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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

 

 

 


Riding the Struggle Bus

 

 

When I was talking with my college-aged daughter recently, she told me that her friends’ older siblings were “on the struggle bus.” I had never heard that expression before, but I knew immediately what she meant, and thought it was an excellent way to describe the ongoing economic, emotional, and health travails of many young adults that I know. I also thought my daughter had coined the term, until I looked it up and found that it has been around since at least 2007.

 

This reminded me of a time in the mid-1980’s when I was working as Susan Sontag’s assistant. When she was complaining about her partner of the time, dancer and choreographer Lucinda Childs, I said, “She sounds like a control freak.” Susan’s face lit up, and she said, “Exactly. That’s exactly what she is.” When I came back the next week, Susan said, “You didn’t make that term up, did you?” No, in fact, I had not made up the term “control freak,” nor had I claimed to be its progenitor. I was sad to disappoint her with my lack of originality.

 

But, let’s get back to the struggle bus. I’ve been riding my own struggle bus for the past year, dealing with three generations of family health problems, my own scary trip to the emergency room on Christmas Day, a dental gum graft, and, of course, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who have control of our country’s nuclear arsenal. The latest bump on the road is the fact that one of our Havanese dogs, eleven-year-old Busby, has a tumor on his neck. It’s most likely benign, but we won’t know for sure until after the upcoming surgery to remove it. Poor Busby is on his own struggle bus, going to the veterinary hospital to be prodded, poked, and probed. While we are in the waiting room, he looks up at me with his tragic face, which I have learned from veterinary web sites is an indication of his being in pain. I want to cry, but instead I take a photo of his sad mug and send it to everyone else in the family. Although most of the time it seems to be a one-seater, no one likes to be on the struggle bus alone.

 

I look around, however, and see that lots of people are struggling. Many of our friends have frail and infirm parents. Many others are dealing with young adult children trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, some of them coping with mental health issues. All around us, the most vulnerable people and institutions—undocumented immigrants, working people who are paid less than a living wage, LGBTQ individuals whose newly won rights are being eroded, overpoliced low-income communities, people of color in a white supremacist society, Planned Parenthood, public schools, unions, polar bears, songbirds, and the planet—are being threatened by a cruelty as ambitious as it is unconscionable.

 

When I went to the hair salon the other day, I asked the woman who checks the coats if she had a nice Easter. This is a woman I have known for maybe twenty years—the same stylist has been cutting my hair for thirty years, he has been the proprietor of his own salon for more than twenty years, and his employees love him and stay for long tenures. She looked at me and said, “These are some challenging times, but still I wake up every day and say, I’m going to make this day the very best it can be.”

 

Oh yes, we’re riding the struggle bus, but we can try to make each day the best day it can be. And we can try to be kind to each other. As for the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the horrors of gangster capitalism, I leave you with Mother Jones’s exhortation: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


Small Victories and Other Diversions

Photo by Maryam Sahinyan, 1961

In these cruel and venal times, I offer you some small victories and other diversions.

 

SOLIDARITY IS BEAUTIFUL: The Sami people of Norway have persuaded a Norwegian second-largest pension fund to divest from the Dakota Access Pipeline. I loved this piece in the New York Times about some independent bookstores that have turned themselves into centers of resistance. Many houses of worship in New York City are gearing up to provide refuge to undocumented New Yorkers. A similar movement is underway in Los Angeles. Senator Bernie Sanders is working to push the Democratic Party to the left and make it more attractive to working class people. He said, “Despair is not an option.” You can also sign up for a newsletter called Small Victories, which has an upbeat compendium of the resistance successes that have happened in a given week. (Thanks to my friend Dana B for the tip!)

 

Elena Ferrante’s MY BRILLIANT FRIEND has been adapted for the stage and is currently playing in London, and there is a TV series in the works.

 

Our friend Yasmin Hamdan, who has just released a new album, was profiled on Reorient Magazine.

 

Short story writer George Saunders wrote a beautiful profile of author and activist Grace Paley, and he also penned an excellent and inspiring piece about his own writing process as he produced his first novel.

 

Our daughter Nona Schamus and her partner Arno Mokros have founded Little Pharma Zine , an intersectional art and lit zine devoted to explorations of mental illness. The first issue drops on April 1 (you can order a copy here), and we’ll be at the launch party on April 2nd at The Living Gallery in Brooklyn.

 

On the Armenian front, I happened across a fascinating slideshow featuring the work of Istanbul-based photographer Maryam Sahinyan (1911-1996) that I had missed when it appeared in 2015.  Some friends on Facebook posted this delightful entry from Rejected Princesses about Armenian Queen Anahit.  Next time I’m in Los Angeles I’m definitely planning a meal at Mante House, which specializes in tiny boat-shaped Armenian dumplings.

 

And that’s it for now, fellow travelers. Keep amplifying the humane in the human.

 


Human Kindness

 

“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.”

~ Vasily Grossman

 

“10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction.”

~ Susan Sontag

 

Last week the sheer cruelty and venality of #45 and his Horsemen of the Apocalypse were revealed to be deeper and wider than I had possibly imagined. Representative Paul Ryan, who is doing his best to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, boasted that his dream since college was to do away with “entitlements,” for example low-income people having their health needs covered by Medicaid. Trump’s 2018 budget proposal included a $54 billion increase in military spending that would be underwritten by stripping funds from other agencies. The arts, science, and the poor would bear the brunt of the cuts. On the chopping block are programs for the most vulnerable, such as Meals on Wheels, which provides meals to homebound seniors; subsidies to poor families for home heating; and legal aid for low-income people. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney claimed that cutting funding for Meals on Wheels was compassionate because the program “was just not showing any results.” An article in The Independent asserted that Trump could reverse his proposed cuts to the arts, the poor and the elderly if he stopped staying at Mar-A-Lago. His visits to his private Florida resort will cost taxpayers an estimated $600 million in security services over four years. But Team Trump has no intention of cutting back on any expenses associated with their luxuries and comfort. The pain of Bannon’s “deconstruction of the administrative state” is to be felt primarily by those they deem the unworthy masses.

 

In Jane Mayer’s long and devastating piece in The New Yorker about Robert (Bob) Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire behind the Trump presidency, the cruelty of the Team Trump’s ideology was further elucidated. Mayer cites a former colleague of Mercer’s:

 

“Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make. A cat has value, he’s said, because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he’s a thousand times more valuable.”

 

The neo-liberalism of the mainstream Democratic Party is also harsh, but the current gloves off attack by the Republicans on the poor, the undocumented, the elderly, the arts, public education, the public commons, and our environment is truly ruthless. Our country is being run by Susan Sontag’s cruel 10 percent.

 

Thankfully, the resistance to this viciousness is growing. Many people who voted for Trump are pushing back on the attempt to strip millions of people of their health insurance coverage. Some moderate Republicans, feeling the heat from their constituents, are wavering on the proposed repeal of Obamacare. Already established organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Make the Road New York, to name just two, are fighting back on other fronts. There are a number of new national outfits, such as Action Network Group, The Women’s March, and Indivisible that are pulling together effective organizing teams. And we all need to work where we are how best we can to derail as much of this hideousness as possible. We must resist and reject cruelty.

 

But, at the risk of sounding saccharine, I’d also like to propose that we fiercely protect Grossman’s “small kernel of human kindness.” If we are among Sontag’s merciful 10%, we may be able to move some of the other 80% in our direction by showing thoughtfulness and compassion in our daily interactions with those around us. One of my mottos is “Amplify the humane.” Or as Henry James put it, “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”

 

 

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