Friday, 4 May 2007

An scuffle at Barnes and Noble that made the New York Times

Here are two stories that appeared in the New York Times over the past two days:

Click here for article 1

Click here for article 2

The following is an objective report of most of the events during the book signing, as recorded by me, an audience member who was taking notes and witness to the events (a few comments or questions are missing because the scuffle was distracting and I was also intimidated by the Armenian woman mentioned below, who took pictures). After reading this detailed event summary, you will see that there is a chance for you to write to the New York Times about this. Please note that I do not agree with the author or her baseless claims other than the plight of her mother.

May 2, 2007

Book reading at the Upper East Side Barnes & Noble – 7 p.m. to around 8 p.m.

Margaret Ajemian Ahnert: Book entitled “The Knock at the Door – A Journey Through the Darkness of the Armenian Genocide.”

Ahnert explained her educational background at two low-profile universities. She has an MFA and a bachelor’s in psychology. She said that she teaches art appreciation to elementary school children. She explained that she is an ‘avid hunter and fisher.’

She opened her talk by saying that she wanted to take us ‘beyond the statistics on a personal journey.’

She said she was happy to see her friends and family among the audience members. “Many of you knew my mother, Esther,” she said. “She was 15 when the genocide started.”

She described the torture of her mother, Esther, “ her family was torn away from her, she was isolated, raped and married to a Turkish man for three years,” she said.

Ahnert then explained that her mother started a mantra being that “Armenians try to forget” what happened in those days. She said that her mother and others held that mantra but that she wanted to break it.

“This became the mantra of all Armenians – they came to this country to forget,” she said. “By forgetting for themselves, the world perhaps forgot too.”

“I have an undergraduate degree in psychology,” she continued, “to have forgiveness, there must be truth. There is reconciliation in truth. Without truth and acceptance, how can I forgive?”

“My mother was an amazing woman,” she said.

Ahnert said that Turks killed her mother’s family and took her mother’s land, yet her mother maintained that the outcome of these acts was ‘for God to decide.”

Ahnert’s mother would tell her “Margaret, hatred is like acide, it will erode the walls of the container.”

She said that she asked her mother if she hated Turks, and “without flinching or a moment’s pause, she said ‘no. I don’t.’”

Still, Ahnert said (in a voice as if she were telling something to a group of children), “I was fearful – they’ll get me too!”

Ahnert went on to tell a story about being in a taxi. She said she discovered through conversation that the driver was Turkish. She didn’t want to reveal that she was Armenian. “I need to go to the Metropolitan club,” she added as a command to the taxi driver and part of the story. She said that when the driver had brought her to the entrance of the club, she held the handle of the door in the taxi and said “I’m Armenian!” (Again, she sounded as if she was talking to a group of children in a dramatic, gentle way.) The cab driver, she claims, said “oh, I’m sorry, that’s now how it was, really.” And she said that she jumped out of the cab and said “yes it was, my mother went through it.” And she slammed the door.

“This book became my mantra – never to forget,” she said. “I feel better … I don’t hate anymore.”

She then referred to a NYT article from 1915: “Armenians sent to perish in the desert.”

“I looked up the word genocide in the dictionary,” she explained after saying that she didn’t know what it meant. She read a dictionary definition quickly. “To this day, scholars can not decide what it means,” she continued.

She then presented the Hitler argument – that he somehow warranted the Nazi movement by the actions he claims were denied by the world when the Turks and Armenians clashed in Anatolia: his statement somehow referred to the ‘slaughter of Armenians’ and how if that was ignored, then why would anyone question his movement.

Ahnert then read a passage from The Talmud: “He who saves one life, saves the world.”

Ahnert then proposed: “Would the holocaust have occurred if the acts of 1915 didn’t?”

She said she was proud of a quote that supported this notion. She said her Jewish friends have the luxury of their plight being acknowledged as a genocide, as their victimization.

“Armenians don’t have that gift of moving on,” she said. “I’m trying to move on.”

This is precisely when Turks began handing out ATAA fact fliers. A woman lept up from the front rows. She was a bit stout, had short, black hair, was wearing a blue t-shirt and a large stone around her neck.

She grabbed fliers from audience members. Cops came up and started to intervene.

“Freedom of speech!” cried a Turkish man from the back. “I don’t want to hear this bullshit story anymore!” cried another.

The woman approached Gokce and I. She tried to take our pamphlets. I didn’t budge. I didn’t give them to her. She stood there and insisted. I folded mine and kept it. I started to feel forced but didn’t budge. She grabbed them out of other people’s hands. The tensions rose.

The author was sitting in the front at this point - away from the podium.

Arguments between police officers, pamphlet distributors and Turkish audience members, sitting near the back, ensue. The woman with the short black hair gets up in front of the crowd.

“We have an important author here. That’s what we are here for,” she said. She (the same woman) went on to say that she had “interviewed genocide survivors for 30 years and had fought on the border of Azerbaijan for more Armenian territory. Someone in the crowd shouted “if she is important, do you want to let her talk?”

The author approached the podium again: “I don’t know … I’m feeling a lot of fear right now. In this safe place, safe city.”

Ahnert went on to explain that this book was part of her master’s degree thesis (MFA).

She said that when her mother spoke, every time, every story, every word came out unchanged. That’s the way the memory works, she said, you can’t alter your memory. “My mother had no game here,” she said.

My mother’s stories displayed characteristics of fear, anguish … I didn’t know what she went through, she said. She said that she wondered what the “fine Turkish auther Taner Acim went through.”

She made mention of Acim several times as her key historical source for information for her book. When she mentioned him, Turkish audience members would laugh and say out loud that he was a communist … someone they didn’t trust to deliver truthful information.

Ahnert brought in more NYT references (but I was a bit distracted by people shifting, speaking, so I didn’t catch them).

“This story is uplifting, full of empathy. It is humorous,” Ahnert said. She started to explain some of the sayings that her mom would tell her … something about catching a cold if you lean against a cold wall … old wive’s tales.

The woman with the short black hair was policing harder than the officers themselves. I know she took a picture of Gokce and I with her cell phone. She was snapping away as was one of the members of the Armenian students org. A Turkish man shouted “You do not have permission to take my picture.” He shouted again and again. Other people were snapping from another side of the bookstore – across the balcony where the floor opened up for the escalators, next to the cafĂ©. “You take a picture and I’ll sue your ass,” the man shouted again.

The police asked him to leave. As they escorted him, a scuffle ensued behind some shelves and pillars: “Take a picture of this!” he shouted – again and again. When the police lifted him up in hand cuffs, his cheek was streaming with blood. They took him down the escalator.

“As I step up tenuously,” said Ahnert … she had sat down in her chair again and now provoked audience cheers – to her delight.

“I’ve never encountered this before,” she said. “Perhaps New York is more verbal, vocal, free.”

“I can not imagine how Taner (Acim) must feel, as an intellectual,” she said.

She then said that she was grateful for the 7 million listeners to the Celestial Whispers radio program, for they supported her book.

More questions came in. A Turkish gentleman stating some facts and asking how she felt about them – the questions were discounted: “I am not a historian and not a scholar,” she kept saying.

She then told a story of a tour guide in Turkey who claimed that all of the Armenians decided to get up and leave at once – or some kind of blurred story about history that made no sense. She said she wrote down the story by the Turkish tour guide, who told her she had written it down correctly. “Yes, that’s right, you have it right,” Ahner said the tour guide told her.

Hugh Carey, former governor of New York was in the front row. He made a comment that Ahnert’s book was very timely considering the struggles in the region.

Another Turkish man stood up when called on. He explained that he related to the author’s story because his relatives had been killed by Armenians. He then asked why Ahnert thought only Armenians were relocated if there were so many other ethnic groups?

The people in the front, including Ahnert, acted as if they didn’t understand a word he was saying … as if his English was too poor. “What was the question?” A few people asked. “What’s the question,” they soon demanded. Then they said “we need a question.” The talk ended.

The host stood up and said “this is a beautiful book.”

This is the most complete account of the book signing. You have a choice to act now. The New York Times accepts 150 word letters to the editor about articles that were published within 7 days before the date you submit the letter.

This is what my letter looked like:

Genocide is not a word to be used authoritatively by someone who looks it up in a dictionary and decides that it fits the circumstances – as Mrs. Ahnert did throughout her speech at Barnes and Noble and as US publications do almost every single time they mention the events in Anatolia over the early part of last century. Please explore the context of the events and the fact that, over the course of the decade before 1915, Armenians took up Russian arms and stockpiled them in Turkey. Overall, 2.5 million Muslims died during the time at issue from similar causes. One can start by looking up Dashnak on Google to get a sense of Armenian violence and the state of conflict in the region. Above all, genocide is a term with serious legal implications. This matter has never been scrutinized legally, and there exist many people in the Turkish community who wish it would go to international court.

Again, the submission must be around 150 words (a little more or less is okay). You are also required to send your name, address and phone so that they can verify the identity of the person who sent it.

You can send your letter, name and contact information to: