Now and Then

New guy on the block.
He sits at an outside table and
eyes my scarf with the absolute contempt
usually reserved for racists and politicians.

(Hmmm. I grab a coffee,
sit at a table near him, knowing he’ll
start talking. Everyone does, with me.)
He starts right in with

“Do you know I am Armenian?”
No, I didn’t, cuz we’ve never met.
C’mon over and sit awhile with me. I’m Amy.

“I’m Armand. Do you know about
scarf you wear? You should.”
No, tell me about it, please, Armand.

“That scarf is from Muslims.
Same pattern Arafat wore, that dog.”
Yes, I know, but what does that have to –

“Many years ago, Muslims drove
Christians out of Armenia. You wear
this symbol like it’s just a scarf.”

(I reflect on Freud. Sometimes a scarf is just a – )

“Where you buy that thing?” he spits.
On the street in New York, from
a really nice homeless guy. Besides,
it’s cotton and I’m allergic to wool, so –

“Well, it off-fends me grrr-reatly,” he stammers,
“I wish you take it off. Glad Mama not here.”
Come inside the café with me, then, it’s cold out here.

(We sit; I’ve bought us a round and some pastries.
He was stuttering before; now he’s calmer.)

Why does my wearing this upset you?
“It reminds me of the atrocities.”

Tell me more, cuz I’ve never heard about this.
“They don’t teach Armenian Genocide in school here?”

Um, no.
“Figures. OK. In 1915, Muslims tie Armenians
together with rope, march them into desert. Leave
them to die. They rape many women, throw
babies into river, shoot fathers in front of families.”

Good Lord, I didn’t know that.
Did your mother lose people?
“Parents, the sister, brothers, many cousins.
She still light candles for them.”

I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine…

(We sit in silence, bonding over strong java.
He is teacher; I am student.
I slide the scarf into my purse, for now.
Later, I’ll head for the library.)

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Armand was right. In 1915, extremists who called themselves Muslims (note the distinction between my phrase and the media’s “Muslim extremists.” There is a world of difference, just as the most radical members of the Christian Right should be called “extremists who call themselves Christians”) emptied whole villages in the region called Armenia, long a haven for Christians in the Middle East. The atrocities were not deemed strategically important enough for America to intervene; even the British ambassador could not urge England to do anything.

The Armenian Genocide served as a “blueprint” for the plans of a failed art student from Austria to foment terror against many “others,” including Jews, gay men and lesbians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, those with mental disorders, and on and on. His name was Aloys Schicklgruber, but we know him better as Adolf Hitler.

As for the scarf, Armand and I continued conversing until he understood that I was not wearing it as a political statement. He also thanked me for learning more about the Genocide, because, as a homeless man from another country, he is usually disregarded.

The Turkish government steadfastly refuses to apologize for the incident; in fact, they fund many American colleges where Turkish professors teach revisionist history.