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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Kasab Taburu (Butcher Brigade), Part Eleven

       "Dr. Boghosian described similar scenes.  His group of deportees was led out of the Chankiri prison, he recorded, on Assumption Sunday in August 1915.  Marched out of town, tied to each other by ropes, and joined with a group of several hundred more men, they were sent out into the 'bright moonlit night,' with three carts filled with 'spades, hoes, pick-axes, and shovels.'  Along the way more than two dozen of them were killed by the gendarmes, who bludgeoned them to death with their rifles.  They were spared for the moment when a Turkish captain redirected their caravan south to Kayseri.  Along that route more than 200 died of starvation and dysentary--familiar ways of dying in the extermination process.  Most of them would die in the coming months, but Dr. Boghosian, like Krikoris Balakian, was among the lucky survivors.

       What happened to these deported Armenian cultural leaders happened to Armenian intellectuals all over Turkey.  In this calculated way the CUP destroyed a vital part of Armenia's cultural infrastructure, and succeeded in practically silencing a whole generation of Armenian writers.  The death toll shows that at least eighty-two writers are known to have been murdered, in addition to the thousands of teachers and cultural and religious leaders.  It was an apocalypse for Armenian literature, which was in its own moment of a modernist flowering.  Daniel Varoujian, Siamanto (Adam Yarjanian), Krikor Zohrab, Levon Shant, Gomidas (Soghomon Soghomonian), and many others had taken Armenian poetry, fiction, drama, and music into a new era.  Fortunately many of the poems, novels, plays, and essays survived and are an important part of the Armenian literary tradition today.  But it may nevertheless be that the Young Turk government's extermination of Armenian intellectuals in 1915 was the most extensive episode of its kind in the twentieth century.  In many ways it became a paradigm for the silencing of writers by totalitarian governments in the ensuing decades of the century.  After April 24 it would be easier to carry out the genocide program, for many of the most gifted voices of resistance were gone.

       When Morgenthau first settled into his new post in Constantinople, he was alarmed by the recent accession to power of the CUP triumverate--Enver, Talaat, and Jemal.  Morgenthau called the new Committee of Union and Progress 'an irresponsible party, a kind of secret society' that ruled by 'intrigue, intimidation, and assassination.' 
       Then, as the Ottoman Empire joined Germany in World War I in November 1914, Morgenthau witnessed the Ottoman declaration of war that was issued simultaneously with a declaration of jihad had 'started passions' that would fuel the extermination program against the Armenians.  By the spring of 1915, Morgenthau began receiving detailed dispatches and telegrams about the deportations and massacres of the Armenians from his consular staff in the interior of Turkey.  Those reports would soon be heard around the world, and they would become essential to Morgenthau's new sense of conscience and responsibility. 

       In every city, town, and village a significant part of the Armenian population was financially stable, or even wealthy, and this caused great resentment and envy among their Muslim neighbors.  A disproportionate number of Armenians were successful in small business, trade, and commerce;  they were artisans, craftsmen, and farmers as well as teachers, clergy, and physicians.  Armenian culture was steeped in what later came to be called the Protestant work ethic.  With the coming of the missionaries, a new class of educated and intellectual Armenians had emerged as an academic elite throughout the empire.  By 1914, there were 1,996 schools and 451 monateries stretching from Constantinople to Van."  The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian pgs215-16, 223-24, and 233.

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