Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Armenian Golgotha, by Grigoris Balakian

Beginning in 1915, the Turkish government persecuted, tortured, exiled, and murdered over one million Armenians. Grigoris Balakian, an Armenian priest educated in Germany, survived the genocide and recorded his experiences in Armenian Golgotha.

Balakian’s eyewitness account balances memory with history and explains how and why Turkish officials engineered the genocide. Towns were razed, and property was stolen. Turkish villagers murdered and plundered their Armenian neighbors. Bandits attacked and butchered caravans of exiles. Refugees exiled to desert wastelands died of hunger and thirst. Women were raped or kidnapped and forced into Turkish harems. Religious conversion saved some, but the rivers and roads and fields were littered with the bones of thousands. For four years, Balakian parlayed his religious status into opportunities to record the genocide from both Armenian and Turkish sources, determined to survive, to testify, and to remember the bloodshed and the horror.

The result is an unsparing, unflinching masterpiece of survivor literature, full of searing brutality, yet distanced with intelligence, context, and measured purpose. Clearly written and superbly translated, Armenian Golgotha is an indictment of all that is the worst in humanity, a warning to future generations, and a paean to the resiliency of the human spirit.
This review was first published in the July, 2009 issue of The Sacramento Book Review.

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