ovation at its midnight premiere.

 

And that’s it for my newsy news report (in which I have not until now mentioned glowing orbs, Russia, or cruelty budgets).

 

P.S. If you’d like to receive this type of post as a newsletter in your inbox, you can sign up here.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


Open Letter from Medz Bazar

 

My friends from the Paris-based musical band Collectif Medz Bazar asked me to help disseminate this open letter. It tells a sad story about intolerance, but the text of the letter itself is a beautiful expression of  the band’s commitment to amplifying the humane in the human through music. 

An open letter to those who made sure the musical band Collectif Medz Bazar would not be able to sing its repertoire during the “Nuit arménienne” (Armenian night) of Arnouville on April 22nd 2017, because of their hostility towards the songs in the Turkish language.

Until recently, we, the Collectif Medz Bazar, were happy to count among the participants in the “Nuit arménienne” (Armenian night), an event organized by the municipality of

Arnouville, France, in partnership with several Armenian associations, this coming April 22nd. The event organizers informed us that a few individuals and Armenian associations of

Arnouville were adamantly against our playing the songs of our repertory that are in Turkish and that they were doing everything in their power to stop us from singing them. Since we did not receive any message directly from them, we cannot speculate about their reasons.

Because of this, and to avoid any misunderstanding, we sent them a letter last month via the event organizers, very clearly identifying our approach and explaining that nothing in our project goes against the spirit and feeling of the event.

Having read our letter as well, the event organizers were inclined to pursue our participation, because not only did they feel that our repertory didn’t pose any problems, they expressed their adherence to the values that we defend. But the response of the individuals and associations in question was total rejection, once again without bothering to address us directly. What’s more, they intensified their campaign against our repertory, forcing the municipality to disinvite us, the latter being afraid that on this date (April 22nd), which is close to both the annual commemoration of the Armenian genocide and the 1st round of the presidential elections in France, some sort of disturbance might occur during the event.

We are aghast and totally speechless at the relentlessness with which these individuals and associations worked to sabotage a concert that had been scheduled a long time in advance, attacking a symbol, in this case a language, as if it were an enemy. We consequently invite these persons and associations via this open letter, reformulating our initial letter, to assume their actions publicly or, if they do not dare to do so, to have the decency to reconsider their actions and to renounce such practices in the future.

The Collectif Medz Bazar, a musical ensemble based in Paris, is composed of musicians of various origins: Armenian, Turk, Franco-American. The group got together not with the intention of symbolizing reconciliation between Armenians and Turks, but simply to share with one another their artistic creativity and friendship. But the Armenian-Turk factor does play a part in that a reciprocal curiosity did exist, a need to know, to be able to laugh, cry, speak openly, sing and play music together – this desire surely drew us towards one another. During a performance, our only propos is the music we present to the public, which is drawn from our respective cultures in the intimacy and spontaneity of each person; our mother tongues are thus the very basis of our repertory and their presence is indisputable.

It would appear that for some Armenians, singing in the Turkish language is an issue.

The few anonymous Arnouville individuals are not the first to protest, and it’s easy to imagine a sizeable group of Turks who think exactly the same thing about singing in Armenian. Their respective reasons or justifications being, without any doubt, completely different. But in both cases, the result is the same: they both censure a language, incite xenophobia. But observe this obvious fact: one can say anything one wants in any language. A book denying the Armenian genocide can be written in Armenian just as a book presenting a thorough investigation of this subject can be written in Turkish. A language, a culture cannot be held responsible, even symbolically, for the crimes perpetrated by those who claim said language or culture as their own. A language is not “owned”: some Armenians speak Turkish, some Assyrians speak Kurdish; this letter is written in French and translated into English. The Collectif Medz Bazar does not represent any national culture, we draw from all living cultures. The culture of Turkey, like that of many many other nations, is multiple and as varied as the people who live there. When we sing in Armenian, in Turkish, in French, we are not glorifying the Armenian, Turkish or French cultures. Reducing a language or a piece of music to a national symbol is not the work of an artist. But offering a part of yourself by singing in your mother tongue, a simple, generous act, is. Why, then, attack persons whose only intention is to share their music and the joy of being able to sing together?

Our project forms part of a global change, fragile but real, in relations between

Armenians and Turks. Initiatives such as ours are not isolated cases, there is today a community of persons sharing the same aspiration: to communicate, get to know each other better, try to live together, make progress on an individual basis given the lack of any political impetus. This aspiration and mutual coming closer of two traditionally hostile peoples, although it cannot replace the necessity of a political resolution to the Armenian Question, does serve to raise awareness at an individual level and will undoubtedly contribute to collective healing, however slow it may be. At present, Armenians can openly commemorate with the Turks, with the Kurds: a slow awakening of awareness has been in progress for several years now. To turn one’s back on this progress means returning to the status quo and would be equivalent to turning one’s back on those who, sometimes putting their lives at risk, assume a position that goes against the current dominating ideology. In the name of what combat?

Music is a universal language that can transmit far more that words can. The next time your prejudices make you rise up against our music (or against anyone else), take a minute to listen to the rhythms and melodies, the thoughts and emotions that we express. You will understand the sincerity of our work.

With this open letter, we join our voices to all those who defend the fundamental values of freedom of expression and brother/sisterhood among peoples.

We invite you to do the same.

The Collectif Medz Bazar

April 2017

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


Small Victories and Other Diversions

Photo by Maryam Sahinyan, 1961

In these cruel and venal times, I offer you some small victories and other diversions.

 

SOLIDARITY IS BEAUTIFUL: The Sami people of Norway have persuaded a Norwegian second-largest pension fund to divest from the Dakota Access Pipeline. I loved this piece in the New York Times about some independent bookstores that have turned themselves into centers of resistance. Many houses of worship in New York City are gearing up to provide refuge to undocumented New Yorkers. A similar movement is underway in Los Angeles. Senator Bernie Sanders is working to push the Democratic Party to the left and make it more attractive to working class people. He said, “Despair is not an option.” You can also sign up for a newsletter called Small Victories, which has an upbeat compendium of the resistance successes that have happened in a given week. (Thanks to my friend Dana B for the tip!)

 

Elena Ferrante’s MY BRILLIANT FRIEND has been adapted for the stage and is currently playing in London, and there is a TV series in the works.

 

Our friend Yasmin Hamdan, who has just released a new album, was profiled on Reorient Magazine.

 

Short story writer George Saunders wrote a beautiful profile of author and activist Grace Paley, and he also penned an excellent and inspiring piece about his own writing process as he produced his first novel.

 

Our daughter Nona Schamus and her partner Arno Mokros have founded Little Pharma Zine , an intersectional art and lit zine devoted to explorations of mental illness. The first issue drops on April 1 (you can order a copy here), and we’ll be at the launch party on April 2nd at The Living Gallery in Brooklyn.

 

On the Armenian front, I happened across a fascinating slideshow featuring the work of Istanbul-based photographer Maryam Sahinyan (1911-1996) that I had missed when it appeared in 2015.  Some friends on Facebook posted this delightful entry from Rejected Princesses about Armenian Queen Anahit.  Next time I’m in Los Angeles I’m definitely planning a meal at Mante House, which specializes in tiny boat-shaped Armenian dumplings.

 

And that’s it for now, fellow travelers. Keep amplifying the humane in the human.

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


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

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


From the Archive: The Rapture

A Jesus Sky portending the Second Coming of Christ

A Jesus Sky portending the Second Coming of Christ

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

 

The Rapture

 

 

I imagined coming down the back walk

after school, swinging my lunch box

and the thermos shifting inside.

 

Today was different, something odd

about the light breaking

from behind the clouds in ribbons.

 

My grandmother was not on the back porch.

The kitchen table was spread with flour

and dough rising under its towel, dirty bowls

in the sink, my mother nowhere to be seen.

 

And then I knew: the Second Coming.

Jesus had taken them, the believers,

from the fist of the heart to the tips

of the fingers and shining eyes.

 

The whole family, snapped up

in broad daylight while I walked home,

uninvited, unasked, abandoned.

 

I sat on the back step with the cat,

another unbeliever, waiting for the Beast,

the bloody water, the Tribulation.

Nancy Kricorian


A Change of the Right Sort

15400938_1251500718222146_1629965031956767258_n

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

With fond regards,

 

Nancy K

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


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.)

 


The Opposite of Coals to Newcastle

Mrs. Alice Kharibian (photo courtesy of Alexandra Kharibian)

Mrs. Alice Kharibian (photo courtesy of Alexandra Kharibian)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nancy Kricorian

22 September 2016, New York City


When Violence Enters the House

 

Istanbul, 24 April 2015

Istanbul, 24 April 2015  (photo by Filip Warwick)

 

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

~ Armenian proverb

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


Urgent Appeal from Women in Armenia

 

Police and Barbed Wire Blockade in Yerevan, 7/16

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

 

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

 

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

 

****

Dear Friends,

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

 

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