The Theatre of Genocide: Four Plays about Mass Murder in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Armenia

The Theatre of Genocide: Four Plays about Mass Murder in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Armenia

by Robert Skloot (Editor)


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In this pioneering volume, Robert Skloot brings together four plays—three of which are published here for the first time—that fearlessly explore the face of modern genocide. The scripts deal with the destruction of four targeted populations: Armenians in Lorne Shirinian’s Exile in the Cradle, Cambodians in Catherine Filloux’s Silence of God, Bosnian Muslims in Kitty Felde’s A Patch of Earth, and Rwandan Tutsis in Erik Ehn’s Maria Kizito. Taken together, these four plays erase the boundaries of theatrical realism to present stories that probe the actions of the perpetrators and the suffering of their victims. A major artistic contribution to the study of the history and effects of genocide, this collection carries on the important journey toward understanding the terror and trauma to which the modern world has so often been witness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780299224707
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
Publication date: 01/09/2008
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.07(d)

About the Author

Robert Skloot is professor in the Department of Theater and Drama and in the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of the play If the Whole Body Dies: Raphael Lemkin and the Treaty Against Genocide. He is also the author of The Darkness We Carry: The Drama of the Holocaust and editor of The Theatre of the Holocaust, Volumes 1 and 2, all published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

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The Theatre of Genocide

Four Plays about Mass Murder in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Armenia

The University of Wisconsin Press
Copyright © 2008

The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-299-22474-5

Chapter One Exile in the Cradle

Lorne Shirinian

for all those who suffered the Armenian Genocide and for those who still feel the pain

There have been two productions of Exile in the Cradle, both of which had the same director (Seta Keshishian), producer (Jolanta Izmirliyan), cast and crew (see below). It first played at the Sir John A. Macdonald Theatre in Toronto on April 23, 2006, and played again at the Fairview Theatre in Toronto on September 5, 2006.

Cast of Characters

YOUNG PIERRE SRABIAN Mano Ishkhanian HAGOP KEOSSERIAN Vicken Keshishian SALIM BEY Andre Kutyan THE TURKISH SOLDIER Sam Makdessian WOMAN IN THE CROWD Janet Sakarya OLD PIERRE SRABIAN Ben Tertibian ARMIG SRABIAN Eva Yenovkian LIZ SAMUELIAN Taline Baltayan HELEN SRABIAN Christine Topjian VICKEN SAMUELIAN Serge Keshishian HARRIET GARABEDIAN Calabrina Boyajian THEOFANIS KARLIDES Matius Adamian CAROL GREEN Shogher Menengichian

Act 1. Forgiveness (Constantinople, April 26, 1915)

PIERRE SRABIAN, a twenty-five-year-old poet, who published a revolutionary article and a series of poems in a literary gazette in the city last week, which brought him rapid notoriety. As a result, his single, slim volume of poetry sold out in three days. The Interior Ministry of the government of the Young Turks placed him on their list of subversives.

HAGOP KEOSSERIAN, a wealthy fifty-three-year old merchant and community leader. He has made his fortune by selling foodstuffs to various ministries of the government. He wears a battered, bloodstained fez.

SALIM BEY, an ambitious member of the government of the Young Turks who is in charge of the deportation of the Armenian intelligentsia from Constantinople, a cleansing operation begun two days earlier on April 24 that he knows is the beginning of the plan to eliminate Armenians from the Ottoman Empire. He is tall and wears a dark suit and a blood-red fez. His demeanor is that of a funeral director.


Act 2. Moon Monologue (Scarborough, an eastern suburb of Toronto, July 18, 1985)

PIERRE SRABIAN, ninety-five-years old. He alone escaped from SALIM BEY's death train when it stopped at Ayash. He wandered through Anatolia for four years, witnessing the Armenian Genocide firsthand. At the end of the war, Near East Relief placed him in a refugee camp and then sent him to Paris. He emigrated to Canada in 1938.

YOUNG PIERRE SRABIAN, twenty-six, dressed as he was when he escaped from the train at Ayash.

ARMINÉE SRABIAN (ARMIG), forty, is pierre srabian's daughter and like her father is a poet. She lives with her husband Yervant Avakian and her two daughters, Liz (fourteen) and Helen (thirteen). She is haunted by memories and images of the Armenian Genocide, which, in large part, motivate her work.

Act 3. The Storm That Never Breaks (Toronto, August 2, 1995, 7 pm)

ARMIG SRABIAN, fifty, has become a widow as her husband, YERVANT, who had been ill for years, has passed away.

LIZ SAMUELIAN, ARMIG's daughter is twenty-four-years old. Like her father was, she is a devoted member of the community and makes every effort to maintain her Armenian identity in Canada.

HELEN SRABIAN, twenty-three, is LIZ's younger sister. She has an independent spirit and works full-time at her art. Her sculptures have brought her distinction in recent shows.

VICKEN SAMUELIAN, thirty, is LIZ's husband and a successful accountant.

HARRIET GARABEDIAN, fifty, is a close friend of ARMIG's. They grew up together. She is a tireless worker for the community and is comfortable within its walls.

YERVANT SAMUELIAN, ARMIG's late husband in the casket.

Act 4. Life Support (Toronto, December 24, 2001)

ARMIG SRABIAN, fifty-six, now lives alone with the objects of her solitude. She ended a relationship with the artist THEO KARLIDES, which she had begun before her husband Yervant passed away. She is focused on her new book and performance pieces.

THEOFANIS KARLIDES, forty-eight, is a Greek Canadian artist, who has achieved great success in the Canadian art world. He is preparing a new show at a Toronto gallery and is receiving strong media attention.

HARRIET GARABEDIAN, fifty-six has remained ARMIG's close friend despite the fact that they have different views on their Armenian identities and the future of their community.

CAROL GREEN, twenty-five, is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto, where she majored in art management. She works for the Shurmer Gallery in Toronto as a liaison between the gallery and the artists who have shows there.

LIZ SAMUELIAN, thirty, has recently given birth to her daughter, YERCHANIG.

HELEN SRABIAN, twenty-nine, has been developing her art as a sculptor and is looking for new horizons to allow her to grow as an artist.

BABY YERCHANIG, in the cradle.


Pierre is born: 1890

Armenian Genocide: 1915 [Pierre is twenty-five]

Armig is born: 1945 [Pierre is fifty-five]

Armig marries Yervant: 1970 [Armig is twenty-five]

Liz is born: 1971 [Armig is twenty-six]

Helen born: 1972 [Armig is twenty-seven]

Pierre dies: 1985 [Pierre is ninety-five; Armig is forty]

Yervant dies: 1995 [Armig is fifty; Liz is twenty-four; Helen is twenty-three]

Yerchanig is born: 2001 [Liz is thirty; Helen is twenty-nine; Armig is fifty-six]

Act 1. Forgiveness

Place: Constantinople.

Time: April 26, 1915. The Armenian Genocide began two days ago.

(Black. Crowd noise. A spotlight illuminates a young man who enters SR, dressed in the manner of a European of Constantinople in 1915. He is very nervous as he fears he is being watched. Suddenly, three shots ring out. He starts.)

WOMAN IN THE CROWD: Shsh! Listen carefully. I don't know how much time I have. The Young Turk government has issued an order to arrest all Armenians in the city suspected of antigovernment opinions. Two days ago on the 24th, shortly after ten o'clock, groups of armed gendarmes went through the Pera district and took over two thousand of our artists, intellectuals, and community leaders to the central police station. They've been kept there for three days, but I've seen them just now. They were marched through the streets to the train station and forced into cars. (She backs into the shadows for a moment then returns into the light.) I heard the guards say the train is going to Ayash, Kalejk, Chankiri, and Chorum. It's started then. There can be only one destination for us now. How long will it be before they come for me?

(She looks around as if she hears something and disappears into the shadows.)

VOICE OFF: All aboard!

(Lights up. A passenger compartment on the train. PIERRE SRABIAN and HAGOP KEOSSERIAN sit, facing each other on benches at CS. Both have been beaten and are disheveled. They are silent as the train jostles them as it pulls out of the station. PIERRE glowers at HAGOP's fez. Behind them is an open doorway that leads to the corridor along which an armed soldier passes by from time to time. He stops and looks in on the two men sitting silently then disappears down the corridor to check on the other deportees as the train leaves Constantinople. There is the sound of the train leaving the station, which slowly fades away.)

PIERRE (he suddenly jumps up and knocks the fez off HAGOP's head): How can you wear that? Look at what they're doing to us! That ugly hat is a sign of our Ottoman oppression, and you dare wear it.

(HAGOP attempts to reach for it but winces in pain.)

Don't you!

(PIERRE takes it and steps on it and kicks it under the bench.)

HAGOP: It's bad enough the Turks are abusing us. You don't have to add to it.

(He holds his chest.)

PIERRE: What's wrong?

HAGOP (in pain): In the police station-(HAGOP pulls his hand from his chest. It's covered in blood. PIERRE stands over HAGOP and pulls back his jacket. PIERRE winces at the sight.) Just before they marched us to the train, a sergeant raised his rifle. Giavour! he called me. Infidel! I told him I have friends in several ministries, but he stabbed me.

PIERRE (he takes out a handkerchief and holds it against HAGOP's chest. The armed SOLDIER walks by and looks in then moves on.): Here, this might help. So where are your Turkish friends?

HAGOP: They obviously don't know what's happening.

PIERRE: Don't be so naïve. It's they who've put us here. Please, no false hope, not now. There's no time left for us.

HAGOP: What do you mean?

PIERRE: What do you think is going to happen to us?

HAGOP: Internal exile for a while, I suspect, until things in the capital calm down. Then, they'll bring us back.

PIERRE: Have you lost your memory? Believe me, we won't be coming back, none of us, ever.

HAGOP: I must. I must see my family. (HAGOP looks away toward the audience. PIERRE stares at him.)

PIERRE: What's your name?

HAGOP: Keosserian, Hagop.

PIERRE: The food merchant near the British embassy?


PIERRE: You must be prosperous.

HAGOP: Thanks to God I'm able to provide for my family.

PIERRE: And the church.

HAGOP: And my community.

PIERRE: No doubt you hold an important position on the parish council.

HAGOP: Chairman. (PIERRE smirks; HAGOP angers.) What's wrong?

PIERRE: And you supply the Ottoman Army, too, don't you?


PIERRE: We're all doomed, don't you see? Who will save us? Not the French. Certainly not the British. The Russians?

HAGOP: The Turks. We gave them our pledge of loyalty.

PIERRE: Ah, yes, our pledge to the Turks. No doubt they're taking us to a resort for being such loyal citizens. We're the fortunate ones in the first group.

HAGOP: I have faith all will be well.

PIERRE: You're a fool, there's nothing to base it on. When the train slows, I'll jump. I'll go over the border to Yerevan or Tiflis.

(The armed SOLDIER walks by, stops and looks in on the two of them. They are silent. The SOLDIER moves down the corridor.)

HAGOP: There's nothing in Yerevan. It's a dusty provincial town. There are more Russian troops in the place than there are Armenians.

PIERRE: At least they won't kill me because I'm Armenian. (PIERRE takes out a small notebook and a pencil and begins writing.)

HAGOP: You'll bow to them as you do to the Turks.

PIERRE: I don't bow.

(The lights flicker on and off for five seconds. The armed SOLDIER appears at the door.

SALIM BEY enters holding a black book. PIERRE hides his notebook.)

HAGOP (in pain; he attempts to stand): Effendi, I am Hagop Keosserian, food purveyor to various ministries of the government. I am an acquaintance of Djemal Bey. I really must protest this treatment.

SALIM (he hands the book to the SOLDIER): Check his name. Keosserian, Hagop.

(The SOLDIER flips through some pages and makes an attempt to look for the name but is unable to find it.)

Bastard! Can't you read?

SOLDIER (the SOLDIER snaps to attention): No, sir!

SALIM (he shakes his head and takes the notebook from the SOLDIER): Wait outside!

(The SOLDIER backs out of the compartment into the corridor and stands at attention with his rifle perpendicular to the floor held upright with the large bayonet sticking up menacingly. SALIM leafs through the book until he finds HAGOP's name.)

Ah, yes. I put your name on the list.

HAGOP (desperately): Effendi, I have influential friends in the ministries. They could be useful to you.

SALIM: I have been appointed by Talât himself. Do you think I have need of you? You have no influence. Your name was given to me by one of your "friends" in the government. That is why you are here.

(During this, PIERRE looks on, slightly amused.)


SALIM: Armenians no longer have any import in our new country.

HAGOP: But the empire has always been a place of many peoples. Armenians were here centuries before Turks arrived. We have always been a loyal community.

SALIM: When we push back the Russians and the British, there will be only the empire of the Turkish people, stretching through Armenia into central Asia. This is Turania!

HAGOP (more desperately): Effendi, I am a wealthy man. I can-

SALIM: No longer. All Armenian financial assets in Ottoman banks have been seized.

HAGOP (frantically): Slow the train, Effendi, just for a moment. Let me leap clear. I have money in Paris. I will transfer funds to you.

SALIM: Why do you worry so? What do you think is happening? We're just taking some of you away where it's safe for further questioning. Your revolutionaries are planning actions against our government. It's too dangerous in the capital.

PIERRE: Dangerous for whom? (SALIM looks at him threateningly.)

HAGOP: And after the questioning?

SALIM: When the government decides it is safe for you to return, this very train will take you home.

HAGOP (HAGOP looks to PIERRE relieved): You see; it's as I told you. No doubt we'll be home in a matter of days.

SALIM (he smiles): Eench Allah. Whatever god wills. (SALIM looks over to PIERRE.)

Your name.

PIERRE: Pierre Srabian.

SALIM (he searches his memory): Srabian. Srabian. No, I don't recall. What do you do?

PIERRE: I'm a poet.

SALIM: A poet! Why on earth would they....

(He searches in the book.)

You wrote that subversive article in your literary gazette last week.

PIERRE: I just wrote the truth. Nothing has changed for Armenians since your revolution.

SALIM: You are impatient. Reform takes time.

PIERRE: Massacre appears to be the government's preferred method of reform.

SALIM: You have created more trouble for yourself than you know. Poets should write about nature and love. You must be prepared for the consequences if you write about politics.

PIERRE: I suppose it's different for Ziya Gökalp.

SALIM: He is a great poet, a true nationalist.

PIERRE: He's a hack. He gives you what you want to hear.

SALIM: The whole nation knows his poetry. Who knows yours?

PIERRE: He writes patriotic drivel.

SALIM: He speaks for our nation.

PIERRE: Believe me; it's not poetry. You and Gökalp dream of a union of all Turks under one government, and you shall sacrifice us in the process.

HAGOP: No, Srabian, what are you saying?

SALIM (he recites): "The land of the enemy shall be devastated / Turkey shall be enlarged and become Turan." You see, Gökalp is a prophet. You no longer have any rights in our country.

(SALIM exits. The SOLDIER walks back and forth along the corridor, holding his rifle menacingly then moves on. PIERRE takes out his notebook again and writes.)

PIERRE: Do you see now?

HAGOP: This can't be.

PIERRE: You and your wealthy friends have been serving an empire that constantly eats its own. There have been thousands and thousands of our compatriots in the eastern provinces who have been taxed into starvation, robbed, beaten, humiliated and murdered, their women violated.

HAGOP: We served our people by serving the empire.

PIERRE: No! No more! The more you and your merchant friends grew wealthy, the more you became blind. You fed the snake; now the snake has you in its bloody fangs.

HAGOP (angrily): What would you have us do? We have no country, no government of our own. We worked hard and suffered indignity so that our families and our institutions could survive. And what have you contributed, parasite? I kept our community alive.

PIERRE: You maintained it in a coma.

HAGOP: What right do you have to criticize me? You write a few verses of doggerel and rail against the government in a small newspaper, if you can call that rag a paper. There's a war threatening the empire.

PIERRE: There's a government set on destroying our people.

HAGOP: All you have succeeded in doing is call attention to your disloyalty. Now we're all paying.

PIERRE: Look where your loyalty has landed you. We're all going to be killed, Keosserian.

HAGOP: No, they're just going to ask us some questions, that's all. We'll be home very soon, you'll see.

PIERRE: We'll never see the city again.

HAGOP: My family. I must-

PIERRE: Don't you see? I have friends in the other cars. We were in jail together; none of us is guilty of anything but being Armenian. That's our crime. We've become a category, an impediment. You heard Salim Bey. Centuries of hate will soon be released on us. In the end, they'll come for us with axes and swords. There's no haven for us anywhere in the empire. No one will save us.

HAGOP: Srabian, help me up. Take me to the window. Push me out.

PIERRE: You can't; you're too badly wounded. Besides, there are soldiers.


Excerpted from The Theatre of Genocide Copyright © 2008 by The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Contents Introduction: "The Light of Dead Stars" Robert Skloot....................3
Exile in the Cradle Lorne Shirinian....................29
Silence of God Catherine Filloux....................74
A Patch of Earth Kitty Felde....................126
Maria Kizito Erik Ehn....................178
Other Plays about Genocide in English....................221

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