Actor, playwright and novelist Bogosian (Perforated Heart, 2009, etc.) retells the horrors of the Turkish attempt to eradicate the Armenians: the century’s first ethnic cleansing.
The Ottoman Empire was primarily Muslim but mostly tolerated Jews and the Christian Armenians. However, they were treated as second-class citizens, required to pay extra taxes, never eligible for public office and banned from intermarriage. In an attempt to modernize, a group of “Young Turks” allied with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in 1908 to overthrow the empire. Though it was a bloodless coup, it soon became apparent that the Young Turks had no need for the Armenians. The country was ruled by the Committee of Union and Progress, a government as ruthless and cruel as the old sultan. The CUP was led by a triumvirate of Djemal Pasha, Talaat Pasha and Enver Pasha; by 1913, any semblance of democracy was lost. Then, in late April 1915, prominent Armenian leaders were rounded up and disappeared. This was the beginning of the genocide about which Hitler said, “[W]ho remembers the Armenians?” The killings, massacres, torture and deportations of Armenians went on through World War I. War-crime trials by the occupying British were ineffectual. Bogosian explores the life of survivor Soghomon Tehlirian, a young man who was fixated on revenge for the deaths of his people. In 1919, the ARF approved a “special mission” called Nemesis to find and execute the guilty parties, and Tehlirian was the perfect man for their mission. He found Pasha in Berlin and killed him, then stood trial, thereby bringing the world’s attention to the fate of the Armenians. The author gives a clear, concise view of Turkey’s history in the 20th century, and it’s not pretty.
Difficult reading, but an extremely well-written political statement about Turkey—not just then, but as it is now.