History is a potent and sometimes difficult teacher. As we forward our press’s operations in this historical moment, I find myself looking to history for lessons, and inspiration. And it seems, strangely, that I’ve found that inspiration closer to home than I’d have imagined.
Leslie Davis (1876-1960) was an American lawyer and diplomat of the early 20th century. In his role as US Consul in Harput– modern day Elazig, Turkey– he documented the Armenian Genocide as it happened, and helped shelter and save as many people as possible for as long as possible.
Assisting him in that work, as clerk and chief interpreter, was my great-grandfather, Harootune Pekmezian: a professor, lay preacher, and a college-educated person in an era when that was rare in the US, let alone in the late Ottoman Empire.
In reading Davis’ report on their work– published in 1989 as The Slaughterhouse Province– I’ve found that something about my great-grandfather’s work stands out to me in particular. While his world collapsed around him, he continued to teach, as seen in the excerpt below.
It was not simply a way of passing the time. Even while everything seemed to fall to pieces, my great-grandfather and the consul for whom he worked, understood that the seeds of another world needed planting and tending.
And here I am, 3 generations on, living proof that their work bore fruit.
A century after Mr. Davis and my great-grandfather saved lives and helped build futures, I am watching as my country, in one state after another, enacts genocidal laws against trans people, their right to healthcare, work, and in general to existence itself. Regrettably, Texas– where our press is currently based– is one such jurisdiction, which between laws that are already enacted, on the eve of being enacted, or are being put forth by the party in power, threaten our ability to continue to do business there.
But I feel that there is a measure of courage I draw from my great-grandfather’s example, when I consider that life, storytelling, education, all of it must go on, even in the face of genocidal rhetoric and policies. All of this is, in its own way, one form of taking a stand against this terrible tide.
To this end, Balance of Seven will soon move from being a Texas-based LLC to a Vermont-based LLC. In so doing we will continue to ensure our press’s ability to work, to advocate, to advertise, in a jurisdiction where local and state level laws protect our LGBTQ authors and staff. Our press began in Texas, and our solidarity remains with our LGBTQ colleagues and comrades there. This move is no fault of theirs, but is rather the work of one petty tyrant in the governor’s mansion, his legislative enablers, and the means through which they gerrymander electoral districts and suppress dissent.
As we handle the paperwork of this move behind the scenes, we will continue on our editorial schedule and in our book sales and convention appearances in the meantime. And our greater work will also continue, as we prioritize our authors and lift their voices.
While madmen destroy the world, we will plant the seeds of a kinder one to come– work I am proud to spearhead as this press’s managing director, and as Harootune Pekmezian’s great-granddaughter.
Meanwhile, there’s a battle to win, and we can prevail against long odds if we stand together. Come, let’s march on together.
Nyri A. Bakkalian, Ph.D.