Journalism In Verse

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Numbers

in World by

             other than the names of food1
and the nonsense words of a song my grandfather used to sing2
             in his wavering and tone-deaf old-man voice and also the two
words he used to call me which were “avud alshig” and which sometimes became part of the song and which mean “little girl” though i am not sure which word is which, aside from these i know exactly twelve
             words in armenian: i can say “hello.3
i can say “priest.4
             and i can count to ten.

on the street corners of paris, when i was nineteen
             i saw for the first time the signs which number
the arrondissements and some of which also number
             how many were taken how many were killed how many of those were children: thousands,
sometimes, from a single neighborhood, from a single street, alongside the words, “avec la complicité active” of the french government and at the time i remember that i wondered how you can be actively complicit anyway but i also remember being impressed that they bothered to put the signs up at all and horrified but not surprised at how big the numbers
             were. i was living in the tenth
and every day i would walk by the sign and think about the numbers
             of children that had lived in the house where i now lived and how numbers
were written on their arms and now they are remembered only as numbers

in new york city i was rushing to see a play as i did so many
             times and i was running down forty-second
street and i saw it a billboard which read: truth = peace which is an equation
             which does not quite make sense when it is presented alongside a link to factcheckarmenia.com which is a website that denies the turkish genocide of one point five million
armenian people between 1915
             and 1917
a billboard which goes alongside: the official position of the turkish government, the opinion of the average turkish citizen, and the unspoken approval of the united states which has never acknowledged the genocide5
             i walk down forty-second
street only three
             weeks later and the billboard has been replaced with a photograph of a dark-haired little girl and the text “i remember what my family survived for me” with the child’s name and the words fourth
generation genocide survivor and i, too, am a fourth
             generation genocide survivor on my mother’s side and a third
generation genocide survivor on my father’s side and i stopped for a minute on forty-second
             street while people hurried past me and i stared at the billboard and i cried because i thought:

at least someone else remembers too and i thought thank g-d i never have to look at that awful genocide-denying billboard again and i thought my g-d what a heavy burden for a little girl to carry how much to remember and i thought not as heavy as watching your family be murdered and i thought is that the only reason to survive for me all for me and i thought then i realize i thought then that little girl and i had no burden but to tell these stories and that was heavy enough

in front of the jewish museum of paris there are four
             security guards and i saw one
of them push a woman (headscarf, stroller, baby) off the sidewalk and onto the street. i did not say anything to the guard. but i helped the woman with the baby back onto the sidewalk. i think i helped the woman up. i don’t remember. but i remember thinking about the street signs and as i walked through the museum i saw the sacred ark left behind in 1476
             and the tombstone of the martyrs of the thirteenth
century and the edict which in 1306
             expelled the jews of france for the first
of many, many times that we would be expelled from that particular country let alone all the others and i thought: thousands
             of years running from place to place and six million
dead and is it still only fear and never compassion that we have learned6

around the corner from my old apartment on beverly glen boulevard in los angeles there is a large synagogue. the entrance is manned by one
             security guard, who always smiled at me when i walk by although this was not the synagogue that i attended. in the previous six
days there had been over forty
             bomb threats made against US synagogues and so then there were two
guards at the large synagogue around the corner from my old apartment on beverly glen boulevard and one
of them, the new one, who must be younger than i am, has a gun. he nodded at me, and smiled, as i walk past him. it was january and the sun is shining. this was months ago and yet i remember quite clearly being

both afraid and ashamed. afraid that something will happen to me. ashamed that i could be so selfish. ashamed that i was relieved at the thought that at least one
of the men who walk around with guns is keeping me safe, for once
since in the last hundred
years my family spent a lot of time being chased out of their homes by men with guns and that even if that man with the gun is only nineteen
years old even if i don’t think anyone should have guns at all actually even if really i’m just being paranoid even if—oh yes i am ashamed but i am glad

and for the first
             time in six
days i didn’t have the dream the one
             i can’t stop having the one
where they come for my parents and they come for me the way they came for my great-grandparents and their great-grandparents and their great-grandparents every four
             generations for several
thousand
             years7

there are two
             quotes i wish everyone could hear. this is one

i should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. go ahead, destroy armenia. see if you can do it. send them into the desert without bread or water. burn their homes and churches. then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. for when two
of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a new armenia8.

and this is the other one:

who remembers the armenians.

this was said by adolf hitler, in 1939
             twenty
years after my mother’s grandparents fled to make a new armenia in this country and six
             years before my father’s parents would learn, horrified, that the communities they left behind to make a new life in this country no longer existed and that everyone they had known before had been murdered and that was seventy two
             years ago today as of today the day that i write this seventy two
years and i can tell you that there were one point five million
armenians killed in the genocide and that there were six million
             jews killed in the holocaust and i can tell you that four
generations later the pain has only just started to fade and i can tell that there were nine hundred and thirty seven
             jews aboard the st louis alone trying to get into this country and you let them die and i can tell you that eight
months ago an executive order was signed to keep out refugees from four
             majority muslim countries and i can tell you that there are three thousand five hundred
             frightened people, of whom two thousand and three hundred are children, who have left behind their homes and their countries and everyone they know to be met not with open arms but with fifteen thousand
             men with guns and i can tell you that three million
women marched in the streets and screamed their pain and no one listened and i can tell you that eleven
             people were killed this shabbat, while welcoming a baby who was only eight
             days old into our tribe and now he will always know that to be one
             of us means death and means pain and means you never know when your neighbors are going to try to kill you and i can tell you number
             after number
after number
             after number
but i cannot tell you the stories, which are the things that really matter, because i only know twelve
             words of armenian so i could not understand. and no one
talks about it anyway.

and even if we could
how would we find the words
to say
it is happening
again.

_______________________

1 lehmujan. kofte. choreg.
2 dadi lo lo dadi lo lo dai dai
3 so i have all the necessary vocabulary for a trip to the bakery, anyway. inchbesses. choreg. meg. i can interact with my culture only by consuming it. i think this explains a few things about me.
4 which is also the word for “father,” which is ironic because it is not my father’s half
of me
5 this is not a very poetic word but i feel quite obligated to use it as often as possible. in fact the american government has referred to “war crimes” and to “atrocities” but will not say “genocide” so i will
6 why don’t i remember? is it because i am afraid? is it because i am ashamed? i am both
i know that i am both
7 you try having multiple genocides on each side of your family. see how well you sleep.
8 this was said by william saroyan, and it is quoted incessantly by armenians everywhere as they build again their churches and museums and bakeries and recreate a new armenia

Anya Josephs is a graduate school dropout, a passionate reader, and an emerging writer. Her fiction has appeared in the Green Briar Review; her non-fiction has been published by SPARK, Proud2beMe, and the Huffington Post; her plays have been produced by NOMADs, Powerhouse Apprentice Company, and One Song Productions. She was raised in North Carolina and now lives, works, and teaches in New York City.

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