Tag Archives: genocide

Freedom to Write for Palestine

Last week I gave the opening remarks at Freedom to Write for Palestine at Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan. This memorable gathering of writers was brilliantly curated and produced by Omar Hamilton and Sharif Kouddous of the Palestine Festival of Literature, and it was recorded for posterity. Writers Against the War on Gaza and Amplify Palestinerounded out the organizing team, and everyone’s efforts came together beautifully. Publishers Weekly and New York Magazine did great coverage of the event, placing it in the context of the controversy surrounding PEN America’s terrible response to the genocide in Gaza and the efforts of writers to hold the organization to account.

Here is an excerpt from my introduction:

While PEN America has organized a street rally in support of Ukrainian writers imprisoned and killed by Russia and taken a delegation of Ukrainian writers to meet with Congress, it has yet to organize any public event on behalf of Palestinian writers who have been imprisoned and killed by Israel. PEN International, English PEN, and PEN South Africa called for a ceasefire in Gaza five full months before PEN America did, and PEN America’s call came only after over a thousand writers had signed a letter denouncing the organization for its inaction. PEN America’s priorities so often align with the U.S. government’s own foreign policy goals that one writer quipped, ‘PEN America has been turned into an outpost of the U.S. State Department.’

While the leadership at PEN America is being roundly denounced for its double standards on Israel and Palestine, many of its staff members’ work in this area and on other issues is being stymied and undermined. We would like to give a shout out to PEN America United, the union representing PEN America’s staff, which has been trying to get a fair contract for over eighteen months. PEN’s Chief Executive Officer’s salary was disclosed to be $465,000 in 2022, and in recent contract negotiations management proposed a $48,500 minimum starting salary for staff, well below industry standards and hardly a living wage in New York City. In addition to her annual salary, which has likely increased over the past two years, PEN’s CEO earns an additional undisclosed six-figure yearly sum for serving on Meta’s Oversight Board. As one sign at a PEN America United rally phrased it, “Are fair wages banned too?”

The evening raised over $8,000 for We Are Not Numbers (WANN), a youth-led organization in Gaza that trains a new generation of Palestinian writers. At the top of the program, Michelle Alexander read a poem by my friend and WANN mentee Haya Abu Nasser. When WANN alumni Mahmoud Alyazji read a remembrance with an accompanying film about his best friend Mohammed Zaher Hammo, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike with his family, there were audible sounds of weeping in the audience, and I venture to say there was not a dry eye in the house. After musician Huda Asfourplayed a final song to close out the evening, which was by turns inspiring, moving, and galvanizing, we all headed out into the world with firm resolve to continue fighting for Palestinian freedom.

In the meantime, the situation in Gaza has grown increasingly catastrophic as Israel drops bombs on displaced, starving people living in tents, and gives confusing, impossible evacuation orders to families with no place to go. Repression at home continues to be brutal as riot police are summoned to break up peaceful student Gaza solidarity encampments. I have made a chant by the Columbia students a new motto, “Disclose, Divest. We will not stop. We will not rest.”

Nancy Kricorian


Love is a Practice of Freedom

Haya and her brother Ahmad on the beach in Gaza before the war

I am writing this with a heavy heart. Today’s images from the ruins of Al Shifa Hospital have me reeling. The genocidal maniacs have sunk to a new low, and Joe Biden is a full partner in this unconscionable carnage, which has killed and maimed tens of thousands of civilians and is designed to make Gaza uninhabitable. With the bombing of the Iranian consulate in Damascus today it seems they are pushing for a wider regional war.

I have been mentoring Haya Abu Nasser, a young Palestinian writer from Gaza through the We Are Not Numbers program, which was recently featured on The Rumpus. I have placed six of Haya’s beautiful and devastating poems in prominent literary magazines, including “At The Cliff of Death,” which was published by Mizna.

After being internally displaced four times, and spending months in a tent in Rafah, a few weeks ago Haya was able to leave Gaza and make her way to Malaysia where she is enrolled in a masters program in International Affairs. Haya’s family is still in Gaza, and she wants to help her brother Ahmed get out for medical treatment and to finish his BA degree. He has asthma, is malnourished, and was recently diagnosed with hepatitis. So Haya and I have started a GoFundMe campaign. Ahmed has only two courses left to become a Renewable Energy Engineer. The funds raised will secure his safe passage out of Gaza, cover his university tuition, as well as his medical and living expenses. Please donate if you can and share if you will.

My friend Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a professor at Hebrew University who lives in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem, has been subjected to a campaign of harassment and was suspended from teaching because of her speaking out against Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza. Thankfully she was reinstated last week. During a recent interview on the excellent podcast Makdisi Street, she talked about ashla, the Arabic word for the scattered body parts that families have been collecting after bombings in Gaza. She expanded the meaning of ashla to include the scattered remnants of the Palestinian people, as well as the divided and enclosed Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza. She said, “We theorize about the flesh, but Palestine…I’m putting at the center the scattered body parts, the body bags, and the dead bodies, the burned bodies.” I hope you will listen to the whole interview, because as painful as some of the details are, her analysis is brilliant, and she ends with hope. She speaks about the love that people feel for each other and for the land in Palestine, and she dreams of a future that is free of settler colonial necropolitics. As she puts it, “Love is a practice of freedom.”

Nancy Kricorian


Two Fronts

Armenian Refugee camp at Ras al Ain

I have been distracted, lately cycling between rage and grief, while having difficulty sleeping. Images and stories about Israel’s horrific genocidal campaign in Gaza are the stuff of nightmares. I often think about my Armenian genocide survivor grandmother’s stories about her experiences during The Deportations. They were starving, the dead and dying were all around, and she ended up one among 8,000 orphaned Armenian children in a refugee camp in the Syrian desert on the outskirts of Ras al Ain.
 
I wake up in the middle of the night to check Instagram and WhatsApp to see if my friends in Gaza have posted updates or responded to my messages. I want to know whether they have survived to see another day. One of them has lost thirty pounds because of how little food there is. Another has been displaced four times and is living in a tent.
 
Since 2015, I have been part of the We Are Not Numbers literary mentorship program that pairs established authors with young writers in Gaza. Enas, one of my former mentees, left Gaza for the first time in her life to attend the Palestine Writes conference in September, and was unable to return home—she’s living with an aunt in New Jersey and is worrying around the clock about her family, who are displaced in Gaza with little access to clean water, adequate food, and medicine, and under constant threat of being killed in Israel’s indiscriminate bombing campaign that has to date murdered over 11,000 children. I helped raise money for Hossam, another mentee, who has a large social media presence and is therefore a particular target, to get across the border with his family, but the list is long and the wait seems interminable. I started with a new mentee, Haya, several weeks ago, and I’m sick with worry about her and Hossam. I recently worked with Haya on this moving piece about what daily life is like for her right now.
 
In addition to this brutal reality, repression on the Columbia and Barnard campuse are entirely bonkers, and my spouse James, who has been teaching at Columbia for over thirty years, is spending hours writing letters to the new “Task Force on Anti-Semitism.” This task force includes no actual experts on the subject—and there are a few of those on the faculty who might have been invited to join. The task force is co-chaired by known Israel boosters, and when James asked them how they define anti-semitism, they replied that they don’t have a definition. They are just getting a sense of the feelings and the vibes on the campus. Meanwhile, two weeks ago several Israeli students used a banned chemical weapon against a protest on the Quad, sending close to a dozen students to the hospital. 
 
On the German cultural scene, it seems that collective guilt about the Holocaust has morphed into a feeling that Germany must stand by Israel no matter how genocidal the Israeli government’s actions are. An artist friend, who lives half-time in Berlin and half-time in Brooklyn, has been sending us weekly updates about the cancellations and other forms of punishment being meted out against writers and artists who call for a ceasefire or advocate for accountability. She told us about her friend the Bosnian-Serbian novelist Lana Bastašić (I read her award-winning novel CATCH THE RABBIT recently and was very impressed) who has been subject to this harsh discipline. This week I saw Lana’s principled and humane statement on Instagram, which was then published on LitHub.
 
It is clear that we need to be fighting on two fronts—and excuse me for using military metaphors, but this really does feel like a struggle for survival. We must redouble our calls for a ceasefire and our efforts to push the Biden Administration to stop arming, funding, and providing diplomatic cover for a genocide in Gaza. On the same day that the International Court of Justice ruled that South Africa had presented a plausible case of genocide against Israel, the U.S. government announced it was “pausing” its support for UNRWA, the largest and most effective aid agency on the ground in Gaza, increasing the threat of more deaths by hunger and disease. You can donate to UNRWA’s life-saving work here. And at the same time that we take action to stop a genocide, we must also push back against the silencing of advocacy for Palestinian freedom. 
 




My Heart Burns for My People

This is a note I sent to my Armenian friends yesterday morning.

Dear Friends,

We are devastated and heartbroken about the events of the past three days in Artsakh, and rightfully terrified of what comes next. We feel helpless. We are on social media reading desperate accounts from Artsakh, and furiously posting and reposting the dire news in the hope that someone will hear and possibly take action, but very few people seem to care, and governments issue toothless condemnations while a genocide unfolds. We are sending emails to and calling our elected officials. We are wringing our hands. We are gnashing our teeth. We know that they won’t be satisfied with Artsakh alone. They want their “Zanzegur Corridor,” and Aliyev calls the Republic of Armenia “Western Azerbaijan.” We are skeptical that Armenian political leaders are up to the task at hand, and we are skeptical that the opposition has a better plan. We are sitting in our comfortable homes while our people are being starved, shelled, and are possibly about to be slaughtered like sheep. Again. We can’t turn our faces away from the suffering, but we must turn our faces away from the suffering at least for short periods because it is intolerable and there’s very little we can do.

Ժողովուրդիս համար սիրտս կ’այրի։

I’m thinking of each of you right now. May the violence soon be over so we can grieve and mend. Sending you love,

Nancy

Nancy Kricorian


Day to Day

“Too much of a past, too little ahead, but wait a minute, we always lived day to day, so where’s the difference?”

~ Etel Adnan, Shifting the Silence (2020)

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Last week my friend Barbara Harris passed away after a long illness, and Gerry, her beloved husband of 67 years, asked me to speak about her activism at the funeral this Monday. Barbara and I met in 2003 through CODEPINK NYC and worked closely together for over 13 years. In 2008, The New York Times ran a profile of Barbara and the campaign she organized working to keep predatory military recruiters from targeting vulnerable high school students. Mel, a former CODEPINK NYC staff member commented, “Barbara was a gift to the anti-war movement and the activist community. Whenever she showed up to a demo, I felt like things were going to be okay. She had so much knowledge and such a calming presence. Cristina and I joked about making Barbara dolls to carry around for reassurance when things got rough.”

And speaking of things getting rough, yesterday Azerbaijan launched a full scale military assault against the people of Artsakh, announcing the planned “evacuation” of the Armenian population. Of course, anyone who was following the news could have seen this coming, but that doesn’t make it any less devastating. The use of the word “evacuation” clearly indicates a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Governments, NGO’s, and human rights groups have issued condemnations, but the shelling and terror continued undeterred. The Azerbaijani Army is known for its torture and beheading of captured Armenian soliders, and even civilians are fair game for their violence and cruelty. The fourth century Amaras Monastery, established by St. Gregory the Illuminator, is now under Azerbaijani control. And if the Azerbaijani government stays true to form, they will say that it’s an “Albanian Christian” monument and sandblast the Armenian inscriptions. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to watch all this happening in real time on social media while the world does nothing. And Turkey’s ever helpful Erdogan announced at the U.N. General Assembly yesterday that Armenia must open the so-called “Zanzegur Corridor” allowing Azerbaijani passage through the territory of the sovereign Armenian Republic. This morning a “ceasefire” was announced and the Azerbaijani army took full control of the area. I’m dreading what comes next. You can follow what is going on via live updates from EVN Report and you can contact your elected officials using this tool from the Armenian Assembly of America.

Yesterday I also received word from my literary agent that she was closing on the last few open points in the contract for my new novel with Red Hen Press, a small, independent, non-profit publisher based in Pasadena. Red Hen will publish The Burning Heart of the World, a novel about an Armenian family in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, in 2025. This submission process was long and grueling, and I cannot tell you what a relief it is that the book has found a home, and with a press whose values align with so many of mine.

I’m leaving on Friday for a two-week trip called “The Mushrooms and Culture of Greece.” My friend Betsy and I will be traveling to Zagori in northwestern Greece with a group tour led by several radical mycologists. If you follow me on social media, expect to see lots of photos of mushrooms, food-laden tables, mountain villages, and the rocky shore.

Day to day, I try to open my heart to the sweetness of this tough world.

P.S. For your reading pleasure, here’s an interview with our filmmaker progeny. And here’s an article about The Wisdom of Fungi.

Nancy Kricorian