Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Burning Tigris, Part 2 

Armenians commemorate their dead from the genocide on April 24th, called Martyr's Day or Genocide Memorial Day, after the Armenian intelligentsia of Constantinople in 1915 were deported en masse from the city and massacred in the desert. Most people in discussing the Armenian Genocide refer to the period after 1915. But as Balakian points out, massacre of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey was a recurring event dating back at least to the 1840s and hitting a previous peak in the 1890s and Sultan Abdul Hamid II. My own family history of immigration to America is rooted in the earlier massacres, as my grandfather's family began to leave after the 1894-96 sacking of Armenian towns in the east of Turkey (he came from Malatia a few years later, following his older brother), and my grandmother sent to a Beirut orphanage after her father had been killed and her mother and family kicked off their farm in the Musa Dagh region (the area later storied for Armenian resistance of the Turks in Franz Werfel's The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.) And Americans were aware of these events almost from the start due to the efforts of the New England Protestants that are the center of Balakian's story. For instance, this letter by Dr. Julian Hubbell of the American Red Cross in 1896 from Arabkir, a city near Malatia which had been razed:
Nearly the entire city of Arabkir was in ruins, only heaps of stones where houses had been. Out of eighteen hundred homes but few remained; the markets as well as the dwellings were destroyed, and the people, plundered and destitute, were crowed into the few remaining houses, down [infected] with the typhus. We were told that six hundred had already died of the disease, and the [Armenian] people's physician, the only one in this part of the country, was in prison. (p. 88)
Likewise, during the massacres in Adana 13 years later, Balakian discusses the reports of British vice-consul C. H. M. Doughty Wylie on seeing Turks commit massacres of Armenians both in the city and on the trains leaving the city while Abdul Hamid's supporters were trying to create a counterrevolution against the new democratic government. Order was restored and the Armenians were disarmed. Then under provocation that was later shown could not have come from the Armenians, the new government's troops went in and killed many in the town, and then continued to Alexandretta to the mountains and, among others, my grandmother's farm. 15,000 to 25,000 died. And the Turks were emboldened by Western inaction, Balakian writes:
...Again, as in the case of the Hamidian massacres, no justice or punishment was served in the wake of the Adana massacres. And it was this impunity that further devalued an already marginalized group. While there were heroic bystanders and rescuers ... there was no foreign intervention. The irony that the warships of seven nations -- England, Fance, Italy, Austria, Russia, Germany and the United States -- were stationed just miles away off the cost and did not intervene only dramatizes the failure. (p. 157)
I could spend a great deal of time discussing the 1915 genocide itself, but it is well-tread ground. Balakian does a very good job covering these events and in particular dealing with Western reporting at the time, but that is also covered by anyone familiar with the history of U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morganthau and there are plenty of places on the web to learn about these. (It's hard to put that together with the dialup connection here, so I'll have a summary post next week with that assuming you are interested.) But I would like to issue one more part to this review in a couple of days to cover the less-well told story of the trials of the Young Turk leaders of the genocide in 1919-20. I will also summarize my feelings about the book by then as well.

UPDATE: Put in some links, including those of my family history from my personal website. If you're interested.