Armenian Coffee

A poem by Karen Babayan

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A daily ritual, during second lockdown,
living a quiet life in Cumbria; quieter still since Covid
stopped toil dead and replaced it with strife.
A brass coffee pot, Arabic inscription,
one spoon of coffee… Edna’s,
made in Los Angeles by Armenians,
immigrants from Iran. Bought off Kensington High Street
in a Persian shop, price extortionate.
Together we are a strange concoction,
a long way from where we began.
My forebears from the region of Nakhichevan,
(now inside the borders of Azerbaijan)
came from the town of Jukha.
400 years past, their success hard-won
was financed by trade built on silk.
Chock-full of fine churches and mighty fine houses,
roused the interest of sovereign Abbas.
This Shah, so ruthless
killed or blinded his sons,
to stay King of Kings, Shahanshah.
He burnt it all down, their town;
forcing those infidel Christians
to settle in Isfahan,
his capital ‘nesfeh jahan’.
In ‘half the world’ they created a new Jukha,
as Armenians are wont to do
and their taxes of silk,
financed the building of a vast empire.
All that was left, of that township superior
was a cemetery of stone.
Unesco gave it heritage status; an exercise futile,
for it was hammered to dust by soldiers; their
cruel, mindless task, set by history revisionists,
to wipe away all trace of our past, with their fists,
justifying their presence in that place.
Once the coffee’s drunk, leave the dregs,
for that’s where future lies.
Just one step more – balance carefully the saucer
on top, then in one swift turn (towards the heart),
upend the cup.

Let be
whilst coffee sludge, gravity pulled,
congeals into a muddy puddle,
below. Take care! Don’t look
or the pattern will be spoilt.
Wait for the cup to dry.
Now look:
the future’s bleak,
it says.
A fish, rising dorsal fin, eye distinct and mouth agape,
in a boiling ocean. Look here, her face –
the black Madonna, now her eyes put out by what she sees.
Gazes into a pit of decrepitude, murder and lies
her churches and sacred sites reduced to rubble and sighs.
Twitter shows that old grandfather Artsakh, dragged from his house,
He cries “What have I done to you?” whilst young guns aroused, slice off his ears.
A video on insta bears witness to another: an old gent, in Azeri Turkish
pleads. Unmoved, the Azeri soldier squats over the old man’s face
and cuts off his head.
Meanwhile, their algorithms churn out fake news,
lie about atrocities to mirror their own.
The world stands jostling for the best views,
taking bets on what happens next.
Armenian Davit pitted against Azeri Goliath
in a mismatched game of thrones,
where Isis mercenaries, salaries paid by King Turk
do the dirty work: skinning alive and beheading POW’s.
He the President of Turkification is finishing the task
begun by his forebears.
And another politician, whose great-grandfather Ali,
Interior Minister of the flailing Ottoman state,
knowing the difference between right and wrong,
stood up for his beliefs: that you should treat your fellow man with dignity
no matter what creed or race; was himself tried for treason.
Let loose into a baying crowd who stoned him, hung him
and stole his tailor-made trousers and European shoes.
Unlike his kin Boris, whose father changed his name from Kemal,
to ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’, licks the balls of Erdogan
and gives him titbits of PPE contracts, failing quality tests, on arrival.

King Turk brandishes not one, but two Trump towers,
gags the West by holding back tsunamis of displaced,
who would otherwise cross the Channel in boats,
to prove that our moat only magnifies their hopes.
In truth they barely leave those continental shores,
to drown with their families, in the briny depths below.
Those who hoped to escape their own country’s dictators
are stuck in a British swamp of administrators, crisscrossed with red tape.
And the West’s populations, consumed with elections,
picking over the scabs of Covid obsessions, sit mute.
Shushi-Shusha, Shusha-Shushi,
A pendulum town swings back and forth
changing hands through time; built as mountain fortress,
now a ghost town inhabited by sharp shooters and dogs.
The townsfolk, displaced to the enclave’s capital,
dream unsettled dreams
and shiver in cellars under drab little blankets,
hopes of self-determination crushed to dust.
These are the lucky ones:
others white phosphate burnt or
hammered to pieces by cluster bombs and Israeli-made drones.
Elsewhere the grey wolf pack, obeying a hunting howl
sent out by a million Turkish twitter calls,
roam French cities in search of Ermeni,
club hammers and sharpened knives at the ready.
Meanwhile Armenians, displaced since millenia
from historic lands, are sick with grief. Over a full century past,
genocide largely unacknowledged, perpetrators unpunished;
now lament new dead – shouting ‘traitor!’ to the Armenian president
whose crime, to be elected democratically;
and to turn his back on criminality.
‘What a fool!’ they shout, ‘see what comes from it now!’
But he has paid twice: the price? A death, potential and political
by signing away their precious soil. Sacrifice, he says, worth it
to save 25,000 more, a whole generation, from certain death.
Aliyev, the puppet prince of King Turk,
With absolute dictatorship and family fiefdom
in the satellite state of his Ottoman overlord,
declares that this ceasefire, ‘is our Glorious Victory!’
whilst BP bosses cheep their support of the Azeri cause
to oil their pipelines.

And the Biased Broadcasting Corporation
Send gullible reporters behind Azeri lines
to regurgitate their version of events;
whilst Armenian prisoners of war,
forced to kiss Azeri flags before having heads sawn off, are filmed on i-phones.
Azeri social media screams: ‘No mercy! Remember 1992, the Massacre at Khojaly!
With hashtags #stoparmenianaggression, #stoparmenianlies.
And more, ‘See! How they desecrate our mosques with pigs!’
Wild pigs – who made their homes in long abandoned buildings.
This persecuted Armenian race,
who suffered grotesque crimes, perpetrated by the Ottoman state:
in 1915 – 1.5 million murdered, tortured, raped;
hacked to pieces, thrown off cliffs, burnt in churches,
driven into the desert, hungry, thirsty and diseased,
stripped of clothes and dignity, forcibly converted –
in 2020 faced a stark choice: a second genocide or a so-called peace,
brokered by a Russian oligarch
with a pumped-up body and smile of a cat.

Karen Babayan was born in Tehran, of Armenian-British parentage. She came to the UK in 1978 at the age of 16, just before the Islamic Revolution. Based in Cumbria, she explores diasporan identity through writing, painting, photography, print and multidisciplinary works including Swallows and Armenians, a book of short stories (Wild Pansy Press 2019), soon to be available as an audiobook through

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