post archive

Turkey


Wrens and Finches

Hudson River Valley Sky

 

 

When we were in the country over the weekend, I witnessed a house wren’s taking over the house finches’ nest on our front porch. The much smaller wren tossed the finches’ eggs out of the nest—two small blue eggs lay smashed on the porch floor. Then the wren flew up and down with twigs, using them to effectively barricade the nest so the finches couldn’t get back in. The wren is a noisy, bossy, pushy little bird, and initially I was referring to it as “the jerk.” I soon realized that the finches had found another spot to build a new nest and would lay more eggs, so I grudgingly began to admire the wren’s bubbly song, and energetic foraging.

 

Deer and rabbits (maybe also chipmunks and woodchucks?) ravaged the zinnias and nasturtiums in our garden, leaving untouched the salvia and marigolds. They also chewed to the root the parsley, but ignored the more odiferous herbs such as sage, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon. Someone uprooted one of the tomato plants, and nibbled some leaves off another. I went to the nursery and bought two more varieties of salvia, as well as flowering golden mint, and flowering basil—pretty but NOT tasty to deer and rabbits. The tall blue salvia almost immediately attracted the whirring wings of ruby-throated hummingbirds. At the nursery I also found a product called Liquid Fence, which is a smelly concoction of egg white, garlic, and thyme. When you spray it around the garden beds, it’s supposed to ward off the deer and rabbits, which apparently don’t like the smell. Wish us luck!

 

I’ve been working slowly but steadily on my novel about Armenians in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War—in the past few weeks I’ve been taking a break from writing, and have been doing immersive research. Ara Madzounian’s beautiful photos of Bourj Hammoud, one of the neighborhoods featured in my novel, give you a sense of the place as it is now. (Ara solicited writing from me for his 2015 book, BIRD’S NEST, and “Homage to Bourj Hammoud” was published as part of the PEN World Voices Anthology.) I’m completely engrossed by the research, and I’m starting to mull a return trip to Lebanon, likely in October, so I can fill in more pieces of the enormous jigsaw puzzle of Beirut during the Civil War that I’m building in my head.

 

As we mark the fiftieth year of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, there have been dozens of articles examining this sad milestone from various perspectives. One of my favorites is Yousef Munayyer’s “Reframing the 1967 War” in THE NEW YORKER. Yousef concludes, “Marking fifty years means that it is time to admit that the intention of occupation policies is not a temporary condition but a permanent one. It means recognizing that the Israeli state denies self-determination to millions of Palestinians who live there.”

 

My contribution to the Palestine Festival of Literature Anthology THIS IS NOT A BORDER, a piece entitled “Stories from the Armenian Quarter,” was published in The Armenian Weekly. Marcia Lynx Qualey, who writes the Arab Lit blog, wrote an interesting review comparing THIS IS NOT A BORDER to a similarly themed anthology entitled KINGDOMS OF OLIVES AND ASHES, which was edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. Ahdaf Soueif, novelist and founder of PalFest, wrote movingly for The Guardian about the festival’s ten years, and Chabon and Waldman were interviewed about their anthology on LitHub.

 

And for your additional reading (and viewing and listening) pleasure:

 

Almost a month after the incident, U.S. officials have announced that members of Turkish President Erdogan’s security detail who assaulted peaceful protesters outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence in D.C. on May 16 will be charged for their actions.

 

A sizzling piece by Nathan Robinson in Current Affairs about Hillary and Bill Clinton’s use of slaves in the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.

From Atlas Obscura a great piece about the use of knitting to relay secret messages during wartime.

 

Funny or Die’s parody video about the President’s Personal Spray Tanner, played by Armenian actor Ken Davitian.

 

Pink Martini sings the Armenian pop song Ov Siroun Siroun.

 

Merriam Webster explains the difference between herbs and spices.

 

And finally, here is a beautiful piece by Siddhartha Mukherjee from The New Yorker entitled Love in The Time of Numbness; or Doctor Chekhov, Writer.

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City 2017

 

 


Land of Armenians

 

Lawn sign in Watertown, Massachusetts, 6/16

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


Open Letter from Medz Bazar

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We invite you to do the same.

The Collectif Medz Bazar

April 2017

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


How to Support Academics Targeted in Turkey’s Purge

Istanbul University

I received the message below from a friend in Turkey who is helping to organize support for academics who have been targeted by Erdogan’s ongoing purge and witch hunt. The situation seems to be growing ever more dire, with purged civil servants, including university professors, being subjected to a kind of social death, where their benefits are stripped and they are turned into unemployable pariahs. Students have also been detained. (The situation reminds me of what happened to blacklisted writers, actors, and directors during the McCarthy Era here in the United States. Lives were ruined.) Another Turkish friend explained to me last week that what makes the current situation worse than what happened during the coup in the 80’s is that passports are being annulled so those with means are unable to leave the country. 

Dear friends and colleagues,

For some time now, we have been wondering about how colleagues abroad can develop solidarity academics and Ph.D. students expelled from their positions, either for having signed a Peace Petition against military operations in Turkey’s Kurdish-populated Southeast provinces, or for being critical of the government and conducting research on “sensitive” issues.

As of now, more than 400 critical academics and Ph.D. students have lost their jobs, income, access to universities, and their chances of teaching or carrying out research in Turkey. Most of them cannot leave the country since their passports have been annulled.

Here are two very simple ways you can help:

1) Fill out this online form to help assess individual cooperation possibilities as a first step to building a network of solidarity among academics from around the world and the Academics for Peace in Turkey:

2) Financial resources to help expelled academics survive are now being pooled through the Brussels-based Education International, the world’s largest federation of unions for teachers and education employees. You can choose to make a lump-sum contribution or regular money transfers – every penny will make a difference! Details may be found here, and routing information is below.

ING Bank, Avenue Marnix 24,1000 Brussels, Belgium
IBAN: BE05 3101 0061 7075
SWIFT/BIC: BBRUBEBB
Please indicate “UAA Egitim Sen” in communication.

Even if you yourself cannot help, we would greatly appreciate that you circulate this e-mail among colleagues who would be interested and/or publicize on websites that you deem fit.

All best and in solidarity,
Z

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


The Women’s March and the Long Struggle Ahead

 

To be part of a crowd of over half-a-million people is an experience both intimate and abstractly large. Three moments during the speeches at the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. particularly held that balance for me. Sophie Cruz, a six-year-old girl whose parents are undocumented immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico, moved us all to tears with her beautiful and elegant words, spoken in English and then in Spanish, saying, “Let us fight with love, faith, and courage, so that our families will not be destroyed.” African-American civil rights activist and revolutionary Angela Davis told the assembled, “We dedicate ourselves to collective resistance.” Linda Sarsour, an organizer from New York City and one of the national co-chairs of the march, declared herself “unapologetically Muslim-American, unapologetically Palestinian-American, unapologetically from Brooklyn, New York.” She went on to tell us, “If you want to know if you are going the right way, follow women of color, sisters and brothers. We know where to go, because when we fight for justice, we fight for it for all people, for all our communities.”

 

It was an exhilarating, exhausting, and empowering experience to take to the streets with hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children who are determined to fight against the Trump Administration and its assaults on women, the disabled, immigrants, the indigenous, LGBTQ people, our public educational system, our environment, and our civil and human rights. I couldn’t help but remember other mass mobilizations I have joined. In 2003 millions of people took to the streets around the globe in attempt to prevent the Iraq War. George W. Bush dismissed us then, saying he didn’t pay much attention to “focus groups.” We were unable to stop the Iraq War, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, destabilized the entire region, and led eventually to the horrible carnage and destruction we have been witnessing in Syria. Marches and rallies are important sources of strength and inspiration—but that strength must be used for the long struggles that follow.

 

I was pleased to learn from newspaper reports that the huge defiant crowds only steps from his seat of power enraged Donald Trump, and I have to believe that if we are able to harness the passion and determination of so many people taking political action for the first time, that we will be able to protect our most vulnerable individuals and organizations. If we succeed, our cities will become sanctuaries for the undocumented, our states will enact legislation mitigating the harms coming from Washington, and our mass civil disobedience against gas pipelines and other projects that threaten our air and water will engulf and stop corporate pillage. We will wrest control of the Democratic Party from the neoliberal establishment that backed the disastrous candidacy of Hillary Clinton, and put accountable elected officials into office. But I have to be honest. I’m afraid, and I’m unsure of exactly where best to focus my energies when the attacks on the values and institutions I care about are coming not daily, but hourly.

 

For now I join the ranks of my friends in Palestine, where Trump’s collaboration with the Israeli right wing will cause untold suffering. I join my friends in Armenia, who struggle every day against the kind of kleptocracy Trump now installs here in the U.S. I join my friends in Turkey, where harshly repressive measures are targeting journalists and academics, and in its Kurdish region, where violence has destroyed much of the architectural heritage of Diyarbakir’s Sur and where many communities have been subject to state terror.

 

I join a global community that struggles against tyranny and amplifies the humane in the human. As American writer and activist Grace Paley put it: “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.” I hope, because I act.

 

Nancy Kricorian

January 2017

New York City

 

Written for Agos Turkish-Armenian weekly
https://web.archive.org/web/20170126065707/http://www.agos.com.tr/tr/yazi/17561/trumptan-sonra-umut-ve-eylem

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


Turkey: “I will defend myself as if the laws existed.”

Istanbul University

 

Last week I received the message below from a friend in Turkey who teaches at a university in Istanbul. She did not want her name mentioned, because at a time when someone can be jailed for a critical Tweet or Facebook post, people are censoring their social media postings for fear of arrest. But she did want me to share the information, and to call on people to help spread the word about what is going on in Turkey. You can find further updates via Endangered Scholars Worldwide, Turkey Purge, and Bianet. PEN American Center has taken up the case of Aslı Erdoğan, a novelist who is mentioned in the final paragraph of my friend’s missive, and I would also like to point out that this crackdown against dissent, while taking a tremendous toll on scholars and journalists, has hit Turkey’s Kurds most heavily.

 

 

7 January 2017

 

Dear friends and colleagues,

Alas, an additional 631 academics have been expelled from universities all over Turkey with a new decree last night. Forty-one of these are Academics for Peace signatories, and among them are very valuable scholars and intellectuals. The government deliberately chooses a piecemeal approach to purge the peace signatories, including a certain number of them into larger lists, instead of attacking them frontally and en masse. They know that a frontal and exclusive attack would arouse too much international uproar. The new tactic is to wait for university presidents to hand in a list of signatories to authorities, thus implicating them in the process. Only a few presidents have had the courage to resist, but for how long? Another decree is said to be on its way, this time to hit two major Istanbul universities.

Through a different tactic, Prof. Istar Gozaydin was arrested (yes, arrested!) because of her tweets criticizing the government. She is one of the founders of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, a highly respected NGO in the field of human rights and refugee assistance.
Tweets or any other totally arbitrary excuse are enough to accuse and detain dissidents now. Ahmet Şık, one of the last remaining investigative journalists in Turkey, was detained and arrested because of his tweets and news stories in the daily Cumhuriyet. Ironically (or tragically or both) Şık was previously imprisoned in 2011-2012 for an unpublished book, The Imam’s Army, which denounced Fethullah Gülen as a dark force manipulating the Turkish political scene. Şık was imprisoned by the Gülenists—and now, the AKP government, once Gülen’s ally but today its greatest foe, is accusing Şık of plotting with the Gülenists against the regime. Şık is also charged with being a member of a radical leftist group and of the armed Kurdish organization, the PKK. He might as well have also been accused of being a Jehovah’s Witness, a Tamil guerrilla, and a Templar Knight! They have abandoned all semblance of credibility—or whatever remains of it.

There is no proof as to the “terrorist connections” of any of the detained or arrested dissidents. The trial of ten journalists of the daily Cumhuriyet newspaper was postponed due to lack of evidence, but they are still being held in prison. The only good news we’ve heard in the past few months was the release of writer Aslı Erdoğan, the linguist Necmiye Alpay and the Özgür Gündem newspaper editor Zana Kaya at the end of December, but they are still to be tried for terrorist propaganda and face life imprisonment if convicted. In her defense statement Aslı Erdoğan ridiculed the charges against her and said: “I will defend myself as if the laws existed.”

The “as if” is what’s tragic in this country. We do need help; Western pressure does count.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


When Violence Enters the House

 

Istanbul, 24 April 2015

Istanbul, 24 April 2015  (photo by Filip Warwick)

 

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

~ Armenian proverb

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


Raise Your Pen For Freedom

My contribution to the #RaiseYourPenForFreedom social media campaign

My contribution to the #RaiseYourPenForFreedom social media campaign

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


Journey to Hope and Back

 

surafp

Diyarbakir’s Sur District after several months of military siege

 

In the space of eighteen months I traveled to Turkey three times—in June 2014 on an Armenian Heritage Trip throughout the country that I wrote about for Guernica; in September 2014 to Istanbul as part of Columbia University’s Women Mobilizing Memory Workshop; and again in April 2015 to Istanbul for events commemorating the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.

For an Armenian in the post-genocide Diaspora, several generations removed from ancestral home places and collective trauma, going to Turkey was a fraught experience, but I forged important bonds in the land where my grandparents were born. Among other inspiring and moving experiences, I visited their hometowns, and I went to Sunday services at the newly restored Sour Giragos Armenian church in Kurdish Diyarbakir’s Sur District. While in mainstream society and the media I observed denial about exactly what happened to the Armenians in 1915, as well as a disturbing current of anti-Armenian “racism” (for want of a better word), I became friends with progressive Turkish and Kurdish artists and intellectuals. We talked openly about the Armenian Genocide, and I learned more about Turkey’s complicated internal politics and history. When I left Istanbul at the end of April 2015, I fully expected that I would return in 2016 to continue the relationships and work we had begun, and even imagined that I would be in Diyarbakir to commemorate the one-hundred-and-first anniversary of the genocide.

Many of my new friends campaigned for HDP (People’s Democratic Party), a progressive, multicultural and pro-Kurdish party, in the lead-up to the June 2015 elections. When HDP crossed the required 11% threshold for entrance to the parliament—and even surpassed it by taking 13% of the vote—there was much jubilation. This was for a short time a season of hope.

When Turkish President Erdogan and his AKP party did not achieve a parliamentary super-majority that would allow them to rewrite the Turkish constitution, the government reignited its war against the Kurds in the summer of 2015 and forced another round of elections in November. It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss the many dismal events since July 2015, or the complicated internal and external politics involving the civil war in Syria, a massive refugee crisis, and the double and triple games being playing by all political actors in the region. But brutal, months-long military sieges have reduced many Kurdish neighborhoods and towns in Turkey’s southeast to rubble. Several suicide bombings have strewn dozens of bodies across the streets of Ankara, Suruc, and Istanbul. Erdogan’s renewed war on the Kurds has turned into a war against a thousand academics who signed a peace petition. Things have now devolved so far that freedom of the press, academic freedom, and freedom of speech are under threat in Turkey.

My Turkish and Kurdish academic friends who signed the peace petition are awaiting arrest and fear an imminent travel ban. And the neighborhood where Sourp Giragos is situated—where I had hoped to be on 24 April 2016—has become a bombed-out war zone.

In this dire situation, I look back on last year’s hopeful connections and realize that now, more than ever, the work of commemorating and recognizing the Armenian Genocide of 100 years ago is and must be intimately bound up with the ongoing struggle for justice for the Kurds and the fight for civil and human rights for all who live in Turkey.

 

UPDATE: The day after I wrote this, there was a deadly bombing attack on Istanbul’s popular Istiklal Avenue pedestrian shopping district. This is the same street on which we gathered with thousands of people in front of the French Consulate on 24 April 2015 for a solemn commemoration of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. (19 March 2016)

Nancy Kricorian

New York, NY


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