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The Armenian Weekly; Volume 74, No. 5; Feb. 9, 2008

Features:

1. Of Grasshoppers and Men
An Interview with Arundhati Roy
By Khatchig Mouradian

2. Four Poems by Esther Heboyan

3. Essay Contest Pays Tribute to Martin Luther King

***

1. Of Grasshoppers and Men
An Interview with Arundhati Roy
By Khatchig Mouradian

Arundhati Roy was born in 1959 in Shillong, India. She studied architecture
in New Delhi, where she now lives, and has worked as a film designer, actor,
and screenplay writer in India. Roy is the author of the novel The God of
Small Things, (Random House/HarperPerennial) for which she received the 1997
Booker Prize. The novel has been translated into dozens of languages
worldwide. She has written several non-fiction books: The Cost of Living
(Random House/Modern Library), Power Politics (South End Press), War Talk
(South End Press), and An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire (South End
Press) and Public Power in the Age of Empire (Seven Stories/Open Media).

Roy was featured in the BBC television documentary, "Dam/age," which
chronicles her work in support of the struggle against big dams in India and
the contempt of court case that led to a prolonged legal case against her
and eventually a one-day jail sentence in spring 2002. A collection of
interviews with Arundhati Roy by David Barsamian was published as The
Checkbook and the Cruise Missile (South End Press). Roy is the recipient of
the 2002 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Prize.

On Jan. 18, 2008, Roy delivered the Hrant Dink memorial lecture at Bosphorus
University in Istanbul. In her lecture, titled "Listening to Grasshoppers:
Genocide, Denial and Celebration," Roy reflected on the legacy of Hrant Dink
and dealt with the history of the "genocidal impulse," the Armenian genocide
of 1915 and the killing of Muslims in Gujarat, India in 2002.

Speaking about the slain editor of the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, Roy
said, "I never met Hrant Dink, a misfortune that will be mine for time to
come. From what I know of him, of what he wrote, what he said and did, how
he lived his life, I know that had I been here in Istanbul a year ago I
would have been among the one hundred thousand people who walked with his
coffin in dead silence through the wintry streets of this city, with banners
saying, 'We are all Armenians,' 'We are all Hrant Dink.' Perhaps I'd have
carried the one that said, 'One and a half million plus one.'"

"I wonder what thoughts would have gone through my head as I walked beside
his coffin," she added. "Maybe I would have heard a reprise of the voice of
Araxie Barsamian, mother of my friend David Barsamian, telling the story of
what happened to her and her family. She was ten years old in 1915. She
remembered the swarms of grasshoppers that arrived in her village, Dubne,
which was north of the historic city Dikranagert, now Diyarbakir. The
village elders were alarmed, she said, because they knew in their bones that
the grasshoppers were a bad omen. They were right; the end came in a few
months, when the wheat in the fields was ready for harvesting."

In this interview, conducted by phone on Feb. 2, we talk about some of the
issues she raised in her lecture and reflect on genocide and resistance.

***


Khatchig Mouradian-What was going through your head when you were writing
the speech for the commemoration in Istanbul of Hrant Dink's assassination?

Arundhati Roy-These days, we are going through a kind of psychotic
convulsion in India. Genocide and its celebration are in the air. And it's
terrifying for me to watch people celebrating genocide every day. It was at
a time when I was very struck by this celebration in India and the denial in
Turkey that they asked me to go to Istanbul.

When I landed in Istanbul, I realized that there's a very big difference
between what Armenians, Turks and others could say outside Turkey-where
everybody could be very direct about the Armenian genocide-and inside
Turkey-where, Hrant Dink, for example, was trying to find a way of saying
things in order to continue living. His idea was to speak out, but not to
die.

In Istanbul, I spoke with people and I was very concerned not to give the
impression that I flew in, made a speech, and flew out leaving everybody
else in trouble. I was interested in helping to create an atmosphere where
people could begin to talk about the Armenian genocide to each other. After
all, that's the project of the Armenians who are living in Turkey and trying
to survive there.

At the same time, I was somebody who is involved quite deeply in issues in
India and I didn't want to be some global intellectual who flies in, makes
some superficial statements and then flies out. I wanted to relate the issue
to what I knew and what I fought for, and tried to push a little bit more
and a little bit more. And this is not a simple thing to do.



K.M.-The story that weaves your lecture together is that of your friend,
David Barsamian's mother, Araxie Barsamian. In an interview, you say, "I
think that a story is like the surface of water, and you can take whatever
you want from it." What did you take from the story of Araxie Barsamian?

A.R.-In fact, David happened to be in India just before I went to Turkey and
we talked about the issue. It mattered to me that I knew him. I'm not saying
that if I didn't know him I wouldn't have spoken, but it suddenly became
something that was more personal. I was having the discussion with a friend
that there are people who talk about politics that is informative and
politics that is transformative. These are such silly separations because in
Turkey, for example, everybody knows what happened. It's just that there's a
silence around it and you're not allowed to say what happened. And when you
say it, it becomes transformative in itself. I made my point through the
words of David's mother instead of going and saying, "Look, that bullet that
was meant to silence Hrant Dink actually made someone like myself take the
trouble to go and read history. Whether I say it or I don't say it, you and
I know what happened, and if you want to maintain the silence, then people
here will have to fight with that, as I will have to fight with the
celebration around genocide in India."

This is something that a novel writer does. How you say what you want to say
is as important as what you want to say. By telling Araxie Barsamian's
story, the history comes alive. You could say that 1.5 million people were
killed or you could say that the grasshoppers arrived in Araxie Barsamian's
village.



K.M.-You spoke about the difference between speaking about the Armenian
genocide outside and inside Turkey. But in your speech, you are quite bold:
You do not come off as trying to imply things rather than stating them
outright. You are not trying to avoid using the term genocide.

A.R.-When I started speaking about the term "genocide," defining it, then
talking about the history of genocide and what's happening in India
today-how Indian fascists killed Muslim-I wanted to make it clear that that
the genocidal impulse has cut across religions and that the same ugly,
fascist rhetoric that the Turks used against the Armenians has been used by
the Christians against the Indians, has been used by the Nazis against the
Jews, and today, it is being used by Hindus against Muslims. Genocide is
such a complex process. The genocidal impulse has never been related to just
one culture or just one religion. I spoke about the Armenian genocide and
its denial openly to the extent that I could without shutting down the
audience.

I would like to note that in my readings, one problem I realized is that
many scholars who have studied the Armenian genocide in detail-almost all of
them-keep on insisting that it was the first genocide of the 20th century
and, in asserting that, they deny the other genocides that took place-for
example, the genocide against the Herrero people in 1904. So I was also
trying to talk about the Armenian genocide without giving the impression
that some victims are more worthy than others.



K.M.-How was your lecture received?

A.R.-The important thing was that it was received. It wasn't blocked out. It
wasn't denied. People didn't say, "Oh, here's a person who has come here to
tell us about our own past." That's because I wasn't just talking about the
past of Turkey. For me, that was the way of guaranteeing that my talk was
received.

The biggest thing is that it was received. It was taken in and it was
thought about. I saw many people in tears in the hall. And I hope that in
some tiny, little way, it will change the way this subject is spoken of. I
might be presuming too much.



K.M.-As you point out in your lecture, genocide and gross human rights
violations have plagued us for centuries and they continue to do so. What
has changed?

A.R.-I don't think that there's been that much change in the genocidal
impulse. Technology and industrialization have only enabled human beings to
kill each other in larger numbers. I talked about the slaughter of 2,000
Muslims in the state of Gujarat in India. It was all on TV.

About three months ago, the killers were caught on camera talking about how
they decided how to target the Muslim community, how it was all planned, how
the police was involved, how the chief ministers were involved, how they
murdered, how they raped. It was actually broadcast on TV and it worked in
the favor of that party. The people who voted for them said, "This is what
they deserve." So I actually feel that this notion of the liberal
conscience, of human conscience, is a fake notion. Today in India we are on
the verge of something terrible. Like I say in the article, the grasshoppers
have landed, and there is a kind of shutting down and cutting off of the
poor from their resources, herding them off their land and rivers. And
people are just watching. Their eyes are open but they are looking the other
way. And again and again we think of the fact that in Germany when Jews were
being exterminated, people must have been taking their children to piano
lessons, violin lessons, worrying about their children's homework. That kind
of absolute lack of conscience is still present today. No amount of appeal
to conscience can make any change. The only way disaster can be averted is
if the people who are on the receiving end of that can resist.
------------------------------------------ ---------------------------------------------

2. Four Poems by Esther Heboyan

If

If
To prolong the receding hour
I must
Sort out your fermented mood
I'd better be unbiddable
Yet how utterable
Your closeness
When somehow cognac and cigarettes
>From across the kitchen table
Uncheck yester-years' panic
Toward a disappearance
You call a beginning
Next time
Be a pal
And bring me a thesaurus
Will you

***

Conviviality

As you
Prepared food
Picturesque and good
Poured wine
Purling and fine
The cat pilfered the pté
The rabbit acted blasé
And snow trickled - unknowingly
To oriental songs claiming eternity
But night perchance
Cast its peremptory silence
Over love's pinnacle
Where lovers meant not to be fickle
Or did they

***


Living

The art of seeing?
Proceed from the supine to the unseen
And take in the manifold etchings of the wondrous mind.

The art of hearing?
Add desultory items to lozenges of bare palaver
And listen to the biddings of the unfettered heart.

The art of touching?
Reach out for a pulsating Jackson Pollock surface
And make it a Sunday morning embrace
As neighbors trot off to the marketplace.

***

Love's Labor

Say: S-U-C-R-E, my Love,
And I'll make you a cup of coffee.
- Anytime.

Say: A-R-B-R-E, my Love,
And I'll draw you a road to Van Gogh's house.
- Anywhere.

Say: F-I-A-C-R-E, my Love,
And I'll dream of a summer night in Manhattan.
- Anywise.

Say: N-A-C-R-E, my Love,
And I'll take you to the Mediterranean shores.
- Anyhow.

Say: S-A-C-R-E, my Love,
And we'll drink bourbon and make love.
- Till you depart anyway.

***

Esther Heboyan was born in Istanbul in 1955. She studied English at the
University of Paris X-Nanterre and Journalism at the University of Iowa. Her
doctoral thesis is on Grace Paley's short fiction. She is currently
associate professor of American literature at the University of Artois.


Her short stories, articles and translations have appeared in "Ararat" and
"Marmara."

--------------------------- -------------------------------------------------- ------

3. Essay Contest Pays Tribute to Martin Luther King

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay Contest is one of the most celebrated
essay competitions supported by Watertown High School. Students there were
recently prompted to "describe someone you know who represents the
principles of tolerance, freedom and equality that Dr. King so actively
promoted and explain how these principles have influenced your own beliefs
and actions." Below are the winning essays.

Angel Tai, Satenik Karapetyan and Ester Tokatlyan are all seniors at
Watertown High School and the pronounced winners of the Essay Contest.
Angel, in her essay, wrote eloquently about the Armenian genocide. "Satenik
is an inspiring example of someone who immigrated to America and
continuously strives for success. And Ester, as the president of the Class
of 2008, is equally impressive," said social studies coordinator David
Sheehan.

Essay by Angel Tai, Grade 12

One day I was asked to prepare oranges after dinner. As I cut the oranges,
the ones that looked perfect on the surface were rotten inside. However, the
ones that had marks on the outside turned out to be delicious. I thought to
myself, if we only judge other people by their cover, like the rotten
oranges, how can we consider ourselves to be the most enlightened of all
species?

Unfortunately, discrimination still exists in society and in school. In the
school hallway, you can still hear the negative remarks regarding race,
gender and age. In fact, when I was in middle school, I witnessed a fight
between two students because one of them accused the other of being a
terrorist since he was from the Middle East. How do we continue the legacy
that our fathers have left us, that "we hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal" if some people are treated
with less respect? Is there a way to help others to understand how serious
discrimination is?

During my sophomore year on Diversity Day, I met Becket Rhodes, the Peer
Leadership Advisor of Watertown Youth Coalition. What captured my attention
was the diversity quilt that she, along with the students of the school,
made to promote cultural differences and peace in the world. It is made out
of flags that the students painted and put together in the shape of a heart.
For my flag, I painted two hands shaking with a heart in the background to
represent world peace. Becket then told me about her works at Watertown
Youth Coalition. The mission of the Watertown Youth Coalition is to make
Watertown a safer and better community for everybody, a place where youths
would feel comfortable in their own skins. Becket was very determined about
her ideas, ideas that have inspired me because I have finally figured out a
way to make my own ideas heard.

I became a Peer Leader of the Watertown Youth Coalition during junior year.
We have done a lot of projects to improve the Watertown community. Over the
year, in order to show our respect for cultures around the world, we have
held our annual Diversity Day in March, where we serve food from different
cultures and have students decorate our map, named "Around the Globe, Around
the Town." We also collaborate with the World In Watertown organization to
promote diversity. At the same time, we joined the Armenian community in
Watertown and hosted an event recognizing the Armenian Genocide, a program
called "Understanding Genocide and Its Impact," in order to prevent this
tragedy from ever happening again. We also campaigned to stop the genocide
in Darfur. From Becket, members of the Watertown Youth Coalition and my
fellow peer leaders, I have gained not only leadership skills but I also
gained confidence in taking a stand for something that I believe in.

Becket and I, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have a dream that one day we
will live to see people of different colors, different genders, different
ages, different values, and different status in the society "sit down
together at the table of brotherhood."

Becket puts Dr. King's philosophy into practice because not only does she
live by these ideas in her life, she also spreads these ideas to the
community, to the state, and to the nation. I am very lucky to know Becket
and the Watertown Youth Coalition and now, as an active peer leader, I have
learned how to stand up for others. If I hear people make any disrespectful
remarks about another person's background, I stand up and tell them that
they are wrong. Becket has inspired me to continue my work when I go to
college, working to make the world a better place for everybody.

***


Essay by Ester Tokatlyan, Grade 12

Martin Luther King was a great man who represented every aspect of a good
person from tolerance to equality. King was the youngest person to receive
the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end segregation and racial
discrimination through civil disobedience and other nonviolent means. There
are many people in the world with similar principles and goals as Dr. King's.
One person who shares Dr. King's vision is Kim Foley. Kimberly Cotter Foley
is a seventeen year-old student at Watertown High School. She has been my
best friend since grade school and I hope she always will be.


Even as a young girl, Kim believed that everybody should be equal. Back when
we were in fourth grade, and most girls were extremely "catty" and rude, Kim
was always the class peace maker. She would never pick sides even if it
meant she could not be part of the "popular group," and she would always try
to get everyone involved, no matter what we were doing. We would spend our
recess time digging ant holes and Kim would include others. A fourth grader's
ability to recognize that nobody should be excluded says a lot about who
they are and who they will become. Also, she has never made a racist
comment. She is not one of those people who claims not to be racist and then
proceeds to say she would never date someone of a different race. If Kim
fell in love with an African-American or an Asian person, she would have no
problem with it because she is a strong believer in equality.


Along with her insistence for equality, she also feels extremely strongly
about freedom. When she would study slavery in our history classes, she
would always get upset and shocked by how some people treated others. In Kim's
mind, everybody is born equal to all other human beings, and there is no
difference among any of us that should cause the loss of freedom. Of course,
she does not live in a world where it is necessary to fight for basic
freedoms like Dr. King did; however, if Kim had to deal with those
circumstances, she would surely take a stand and fight for people who had
been denied their freedom.


Tolerance means accepting a fair, objective, and permissive attitude,
towards those whose opinions, practices, race and religion differ from your
own. Kim personifies tolerance, as did Martin Luther King. Kim does not have
anything against the people who do not agree with her principles. She is
willing to hear their views and consider them even if they are opposite of
her own. Since she is such a strong believer in freedom, she knows that each
person has the right to have different objectives, attitudes, and
principles.


Over the course of our many years of friendship Kim has influenced me in
many ways. Her strong beliefs in equality, freedom, and tolerance have
helped me become a better person with an open mind. Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr. made great changes for the entire nation, even the world. Although Kim's
gestures reach only a small community it does not mean that they go
unnoticed. Kim is a great person, the type of person that we need more of in
this world.

***

Essay by Satenik Karapetyan, Grade 12

Before I emigrated from Armenia to the United States, I had never seen
someone of a different color or race. I did not even know there were people
of other ethnicities. At six years old, I was to start first grade at the
Hosmer School. My guidance counselor, Mrs. Lillian Jingozian, who just
happened to be Armenian as well, had a few meetings with me where she
described what it would be like to attend school here in America. She
explained that it was very different from Armenia, that I would be in a
class with students of all different backgrounds, and that I would be likely
to meet students that had come here from other countries, just as I had.

I was taught about the "melting pot" which represents America, and how
although we are all different from one another, we must all be accepting of
others and try to establish friendships based on our differences. Her goal
as a guidance counselor, she believed, was to help students meet each other
and to grow in a world based on cultural and ethnic diversity. She also
explained to me that I would be accepted in my classroom although I did not
yet know how to speak English. I would get the help I needed to learn.
However, this would not set me apart from the whole class. I would continue
to be with my peers each day.

After that first meeting with her, I went home and explained to my family
the exciting new journey that I was about to embark on. My mother then
proceeded to tell me a story about a close friend of hers from Armenia. She
explained that her friend had gotten married to a man from Cuba while
studying in Russia, and had returned to Armenia to raise her daughter there.
However, her daughter was born dark-skinned like her father, and her friend
felt that her daughter's appearance would set her apart from everyone else.
It was very rare to see people from different backgrounds and such unique
marriages in Armenia, where over 90% of the population was white and
Armenian. It was not even hatred but the different skin color that caused
excessive curiosity, and still the family felt uncomfortable living there.
They moved and established their home in Canada.

At the time, it was very shocking to me as to why a baby would be looked
upon differently just because of her skin color. My mother told me that it
was wonderful that I would meet students from different ethnicities and that
she wanted me to be well-rounded.

Ever since the first grade, my mother's story has stuck with me and Mrs.
Jingozian's principles have become my own. I made it a goal of mine to
gather a multicultural group of friends once I learned the language, which I
believe I have succeeded in doing. Today, I have created friendships with
Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Pakistani students as well as numerous others,
all who have opened my eyes to recognize and marvel at their various
cultures. I have also been able to proudly pass on a bit of my own Armenian
heritage to them.

There is never a barrier that sets me apart from anyone, nor any ideas that
taint my mind towards those who have different customs or beliefs. My boss
is from the country of Jordan, and I work within an extremely multicultural
environment among a group of employees from Brazil, Egypt and Mexico.
Working in such an environment has even motivated me to learn the Arabic
language.

I feel that living in this country, the "melting pot" of the world, I have
been given an amazing opportunity to broaden my way of thinking about the
people who surround me and the differences that define us all. Since my
move, I have returned to Armenia, and was very pleased to see that more
people from other nations have established homes there and are attending the
universities there to study. I was extremely proud to see that the
population there today has been growing on a very different scale, and has
been establishing its own diversity.

I believe that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s ideas about equality and
tolerance have proven to be the most important factor in understanding the
rest of the world in which we live. Dr. King said, "Darkness cannot drive
out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love
can do that. The chain reaction of evil-hate begetting hate, wars producing
more wars- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of
annihilation." I believe it's time to open our eyes, and realize that each
of us live among more than 6 billion others on this earth. If we cannot
accept and try to understand one another, and embrace our differences, then
there is no way we can go forward and try to establish world peace or
diplomacy.