post archive

Genocide


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

 


Raise Your Pen For Freedom

My contribution to the #RaiseYourPenForFreedom social media campaign

My contribution to the #RaiseYourPenForFreedom social media campaign

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


Homage to Bourj Hammoud

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

Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon, 1930's

Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon, 1930’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

http://www.pen.org/flash/two-pieces-nancy-kricorian

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


Among The Hedgehogs

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On January 12 at the Tenement Museum, I introduced a book launch event for my friend Dawn Anahid MacKeen. Below are my brief words of introduction.

 

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” This fragment of verse by the Greek poet Archilochus was famously explored by Isaiah Berlin in his celebrated essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay About Tolstoy’s View of History.” Berlin divided thinkers into two categories—the hedgehogs and the foxes—and attempted to argue that Tolstoy was a hedgehog with foxlike tendencies. Berlin later said, “I never meant it very seriously. I meant it as a kind of an enjoyable intellectual game, but it was taken seriously.” And so without taking too seriously either the Archilochus fragment or the Berlin essay, I would like to suggest to you that Dawn and I are hedgehogs. (I have a hunch that Raffi has hedgehog-like tendencies as well, but I don’t know his work broadly enough to make that claim.) When I say that Dawn and I are literary hedgehogs, this is because each of us spent ten years researching and writing our recent books. While the foxes of the writing world were happily producing books at regular, frequent intervals, we were digging into our respective very deep holes, burrowing so deeply, in fact, that at times we even doubted that we’d be able to find our way to the surface again.

In Dawn’s case, these efforts have resulted in the book we are here to celebrate tonight. The Hundred-Year Walk is a meticulously researched, beautifully written, and thoughtful work in which Dawn has woven together memoir, travel chronicle, family lore, and political history. It is a deeply personal story, but as the subtitle indicates—An Armenian Odyssey—it is also part of a community and a communal project.

One hundred years ago, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were the victims of a horrific crime—the mass annihilation of hundreds of thousands of people, and the near complete erasure of Armenians from the lands where they had lived for many centuries, if not from the beginning of recorded history.  In the face of these devastating losses, most of those who survived were dispersed around the world where they fashioned new families and communities. These communities were bound together by religious institutions, by language, and by shared history. They were also knit together, I would argue, by the stories that they told—stories about the towns and villages that were lost, about the people who died and those who survived, and about their lives in these new lands. These stories were passed from parent to child, and more frequently from grandparent to grandchild.

But these narratives are also produced by the modern-day equivalent of the Armenian ashough or troubadours. In memoirs, novels, histories and poems, post-genocide Armenian writers—many in the Diaspora, and often using the languages of their adopted countries—have created new geographies of connection and belonging—geographies that are not simply stories of return, but stories with motion of their own, that take us to places both grounded in history and unmoored in imagination.

What Dawn has given us in The Hundred-Year Walk is a multi-generational story of resilience and survival. She and Raffi are going to talk to us now about the process of writing the book, as well as about the ways the past, the present, and the future inform and create each other. And after we hear more about Dawn’s and her grandfather’s journeys, I exhort you to buy at least two copies of her book—one for home and one for the road.

 

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


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


News: Los Angeles, Istanbul, Toronto, Gaza

Banksy in Gaza, 2/15

Banksy in Gaza, 2/15

 

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

 

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

May it soon be Spring.

Best,

Nancy K

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


Armenian Resistance to Erasure, Disappearance and Denial

The Armenian Quarter of Adana

The Armenian Quarter of Adana

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

By FATİH GÖKHAN DİLER

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Can you tell us a little about your group?

 

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

 

Can you tell us about your grandmother’s story?

 

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

 

You define the tour as a kind of resistance.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

End

 

Sidebar:

From the Notebook:

“Flowers” and “The Bridge”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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