Armenian genocide

Red Dog Howls

Posted by dianamuir on October 04, 2012
Armenian genocide, Uncategorized / 1 Comment

“Red Dog Howls”is a taste of the kind of gripping drama that the Armenian genocide ought to produce.

By focusing on the impact of how the horror of it continues into the lives of the grandchildren of survivors the survivors, we get some sense of the enormity of the event.     Christopher Isherwood of the New York Times finds genocide tedious for words, he hardly paid attention.  if he had, he would know that the  grandson was not  “astonished”.  If Isherwood’s annoyance at having to sit through a play about genocide persuades his readers not to see this play, it is their loss, because this is theater worth watching.

There was no enormity except gas chambers that was beyond the capacity of the Turks; they even thought of horrors that the Germans didn’t.   And the  first 80 minutes of this 90 minute play are gripping.  With Isherwood, I sat through the last ten minutes dry-eyed.   But I had teared up repeatedly even though, unlike much of the audience, nothing in the descriptions of the genocide drew from me a shocked gasp.  This is a story we have not heard before, no matter how much we know about genocide.  Alfredo Narciso, Florencia Lozano deserved every bit of the enthusiastic reception they got from the audience of New York theater regulars, while Katherine Chalfant’s performance was riveting.

And yet, there is an oddness.

The play opens with a statement of truth:

“There are sins from which we can never be absolved. Sins so terrible, so unimaginable… ”

The Young Turk government that ordered and organized the genocide, and the Turks and Kurds who carried it out committed crimes so terrible, so unimaginable, that there can be no absolution.

But this truth is not spoken of the perpetrators.  It is spoken to describe the guilt of one of the victims.

Playwright Alxander Dinelaris’ moral compass is unaccountably unbalanced.   This woman committed no sin.   A just God knows who were the sinners in this tale, and who the victims.

Focusing on the impact of the crime on the survivors is powerful, but it leaves the meaning of the extermination of a people unexamined.   The perpetrators cannot be absolved or the dead revived, but we can continue to hope for work from the hand of this playwright or others adequate to memorialize them.

Armenian Genocide Now Undeniable

Posted by dianamuir on July 08, 2012
Armenian genocide, Demographic engineering, Ottoman Footprint / 1 Comment

Is a law against denial really necessary?  Facts are facts, and the facts of genocide speak for themselves.

Armenian civilians, escorted by armed Ottoman soldiers, are marched through Kharpert to a prison in the nearby Mezireh district, April 1915

The founding crime of the Turkish nation was genocide.   A deliberate, and thoroughly effective genocide of Turkey’s indigenous Armenian Christians and  a genocidal ethnic cleansing of Syrian Christians was carried out in 1915.   The genocidal ethnic cleansing of Greek Christians peaked just after the First World War.   These were  genocides of forced marches, starvation, and Einsatzgruppen, not gas chambers.   But they were directed from the highest level of the government, carried out by military and civilian officials, and they were thoroughly effective.

Taner Akçam’s The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity; The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire is a landmark in genocide scholarship, and a fitting successor his two earlier books on the subject, his  2004 From Republic to Empire; Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide, and his 2006  The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility .    Akçam’s goal in Crime Against Humanity is to refute the denialist claim that the only evidence of genocide comes from biased sources: Armenians and their Western supporters, and, therefore, that nothing has been proven.   Some scholars have assumed that Turkish concealment and destruction of government records makes countering this argument directly impossible.   Akçam used Ottoman files that do survive and are open to scholars to demonstrate that the deliberate and official nature of the “ethnic cleansing of the Ottoman Greeks and the genocidal policy against the Armenians can be demonstrated through these documents alone.”[1]   Case closed.

A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire, (Oxford, 2011) is a different kind of book, the product of a ten-year series of meetings convened by historians from Turkish and Western universities to produce a shared understanding of the events of 1915.   Among Turkish scholars willing to attend and to contribute chapters, “There was no dispute that deportations and massacres had occurred, that the forced movement of the Armenians had been ordered by the Young Turk government, that the mass killing was the result of both government and party actions, and that while there were several moments of Armenian resistance (most notably at Van), there was no civil war. The two opposing nationalist narratives were replaced by a single shared account based on evidence.”[2]

These two books settle the debate over whether the events of 1915 were a deliberate, officially ordered genocide for everyone except politically inspired denialists and members of the Flat Earth Society.

[1] Akçam, Taner, The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity; The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire,  Princeton University Press, 2010, p. xxv.

[2] Suny, Ronald Grigor, “Truth in Telling: Reconciling Realities in the Genocide of the Ottoman Armenians”, American Historical Review, vol. 4, no. 4, Oct. 2009.


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We will kill you, marry your young wives, and inherit your estates. Armenia 1915.

Posted by dianamuir on June 15, 2012
Armenian genocide, Uncategorized / 4 Comments

bookjacketThis post will focus on a single aspect of Taner Akçam’s remarkable new book,  The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity:
The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire
.     Because genocide deniers  have claimed that by  relying on evidence from Turkey’s “enemies”, (Armenian survivors, Western diplomats and missionaries who witnessed the genocide) historians prove nothing,  Akçam sets himself the task of demonstrating  that the deliberate and official nature of the “ethnic cleansing of the Ottoman Greeks and the genocidal policy against the Armenians can be demonstrated through (surviving government) documents alone.”  He succeeds.

But this post will focus not on the book as a whole, but on the fate of some number of  Armenian children and young girls.  Most Armenian children and girls died, many were raped or confined in brothels to be raped before they were murdered.  Some were sold and the money pocketed by officers detailed to carry out the genocide .  For a few piasters, Muslims could purchase  Armenians children as cheap labor; Armenian girls  were exhibited naked for sale in temporary Armenian slave markets in villages along the deportation routes and in Damascus.  But the government also planned to add strong, healthy Armenian children and young girls to the Muslim population.  To this end, the Interior Ministry cabled instructions regarding “the children who are likely to become orphans”.   (p. 317)

The story plays out in a series of government cables.  Financial inducements were offered.  You could take an Armenian child into your household and become the legal heir of the property of the child’s murdered family.   You could even marry a young Armenian wife and become the legal heir to the property of her dead husband.   Well-connected Turks angled to adopt the children of wealthy families and to wed the widows of wealthy Armenians.  Some officials managed to get several.   Soldiers and officers along the deportation routes selected wives.

The numbers who survived this way are unclear, tens of thousands according to Akçam, though some estimates range as high as one or even two hundred thousand Armenian children and girls converted to Islam and added to Muslim households.   The Armenian genocide, according to Akçam was about annihilating the Armenian nation.   The  horrors of the  Einsatzgruppen all appear  in Armenia, only the gas chambers do not.    Armenians were forced to dig their own graves, marched out of town to be shot, herded into buildings and burned, roped together and thrown off cliffs into the Euphrates,  babies were torn from their mother’s arms and women  raped as their doomed families watched in horror.

But this was not a genocide of Nazi race theory.    Initially, an Armenian could save himself  by accepting Islam.   Early in the genocide, large numbers of Armenians attempted to save their lives by converting.    Conversion of adults was generally forbidden during the genocide because  the goal was to extinguish Armenian culture and it was believed that adult converts, or large groups of converts, would remain culturally Armenian.     And yet, the men who commanded the genocide were  technocrats who  calculated that the underpopulated Ottoman state would be strengthened  if  if small numbers of numbers of healthy, young Armenians were made into Turks  under conditions that annihilated their Armenian-ness.   And so some of the young were selected to live and become Turks.

Akçam’s  Chapter 9, Assimilation, is one of the most remarkable chapters ever written about a genocide.  Read it and recoil at the  monstrosity of a government that cold-bloodedly ordered a genocide, then rewarded the men  who carried it out by  giving them not only the property, but even the wives and daughters of the men they murdered.