‘Memorial to April 11’
(First published in 1919 by O. Arzumanian)
Edited by Dora Sakayan
269 pp. Istanbul, Turkey
Belge International Publishing
First written and published in 1919 by Theodik, Memorial to April 11* (in Armenian, Hushartsan Abril 11-I; Turkish, 11 Nisan Aniti) pays tribute to the murdered intellectuals and community leaders of 1915—the writers, journalists, editors, clergy, academics, teachers, and jurists. The current publication, released in April 2010, is a bilingual production—in Armenian and Turkish—with a trilingual introductory section—in Armenian, Turkish, and English. The volume is dedicated to the memory of Hrant Dink (1954-2007). The newly added introductory section includes a preface by the publisher, Ragip Zarakolu, titled “From Theodik to Hrant Dink: The Triumph of the Idea;” an article by Hrant Dink titled “The ‘dove skittishness’ of my soul,” first published in Agos in 2007; and the biographies of Hrant Dink and Theodik.
Professor Dora Sakayan is the editor-in-chief of the publication. Naringul Tateosian is the main translator of the text into Turkish.
“When a collector of documents and old books gave Hrant Dink a copy of Hushartsan, he felt as if the most precious treasure in the world had been given to him,” Zarakolu explained. “The publication of this book carries great significance for me also because it is the realization of Hrant’s wish. The only response to Hrant’s assassination is to do what we know best, that is to say, provide the country with a new work, a new resource with each passing day that will help the process for the ‘truth to set us free.’ The idea will ultimately triumph over brute force.”
The book’s main content is comprised of a section titled “Memorial to April 11,” which includes an essay by D. (Dikran) Zaven titled “The Triumph of the Idea”; a Literary Section; and a Biographical Section, prepared by Theodik and divided into two parts.
Part I—“Exiled from Istanbul”—has five subsections: “Intellectuals,” “Armenian Community Leaders and Educators,” “Merchants, etc.,” “Perished from Illness in Exile,” and “Hanged in Istanbul.” “Intellectuals” is a mosaic of the biographies of prominent intellectuals killed in 1915, which at times also includes commentaries by Theodik; letters, some of which were written from prison; excerpts from books, articles, and poems authored by those killed; photographs or sketches of the victims; and letters to loved ones that friends or relatives passed on to Theodik for inclusion in the book.
Part II has four subcategories: “Eparchies,” “Physicians,” “Armenian Clergy,” and “Armenian Catholic Clergy.” The first, “Eparchies,” has 11 subsections, each bearing the name of a province or a region—Van, Kharput, Sivaz, Shabin-Karahisar, Ayntab, etc.—where the names and biographies of murdered regional activists, intellectuals, and educators are listed.
The “Literary Section” includes four essays: “Towards Ayash: Old and New Memoirs” by Puzand Bozadjian; “Remembering Chankiri” by Michael Shamdandjian; “Slain Intellectual Clergy” by Bishop Mesrop Naroyan; and “Victimized Mechitarists” by Father Arsen Ghazikian. The Afterword is by the “Committee of the April 11 Commemoration.” There is also a 13-page index with the 761 names of the victims.
According to the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in Armenia, the Committee of the April 11 Commemoration was formed in March 1919 by a group of Istanbul Armenian intellectuals who had survived the genocide. Their goal, as stated in the Afterword, was to organize commemoration ceremonies on the fourth anniversary of the genocide. The committee, also known as “The April 11th Board of Ceremonial Mourning,” consisted of 13 members: Yevpime Avedisian, Zaruhi Galemkearian, Berdjuhi Barsamian, Mari Stambulian, Miss Arpiar, Dikran Zaven, Merujan Barsamian, Hagop J. Siruni, Kevork Mesrob, Shahan Berpberian, Hovhannes Boghosian, Takvor Suqiasian, and Dr. Parsegh Dinanian. Theodik’s “Memorial to April 11” was published for the Day of Mourning in 1919.
Theodik (Theodoros Lapchindjian), 1873-1929, was born in Uskudar, a municipality in Istanbul. Mostly through self-study, the barely 20-year-old Theodik began contributing to Turkish and Armenian newspapers and soon became a familiar name. In 1907, with his wife Arshagouhi’s aid, Theodik began to publish his well-known annual almanacs titled “Everybody’s Almanac,” (Amenoon Daretsooytse). In March 1915, he was arrested and spent one year in prison. Soon after his release, he was captured once again and sent, along with a caravan of Armenians, on a death march to the distant corners of Anatolia. With the aid of Armenian youth, Theodik escaped the caravan and returned to Istanbul, where his wife had remained. Upon his return, he published the almanacs for the years 1916-20 in a single volume, and soon immersed himself in a new project, Memorial to April 11 (24), a book dedicated to the 761 Armenian intellectuals, clergy, businessmen, and teachers of Istanbul and Anatolia. He also published a book titled The Calamity and Our Orphans, and Armenian Clergymen’s Golgotha. In January 1922, Theodik lost his wife, and the following year lost his home, when he along with other survivors left Istanbul, frightened by the advancement of Mustafa Kemal’s troops and the events in Smyrna. He spent his last years in Paris where he died while proofreading his 1929 almanac.
In all, Theodik published 19 almanacs. Those published between 1907 and 1923 appeared in Istanbul; 1924 and 1927-29 in Paris; 1925 in Vienna; and 1926 in Venice.
A conversation with Dr. Ara Sanjian
Dr. Ara Sanjian is associate professor of Armenian and Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and the director of the university’s Armenian Research Center. The Armenian Weekly asked Sanjian to speak about the significance of Theodik’s work, and its translation into Turkish.
Sanjian explained that it was the Istanbul Armenians who first began engaging in the documentation and analysis of the 1915 events—the Medz Yeghern (or “Great Calamity”) in Armenian—from 1919 to about 1922. Theodik was one of many who undertook such a task—and a prominent one. His book was also one of several of its genre published in Istanbul around that time.
In late October 1918, the war had ended and the CUP was no longer in power. Around 1919, two conditions—Istanbul’s opposition to the Ittihadists and the presence of British forces—made such publications possible. These two realities created an environment conducive to documenting and launching genocide studies. The new Ottoman government sought the indictment of the leaders of the “deportations” mainly to distance itself from the previous government. And significantly, already in 1915, the British, French, and Russians had spoken about the “crimes against humanity” in reference to the 1915 genocide.
“The Armenian community in Istanbul in 1919 was at the forefront of documenting the Medz Yeghern—and that is a very important point,” said Sanjian. The 1919 commemoration of 1915 was the first of its kind.
Theodik was not only documenting the events, but also analyzing them. Around that same time, translations of books such as Ambassador Henry Morgenthau’s memoirs were also being translated into Armenian. Theodik’s book, therefore, was part of a broader series of attempts to build up the documentation, partly in the hopes of presenting them in trials in the Ottoman Empire and international bodies, explained Sanjian.
However, the prominent role played by the Armenian community in Istanbul stopped in 1922 when the Kemalist army began to advance, and many survivors escaped. Therefore, starting in 1922, the Armenian community in Istanbul was a shadow of the earlier community and lived under an imposed silence. Because of the change of regime, it was practically impossible from 1922 until very recently for the Armenian community in Istanbul to continue their efforts in documenting or even discussing the events.
The translation of Theodik’s work is not a groundbreaking phenomenon, explained Sanjian. The book has been reprinted a number of times in the past, and its English translation was also published very recently. However, it is the first time that it is appearing in Turkish.
In the past few years, Turkish society has been undergoing a soul-searching process. There are various reactions to the genocide within Turkey: While some believe the official government position that denies the genocide took place, others, like those undertaking such translations, are convinced that successive Turkish governments have lied about the facts. They are becoming increasingly critical about their government’s position—evidence of a changing psychology—that, although acknowledging that a terrible tragedy took place, rejects the term “genocide.”
It will be an important last step to use the word “genocide,” said Sanjian, because the moment you use that word, it means you are accepting the other’s image of your past and identity. There are many still who are desperately clinging to the hope that a new piece of evidence or information will emerge and exonerate them of the crime of genocide.
Belge Publishers has been at the forefront of this process. Yet, some scholars believe that the quality of their translations could use improvement, and say they prefer reading an English translation if it’s available. The political significance of this translation, though, is great. Zarakolu is brave to undertake such a publication, added Sanjian.
The book is dedicated to Hrant Dink, one of the many victims of free speech in Turkey. He is among the most prominent victims among the many others who lost their lives. Dink was an icon who had the charisma, and the memory of him is still alive and strong in Turkey, said Sanjian.
Book release held in Montreal
On April 19, the official book release event was held in the Istanbul Cultural Union’s Aram Khatchadourian Hall in Montreal, Canada, reported K. Drtadian-Kouyoumdjian.
Upon receiving the book from Dink years ago, Zarakolu had immediately notified Dora Sakayan, a retired professor of German studies at McGill University, who in turn contacted Archbishop Pakrad Kalsdian, the leader of Montreal’s Armenian community. Sakaian remembered how on Jan. 19, 2007—the same day Dink was murdered—he had received the copy of Theodik’s book, and how without any delay, she, along with publisher Maro Manavian, had begun the publishing process.
She acknowledges Hagop Tchakrian for reviewing the book’s Turkish section, Vrej-Armen Artinian for reviewing the Armenian introductory section, and lawyer Harry Dikranian for reviewing the English sections. She also thanked the financial supporters of this project, namely Montreal’s Istanbul Armenians and especially Oskan Hazarabedian, as well as Ragip Zarakolu of Belge International Publishing, who has persisted in promoting human rights while facing imprisonment, lawsuits, and threats. The event came to a close with Sakayan and Zarakolu signing copies of the book.
* April 11 is the equivalent to April 24 in the old style Turkish calendar, which was still in use in 1919.