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Centenary of the Armenian Genocide: Goodbye, Antoura.

Middle East Revised marks the centenary of the Armenian genocide until the end of this year – with various reports, books recommendations, articles, testimonials.

The following is an excerpt from Karnig Panian’s Goodbye, Antoura: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide (English translation by Simon Beugekian).

pid_25996/photo via sup.org/

At night, elderly Turkish women patrolled up and down the rows of beds, trying their best to make sure we were all asleep. Some of us slept four to a bed, others eight to a bed, covered by one single blanket, breathing into each other’s faces. On cold nights, boys sometimes pulled the blanket off the others, starting an argument. The commotion would wake up everyone in the dormitory, and the women would do their best to restore order.

Often, the boys cried out in their sleep, or they woke up from a nightmare. When that happened, the Turkish women took their hands, escorted them to the lavatories, washed away their tears, and brought them back to the beds.

I often dreamed of my mother. During these dreams, we had long conversations. I was told that I often whimpered and repeated the word “mother” in my sleep. Her nightly visits were essential to my sanity and survival.

When morning came, we couldn’t help but feel a little bit cheerful. The days were often bright, and out the windows we could see the peaks of mountains in the distance to the east. To the west, in the distance, was the glittering Mediterranean Sea. Around the orphanage were scenic greenery and the beautiful songs of the birds. Despite everything, we had not given up on life yet.

Another thing that lifted our spirits was the set of statues of saints located high on the roofs of the buildings; they seemed to be constantly blessing us. The orphanage had been Turkified, but this place had been a religious school for decades, and even the Turks could not erase every trace of its past. We felt like those statues had successfully fought off any attempts by the Turks to change their identities, and thus, every time we went out to the courtyard, our eyes were drawn to them.

One morning, we heard a terrible noise, and we saw that the Turks were finally destroying the statues. The saints had lost their battle against the orphanage administration.

It was difficult to destroy the statues. By the second day only a few of them had been removed. We saw two of them crash down into the courtyard and shatter into a million pieces. That day, every time the bell rang, we poured out of the classrooms and ran to the shattered pieces, picking them up and fretting about them as if they were true relics of the saints.

“I’ll miss them,” murmured one of the boys.

“They were so lifelike,” added another.

“One of them looked exactly like my grandfather—same height, same mustache,” said a third, picking up some of the rubble.

The boys kept circling the smashed statues. Nobody played in the courtyard that day. We found noses and ears, arms and legs, scattered all over the place. Mindless destruction. The orphanage staff didn’t even bother cleaning up the rubble—the orphans had to collect it all into pails and dispose of it outside the orphanage walls.

Only one statue survived. It was a heavy one, made of bronze, and stood on the altar of the small chapel. But the door of the chapel was always kept locked, so we had no chance of seeing it.

In the first days of our stay in Antoura, the chapel had been a consolation. In the winter it was warm, and in the summer it was cool and breezy. The stained glass windows, decorated with biblical scenes and likenesses of saints, kindled memories of home in our minds.

But the project of Turkification was reaching a new level of intensity. On a daily basis, we heard lectures about Islam, its victories, and the virtue it imparted to the faithful who followed the way of Allah. Some of the boys had succumbed to the pressure already, while the others were under constant assault from the staff and the headmaster.

The administration started locking the chapel doors. It saw the building as a threat to its mission to convert us to Islam.

The orphans cast furtive glances toward the locked doors. “When will they let us back into the chapel?” asked one boy.

“To pray? We can pray anywhere,” answered another. “Remember, boys, we can pray in our beds, in our rooms, or even here in the courtyard.”

“I know that, but I wish I could see the statues inside one more time,” a third added.

“We can’t break down the door, but there are other ways to get in,” insisted a boy named Murad. “I’ll find a way and I’ll let you in, just follow me!”

The bell rang. It was the end of recess, and we had to return to the classrooms. We formed rows and walked into class under the watchful gaze of the teachers. During history class, the teacher asked whether Muhammad traveled on the back of a camel or on the back of a donkey. One of the more daring boys stood up and replied: “Miss, we all know Muhammad traveled on the back of a camel, and he must have really struck a sorry figure. As for those statues, they were beautiful. What was the point of smashing them to pieces?”

The entire class burst into laughter.

“How dare you? What blasphemy!” cried out the teacher, and struck her desk with her ruler.

For the crime of insulting the prophet, the boy had to face the wall and stand on one leg until the end of the class. But the classroom was now out of control, with all the students making a terrible amount of noise.

That night, Murad, as promised, led a group toward the back of the chapel. There we found a tiny door that was unlocked. Once through it, we found ourselves in a secondary room full of drawers, closets, and other furniture, covered by a thick layer of dust. But that didn’t interest us. We crept into the main nave. It was completely dark, save for a glimmer of light peeking through the window. As we approached the altar, we spotted the statue—it was lying on the ground, on its back.

The Turks had managed to dislodge it from its plinth, but they had failed to destroy it. It had only a few nicks here and there. The metallic statue had been too strong for their hammers and anvils. The serene expression on the statue’s face was still the same. In the visage of this statue we found more beauty and dignity than ever.

We all sat solemnly around the fallen statue. There was a silent, holy conversation going on between it and us. We weren’t even quite sure who the statue was supposed to depict. But we knew it was another link to our pasts, another key to our memories.

• • •

This excerpt was first published on Jadaliyya. For more on the centenary of the Armenian genocide, see:

Centenary of the Armenian Genocide: Denying Genocide Means Continuing Genocide

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art of resistance, Turkey

Centenary of the Armenian Genocide: Denying Genocide Means Continuing Genocide.

On 24th of April 1915, Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested and executed, some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. The date is held to be the beginning of the Armenian genocide – Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of Armenian people, inside their historic homeland. Starting from today, Middle East Revised marks the centenary of the Armenian genocide until the end of this year – with various reports, books recommendations, articles, testimonials, etc.

This first article is written by Zdravko Budimir, Croatian political scientist who wrote his master thesis on Armenian genocide and knows the subject very well. I am really happy to be able to publish it on Middle East Revised.

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Even though ethnic violence played a large role in history of mankind, there is one distinctive reason why 20th century is considered a dark century. Genocide as a phenomena is a decadency of, not a certain nation, but entire civilization. Violence of the 20th century was prepared. It derived its origins from the imperialistic fashion, where new racist theory justified bloody colonial expansionism and brought in a modern concept of administrative massacres. Genocide is not a single and discrete act but a process. Diagnostically perceived, it is a syndrome developed by simultaneous grouping of various signs and symptoms.

When altogether these symptoms produce abnormal state. Armenian genocide started in April 1915, as an escalation of a prolonged process of ethnic violence towards the Armenian population, started in 19th century. Ethnic violence escalated into a genocide because ethnic violence became a political tool for achieving political goals.

April24Victims/Armenian intellectuals jailed and later executed on April 24th. Image is from the Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia, Yerevan: 1981, p. 423./

Twentieth century introduced new political ideas and redefinition of older political concepts. Historically, democracy stands for a rule of the people, and there are two definitions of the people and one of them is responsible for turning a genocide into a political weapon.

Conception of people as demos is not a problematic one, as it assumes the differences between people can be set out by compromise. On the other hand conception of people as ethnos overrides compromise as a political tool, and defines nation in ethnic terms. Armenian genocide is the first modern genocide because ethnic violence had exceptional political purpose – removal of others in an already ethnically defined territory.

At the turn of the century Armenian question was integral part of a broader Eastern question and secondary stage for confrontation between European powers.  As a political system an empire could no longer cope with its minorities and their rising political and national aspirations.

Armenian_genocide_heads/Caption of the photograph reads: The Above Photograph Shows Eight Armenian Professors Massacred by the Turks. Found on Wikipedia/

Hamidian massacres 1894.-1896. were series of mass murders, led by Sultan Abdul Hamid, the Red Sultan. Violence was focused on Armenian society and estimated number of Armenian casualties vary from 80,000 to 300,000. The massacres themselves were, considering reasons and execution, pre-modern (feudal) type of violence and contain pre-genocidal character.

Hamidian massacres opened up for a further process of violence, thus creating a continuity of violence. During and after the massacres a certain type of culture was welcomed. Crimes were forgotten and it’s perpetuers were unpunished. Armenians turned into a safety valve of the system. Safety valve could be opened and tightened at any given time, without making political or moral risks. Hamidian massacres were crucial moment in incubation phase of genocide because vulnerability of Armenian people was detected and recognised (there was no address for Armenians to appeal to), and combined with Turkish invulnerability within the empire it made genocide a possible option.

In 20th century  Ottoman empire faced crisis caused by territory loss. For the first time in history Turks made a majority within their own empire, an empire which was about to collapse.

Armenian_woman_kneeling_beside_dead_child_in_field/Armenian woman kneeling beside dead child in a field “within sight of help and safety at Aleppo“. Sometime between 1915 and 1919. Photo source: Wikipedia/

Armenians as a minority faced a historically progressive hatred on an ethnic, religious, economic and political level. Armenians were used to violence. World War I provided a safe curtain for the most brutal act of violence in human history because it intensified nationalism, geopolitical destabilization, and made combining ethnos and demos far more dangerous. Context of total war redefined civilians as potential targets and enabled the use of terror as a supression of potentially cooperating parts of society. Armenian society was suspected for cooperation with the enemy and percieved as a direct threat to the Ottoman state in the same manner.

Extermination of the Armenians begun as elitocide, focused on Armenian leaders, soldiers, fortifications, strategically valuable cities and villages. Elitocide was justified as war necessity and preemptive strike, as Armenians were flagged as enemies.  Leaderless Armenian population was helpless, stateless and without any political representation. Genocide was executed using top-down principle, with a developed administrative system used for the coordination of murderings.

Armenian_Orphans,_Merzifon,_1918/Armenian orphans in Merzifon, 1918. Photo by Tsolag Dildilian/

Deportation was introduced as a specific method of genocide  (removal of the others from a heartland) and it was enforced as a law. Deportation and pillage were legal acts and covered for extermination which happened in their sake.

Armenian genocide was perpetuated by Young Turks, a force within a society driven by modern and nationalistic ideal of an ethnically defined nation state.  Young Turks’ desired society was bound by same language, education, religion, moral and aesthetic norms. They aspired towards  the Jacobin model, ruled by centralised state, ruthless homogenizer, egalitarian nationalism within national natural limits. Young Turks’ political rule in war era was an usurpation of a system and radicalization of the political sphere.

Armenian genocide is essentially a modern crime. It was initiated because Young Turks were devoted to the organic nationalism ideology which combined dark side of democracy with dark side of multiethnic empire. Later on, the Turkish nation-state was founded on genocide and it was maintained on its denial. Turkish people as a collective are not responsible for the massacre, but they take their part in culpability by constructing a national myth based on a denial of the other nation.

Armenianmothermourning/An Armenian mother and the corpses of her five children. Photo by Maria Jacobsen, Diary 1907-1919, Kharput-Turkey/

Armenian genocide can be described as a successful crime because it fulfilled its given purpose: final goal, the creation of homogeneous state, was accomplished, crime was forgotten and Turkey unpunished. And even one hundred years later, denying the obvious, historically proven and argumented facts is de facto acceptance of their outcome as favorable. Denial of the genocide means prolonging its effects and the Armenian genocidal process now exists for one hundred years.

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