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  • Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915–1918
  • Dickran Kouymjian
Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915–1918, Grigoris Balakian, transl. and ed. Peter Balakian with Aris Sevag (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009), xliii + 509 pp., hardcover $35.00, paperback $20.00, Kindle edition $9.99, eBook $20.00.

Some fifty years ago I acquired a copy of the original 429 page volume of Hay Goghgot'an (The Armenian Golgotha) published by the Armenian Catholic Mekhitarist Fathers in Vienna in 1922; its subtitle is "Episodes from the Armenian Martyrology," while a second subtitle reads, "From Berlin to Zor, 1914–1920." Der Zor was the final destination in the Syrian desert for those who survived the death marches, and the place where survivors who couldn't escape also succumbed. The author, Grigoris Balakian (1876–1934), was a vardapet, or celibate priest, attached to the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. At the end of the published volume he provided a detailed three-page table of contents of a projected second volume: "The Life of a Survivor," to be 500 pages long and have forty illustrations; the original print run was 3,000, the price (postage included) was one pound sterling in Britain, fifty francs in France, and five dollars in the U.S., and all proceeds were to go for the relief of Armenian orphans (no discounts were offered). Volume two had indeed been written, but it was published only posthumously, nearly four decades later, in 1959, from a manuscript Balakian's sister had kept.

I can no longer remember where I acquired this handsome volume in red buckram with gold stamping: New York? Cairo? Or possibly from my father? Though I have handled with awe this survivor's account during various packings and unpackings, I never had the fortitude to read it from beginning to end, as I never read my original edition of Arnold Toynbee's The Treatment of Armenians in the [End Page 321] Ottoman Empire, 1915–16, published while the Genocide was still under way. One can only guess at the anguish suffered by Peter Balakian during the decade he spent preparing the English-language edition of the memoir of his great uncle.

Grigoris Balakian took orders at the age of fifteen and subsequently served the Armenian Apostolic Church in pastoral and diocesan work, as a prelate in central Anatolia, as delegate of the church in Europe and Russia, as administrative assistant to the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, and near the end of his life as bishop and prelate in Marseille and southern France. He studied engineering in Germany in the 1890s, returning in 1914 to do graduate work in theology in Berlin. After war broke out he hurried back to Constantinople to warn the Armenian community, having been told by high-ranking German friends of impending plans for the massacre of Turkey's Armenians. There he was arrested suddenly a few months later along with fellow community leaders and exiled to Çankiri. According to him, he was among the very few of those arrested who were fully conscious of what was really happening. On the nighttime deportation train an Armenian porter brought him paper and asked him to write the names of as many of the other 250 plus exiles as possible. Thus began Balakian's single-minded determination to chronicle the catastrophe. Though on occasion he had to destroy notes and notebooks, his extraordinary memory served him well in recording the gruesome saga.

The present edition includes both volumes. The first is entitled The Life of an Exile July 1914–April 1916, and recounts Balakian's experiences and reflections, as well as discussions with fellow captives, Turkish officials, and Turkish villagers, many responsible for orgiastic massacres. This part stretches from the author's Berlin days to his daring escape in April 1916 near Islahiye in the Cilician mountains. The author's words represent the last account of people such as the poet Daniel Varoujan; the writer and parliamentarian Krikor Zohrab (arrested some months after the April 1919 arrests of Armenian intellectuals, along with another Armenian parliamentary deputy, Vartkes Serengulian, both killed near Urfa in July 1915); and the famous musicologist...


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