The first English translation of a seminal personal account of the first modern genocide.
Balakian (1873–1934) was a prominent intellectual and priest of the Armenian Church in Turkey at the outbreak of World War I. The Ottoman Empire was publicly neutral but secretly allied with Germany. Turkey’s long-persecuted Armenian minority favored Russia and her allies, because Czar Nicholas II had long been an unofficial, and ineffective, protector of Armenian Christians under Ottoman rule. This proved disastrous when Russia declared war on Turkey in November 1914, and Ottoman officials decided that the entire Armenian population represented a fifth column. There had been earlier massacres of Armenians in Turkey, but nothing like the nightmare that began with the April 1915 arrest in Constantinople of 250 Armenian intellectuals, including Balakian. In a text originally published in 1922, he relates their Kafka-like ordeal, in which humiliating abuse alternated with occasional kindness, and the release of a few was counterpointed by occasional killing of others. After ten months, the remnant of Balakian’s group was ordered to march west, joining hundreds of thousands of additional victims. While ordinary Germans’ acceptance of Jewish persecution was mostly passive, Balakian describes the Turkish population, civilian and military, enthusiastically falling upon the Armenians in an orgy of torture, slaughter, rape and robbery. More than a million Armenians died. With luck, the aid of comrades and a few sympathetic officials, Balakian survived to write this memoir, which combines extensive research, an account of his own experiences and testimony from eyewitnesses, both victims and perpetrators. Poet, memoirist and Armenian holocaust historian Peter Balakian (The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, 2005, etc.), Grigoris’s great-nephew, collaborated with professional translator Sevag to render the blistering Armenian text into modern English.
An important historical document, though its relentless depiction of atrocity make this a hard slog for the average reader.