Author: Ariel Patrick

Cabin Fever: Trapped Onboard the Last Ships at Sea: A Guest Post by Eric Paul Roorda

Near the end of his own stormy passage through life, Mark Twain began an untitled story that he never finished. Its setting was an endless voyage on a sea teeming with terrors, such as the “spider-squid,” which surfaced to snatch the captain’s little boy from the deck of the ship. As it turns out, the vessel is microscopic, plowing through an ocean-like drop of liquid on a slide, under a microscope. The sea monsters that menace it are such miniscule horrors as bacteria and viruses.

Today, a version of that nightmare has come to life onboard ships—containerships, oil tankers, cruise ships—among crew members and passengers alike, who find themselves virtually imprisoned.

Merchant ships continue to circulate around the globe, maintaining the tenuous international supply lines. From one port of call to another, cranes unload thousands of truck-sized boxes full of products from containerships, and pumps fill-up and empty-out tankers, but the mariners working on those ships are not permitted to disembark. The March 26 New York Times cited a single example: an oil tanker manned by eight sailors, plying from China to Singapore to Sri Lanka, due to go on to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with each destination having in common a prohibition against anyone coming ashore.

That means that workers on merchant ships, even those who have fulfilled their contractual terms of labor, are forced to continue doing their duty indefinitely. An estimated 150,000 individuals, mainly from the Philippines, China, India, Indonesia, Ukraine and Russia, find themselves in a nether-region of un-free employment. They have no options other than to toil on, seven days a week, for monthly pay ranging from $400 to $1,000 for ordinary seamen. Officers make more, up to $10,000 per month, but they have the same chance of going home as the greenest oil wiper: zero.

How long can that last? The situation resembles the customary abuse of maritime labor that prevailed in the 19th century, which the Supreme Court approved in its 1897 ruling in Robertson v. Baldwin, known as the Arago decision, after the name of a ship from which four sailors deserted due to brutal treatment. In that case, the justices found that the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States, did not apply to mariners! This form of legalized exploitation of workers endured until the Merchant Marine Act of 1915, which afforded American sailors some basic protections. But many countries have never promulgated such a measure, leaving their seagoing citizens prey to conditions of pseudo-slavery, in particular in the outlaw world of commercial fishing in international waters.

Now, the international community is collectively shrugging and acquiescing to this backward leap in workers’ rights. Global demand for the goods the ships deliver outweighs the world’s regard for the people who deliver them.

Cruise ships have had to return to port and stay put, but there are stragglers still out there. One of them has become a disaster zone—Holland America Line’s Zaandam. The ship inexplicably left for a cruise from Argentina to Chile on March 7, more than a month after Princess Line’s Diamond Princess imported COVID-19 to Yokohama, Japan, and at the same time the Grand Princess was bobbing about fifty miles off the Golden Gate, trying to deal with an outbreak of the disease. The Zaandam left Buenos Aires just the day before the State Department’s tardy warning against such herding onto artificial islands (which cruise ships are). It got as far as the Strait of Magellan, where those among the 1,243 guests who were ambulatory went ashore to see the faded grandeur of Punta Arenas, while most of the 586 crew members cleaned their rooms, prepared their food, and maintained the manifold operations of the ship. That was their last port of call. That was March 14. The cruise was supposed to end on March 21.

Since then, Zaandam has made its way up the west coast of South America, from one potential refuge to another, denied entry to all of them, while the deadly novel coronavirus has spread throughout the ship, without discrimination, from roomy penthouses to kennel-like crew quarters. Zaandam reached the Panama Canal with four corpses in a walk-in refrigerator. Another 138 people had reported feeling sick—53 paying “guests” and 85 employees. Two of them had tested positive for the coronavirus in the brief interim since test kits arrived on the ship.

After an initial delay, Zaandam gained permission to transit the isthmian passage, but now has been denied entry into any port in Florida.

Holland America Line is a cruise industry cliché—it caters to the most elderly segment of the market. It is the Geriatric American Line. Anyone a few years short of qualifying for Medicare will feel like a young whipper-snapper on a HAL cruise.

HAL’s Zaandam is a huge ark of wealthy, vulnerable elderly, and relatively penniless, vulnerable servants.

Micky Arison is the Chairman of Carnival Corporation, which his father founded and ran for decades, before expatriating himself, along with his vast, virtually untaxed wealth. Carnival includes a dozen brands, including Princess and HAL.

Micky Arison failed to bring his fleets to port before the inevitable nightmare scenario came to pass—that COVID-19 would hijack a cruise ship like a legion of invisible pirates. While that was happening, Arison offered the idled vessels of Carnival Corp. to the federal government, for use as hospitals—charging a rental fee to cover costs. The president has praised Arison’s proposal as a patriotic, selfless gesture.

In truth, the audacity of Arison’s gambit to salvage revenue at this moment of crisis defies description, if not divine judgment.

In the meantime, Holland America Line’s Zaandam has reached Miami, with nine people onboard having tested positive for COVID, and another 200 showing symptoms, and those four corpses still onboard, maybe in the freezer by now. The Carnival Corp. COO has called Florida its “port of last resort.” At this writing, Governor Ron DeSantis is denying Zaandam’s bid to find shelter in this viral storm. In the interim, the chorus of coughing along its narrow corridors grows louder, coming from behind more and more closed doors, with every passing hour…

Eric Paul Roorda is the editor of The Ocean Reader: History, Culture, Politics. He is a Professor of History at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, where he specializes in the diplomatic and naval history of  the Caribbean Sea. During the summer, he directs the Munson Institute graduate program in Maritime Studies at Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. He regularly lectures on cruises on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager. He is the author of The Dictator Next Door and co-editor of The Dominican Republic Reader, both also published by Duke University Press.

 Read the introduction to The Ocean Reader free online and save 50% on all in-stock titles during our special sale using the coupon code SPRING50.

The Plague, A Guest Post by Amy Laura Hall

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Amy Laura Hall is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Duke University Divinity School. She is the author of Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich.

I am writing from Texas. It is Lent, and I am surrounded by Christmas decorations that need to be sorted. My mom, the amazing Carol Hall, teacher of generations of West Texas teens, had her heart cut open and her brain rudely interrupted as the great plague of 2020 began. She suffered a heart-attack and stroke the last week of January.

My dad, the amazing Reverend Robert Hall, has been married to my mom for more decades than I’ve been alive. I do not understand them. Their love confuses me. They have developed a means of communicating that I imagine as a geriatric version of the cant that twins are rumored to have. I’ve been intruding on them regularly since the crisis. Today, I just wanted to go to the grocery store.

Cedar Park, Texas was a small town a half hour from Austin. Now it is Nordstrom Rack, Hobby Lobby, local barbecue, old-timers remembering before Lakeline Mall, and multi-generational families speaking another language. We all exist outside AUSTIN, TEXAS, travel destination of the stars. South by Southwest, now an international phenomenon, was cancelled this year, due to the plague of 2020, and people who were already working three jobs for a living are driving through Cedar Park trying to figure out how to make ends meet. And everyone is converging on their H.E.B.

If you are reading this from North Carolina, H.E.B. is the Piggly Wiggly of Texas. People are loyal to their local H.E.B., and, even if there are other spots to shop, I swear that Cedar Park people are going there for a sense of normalcy. Maybe that is projection. I have shopped there almost daily every visit. Back in North Carolina, I carry H.E.B. reusable shopping bags from each season as if they were Prada.

My mother’s car has a radio function that allows me to shift from the 1940s to the 1980s. I’ve been doing the Charleston to the Hustle between stop lights. Two refrains have stuck in my head. “The things we do for love.” And “Freak Out!”

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I have rarely walked in the rain or the snow, but “the things we do for love” makes for good prayer. When dealing with depends and diapers and tampons and anything else that is “down there,” including all the dog poop I pick up when I am home with mutts, I sing, to myself, “The things we do for love . . .” Here in Cedar Park, this week, looking at all the people standing in line around the corner at the H.E.B., because the store management is doing their best, I thought, yes. The things we do for love.

Yesterday, facing the line around the corner, I gave up and went to buy barbecue at a place that shares the parking lot and has the name Moe. (I am afraid I will get the name wrong, but I recommend everything they serve.) I promised my dad I would not come within 4 feet of anyone. A man about my dad’s age saw me trying gently to avoid him and said “Don’t worry! I don’t have it!” No worries! I am also trying not to scare anyone by my mere presence! Then, over the radio, “Freak Out!”

The barbecue spot is small, and less than a dozen people were there. But we decided, awkwardly – from old Cedar Park and tattooed new Cedar Park, and with at least a few couples venturing to the Hill Country – that “Freak Out” could be a theme song for the great plague of 2020. At least a few of us danced. Mr. Moe, who I have never caught off-guard, cracked a smile.

Here is what I know for sure. It is Lent. I am trying to remember how to eat, not to fast. The birds in Cedar Park are singing their hearts out. The plague of 2020 reminds me that we matter, each of us. Every sparrow. Every mockingbird. Every grackle. Everyone. Each one of us matters. Call me what you will. I am clear that God’s omniamity (yes, I coined that word) does not fit within a primary or an election year or a nation. And . . . and, Julian of Norwich saw all of this. She was a visionary during what is indisputably known as the Great Plague. She lived through proclamations of God’s wrath. She saw people declared as mere peasants rise up together bravely. They were mowed down like mice. I have not forgotten. I will continue to see.

Save 50% on Amy Laura Hall’s Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich and all in-stock titles during our special sale using the coupon code SPRING50.

Duke University Press Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

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In order to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Duke University has restricted travel and suggested that most staff work from home for the next few weeks. Although the Press remains open for business at this writing, all of our spring travel to conferences has been canceled. 

Conferences where we will no longer have a physical presence

We have not yet made any decisions about several other conferences taking place in May and June. We will update our conference page as we do.

Online sale in lieu of conference booths: 50% off

We know that many people really look forward to picking up new books at discounted prices at these conferences. In light of that, we are pleased to offer 50% off all in-stock books and journal issues plus free domestic U.S. shipping on orders over $100. Note that while journal subscriptions and society memberships are not eligible for the 50% discount, they do count toward the $100 minimum, so go ahead and renew now. See our sale FAQ here. This special sale will run through May 1, 2020.

We’ll be posting special posts here on the blog about each of the above missed conferences. Please check back to see featured titles, links to online content from our authors, and recommendations from our editors.

Library support

Visit our COVID-19 response webpage to learn how we are supporting libraries during this time. As courses transition to online, we can provide 90 days of complimentary electronic access to course materials—contact orders@dukeupress.edu.

“Cruise Ships, Containerships, and the COVID-19 Crisis: Harbinger of a Great Stillness on the Ocean?” A Guest Post by Eric Paul Roorda

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Visitors to San Francisco who arrive by sea experience a spectacle. Their ship approaches the Marin Headlands, glides through the narrow passage called the Golden Gate, passes beneath the iconic bridge, and enters San Francisco Bay. More than eighty cruise ships visit the Port of San Francisco annually, carrying upwards of 300,000 passengers and an untold number of crew members.

But cruise ship traffic into San Francisco—and for that matter, every U.S. port—may come to a halt, due to a single vessel, the Grand Princess. The ship arrived at the Golden Gate with the novel Coronavirus virus onboard, which causes the potentially lethal disease designated as COVID-19. The highly contagious pathogen had apparently gained a foothold on the ship during its previous voyage in Mexican waters, infecting a passenger who died of COVID-19 after returning home. The virus endured onboard the Grand Princess, only to re-emerge on the ship’s next voyage. Dozens of people exhibited symptoms as the ship neared the end of another voyage to Mexico.

First came the Diamond Princess, which introduced the disease to Japan on February 4, when it docked at the port of Yokohama, where it became a micro-cluster of contagion. After weeks of improvised, ineffective quarantine measures, the ship released about 3,600 passengers and crew back to their countries of origin, many of them potential carriers of Coronavirus, because few of them had been tested conclusively for the malady.

A month later came the Grand Princess, carrying 3,533 passengers—2,422 guests and 1,111 crewmembers—from 54 nations. News reached the ship on 2 March, that a prior passenger had tested positive for COVID-19 before dying. Princess Cruises canceled the remainder of the vessel’s itinerary, and ordered the Grand Princess to steam straight back to San Francisco, its port of embarkation. Along the way, on 5 March, Coast Guard helicopters dropped test kits to the ship’s deck. The following night, Vice President Mike Pence reported that 46 passengers who showed symptoms had been “swabbed,” and 21 of them had tested positive. That total included two “guests” (who stay in private suites), and nineteen members of the crew (who live, work and breathe, sometimes cough and sneeze, and occasionally vomit, in very close quarters, below the vessel’s waterline).

The positive tests halted the ship’s progress, just short of its destination. The Grand Princess bobbed around fifty miles outside the Golden Gate, awaiting its fate, suffering the claustrophobic inconveniences of belatedly instituted quarantine measures. After a public debate over the fate of the Grand Princess, which included the President expressing his preference that the ship stay at sea indefinitely, it was allowed to dock on 9 March.

But the Grand Princess did not end its ill-starred voyage at the historic Pier on San Francisco’s lovely waterfront adapted as a “cruise ship terminal,” with all of its amenities. Instead, it headed for a “container terminal” across the bay, on the barren industrial waterfront of Oakland/Alameda. The guests disembarked into quarantine at military bases in California, Texas, and Georgia, while Canadians were allowed to fly home for their 2-week period of preventative isolation. The crewmembers, however, must remain onboard.

The cable news networks followed the Grand Princess on its sunrise passage through the spectacular Golden Gate. The ship itself seemed riveted together from sheets of pure gold, illuminated in the low rays of eastern light. But then the scene became unusual, possibly unprecedented. The Grand Princess, a “mega-ship” of the new breed, symbolic of the spectacular rise of cruise travel, was mooring at a vast dockyard that utterly lacked the infrastructure to accommodate it. Weirder still, the dockyard itself, the sprawling Oakland/Alameda complex, one of the busiest in the hemisphere, was vacant!

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What next? There are 314 cruise ships loose upon the world’s waves, all of them bound for some port of call, each of them a potential vector of the invisible scourge of COVID-19. The potential carnage is akin to that of 1918, when 675,000 Americans succumbed to The Great Influenza—among 50 million worldwide, by conservative estimates. It seems possible that the imminent spread of the novel coronavirus will mothball the pleasure fleet for an indefinite period of time, while the world weathers the virus crisis. As I write, Princess Cruises and Viking Cruise Line have both announced that they are suspending operations. More are sure to follow…

And yet, the size of the global merchant marine dwarfs the number of cruise ships. There were 53,732 merchant vessels out there as of January 2018. About 5,500 of them are enormous containerships. The ratio is 171 merchant ships to every cruise ship.

As the rate of production of manufactured goods and extraction of raw materials in China declines, while the severity of the Coronavirus outbreak increases, there is less and less cargo for these hulls to carry around the world. Already, the docks of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland/Alameda, usually hyperactively busy with the disgorging of cargo from Asia, have become weirdly sleepy. Soon, there will be vast flotillas of empty ships—bulk carriers for wheat and ore, tankers, car carriers, containerships—anchored off the major ports of the world, riding high in the water, with nothing to haul, and nowhere to go.

All of this adds up to a rare occurrence in recorded history. The Ocean may be virtually free of human activity for a while, and there is no way of telling how long that could last. There is also little way to forecast what effects such a strange event might have. From the perspective of global capitalism, the damage could be devastating and enduring.

But other contrasting priorities could be well served by this ongoing twist of fate. In particular, the disruptions brought by Coronavirus could be a boon for the movements to buy locally made products, to eat regional food sources, and to reduce the giant, greasy carbon footprint of global trade and globe-trotting tourism. An empty Ocean could not only stall the pandemic, it could help humanity to hit the reset button on the dangerously unsustainable status quo of the international economy.

Eric Paul Roorda is the editor of The Ocean Reader: History, Culture, Politics. He is a Professor of History at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, where he specializes in the diplomatic and naval history of  the Caribbean Sea. During the summer, he directs the Munson Institute graduate program in Maritime Studies at Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. He regularly lectures on cruises on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager. He is the author of The Dictator Next Door and co-editor of The Dominican Republic Reader, both also published by Duke University Press.

 Read the introduction to The Ocean Reader free online and save 30% on the paperback edition with coupon code E20RORDA.

The Lonely Docks Along the Port of Long Beach, California: The American Cargo Cult Depends on Containerships from China, But They’ve Stopped Coming” A guest post by Eric Paul Roorda

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Most days, the Port of Long Beach operates at a frenetic, kinetic pace.  It is the main port in the United States for Pacific trade, and the second-busiest seaport in the country. The busiest is the Port of Los Angeles, which is adjacent to the Port of Long Beach, even intertwined with it. From the perspective of the national infrastructure, Long Beach and LA are one huge, China-oriented entrepot.  The two Port districts divide trade with the People’s Republic of China, with LA serving China Overseas Shipping Company (COSCO, not to be confused with the Big Box retailer Costco), while CSLC (China Shipping Container Lines) calls Long Beach home. LA is #17 on the list of busiest ports in the world, with approximately 946,000 containers passing through the salty enclave city of San Pedro (pronounced “san PEA-dro”) in 2018. The “containers,” steel boxes full of goods, are exactly like those one sees being hauled by trucks and trains, hence the term “inter-modal transport.” Each container is termed a “TEU,” or “Twenty-foot Equivalency Unit,” in the industry. Long Beach is #20 globally, handling about 809,000 TEUs, mainly from Asia, that year, its busiest ever. The combined value of trade generated at the twin ports exceeds $400 billion, and supports on the order of five million jobs across the nation, including more than a million in Southern California.

Most days, enormous vessels from China arrive in the wee hours, some bearing more than 23,000 containers. In twelve hours, cranes unburden the containership of its contents—an eclectic array of products for retail consumption, component parts, and raw materials—then re-load it with a lighter outbound cargo, typically containers full of scrap metal and others transporting nothing but air. Empty containers heading west are emblematic of the massive US trade deficit. The boxes will be re-filled at Chinese ports, among the busiest on the planet. The busiest is Shanghai, which turned around more than 42 million TEUs in 2018, followed by the island-city-nation of Singapore. Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, is third; then Ningbo, south of Shanghai; Guangzhou, the manufacturing megalopolis on the Peal River is fifth; at seventh, after Busan, South Korea, is Hong Kong (a “Special Autonomous Region” of the PRC); Qingdao and Tianjin, the port of Beijing, round out the top nine. Tianjin’s TEU total for 2018 was an even 16 million, almost ten times more than the combined container traffic at LA/Long Beach!

Today, stillness and quiet prevail at the combined Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, a kind of silent stasis such as that area of the maritime world, stretching for miles along the Pacific Coast south of the center of the city of the Angels, has not scene for a half-century. Back then, Terminal Island in the Port of Los Angeles gave San Pedro the title of “Tuna Capital of the World.” It was the HQ for Starkist and Chicken of the Sea, companies that employed Japanese and Portuguese men and women, the former fishing for the once-abundant blue fin tuna, and the latter cleaning and canning them. All of that has disappeared—the tuna, the canneries, and the people. Terminal Island is now covered by COSTCO’s sprawling facilities.

Have you noticed the shelves at your neighborhood—or likelier, nearest Beltway—Megalomart have started looking a little lacking? Why is that?

Two things, one old, one new, are to blame.

The old thing is a system of container transportation of products produced in China, brought about by two innovations. First came Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic of China in October 1949, which eventually developed into an unprecedented economic juggernaut under the leadership of Deng Xiao Ping three decades later. Deng developed the oxymoronic practice of “market socialism,” based in “Special Economic Zones” in major port cities like those listed above, where Wild West capitalism flourished with government concessions. “Market socialism” unleashed the productive capacity of China’s enormous population, sending economic growth rates to double digits in the 1980s.

The second innovation key to the dominance of this Sinocentric global system came when trucking magnate Malcolm McLean sent the Ideal X, the first containership, on its maiden voyage in 1954. Converted from a surplus WWII cargo ship, Ideal X carryied the same boxes that McLean’s trucks carried around on land. A comparative handful of them, by today’s standards, were stacked up on Ideal X’s deck that day, but the business that McLean formed to spread the new technology, Sea-Land Corporation, revolutionized cargo transportation on the great Ocean highway.

The new development explaining those sparsely stocked shelves at your local Big Retail Emporium is COVID-19. The disease generated by a novel coronavirus is freezing extraction and manufacturing across the PRC, the point of origin of what has become an incipient pandemic now confronting the whole world. As a result, the flow of products delivered by Chinese containerships to feed the American cargo cult has slowed to a trickle.

And so, the scene along the docks in Long Beach and San Pedro is eerily still, frozen in a dysfunctional moment in world history.

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Eric Paul Roorda is the editor of The Ocean Reader: History, Culture, Politics. He is a Professor of History at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, where he specializes in the diplomatic and naval history of  the Caribbean Sea. During the summer, he directs the Munson Institute graduate program in Maritime Studies at Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. He regularly lectures on cruises on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager.

 Read the introduction to The Ocean Reader free online and save 30% on the paperback edition with coupon code E20RORDA.

Harry Harootunian on the Ironies of the Armenian Genocide

Harry Harootunian is Max Palevsky Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Chicago; professor emeritus of East Asian studies at New York University; and the author of numerous books, most recently, Uneven Moments: Reflections on Japan’s Modern History. In this guest post, he discusses the challenges of uncovering the truth of his parents’ experiences in the Armenian genocide while writing his memoir The Unspoken as Heritage: The Armenian Genocide and Its Unnaccounted Lives and grapples with the multigenerational echoes of the event amidst a resurgence of political interest.

 

The recent resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives to recognize the Turkish massacres of 1915-1916 as a full-fledged “genocide” resurfaces the historical plight of an ethnic group designated for extinction as a “reviled” race—one that was nearly eliminated over a century ago. Since that time, its survivors and their descendants have lived with the memories of murder and mutilation scarcely acknowledged by world opinion. The events exist only as a living presence that continues to guarantee social solidarity in the shadowed diaspora communities scattered throughout the globe. Because the event faded into the background noise of 20th century political history, sovereign states failed to grant it the status of genocide. Successive U.S. presidents have routinely rejected the resolution whenever it has appeared for a vote, apparently in fear of alienating America’s Turkish ally. Even Barack Obama caved in to Turkish sensitivities after promising in his presidential campaign that he would approve of the resolution if elected. Obama was already on record for criticizing the firing of a former ambassador to Armenia for having used what he—Obama—believed was the “proper” word of genocide for describing the massacres of 1915-16. But in his presidency he failed to promote the resolution and see it through its acceptance. Turkey’s membership in NATO is cited a primary  reason for this continued campaign of disavowal in the postwar decades, and the initiative was constantly sidestepped because, as former president George W. Bush recently warned, supporting such a resolution would further complicate relations with the West Asia region (Middle East). Explanations for inaction towards resolution always comprised a paradoxical combination of appeals to American national interest and Turkish sensitivity. In the case of the latter, the insistence on coddling Turkish sensibilities when Turkey has continuously and confidently denied the existence of the event, while the former was apparently justified by the presence of American air bases in the region. With the current American president’s mysteriously slavish devotion to Turkey’s thuggish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdogan, business ties masquerading as a concern for national interest will undoubtedly lead to another veto.

The sudden resurfacing of the resolution and its recent genocidal recognition in the U.S. House raises the question of what circumstances prompted action after decades of indifferent rejection. Where did the political energy come from to exhume the long-ignored Armenian genocide and murder of 1,500,000 inhabitants of the empire? It occurred to me that The Unspoken As Heritage: The Armenian Genocide and Its Unaccounted Lives, my new memoir chronicling my parents’ escape from impending mass extinction and their subsequent migration to the U.S., might now seem relevant in understanding of the recent race to ratify the resolution. My account concentrates on the immense imperative of adapting from the pre-capitalist communities of a dysfunctional land empire to a modern capitalist social order and the impact 500 years of oppressive colonial rule as a “reviled” race had on this transition. Using the figure of the Armenian genocide to explain recent changes in U.S. Middle East policy, however, excluded the histories of those who suffered most from it. The Armenians perceived distance suggested that it was still unclear whether the stigmatic judgment of revilement remains an unerasable tattoo for those who survived its excesses or who came after.

The reason for the resurgence in interest in the Armenian genocide is the fear that the withdrawal of a small American force in Syria would lead Turkey to once more resort to genocide to rid the region of Kurds. What is interesting about this rapid shift is the willingness to forgo previous concerns for Turkish sensitivity by branding Turkey with an aptitude for unleashing mass murder. Americans had no trouble immediately remembering what modern Turkey had been socialized to forget. Neither policy makers nor self-styled defenders of human rights seemed aware that Kurds had been one of the principal, energetic forces (along with the Turkish military) in the execution of murders, massacres and massive theft of the very Armenians whose historical experience of near extinction was now being invoked to spare the Kurds from a similar fate. In The Unspoken as Heritage, I note the intensely eager role of the Kurds in carrying out the labor of massacre and mutilation under the Ottoman state’s sponsored encouragement. Ample scholarship shows evidence of attempts to make the Kurdish involvement in the Armenian genocide appear as common sense. This narrative, rooted in the struggle over acquisition of cultivable agricultural land, went back to the early 19th century when Kurdish brigades carried out systematic but unscheduled pogroms against Armenians. But again, ironically, once the state had successfully eliminated much of the Armenian population in the killing fields and mass deportations, it was replaced by the new Turkish nation-state, which, in the early 1930s, turned to the older strategy of ethnic cleansing by removing and annihilating the Kurds that has persisted to the present day. In view of this congestion of ironies, it now seems pertinent to explain how I’ve tried to construct my parents’ singular experience, which is the kind of ‘history’ tropic condensations invariably exclude.

The memoir attempts to re-compose what my two sisters and I could recall of our parents’ escape and migration from the perspective of our lives growing up in late depression Detroit through the years of World War II. Our parents, Ohaness Der Harootunian and Vehanush Kupalian, remained silent about what experiences compelled them to make such a long unplanned and perilous trek from their homeland, and my goal has been to construct an account that might reveal something about their early lives in Anatolia. Throughout our lives, they maintained a disciplined silence on their experience of the genocide, their collective loss, and the struggles of building a life in an alien country. As I look back to the years of our childhoods, their resolute silence, which first appeared as a mystery of origins, was transmuted into a permanent void that became our lasting heritage. My parents, like the names of the dead, were linked to experiences deposited in an unapproachable locked realm, what author Patrick Modiani, in another context, once described as “dormant memories,” forever unspoken and unawakened.

When I was younger, questions concerning our parents’ lives before the U.S. never occurred to me. When finding answers to these and other questions became a compelling imperative, I concluded that approaching them through the historical optic of the genocide would only perpetuate the Armenian genocide as a sideshow of Turkey’s involvement in World War I. Moreover, I had no qualifications to write such a history, even if I wanted to. My interests were guided by the recognition that I never really knew who my parents were. I was convinced that whatever prompted the desire to clear up the mystery might put an end to the void of this silent repression that had engulfed and dominated our lives and animated theirs.

This project stems from an intense concern with the long and multi-generational afterlife of the genocide that has remained at the heart of the Armenian diaspora. For Armenians of successive generations like mine, this concern has itself become a form of heritage that obliges each to prevent memories of the event from falling into permanent indifference and forgetfulness. As a result, I became preoccupied with understanding why the experience subjected our parents to a collective silence of the unspoken that became our inheritance. I began to sense how difficult this project had become, frustrated by the sudden realization of how little I knew of my parents and that my sisters and I never questioned what brought them to the U.S.

In the absence of sufficient resources, I’ve resorted to a re-composition of what they separately went through, hesitantly trying to envision their accompanying thoughts and feelings based off what the three of us were able recall or thought they endured as they escaped imminent death. The re-composition I cobbled together resembles most an archaeological excavation that pries and sifts through loose, unrelated fragments to serve as an incomplete representation of a life lived. To wrest them from their silent confinement and imagine the details of their fractured lives, I assumed the fictive figure of an uninvited intruder in their thoughts. Though our parents rarely spoke of their individual encounters, the experience of genocidal witness, loss and escape stalked their efforts to rebuild their lives abroad. The shadow of their earlier experience followed them as they struggled to navigate through the barriers of chronic economic and social failure.

We inherited the political toll of destruction produced by the void and its aftermath. Our starting point is our father’s loss of his entire family, a large unit comprised of several brothers and sisters (the count and names remain unknown), mother, father, grandparents and even great-grandparents; our mother came from a smaller family and was left with no relatives: her father died when she was an infant, her brother perished in the genocide and her mother never returned after putting Vehanush into a German missionary school for safe-keeping even though she made it to Beirut and remarried. As children we confronted the namelessness of departed relatives since it was effectively disallowed to  speak of their past, as if it never existed. Yet we came to realize much later that naming something gives it life, which enabled us to recognize that the genocide powerfully altered and reshaped these people. Naming it allows us to enter its forgotten precincts and retrieve their repressed memories. The memoir details the lasting effects that are passed into our unasked-for legacy.

The lived irony of a genocide reproduced by its victims’ prolonged silences recalls how the Armenian genocide unintentionally (or intentionally) alludes to the Kurds’ possible fate upon the removal American troops in Syria. If the latter is ultimately an uninformed political tactic, involuntarily slipping from metaphor into momentary irony, its unwelcome contrast with the former further reinforces the truth of Marx’s observation that history, in the second time around, always appears as farce.

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