Lexington Library Unveils New Turkish Book Collection

The new Turkish language collection at the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, Mass. (Photo: Karine Vann/The Armenian Weekly)

LEXINGTON, Mass.—Cary Memorial Library of Lexington, Massachusetts is home to a growing World Language Collection, a program offering members of local ethnic groups an opportunity to request library books in their mother tongue. As the town of nearly 33,000 has diversified over the years, welcoming new immigrant communities from China, India, and Korea into its ranks, the library has added these languages to its stacks, in the hopes of making the public library a more representative and accessible institution to residents. In this vein, Lexington’s Turkish community have been working with staff to curate a new collection of over 100 Turkish-language books to the library’s repertoire.

Attendees of the unveiling of Cary Memorial Library’s new Turkish Collection. (Photo: Karine Vann/The Armenian Weekly)

The launch event for this new collection, which took place on Monday, included speeches from local Turkish community members, the Turkish Consul General Ceylan Özen Erişen and library staff. In her address, Erişen described the importance of books in cultivating a more open and tolerant society. “This is about the Turkish community contributing in a very positive way to the society in which it’s living,” she said. “We are always telling the Turkish community to open up and to be a true and positive contributing part of the society that they are living in. This is one example. What better way is there than books? … We will make the world a better place to live in step-by-step. Our doors are open.”

Erişen’s universal message of openness and intellectual freedom, however, were buffered by a deep irony. In the modern era, fewer governments can be said to be less open than that of Turkey, whose president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has ruled in an increasingly dictatorial fashion, advocating state policies of censorship, press suppression and denialism. According to a 2018 Human Rights Watch report, Turkey under its current administration is “the world leader in jailing journalists and media workers… with around 150 behind bars at time of writing.”

Consul General of the Turkish Consulate in Boston, Ceylan Özen Erişen, addressing community members on Monday in Lexington. (Photo: Karine Vann/The Armenian Weekly)

At the time of the Armenian Genocide over a century ago, in which Ottoman Armenian citizens were systematically exterminated and deported from the empire, the United States offered refuge to those fleeing ethnic persecution at the hands of Ottoman authorities. Yet today, far from recognizing the atrocities committed by its direct predecessor, Turkey’s government has engaged in a widespread propaganda campaign to discredit and endanger the journalists, scholars and activists working to publicize this history.

Today, thanks to its large and well-organized community of Diasporan Armenians, Massachusetts is one of at least 11 states which recognizes the Armenian Genocide and mandates teaching it in public schools. For some attending the launch of the new collection, like longtime Lexington resident and documentary filmmaker Roger Hagopian, it was important that Genocide recognition also be reflected in his community’s public libraries and that “no books in this new collection contain Turkish denialist agenda regarding the Armenian Genocide.”

As reported by the Weekly’s Leeza Arakelian, a group of young people, members of the local Boston chapter of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), stationed themselves at the library’s entrance to distribute flyers to event-goers, and delivered a long-awaited letter to Erişen. The presence of demonstrators created an air of tension throughout the event, evident when the Consul muttered, “Protect me from the negative energy” during the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Related: AYF Hand-Delivers Letter to Turkish Consul General, Organizes Silent Protest

“What is the peaceful way we can solve this instead of hating each other?” said Tolga, a documentary filmmaker from Turkey, who preferred not to disclose his last name. Tolga was in town visiting from Turkey and had found out about the event from his sister, a resident of Lexington. “One side claims something, then the other side. In order to mediate, we have to have like a think tank group a group of committees that can mitigate this… The answer is in education. If you educate people more, you won’t have these problems.” But educating people in Turkey, Tolga admitted, is difficult to do. “Erdogan is a dictator. We do not live in a secular country. We are oppressed. There is no freedom.”

Cary Memorial Library Director Koren Stembridge explained that books in her library’s World Language Collections are often not history books, but are rather ones that can be used for children and language instruction. This is what attracted Yasemin Sari, a Turkish woman living in Lexington, to the collection. Fearing linguistic assimilation, she says it’s important to her that her three children to grow up bilingual and able to read Turkish. She said she always used to be up to date when she lived in Turkey, always reading the language, but now that she lives in the U.S., she doesn’t read as much anymore.

Though the purpose of the collection is to help immigrant communities feel their diversity is represented in the library, Stembridge said she and her colleagues are mindful of the political implications involved in a program like this. “We do have conversations with our groups about political topics, and we talk about the same rules that apply to our selecting materials in English,” she said. “When we don’t have staff who speak that language, we do have to work with the community members to make sure we understand one another. We’re holding a complex collection that has multiple perspectives… We’ve done it with the Indian community, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Hebrew, Japanese Russian.” Turkish is the library’s twelfth language.

Jennifer Webb, the Bibliographic Services Manager, said that while their library is not currently home to an Armenian language section—partially because the Watertown branch has such a robust one—she welcomes the idea, stating “the more voices, the better.” She says the size of a community does not determine whether to host a collection, rather it’s demand. In the case of the Turkish collection, it was five to seven individuals who initially approached the library.

Cary Memorial Library’s Bibliographic Services Manager, Jennifer Webb, oversaw the collection. Security, featured here, was also present at the event. (Photo: Karine Vann/The Armenian Weekly)

Webb admitted the potential for conflict resulting from the fact that selected books are in a language she and her staff do not understand. But she said her staff adheres to a policy of trusting community members to choose books that are balanced. “Of course, since this is a Turkish collection, there are a lot of potentially sensitive issues that could come up. I don’t have the ability to totally evaluate every book to know exactly what the nuances are, so when I explained to Ceylan what we were trying to achieve, I think she really tried to keep that in mind. I’m sure over time we are going to need to provide books to add more balance and more viewpoints… Not every book in the library is going to be balanced, but overall we hope that people will feel represented by what they see.”

As for what the Turkish collection actually contains, library staff say it’s a mix of things. So far, it is just over 100 books, made up of primarily fiction, children’s works, and language instruction materials, but library staff promise it’s sure to grow. They also confirmed that the Turkish Consulate played no role in the initial curation of books, but that it did make a private donation of additional books, which staff would be reviewing soon.

Webb encourages anyone with complaints about a book to reach out to their staff, who will review the issue and talk to concerned readers directly. She assured that when it comes to Genocide denial, this is something she, as a Jewish American, is particularly sensitive to, but that at the end of the day, the community will never have exactly a librarian’s perspective on it. “Do you represent the most extreme ends of this political spectrum?” she asked rhetorically, “Where do you draw the line?”

Karine Vann

Karine Vann

Editor
Karine Vann is the editor of the Armenian Weekly. She is a musician who transitioned into journalism while living in the Caucasus for several years. Her work has appeared in Smithsonian.com, The New Food Economy, and a number of other publications. Her critical writings focus primarily on the politics of culture, media analyses, and the environment. She spends her spare time in front of a keyboard, at a farm, or making a fuss about zero waste. If you have comments, questions, pitches, or leads, she can be reached at karine@armenianweekly.com.
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9 Comments

  1. Where do you draw the line? The answer is simple: The same place you would draw a line with respect to the Jewish Holocaust. Would they allow any Holocaust denialist book?

  2. No surprise here.
    Fanatic Armenians use every occasion to advance their claim for the events that took place over a Century ago.
    Regardless of the search of the truth by the American Historians such as Justin A. McCarthy (who teaches History at the University of Louisville, Kentucky), these fanatics seems to enjoy Stamping everyone who oppose their claims as “Deniers”.
    Well over 30,000 Armenians are ILLEGAL MIGRANT WORKERS in Turkey today. Armenia needs Turkey for its Economic survival.
    Armenians in Diaspora seems to still throw fuel to the fire, instead of promoting PEACE between Armenians and Turks.

    • Your people practiced cruel genocide on a huge scale and it’s time to acknowledge that but you will not.

    • It’s difficult to take Mr. Cetinbas’ comments seriously when he makes five mistakes in his first sentence.
      1. “Fanatic Armenians” should be “Fanatical Armenians.”
      2. “…advance their claim” should be “…advance their claims.”
      3. His description of the Genocide, the deportations, the theft of Armenian lands and properties” as “…the EVENTS that took place” must be the lamest euphemism of the month.
      4. “…over a Century ago” should be a “…over a century ago.”
      5. “…Armenians use every occasion to advance their claim…” is patently false.
      7. He also writes “…American Historian…” The sentence makes no sense and there is no reason why “historian” should be in capital letters.
      8. “…these fanatics seemS to enjoy Stamping everyone…” Why is the “s” of “stamping” in capital letters? In the same sentence, why does he capitalize the “d” of Deniers?
      3. According to his logic, we should forget the Genocide, Western Armenia, and Cilicia because 30,000 Armenians are doing low-wage work in Turkey.
      4. Why the “e” of “economic survival” in capital letters?
      5. The claim that Armenia needs Turkey for its economic survival is false. In fact, through its blockade of Armenia, Turkey contributes to Armenia’s economic challenges. Why is “illegal migrant workers” in capital letters?
      6. “Armenians in Diaspora seems to still throw fuel to the fire, instead of promoting PEACE between Armenians and Turks.” “Seems” should be “seem.” One doesn’t throw fuel to the fire. The verb is “pours”. Why is “peace” in capital letters?
      Mr. Cetinbas has to learn English and truth-telling before he hits the computer.

  3. What would Jesus Christ do? Armenians are claiming to be Christians/Catholic, but they sure do not follow his teachings of forgiveness. The genocide happened a long, long time ago, Isn’t it time to reconcile? Is it time to forgive in order to be forgiven? No one stated that Armenians were given a bounty by Russia for every left ear of a Turk. No one has acknowledged mass graves of Turks found in Northeastern Turkey. A French team did indeed follow the path of the genocide, dug up mass graves only to find Turkish artifacts and remains of men, women and children. The event happened in a time of hate and intolerance, so now let’s reconcile and not let the bitterness continue to blind everyone to the ultimate goal. Remember, we are all judged by what we do. If we continue to condemn, we will be condemned. If we forgive from the heart, then there will be joy among the citizens of heaven and of earth. Remember, Christ is watching in tears as we destroy what little good is on earth. Once our time is up, He will be Christ the Just, from whom there will be no ‘second chance’.

    • A candid reply to a “far-fetched forgiveness plea”:
      Denial has always been the Ottoman Empire’s & their descendants’mantra – as long as Armenians throughout the world stay the course & keep enlightening people from all other cultures about what the Turks did with premeditation to our ancestors, we will always have hope that history will render the true account of how a great people survived and prospered for generations after what could have been the annihilation of a whole race by another culture with evil and jealousy embedded in their sadistic hearts; Never forget that the seeds of the extermination of a people (by the Turkish government during the latter & early periods of the 19th & 20th centuries) were planted in Adolf Hitler’s mind when he said in 1939: ” Who does now remember the Armenians?”

  4. Armenians seem to have stuck in 1915. If Armenians wish to be looking back, instead of forward, that is their business. Turks and Turkey, however, prefer to look ahead with hope, inspiration, and determination, the long-discredited Armenian political claim of genocide not withstanding. No matter what the Turks and Turkey do, Armenians are quick to judge it from 1915 window. We are fed up with Armenian obsession with defaming all things Turkish. We are going our way, the new Silk Route way, whether Armenians repent and join us or not…

  5. To Charley Roach and other genocide deniers — What fairy tales have you been reading? The Armenian Genocide is an undisputed fact. The horrors the entire Armenian nation suffered in 1915 are unparalleled in history. The few instances when Armenians killed Turks was simply resistance to slaughter — as what occurred in Van. The money stolen from Armenians helped transform Turkey from a Third World Country (The Sick Man of Europe) into a world power. When Turkey makes an honest effort to admit what its ancestors did and pay back the money and return the land, we will work toward forgiveness. In the meantime you understand denial is the last phase of genocide.

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