Here is an eloquent cri de coeur by a writer, teacher and humanitarian activist whose parents survived the infamous Armenian Genocide. It is a valuable addition to the literature of that event, not least because the author’s main goal is reconciliation between Christian Armenians and Turkish Muslims, whose forbears committed this first mass murder of the 20th century. To that end, Shahkeh Yaylaian Setian provides not only detailed political and cultural background but harrowing personal testimony from survivors (via 16 of their descendants) who were saved by sympathetic Muslims at the risk of their own lives.
Beginning with Arnold Toynbee’s shocking 1916 account, scores of historians, moral philosophers, novelists and filmmakers have grappled with what Armenians call “The Great Crime”–the Ottoman Turks’ systematic extermination, from 1915 to 1918, of 600,000 to 1.5 million Armenians (estimates vary) whom the pashas accused of collaborating with their Russian enemies in World War I. That false pretext has long since been discredited. But even today, Setian points out, Turkey doesn’t officially acknowledge responsibility for the slaughter.
The voices Setian has gathered vary in pitch but unite in remembrance. Glendale, California’s Haroot Pushian tells us how his then-teenaged father, the only survivor in a family of nine, swam across the Euphrates River to Iraq, was adopted by a Muslim family and later thrived in Baghdad. We learn of a woman who fled for weeks carrying her crippled son on her back. The author relates the day soldiers herded her father, Mourad Yaylaian, and the other Armenians of his village into their churchyard–and promptly shot Mourad’s fiancee to death before his eyes. He was spared when a Turkish farmer said he “looked like a strong boy” and took him off to the fields, where he severely abused him.
Setian hopes this moving book will illuminate “the dynamics . . . of ethnic conflict and genocide” and, in the wake of 9/11, “mitigate the prejudice against innocent Muslims” around the world. She’s done her part.
Also available in hardcover.