A major addition to the literature of witness and testimony. How did you come to find out about him and his memoir? A: Growing up, I knew he was a bishop in the Armenian church. He was spoken of occasionally by my father and aunts.
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Although they mentioned some books he wrote about the Armenian church, no one ever mentioned this great memoir. I know the subject of the fate of the Armenians in traumatized them, and so all was silence when it came to this subject. I wrote about my discovery of my great uncle in a chapter of my own memoir, Black Dog of Fate. So my memoir led to my finding his memoir. Q: How did you find out about Armenian Golgotha?
A: It was coincidental, or fated if youwill. In a friend of mine sentme a French magazine article about a commemorative service for him. He had been the bishop in Marseilles at the end of his life. And by I was working with a co-translator. The project has taken ten years. Q:What was the process of translating the memoir like? The translation was a collaborative process, and it has been slow and painstaking. Trying to find the right idioms, and words, rhythms, and sounds for this rich Armenian language in contemporary English was an endless challenge.
And this is a book of 71 chapters of pretty dark stuff.
Q: How has your uncle come to life for you? A: I had no idea my uncle was such a dynamic leader and prominent intellectual of his generation. Armenian Golgotha brings to life the extraordinary creativity, wit, humanity and compassion this young Armenian clergyman exhibited in the face of overwhelming odds. His ability to negotiate with Turkish perpetrators and still provide sustenance to his emaciated group of fellow deportees is remarkable.
And throughout the story he remains humble and focused on helping others. His witnessing is compound witnessing in this way. Q: What kind of contribution does Armenian Golgotha make to our understanding of the Armenian Genocide? Balakian was one of the famous Armenian cultural leaders who were arrested on the night of April 14, at the very start of the genocide. He survived nearly four years on deportation marches and witnessed things that few survivors have described.
How did he witness more than others? A: He was in a unique position as a priest because Armenian deportees looked to him for help, and for several months he led more than a hundred deportees through horrendous conditions.
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Along the way, he encountered survivors from other parts of Turkey and they told him stories of the massacres they had witnessed. Also, Turkish perpetrators, thinking he was on his way to death, opened up to him and told him some extraordinary things. And, the German, Swiss and Austrian railway engineers told him their accounts of witnessing atrocities.
He traveled hundreds of miles and witnessed the ruins and remains of many destroyed Armenian villages, towns and cities. Q: Could you say more about the destruction of Armenian culture and its artifacts and infrastructure? In the case of the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish government destroyed more than 5, Armenian churches and schools as well as thousands of other buildings, artifacts, works of art and literature. Balakian also shows us what happened to Armenians who were forceably converted to Islam from their Christian faith.
A: Readers will find that Armenian Golgotha corroborates what most of the scholarship has shown. The deportations and massacres of the Armenians were planned by the central government; he shows us how the Turkish government used surveillance, created blacklists to arrest the cultural leaders, created killing squads, created false provocations in order to arrest Armenians, and so on. Chapter 11 is a blueprint of the genocidal process. Q:Why is the Armenian Genocide important to study today?
Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1918
After all, it happened almost 95 years ago. A: Well, the Armenian Genocide is the template for all genocide to follow in the modern era. It began what you might call the age of modern genocide. It was the first instance in which a nation state used its military, bureaucracy, and technology to exterminate a target group of people in a concentrated period of time.
More than a million people were killed in a year. The Armenian Genocide is part of the genesis of the very word.
They have allowed us acquaintance with individual victims and perpetrators, offering insights into the nature of torture, cruelty, suffering, survival, and death. By the end of the twentieth century some scholars had referred to our time as an age of testimony.
The book also offers 16 photographs — many are graphic — and 5 maps. Previous massacres of the Armenian people were the Erzerum massacre of , the Hamidian massacres of —, the Sassoun massacre of , and the Adana massacre of During the — Armenian Genocide, 1.
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Armenian Golgotha offers an extensive Bibliography. The briefest search on the internet and with YouTube viewings will reveal serious dilemmas and great controversies surrounding these events today, notably for modern Turks. The second Republic of Armenia was established in ; the traditional highlands of the people are located near sacred Mount Ararat.
Behaeddin Shakir — Mehmed Talaat Pasha, —, was assassinated in Berlin. The position of Sheik-ul-Islam was abolished in From Volume II , Balakian had been urged by friends to abandon the journey of exile, take every opportunity to escape and find refuge through employment on the Berlin-to-Baghdad railway that was then being constructed by the Germans to serve their own interests, of course.
This he refused to do until, finally, in Islahiye, a railway border crossing into Syria, two Armenian soldiers told him that not even five percent of the exiles reached Der Zor alive. After again raising money for the surviving members of his group he at last parts from them and succeeds, with the help of sympathetic accomplices, in escaping to Ayran.
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He remains determined to carry the story of the Armenian Golgotha to the civilized world. With his knowledge of the German language and his background in engineering, he changes his name and appearance and finds employment with the railway. From this time until the end of the war he is a fugitive, always on the run to escape identification, which would mean certain death, changing his name and residence, his appearance and his occupation many times. At one point along the way he wears the uniform of a German soldier and travels by horseback. From the Introduction: In , embittered by church politics, Grigoris Balakian resigned from his position as architect and civil engineer in the construction of Armenian Apostolic churches in southern France.
His death seemed inseparable from his love of building.
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