The world community has witnessed nearly a dozen of instances when nationalism and racism led to unanticipated outbursts of violence against the discriminated groups of population over the last hundred years. The struggle between the mainstream population and disenfranchised minorities is often manifested in political and religious persecution. In many ways, the Armenian genocide represents the study case for the curious minds in terms of causes, development, and methods of extermination. The survivors of the tragedy lived to tell their stories years later. In his book Black Dog of Fate, Peter Balakian masterfully combines his family history, personal experiences and historical facts in order to highlight issues embracing cultural identity, politicization of diplomacy and historical discrepancies.
The Armenian genocide is marked by a wide range of distinguishable features and viewed as a prototype for similar events that occurred during the last hundred years. Importantly, the tragic event precisely corresponds to the internationally recognized definition of genocide. According to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime and Genocide of 1948, the term refers to the “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” In other words, it is a group-selective and group-destructive violence aimed at identification and large-scale destruction of the undesirable part of the population. The nationalist ideology of the Turkish revolutionary government, in particular, is the main motivation behind the brutal acts of violence that happened in the period between 1915 and 1923. The Young Turks, a political organization that seized power in 1908, were the fierce advocates of pan-Turkism, a form of xenophobic nationalism that envisaged the revival of the Turkish Empire based on Islam and Turkish nationality. The primary result of the implementation of the new doctrine was the systematic extermination of the Christian Armenian minority. Eight years of robbery, rape, deportation and massacres led to the loss of about 1.5 million lives and 3,000-year-old heritage and dispersion of the surviving Armenians around the world. The targeted group and the magnitude of the sorrowful event allow the scholars to classify the brutal act of violence as genocide, a horrible crime against humanity.
The causes of the Armenian genocide also constitute a prominent feature of this tragic event. The Turkish population adopted an immensely hostile attitude towards the ethnic minorities on the eve of the World War I due to several reasons. On the one hand, Turkey suffered a long and painful period of hardships under the external pressure. The Ottoman Empire endured a considerable humiliation after the loss of large territories after the war with Russia in 1877-1878 and the Balkan wars in 1911-1913. According to Staub, the ethnic minorities, non-Muslim citizens and foreigners, including the British, French, Austrian, Italian and Germans entrepreneurs, came to control the Turkish trade, finance, and commerce. On the other hand, the Ottoman Empire struggled to cope with political and economic stagnation. While Turkey could not compete with the world powers, it expressed its sense of despair in nationalistic aspirations.
The described process highly resembles the stages of genocide’s development explained by Stanton. According to the renowned scholar, the rise of ethnic hatred and adherence to the nationalistic ideology in the Ottoman Empire after the revolution of the Young Turks translate into the three initial stages of genocide, namely classification, symbolization, and discrimination of the targeted group. Therefore, the Armenian genocide is essentially a study case for the enthusiastic researchers. Symbolization refers to focusing on and labeling a separate group of the population. The nationalistic rhetoric gave the Turkish government the seemingly justified grounds for accusing the Armenians of treason since the largest concentration of this ethnic group lived near the Russian border. At the same time, the restriction of the Armenian political aspirations became an urgent necessity for the Ottoman Empire. Alarmed by the intensified struggle of the ethnic minorities for complete assimilation, the Ottoman Empire subjugated the Armenian minority to numerous massacres. The outburst of violence may be attributed to the competitive character of relations between the mainstream population and the discriminated group as the latter is regarded a symbol of the internal enemy by the former. Meanwhile, the rhetoric propaganda and physical measures paved the way for large-scale discrimination of the Armenian minority. Lee explains that this process is often accompanied by the destruction of the enemy of the humanity, i.e. a considerable limitation of one’s political, social and economic rights. In fact, the common methods of unjustified abuse included involuntary conversion and confiscation of the Armenian goods and property. The evidence suggests that the step-by-step campaign of large-scale discrimination was a thoroughly planned series of abusive acts.
The story of the survivors of this devastating extermination provided by Peter Balakian is an amazing combination of historical facts and family history. In a simple and refined manner, the author describes Armenia’s past glory and the methodical eradication of the state from the map of the world. Apparently, the state was the most prosperous empire in the Near East in the 1st century BC. The Armenians managed to defeat the Persian forces in 451. Moreover, while the closest neighbors of Armenia, including Sumerians, Babylonians, Scythians, Parthians, and Hittites, disappeared into oblivion, the state managed to maintain its national attributes and resist assimilation due to the invention of the written language and strong adherence to Christianity. However, the incredibly rich culture was on the verge of extinction at the beginning of the 20th century. The new revolutionary government of the Young Turks continued to pursue and significantly extended the abusive state policy against the Christian Armenians. The newly implemented methods of the Armenian genocide included robbery, public execution, rape, large-scale massacres and deportation. The cultural damage inflicted by the Turks could hardly be measured only in term of casualties. Evidently, the entire nation faced the risk of total and irreversible extermination.
As a scarce number of people were fortunate enough to reach the destination, only a few survivors could unwillingly retell the historical events. Balakian vividly describes his family’s origin. The family history started long before his birth in the USA. His ancestors were proficient in silk business and highly respected members of the Armenian community before the genocide. Nevertheless, the internal turmoil has driven many Armenian survivors out of the country. His fraternal grandfather, Diran Balakian came to the USA in 1924 while his grandmother Nafina miraculously survived deportation only to receive a psychological trauma that caused a deep sense of panic, paranoia and fear of reliving that terrible part of her life later. The family history of the Balakians strongly reflects the scope and cost of the Armenian genocide as an unprecedented crime against the peaceful nation.
In his book, Peter Balakian strongly emphasizes difficulties related to the development of the cultural identity. Namely, the writer admits that it is extremely hard to find information about Armenia. History textbooks frequently do not contain any references about Armenia and omit this chapter of the Turkish history since there was no such country on the world map until 1991. Moreover, the family members usually hesitate to share their terrible memories. According to Balakian, his family members developed a deliberate numbness towards the past hardships. The author learned about the family’s past only years later. As the young man, Balakian accidently found Morgenthau’s work and learned about the historical background of the Armenian genocide (154-160). He listened to the stories told by his aunt Gladys. Later on, the author was acquainted with the historical documents related to the history of his family and realized the gravity of family’s loss. The papers indicate that his grandmother Nafina, in particular, went through a terrible pain at the death of close relatives in Turkey. These discoveries marked the beginning of embracing the cultural heritage for the author.
The empirical knowledge helped the writer to understand his family’s desire to preserve cultural traditions of the Armenian nation. As the second-generation immigrant, the author provides accurate recollections about the misunderstandings between him and the older generation of his extensive female-dominated family. For instance, the reoccurring tension between Balakian and his father marks the adolescent years of the author. The underlying cause of conflict in their relations is related to the choice of the future career. Thus, Peter wants to play football at college while his father insists on formal education at the private school. At the same time, the female part of the family supports the esthetical domain of his home. His mother appears to be an exemplar of a restless housewife and a devoted and concerned mother. Moreover, she often seems too persistent in preserving the individualistic features of her Armenian family by criticizing Peter’s choice of girlfriends. Evidently, the author comes to an understanding that his family of Armenian immigrants persistently struggles to adapt to the new circumstances without the homeland and relatives, thus resisting the American lifestyle.
Meanwhile, the excursion into the family’s past helps the author to highlight such ethical issue as the duplicity of state officials. Balakian learned about the duplicity of diplomacy while studying the historical background of the Armenian genocide. The traitorous nature of the Turkish political leaders is manifested in their attempts to hide the truth while the U.S. government silently follows the direction taken by the former. For instance, in 1982, the U. S. Department of Education agreed to exclude the chapter about the Armenian genocide from the history textbook on Turkey’s demand. The same year, the Turkish government threatened the security of the Jews in Turkey if an agenda of the genocide symposium in Tel Aviv would include the discussion of the Armenian tragedy. The U. S. academic community exhibited a similar inclination to deny the Armenian genocide. Namely, some historians received substantial funding from the Turkish government in exchange for supporting the opposite version of historical events. In 1962, a notable American historian suddenly changed his mind and denied the violent acts against the Armenians. Ten years later, Stanford Shaw wrote that the Armenians were promised protection after the end of the World War II. Evidently, some political and academic figures eagerly assisted the Turkish government in concealing the truth.
The writer raises his voice against the obvious weakness of the USA position on the subject of the Armenian genocide. In his public statement, Balakian vividly describes the sufferings of his grandmother Nafina and her two infant daughters during the death march across the Syrian Desert in 1915. The author gravely condemns the Turkish official position and asks the American citizens to oppose any attempts of Turkey to obscure the historical facts. The book suggests that the writer, a descendant of exiled and tortured Armenians, is personally interested in uncovering the true nature of the discussed events. Balakian’s interest in raising public awareness about the Armenian genocide is entirely justified since the gravity of the crimes committed by the Ottoman Empire remains universally unrecognized. The descendants of the victims of the genocide are deprived of the right to speak openly and univocally about the inflicted cultural damage to the Armenian nation due to the lack of support of the world community. Therefore, the duplicity of state officials is a pressing problem at the present time as the diplomatic struggle hinders academic and political debates about the Armenian genocide.
The author’s aspirations seem completely justified since Turkey’s policy of denial led to numerous historical discrepancies. The Turkish authorities tend to exercise enormous political power in order to hide the true nature of the conflict. According to Balakian, the immense propaganda machine is working without rest while dispersing the pamphlets about the absurdity of the Armenians’ accusations. Alternatively, the Turkish government claims that the deportees were provided with the sufficient level of comfort, food, and protection during their relocation. Moreover, the state authorities have eradicated all traces of the Armenian genocide from the educational literature. The Turkish children are taught at schools that the Armenians posed a severe threat to the central government by carrying out attacks on the Turks in 1915. At the same time, the Turkish writer for the Encyclopedia Britannica suffered incarceration for allowing Armenia appear on the map of ancient Anatolis. As a Cold War ally and NATO partner, Turkey was able to prevent the passage of the bill commemorating the seventieth and seventy-fifth anniversary of the Armenian genocide in the 1980s. The well-organized political campaign continues even nowadays. The Turkish government struggles to undermine the political independence of Armenia since the collapse of the Soviet Union by repeatedly initiating political and economic blockade. Therefore, Turkey remains persistent in harassing the Armenians by applying threats, blackmail, bribery, force and disinformation.
The author aspires to contrast the discrepancies between the Turkey’s false claims and the first-hand evidence of the past crimes. The researcher provides numerous instances of witnesses’ testimonials. Upon arrival into the USA, Peter’s grandmother issued an official suit against the Turkish government in 1920, accusing the state officials of the terrible mistreatment of the Armenian minority. Moreover, the author has found a written report of the Compatriotic and Reconstructional Union of Dikranagerd while traveling to Syria in 2005. The document clearly states that Balakian’s grandmother and aunts, Gladys and Alice, were listed as ones of the fortunate survivors in the death march of 1915. Furthermore, the researcher supplies the readers with numerous written testimonials about the death of thousands of people in Der Zor, a place of destination for the exiled Armenians.
Overall, the Armenian tragedy continues to stir the interest of the global community due to its scope and far-reaching outcomes for one of the proudest and richest nations in the world. A growing n number of studies reveal numerous prominent features of the Armenian tragedy in terms of its origin, development and cost. Additionally, the stories of the surviving witnesses serve as a source of valuable information for the representatives of the contemporary generation. The author of Black Dog of Fate, Peter Balakian provides fascinating insights into the Armenian genocide, including such ethical issues as the embrace of one’s cultural heritage, the deceitfulness of state officials and tampering with historical facts.