Book Review: ‘Cilicia 1909: The Massacre of Armenians’

Book review by Varoujan Der Simonian

Cilicia 1909: The Massacre of Armenians
By Hagop H. Terzian
Translated by Ara Stepan Melkonian and edited by Ara Sarafian
A Special Centennial Publication
Published by Taderon Press by special arrangement for the Gomidas Institute
ISBN 978-1-903656-95-2
146 pages

A new abridged English translation by Ara Stepan Melkonian and Ara Sarafian was just released by the Gomidas Institute of London under the title Cilicia 1909: The Massacre of Armenians. The book, by Hagop H. Terzian, was originally titled Giligie Aghedu (The Cilician Catastrophe). It was published in Istanbul in 1912, but confiscated by the Ottoman government. Terzian, a pharmacist by profession, documented his own and other eyewitnesses’ experiences during the 1909 massacres in the Adana province. Born in Hadjin in 1879 and educated in Constantinople, he barely escaped the horrific events. However, was arrested on April 24, 1915 and killed, along with many of his colleagues.

Sarafian introduced the new volume on Monday, October 12, 2009, during the Armenian Studies Program Lecture Series at California State University, Fresno, in observation of the 100th anniversary of the Adana Massacres. The detailed descriptions Terzian recorded in his diary are chilling, to say the least, but should be widely required reading. The suffering the Armenian population of Adana was subjected to by mobs—in two stages—could be summarized as “going through hell and back”—if you survived.

The slide presentation at the end of Sarafian’s talk brought me flashbacks. My grandparents were from Adana, and I remembered sitting at my grandmother’s bedside as she described how she and her siblings had survived, having been next in line to be assassinated by a police squadron. Their corpses were to be dumped in the Sihoun River. I wonder now why she chose to hold back the description of so many of the atrocities that Terzian so painfully documented in his book—including the raping of young girls and wives in public, and the slaughtering of Armenian men, women and children of all ages, while amputating their arms and legs with axes. Was my grandmother hoping to protect her teenage grandson’s tender young feelings by holding back so much of the violent behavior?

According to the book, over 21,000 Armenians were murdered during less than two weeks of massacres. As a result of lootings, in the Adana province the Armenians lost an estimated 5,400,000 gold liras (roughly $1.37 billion today) in economic and personal property.*

As I read the unfolding events, an amazing pattern of Turkish behavior emerged. Over and over again, while the organized mob and looters were moving from one city, town, or village to the other, the same pattern emerged: deception and cunning. They characterized the nature of Turkish politics and re-emphasized the separate findings of a scholar: “In the more ghastly episodes of the Abdul Hamit era and 1909 Adana massacres, for example (barring few exceptions), the muftis in general played a decisive role by formally sanctioning the regional and local mass murders by declaring them permissible by the canons of Muslim law…”

And, also, “A closer scrutiny of the manner in which Sultan Abdul Hamit handled the matter is instructive of the covert designs and intentions of Ottoman authorities confronting the emerging Armenian Question. One becomes readily cognizant of the rudiments of the governmental tactic of publicly declaring a policy, which is then countermanded by secret orders.”

Or, further, “…ethnic groups [i.e., Kurds, Circassians, Lazes…] in appreciable numbers were co-opted by Ottoman-Turkish authorities to serve as allies and surrogates… that is, killer bands in search of loot and spoils” (Dadrian, 1999). It is mind-boggling to read in the new translation of Terzian’s document how the local Turkish governmental and religious leaders act very much the same way in over 57 communities where they committed mass killings and destruction—even while assuring Armenians that they need not worry, that nothing will happen to them. For example, in one incident (and the following is only my abbreviated version), when on Monday, April 19 the news of the Adana Massacres were confirmed in Antioch, concerned Armenians closed their shops and took refuge in their homes. The Turkish kaymakam (regional governor) and his officers invited all the notable Armenians to a meeting at the Prelacy headquarters to calm the tense situation, assuring them that “there’s nothing happening; let everyone open his shop and carry on his business.” However, the minute the Turkish representatives departed the meeting, a mob, which was assembled outside, invaded the Prelacy, murdering everyone inside, including the Catholicos’ vicar and the monks at the monastery. The mob looted the church of its vessels and furniture, and in a few hours all the Armenians of Antioch (some 800 total, except 20) were killed. After the massacres, they burned the Armenian Apostolic and Evangelical Churches to the ground.

The new publication is a must-read, also, for anyone hoping to better understand the impact that the Adana Massacres had on Armenian literature and music. Poems like Siamanto’s “The Dance” or “The Suffocated” or “Red News from my Friend,” or Taniel Varoujan’s “The Red Soil” and other works, remain as vivid poetic expressions of the profound psychological effects left by the experiences documented in Terzian’s book, whereas the unnerving classical music composed by Prof. K. Kalfayan—”Requiem,” released in Paris in 1913—still moves the listener to wonder about the emotional trauma the artist underwent while arranging his notes… Only after reading Cilicia 1909 could one even begin to approximate, perhaps, the turmoil and suffering that produced such music.

I have long wondered why the Adana Massacres took place in the Ottoman Empire at that particular period in its history. After all, the city was one of the thriving centers of commerce in the empire. As I reached the half-way point of the book, one sentence struck me. It is in the following paragraph:

“The sad days and hours that made us tumble were impossible to forget, and of course our grandchildren and even their children will remember the terrible things we suffered. The great, rich and proud Cilician City of Adana that had never deigned to request assistance or beg for help was forced, after terrible calamity, to open its hand to the public and ask for aid and beg for assistance. One month before the massacre, the city of Adana, which had collected thousands of liras for the needy of Armenia, was reduced to the same needy state itself. It was as if the destiny of the Armenians was to be massacred, looted, and burned, and to always seek help and assistance from humanity.”

To further comprehend the enormity of the crime committed in 1909 against humanity, world culture, and civilization, it is worth mentioning the series of scholarly papers presented at the UCLA conference in 2000 and Armenian Cilicia published by Dr. Richard Hovanessian.

With their translation, Ara Stepan Melkonian and Ara Sarafian have done a great service, not only for recorded history but also for the illumination of our coming generations. Although the book encompasses many disturbing and graphic descriptions of eyewitness accounts, it is easy to read and should be read by every student of humanity. It provides a preview of what followed six years later, during the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Anyone who would like to educate younger people about atrocities that may be committed by man against man, or provide help with interpreting unfolding current events, with the goal of preempting and preventing genocidal recurrences, should hand them a copy of Cilicia 1909.

* Note: One Ottoman gold lira contains 6.62 grams of pure gold, which is equal to about 0.24 ounces. An ounce of gold is valued at $1,060 today. Hence, in today’s currency, 0.24 ounces of gold is valued at $254, whereas 5,400,000 gold liras of 1909 would amount to $1,371,400,000 in principal alone. What could have been the potential return on investments of $1.3 billion over the past 100 years?

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