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Advice for the Longest Year

Detail of Liza Lou’s Kitchen (1991-1996)

Yesterday when I started drafting this blog post, I ended up spending two hours writing about the December 11th killing of Barnard Freshman Tess Majors in Morningside Park and the subsequent NYPD Security Theater outside my kitchen window. I realized there was nothing edifying, informative, or helpful in what I had written, although it was cathartic for me, and so I put it in the failed drafts folder.

We made it through a turbulent 2019, and we’re now into a new year that started with an illegal and provocative assassination of an Iranian General and, if anxiety and incertitude are a measure of length, this very long year will continue with the longest Presidential election cycle in human history. So herewith is my “listicle” of ways to maintain sanity and equilibrium in 2020, which was composed in part in the middle of the night as I turned in my bed like a rotisserie chicken.

1. ORGANIZE: Housing is a Human Right

Read about #Moms4Housing in Oakland, and how community organizing turned a violent eviction into a big win. This is an inspiring story, and something to build upon.

2. ORGANIZE AGAIN: Why We Need A Green New Deal

Listen to The Dig Podcast Episode “Planet to Win,” a detailed and hopeful discussion about how the Green New Deal might change America for the better.

3. WATCH A GOOD FILM

Go see Kitty Green’s The Assistant, a brilliant and dark film about one day in the life of the junior assistant of an abusive boss. It’s not just about predation—it’s also gimlet-eyed view on capitalist exploitation of young people. The film is poised to become part of a movement to change the culture of Hollywood. Watch the trailer here. Opening in NYC and LA on January 31, theaters and show times may be found here.

4. MAKE COMFORT FOOD

Order a copy of Lavash: The Bread That Launched 1,000 Meals, Plus Salads, Stews, and Other Recipes From Armenia, and cook an Armenian meal for your loved ones. You can read more about the book and try sample recipes here and here.

5. ORGANIZE SOME MORE: #NotMeUS

Read this Jacobin piece about why Bernie Sanders is the candidate who can beat Trump, watch this moving campaign video, and join the #NotMeUs movement.

6. LAUGH

In response to the New York Times’ ridiculous double endorsement of Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren for president, read Alexandra Petri’s hilarious takedown, “In a Break From Tradition, I am Endorsing All 12 Democratic Candidates.”

7. LISTEN TO MUSIC

Onnik Dinkjian’s many decades of performing Armenian folk music is covered in this piece from Houshamadyan, and it includes recordings of some of Dinkjian’s most beloved songs.

8. SEEK OUT WISDOM

Listen to Grace Paley read her short story “Traveling”, and read Walter Mosley’s loving remembrance of Toni Morrison. Read also these beautiful poems from Kurdistan.

9.  LEARN SOMETHING NEW

American linguists have recently voted the singular “they” as the word of the decade. And Ivan Coyote’s 2014 piece “Fear and Loathing in Public Bathrooms” helped expand my thinking about the tyranny of the gender binary.

10. LOOK FOR BEAUTY

Last week I went to the Whitney Museum to see Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950-2019. There were a lot of great pieces in the show, but I was absolutely bowled over by Liza Lou’s KITCHEN, a life-sized beaded room filled with furniture, appliances, pots, pans, cereal boxes, and more that took the artist five years to produce. The show is up through January 2021, and a new show of Mexican muralists will be opening at the Whitney in February so you could take in both.

11. GO FOR A WALK IN THE WOODS

I’ve been reading out-of-print books by naturalist and writer Alan Devoe, who lived down the road from our house in the country from the 1930’s to the mid-50’s. In the middle of World War II, which was a time of destruction, violence, and despair on a global scale, Devoe wrote, “It is good, for instance, just to shut off the radio for a while, throw away the newspaper, and go out into the warm darkness of a country night and listen to the frogs.” He also recommended listening to the wrens singing, and said, “They are singing directly into our aboriginal ears, an information that all the pessimists and pedants are mistaken, and the life adventure is a greater and gladder thing than mere learnedness might ever surmise.”

Nancy Kricorian


Respect Your Process

Turkish translations of DREAM OF BREAD AND FIRE and ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS

When I was in college, I studied for one semester with a poet who dispensed counsel the way my grandmother handed out hard candies. This poet told me that if my boyfriend didn’t make me feel like I was the most beautiful woman in the world, he wasn’t doing his job and I should fire him. Another memorable bit of advice was about writing, and left her lisping voice echoing in my head with this mantra, “Respect your process.”

During my student days, I was prolific. I wrote a poem a day in long hand on narrow ruled yellow notepads, and often they sprang fully formed from my head like Athena. I rarely revised, and often didn’t even type them. I would bring them to my professor on the yellow notepads, he would make a few comments, and say, “Just keep writing.” And so I wrote and wrote and wrote. In graduate school I learned about revision, and often took a poem through ten or more drafts before I was satisfied with it and moved on to the next one. This was in the old days when it was possible to keep track of drafts because I typed each one on a sheet of paper using an IBM Selectric Typewriter.

By the time I started working on my first novel, Zabelle, I was writing on a computer. Gone were the yellow lined note pads for the first draft, and gone also was the stuttering and humming electric typewriter. The only way I could think of attempting something so long and unwieldy as a novel was by breaking the task into story chapters. I had the stamina to write one ten-page chapter, and after that was done, I started the next. Once I had a stack of these chapters, I figured out how they fit together and then rewrote them so they made a coherent, if episodic, narrative. Revising a text that was two hundred and seventy pages long was a much more daunting prospect than rewriting a one- or two-page poem. By the time I got through the last chapter, I went back to the beginning and noticed more things that needed fixing, and went over the whole thing once again. Working on a computer, there was a lot of continuous fiddling with bits here and there, so it was harder to keep track of how many drafts I did, but it was probably upwards of three before I even sent it to my agent. With her suggestions, I did another draft before she showed it to the editor. There was another pass with the editor’s notes before the production process started. The copy editor did a thorough once over, and then it was done. This was pretty much how it went with my two subsequent novels, Dreams of Bread and Fire and All the Light There Was.

You would think that the fourth time I approached this kind of project, I’d march ahead with assurance. But no, when I started writing my latest novel, I felt as though I were at the bottom of an enormous mountain peering up at a peak that was enshrouded in clouds. How would I ever manage to get to the top? I’m a slow writer—in part because I do a massive amount of research before I start writing, and because other aspects of my life (my family’s needs and challenges, my geriatric dogs, my work as an organizer, as well as the distractions of our calamitous political moment) often crowd out my writing. I can’t write for more than two hours a day. I used to be able to produce two pages in two hours, but now I eke out one page a day.

At one point over a year ago, I said to my spouse in despair, “How am I ever going to get this thing done?” He answered, “If you write one page a day, you’ll eventually finish it.” In other words, “Respect your process.” And much to my surprise, at the end of October I printed out a completed rough draft of this novel about an Armenian family in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. It opens with this same family in New York on 9/11, and ends with a folk tale about a girl who talks with birds. It’s rough, and it needs a lot of work. But it’s done, and my first and most trusted reader, the aforementioned spouse, confirmed that the structure is sound—this was my biggest worry. 

I took a hiatus from the novel so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes. While on this break, I wrote a talk that I delivered on a panel at Columbia on November 20, which was published last week by the Armenian Weekly. Also in November, Egg & Spoon Theatre Collective staged an off-off-Broadway adaptation of Zabelle. My novel All the Light There Was recently appeared in Turkish translation from Aras in Istanbul, which had previously published Dreams of Bread and Fire. And three weeks ago I saw the cover of the Arabic translation of Zabelle, which will be published in February 2020 by Fawasel Books in Syria.

And now it’s time to get back to work.

Nancy Kricorian


Weaponizing History

This week the U.S. House of Representatives, in a rare moment of bipartisanship and in a rebuke to the Turkish government, overwhelmingly passed a resolution acknowledging the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923. The lead sponsor of the bill, California Democrat Adam Schiff, said, “Given that the Turks are once again involved in ethnic cleansing—this time the Kurds who live along the Turkish-Syrian border—it seemed all the more appropriate to bring up a resolution about Ottoman efforts to annihilate an entire people in the Armenian genocide.”

The day before the vote, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, my friend Khatchig Mouradian, lecturer at Columbia University, called on Congress to take a principled stand on the issue, saying, “The bipartisan sport of killing Armenian genocide bills and weaponizing the suffering of its victims must end. By passing this resolution, the House can help ensure that the Armenian genocide is acknowledged and commemorated, but no longer exploited.”

The final tally on H. Res. 296 was 405 yeas, 11 nays, and 3 presents. One of the most perplexing and disappointing votes was that of Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, who released a statement explaining her present vote that included a sentence echoing Turkish government propaganda on the issue: “But accountability and recognition of genocide should not be used as cudgel in a political fight. It should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics.” As Turkish President Erdogan phrased it in December 2018, “On the question of genocide, please let’s leave the discussions to the Historians and let’s listen to what the Historians have to say.” Despite a century of Turkish denial, both Omar and Erdogan should know that there is extensive historical documentation and overall consensus on the issue. And, as Armenians, Kurds, and Palestinians well know, how could a political gesture happen outside the push and pull of geopolitics?

Predictably enough, the day after the vote, as part of a televised speech to members of his party, Erdogan denounced the U.S. House of Representatives, saying, “The countries who have stains of genocide, slavery, colonialism in their history have no right to give lessons to Turkey.” Part of the problem with these demagogues, such as Erdogan and Trump, is that there is always some twisted truth in their outrageous statements. Yes, the U.S. has its own shameful history of genocide, slavery, and colonialism, and yes, the timing of this vote had to do with Congress’s fury over Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds and Turkey’s incursion into Syria, and yet, this Congressional resolution was long overdue.

Generations of Armenian-Americans have been working for decades to prod the U.S. government to take a stand on this issue. In 1984, Congress passed a resolution designating April 24, 1985 as “National Day of Remembrance of Man’s Inhumanity to Man,” stipulating it should be “a day of remembrance for all the victims of genocide, especially the one and one-half million people of Armenian ancestry who were the victims of the genocide perpetrated in Turkey between 1915 and 1923, and in whose memory this date is commemorated by all Armenians and their friends throughout the world.” A companion bill was introduced but never passed in the Senate. It is unlikely that a companion version of this week’s House Resolution 296 will make it through the Senate. But this vote in the House, which was due in large part to grassroots organizing, has again put Armenian history on the front pages of newspapers around the world.

One hundred years of denial makes this tragic history an open wound for Armenians, and for Armenians the images of Kurds being driven from their lands are dismally familiar and even traumatizing. This gesture by the U.S. Congress doesn’t undo any of that, but it does mean that for a brief moment we aren’t being “gaslighted.” Our history has been described, discussed, and acknowledged. This isn’t justice, but it is meaningful and important.

In an interview with France 24, Khatchig offered this sage analysis:

After decades of denial, it has become very difficult to come to terms with the past. Turkey is also worried about what would follow an acknowledgment: Reparations for the utter dispossession and destruction of an entire nation…But it’s also important to note that in recent years, in Turkish civil society, there have been many intellectuals, scholars, writers who HAVE spoken out on the importance of confronting the past and delivering some measure of justice to the victims of genocide.

Garo Paylan, an ethnic Armenian Minister of Parliament in Turkey from the pro-minority leftist HDP party, wrote on Twitter: “US Congress has recognized the Armenian Genocide. Because my own country has been denying this for 105 years, our tragedy is discussed in other world parliaments. The real healing for Armenians will come when we can talk about the Armenian Genocide in Turkey’s own parliament.”

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


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


The Kim Kardashian of Ducks

 

The beautiful celebrity duck of Central Park, a solo male Mandarin Duck, was first sighted at the pond near 5th Avenue and 59th Street in early October. Mandarin Ducks are not native to North America, and it has been speculated that the duck was an escaped or released pet. In October, I was more interested in the birds flying through the city during the fall migration. The hordes of people lining up to take a look at the Mandarin Duck also kept me away. Standing in a long line waiting for a turn to take a photo of an exotic pet was not appealing.

 

As the weeks went by, the duck kept attracting crowds, its comings and goings were assiduously tracked, and it drew lots of media coverage in The Gothamist, The Cut, The Guardian, The New York Times, CNN, ABC News, and other outlets. In early December the New York Times ran a new article entitled, “The Hot Duck That Won’t Go Away.” The Times piece quoted a disgruntled birder who was annoyed by all the publicity, and the hysteria, surrounding the bird. He said that the Mandarin was essentially “the Kim Kardashian of ducks.”

 

I will admit that this reference to Kim K. piqued my interest, and when a few days later my friend Marie Lee proposed a joint foray into the park to find the superstar waterfowl, I agreed. As we entered the park at 59th Street, we could tell by the small crowd assembled on the north side of the pond where we would locate the duck. As the weather has grown colder, the crowds have thinned so we were able to go immediately to the edge of the pond. And there he was, splendid and colorful, and really so photogenic. The Mandarin Duck, unfazed by its fans, paddled around among the pairs of Mallards, along with a pretty male Wood Duck, and an American Coot. When I pointed out the Coot—and its prehistoric looking lobed toes—Marie asked, “Is that where the expression ‘old coot’ comes from?” Yes indeed.

 

The Mandarin Duck was definitely worth the trip, although the hype—Mandarin Duck manicures, Mandarin Duck dog jackets—is a bit much. I felt a little sad that I’m not a winter birder as I read about the Saw-Whet Owls and other raptors that people have been sighting in the park. Gabriel Willow, who runs birding classes for NYC Audubon, told me, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.” But I hate the cold, and I don’t have the proper gear, so I’m on birding hiatus until the Spring Migration, except for watching the Dark-eyed Juncos, Tufted Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees, and other birds I can see from my kitchen window in the country.

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City

 

 


Sanctuary

 

 

 

My heart has been heavy this past week, pained by the violence and cruelty unleashed by the vile rhetoric of the people who are running our country. But just yesterday afternoon I had some good news. I heard that the regional director of USCIS has agreed to consider a Congressman’s request for deferred action on behalf of two of his constituents, my Albanian friends, whom I will call Rovena and Altin.

 

In August, an ICE officer told Rovena and Altin that they had 90 days to leave the country. Their stay of removal had been turned down, and they would have to take their three young daughters back to Albania. The girls speak no Albanian, and have known no other home than Brooklyn, where the family has lived for thirteen years. The threat of imminent deportation was terrifying and heartbreaking for the parents, the kids, and for everyone who loves them, including me.

 

I first met my Albanian friends through the New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) Accompaniment Program in March, and had been at their monthly ICE check-ins during the spring and summer. I had also worked with them at the NSC Pro Se Immigration Legal Clinic through the summer, consulting with volunteer attorneys and with NSC staff about their options.

 

Rovena and I met with a dedicated and passionate immigration caseworker in a Congressman’s office, and we three put together an appeal to the regional director of ICE and his counterpart at USCIS. The request was that, in consideration of the possibly irreparable harm deportation would cause the three girls, their parents be granted discretionary deferred action. The Congressman wrote a letter, and we assembled binders including a family psychological evaluation, a declaration of country conditions from an expert on Albania, along with photos of and school reports for each of the girls, plus dozens of letters from the family’s employers, teachers, neighbors, and relatives attesting to their importance in the community.

 

Yesterday’s news does not mean that they are safe—but it’s a small victory. It means that the dossiers will be read, the ICE deportation clock is stopped, and that there is a chance that they will be allowed to stay.

 

With all the anti-immigrant rhetoric and racist policies being generated daily, so many families and individuals are at risk. There are eleven million undocumented immigrants in this country. There are thousands of Central American asylum seekers making an exodus through Mexico hoping to find safety in our communities, and in response the current administration is sending thousands of U.S. troops to the border and whipping up white supremacist terror in the hopes of swaying the mid-term elections.

 

As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor put it in a recent public FB post: “Instead of parroting the calculated fear mongering of this administration, our side needs sobriety, an analysis, and a strategy centered on building solidarity with the most targeted communities while placing an urgent emphasis on direct action and movement building and mobilization.”

 

To that end, I invite you all to support the SANCTUARY CARAVAN: “We are resolved to form a U.S. Caravan of supporters who will meet the Central American Caravan in Mexico, witness their movement, and accompany them into the U.S. At the border, we will assist those seeking entry with their demands to enter the US without losing their liberty.”

 

If the Democrats don’t manage to take control of the House next week, it will be grim. But even if they do, we can’t count on the politicians to save us. Choose your lane, find your people, and let’s start building the world we want to see.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

1 November 2018

New York City

 

 

 


Solace

In Central Park last week, on a bird walk in the North Woods led by an Audubon Society naturalist, we saw a Cooper’s Hawk perched regally in a tree, an immature Great Blue Heron fishing in the Loch, four Northern Flickers, and a half dozen species of warblers that were passing through on their way south, in addition to the abundant Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, European Starlings, and American Robins that call the park home. The fall wildflowers—Canada Goldenrod, Cardinal Flower, Great Blue Lobelia, White Snakeroot, Spotted Jewelweed, and several varieties of Aster—were in bloom. When the cruel and venal doings of human animals are cause for despair, I take solace in the natural world.

 

I was considering delaying this post until after the Kavanagh “situation” had resolved itself one way or the other, assuming that we will be flattened by despair when the Republicans steamroller the Democrats and the rest of us. It has been almost eviscerating to watch the hearings and then follow the sham FBI probe, and the change in tack by the Republicans to undermine and insult the women who came forward with accusations. I have been “triggered” by Kavanagh’s words, his gestures, his petulance, and his arrogance. I wasn’t alone—tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of women were angry, distraught, and horrified by the spectacle of ruling class white male privilege and power that played out in the Senate hearings and in the political maneuvering that followed.

 

Each day there is a new assault on our values and the most vulnerable among us—migrant children warehoused in a tent camp in Texas, gay diplomats’ partners denied visas, the planned weakening of mercury regulations, and revisions to the Department of Justice web site reflecting a harsher stance on kids who are accused of crimes, to name just a few.

 

But we can’t let them beat us down into apathy and hopelessness. We have to remember the great Soviet Jewish writer Vasily Grossman’s admonition: “In the cruel and terrible time in which our generation has been condemned to live on this earth, we must never make peace with evil. We must never become indifferent to others or undemanding of ourselves.” Grossman lived through World War II, he was a journalist traveling with Russian troops as they liberated Treblinka, his mother was murdered during the massacre at Berdichev, and he survived Stalin’s purges, although his masterwork, the incredible World War II novel Life and Fate, was “arrested” by the Soviets and was not published until after his death.

 

As Grossman put it: “Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness.” I am not so sanguine as to think that individual acts of kindness are enough in the face of the systemic violence and the cruel policies that we are confronting, many of which are just harsher and unapologetic versions of policies that were put in place during previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic. But while we do all that we can through making irate phone calls to elected officials, joining in strategic electoral organizing, supporting grassroots campaigns run by unions and groups on the front lines, and volunteering with local organizations advocating for the most vulnerable people, creatures, landscapes, and institutions, we can also try to make the world a little less dismal by being kind.

 

Charles Aznavour, French-Armenian singer, songwriter, actor, and philanthropist, died this week, and I leave you with an old blog post about his family’s small role in the French Resistance and a video of a classic performance of his song “La Bohème.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Open Letter on LGBT Rights in Armenia

 

20 August 2018

Letter to the Armenian Prime Minister, Minister of Interior, Minister of Justice, Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Armenian political parties, and global Armenian organizations:

(Press release here.)

The recent attack on nine people, among them LGBT activists, in the village of Shurnukh in the Syunik region of Armenia reflects a disturbing and persistent pattern of hatred and discrimination against the Armenian LGBT community. Reportedly, the police have launched an investigation, questioned the victims and detained several suspected attackers on 3 August, releasing them the next day, but apparently have not brought charges against anyone. It is particularly disturbing that at least one member of parliament, Gevorg Petrosyan, from the Tsarukyan Faction, called forthe expulsion of LGBT persons from Armenia on his Facebookpage. While the statement of the Office of the Human Rights Defenderwas a welcome gesture, alone it is insufficient.

The Armenian government urgently must address the policies, laws and social and political climate that continue to foster intolerance and violence against the LGBT community of Armenia. Without a clear plan for legislative and policy reform and education, such attacks will continue and the Armenian government will have failed to protect the LGBT community from violence and discrimination.

The law in Armenia fails to provide equal rights to LGBT persons in Armenia (see statement from Amnesty International). Armenian law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals in employment, housing, or social benefits, nor does it sanction as hate crimes attacks against LGBT persons. The new government of Armenia has brought hope to many around the world that there will be true reform in the country to address issues of transparency, fairness, and equality. Reforms in the LGBT arena should be part of this promise for a new age. Outdated and false justifications based on “religion”, “culture” and “values” can no longer cover for hatred, violence and intolerance against Armenian LGBT persons.

We call on the Armenian government:

* to establish an agenda and timetable for legislative reform to grant LGBT persons in Armenia equality under the law;

* to propose a plan to promote tolerance and respect throughout society for LGBT persons, including through the issuance of public statements and the establishment of a public education program;

* to issue a statement condemning all attacks against LGBT persons and a commitment to investigating and punishing perpetrators and providing protection for LGBT persons.

We call on Armenian political parties to clearly express their support for such a reform agenda and plan, and to issue their own condemnations of attacks against the LGBT community. Every Armenian voter is entitled to know where each party stands on these issues.

We call on international Armenian organizations, including Armenian churches of all denominations, to clearly express their support for such a reform agenda and plan, and to issue their own condemnations of attacks against the LGBT community. Every Armenian around the world who supports these organizations deserves to know where they stand on these issues.

Signatories

Armenian Progressive Youth NGO (Armenia)

Association Hyestart (Switzerland)

Charjoum (France)

Collectif de Soutien aux Militants Arméniens Jugés à Paris (France)

GALAS (Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society) (U.S.)

Nor Zartonk (Turkey)

PINK Armenia (Armenia)

Women’s Resource Center (Armenia)

Women’s Support Center (Armenia)

Lena Adishian; Nancy Agabian; Liana Aghajanian; Lara Aharonian; Areg Anjargolyan; Michelle Andonian; Michael Aram; Nora Armani; Sophia Armen; Mika Artyan; Sevag Arzoumanian; Sebouh Aslanian; Anna Astvatsaturian-Turcotte; Dr. Arlene Voski Avakian; Sona Avakian; Manuk Avedikyan; Leslie Ayvazian; Dr. Art Babayants; Miganouche Lucy Baghramian; Sarkis Balkhian; David Barsamian; Anthony J. Barsamian; Nanore Barsoumian; Houri Berberian; Vahe Berberian; Paul Boghossian, FAAAS; Eric Bogosian; Chris Bohjalian; Haig Boyadjian; Deanne Cachoian-Schanz; Hovig Cancioglu; Talar Chahinian; Patricia Constantinian; Sylvia Dakessian; Tad Demir; Andrew Demirjian; Adrineh Der-Boghossian; Silvina Der Meguerditchian; Ani Eblighatian; Lerna Ekmekcioglu; Dahlia Elsayed; Ayda Erbal; Shant Fabricatorian; Linda Ganjian; Lenna Garibian; Houry  Geudelekian; Yeriche Gorizian; Rachel Goshgarian; Veken Gueyikian; Dr. Kaiane Habeshian; Maral Habeshian; Avedis Hadjian; Nonny Hogrogian; Mamikon Hovsepyan; Rafi Hovsepyan; Tamar Hovsepian; Arminé Iknadossian; Asthghik Iknatian, MS, CRC, LCPC; Dr. Armine Ishkanian; Rupen Janbazian; Audrey Kalajian; Makrouhi Kalayjian; Ani Kasparian; Nina Katchadourian; Olivia Katrandjian; Nora Kayserian; Nishan Kazazian, AIA; Alice A. Kelikian; Shushan Kerovpyan; Virginia Pattie Kerovpyan; Vivan Kessedjian; Amy L. Keyishian; Harry Keyishian; Michelle Khazaryan; Kyle Khandikian; David Kherdian; Anna Spano Kirkorian; Taline Kochayan; H. Lola Koundakjian; Nancy Kricorian; Susan Kricorian; Anaid Krikorian; Stephanie Kundakjian; Helen Makhdoumian; Marc Mamigonian; Shahe Mankerian; Christina Maranci; Elodie Mariani; Jeannie Markarian; Armen Marsoobian; Alina Martiros; Maro Matosian; Anna Mehrabyan; Markar Melkonian; Astghik Melkonyan; Sonia Merian; Ara H. Merjian; Takouhie Mgrditchian; Oksana Mirzoyan; Tro Momajian; Mark A. Momjian, Esqu.; Rachel O. Nadjarian; Carolann S. Najarian, MD; Arthur Nersesian; Marc Nichanian; FIlor Nighoghosian; Aline Ohanesian; Dr. Janice Dzovinar Okoomian; Norayr Olgar; Sevana Panosian; Hrag Papazian; Susan Pattie; Natalie Samarjian; Karineh Samkian; Caroline Saradjian; Alex Sardar; Nelli Sargsyan; Razmik Sarkissian; Aram Saroyan; Judith Saryan; Audrey Selian; Elyse Semerdjian; Anna Shahnazaryan; Lori A. Sinanian; Thomas Stepanian; Vahe Tachjian; Anoush F. Terjanian; Dr. Anita Toutikian; Scout Tufankjian; Anahid Ugurlayan; Hrag Vartanian; Dr. Nicole Vartanian; Armen Voskeridjian, MD; Chaghig Minassian Walker; Raffi Joe Wartanian; Sarah Leah Whitson; Anahid Yahjian; Laura Yardumian; Grigor Yeritsyan; Michael Zadoorian; Laura Zarougian; Lena Zinner, UCSD ‘18

Armenian:

20 Օգոստոս 2018

Բաց նամակ Հայաստանի վարչապետին, Հայաստանի Հանրապետության Ոստիկանապետին, Արդարադատության նախարարին, Սփյուռքի նախարարին, Հայաստանի քաղաքական կուսակցություններին և միջազգային հայկական կազմակերպություններին.

Հայաստանի Սյունիքի մարզի Շուռնուխ գյուղում վերջերս տեղի ունեցած հարձակումը ինը հոգու վրա, որոնց մեջ կային ԼԳԲՏ ակտիվիստներ, ԼԳԲՏ համայնքի նկատմամբ ատելությունը և խտրականությունը պատկերող անհանգստացնող և ցայտուն օրինակ է: Համաձայն հաղորդման՝ ոստիկանությունը հետաքննություն է սկսել, ըստ որի օգոստոսի 3-ին հարցաքննել է զոհերին և ձերբակալել է մի քանի կասկածյալների և հաջորդ օրը ազատ է արձակել նրանց, սակայն, ըստ երևույթին որևէ մեկին մեղադրանք չի ներկայացվել: Մասնավորապես մտահոգիչ էր այն, որ Ազգային ժողովի պատգամավոր Գևորգ Պետրոսյանը (Ծառուկյան դաշինքից)իր ֆեյսբուքյան էջում կոչ է արել Հայաստանից հեռացնել ԼԳԲՏ անձանց : ՉնայածՄարդու իրավունքների պաշտպանի գրասենյակի հայտարարությունըշատ ողջունելի ժեստ էր, սակայն միայն դա բավարար չէ:

Հայաստանի կառավարությունը պետք է շտապ քայլեր ձեռնարկի այն քաղաքականության, օրենքների և սոցիալ-քաղաքական մթնոլորտի փոփոխման ուղղությամբ, որոնք շարունակում են խթանել Հայաստանի ԼԳԲՏ համայնքի նկատմամբ անհանդուրժողականությունն ու բռնությունը: Առանց հստակ օրենսդրական, քաղաքական բարեփոխումների և կրթական ծրագրի, նման հարձակումները կշարունակվեն և Հայաստանի կառավարությունը չի կարող պաշտպանել ԼԳԲՏ համայնքը բռնությունից ու խտրականությունից:

Հայաստանի օրենսդրությունը չի ապահովում Հայաստանում ԼԳԲՏ անձանց հավասար իրավունքներ (տես՝ Amnesty International- ի հաշվետվությունը): Հայաստանի օրենսդրությունը չի արգելում խտրականությունը ԼԳԲՏ անձանց նկատնամբ աշխատանքի, բնակարանային կամ սոցիալական նպաստների հարցերում, ինչպես նաև չի սահմանում որպես ատելության հիմքով իրագործված հանցագործություն (hate crime) ԼԳԲՏ անձանց նկատմամբ իրականացված հարձակումները: Հայաստանի նոր կառավարությունը շատերին հույս է ներշնչել, որ երկրում կլինեն իրական բարեփոխումներ թափանցիկության, արդարության և հավասարության հարցերի շուրջ: ԼԳԲՏ հիմնախնդիրների  բարեփոխումները պետք է լինեն այս նոր խոստումների մի մասը: «Կրոնի», «մշակույթի» և «արժեքների» վրա հիմնված հնացած և կեղծ հիմնավորումներն այլևս չեն կարող քողարկել ատելությունը, բռնությունն ու անհանդուրժողականությունը Հայաստանի ԼԳԲՏ անձանց նկատմամբ:

Մենք կոչ ենք անում Հայաստանի կառավարությանը.

  • սահմանել օրենսդրական բարեփոխումների ժամանակացույց և օրակարգ, որպեսզի ԼԳԲՏ անձանց տրամադրվի օրենքով սահմանված հավասար իրավունքներ.
  • առաջարկել ծրագիր, որը կնպաստի ԼԳԲՏ անձանց նկատմամբ հասարակության մեջ հանդուրժողականությանն ու հարգանքի խթանմանը՝ հրապարակային հայտարարությունների և հանրային կրթական ծրագրերի ստեղծման միջոցով.
  • հանդես գալ ԼԳԲՏ անձանց դեմ ուղղված բոլոր հարձակումները դատապարտող և մեղավորներին հետաքննելու, պատժելու և ԼԳԲՏ անձանց պաշտպանելու պարտավորությունները կատարելու հայտարարությամբ:

Մենք կոչ ենք անում Հայաստանի քաղաքական կուսակցություններին հստակ արտահայտել իրենց աջակցությունը նման բարեփոխումների օրակարգին և ծրագրին, և  դատապարտել ԼԳԲՏ համայնքի դեմ հարձակումները: Հայաստանի յուրաքանչյուր ընտրող իրավունք ունի իմանալ, թե ինչ դիրքորոշում ունի յուրաքանչյուր կուսակցություն այս հարցերի շուրջ:

Մենք կոչ ենք անում միջազգային հայկական կազմակերպություններին, ներառյալ բոլոր դավանանքների հայկական եկեղեցիներին, իրենց աջակցությունը ցուցաբերել նման բարեփոխումների օրակարգին և ծրագրին, և  դատապարտել ԼԳԲՏ համայնքի դեմ հարձակումները: Աշխարհի յուրաքանչյուր հայ, որն աջակցում է այս կազմակերպություններին, իրավունք ունի իմանալ, թե ինչ դիրքորոշում ունեն նրանք այս հարցերում:

 

Ստորագրող կողմեր ​​

«Հայ առաջադեմ երիտասարդություն» ՀԿ (Հայաստան)

Association Hyestart (Շվեցարիա)

Charjoum (Ֆրանսիա)

Collectif de Soutien aux Militants Arméniens Jugés à Paris (Ֆրանսիա)

GALAS (Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society) (ԱՄՆ)

Նոր Զարթոնք (Թուրքիա)

PINK Armenia (Հայաստան)

Կանանց ռեսուրսային կենտրոն (Հայաստան)

Կանանց աջակցման կենտրոն (Հայաստան)

(ստորագրողներիամբողջականցուցակը՝տեսանգլերենբնօրինակում)

 

French:

20 Août 2018

 

Lettre au Premier ministre arménien, au ministre de l’Intérieur, au ministre de la Justice, au ministre des Affaires de la diaspora, aux partis politiques arméniens et aux organisations internationales arméniennes :

L’agression récente perpétrée à l’encontre de neuf personnes, dont des militants LGBT, dans le village de Shurnukh, dans la province de Syunik en Arménie, s’inscrit dans un schéma inquiétant et persistant de haine et de discrimination à l’encontre de la communauté LGBT arménienne. Selon certaines informations, la police aurait ouvert une enquête, interrogé les victimes et détenu plusieurs agresseurs présumés le 3 août, les libérant le lendemain, mais n’a apparemment pas porté d’accusation contre quiconque. Il est par ailleurs inquiétant qu’au moins un député, Gevorg Petrosyan, du groupe parlementaire Tsarukyan, ait appelé à l’expulsion des personnes LGBT d’Arménie sur sa page Facebook. Si la déclaration du Bureau du Défenseur des droits de l’homme était opportune, elle n’est pas suffisante à elle seule.

Le gouvernement arménien doit en effet s’attaquer d’urgence aux politiques, aux lois et au climat social et politique qui continuent de favoriser l’intolérance et la violence à l’encontre de la communauté LGBT d’Arménie. Sans un plan clair de réforme législative et politique et d’éducation, ces agressions se poursuivront et le gouvernement arménien n’aura pas réussi à protéger la communauté LGBT de la violence et de la discrimination.

La législation arménienne ne prévoit pas l’égalité des droits pour les personnes LGBT en Arménie (voir la déclaration d’Amnesty International). Elle n’interdit pas la discrimination à l’encontre des personnes LGBT en matière d’emploi, de logement ou d’avantages sociaux, et ne sanctionne pas non plus les crimes de haines visant les personnes LGBT. Le nouveau gouvernement arménien a donné l’espoir à de nombreuses personnes dans le monde qu’il y aura une véritable réforme dans le pays pour régler les questions de transparence, d’équité et d’égalité. Les réformes dans le domaine LGBT doivent faire partie de cette promesse d’une nouvelle ère. Des justifications obsolètes et fausses fondées sur la “religion”, la “culture” et les “valeurs” ne peuvent plus servir de paravents à la haine, à la violence et à l’intolérance à l’égard des personnes LGBT arméniennes.

Nous appelons donc le gouvernement arménien à :

  • mettre en place un programme d’action et un calendrier pour une réforme législative accordant aux personnes LGBT en Arménie l’égalité devant la loi ;
  • proposer un plan visant à promouvoir la tolérance et le respect des personnes LGBT dans l’ensemble de la société, notamment par le truchement de déclarations publiques et la mise en place d’un programme d’éducation publique ;
  • condamner publiquement toutes les agressions contre les personnes LGBT et à s’engager également publiquement à enquêter et à punir les auteurs et à assurer la protection des personnes LGBT.

Nous appelons les partis politiques arméniens à exprimer clairement leur soutien à  un tel programme d’action et à une telle réforme législative. Nous les appelons également à condamner publiquement les agressions visant la communauté LGBT. Chaque électeur arménien a le droit de connaître la position de chaque parti politique sur ces questions.

Nous appelons les organisations internationales arméniennes, y compris les églises arméniennes de toutes confessions, à exprimer clairement leur soutien à un tel programme d’action et à une telle réforme législative. Nous les appelons également à condamner les agressions dont sont victimes les membres de la communauté LGBT. Tous les Arméniens et toutes les Arméniennes qui, de par le monde, soutiennent ces organisations ont le droit de connaître leur position sur ces questions.

 

 


Summer Missive

 

 

 

My father, who had been suffering with congestive heart failure and related complications for two years, passed away in his sleep at home on Friday, July 13. It has been a sad time for our family, and particularly hard on my mother, who is now learning to live alone after a sixty-year marriage. My father’s obituary ran in the Armenian and local newspapers in Watertown, and I wrote a eulogy that is now posted on my author site. He was a beloved member of his community so the church pews were filled and people were in the balcony and standing at the back during his funeral service, and at the post-funeral luncheon, many people told sweet stories of his kindness, generosity, and humor.

It was a strange experience to read on his official death certificate that my father’s parents’ place of birth was specified as Turkey (I would have put Cilicia or possibly Ottoman Empire), but even more disorienting was to see that his “Expanded Race” was listed as WHITE and his ethnicity was AMERICAN. There were a number of legal decisions in the early part of the 20th Century that admitted Armenians to the coveted category of “white,” so I won’t argue that point, but I would argue that my father’s ethnicity, as he or anyone else would have described it, was Armenian.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about race and ethnicity in America. I just finished listening to the audio book version of Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. In the book, Kendi argues that there are three main channels of thinking about race: segregationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist. Only the last one challenges racism and white supremacy, and there is no such thing as “non-racist” thinking in America. I’m currently listening to Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People To Talk About Racism. DiAngelo argues that “racism is a structure, not an event,” and suggests that “the full weight of responsibility rests with those who control the institutions.” Katy Waldman, in a review of the book in the New Yorker, says, “DiAngelo sets aside a whole chapter for the self-indulgent tears of white women, so distraught at the country’s legacy of racist terrorism that they force people of color to drink from the firehose of their feelings about it.”

I see the structures of white supremacy at work all around me (and in me), and through my volunteer work with the New Sanctuary Coalition, I see racism’s cruel hand in the immigration policies of this country. The unconscionable heartlessness of the Trump Administration’s separation of parents and children at the Southern border has stirred outrage, but the deportation machine and the terrorism of ICE predate Trump’s election. It’s time to abolish ICE, but also to stop tearing families apart with deportation.

And here, I will pull back from personal sadness and political distress to leave you with an anecdote and an image.

A few days after my father died, my mother and I were walking near my parent’s condominium on Bigelow Avenue in Watertown when we heard a cardinal loudly singing. According to my mother, my father, who was adept at birdcalls and whistles, used to imitate the cardinal perfectly, and he and the bird often called back and forth to each other. I looked up and saw that on the top of the Armenian Memorial Church steeple there was a cross and on top of the cross was the bright red cardinal belting out his song. I said to my mother, “If you believed in reincarnation, you might think that was Dad.” She laughed.

The weekend after my father’s funeral, James and I were at our house in Columbia County with our younger daughter Djuna and her friend Hannah. While we were eating supper on the porch, we watched storm clouds approach from the south. The storm rolled in, dumping down rain on the garden and lawn, and then rolled out leaving behind a rainbow. Djuna and Hannah ran out into the yard and did a joyous dance under the spectacular double rainbow.

 

Nancy Kricorian, New York City 2018