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Proverbs


Resistance and Other Occupations

 

Water protector at Standing Rock encampment

Water protector at Standing Rock encampment

In the wake of the demoralizing election results and the terrifying prospect of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse taking over the government of this country, in our household we are attempting to institute a “harm reduction” program where we limit our intake of news and social media to certain hours of the day. Long walks also help, and reading classic fiction. I found some solace in this list of 25 Works of Poetry and Fiction to Inspire Resistance, and in talking with other politically engaged friends about what our next steps should be.

 

In the “Know Your Enemy” department, if you haven’t already, please take a look at the Hollywood Reporter’s interview with “Trump strategist” Steve Bannon. Mike Davis’s analysis of the election results is useful, as is Robin Kelley’s After Trump, which provides analysis as well as recommendations for action. Public Books have compiled a list of ways to get involved in the resistance.

 

Charles M. Blow, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote a sizzling piece entitled No, Mr. Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along, penned after Donald Trump’s meeting with Blow’s colleagues. It is well worth reading the entire column, but this was a highlight:

 

I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your ‘I hope we can all get along’ plea: Never.”

 

Masha Gessen, a Russian and American journalist and author, has written two eloquent and angry post-election pieces for the New York Review of Books in which she warns against “normalization” of the incoming administration. In the first, entitled Autocracy: Rules for Survival, she uses her experience in Putin’s Russia to recommend a course of action for the looming Trump Presidency. The second, Trump: The Choice We Face, recounts her great-grandfather’s experience in the Bialystok ghetto during World War II as a grim example of what happens when one makes accommodations with a reprehensible regime. One of history’s lessons, she says, is that “the people who wanted to keep the people fed ended up compiling lists of their neighbors to be killed.”

 

As I’m talking with other organizers and activists about how we create stronger coalitions and build new vehicles for organizing, I came across this heartening piece by Michael Hardt and Sandro Mezzadra about The Power of the Movements Facing Trump. They conclude:

 

“So, yes, every time the Trump government does or says something outrageous, go out in the streets in protest — and take your friends, and your parents, and anyone else you can find. There will be plenty of occasions. But behind the protests there must be a complex web of relations that extend both horizontally — that is, intersectionally, and in coalition across the various movements — and vertically, beyond the local and even the national to form relations and alliances with movements elsewhere. That is the only sound foundation for eventually transforming the many discrete protests into an effective and lasting project for social transformation.”

 

One of the movements cited in Hardt and Mezzadra’s piece is The Standing Rock Sioux’s encampment and protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The water protectors have received an outpouring of support from around the country, and will continue to need our solidarity in the coming weeks. Check out a list of ways to donate, as well as the #StandingRockSyllabus created by NYC Stands With Standing Rock.

 

I’ve been thinking a great deal about an old Armenian proverb: The voice of the people is louder than the roar of the cannon. In the current moment, the job seems to be to amplify the voice of the humane in the human.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

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

 


Turkey’s Renewed War on the Kurds

surrre

Diyarbakir’s Sur District during curfew

 

Since Erdoğan’s AKP lost its super-majority in the June 2015 elections, when the progressive, pro-Kurdish HDP party crossed the 10% threshold to be seated in Parliament, the situation in Turkey’s Kurdish region has deteriorated. The peace process that had been initiated in 2013 is now in shambles. Noam Chomsky described it thus: ‘The responsibility for the present self-inflicted crisis in the country must lie squarely with Erdoğan, who perceives the Kurds—whether it is the HDP [the pro-Kurdish, left-leaning party which gained 81 seats at the last election], the PYD in Syria or the PKK [the separatist Kurdish Workers’ Party]—as obstacles to his plan to establish supreme rule for the Turkish presidency.’

 

It is beyond my expertise and the scope of this post to analyze the complicated underlying political maneuvering that gave rise to the new round of violence—with many of the involved political actors playing double and triple games. My focus here is on the way that the Turkish government’s renewed war against the PKK has had a terrible impact on civilians in the Kurdish regions of Turkey.

 

The Turkish government has mobilized its war machine in Kurdish cities, towns and villages, resulting in great suffering in the civilian population in these places. They have also arrested a number of local HDP officials and parliamentarians, accusing them of being members of the once-again demonized PKK.

 

A Turkish friend sent this update last week:

 

We receive the news of civilians, politicians, children, elderly people dying under horrifying attacks and tortures (not to mention the armed people who are involved in the fight). More than half of the country prefers to ignore, or to believe in the news reports that are provided by the government. Some want to believe that the armed forces of the state would only commit such violence to protect the unity of the country. The rest of the people are suppressed, and begin to feel almost helpless. We keep signing petitions, posting things on social media, and the ones who support the peace loudly, get arrested, tortured, or just like the human rights defender, Kurdish lawyer and the chairman of Diyarbakır Bar Association Tahir Elci, get killed.  

 

There’s a systematic and organized killing of a particular group, the Kurdish people, right in front of our eyes, and we see hundreds of them being forcibly displaced by the state. We hear that they cannot collect the dead bodies of their mothers, or their children from the street, while they lie there for ten days, rotting right before their eyes, in front of their windows. They cannot go out to retrieve the dead bodies due to the bombardment and the snipers. We hear of a grandfather getting killed on the way to the hospital, while carrying a white flag in one hand and in the other hand a three-month old baby who was hit when their house was shelled. We hear about a father seeing his son’s eye carved out when he finds him at the mortuary. It has become a horror story, and I am afraid, we are not well organized enough to come together, understand what is happening and stop this crime. Most people are helplessly waiting for it to end by itself. An artist friend in Diyarbakir, with whom I am in correspondence every day, said, ‘Everything will become ‘normal’ again, once there are enough people who have been killed.’

 

The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey recently issued a fact sheet outlining the devastating effects of recently imposed curfews, with accompanying military actions. The report states:

 

Since 16 August 2015, there have been 58 officially confirmed, open-ended and round-the-clock curfews in at least 19 districts of 7 cities (primarily Diyarbakır, Şırnak, Mardin and Hakkâri) where approximately 1 million 377 thousand people reside (according to the 2014 population census). During these officially declared curfews, fundamental rights of people such as Right to Life and Right to Health have been violated and 162 civilians (29 women, 32 children, 24 people over the age 60) lost their lives according to the data of HRFT Documentation Center.

 

In response to the violence and to the suffering of Kurdish civilians, a group of Turkish academics initiated a petition entitled “We Will Not Be Party to this Crime.” The text, which you can read in full here, summarizes what the authors see as Turkey’s human rights violations against its citizens in the Kurdish region. (The petition web site has been hacked by right-wing Turkish nationalists multiple times; if you cannot access it at the link above try this one.)

 

The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated. 

 

The petition concludes:

 

We, as academics and researchers working on and/or in Turkey, declare that we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state. We will continue advocacy with political parties, the parliament, and international public opinion until our demands are met.

 

In response to the petition, which has garnered over 1,400 signatures, including the names of many international academic celebrities including Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler, Erdoğan has called the signers in Turkey “traitors,” saying, ““You are either on the side of the state or of the terror organization and terrorists.” The Turkish Council of Education has suggested it might take legal action against the professors who have signed the petition, and the inflammatory rhetoric dropped to a new low when a notorious gangster threatened violence against academics calling for peace negotiations.

 

In the face of this brutality and repression, it is important that the international community spread awareness about what is happening in the Kurdish region and in Turkey. If you would like to take action, you can sign this petition from Amnesty calling for an end to Turkey’s arbitrary restrictions on movement. If you are an academic or a graduate student, you can add your name to “We Will Not Be Party to This Crime” by sending an email with your name and institutional affiliation to info@barisicinakademisyenler.net. Journalists, writers, and students in Turkey have issued statements in support of the scholars, and you can find these and other updates on the Bianet site.

 

There is an old Kurdish proverb that says “Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” Now is a good time to show that people who care about justice care about the Kurds.

 

Update: The day after this was posted, 21 academics in Turkey who had signed the petition “We Will Not Be Party to This Crime” were detained by Turkish police. 

kidsinsur

Kurdish children playing on rooftop in Diyarbakir’s Sur District. (Photo by Nancy Kricorian)

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City

 


Letter to Palestine (With Armenian Proverbs)

 

 

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In a foreign place, the exile has no face.

You wake up in the morning and forget where you are. The smell of coffee from the kitchen. The sound of slippers across the linoleum floor. It could be any country.

When you look in the mirror you see the eyes of your grandfather. He expects something from you, but he won’t tell you what.

Better to go into captivity with the whole village than to go to a wedding alone.

The fabric was torn. With scraps you have made a tent, you have fashioned a kite, you have sewn a dress, you have wrapped yourself in a flag.

They have separated you with gun, grenade, barbed wire, wall, prison, passport. They have underestimated your will.

The hungry dream of bread, the thirsty of water.

Passing from one village to the next, without obstacle, without document, without your heart thumping up near your throat.

Turning the key in the lock, you enter through a door you have never passed through before except in your grandmother’s stories and in your dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

First published in Clockhouse Review, Volume 2, 2014.

I read this piece at the PEN World Voices Festival Armenian Genocide panel on 6 May 2015, as reported in The Guardian.


Roses in June

pinkroses

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


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

sayfa 1 master_Layout 1

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nancy Kricorian
New York City
April 2014

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

 

*

April 24, 2014

 

Dear Nancy:

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

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

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

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

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

My best regards,

Engin Selcuk

 

 


Lucky Penny

1956 Wheat Penny

1956 Wheat Penny

 

“Find a penny, pick it up. All day long, you’ll have good luck.” 

 ~ American proverb

 

 

A long time ago my mother told me a story about her brother, my Uncle Gene, who when I was growing up worked as a superintendent in a luxury building in Manhattan. The story went like this:

The night that Gene’s wife June was in the hospital in Concord, New Hampshire giving birth to their first child, my uncle wandered the streets and along the railroad tracks looking for bottles. At the time, each bottle could be turned in for a penny deposit. My uncle stayed up all night collecting bottles and by morning he turned them in, being given in return a lump sum of money. He went to a florist and bought a bouquet of roses that he brought to the hospital for his wife in celebration of their newborn son.

I always thought this a most romantic tale, imagining the devotion of my fierce and dark-haired uncle for his beautiful young wife. But the story also reminded me of the hardscrabble early life of my mother and her sixteen siblings, and impressed upon me the value of a penny.

For some reason this story also translated into a superstition about pennies that developed into a complicated set of behaviors. Walking over a penny lying on the sidewalk implied the wastefulness and arrogance of the wealthy, and it would bring down the ire of God, who hated above all pride and vanity. So if I saw a penny on the sidewalk, even a nasty penny in a dirty gutter, I had to pick it up. To me retrieving the penny was no guarantee of good luck, as promised in the American proverb, but it was the only way to stave off calamity. On the other hand, if I dropped a penny, I reasoned that I should leave it where it had fallen so someone else might pocket a bit of good fortune. I’m not sure why the penny was only a way to prevent misfortune for myself and for another person it was a potential boon, but that’s the way it was.

Funny that I should put that all in the past tense, as though I had outgrown a childish superstition, because to this day when I see a penny, on the floor of a taxi or in the middle of a busy street, I am compelled to pick it up. Both Uncle Gene and Aunt June have passed away, but that story stays with me the way a beloved old movie might—I can see Gene lugging a heavy sack of bottles through darkened streets, and I can imagine June’s face in the morning when he presents her with a dozen hard-won red roses.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian