2015 April

“Standing With, But Not Standing For”

PEN Literary Gala

PEN Literary Gala


This week, controversy erupted when six writers who were scheduled to be “table hosts” at PEN’s Gala Fundraiser on May 5th pulled out of the event because they didn’t believe that French newspaper Charlie Hebdo should be awarded the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. This was first reported in the New York Times, and then Glenn Greenwald posted about it at The Intercept, also including the texts of letters exchanged between some PEN members and PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel.

This morning I was among the first thirty PEN members to sign an open letter on the issue. The circulation of the open letter was reported by Vulture this afternoon, and now there are discussions raging in the comments sections of various articles, on Twitter and Facebook, with people lining up on one side or other of the debate. As this is going on, more writers are adding their names to the open letter.

My spouse James Schamus offered a clarifying comment.

I mourn the terrible murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff.

I stand in solidarity with those who fight against the scourge of intolerance, censorship and bigotry.

 I know that the defense of free speech and a free press means defending principles that allow, in practice, for speech that offends and that is often, at its worst, even hateful.

 But defending the rights of all to free expression should not require of me the obligation to award, condone, or applaud any particular expression, even expression made by those who have been cruelly and violently silenced.

 I will stand beside Charlie Hebdo and all others in the fight to guarantee freedom of expression for all. I will not, however, stand and applaud for Charlie Hebdo, at a gala awards dinner or anywhere else. 

I am not Charlie Hebdo.



2 May 2015

The list of signatories has grown to close to 200 by this morning, and the vitriol against the writers who signed is intense. I am dismayed that some people don’t seem to understand the distinction between supporting Charlie Hebdo’s RIGHT to publish what they will and declining to support the granting of this award. Clearly the dam has broken among New Yorkers who no longer want their commitment to free speech to become conflated with crude bigotry.


Nancy Kricorian

The Kardashians, Pope Francis, and the Armenian Genocide


The Kardashians at the Armenian Genocide Memorial, 10 April 2015


On April 24, 1915 over 200 Armenian intellectuals, clergy, lawmakers, and other leaders in Constantinople were arrested and sent by train to Ankara. Most of them were subsequently killed. This attack on the Armenian leadership was the opening chapter of a concerted genocidal campaign by the Ottoman government against its Armenian subjects. The deportations, slaughter, monumental land and property theft, and forced assimilation of widows and orphans decimated Armenian communities throughout Anatolia, Cilicia and other regions of what is now Turkey. Dispossessed and traumatized Armenians who survived these horrors were dispersed around the globe.

Armenians observe April 24th as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. April 2015 marks the centennial of the genocide, and there are commemorative events scheduled in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Paris, Istanbul, Diyarbakir, Yerevan, and around the world. The Turkish government, which has for decades mobilized denialist propaganda in textbooks, press accounts, academic conferences, and world forums to undercut Armenian claims, went so far this year as to move Gallipoli commemorative events—usually held on March 18 to mark the Battle of Çanakkale and also remembered on April 25th as Anzac Day—to April 24, 2015 in a bid to deflect attention on the occasion of the Armenian Genocide Centennial.

TV celebrity and social media sensation Kim Kardashian’s recent visit to Armenia generated an enormous volume of publicity about the Armenian Genocide in many unusual outlets, such as this piece on E Online: “Kardashians Take Armenia! 10 Fascinating Facts to Know about the Country’s Culture and History.” A carefully staged and art directed visit to the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial in Yerevan was widely reported, including on Buzzfeed. Kim’s sister Khloe Kardashian posted to her Instagram feed:

“My sister and I are trying to bring awareness not only to our Armenian genocide but genocides and human slaughter in general. Knowledge is power! If we know better than hopefully we shall do better. Genocides, massacres, human slaughter… are despicable acts attempting to wipe out an entire race is not what God intended. Educating people as to what happened in history is our duty. It is also our duty to not be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation no matter their race or creed. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

I’m on the board of Project 2015, an effort to organize a mass fly-in of Armenians for centennial commemorative events in Istanbul. Our team has been working with partners in Turkey for six months to plan a series of events, including a concert, an Armenian Heritage tour of Istanbul, a public outdoor vigil, an academic conference, and a public art ritual. I’ve been closely involved in the conceptualization of this final event, and drafted the press advisory that went out at the end of last week announcing the Wishing Tree Public Art Ritual to Honor Victims and Survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

On the eve of these commemorations, Pope Francis gave a public address in which he referred to the Armenian Genocide, thereby angering the Turkish government. While these centennial commemorations are an opportunity to focus the world’s attention on the Armenian Genocide, once the clamor has subsided we will continue our long struggle in a variety of forms and forums for justice and redress.



Nancy Kricorian