“Turkish consular offices in the U.S. still send their spokes-people to lectures that I give, to parrot the state line,” he says.
The U.S. government can’t bring itself to join the other
nations that have officially recognized the genocide. Repeated
efforts to pass resolutions on the topic in Congress have
failed as Turkey threatened retaliation, including potential
closure of strategically valuable U.S. military bases there.
That deference to Turkey’s denialism is especially disappointing to Armenians, given the U.S.’s historical concern for
When the genocide was underway, U.S. officials documented
the carnage and led the world’s cries of outrage. Americans
responded by organizing huge humanitarian relief efforts.
By the mid-20th century, Turkey had become a valuable
U.S. ally, sitting near the Mideast’s huge oil deposits and
providing a vantage point on what was then the Soviet Union.
According to some critics, the price of geopolitical cooperation
has been to keep quiet about the Turks’ genocidal treatment
While the genocide is a common theme in Balakian’s work,
he is foremost a poet and literary critic. In Black Dog of Fate,
he writes that his research into the genocide was “inseparable
from poetry. Poetry was part of the journey and the excavation.”
Balakian credits Bucknell for starting him on his life’s path.
He connected with Jack Wheatcroft ’49, an “inspirational
and brilliant teacher and an amazingly versatile writer,” who
became his mentor and lifelong friend. He co-dedicated
his 2001 volume of poetry, June-tree, to Wheatcroft. (The
Bucknell connection runs deep. Balakian’s mother, Arax
Aroosian ’48, and son, James ’ 10, are graduates.)
While at Bucknell, Balakian dabbled in painting “in my
own amateurish way” and graduated a course short of a
double major in art history. “The visual arts have always been
a big part of my writing life,” he says.
That connection is displayed in his 2015 essay collection
Vise and Shadow. Compiled from work covering more than
two decades, the volume offers views prompted by the works
of artists and writers including Arshile Gorky, Theodore
His latest poetry book, Ozone Journal, won high praise this
spring from The Literary Review, which wrote, “Balakian is
blessed with an eerie ability to connect seemingly unrelated
events separated by vast amounts of time and space.”
In the title poem, Balakian writes: “Gorky said, take a flat
brush / and work it till there are two hairs left.”
After a lifetime of painting with words, Balakian still has
many hairs left in his brush.
Matt Zencey is a freelance writer who lives in West Chester, Pa.
visited in 2014 and found the monastery in ruins. “We’ve already
lost so much in a hundred years,” he says.
He hopes his book will help illustrate that there is a history
worth saving in the Armenians’ ancestral homelands and will
encourage people to visit. Although many Armenians refuse to
travel there — to avoid painful memories or in protest against
the region’s unrepentant Turkish overlords — he says the more
who visit, the stronger the incentive will be to protect what’s
left from further ruin.
Karanian mentions how his maternal grandmother — rare
for a survivor of horrific tragedy — would talk about her suffering
during the genocide, even though doing so reduced his mother
“I just want you to know what happened,” his grandmother
would tell his mother as she sobbed.
“I kept hearing that sentence [from my grandmother] while
I was writing my book,” Karanian says. “I just want people to
know what happened.” — Matt Zencey
Karanian’s favorite photo is this one
of the Soorp Tovmas Monastery
near the southern shore of Lake Van
in western Armenia.
For more on Karanian’s book, see HistoricArmeniaBook.com.