Echoes of the Twenty from Istanbul

By Daniel Varoujan Hejinian

On Oct. 29, I received an e-mail from Istanbul in which a representative of the Evrensel Publishing House asked my permission to use, as a book cover, my painting “The Twenty Executions,” which I had painted in 1976.

The letter states: “As to the book for which we humbly ask your permission… During his research on the ‘turkification’ of Armenian properties, the author Nevzat Onaran found the book accidentally in a public library, and brought it out of mothballs. The book was edited by Yetvart Chopurian, and first published in 1921 in Istanbul, under the title ‘Քսան Կախաղանները’ (the Twenty Executions) in memory of the 20 executed members of the Social Democratic Hunchakian Party… From our point of view, this book is about a second confrontation, the confrontation of social democrats and socialists in Turkey with their own history, their unknown, unspoken legacy which they either ignored or were unaware of. […] Therefore, we kindly ask your permission to use your art work as the cover which, we think, will give an exceptionally great meaning to our [task].”

Cover of Paramaz: Twenty Executions of Bayazit
Cover of Paramaz: Twenty Executions of Bayazit

Attached to the letter was a copy of Yetvart Chopurian’s book published in 1921, a Turkish translation of the book, and the initial cover design, where the painting is partially displayed. After studying the documentation, I found it appropriate to grant permission to the publishing house to use the image as is, uncut and unedited as book cover art, as well as the name of the artist, Daniel Varoujan Hejinian, the year of creation, and the history of the painting to be published on the first page of the book.

In 1976, I graduated from Gegharvest-a-Taterakan Institute, now the Yerevan Academy of Fine Arts, and as a theme for my dissertation I chose the Armenian Genocide. My painting depicted “The Twenty Executions” (Քսան Կախաղաններ). The idea for this gigantic work came to my mind from my early school years, when annually on June 15, all the pupils would gather in the yard of Giligian Varjaran to evoke the memory of the 20 martyrs, and listen to the powerful patriotic speech of the schoolmaster.

As a graduate from Aleppo’s Giligian College, I decided to donate the painting to Aleppo’s Hunchakian Center. At my request, the same year and with the support of the “Spyurki Gomideh,” the painting was shipped from Yerevan to Aleppo. As of today, I haven’t received any official confirmation related to the painting. Yet 40 years later, echoes of the Twenty’s came from Istanbul.

On Nov. 7, the book Paramaz: Twenty Executions of Bayazit, published by the Evrensel Publishing House, was at the 34th Istanbul Book Fair, the largest book fair in Turkey. On Nov. 8, it was presented at the publisher’s special event, a panel discussion organized by Evrensel on the topic of “The Armenian Genocide in its 100th Anniversary.”

One-hundred years have passed since Paramaz and his 19 comrades’ lifeless bodies swayed under Istanbul’s gray sky, but their ghosts still roam the streets of the slumbering city, penetrating into the subconscious of generations, to ensure that the dust of years of denial and ignorance can’t bury the past. Sooner or later Turkey will confront its history by recognizing the Armenian Genocide, as an echo of long-delayed justice.

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles written and submitted by members of the community, which make up our community bulletin board.

3 Comments

  1. Dear Daniel Varoujan Hejinian,
    What an absolutely riveting account of the journey of your powerful painting to the cover of the recently unearthed book about the twenty Social Democrat Hunchak activists. After I read your account, I immediately wanted to learn more. The twenty young men and their leader, Matteos Sarkisian aka PARAMAZ were arrested early in 1915, held in the basement of Istanbul’s central prison and repeatedly tortured. Ittihad executed them by hanging in Istanbul’s Sultan Bayazid Square on June 15, 1915. They all showed unbelievable courage at the scaffolds. PARAMUZ even faced his executioners and called out, “You can only hang our bodies, but not our philosophy.”
    I am so proud of my uncle Minas who was killed near his beloved village of Keramet in 1915 (southern Marmara region) after going AWOL from the Turkish army. He was a Hunchak.
    Best,
    Ellen Sarkisian Chesnut
    http://www.scarshecarried.com and Youtube.

  2. The name of the book “Paramazlar” resonates with “Denizler” who along with many other leftist student leaders were hanged in Turkey. Not much changed!

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