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Monday, August 12, 2013

Kasab Taburu (Butcher Brigade), Part Ten

        "Balakian described 'the terror of death' that hung in the air of the bus, especially as they passed the rocky coast where in previous decades the sultan's military police had thrown to their deaths hundreds of Armenian and Turkish intellectuals and political activists.  The group was then put on a steamship that normally held about 65 people, but was now loaded down with about 250 Armenians and dozens of military police--young soldiers, commisars, army spies, and police officials of various ranks.
        They sailed out on the rough waters of the Sea of Marmara and finally landed at Haydar Pasha's wharf, where they were marched out of the steamship in pairs to a huge embarkation station.  As the ornate process continued, the Armenian leaders were then taken to a special train, which was, as Balakian put it,'waiting and ready to take us all to the depths of Asia Minor, where,except for a few rare cases, we would all meet out deaths.  With the lights out,' Balakian wrote, ' the doors of the cars shut, and with police and police soldiers posted everywhere, the train started.  And so we began to move further and further away form the places of our lives, each of us leaving behind grieving and unprotected mothers, sisters, wives, children, possessions, wealth, and everything else.  We headed out to a region unnamed and unfamiliar.  To be buried forever.'
        Sometime past midnight an official on the train, who happened to be Armenian, whispered in Balakian's ear: 'Reverend Father, please write down the names of your arrested friends on this piece of paper and give it back to me.'  The man then 'slid a piece of paper and a pencil into my hand, and leaving the lamp by me, he went off to the busy policemen who were in charge of us. . . my heart was pounding and in haste I wrote, in the flickering dim light, the names I could remember, and slid the list back to the Armenian official.'  It was at this point that Balakian began to bear witness in a more formal way, and perhaps the writing down of the names was part of the process that led him to write his memoir.
        The train proceeded south along the coastline of the Sea of Marmara and by dawn they were passing through Nicomedia (Izmit) and Bardizag.  At dusk they came to the town of Eskishehir, where the Ankara and Konia railway lines separate, and then, after some delay and much apprehension among the prisoners, the train veered off toward Ankara.  Around midday on Tuesday they arrived at the Sinjan Koy railway station, near Ankara.  At the station Ibrahim, the chief of the central prison, who had been with them since Constantinople, stood up and began to read off the list of names:  'Silvio Ricci, Agnuni, Zartarian, Khazhag, Sharigian, Jihangiulian, Dr. Daghavarian, Sarkis Minasian,' the names were shouted out.  They were all progressive intellectuals, nonpolitical party people, conservatives, Balakian recalled, 'some seventy-five in all.  We were riveted on each name as it was called,' he wrote,' and then we kissed those who were leaving us.  In that instant, we began to weep, and as one person wept, others began to weep too, and we had this feeling that we were being separated from each other forever.'
         The first group was taken to Ayash, northwest of Ankara, while Balakian's group would be taken to Chankiri, to the northwest of Ankara.  In both places the men were imprisoned, tortured, and most of them killed in the subsequent few months in the desolate countryside of the region.  Balakian describes many of their deaths, among them the murders of the famous poet Daniel Varoujian and the novelist and Ottoman parliament membor Krikor Zohrab.  Varoujan and four colleagues had been with Balakian in prison in Chankiri, and on Thursday August 12, Jemal Oguz, the CUP responsible secretary, telegraphed the police guard office on the Chankiri-Kaylajek road, they were ambushed by four Kurdish chetes.  'The whole thing,' Balakian wrote, 'had been arranged in advance, and in secret.'
        The chetes then took the five Armenians to a nearby creek, undressed them, and folded up their clothing for themselves.  Then 'they began to stab them to death, slashing their arms and legs and genitals, and ripping apart their bodies.'  Only the thirty-three-year old Daniel Varoujian tried to defend himself, and this provoked the killers further;  they not only 'tore out his entrails, but dug out the eyes of this great Armenian poet.'  The killers then divided the pillage among themselves, taking more than 450 Ottoman gold pieces that were sewn into the clothing of Dr. Chillingerian and Onnig Maghazadijian.  They paid off the police, and after dividing up the belongings, left in the carriages.
         Balakian learned the details of the killings from one of the Turkish carriage drivers--the twenty-one-year-old son of the local bathhouse keeper--who returned to Chankiri depressed and shaken.  Sobbing as he spoke, he said to the Armenian priest, 'I don't want to be in this trade anymore.  I'm going to sell my horse and carriage and get out of this town.  I don't want this kind of profit.'  When the carriages returned to Chankiri without Varoujian and the others on Friday, the news of their murders spread terror among the deportees and the Armenian families of the town.  The interim governor, who had guaranteed that the men would reach Ankara safely, went immediately to Tuney (the town were they were killed) with the chief of police from Kastamouni and an investigative team.  There, they 'found the five dead men in unrecognizable condition in the creek.'"
The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian pgs.213-215.

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