LEXINGTON, Mass. â Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, Mass. Is home to a growing collection of world languages, a program that offers members of local ethnic groups the opportunity to request library books in their native language. As the city 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 ââto its stacks, in the hope of making the public library a more representative and accessible library. establishment to residents. In this vein, the Lexington Turkish community worked with the staff to organize a new collection of over 100 Turkish language books in the library directory.
The launch event for this new collection, which took place on Monday, included speeches by members of the local Turkish community, Turkish Consul General Ceylon Ãzen EriÅen and library staff. In his speech, EriÅen described the importance of books in cultivating a more open and tolerant society. âIt is about the Turkish community which contributes in a very positive way to the society in which it lives,â she said. âWe always tell the Turkish community to open up and be a real and positive part of the society in which they live. It’s an example. What could be better than books? â¦ We will make the world a better place to live, step by step. Our doors are open.
EriÅen’s universal message of openness and intellectual freedom was, however, tempered by a deep irony. In the modern era, it can be said that fewer governments are less open than that of Turkey, whose president, Recep Tayyip ErdoÄan, has ruled in an increasingly dictatorial manner, advocating state policies of censorship, suppression of the press and denial. According to a 2018 Human Rights Watch report, Turkey, under her current administration, is “the world leader in imprisoning journalists and media professionals … with around 150 people behind bars at the time of writing. article â.
During the Armenian Genocide over a century ago, in which Armenian Ottoman citizens were systematically exterminated and deported from the empire, the United States offered refuge to those fleeing ethnic persecution at the hands of of the Ottoman authorities. Yet today, far from acknowledging the atrocities committed by its direct predecessor, the Turkish government has embarked on a massive propaganda campaign to discredit and endanger journalists, academics and activists working to publicize this story. .
Today, thanks to its large and well-organized community of Diaspora Armenians, Massachusetts is one of at least 11 states that recognize the Armenian Genocide and require it to be taught in public schools. For some at the launch of the new collection, like Roger Hagopian, longtime Lexington resident and documentary filmmaker, it was important that the recognition of the genocide was also reflected in public libraries in his community and that “no book of this news collection does not contain the Turkish negationist agenda regarding Armenia Genocide. “
As Leeza Arakelian of The Weekly reported, a group of young people, members of the Boston local branch of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), stood at the entrance of the library to distribute flyers to spectators. of the event, and delivered a long-awaited letter to EriÅen. The presence of protesters created an atmosphere of tension throughout the event, evident when the consul muttered âProtect me from negative energyâ during the dedication ceremony.
Related: AYF Hand-Delivers Letter to Turkish Consul General, Hosts Silent Protest
“What is the peaceful way we can solve this problem instead of hating each other?” Said Tolga, a Turkish documentary filmmaker, who preferred not to disclose his last name. Tolga was in town visiting from Turkey and found out about the event through her sister, a resident of Lexington. âOne side claims something, then the other side. To arbitrate, we have to have, like a think tank, a group of committees that can mitigate thatâ¦ 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. âErdogan 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 Languages ââcollections are often not history books, but rather books that can be used for children and education. languages. This is what drew Yasemin Sari, a Turkish woman living in Lexington, to the collection. Fearing linguistic assimilation, she says it is important to her that her three children grow up bilingual and able to read Turkish. She said she was always up to date when she lived in Turkey, that she still read the language, but now that she lives in the US, she doesn’t read as much anymore.
While 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 aware of the political implications of a program like this. “We are having conversations with our groups on political matters, and we are talking about the same rules that apply to our selection of material in English,” she said. âWhen we don’t have staff who speak this language, we have to work with community members to make sure we understand each other. We have a complex collection that has multiple perspectivesâ¦ We have done it with the Indian, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Hebrew, Japanese, Russian community. Turkish is the twelfth language of the library.
Jennifer Webb, the head of bibliographic services, said that although their library does not currently have an Armenian-language section – in part because the Watertown branch has one so strong – she welcomes the idea, stating ” the more voices, the better “. She says the size of a community doesn’t determine whether to host a collection, rather it’s demand. In the case of the Turkish collection, five to seven people initially approached the library.
Webb admitted the potential for conflict resulting from the selected books being in a language that she and her staff do not understand. But she said her staff adhere to a policy of trusting community members to choose balanced books. âOf course, since this is a Turkish collection, many potentially sensitive issues could arise. I don’t have the ability to totally assess each book to know exactly what the nuances are, so when I explained to Ceylon what we were trying to achieve I think she really tried to keep that in mind. spirit. I’m sure that over time we will have to provide books to add more balance and more points of viewâ¦ Not all books in the library will be balanced, but overall we hope people feel good. 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’s just over 100 books, consisting mostly of fiction, children’s works, and language teaching materials, but library staff promises that it will be sure to keep coming. grow. They also confirmed that the Turkish Consulate had no role in the initial conservation of the books, but had made a private donation of additional books, which staff would review soon.
Webb encourages anyone with complaints about a book to contact their staff, who will investigate the issue and speak directly to affected readers. She assured that when it comes to genocide denial, this is something she, as an American Jew, is particularly sensitive to, but ultimately the community will never get the point. view of a librarian on this. âDo you represent the more extreme ends of this political spectrum? She asked rhetorically, “Where do you draw the line? “