post archive

Organizing


Report from the Sanctuary Caravan

A mother and her two small children stand against the border wall as a gull flies above.
Tijuana, January 2019. Photo by Djuna Schamus

My daughter Djuna Schamus, her friend Hannah Wilton, and I went to volunteer with the Sanctuary Caravan in Tijuana at the beginning of January. This is her report. 

Hi all,

I recently arrived back in New York City after spending a week in Tijuana/San Diego with my mom, Nancy, and my friend, Hannah. After receiving training from members of the Sanctuary Caravan (SC), we began volunteering in Tijuana, where SC is standing in solidarity with members of the Central American Exodus waiting at the border by supporting them throughout each stage of this inherently unjust immigration process. The humanitarian crisis in Tijuana, created by the current administration’s prohibiting asylum-seekers from presenting themselves at the U.S. border promptly and directly, is immense and in urgent need of redress. During our week at the border, we witnessed a fraction of the injustices our migrant friends are facing on a daily basis.They, our migrant friends, are leading the fight for their own freedom, and, in doing so, are at the forefront of the fight for a more just world: a world without exclusionary borders, where the dignity and safety of all, rather than racism, U.S. imperialism, and the violent structure of nation-states, guide policy and our futures more broadly.

Today, there are thousands of asylum-seekers living in temporary encampments and shelters across the city, many of whom made this thousands-of-miles-long journey on foot. They are exerting their right to migrate and their right, as enshrined by U.S. and international law, to seek asylum. According to these laws, the first step that an asylum-seeker must take is to cross the border and present themselves to immigration officials. Until recently, those seeking protections could just walk into the U.S. and promptly present their claims for asylum; currently, however, those pursuing asylum are forced to wait in a state of uncertainty and neglect on the Mexican side of the border.

A new, unofficial system of entry has emerged in Tijuana, known as “metering,” whereby groups of ten asylum-seekers are each given a unique number and told to return to a public plaza next to the San Ysidro border crossing the day that their number is called. They will not be allowed to cross until their numbers are called. This list, and the ten names corresponding to each number, are managed by fellow migrants in conjunction with  Mexican immigration officials.

Not only is this system of metering illegal, but it also places individuals in a difficult and vulnerable position, as they do not know exactly when their number is going to be reached or how many numbers are going to be called on a given day (this number ranges from 0 – 80 people per day). Furthermore, El Barretal, which is the largest shelter in Tijuana and currently houses around 1,000 individuals, is a 15-mile trip to the San Ysidro border crossing, compounding the obstacles created by this system of entry.

When someone’s number is announced by coordinators at the plaza, they must arrive at the border, with all of their belongings, prepared to cross. People wait in a line along one side of the plaza before being driven by Mexican immigration officers across the U.S. border, where they will likely be placed in detention centers and potentially separated from family members.

While always following the lead of our migrant friends, members of the Sanctuary Caravan assist people through this process at every step. The aim of this work is to empower our friends as much as possible under this inherently unjust immigration system.

This effort includes explaining, to the best of our ability, what one should expect going forward, giving rides to those whose numbers have been called, providing a welcoming resting place for people scheduled to present themselves at the border, helping individuals fill out immigration paperwork, and prep for the “Credible Fear Interview” that they will request from a U.S. immigration official shortly after arriving in the States.; this re-traumatizing interview, which aims to assess whether people seeking protection can demonstrate a “credible fear” of harm if they return to their home countries, will determine whether or not they can continue with the asylum application process.

During our time in Tijuana, while we continued to make the Sanctuary Caravan our principal organizing hub, because neither Hannah nor I speak Spanish, we ended up being additionally useful as volunteers with World Central Kitchen, an organization of chefs responding to hunger and poverty. At a closed-down restaurant in Tijuana, with the radio continuously blasting dance music, a group of chefs, volunteers, and local workers cook two fresh meals for 1,500 people daily, delivering the food to shelters scattered throughout the city. After our first day of washing dishes and chopping vegetables, Hannah and I, accompanying a longer-term volunteer, travelled 15 miles to the dinner service at El Barretal encampment.

The over 1,000 people in Barrtetal live in densely situated tents, mostly set under the open sky. We were immediately welcomed by residents, who have come to anticipate the meals’ arrivals each day. With assistance from El Barretal residents, we distributed penne bolognese and salad to over 800 people (many of whom were women and small children, for whom men in the front of the line always gave up their spots). After dinner, we walked through the camp—through tents, groups of playing children, and friends congregating around a small television playing Alice in Wonderland—finding ourselves at a Three King’s Day ceremony, where residents prayed and sang alongside a visiting pastor.

While many of people’s basic needs are being met at El Barretal—with food from World Central Kitchen, medical care from Doctors Without Borders, and aid from UNICEF— life in a de facto refugee camp is precarious and untenable. And, of course, there is something deeply problematic with having the “answer” to an issue, largely created and exacerbated by  U.S. foreign policy and immigration policy being an influx of nonprofits and aid-based relief.

In addition to visiting El Barretal, and along with other members of the Sanctuary Caravan, we spent time at the second-largest shelter housing members of the Central American exodus, located in a warehouse beside the Benito Juarez sports complex close to the border. Immediately following our arrival in in San Diego/Tijuana, Mexican authorities issued an eviction notice to the roughly 100 residents of Benito Juarez, dispatching dozens of Mexican federal police to the shelter and commencing a drawn out struggle over the residents’ right to remain. There was a days-long standoff between residents and organizers working in solidarity with them, on the one side, and the Mexican government and police, on the other. Answering the call of migrant friends living at Benito Juarez, volunteers with the Sanctuary Caravan and other organizers on the ground camped out on the street in front of the shelter when the threat of immediate eviction was at its height: at one point the police, dressed in riot gear, were no longer allowing water into the shelter or permitting residents to use the  port-o-potties, leaving those inside without sanitary toilet options. In the middle of the night, organizers, harnessing their privilege as U.S. passport holders, acted as witnesses to the Benito Juarez residents’ struggle to remain in place. Although an unfortunate reality, it is likely that having American citizens present on the scene prevented a forceful removal of those living in the Benito Juarez shelter. A few days after we left, the final residents agreed to leave the location, many of them transferred to El Barretal.

In addition to working in solidarity with those in Tijuana, volunteers with the Sanctuary Caravan are working to expand their support for people being released from detention in San Diego and leaving for other parts of the country, as, in many ways the arduous asylum process just begins after they have finally made it onto U.S. soil. It is important to note that every person going through this process will be promptly be put into deportation proceedings; their asylum application is their defense against deportation, but the threat of deportation is ever-present.

The convoluted and dehumanizing system of ICE check-ins, immigration hearing dates, and the reality of living with uncertain and precarious status can continue for years, and it is imperative that people feel welcomed, supported, and empowered throughout the entirety of this process. Undergirding this work are the convictions that the freedom of movement/migration is a human right, that no one should be deported, that ICE be abolished (and not merely replaced by an analogous entity), and that we should strive for a future without exclusionary borders.

In the last few weeks, and thanks to your contributions, we were able to raise $4,175 for the Sanctuary Caravan movement. Thank you again for supporting this work, and for standing in solidarity with those leading this fight for a more just world.

With love,

Djuna


Under the Shadow of the Wall

My daughter Djuna, her friend Hannah, and I recently spent a week at the U.S. southern border between San Diego and Tijuana as part of a large network of solidarity and support responding to the humanitarian crisisthere and organized by, among others, the New Sanctuary Coalition(NSC) and its Sanctuary CaravanAl Otro Lado, and the San Diego Rapid Response Network. Here follow some impressions from that week. 

Each morning at El Chaparral Plaza in Tijuana, some men set up a small red pop-up canopy tent, and other members of the Central American Exodus and other asylum seekers gather around. There is a table, a megaphone, and a battered notebook that contains numbers associated with the names of people who are on a list of those waiting for a chance to present themselves at the U.S. border to request asylum. Each number represents ten people. By law—both U.S. and international—people should be able to go to any port of entry to request asylum, but the current administration has enacted a “metering” systemwhere only a specified number of people is allowed to cross each port on any given day. Since there is a huge backlog of people waiting—at this point the wait can be up to two months—the asylum seekers have self-organized, and a family or a group of men who have been on the list for a while take charge of the notebook. In addition to calling out two batches of names—one in the early morning and one an hour or so later—they give out new numbers every day until noon. When it is their turn to cross, they pass the notebook along to people who are lower down on the list.

Each morning a member of Grupos Beta, a service of the Mexican National Institute of Migration, relays from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to the notebook keepers the total number of asylum seekers who will be allowed to cross that day. The total might be 80, or it might be none. It is important to understand that this entire system is illegal, and has arisen out of desperation. A member of the notebook team will use a megaphone to read out the names of people whose numbers have come up. People must keep track of their numbers and when they are likely to be called. Many of them are living in shelters and encampments far from Chaparral, and have to get themselves to the plaza or risk losing their chance to cross. There is an informal grace period of two days, so if your number is called and you miss it, if you can get there within two days, you might still go across. The mornings that I was at Chaparral I saw lots of young mothers with small kids, toddlers, and even infants. In addition to members of the Central American Exodus, many of them from Honduras, there were single men from Haiti and West Africa.

After the names are called—and they often have to call two hundred names to assemble a desired 20 people—people line up along one side of the plaza to wait for the shuttle vans driven by Grupos Beta. The vans take people to the other San Ysidro checkpoint where they cross the border to face the bureaucratic nightmare created by the CPB—detention in the Ice Box, separation of fathers from their wives and children, the “credible fear interview,” and so on. The San Diego detention facilities are over capacity, and before we arrived people were being released from detention in the middle of the night, just dropped off at a bus stationor in a public park. The San Diego Rapid Response Network organized shuttle buses to drive around after midnight looking for people who had been dumped, and taking them to shelters. Because of bad publicity, this practice of “dumping” has apparently been suspended.

The Sanctuary Caravan has two programs running concurrently. One is the Pro Se Clinic where volunteers fill out intake forms with people who are scheduled to cross the border and help them prep for their credible fear interviews, which is the first step in the asylum process. The Pro Se Clinic’s borrowed storefront has turned into a de facto community center where families hang out and volunteers play with the kids while their parents are interviewed. Volunteers also go to the El Barretal refugee camp, twenty minutes out of Tijuana, to let people know about available services and to do intake.

The Accompaniment Program in Tijuana is in some ways more extensive than its counterpart in New York City. In addition to waiting with friends at Chaparral until they board the Grupos Beta shuttles, Sanctuary Caravan also keeps track of friends’ numbers, and has a van that picks people up from El Barretal each morning to take them to the plaza where the names are called. 

Because Djuna, Hannah, and I don’t speak Spanish, we had a hard time in the beginning figuring out how to plug into the work that was going on. We were cursing ourselves for having chosen French as our second language. Our first afternoon I was called to the clinic to translate for some Haitians, but when I got there it turned out they were Creole speakers and my French was still useless.

Djuna and Hannah ended up working with the World Central Kitchen, an organization of chefs addressing hunger and poverty, where they didn’t need Spanish to scrub pots and chop vegetables. I joined them a couple of afternoons and was wildly impressed by the work that was going on. In Tijuana, the World Central Kitchen prepares and delivers three thousand meals a day—feeding 1,500 people at lunch and dinner. The food is fresh, inventive, and made with love. One evening Djuna and Hannah went to deliver dinner to El Barretal, where they saw a thousand people living in tents. Hannah said, “They get meals, UNICEF is there, and Doctors Without Borders, but it’s still no way to live.” If it rains, they get wet. If it’s cold, they are cold. Djuna reported that women and children are fed first, and that everyone pitches in to help out with serving the meals.

Meanwhile, back at the volunteer hub, I was assigned to work as a “Story Steward,” which was a data entry and clerical gig supporting the Pro Se Clinic. One afternoon I spent a few hours prepping a large stack of intake files with all the needed forms and materials.

On Sunday afternoon, we went to Faro Playas de Tijuana, a beachfront recreation area, for a religious service that usually occurs on both sides of the hideous and immoralborder wall, which traverses the land, travels down across the sand, and continues into the ocean. Only the gulls could move freely from one side to the other. Of late, because of ‘security concerns,’ CBP has closed access to the International Friendship Parkthat connects both sides of the border and has created a no-go zone on the U.S. side of the fence, so the service occurred only on the Mexican side that day.  Through the steel slats, razor wire, and cyclone fencing on the U.S. side, we saw at a distance CBP agents blocking access to the border, and beyond them we made out some of our Sanctuary Caravan colleagues, including NSC Executive Director Ravi Ragbir, who was visiting from NYC. On the Mexican side, there were cafes, restaurants and benches. Couples strolled, families picnicked, and children played in the surf under the shadow of the wall. 

When we landed in New York City, Djuna and I discussed how it would take a while for us to process all that we had seen and experienced. We had been moved by the dignity and perseverance of the members of the Exodus. We had admired the dedication, humor, and intelligence of the Sanctuary Caravan’s volunteer coordinators. We had been disgusted by the violence, both physical and bureaucratic, of our government’s policies and agents.

Two days after we got back from the border, I picked up my work here in New York with NSC, and found out that my local Congressman, who had requested deferred action of removal for my Albanian friends (basically asking that they not be deported), had heard back from U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS). The request was denied, and USCIS told the parents that they have thirty-three days to leave the country that they have called home for fourteen years. Brooklyn is the only home their three young daughters, two of them U.S. citizens and one with DACA, have known. I sat in a cafe with my Albanian friend and the Congressman’s caseworker as we fought back tears and plotted our next moves. The struggle continues. 

Nancy Kricorian



Sanctuary

 

 

 

My heart has been heavy this past week, pained by the violence and cruelty unleashed by the vile rhetoric of the people who are running our country. But just yesterday afternoon I had some good news. I heard that the regional director of USCIS has agreed to consider a Congressman’s request for deferred action on behalf of two of his constituents, my Albanian friends, whom I will call Rovena and Altin.

 

In August, an ICE officer told Rovena and Altin that they had 90 days to leave the country. Their stay of removal had been turned down, and they would have to take their three young daughters back to Albania. The girls speak no Albanian, and have known no other home than Brooklyn, where the family has lived for thirteen years. The threat of imminent deportation was terrifying and heartbreaking for the parents, the kids, and for everyone who loves them, including me.

 

I first met my Albanian friends through the New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) Accompaniment Program in March, and had been at their monthly ICE check-ins during the spring and summer. I had also worked with them at the NSC Pro Se Immigration Legal Clinic through the summer, consulting with volunteer attorneys and with NSC staff about their options.

 

Rovena and I met with a dedicated and passionate immigration caseworker in a Congressman’s office, and we three put together an appeal to the regional director of ICE and his counterpart at USCIS. The request was that, in consideration of the possibly irreparable harm deportation would cause the three girls, their parents be granted discretionary deferred action. The Congressman wrote a letter, and we assembled binders including a family psychological evaluation, a declaration of country conditions from an expert on Albania, along with photos of and school reports for each of the girls, plus dozens of letters from the family’s employers, teachers, neighbors, and relatives attesting to their importance in the community.

 

Yesterday’s news does not mean that they are safe—but it’s a small victory. It means that the dossiers will be read, the ICE deportation clock is stopped, and that there is a chance that they will be allowed to stay.

 

With all the anti-immigrant rhetoric and racist policies being generated daily, so many families and individuals are at risk. There are eleven million undocumented immigrants in this country. There are thousands of Central American asylum seekers making an exodus through Mexico hoping to find safety in our communities, and in response the current administration is sending thousands of U.S. troops to the border and whipping up white supremacist terror in the hopes of swaying the mid-term elections.

 

As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor put it in a recent public FB post: “Instead of parroting the calculated fear mongering of this administration, our side needs sobriety, an analysis, and a strategy centered on building solidarity with the most targeted communities while placing an urgent emphasis on direct action and movement building and mobilization.”

 

To that end, I invite you all to support the SANCTUARY CARAVAN: “We are resolved to form a U.S. Caravan of supporters who will meet the Central American Caravan in Mexico, witness their movement, and accompany them into the U.S. At the border, we will assist those seeking entry with their demands to enter the US without losing their liberty.”

 

If the Democrats don’t manage to take control of the House next week, it will be grim. But even if they do, we can’t count on the politicians to save us. Choose your lane, find your people, and let’s start building the world we want to see.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

1 November 2018

New York City

 

 

 


Solace

In Central Park last week, on a bird walk in the North Woods led by an Audubon Society naturalist, we saw a Cooper’s Hawk perched regally in a tree, an immature Great Blue Heron fishing in the Loch, four Northern Flickers, and a half dozen species of warblers that were passing through on their way south, in addition to the abundant Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, European Starlings, and American Robins that call the park home. The fall wildflowers—Canada Goldenrod, Cardinal Flower, Great Blue Lobelia, White Snakeroot, Spotted Jewelweed, and several varieties of Aster—were in bloom. When the cruel and venal doings of human animals are cause for despair, I take solace in the natural world.

 

I was considering delaying this post until after the Kavanagh “situation” had resolved itself one way or the other, assuming that we will be flattened by despair when the Republicans steamroller the Democrats and the rest of us. It has been almost eviscerating to watch the hearings and then follow the sham FBI probe, and the change in tack by the Republicans to undermine and insult the women who came forward with accusations. I have been “triggered” by Kavanagh’s words, his gestures, his petulance, and his arrogance. I wasn’t alone—tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of women were angry, distraught, and horrified by the spectacle of ruling class white male privilege and power that played out in the Senate hearings and in the political maneuvering that followed.

 

Each day there is a new assault on our values and the most vulnerable among us—migrant children warehoused in a tent camp in Texas, gay diplomats’ partners denied visas, the planned weakening of mercury regulations, and revisions to the Department of Justice web site reflecting a harsher stance on kids who are accused of crimes, to name just a few.

 

But we can’t let them beat us down into apathy and hopelessness. We have to remember the great Soviet Jewish writer Vasily Grossman’s admonition: “In the cruel and terrible time in which our generation has been condemned to live on this earth, we must never make peace with evil. We must never become indifferent to others or undemanding of ourselves.” Grossman lived through World War II, he was a journalist traveling with Russian troops as they liberated Treblinka, his mother was murdered during the massacre at Berdichev, and he survived Stalin’s purges, although his masterwork, the incredible World War II novel Life and Fate, was “arrested” by the Soviets and was not published until after his death.

 

As Grossman put it: “Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness.” I am not so sanguine as to think that individual acts of kindness are enough in the face of the systemic violence and the cruel policies that we are confronting, many of which are just harsher and unapologetic versions of policies that were put in place during previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic. But while we do all that we can through making irate phone calls to elected officials, joining in strategic electoral organizing, supporting grassroots campaigns run by unions and groups on the front lines, and volunteering with local organizations advocating for the most vulnerable people, creatures, landscapes, and institutions, we can also try to make the world a little less dismal by being kind.

 

Charles Aznavour, French-Armenian singer, songwriter, actor, and philanthropist, died this week, and I leave you with an old blog post about his family’s small role in the French Resistance and a video of a classic performance of his song “La Bohème.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Open Letter on LGBT Rights in Armenia

 

20 August 2018

Letter to the Armenian Prime Minister, Minister of Interior, Minister of Justice, Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Armenian political parties, and global Armenian organizations:

(Press release here.)

The recent attack on nine people, among them LGBT activists, in the village of Shurnukh in the Syunik region of Armenia reflects a disturbing and persistent pattern of hatred and discrimination against the Armenian LGBT community. Reportedly, the police have launched an investigation, questioned the victims and detained several suspected attackers on 3 August, releasing them the next day, but apparently have not brought charges against anyone. It is particularly disturbing that at least one member of parliament, Gevorg Petrosyan, from the Tsarukyan Faction, called forthe expulsion of LGBT persons from Armenia on his Facebookpage. While the statement of the Office of the Human Rights Defenderwas a welcome gesture, alone it is insufficient.

The Armenian government urgently must address the policies, laws and social and political climate that continue to foster intolerance and violence against the LGBT community of Armenia. Without a clear plan for legislative and policy reform and education, such attacks will continue and the Armenian government will have failed to protect the LGBT community from violence and discrimination.

The law in Armenia fails to provide equal rights to LGBT persons in Armenia (see statement from Amnesty International). Armenian law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals in employment, housing, or social benefits, nor does it sanction as hate crimes attacks against LGBT persons. The new government of Armenia has brought hope to many around the world that there will be true reform in the country to address issues of transparency, fairness, and equality. Reforms in the LGBT arena should be part of this promise for a new age. Outdated and false justifications based on “religion”, “culture” and “values” can no longer cover for hatred, violence and intolerance against Armenian LGBT persons.

We call on the Armenian government:

* to establish an agenda and timetable for legislative reform to grant LGBT persons in Armenia equality under the law;

* to propose a plan to promote tolerance and respect throughout society for LGBT persons, including through the issuance of public statements and the establishment of a public education program;

* to issue a statement condemning all attacks against LGBT persons and a commitment to investigating and punishing perpetrators and providing protection for LGBT persons.

We call on Armenian political parties to clearly express their support for such a reform agenda and plan, and to issue their own condemnations of attacks against the LGBT community. Every Armenian voter is entitled to know where each party stands on these issues.

We call on international Armenian organizations, including Armenian churches of all denominations, to clearly express their support for such a reform agenda and plan, and to issue their own condemnations of attacks against the LGBT community. Every Armenian around the world who supports these organizations deserves to know where they stand on these issues.

Signatories

Armenian Progressive Youth NGO (Armenia)

Association Hyestart (Switzerland)

Charjoum (France)

Collectif de Soutien aux Militants Arméniens Jugés à Paris (France)

GALAS (Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society) (U.S.)

Nor Zartonk (Turkey)

PINK Armenia (Armenia)

Women’s Resource Center (Armenia)

Women’s Support Center (Armenia)

Lena Adishian; Nancy Agabian; Liana Aghajanian; Lara Aharonian; Areg Anjargolyan; Michelle Andonian; Michael Aram; Nora Armani; Sophia Armen; Mika Artyan; Sevag Arzoumanian; Sebouh Aslanian; Anna Astvatsaturian-Turcotte; Dr. Arlene Voski Avakian; Sona Avakian; Manuk Avedikyan; Leslie Ayvazian; Dr. Art Babayants; Miganouche Lucy Baghramian; Sarkis Balkhian; David Barsamian; Anthony J. Barsamian; Nanore Barsoumian; Houri Berberian; Vahe Berberian; Paul Boghossian, FAAAS; Eric Bogosian; Chris Bohjalian; Haig Boyadjian; Deanne Cachoian-Schanz; Hovig Cancioglu; Talar Chahinian; Patricia Constantinian; Sylvia Dakessian; Tad Demir; Andrew Demirjian; Adrineh Der-Boghossian; Silvina Der Meguerditchian; Ani Eblighatian; Lerna Ekmekcioglu; Dahlia Elsayed; Ayda Erbal; Shant Fabricatorian; Linda Ganjian; Lenna Garibian; Houry  Geudelekian; Yeriche Gorizian; Rachel Goshgarian; Veken Gueyikian; Dr. Kaiane Habeshian; Maral Habeshian; Avedis Hadjian; Nonny Hogrogian; Mamikon Hovsepyan; Rafi Hovsepyan; Tamar Hovsepian; Arminé Iknadossian; Asthghik Iknatian, MS, CRC, LCPC; Dr. Armine Ishkanian; Rupen Janbazian; Audrey Kalajian; Makrouhi Kalayjian; Ani Kasparian; Nina Katchadourian; Olivia Katrandjian; Nora Kayserian; Nishan Kazazian, AIA; Alice A. Kelikian; Shushan Kerovpyan; Virginia Pattie Kerovpyan; Vivan Kessedjian; Amy L. Keyishian; Harry Keyishian; Michelle Khazaryan; Kyle Khandikian; David Kherdian; Anna Spano Kirkorian; Taline Kochayan; H. Lola Koundakjian; Nancy Kricorian; Susan Kricorian; Anaid Krikorian; Stephanie Kundakjian; Helen Makhdoumian; Marc Mamigonian; Shahe Mankerian; Christina Maranci; Elodie Mariani; Jeannie Markarian; Armen Marsoobian; Alina Martiros; Maro Matosian; Anna Mehrabyan; Markar Melkonian; Astghik Melkonyan; Sonia Merian; Ara H. Merjian; Takouhie Mgrditchian; Oksana Mirzoyan; Tro Momajian; Mark A. Momjian, Esqu.; Rachel O. Nadjarian; Carolann S. Najarian, MD; Arthur Nersesian; Marc Nichanian; FIlor Nighoghosian; Aline Ohanesian; Dr. Janice Dzovinar Okoomian; Norayr Olgar; Sevana Panosian; Hrag Papazian; Susan Pattie; Natalie Samarjian; Karineh Samkian; Caroline Saradjian; Alex Sardar; Nelli Sargsyan; Razmik Sarkissian; Aram Saroyan; Judith Saryan; Audrey Selian; Elyse Semerdjian; Anna Shahnazaryan; Lori A. Sinanian; Thomas Stepanian; Vahe Tachjian; Anoush F. Terjanian; Dr. Anita Toutikian; Scout Tufankjian; Anahid Ugurlayan; Hrag Vartanian; Dr. Nicole Vartanian; Armen Voskeridjian, MD; Chaghig Minassian Walker; Raffi Joe Wartanian; Sarah Leah Whitson; Anahid Yahjian; Laura Yardumian; Grigor Yeritsyan; Michael Zadoorian; Laura Zarougian; Lena Zinner, UCSD ‘18

Armenian:

20 Օգոստոս 2018

Բաց նամակ Հայաստանի վարչապետին, Հայաստանի Հանրապետության Ոստիկանապետին, Արդարադատության նախարարին, Սփյուռքի նախարարին, Հայաստանի քաղաքական կուսակցություններին և միջազգային հայկական կազմակերպություններին.

Հայաստանի Սյունիքի մարզի Շուռնուխ գյուղում վերջերս տեղի ունեցած հարձակումը ինը հոգու վրա, որոնց մեջ կային ԼԳԲՏ ակտիվիստներ, ԼԳԲՏ համայնքի նկատմամբ ատելությունը և խտրականությունը պատկերող անհանգստացնող և ցայտուն օրինակ է: Համաձայն հաղորդման՝ ոստիկանությունը հետաքննություն է սկսել, ըստ որի օգոստոսի 3-ին հարցաքննել է զոհերին և ձերբակալել է մի քանի կասկածյալների և հաջորդ օրը ազատ է արձակել նրանց, սակայն, ըստ երևույթին որևէ մեկին մեղադրանք չի ներկայացվել: Մասնավորապես մտահոգիչ էր այն, որ Ազգային ժողովի պատգամավոր Գևորգ Պետրոսյանը (Ծառուկյան դաշինքից)իր ֆեյսբուքյան էջում կոչ է արել Հայաստանից հեռացնել ԼԳԲՏ անձանց : ՉնայածՄարդու իրավունքների պաշտպանի գրասենյակի հայտարարությունըշատ ողջունելի ժեստ էր, սակայն միայն դա բավարար չէ:

Հայաստանի կառավարությունը պետք է շտապ քայլեր ձեռնարկի այն քաղաքականության, օրենքների և սոցիալ-քաղաքական մթնոլորտի փոփոխման ուղղությամբ, որոնք շարունակում են խթանել Հայաստանի ԼԳԲՏ համայնքի նկատմամբ անհանդուրժողականությունն ու բռնությունը: Առանց հստակ օրենսդրական, քաղաքական բարեփոխումների և կրթական ծրագրի, նման հարձակումները կշարունակվեն և Հայաստանի կառավարությունը չի կարող պաշտպանել ԼԳԲՏ համայնքը բռնությունից ու խտրականությունից:

Հայաստանի օրենսդրությունը չի ապահովում Հայաստանում ԼԳԲՏ անձանց հավասար իրավունքներ (տես՝ Amnesty International- ի հաշվետվությունը): Հայաստանի օրենսդրությունը չի արգելում խտրականությունը ԼԳԲՏ անձանց նկատնամբ աշխատանքի, բնակարանային կամ սոցիալական նպաստների հարցերում, ինչպես նաև չի սահմանում որպես ատելության հիմքով իրագործված հանցագործություն (hate crime) ԼԳԲՏ անձանց նկատմամբ իրականացված հարձակումները: Հայաստանի նոր կառավարությունը շատերին հույս է ներշնչել, որ երկրում կլինեն իրական բարեփոխումներ թափանցիկության, արդարության և հավասարության հարցերի շուրջ: ԼԳԲՏ հիմնախնդիրների  բարեփոխումները պետք է լինեն այս նոր խոստումների մի մասը: «Կրոնի», «մշակույթի» և «արժեքների» վրա հիմնված հնացած և կեղծ հիմնավորումներն այլևս չեն կարող քողարկել ատելությունը, բռնությունն ու անհանդուրժողականությունը Հայաստանի ԼԳԲՏ անձանց նկատմամբ:

Մենք կոչ ենք անում Հայաստանի կառավարությանը.

  • սահմանել օրենսդրական բարեփոխումների ժամանակացույց և օրակարգ, որպեսզի ԼԳԲՏ անձանց տրամադրվի օրենքով սահմանված հավասար իրավունքներ.
  • առաջարկել ծրագիր, որը կնպաստի ԼԳԲՏ անձանց նկատմամբ հասարակության մեջ հանդուրժողականությանն ու հարգանքի խթանմանը՝ հրապարակային հայտարարությունների և հանրային կրթական ծրագրերի ստեղծման միջոցով.
  • հանդես գալ ԼԳԲՏ անձանց դեմ ուղղված բոլոր հարձակումները դատապարտող և մեղավորներին հետաքննելու, պատժելու և ԼԳԲՏ անձանց պաշտպանելու պարտավորությունները կատարելու հայտարարությամբ:

Մենք կոչ ենք անում Հայաստանի քաղաքական կուսակցություններին հստակ արտահայտել իրենց աջակցությունը նման բարեփոխումների օրակարգին և ծրագրին, և  դատապարտել ԼԳԲՏ համայնքի դեմ հարձակումները: Հայաստանի յուրաքանչյուր ընտրող իրավունք ունի իմանալ, թե ինչ դիրքորոշում ունի յուրաքանչյուր կուսակցություն այս հարցերի շուրջ:

Մենք կոչ ենք անում միջազգային հայկական կազմակերպություններին, ներառյալ բոլոր դավանանքների հայկական եկեղեցիներին, իրենց աջակցությունը ցուցաբերել նման բարեփոխումների օրակարգին և ծրագրին, և  դատապարտել ԼԳԲՏ համայնքի դեմ հարձակումները: Աշխարհի յուրաքանչյուր հայ, որն աջակցում է այս կազմակերպություններին, իրավունք ունի իմանալ, թե ինչ դիրքորոշում ունեն նրանք այս հարցերում:

 

Ստորագրող կողմեր ​​

«Հայ առաջադեմ երիտասարդություն» ՀԿ (Հայաստան)

Association Hyestart (Շվեցարիա)

Charjoum (Ֆրանսիա)

Collectif de Soutien aux Militants Arméniens Jugés à Paris (Ֆրանսիա)

GALAS (Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society) (ԱՄՆ)

Նոր Զարթոնք (Թուրքիա)

PINK Armenia (Հայաստան)

Կանանց ռեսուրսային կենտրոն (Հայաստան)

Կանանց աջակցման կենտրոն (Հայաստան)

(ստորագրողներիամբողջականցուցակը՝տեսանգլերենբնօրինակում)

 

French:

20 Août 2018

 

Lettre au Premier ministre arménien, au ministre de l’Intérieur, au ministre de la Justice, au ministre des Affaires de la diaspora, aux partis politiques arméniens et aux organisations internationales arméniennes :

L’agression récente perpétrée à l’encontre de neuf personnes, dont des militants LGBT, dans le village de Shurnukh, dans la province de Syunik en Arménie, s’inscrit dans un schéma inquiétant et persistant de haine et de discrimination à l’encontre de la communauté LGBT arménienne. Selon certaines informations, la police aurait ouvert une enquête, interrogé les victimes et détenu plusieurs agresseurs présumés le 3 août, les libérant le lendemain, mais n’a apparemment pas porté d’accusation contre quiconque. Il est par ailleurs inquiétant qu’au moins un député, Gevorg Petrosyan, du groupe parlementaire Tsarukyan, ait appelé à l’expulsion des personnes LGBT d’Arménie sur sa page Facebook. Si la déclaration du Bureau du Défenseur des droits de l’homme était opportune, elle n’est pas suffisante à elle seule.

Le gouvernement arménien doit en effet s’attaquer d’urgence aux politiques, aux lois et au climat social et politique qui continuent de favoriser l’intolérance et la violence à l’encontre de la communauté LGBT d’Arménie. Sans un plan clair de réforme législative et politique et d’éducation, ces agressions se poursuivront et le gouvernement arménien n’aura pas réussi à protéger la communauté LGBT de la violence et de la discrimination.

La législation arménienne ne prévoit pas l’égalité des droits pour les personnes LGBT en Arménie (voir la déclaration d’Amnesty International). Elle n’interdit pas la discrimination à l’encontre des personnes LGBT en matière d’emploi, de logement ou d’avantages sociaux, et ne sanctionne pas non plus les crimes de haines visant les personnes LGBT. Le nouveau gouvernement arménien a donné l’espoir à de nombreuses personnes dans le monde qu’il y aura une véritable réforme dans le pays pour régler les questions de transparence, d’équité et d’égalité. Les réformes dans le domaine LGBT doivent faire partie de cette promesse d’une nouvelle ère. Des justifications obsolètes et fausses fondées sur la “religion”, la “culture” et les “valeurs” ne peuvent plus servir de paravents à la haine, à la violence et à l’intolérance à l’égard des personnes LGBT arméniennes.

Nous appelons donc le gouvernement arménien à :

  • mettre en place un programme d’action et un calendrier pour une réforme législative accordant aux personnes LGBT en Arménie l’égalité devant la loi ;
  • proposer un plan visant à promouvoir la tolérance et le respect des personnes LGBT dans l’ensemble de la société, notamment par le truchement de déclarations publiques et la mise en place d’un programme d’éducation publique ;
  • condamner publiquement toutes les agressions contre les personnes LGBT et à s’engager également publiquement à enquêter et à punir les auteurs et à assurer la protection des personnes LGBT.

Nous appelons les partis politiques arméniens à exprimer clairement leur soutien à  un tel programme d’action et à une telle réforme législative. Nous les appelons également à condamner publiquement les agressions visant la communauté LGBT. Chaque électeur arménien a le droit de connaître la position de chaque parti politique sur ces questions.

Nous appelons les organisations internationales arméniennes, y compris les églises arméniennes de toutes confessions, à exprimer clairement leur soutien à un tel programme d’action et à une telle réforme législative. Nous les appelons également à condamner les agressions dont sont victimes les membres de la communauté LGBT. Tous les Arméniens et toutes les Arméniennes qui, de par le monde, soutiennent ces organisations ont le droit de connaître leur position sur ces questions.

 

 


Summer Missive

 

 

 

My father, who had been suffering with congestive heart failure and related complications for two years, passed away in his sleep at home on Friday, July 13. It has been a sad time for our family, and particularly hard on my mother, who is now learning to live alone after a sixty-year marriage. My father’s obituary ran in the Armenian and local newspapers in Watertown, and I wrote a eulogy that is now posted on my author site. He was a beloved member of his community so the church pews were filled and people were in the balcony and standing at the back during his funeral service, and at the post-funeral luncheon, many people told sweet stories of his kindness, generosity, and humor.

It was a strange experience to read on his official death certificate that my father’s parents’ place of birth was specified as Turkey (I would have put Cilicia or possibly Ottoman Empire), but even more disorienting was to see that his “Expanded Race” was listed as WHITE and his ethnicity was AMERICAN. There were a number of legal decisions in the early part of the 20th Century that admitted Armenians to the coveted category of “white,” so I won’t argue that point, but I would argue that my father’s ethnicity, as he or anyone else would have described it, was Armenian.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about race and ethnicity in America. I just finished listening to the audio book version of Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. In the book, Kendi argues that there are three main channels of thinking about race: segregationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist. Only the last one challenges racism and white supremacy, and there is no such thing as “non-racist” thinking in America. I’m currently listening to Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People To Talk About Racism. DiAngelo argues that “racism is a structure, not an event,” and suggests that “the full weight of responsibility rests with those who control the institutions.” Katy Waldman, in a review of the book in the New Yorker, says, “DiAngelo sets aside a whole chapter for the self-indulgent tears of white women, so distraught at the country’s legacy of racist terrorism that they force people of color to drink from the firehose of their feelings about it.”

I see the structures of white supremacy at work all around me (and in me), and through my volunteer work with the New Sanctuary Coalition, I see racism’s cruel hand in the immigration policies of this country. The unconscionable heartlessness of the Trump Administration’s separation of parents and children at the Southern border has stirred outrage, but the deportation machine and the terrorism of ICE predate Trump’s election. It’s time to abolish ICE, but also to stop tearing families apart with deportation.

And here, I will pull back from personal sadness and political distress to leave you with an anecdote and an image.

A few days after my father died, my mother and I were walking near my parent’s condominium on Bigelow Avenue in Watertown when we heard a cardinal loudly singing. According to my mother, my father, who was adept at birdcalls and whistles, used to imitate the cardinal perfectly, and he and the bird often called back and forth to each other. I looked up and saw that on the top of the Armenian Memorial Church steeple there was a cross and on top of the cross was the bright red cardinal belting out his song. I said to my mother, “If you believed in reincarnation, you might think that was Dad.” She laughed.

The weekend after my father’s funeral, James and I were at our house in Columbia County with our younger daughter Djuna and her friend Hannah. While we were eating supper on the porch, we watched storm clouds approach from the south. The storm rolled in, dumping down rain on the garden and lawn, and then rolled out leaving behind a rainbow. Djuna and Hannah ran out into the yard and did a joyous dance under the spectacular double rainbow.

 

Nancy Kricorian, New York City 2018

 


Find the Helpers

Last week 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated ten-term incumbent Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District in what TIME Magazine called the biggest political upset of 2018. Ocasio-Cortez had the support of the Democratic Socialists of America, the Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress, and The Intercept (cited by a CNN commentator as a decisive factor!). In an otherwise DISMAL political scene this is a HUGE victory. She ran on a platform calling for Medicare for All, the abolition of ICE, and she denounced the killings of protesters in Gaza as a massacre. I’m awestruck. I also loved reading about the revolutionary posters designed for her campaign.

 

If you’re looking for a natural pick-me-up, watch Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign video, or watch CNN’s clip from election night when she realizes that she has won! “We met the [Queens Democratic] machine with a MOVEMENT!” she said. (Note the dude right behind her wearing a Democratic Socialists of America T-shirt.) Or watch her answer Stephen Colbert’s question, “What is Democratic Socialism?” I think I’ve watched that last video six times—whenever I’m in despair about the state of the world, I just watch it again.

 

In response to Ocasio-Cortez’s victory and those of other young progressives, Michelle Goldberg, in a piece entitled The Millennial Socialists Are Coming, opined, “These young socialists see themselves as building the world they want to live in decades in the future rather than just scrambling to avert catastrophe in the present.”

 

And while the political situation in this country is growing grimmer by the minute, I’m not going to remind you of the details right now as I’m making a concerted effort to do what Mr. Rogers’s mother told him, “Look for the helpers.” (As an aside here, I haven’t yet seen the Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, but it’s on the top of my movie going list.)

 

While I’ve read at least forty articles about the traumatic, criminal, and unconscionable (there are no adjectives dire enough for what they’re doing!) consequences of our government’s “zero-tolerance policy” at the border, resulting in the abduction of thousands of migrant children, the article I will highlight is about a courageous Honduran woman who is organizing mothers inside an ICE detention center in El Paso, Texas. While the U.S. has a long history of child snatching, I was inspired by this story about librarians and academics who used their library science skills to map the locations of the facilities where separated migrant kids are possibly being held as a way to help parents find their children. I also aspire to have the courage this woman did when Border Patrol Agents boarded the Greyhound Bus she was on. She realized that because they were not within 100 miles of the U.S. border, the agents did not have the right to question everyone on the bus about their immigration status. She stood up and started shouting, “You don’t have to show them sh*t!” She then used Google translate to find out how to say it in Spanish.

 

People are standing up to the Trump Administration’s cruelties. Members of The United Methodist Church have charged Methodist Jeff Sessions with child abuse over the family separation policy. Members of the Democratic Socialists of America DC Metro Chapter protested the Secretary of Homeland Security while she was dining in a Mexican restaurant. “If kids don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace,” the protesters shouted. Nearly 600 women were arrested in D.C. last week during protests against Trump’s immigration policies. The protesters chanted “Abolish ICE” and their hashtag was #WomenDisobey.

 

This is a time to be disobedient, fierce, loud, and as creative as these young Palestinian dancers in Gaza. We’re heading to the Socialism 2018 Conference in Chicago this coming weekend to meet up with several thousand people who feel the same way. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

P.S. This year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival in D.C. turns a spotlight on Armenia. Check out the Feasting schedule, as well as my friend Liana Aghajanian’s piece about Armenian food.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City 2018


Choose Your Lane


 

If you turn your head in any direction, you will see direct evidence of the cruelty, venality, and greed of the current administration. Everything and everyone appear to be under assault: public education, the environment, undocumented immigrantstransgender studentswomen’s health care, the expression of dissent,  and the list goes on and on and on. It’s hard to know what to do in response, but last week organizer Mariam Kaba posted a Tweet that gave me some comfort.

She said, “There’s so much happening across the world. Just a reminder for all of us that we cannot be engaged in every single thing. Even if we care about everything. You’re just one person. Pick your lane(s). Do your best. Fight.”

Since 2009, one of my “lanes,” so to speak, has been Palestine. After doing some months of self-education, I visited Palestine twice, have worked on four different targeted boycott campaigns, and will continue my organizing, advocacy, and activism for Palestinian rights. I watched in horror a few weeks ago when Israeli snipers killed over 60 unarmed Palestinians, including children, medics, and journalists, in Gaza in one day, and resolved to redouble my efforts.

In the past few months, after identifying undocumented immigrants as among the most vulnerable and targeted groups in the United States, I’ve chosen a new lane: support for immigrants’ rights. The first step was doing a little research on which organizations in New York City were working on immigration issues, and then deciding to join the New Sanctuary Coalition. I did their Accompaniment training, and started to accompany “friends,” as we call them, who were going to 26 Federal Plaza for ICE check-ins and immigration hearings. Recently I did the Asylum Clinic training, and this week I volunteered at the clinic for the first time.

In the meantime, horrific reports emerged of the Trump Administration’s new policy of separating parents and children at the border, something that had been happening for six months but has now made an explicit policy directive. The truth is that the Obama Administration deported more undocumented immigrants than any other administration in history, and immigrants’ rights groups referred to Obama as “The Deporter in Chief”.

But the Trump Administration is pushing the system to new depths of cruelty. When asked about the effects of separating children as young as eighteen months old from their parents, White House Chief of Staff John Kelley said, “the children will be taken care of, put in foster care or whatever.” Our White Supremacist Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them over the border illegally.” Someone needs to explain to Sessions that in order to apply for political asylum you must be in the United States, which often entails crossing the border without authorization.

If you’re interested in working on immigrants’ rights in your area, you can check out the list of local organizations on the Informed Immigrant web site. Whatever lane you’re in, the main thing is to keep moving. As Gracy Paley put it (and this is, as you probably know, my motto), “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.”

P.S. As not to end on a total DOWNER, here’s a piece about the Velvet Revolution in Armenia, and how crucial women were to its success.

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


The Sun Will Rise

 

It’s finally spring here in New York City. The appearance of the early spring flowers—crocuses, Lenten roses, daffodils, and hyacinths—makes me feel that there is hope. Hope for what? On the absolutely mundane level, it is a belief that the tulips will open very soon, and that after them the lilacs will appear. It reminds me of the Armenian proverb, “The sun will rise whether the rooster crows or not.”

 

When I walk the dogs early in the morning now, the trees are alive with birdsong. I recognize the songs of the cardinals, the robins, and the blue jays. I hear other songs that my sadly unmusical hear has not yet learned to identify, but I’ll be starting up again with my NYC Audubon classes next week and will expand my repertoire.

 

When I write to or talk with friends now, asking them how they are doing, I say, “Aside from the devastating political dumpster fire in which we are living, I hope you and yours are okay.” How do we do this? How do we wake up each morning to ever more cruelty, venality, and greed—each time I think we’ve hit rock bottom, I’m stunned to learn that it’s possible to go lower still—and still manage to go on with our daily routines? I have to count myself among the lucky ones who can carry on with my work and my relationships in relative peace while the unlucky ones, to paraphrase Wally Shawn, who are undocumented, or poor, or live in a country devastated by our wars and occupations, are struggling mightily. I hope for us all that we can organize to vote a bunch of these jerks out of office in the fall before they do even more damage.

 

These are sources of solace: flowers, birds, knitting, baking, walking, reading, talking with friends, and doing one act of resistance each day—phone call, letter, political organizing meeting, sanctuary accompaniment, street demonstration, donation, or a spontaneous gesture of kindness. May we all find moments of happiness and satisfaction that will give us energy for the work ahead.

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City 2018


Radical Kindness and Adamant Resistance

 

Happy International Women’s Day! Earlier this week I received an invitation from an editor at Aras, my publisher in Istanbul.

For International Women’s Day, we’re asking our women writers for a message directed to women, but of course particularly to the women of Turkey. We will share them on March 8 via social media posts. And since it’s social media, it should not be something longer than three or four sentences.

I thought about it overnight, and then sent her back the following:

In these cruel times, may we be known for our radical kindness, and also for our resistance to those who attack our most vulnerable neighbors. As American feminist writer Grace Paley put it, ‘The only recognizable feature of hope is action.’

When I turn the pages of the newspaper each morning, I feel as though I’m being hammered by the stories of unremitting brutality: the physical violence of war around the globe; the systemic economic assault on the poor and working people of this country and our public institutions; and the heartless rounding up and deportation of undocumented immigrants, which are separating families, tearing apart communities, and sowing terror.

I think the story that hit me the hardest last week was the one about the mother from the Congo who applied for asylum upon arriving in Los Angeles. She was put into a detention facility in San Diego and her seven-year-old daughter was sent to a detention facility for unaccompanied minors in Chicago. The only way we heard this story was that the ACLU filed suit against the U.S. Government for this act of blatant cruelty, which seems to be part of a new unstated policy designed to discourage parents from seeking asylum because of fear of such forcible and wrenching separations. How many more such children are there?

But in the face of all this, I take heart when I see the humanity and the militancy that are rising up in response. The striking teachers of West Virginia prepared breakfasts and lunches for their students who receive meals at school and would otherwise have gone hungry. And, with broad support from people around the country, they WON their wildcat strike! Some student organizers from Parkland High School in Florida, where a horrific massacre occurred last month, went to meet black youth in Chicago to talk about how they could work together on gun control and address racism. Christian Clergy in Jerusalem were able to halt Israeli legislation that would have allowed for state seizure of church property by closing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for three days. And Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland, California, a sanctuary city, gave the public a fair warning about imminent ICE raids in the Bay Area.

And somehow in the midst of all of this, I’ve been managing to write! Gamatz gamatz*, as my grandmother would have said, I’m getting this novel written.

*slowly, slowly

 

Here are some readings for your pleasure and edification:

A fascinating piece about shared Armenian and Turkish idioms.

A rare yellow cardinal was spotted in Alabama.

How Neoliberalism makes anxiety and depression worse, and what you can do about it.

A beautiful essay by Viet Thanh Nguyen on refugees.

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian