restricted access Tadem: My Father's Village Extinguished during the 1915 Armenian Genocide by Robert Aram Kaloosdian (review)
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Tadem: My Father's Village Extinguished during the 1915 Armenian Genocide, Robert Aram Kaloosdian (Portsmouth, NH: Peter E. Randall [distributed by the University Press of New England], 2015), xvii + 336 pp., hardcover $28.00, electronic version available.

[Erratum: Kaloosdian’s father’s name should be spelled Boghos throughout.]

A number of admirable studies of the Hamidian Massacres of 1894−1896, during the reign of Sultan Abduhamid II, have appeared, along with a much larger number on the Armenian Genocide of 1915−1922, under the Young Turks. As might be expected, most attempt to fathom the motivations of leaders even as they describe the course of the killings. Many accounts by individual survivors have made their way into print, but we have very few studies of communities based on survivor testimonies such as that under review. Tadem was a representative Armenian farming community of some two thousand in the province of Kharpert; the village was totally destroyed during the two waves of violence. The focus here remains squarely on both the ordinary Armenian victims and survivors, and on the Muslim neighbors who—with notable exceptions—became active killers and profiteers during the Genocide.

A graduate of Boston University's School of Law, Kaloosdian is the founding chairman of the Armenian National Institute, and one of the founders of the Armenian Assembly of America. He relies on a written chronicle of the village and on oral testimonies by elderly survivors, among them members of his own family, including his father Boghos. The book is organized in three parts: "Tadem," "Boghos's Journey to America," and "Life in America." Part I focuses on the village during the Massacres and the Genocide; the second, on the extraordinary survival of Boghos Kaloosdian, who escaped the killings by crossing into revolutionary Russia, making his way across Siberia to Japan and then journeying on to America. Part III relates the story of other survivors, some of whom came to America, touching not only on their sufferings but also on their incredible resilience.

One of the historical questions that Kaloosdian helps to clarify in Part I is the role of locals in the mass violence. Some historians have blamed the 1890s massacres squarely on Sultan Abdulhamid II, whom they view as having initiated and directed them. Others have shifted the focus to the local level, and argue that events were neither initiated nor coordinated from Istanbul. Starting in Sasun in 1894, these killings spread not on direct orders from the Sultan but by contagion, one Muslim community spurring its neighbors until Armenians and other Christians everywhere were overwhelmed. [End Page 131]

Kaloosdian's research demonstrates that a potential for violence against Armenians at the local level existed even before the massacres of 1894−1896. In Tadem Muslim notables such as Hadji Bego were long-time antagonists of the Armenians, and wanted to seize their neighbors' land (p. 17). Indeed, before the massacres these Turkish and Kurdish leaders may have been restrained by officials of the Sublime Porte; however, by 1894 any restraints had been lifted, and local powers felt safe in attacking the Armenians and plundering their property. In this interpretation, the Sultan did not need to command local authorities to commit violence—they had been eager for years, waiting only for a signal of impunity. In contrast, during the Genocide, the Young Turk rulers orchestrated the violence by commanding army units and local gendarmes to seek out, deport, and destroy the Armenians. In 1915, local people were not only granted impunity but were actively encouraged to attack the Armenians.

Part II recounts the Homeric odyssey of Boghos Kaloosdian, who survived the mass-murder in Tadem thanks to his courage, resourcefulness, and luck. Kaloosdian's father and others survived for a time by becoming in effect slaves of their Turkish or Kurdish neighbors. Boghos escaped this bondage in 1917, crossing into revolutionary Russia. During his journey via the trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok and thence to Yokohama and the United States, Boghos received the assistance of other Armenian survivors and other well-wishers. It was in Yokohama that he met the extraordinary Armenian benefactor, Diana Apcar, who raised funds for him and other Armenian...