post archive

Resistance


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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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


We Have Work To Do

Joseph Cornell’s “Homage to Juan Gris,” 1953–54

 

 

Yesterday I went with my friend Dahlia to the Met Museum to see the David Hockney retrospective, which I admired, and the Joseph Cornell show, entitled “Birds of a Feather,” which I adored. I’ve been reading about Cornell lately because the main character of the novel I’m writing is a collage and shadow box artist whose primary inspirations are the works of Cornell and Hannah Hoch.

 

While we were wandering around the museum after viewing the aforementioned shows, Dahlia and I talked about our Armenian language studies. We are both working with the same tutor—a teacher who relocated from Aleppo to Yerevan who gives lessons over Skype—and we love her and we love the language, to which each of us has a different and complicated relationship grounded in family history. As we moved into the room with Thomas Hart Benton’s mural “America Today,” we talked about the endless and unfathomable cruelty of the people who are running our country.

 

How is it possible to keep one’s equilibrium in the face of these daily and unremitting attacks on our institutions, the most vulnerable groups and individuals among us, and our very values? We can’t let them deaden our responses—we have to remain vigilant and dynamic, finding hope in community and action. I recently went to an accompaniment training with the New Sanctuary Coalition and was impressed by their leadership’s strategic thinking and vibrancy, even as their executive director was fighting imprisonment and deportation. At an Adalah NY meeting this week, I was inspired by the other members in the group, many of whom are involved not only in Palestine solidarity work, but are also engaged with a variety of groups organizing around prison abolition, anti-militarism, anti-colonialism, and other struggles.

 

When Dahlia and I left the museum, there was a small group of women standing on the sidewalk outside handing out fliers about the paucity of women artists in the Met. How had I not noticed until that moment that among all the solo shows currently on view—Hockney, Cornell, Eggleston, Wegman, Golub, Kiefer—there is not one woman artist? (Not only are they all men, but also they are all white men.) On all fronts, we have work to do.

 

Maxine Kumin’s poem “Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief”—the title as much as the poem itself—keeps echoing in my mind lately. I find solace in poetry—and in Armenian lessons, yoga classes, bird walks, my family and my friends. May we all find energy for resistance and comfort for our souls.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City

February 2018


The Harvey Effect

 

In the past few weeks I have read close to 90% of the articles about Harvey Weinstein—a man I have known and loathed for twenty-five years—starting with the New York Times piece about his decades of sexual harassment settlements, and Ronan Farrow’s bombshell article in the New Yorker with accounts of rape. Once those two hit, the proverbial floodgates opened with more and more women coming forward with accounts of harassment and assault. After having heard dozens of stories about Harvey’s cruelty and physical violence from traumatized former employees, both men and women, I always knew that he was a monster, but I did not know the extent of the sexual harassment that went on, nor did I know that he was a rapist.

 

Because of the deluge of testimonies by many prominent women, his reign of terror was put to an end as Harvey was forced out of his company, was booted out of the Academy, and France is moving to strip him of his Legion of Honor. His crimes are currently being investigated in New York, London, and Los Angeles. For those of you who are interested in reading more, David Hudson at Criterion’s The Daily provided a great roundup of the news and analysis, and has been adding updates since the piece posted last week. Two of the funniest responses—and at times we do need to laugh amidst the horror—were Alexandra Petri’s Harvey Weinstein and that ‘different time’ when hostile workplaces were totally okay, and Samantha B’s video riff. Brit Marling’s piece in The Atlantic on the economics of consent was also great. I encouraged my spouse James to return a call from the Hollywood Reporter, and Oprah Winfrey then cited James’s remarks in her Facebook post about Harvey. And of course, when asked for his opinion, Woody Allen, who would have been better advised to decline to comment, said that he was worried about a “witch hunt atmosphere.” In response, Lindy West penned a sizzling op-ed entitled Yes, this is a witch hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m hunting you. Lo and behold, it was then reported that Woody Allen’s new film, currently shooting in New York, features a sexual relationship between a 44-year-old man played by Jude Law and a 15-year-old ‘concubine’ (what does this even mean?) played by Elle Fanning.

 

The “Harvey Effect” has subsequently taken down prominent men such as Amazon Studios Head Roy Price, Nickelodeon showrunner Chris Savino, screenwriter James Toback (who has now been accused of sexual harassment by over 200 women), celebrity chef John Besh, fashion photographer Terry Richardson, the publisher of Artforum Magazine Knight Landesman, political journalist Mark Halperin, and writer and editor Leon Wieseltier. We can only hope that these dudes will continue to fall like dominoes.

 

As an antidote to that cavalcade of jerks, I wanted to share this profile of Greg Asbed, a 2017 MacArthur Fellow who has spent most of his professional life fighting horrific labor abuses. Asbed was asked, “What was your path to this work?” and his answer was inspiring. “I’m a first-generation Armenian-American,” he said. “My grandmother moved to Syria from Turkey, but not of her own volition. There was the Armenian genocide; she lost her whole family except for one sister. She managed to survive the genocide by being bought and sold twice by the age of 13 — once to the Kurds, then by the Kurds to an Armenian family, which was my grandfather’s family. I have always felt a certain responsibility, as a bearer of DNA that was forged in the crucible of genocide, to the idea of universal human rights.”

 

As we say in Armenian, Abrees!

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


Solidarity With Puerto Rico

 

The situation in Puerto Rico is dire (described by the governor as ‘apocalyptic’), and if you are like me, you are probably trying to figure out how to help as our cruel and unhinged dotard is doing next to nothing.

 

The natural catastrophe has at least temporarily focused our attention on the people of Puerto Rico, who have been suffering under colonial exploitation and neglect for decades, compounded by the recent debt crisis and subsequent “austerity” measures. The already precarious economic situation of Puerto Rico, where it has been estimated that as of 2014 as many as 86% of children live in ‘high poverty areas,’ has been worsened by the devastation wrought by the hurricane.

 

I asked my friend Yifat at MADRE for a suggestion about where to send support for Puerto Rico’s emergency relief, and she replied that the best place to donate to ensure funds go directly to the most vulnerable communities, including communities historically overlooked (low-income, Afro-Puerto Rican, etc.) is The Maria Fund. You may also donate directly to Taller Salud, one of the groups administering The Maria Fund

 

If you have a few more minutes to devote to the situation in Puerto Rico, please read this article about the U.S. law—the Jones Act—that makes food twice as expensive in Puerto Rico as in Florida. Just yesterday the Department of Homeland Security refused to waive the shipping restrictions specified in the Jones Act. This refusal means that providing emergency relief to Puerto Rico will require more time and cost more money. This is unconscionable. Please take a few more minutes and call your Congressional representatives to say, “Suspend the Jones Act in Puerto Rico. (N.B. Phone calls are the most effective method of making your opinion know to your elected representatives. You can find information on how to contact them here.)

 

Nancy Kricorian

28 September update: This morning Trump temporarily waived the Jones Act in order to speed up shipping of emergency supplies to Puerto Rico.


Empty Nests

 

 

I’ve been meaning to send write a new blog post for weeks. On my daily to-do list for the past tens days, I have dutifully printed, “write blog,” and then ended up copying it onto the next day’s list. So here it is the end of summer—Labor Day is upon us—and I’m finally sitting down to do it.

 

On the personal front, the summer has been a restorative one. We spent long weekends in the country where I worked in the garden and devoted at least an hour a day to watching the birds. On our front porch alone there were three active nests—a family each of robins, house wrens, and house finches with much flying to and fro by the parents and much cheeping by the nestlings. James and I also went to Chicago in July for the Socialism 2017 Conference where we heard some inspiring talks, enjoyed meals with like-minded friends, and felt comfort in assuming that we were the most conservative people in any room. We also took a family holiday to Provincetown in mid-August. I went on an Audubon-led shorebird walk, we spent afternoons on the beach, and we took in two drag shows featuring the supremely talented Jinkx Monsoon.

 

The work on my novel has been slow, but steady, as I continue writing while interviewing Armenians who lived the war years in Beirut in person and via Skype. The stories have been fascinating, and each anecdote feels like a piece in an enormous jigsaw puzzle I’m assembling. I’m planning another trip to Beirut for late October—will be on the ground for two weeks, staying within walking distance of the neighborhoods I’m writing about.

 

On the public front, each day has brought a new outrage or a new disaster, both in this country and abroad. I won’t catalogue all the misery that I’m sure you have been following as well, but I will say that I’ve been trying to find a way to process the unfathomable—both difficult to understand and seemingly bottomless—cruelty of the people currently running our national government.

 

While not a mental health professional, after much observation of Donald Trump’s Tweets, his public appearances, and most recently after reading the full transcript of his speech in Phoenix, I have come to the conclusion that Trump is suffering from cognitive impairment complicated by his long-term narcissistic personality disorder. (James suggested the he might also be a sociopath.) A friend shared an interview from October 2016 with singer Aimee Mann in which she talks about the song she wrote about Trump entitled, “Can’t You Tell?” (The refrain to the song is, “I don’t want this job. I can’t do this job. My God, can’t you tell, I’m unwell, I’m unwell.”) Mann said, “At this point, it’s like being angry at a rabid dog. You just have to solve the problem and get the dog in a cage.” Arguably, easier said than done. The anger is better directed at the enablers in the Republican Party who complain about Trump’s behavior and yet take no meaningful action against him because they’re still hoping to use him as a blunt instrument to push through their cruel and hateful agenda. I have some ire reserved for the Democrats who seem to have learned nothing from their defeat in November (check out this piece for a sizzling takedown of American liberals).

 

For things Armenian: French-Armenian entertainer Charles Aznavour received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame at the age of ninety-three; the New Yorker published a profile of Chess Master Levon Aronian; The Telegraph (UK) ran a piece about Manchester United soccer star Henrikh Mkhitaryan; Smithsonian published an article about the “Nest Neighbors” program in Armenia to monitor white storks; Houshamadyan posted a brilliant demographic study of an Ottoman-Armenian village; Al Jazeera ran an article about war photography featuring Lebanese-Armenian photojournalist Aline Manoukian; and Print Magazine had a delightful post about Armenian typography.

 

On the literary beat, I enjoyed this profile of novelist Claire Messud, My favorite part was this paragraph:

 

Messud frowned when asked if she ever tried to make her work more commercial. ‘‘I reckon you don’t write to please other people,’’ she said, slowly and deliberately. ‘‘That’s what your integrity is.’’ Her voice was husky; we had been talking all morning, as the dogs pattered in and out. ‘‘There are bell bottoms and miniskirts, and there are pencil skirts and stiletto heels,’’ she said. Fashions come and go in literature, too. ‘‘You can write something that’s a perfect work of art, but if it’s a pencil skirt that falls in a miniskirt moment, God help you. You just have to make your pencil skirt and be you.’’

 

Jeff Sparrow wrote a smart and nuanced review of The Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, an anthology edited by Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon. Adam Schatz did a brilliant podcast interview with Wally Shawn for the London Review of Books. I was thrilled to happen across this thorough and appreciative reader review of my third novel on Goodreads.

 

There are so many other interesting articles I could share, but who has time to read them all? I will offer you this last engaging piece from Waging Non-Violence about clowning as a tactic of creative resistance.

 

The bird nests by the pond and on our porch are mostly empty now, our older daughter has moved to Bushwick (in Brooklyn), and our younger daughter has headed off for her senior year in college. The flap and noise of summer will now give way to the quieter but equally colorful days of autumn. I’m hoping to get a lot of writing done!

 


Bible Studies at the White House

 

 

It was reported this week that top Trump Administration officials are attending a weekly Bible Study class in the White House led by an Evangelical minister named Ralph Dollinger, founder of Washington, D.C. based Capitol Ministries. According to an interview Dollinger gave to the Christian Broadcasting Network, regular attendees at the Bible Study include Health Secretary Tom Price, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Purdue, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Vice President Mike Pence, who serves as a sponsor of the meetings, occasionally drops by, and President Trump has a standing invitation, and each week “receives a copy of Drollinger’s teaching.” You can see a full list of the ‘sponsors’ of the weekly Bible study groups (as well as words about Drollinger’s innovative ideas about the separation of church and state)—yes, there is more than one. Drollinger shares his teachings with members of House of Representatives and the Senate at separate meetings. (The Cabinet is served light refreshments, the Senate is offered a hot breakfast, and the Reps have dinner.)

 

What might Drollinger be teaching the highest officials in our land? A quick perusal of the Capitol Ministries site turns up some interesting topics. For example, Drollinger’s “teaching” on same-sex marriage includes gems like this: “Homosexuality and Same-Sex Ceremonies are illegitimate in God’s eyes. His word is repetitive, perspicuous and staid on the subject. For the single or society to engage in or endorse it is to practice sin.” Drollinger was roundly criticized in 2004 for stating that it was a sin for women with children at home to serve in the California State Legislature. Around the same time he also called Catholicism “one of the primary false religions in the world.” His ideas about immigration are Draconian and his thoughts on public assistance are Dickensian.  Drollinger doesn’t believe in Global Warming, he believes there is a Biblical basis for America’s commitment to Israel, and he further believes that God is the ultimate capitalist.

 

One wonders what White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, an avowed Catholic, makes of Dollinger’s Evangelical prayer meetings. But a least Bannon and Dollinger can bond over their shared desire for authoritarianism in America.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


Open Letter from Medz Bazar

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We invite you to do the same.

The Collectif Medz Bazar

April 2017

 

 

Nancy Kricorian