Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Time to Get Mad

Photo credit: Seda Grigoryan

"Tommy, don't you go fighten' em alone. They'll hunt you down like a coyote. Tommy, I got to thinkin' an' dreamin' an' wonderin'. They say there's a hun'red thousand of us shoved out. If we was all mad the same way, Tommy - they wouldn't hunt nobody down..."
The Grapes of Wrath

The matriarch of the Joad family in John Steinbeck's 1939 novel, "The Grapes of Wrath" said these words to her eldest son Tom after the family had been forced off their land. I read Steinbeck's novel when I was in high school at a time and place in my life where these words did not resonate or make an impression on my consciousness, or so I thought. I made my daughter read it one summer long ago and while looking for something to read recently, I picked it out of my library once again. The timing was auspicious in light of recent events in Armenia. 

The intimidation, the attacks, the impunity and the ensuing simmering anger we all are feeling, the lack of unity against what most perceive as an oppressive ruling regime, the inclination to write statuses on Facebook that are suspended virtually and never transform into action to eradicate the unending abuse have left most of us feeling helpless against a regime that is becoming emboldened by the deafening silence.

Indeed, certain 'leaders' in Armenia have most of the characteristics of an abuser - they keeps tabs on what we do, seek to control our thoughts, beliefs and conduct, restrict our rights and freedoms, constantly accuse us of being unfaithful, punish us for breaking their rules or challenging their authority, control all our money, humiliate us in front of others, destroy our property and those things we care about, threaten to hurt us or our loved ones and then actually resort to physical violence.

The inherent mutual distrust is slowly eating away at the core of our country.

What we need to do is stop being victimized. It's time to get mad, really "mad the same way" so that we are not "hunted down like a coyote."

Thursday, February 5, 2015

This Tired and Ancient Soil

Photo credit: Seda Grigoryan

I carried the soil in my suitcase. It came from beneath the ruins, it held the decaying bones of past lives, it came from fields where mulberries grow, where countless stories are buried and where memories tumble along cascading rivers, submerging, reappearing and then finally drowning in the rushing current. The soil held the melodic chords of hymns sung for centuries in ancient churches with soaring domes, it was rich with the toil and sweat of the farmer, the despair of orphans and the blood of martyrs.

I carried the ancient crumbling soil in my suitcase to mix it with the soil of a new country.

The women who loved him held that ancient soil in their hands and then released it onto his freshly covered grave...

* * *

Sometimes it's easier to talk about the horrors and atrocities of the past than it is to talk about the uncertain present. The tumultuous events of the past few weeks in Armenia have provided ample opportunity for many of us to be outraged, to weep in horror and cringe with shame.

Sometimes, certain events that occur in the present are so difficult to confront that you turn inward and refuse to comprehend their raw brutality. You bury your head in that ancient soil, hoping for comfort and solace, because you know that soil has seen and experienced so much.

Today, several of my colleagues and I were discussing the special programs we are preparing for the centenary of the Armenian Genocide. I was glad for the reprieve it presented from our modern-day woes. The Genocide is a familiar space. We know how to deal with it. We know how it feels, we know its smell and its aura. We've grown accustomed to its constant presence in our lives. It's a safe place, safer than the here and now. Or so I thought.

As the discussion about a particular program transformed into a debate, and as voices were jumping over one another,  expostulating, struggling to underscore a point, one of our editors broke down and began to weep as she spoke about a past experience...

"What is going on with you?" I asked.

"I don't know. I'm not doing well this year," she replied.

This year. This 100th year. One hundred years and it doesn't end. There is no closure. There is no safe place to exist, not yet, perhaps never.

* * *

As my father lay in the cold ground in the new country, as we are powerless against death and dying, as his dream for the lost homeland died with him, as his yearning for his ancestral village in historic Armenia never left him, the only thing I could do was to bring a little bit of that ancient soil with me and scatter it on his grave so that his bones could rest and his soul could find some solace.