Armenian Golgotha

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On April 24, 1915, Grigoris Balakian was arrested along with some 250 other leaders of Constantinople’s Armenian community. It was the beginning of the Ottoman Empire’s systematic attempt to eliminate the Armenian people from Turkey—a campaign that continued through World War I and the fall of the empire. Over the next four years, Balakian would bear witness to a seemingly endless caravan of blood, surviving to recount his miraculous escape and expose the atrocities that led to over a million deaths.
Armenian Golgotha is Balakian’s devastating eyewitness account—a haunting reminder of the first modern genocide and a controversial historical document that is destined to become a classic of survivor literature.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A fascinating first-hand testimony to a monumental crime.”
The New Yorker
“Gripping. . . . A powerful and important book. . . . It takes its place as one of the key first-hand sources for understanding the Armenian Genocide.”
—Mark Mazower, The New Republic
“Powerful. . . . Riveting. . . . A poignant, often harrowing story about the resiliency of the human spirit [and] a window on a moment in history that most Americans only dimly understand.”
—Chris Bohjalian, Washington Post

“An immensely moving, harrowing memoir that instantly takes its place as a classic alongside Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz and Elie Wiesel’s Night.”
—Carlin Romano, The Chronicle of Higher Education

“Read this heartbreaking book. Armenian Golgotha describes the suffering, agony and massacre of innumerable Armenian families almost a century ago; its memory must remain a lesson for more than one generation.”
—Elie Wiesel, author of Night

“An appalling and magnificent book. . . . It owes its existence to [Balakian’s] determination to survive to write it . . . a sacred task that gives him the strength to persevere through the impossible circumstances that killed well over a million of his countrymen.”
—Benjamin Moser, Harper’s
“Shocking and brilliant. . . . Exquisitely rendered. . . . This book has the feel of a classic about it, and I suspect that future writers on historical trauma and its representation will turn eagerly to Armenian Golgotha. It’s a massively important contribution to this field.”
—Jay Parini, The Chronicle of Higher Education
“An extraordinary narrative . . . beautifully translated. . . . Armenian Golgotha will influence Armenian genocide studies for decades.”
—John A. C. Greppin, The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Monumental. . . . Balakian provides strong evidence that these gruesome proceedings were carried out under official orders from the highest level. . . . For generations to come Armenian Golgotha will remain a first-hand documentation of a historic tragedy written from the perspective of a talented scholar.”
—Henry Morgenthau, III, Boston Sunday Globe
“[A work] of exceptional interest and scholarship.”
—Christopher Hitchens, Slate
“The translation and publication of Armenian Golgotha in English is long overdue. It constitutes a thundering historical proof that those who deny the Armenian Genocide are engages in a massive deception.”
—Deborah E. Lipstadt, author of Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory
“Groundbreaking. . . . Comprehensive. . . . Sobering. . . . Armenian Golgotha is replete with narratives that focus on collective suffering, marking this memoir as one of the few to explicate the true nature of the crime. . . . Balakian’s memory is extraordinary, but so, too, are his intellect, his compassion and his ethical obligation to immortalize his beloved co-nationals.”
—Donna-Lee Frieze, The Jewish Daily Forward
“An Armenian equivalent to the testimonies of Holocaust survivors like Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel.”
—Adam Kirsch, Nextbook
“The descriptions of the Armenian genocide are striking and the author spares his readers none of the gruesome details. . . . A riveting and powerful indictment of a genocide that became a paradigm for future genocides.”
—Holger H. Herwig, The Gazette (Montreal)
“An essential memoir, a lively and extraordinary life story. . . . This is more than an eyewitness account, it is a masterful history in its own right.”
—Seth J. Frantzman, The Jerusalem Post
“Weighted with eyewitness accounts and distinguished by Balakian’s prodigiously sharp memory, this book is not a scholar’s history, of course, but an educated prelate’s, with an enviable grasp of Ottoman and European history. . . . Memory and hope for the future live in seminal texts such as Armenian Golgotha.”
—Keith Garebian, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
“A powerful, moving account of the Armenian Genocide, a story that needs to be known, and is told here with a sweep of experience and wealth of detail that is as disturbing as it is irrefutable.”
—Sir Martin Gilbert
“Extraordinary. . . . This book will become a classic, both for its depiction of a much denied genocide and its humane and brilliant witness to what human beings can endure and overcome.”
—Robert Jay Lifton, author of The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide
“Witness literature of the highest order, to be put aside the great testimony from the Shoah. . . . Required reading for those who wish to comprehend the 20th century.”
—Robert Leiter, The Jewish Exponent

“An astonishing memoir. . . . An important primary document concerning the Armenian Genocide. . . . A major addition to the literature of witness and testimony.”
—Robert Melson, Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal

Chris Bohjalian
…a powerful memoir…In addition to being a poignant, often harrowing story about the resiliency of the human spirit, Armenian Golgotha is also a window on a moment in history that most Americans only dimly understand…I hope that Armenian Golgotha will be widely read, both as a riveting tale of one man's survival and as a historical document.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Grigoris Balakian (1876-1934), a cultural and religious leader in Istanbul's Armenian community, was arrested in April 1914 with 250 other leaders and began almost four years of deportation, forced march to the Syrian desert, and abusive treatment. Thus was launched the Turkish government's program to rid the country of Armenians. Hundreds of thousands were viciously murdered or died of cold and starvation, but Balakian's fierce will to live and his encounters with a few generous people allowed him to survive and tell the story. This memoir, which Balakian published in Armenian in 1922, vividly portrays Turkish brutality as it provides his and others' stories along with well-informed commentary on Turkey's actions. Peter Balakian (English, Colgate Univ.; The Burning Tigris), the author's grandnephew, has translated this rich historical document and provided scholarly support, making available a readable and moving account that will be welcomed by both the English-speaking Armenian community and a broader audience committed to witnessing and understanding the massive cruelty and suffering that characterized widespread crimes against humanity in the 20th century. Important for readers who want to judge whether or not this was the first genocide in modern times.
—Elizabeth R. Hayford

Kirkus Reviews
The first English translation of a seminal personal account of the first modern genocide..Balakian (1873–1934) was a prominent intellectual and priest of the Armenian Church in Turkey at the outbreak of World War I. The Ottoman Empire was publicly neutral but secretly allied with Germany. Turkey's long-persecuted Armenian minority favored Russia and her allies, because Czar Nicholas II had long been an unofficial, and ineffective, protector of Armenian Christians under Ottoman rule. This proved disastrous when Russia declared war on Turkey in November 1914, and Ottoman officials decided that the entire Armenian population represented a fifth column. There had been earlier massacres of Armenians in Turkey, but nothing like the nightmare that began with the April 1915 arrest in Constantinople of 250 Armenian intellectuals, including Balakian. In a text originally published in 1922, he relates their Kafka-like ordeal, in which humiliating abuse alternated with occasional kindness, and the release of a few was counterpointed by occasional killing of others. After ten months, the remnant of Balakian's group was ordered to march west, joining hundreds of thousands of additional victims. While ordinary Germans' acceptance of Jewish persecution was mostly passive, Balakian describes the Turkish population, civilian and military, enthusiastically falling upon the Armenians in an orgy of torture, slaughter, rape and robbery. More than a million Armenians died. With luck, the aid of comrades and a few sympathetic officials, Balakian survived to write this memoir, which combines extensive research, an account of his own experiences and testimony from eyewitnesses, both victims and perpetrators. Poet,memoirist and Armenian holocaust historian Peter Balakian (The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response, 2005, etc.), Grigoris's great-nephew, collaborated with professional translator Sevag to render the blistering Armenian text into modern English..An important historical document, though its relentless depiction of atrocity make this a hard slog for the average reader..Agent: Eric Simonoff/Janklow & Nesbit.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400096770
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/9/2010
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 470,595
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Balakian

Born in 1876, Grigoris Balakian was one of the leading Armenian intellectuals of his generation. In Ottoman Turkey he attended Armenian schools and seminary; and in Germany he studied, at different times, engineering and theology. He was one of the 250 cultural leaders (intellectuals, clergy, teachers, and political and community leaders) arrested by the Turkish government on the night of April 24, 1915, and deported to the interior. Unlike the vast majority of his conationals, he survived nearly four years in the killing fields. Ordained as a celibate priest (vartabed) in 1901, he later became a bishop and prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in southern France. He is the author of various books and monographs (some of them lost) on Armenian culture and history, including The Ruins of Ani (1910) and Armenian Golgotha, volume 1 (1922) and volume 2 (1959). He died in Marseilles in 1934.

Peter Balakian is the author of The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’ s Response, winner of the 2005 Raphael Lemkin Prize, a New York Times best seller, and a New York Times Notable Book; and of Black Dog of Fate, winner of the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of Memoir, also a New York Times Notable Book. Grigoris Balakian was his great-uncle.

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Read an Excerpt

The Night of Gethsemane

On the night of Saturday, April 11/24, 1915, the Armenians of the capital city, exhausted from the Easter celebrations that had come to an end a few days earlier, were snoring in a calm sleep. Meanwhile on the heights of Stambul, near Ayesofia, a highly secret activity was taking place in the palatial central police station.

Groups of Armenians had just been arrested in the suburbs and neighborhoods of the capital; blood-colored military buses were now transporting them to the central prison. Weeks earlier Bedri,* chief of police in Constantinople, had sent official sealed orders to all the guardhouses, with the instruction that they not be opened until the designated day and that they then be carried out with precision and in secrecy. The orders were warrants to arrest the Armenians whose names were on the blacklist, a list compiled with the help of Armenian traitors, particularly Artin Megerdichian, who worked with the neighborhood Ittihad clubs.† Condemned to death were Armenians who were prominent and active in either revolutionary or nonpartisan Armenian organizations and who were deemed liable to incite revolution or resistance.‡

On this Saturday night I, along with eight friends from Scutari, was transported by a small steamboat from the quay of the huge armory of Selimiye to Sirkedji. The night smelled of death; the sea was rough, and our hearts were full of terror. We prisoners were under strict police guard, not allowed to speak to one another. We had no idea where we were going.

We arrived at the central prison, and here behind gigantic walls and large bolted gates, they put us in a wooden pavilion in the courtyard, which was said by some to have once served as a school. We sat there, quiet and somber, on the bare wooden floor under the faint light of a flickering lantern, too stunned and confused to make sense of what was happening.

We had barely begun to sink into fear and despair when the giant iron gates of the prison creaked open again and a multitude of new faces were pushed inside. They were all familiar faces—revolutionary and political leaders, public figures, and nonpartisan and even antipartisan intellectuals.

From the deep silence of the night until morning, every few hours Armenians were brought to the prison. And so behind these high walls, the jostling and commotion increased as the crowd of prisoners became denser. It was as if all the prominent Armenian public figures—assemblymen, representatives, revolutionaries, editors, teachers, doctors, pharmacists, dentists, merchants, bankers, and others in the capital city—had made an appointment to meet in these dim prison cells. Some even appeared in their nightclothes and slippers. The more those familiar faces kept appearing, the more the chatter abated and our anxiety grew.

Before long everyone looked solemn, our hearts heavy and full of worry about an impending storm. Not one of us understood why we had been arrested, and no one could assess the consequences. As the night’s hours slipped by, our distress mounted. Except for a few rare stoics, we were in a state of spiritual anguish, terrified of the unknown and longing for comfort.

Right through till morning new Armenian prisoners arrived, and each time we heard the roar of the military cars, we hurried to the windows to see who they were. The new arrivals had contemptuous smiles on their faces, but when they saw hundreds of other well-known Armenians old and young around them, they too sank into fear. We were all searching for answers, asking what all of this meant, and pondering our fate.

*See Biographical Glossary.
†Meeting places for members of the local Ittihad Party committees throughout the empire.—trans.
‡Revolutionary here refers to reform-oriented political workers.—trans.

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Table of Contents

Map: Armenia, 500 B.C.-Present x

Introduction xiii

Map: The 1915 Armenian Genocide in the Turkish Empire xxx

Chronology xxxiii

Translator's Note xliii

Volume I The Life of an Exile July 1914-April 1916

Part I July-October 1914

1 In Berlin Before the War 5

2 In Berlin 10

3 Return to Constantinople from Berlin 22

Part II The First Deportation, April 1915-February 1916

4 The General Condition of the Armenians at the Beginning of 1915 31

5 The First Bad News from Cilicia: The Secret Messenger 49

Map: Deportation and Escape Routes 54

6 The Night of Gethsemane 56

7 Red Sunday 58

8 Toward a Place of Exile: The Names of the Exiles in Ayash 61

9 Life in Chankiri Armory: The Names of the Deportees in Chankiri 68

10 Life of the Deportees in the City 74

11 Plan for the Extinction of the Armenians in Turkey 77

12 The Armenian Carnage in Ankara 82

13 The Tragic End of Deportee Friends in Ayash 90

14 The Tragic End of the Chankiri Deportees 95

15 The Deportation and Killing of Zohrab and Vartkes 103

16 The Armenians of Chankiri in the Days of Horror 106

17 The General Condition of the Armenians at the Beginning of 1916 117

18 Second Arrest and Imprisonment 122

19 Departure from Chankiri to Choroum 125

20 From Choroum to Yozgat 131

21 From Yozgat to Boghazliyan: The Skulls 134

Part III The Second Deportation: The Caravan of Death to Der Zor, February-April 1916

22 The Confessions of a Slayer Captain 139

23 Encountering Another Caravan of the Condemned 150

24 From Boghazliyan to Kayseri: The Halys River Bridge and the Bandits of the Ittihad 162

25 Kayseri to Tomarza 170

26 Tomarza to Gazbel 179

27 Gazbel to Hajin 184

28 Hajin to Sis 195

29 Sis to Garzbazar 204

30 Garzbazar to Osmaniye 216

31 Osmaniye to Hasanbeyli and Kanle-gechid 220

32 Hasanbeyli to Islahiye: The Sweet Smell of Bread 230

33 Islahiye: A Field of Mounds for Graves 240

34 Bad News from Der Zor 247

35 Escape from Islahiye to Ayran 252

Volume II The Life of a Fugitive April 1916-January 1919

Part 1 In the Tunnels of Amanos

1 Escape on the Way to Ayran-Baghche (Vineyard) 263

2 The Remnants of the Armenians in the Amanos Mountains 268

3 Signs of Imminent New Storms 272

4 The Treatment of the Armenians by the German Soldiers 279

5 The Ghosts of Ten Thousand Armenian Women in the Deserts of Ras-ul-Ain 282

6 The Deportation and Murder of the Armenian Workers of Amanos 283

7 Bloodshed on the Way from Baghche to Marash: A German Nurse Goes Insane 291

8 The Suffering of British Prisoners of War at Kut-al-Amara 294

9 The Program of Forced Islamization: Escape from Baghche to Injirli 298

10 In the Forests of Injirli: Escape from Amanos to Taurus 302

Part II In the Tunnels of the Taurus Mountains

Map: Constantinople-to-Baghdad Railway 308

11 The Self-Sacrifice of the Armenian Workers of the Baghdad Railway 311

12 Fragments of Armenians in the Taurus Mountains 316

13 In the Deep Valley of Tashdurmaz 319

14 Life in Belemedik 322

15 The Deportation of Patriarch Zaven Der Yeghiayan from Constantinople to Baghdad 326

16 Legions of Armenian Exiles in Konya and Bozanti 331

17 Meeting Armenian Intellectuals on the Road to Belemedik 335

18 Escape from Belemedik to Adana 339

Part III In Adana, January 1917-September 1918

19 The General Condition of the War at the Beginning of 1917 347

20 A Mysterious Patient in Adana's German Hospital 348

21 The Condition of the Remaining Armenians in Adana 352

22 The Curse of Murdered Armenian Mothers 356

23 The Natural Beauty of Cilicia: The Disguised Vine Grower 357

24 The Clerk of the Office: Disappearance 368

25 The General Condition of the Armenians at the Beginning of 1918 370

26 The Turkish Army Invades the Caucasus, and the Victory of the Armenians at Sardarabad 374

27 The Declaration of the Armenian Republic 378

28 The Hospital-Slaughterhouse of Turkish Soldiers 380

29 The Victorious British Army Occupies Damascus: The Battle of Arara 389

30 The National Vow of the Turks to Exterminate the Surviving Armenians: The General Massacre in Der Zor 392

31 Escape from the Land of Blood 398

32 The Disguised German Soldier Toward Constantinople: The Longing of a Mother 404

33 Armistice: The Allied Fleet Victoriously Enters the Turkish Capital 411

34 Did the Victors Come to Punish, or to Loot? 416

35 The General Condition of Constantinople on the Eve of the Armistice 421

36 Irrevocable Departure from Turkey: From Constantinople to Paris 430

Acknowledgments 435

Glossary 437

Biographical Glossary 441

Appendix: Author's Preface 453

Map: Treaty of Sèvres 458

Notes 461

Bibliography 469

Index 483

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