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Art and Atrocity

From the tales of his ancestors, award-winning student poet lays the Armenian Genocide bare

George Krikorian
“I took this as an opportunity to do more with poetry,” says senior George Krikorian, “to explore an aspect of my family that in some regards doesn’t get talked about enough. It gives me a better understanding of myself.” (Photo: Sally McCay)

Senior George Krikorian has stories, the kind, he says, that don’t lose their impact with retelling from one generation to the next. At the urging of his adviser, Major Jackson, Richard Dennis Green and Gold Professor of English and recipient of a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, Krikorian has been recording and transcribing hours of oral history from his grandmother, a first-generation American whose parents survived the Armenian Genocide.

“It was a brutal slaughtering of people,” Krikorian says. “You can still feel all of the emotion and pain." Yet, he explains, it requires a level of emotional removal to craft the details into the kind of poems that won him this year’s Benjamin B. Wainwright Prize for poetry. “Krikorian’s work has a certain level of gravitas,” Jackson says. “It is some of the best writing that I have encountered since I started teaching here at UVM.”  

April 24 commemorates the night in 1915 that ushered in the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government. The following work by Krikorian puts the images that live within the lives of families into words:


Hazel Remembers the Massacres



Oh, it was awful I guess.

Throats cut, sons beheaded—

Boys were butchered like lambs

for kebab, the unborn held high on a sword,

pulled from the belly of the mother.

That's the easy part though, the rest looms

like a fever in the cold.


Women were lined like a slaver's bazaar

single-file, naked with nothing but coins

in their uterus. That should have been enough,

but the Turks needed more,

they danced them like dervishes

set wild aflame, or like Araxi to Zorab

she'd become their whore,

so long as she was alone in the world.



There are a lot of underground places in Armenia

where the people could speak

in their native tongue. It was forbidden

so they hid beneath their homes

to share secrets

as though they were still alive.


Cousin Baidzar, sweet quidg, awoke

to mordant blindness like she was tied

in an ungovan blanket. Bodies tumbled

like a gourd pile all around her, the sun 

a broker of sight on her mother's last embrace.

She walked away like a whisper of the dead,

her earlobes cut wet for their gold.



Past the Turkish border was a promise

like the Holy Land that curdled in the stomach

and browned. Forty years were never so cruel

as the caravan of lies left drying

like figs in the Syrian desert.


They were torn from their mountain like skin from bone,

ever marching to a place that was nothing

to end like dogs starving on their own wails.

After a hundred years, words

are all that's left.