post archive

Childhood


No Friends But The Mountains

Armenian tent camp at Ras al-Ain circa 1916
Armenian tent camp at Ras al-Ain circa 1916

The past few days I’ve been saddened and appalled by the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish region of northeastern Syria. When I see in the news the name Ras al-Ain, a place that was bombed by Turkey yesterday, my heart clenches. Ras al-Ain was where my grandmother ended up in a tent camp, along with eight thousand other Armenian orphans, after the death marches of 1915. This most recent U.S. betrayal of the Kurds is seemingly the result of an impetuous decision by Trump on a phone call with Turkey’s president. I thought of the Kurdish proverb, “Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” The Turkish assault will likely bring an end to the Rojava experiment in democracy, and could well result in the resurgence of the Islamic State in the area. When I read that Armenian-inhabited areas of Syria had come under attack, I thought of the Armenian proverb, “Land of Armenians, land of sorrows.” By the end of Thursday, it was reported that most of the Armenian families had relocated from the conflict areas.

Many, including Republican U.S. Senators, the Armenian government, The European Union, and others, have denounced the Turkish incursion, recognizing it as an attempt to drive out the Kurds and repopulate the area with Syrian Arab refugees, who are increasingly unpopular in Turkey. When questioned about the Turkish offensive, euphemistically dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” and the heavy losses the Kurdish people will likely suffer, Trump said that the Kurds had never helped us in World War II, “they didn’t help us in Normandy,” therefore he wasn’t worried about it.

In response to widespread denunciation, Turkish President Erdogan lashed out at his EU critics, threatening to allow millions of Syrian refugees to “flood Europe.” As Ronan Burtenshaw, editor of The Tribune in the UK, pointed out on Twitter, “The EU has no moral high ground on this issue—it did a grubby refugee deal with Erdogan, leaving hundreds of thousands of people in his camps. Now he can use them to threaten us, and deliver talking points for the Far-Right in the process. Reap what you sow.”

The whole thing is gutting and infuriating, and with the garbage mountain of cruelty piling up around us on all sides and with regard to so many issues and causes, it’s hard to know what to do but sputter with helplessness and rage. But there are things to do—demonstrations to organize and attend, electoral campaigns to work on, and ways to help those in our communities targeted for harm. There’s another Armenian proverb I like to remember: “The voice of the people is louder than the roar of the cannon.”

Nancy Kricorian


Friends and Neighbors

Each day there is some new racist anti-immigrant policy announced by Trump and the cartoon villains who are running our country. As is by now apparent, with the Trump Administration’s immigration policies and practices, cruelty is the point. Their theater of cruelty is meant to rally their so-called base and to send a message to immigrants and would-be immigrants that they aren’t wanted in this country, unless they can, as acting director of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services Ken Cuccinelli put it, “stand on their own two feet,” by which he means unless they are wealthy, able-bodied, and preferably white.

Last week when ICE raided workplaces in Mississippi, arresting 680 people, the videos, photographs, and news reports about distraught children whose parents had been detained, leaving many kids without family care, were terrible. One little girl, who sobbed on camera begging for the release of her father, was particularly heartbreaking.

That night, I had nightmares about the three little Albanian girls whose family I have worked with through the New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) for 18 months and two little Honduran girls whose mother I had helped fill out an asylum application in early June at the NSC Pro Se Legal Clinic. In my dreams, the little girls were crying for their parents the way the kids in the Mississippi videos had done. But I actually know these kids. I have heard in great detail about the violence their parents had fled, and I have learned about the dire conditions in the countries from which they come. I also know about how fearful their parents are about the possibility of being detained and deported.

As part of her asylum application, J., the Honduran mom, wrote about the domestic violence she had suffered, and her reluctance to go to the police to report the abuse, which meant she didn’t have documentary evidence to support her claim. She said, “In countries like ours the only record of these violent events is in our memory. Unfortunately in my family there was a lot of domestic violence. I saw that my aunts were often beaten by their partners, and if they called the police, the abusers would go to jail for maybe one night. Unfortunately, in my country the police only believe you once you are put into a box and buried in a hole.”

Last Monday, as part of a NSC accompaniment, I went to immigration court with J. and her two girls, aged eight and six. The girls were hungry and bored because of the long wait outside the courtroom. People with attorneys are seen first, and those without lawyers can wait several hours or more for their turn. No food is allowed in the waiting area or in the courtroom, so I offered to take the girls to the cafeteria in the federal building while their mother awaited her turn before the immigration judge. The so-called cafeteria sold only chips, candy bars, cookies, and soft drinks, so they selected chocolate and chips. As we sat at the table eating and talking, the older girl said, “Would you be our grandma?” The little one said, “Can you also be our auntie?” I laughed. They laughed. But we were now friends.

The only way I can keep from descending into despair is by taking action, whether it is by helping people fill out asylum applications, by accompanying friends to immigration court, or by working with groups organizing against the cruelty. In New York City on August 10, over 100 people, among them members of the NYC DSA Immigrant Justice Working Group (to which I belong) were arrested in a #CloseTheCamps action that shut down the West Side Highway near an ICE field office on 26th Street. The next day, a coalition of #JewsAgainstICE protestors, including Never Again is Now and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, occupied an Amazon store in Manhattan to demand that Amazon cancel its contracts with ICE. In upstate New York, the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement has a rapid response network that sends out texts when ICE agents are spotted in town so people can drive to the location, offering support to their targeted neighbors, and often preventing detentions. This is the time to mobilize radical kindness and militant refusal in the face of their relentless cruelty.

Nancy Kricorian, New York City 2019


Remembering Eddie Baba

 

“Words from the Family”: Eulogy delivered on 23 July 2018

I want to thank Pastor Calvin Choi and the congregation of the Watertown Evangelical Church for welcoming us all here today to honor the memory of my father, Ed Kricorian. I want also to thank them for the warm and loving community that they have provided to my parents over the years.

Armenian Genocide survivors founded this church in 1937. It was then called the Armenian Brethren Church, and my grandparents Leo and Mary Kricorian were among its founding members. My father and his siblings grew up in this church, as did my sister and I. My grandfather’s funeral service took place here in 1962, and my grandmother’s in 1985. And we are here again today to say farewell to my father.

My father started driving the delivery truck for his father’s Lincoln Market when he was ten years old and could barely see over the steering wheel. He loved driving, and it was a hardship to him this past year when his poor health meant that he could no longer be behind the wheel. He never admitted that he wouldn’t drive again; he just said, “I’m not driving right now.” When he was no longer steady on his feet, we bought him a top-of-the-line walker, and after he got over his initial reluctance about using it in public, he called it the Lamborghini and offered passersby a chance to take it for a spin for a mere dollar. When he needed a transport chair, he called it the Cadillac Eldorado. And when a few months ago, he needed a mobility scooter, this he called the Rolls Royce.

In May my father was hospitalized for five days, and when he came home he was unable to walk. The physical therapist told him that if he worked hard enough and could walk down the hall to the elevator, and then walk through the garage to get to his Rolls, he could take it for a spin. This was Eddie’s goal, and despite the pain in his legs and his shortness of breath, he was determined that he would drive the Rolls again.

And he did. On the Thursday before he died, my dad took the Rolls out, with Calvin trotting at his side, and they came over to the church to see the finally finished new steps, steps that were sadly impossible for him to climb. My dad wanted more than anything to come inside this church again. He said to Calvin, “Do you think some of the guys could help me up the stairs?” Calvin said, “Sure, Eddie. And if they can’t, I’ll put you on my back and carry you up myself.”

My father had been praying for God to take him home since last October. He said he was ready to go, but I think he wasn’t quite ready until this month. He wanted to celebrate his 60th wedding anniversary with my mother, whose devotion he treasured and whom he adored. They marked that milestone in April. And he wanted the reconstruction of the church steps to be completed so his service could be held in this sanctuary. He had said on more than one occasion that he prayed he could go to sleep, and then open his eyes in heaven. On Friday, July 13, he fell asleep in his recliner and that’s exactly what happened.

We all miss him—his kindness, his stubbornness, his harmonica playing, his funny stories, and the messages he wrote for us on bananas and melons. But he’s not suffering any more, and as the Armenian proverb puts it,

The water goes, the sand remains; the person dies, the memory stays.

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


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

 


Poem for My Father’s Voice

 

Visiting my parents in Watertown this week, after my father’s return from a recent hospitalization, reminded of me of this poem I wrote many years ago. Thought it was a good moment to pull it from the archive. 

 

Poem for My Father’s Voice

“Show me,” I’d say, “show me
exactly where in the Bible
it says that dancing is a sin.”
He wouldn’t argue, and even if
I made it to school dances,
my body was lead; I couldn’t move
hearing his long silence.
I never gave up, though; I’d worry
him like a dog worries a squirrel
up a tree, going crazy for wanting
a fight. When I was in college,
I’d take Vermont Transit home
and cross Harvard Yard to meet him
at the store; he peeled off the red
apron and white coat, ran upstairs
to punch out on the clock, and
on the ride home, we’d talk.
His favorite topic was the weather,
until it became a joke between us,
like the popsicle-stick cathedrals
he wanted to build when he retired
until I embarrassed him out of it.
I imagined him gluing and placing sticks
for hours at the table, looking
like an overgrown camper.

Years away from home sanded the edges
off anger; on our rides to and from
the airport or the train, he talked,
and now I didn’t know what to say.
He told me his whole life had been
a waste, except for my mother.
Another time he said, “When I get
to heaven, God will make me perfect,
and I won’t be stupid any more.”
His father had called him
“mentally bankrupt” when he was
a kid working at the family market,
driving deliveries at ten, the cops
kept off with bribes of meat and
butter. “It was during the war,”
he told me, “meat was scarce.”

The last time I came to town, he
explained the doctor wanted to take
a vein from his leg. When he stands
at the block, my father works the knife
in his right hand, leans into
the left leg, and now blood
seeps through the vein making
brown patches under the skin
near the ankle. He pulled up
his pant-leg and rolled down the sock.
He said, “It makes me think of my father.
They took his foot, his calf, then
the leg, and I know it’s not the same,
but I can’t help thinking of it.”

I imagine the dreams at night,
his father’s lost leg hovering
near the ceiling, and his mother’s
heart, so small and tight, moved
into his body. Her pills are now his,
nitro-glycerin under the pillow
of the tongue. I remember times
when I yelled at him, “I hate you,
you’re so stupid.” I liked the sound
of my voice tearing into him, and
wanted to bury him with words. He’d say,
“Shut up. Do you hear me? Shut up.”

 

 

 

Originally published in RIVER STYX Literary Magazine, Number 32, Fall 1990

 

Nancy Kricorian


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

 


From the Archive: The Rapture

A Jesus Sky portending the Second Coming of Christ

A Jesus Sky portending the Second Coming of Christ

This poem from the archive, which was published in the Spring 1988 issue of The Graham House Review, has been on my mind lately as the incoming Trump Administration has announced its cabinet picks, with “End Times” Evangelical Christians among them. I was raised in the Armenian Evangelical Church, and a copy of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth was on the end table next to my father’s armchair. As a child I had been coached to ask Jesus into my heart as my Lord and Savior, but I was never entirely convinced that my attempts had been successful (I have a poem about this experience as well). One New Year’s Eve I went to church with my grandmother where we watched a film that enacted what would happen in the during Christ’s Second Coming. Fortunately, the movie didn’t cover the more terrifying aspects: The Tribulation, the Anti-Christ, or Armageddon. It just showed The Rapture, the taking up of believers. A pilot disappeared from his seat in the cockpit. A man rolled over in bed to find his wife gone. A Christian singer disappeared from a performance on a television talk show, the microphone fallen to the stage floor. “The Rapture” was an account of the fate I had envisioned awaiting me.

 

The Rapture

 

 

I imagined coming down the back walk

after school, swinging my lunch box

and the thermos shifting inside.

 

Today was different, something odd

about the light breaking

from behind the clouds in ribbons.

 

My grandmother was not on the back porch.

The kitchen table was spread with flour

and dough rising under its towel, dirty bowls

in the sink, my mother nowhere to be seen.

 

And then I knew: the Second Coming.

Jesus had taken them, the believers,

from the fist of the heart to the tips

of the fingers and shining eyes.

 

The whole family, snapped up

in broad daylight while I walked home,

uninvited, unasked, abandoned.

 

I sat on the back step with the cat,

another unbeliever, waiting for the Beast,

the bloody water, the Tribulation.

Nancy Kricorian


Roses in June

pinkroses

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


My Father Said That’s the Devil’s Work

 

sante

 From the archive, a poem originally published in THE GRAHAM HOUSE REVIEW in Spring 1988.

 

My Father Said That’s the Devil’s Work

 

What I passed the Underwood Devilled Ham factory
on our street, he pointed his pitchfork at me.

Satan’s fingers grazed my heels as I stormed
up the cellar stairs, his steamy breath behind.

He was down the bathtub drain ready to wrap
his weedy arms around my legs. I wedged the plug

into the gateway to Hell. He crouched at the foot
of my bed, and I slept pressed into the headboard

away from his flickering tongue. He whispered
swear words into my ear while I dreamed.

Years later, I finally met him in Paris.
He smoked Greek cigarettes called Santé.

In a hotel room in the Marais, he pulled me
to the floor. We kept the shutters closed all week.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


Lucky Penny

1956 Wheat Penny

1956 Wheat Penny

 

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

 ~ American proverb

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Nancy Kricorian