Monthly Archives: April 2016

An Open Letter to the Armenian Diaspora

I am writing this to you as a twenty-something year old citizen of Los Angeles. As someone who gets confused for Armenian more than my own race, which I don’t mind, because I find your women to be among the most beautiful of the East. I am writing this to you as a neighbor of 10 Armenian families between the years 2000-2010. I am writing this to you as the best friend and second daughter to an Armenian family, the Arakelyans, as the schoolmate to countless Armenians in Van Nuys High School, and as a fellow victim of large-scale denial.

I remember meeting you in middle school. Wondering where Armenia was, then finding it on a map, and thinking, “so close to Afghanistan”. I remember first hearing the word, “genocide”, and the grief on your faces when you remembered. How shocked I was that this was not in our school books – not one page? I remember hearing that it was the Muslims who did it, and how guilty I felt, knowing the same melodic call to prayer that brings me peace, must bring you pained memories of your ancestral past. I remember (once) being called Turkish, not thinking anything of it, then being told this was an insult.

For 10 years, I lived alongside you in Van Nuys. My mother and her Armenian girlfriends smoked Parliaments in the halls of our building, spoke loudly in Russian, their language of communication, to each other over music, nostalgically remembering the Soviet days. I’ve attended your birthdays, your christenings, your weddings. I’ve eaten your food, drank your coffee, smoked hookah alongside you. My mother and I have marveled at how similar we are, even more similar than our Persian cousins – how easy it is to dance to your music, how I can pick up words in your language that are the same as mine, how I can eat your food and realize we have the same dishes.

And I have witnessed, every year, the deep seeded pain you all express, the anxiety you feel, the absolute grief and anger that rises from your souls and into your throats – the pain of denial. How frustrating it must be, that every year, you must make your case again, and again, to try and get recognition, some kind of acknowledgement, a sign of compassion, of the injustice you went through so many years ago. I see the tears and hear the facts, (that for some crazy reason must be presented as arguments – almost theories), I’ve witnessed the silent protests and Googled the pictures, in Izmit, in Bursa, in Der-Zor. I have seen the skulls in the Syrian Desert, your brightest intellectuals hung in the Turkish squares, the march into the unforgiving sands that took your children from you.

And it is in your eyes that I suddenly find myself, each year. 1.5 million of yours perished in 1915, exiled from your land, stripped of your culture, your religion, made to hide amongst the various ethnicities of the Middle East, made to forget your language, to assimilate yourselves for protection. How your trauma showed once again when Kessab was under attack, how open your wounds truly are. How generations later, you mourn the loss of your people.

My people have died – and are dying, too. They estimate roughly 30,000 in the past decade of war – but this is their statistic. History is written by the winners – don’t we both know it? When I see the skulls in Der-Zor, I remember the piles of men in Abu Ghraib. When I see the babies left in the desert, I remember the little girls being raped in Kabul. When I hear of the Armenians converting to Islam for protection, I remember the Afghans accepting Christ for theirs.

I am not saying this to prove that I understand you. Our pains are different, but in the end, aren’t they one in the same? My genocide is still occurring – they are calling it a War on Terrorism, but why is my family calling us with stories of the Americans barging in, rounding up our men, shooting them in the streets? Is this not what the Ottomans did to your youngest and bravest men? Wasn’t it both our women and children left to feign for themselves?

When I am welcomed into your homes, sometimes I am given pomegranates. You call them “Noor”, we call them “Anor”. And I see your Evil Eye charms on the walls, much like the ones hanging on mine. These pomegranates are symbols of the blood still on the hands of the Turks. These pomegranates remind my mother of a fruitful Afghanistan. It seems our charms didn’t work.

I will never fully understand your pain. But you are not alone. The Native Americans are with you, the Rwandans, the millions of hijacked Africans brought to America, the Tibetans, the Bosnians, the Jews, the citizens of Darfur; we are shedding tears with you. I know the pain you feel, being citizens of this country, but not getting the governmental recognition of your Genocide. They are not recognizing the Afghans, because they are perpetuating ours.

Centuries ago, the jewel of the Mughal Court was an Armenian, our beloved Queen Mariam Zamani Begum – who we, the Afghans, built Christian churches for throughout antiquity. Even now, in Lahore, we still operate the church in her name.

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Our King Akbar loved her, and we love you, and we have always loved you, even as we share the same religion of your oppressors. It is Humanity, not color nor creed, that matters in the face of Denial.

I am sorry that your wounds are still open. I am sorry that this day marks the beginning of the arduous struggle for you, every year, to make your case. I am sorry that your grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, remember their childhood and mourn for it. I am sorry you are still fighting.

I will pray for you. I will pray for your hearts peace, I will pray for the 1.5 million of your ancestors gone with the sands. We do not need governments to recognize our pain. For was it not governments who organized it?

Inshallah, God-willing, with the tenacity your people exhibit, and the fervor of your generation, one day, the Armenians will receive the Recognition they so deserve. For as long as they are Denied, the common heartbeat of Humanity will forever skip a beat on April 24th.

 

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The Second Annual Afghan American Conference

12717868_1705611429696828_8989912472513119261_nI want you to know something about my people. We were forced off our land. Half of our hearts will always be in Afghanistan. You need to know this. We are present, but our souls long for the dirt of Kabul. Because it was not our choice to leave.

But we are here. America offered us sanctuary, and we are here. For the first 20 years of this exodus, we were disconnected. Like nomads across the plains of Afghanistan, we were scattered all over America, in New York, in California, in Colorado, in Florida. The Taliban took over; we mourned from afar. The Buddhas of Bamiyan collapsed; we silently weeped into our pillows. 9/11 happened, and our motherland Afghanistan was sent spiraling back down into the depths of perpetual warfare once again; and we prostrated to the ground, asking God for mercy.

But I want you to know, that we’ve found each other now. We do not need to cry alone. Because we have established ourselves in this nation, individually and now in harmony. The Afghan American Conference is an army. Every soldier has sharpened their skill, and we are ready to take control of our destiny in this nation. We are ready to be better, we are ready to empower one another. We are sure of ourselves. This is the Afghan-American diaspora now.

Last weekend was the second annual Afghan-American Conference. This time, the issues were deeper. The dialogue was raw. More tears were shed and more laughs were shared. We tackled the ailments of our community – violence, drug abuse, mental health, discrimination. We stood in solidarity with the victims of these issues; we made sure they would never be rejected again. Because we are sick of the exclusion. We are sick of outsiders telling us what is wrong with us. We are sick of hurting one another. We are sick and tired, of mourning alone.

I was given the opportunity to connect with even more brothers and sisters in my diaspora. I love these people. I loved communicating with them, I loved listening to their opinions, I loved glimpsing into their minds. Every face was a friend. Every room was a safe space, where we could tackle what is hindering our community from growing. Every meeting was a movement, where we were inspired to mobilize our people.

We had even more seasoned professionals. From Tammana Roashan, Roh Habibi, Fahim Anwar, the organizers of the conference were able to bring the best of the best to speak with us, to teach us, to mentor us. Panels in every profession, discussions on every issue we’re concerned about.

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Our amazing organizers

This is history in the making. This is a network of extremely passionate and dedicated individuals who are working tirelessly to save our nation, here and in the homeland. A week and a half after the conference, and I am still on a high, still in a dreamy mental state where I am enamored by everyone I met, where my heart is full and my soul knows that we can do this. We are ready.

The clip below is of the Attan. The Attan is a 6,000 year old dance, performed at celebrations, but also during war. And that is the true essence of my people, a people who persevere in tragedy and triumph. No matter where we are on this planet, whether Kabul or California, we will carry this beat in our hearts. We are resilient. We are powerful. And no matter how far from the homeland, we will dance the Attan in unity, because it is the common heartbeat of our people. It is our war cry. It is our celebration tune, and our everlasting life-song. We will never be broken, and we are home.

“I am involved in the land of a leonine and brave people, where every foot on the ground is like a wall of steel, confronting my soldier. You brought only one Alexander into this world, but every mother in this land has brought an Alexander into this world.”

-Alexander the Great, on a campaign in modern-day Afghanistan

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Women Suffer When Men Do Not Lower Their Gaze

Let me get one thing out of the way before I piss a bunch of people off: I am completely for a woman’s choice in whatever she wants to wear. Hijab or bikini. Pants or nipple-tassles. I. don’t. care. Do what you want. Okay, anyways:

A woman in my family has a DDD cup size and a hunched back. The hunched back led to scoliosis and an almost-collapsed lung. The heavy weight of her chest didn’t cause these issues. Men did.

This woman grew up in Afghanistan and was slapped on the back by her father anytime she stood up straight. This was to make sure she kept her breasts hidden from the unwarranted looks from men. Those looks can become distraction, that distraction can become lust, and that lust can become rape. Her father thought he was protecting her by forcing her to become small. She slouched and slouched to accommodate all these men because her breasts must’ve just been soooo distracting. She slouched and slouched and finally her lung almost collapsed.

In my middle school, the girls section of the dress-code was always considerably longer. No shorts or skirts above the thigh. No low-cut blouses. No midriffs. No breathing or eye-contact. Ok I made that part up.

Once when I was about 17 and my niece was 7, I raised my arms up to reach into a cabinet. My niece quickly yelled, “I can see your kheta (stomach)!! You need to cover it”. I literally had no words.

At a wedding, my mom had me remove my red lipstick because she said it was “inappropriate” to wear around our male relatives and friends. I kept it on and made sure to line my lips.

What kind of message are we sending our girls when we ask them to modify their appearances or mannerisms because we want to “protect” them? And what kind of message are we sending our boys when this behavior goes unchecked?

We are telling them that men are incapable of controlling their lustful desires. We are telling women that their body – the one God created – is the source of that lust, and to avoid this, they must change it so they are not themselves anymore. That means the woman with DDD breasts must slouch her back to save herself. That means the young girl with the hourglass figure must wear robes to hide it. That means I must buy skirts larger than my size to hide my long legs. That means the $16 I spent on MAC lipstick goes to waste (damn it). We are also telling them that all men are capable of raping and that it is something that can be controlled by how women display themselves.

This notion of “protecting” women by covering them has always really irked me. And it’s not only in Muslim societies, it’s in the West too. Sure, women’s bodies are much more regulated in the Middle East, but women are harassed and objectified everywhere.

Growing up in a Muslim household, modesty in clothing and mannerisms was encouraged. My parents were never super gung-ho about this, but it was definitely a “value” instilled in me, that to this day I get weirded out wearing a bikini.

But I could never swallow this pill, I could never agree that the hijab or a long skirt or anything I freakin wore was enough to protect me. It’s not that I felt I didn’t need the protection – just checking my “other” folder on Facebook convinces me enough that many men really can’t control themselves, it’s that I felt WHY. Why are we constantly telling a girl how to dress but hardly telling a boy to see her as a person and not an object? Why will my long sleeve shirt make me less rapeable? Why can’t a boy study next to me unless I’m wearing a sweater? Are they apes?

Listen, I get it. People have “desires”. Men are “wired different”. These dress-codes are meant to “keep everyone on task”. But seriously? Dressing a certain way to protect ourselves? As if that’s the most important thing I need to think of every morning: what shall I wear so I don’t get raped today? So I don’t get cat-called today? So I don’t distract a moron today? It’s my main responsibility to think of the entire realm of possibilities that a man might have to shackle himself free of self-control, and the way I dress will prevent this.

Cut that bullshit out.

There is zero correlation between how a woman dresses and whether or not she will be raped:

“Having been in police work for 40+ years, I can say that how a woman is dressed has little or nothing to do with sex crimes. It’s about opportunity. Our local serial rapist, The “South Side” rapist, attacked some 30 women in their homes. He could not even see them before hand, he forced his way in through a window and raped the victims at knifepoint. –  M. Werner May 10 ’11 at 15:01”

“While people perceive dress to have an impact on who is assaulted, studies of rapists suggest that victim attire is not a significant factor. Instead, rapists look for signs of passiveness and submissiveness, which, studies suggest, are more likely to coincide with more body-concealing clothing. In a study to test whether males could determine whether women were high or low in passiveness and submissiveness, Richards and her colleagues found that men, using only nonverbal appearance cues, could accurately assess which women were passive and submissive versus those who were dominant and assertive. Clothing was one of the key cues: “Those females high in passivity and submissiveness (i.e., those at greatest risk for victimization) wore noticeably more body-concealing clothing (i.e., high necklines, long pants and sleeves, multiple layers).” This suggests that men equate body-concealing clothing with passive and submissive qualities, which are qualities that rapists look for in victims. Thus, those who wore provocative clothes would not be viewed as passive or submissive, and would be less likely to be victims of assault.” (http://www.law.ualr.edu/faculty/bios/beiner.asp)

Ok. Now, read this sentence:

“If you keep dressing like that, you’ll be raped.”

Do you know what kind of “advice” this is? It is control. It is robbing a woman of choice. When governments, religions and other forms of authority dictate dress and behavior, it is forcing their will on other people. And the shittiest part about it, it gives the rapist an excuse. Now the crime isn’t the fault of the sick pervert committing the violation, it’s the fault of the victim for not following the rules. – the very same rules that took away their freedom to choose in the first place.

Now, consider the various cultures that require women to cover their whole bodies:

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Has rape vanished from these places? No, and I’d actually argue it happens at a higher rate with even more detrimental consequences: honor killings, forced marriage to the rapist, the rapist going unpunished, yadadada.

Then, consider those cultures wherein women walk around buck-ass nekkid with their titties literally exposed and hanging out:

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More rapes there? Nah.

Most rape victims are raped by people they know. And rape is a crime of opportunity and power. Clothing doesn’t mean jack shit in these scenarios.

Children get raped. Boys get raped. What they wore didn’t matter. The problem is the rape culture that is an epidemic across the world.

Now, to make this clear, I’m not telling my sisters who prefer to cover, to now uncover. I’m just saying that I personally don’t buy the argument that covering more will protect you from jack shit, or will make you less lustful to a dude.

& what I’m thinking is, everything we do as women is regulated by a social construct. This construct gives men immeasurable power. Your hijab is really not a choice. It is regulated by the potential distraction a man might experience should you not wear one. (Unless of course you’re wearing it for reasons besides the male gaze). Your high heels are not really a choice. They’re regulated by the notion that longer legs are more attractive, and your short legs will discourage men from approaching you. But not too high – then you’ll look like a stripper – and that’s desperate, but only because a man will think so.

Men, stop telling us how to dress. Stop telling us whats modest. Stop telling us to smile, or not to smile, or to wear red lipstick because it’s sexy or not to wear red lipstick because it’s distracting. Stop putting chicks on a pedestal for covering their head, and similarly, stop bashing them if they make that choice. Lower your gaaaaaze, like the Prophet PBUH told you to, time and time and time again.

And women, stop perpetuating this bullshit that gives men an excuse to violate our sisters however and wherever and de-objectify your effin’ minds.

Because the world wasn’t made to revolve around what pleases men. On the contrary, we’re the mofos that house you in our wombs for 9 months. Keep pissing us off and that might change.

Power to the pussy.

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