- Ankara Vukuatı: Menfilik Hatıralarım by Simon Arakelyan
Simon Arakelyan's memoir, Ankara Vukuatı: Menfilik Hatıralarım (The Ankara Incident: My Memoir of Exile), is another welcome contribution to the growing body of personal accounts in Turkish on the Catastrophe of Ottoman Armenians during the First World War. The text was originally published in Armeno-Turkish—Turkish in Armenian script—in Istanbul in 1921. This edition of Arakelyan's memoir includes two transliterations of the text, one legible to readers of modern-day Turkish and one following literary transliteration rules, and a fifteen-page introduction by the editor of the book, Murat Cankara.
A Catholic Armenian, Arekelyan was a middle-ranking bureaucrat in the Tobacco Régie in Ankara. His memoirs, in two parts over 250 pages, cover the period between the spring of 1915, the first time Armenians in Ankara began to hear about the deportations and massacres of Armenians in the provinces, and 30 December 1915, the date of his arrival in Istanbul, a safe haven after a long and adventurous escape from the deportation caravan. Certain aspects of the text mark it as peculiar and make it an interesting read almost a century after its original publication. [End Page 203]
The first outstanding aspect of the text is Arakelyan's authoritative voice in his account of his deportation and that of his compatriots in Ankara. Arakelyan narrates his own suffering and tells how he witnessed the suffering of other Armenians in this episode. In the broader historical context the text itself is a monument, as Cankara puts it, which "batters the official narrative that [claims that] Catholics and Protestants, who were Armenians 'loyal to their state' and 'not engaged in politics,' were not deported" (p. 9). Arakelyan constantly points out the loyalty of the Catholic community of Ankara, presenting the claim both as his own opinion and through the mouths of others, among them an old Catholic notable who lost his life during the deportations (p. 121). Among the numerous incidents of violence recorded in the book, the sufferings of Armenian women receive the author's special attention. In addition to passing references, he devotes a special section to women's sufferings (pp.163–68). This authorial choice may be contextualized by the debates surrounding women's postwar role as builders of the future of the community. However, Arakelyan's text not only highlights the (re-)construction of gendered hierarchies in the community after 1918, but it also reminds us of the ambivalent position many Armenians had to take between personal survival and national salvation. Arakelyan recounts how he gave his wife permission to convert to Islam if necessary to survive, but would not allow her to raise their daughter as a Muslim (pp. 73–74).
Yet, it would be unfair to think of Arakelyan's memoir as a text concerned solely with Armenians' sufferings during the deportations. As Cankara mentions in the introduction (without much elaboration), a leitmotiv of the text is the "politics of forgiving and reconciliation" (p. 19), which opens a window onto the mindset of at least some of the Armenian survivors. For instance, Arakelyan distinguishes the rank-and-file soldiers and the Turkish population in Anatolia from the leaders of the CUP. We come across the former as brave soldiers who fought at Gallipoli, mostly as good-hearted but ignorant folk, who were stirred up against Christians by a group of "[Jewish] converts from Salonica whose origins are not known" (p. 35). Thus, he separates what he considers the good from the bad, albeit while adhering to certain hidden or overt religious and "civilizational" hierarchies. Likewise, both the "righteous ones" and those who helped him for their own benefit, receive positive references in the text. The governor of Ankara's resistance to the deportation order, a soldier who cried when the massacre order was lifted (p. 103), a newly appointed Régie official in Pozantı who arranged for Arakelyan and his friends to stay safe because he wanted to...