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Critique: Straight, No Chaser

Armenian News Network / Groong
March 10, 2003

    "The Armenian Question"
    by Bill Rolleri and Anna Antaramian
    March 10, 2003 at the New Freedom Theatre, Philadelphia PA

    A two act play originally written in 1979 and sponsored by st
    Vartan's Armenian Church of America, New York City. This play has
    had readings in the past and will have its world premiere on March
    10. The following is based on an advanced reading of the script.

By Bedros Afeyan

A suspense filled and gripping courtroom drama has been put forth by
Rolleri and Antaramian where Armenian witnesses and Turkish officials
do mental battle, mediated by European and American functionaries who
are gathered to decide how much aid to give Turkey as famine relief
sometime in the future (blame it on the climate) where we imagine some
drought having brought Turkish diplomats to the United Nations Food
redistribution Agency (UNFRA) for aid. This is a clever premise. Why
should Turks listen to Armenian Question issues unless they are forced
to somehow? Well, here they come, tails between their legs, led by
their Deputy prime minister, no less, begging for special 

The committee is made up of an American chairwoman and two members,
one French, and the other German.  The decision on whether to help
Turkey or not will come at the end of the play. The suspense is to
know whether the committee will grant extra food to Turkey while the
entire world is in the midst of a food crisis and whether the Armenian
witnesses and their Jewish American lawyer, ordinarily given to
defending notorious drug trafficking criminals, will intercede and
somehow affect the outcome of this UN body.

In the play, we must suspend disbelief and imagine that a clever NY
lawyer with old eye witnesses in toe can arrive in Paris and be heard
by this official UN body during its deliberations, and furthermore,
that an ex-general in the Turkish army who is now deputy prime
minister would actually stand for it? That the machinations available
to the Turkish state would not make minced meat of a couple of
geriatric witnesses who were raped and whose kin were killed and who
now beg for recognition and justice some 65 years later. The lawyer,
who is either an opportunist or quite the idealistic believer, is
zealous and so clever as to get his poor clients to be heard. This is
the premise chosen. It works in as much as it forces Turkish officials
to witness the case being put before the committee without being able
to walk out. But resist it the general does. Every step of the way, in
fact. He is clever, aggressive and almost imperturbable. He
contradicts, questions, spews the official Turkish line about Armenian
insurrections, Russian barbarian armies, relocation to protect their
supply lines to the war front and so on. Lies, lies and more lies
piled higher and deeper, of course.

There are two female Armenian eye witnesses. One who was 6 and the
other 23, when they saw the atrocities ravage their towns. The
horseshoes being nailed to soles of Armenian feet, Bastinato
treatments, whips, torture, rape, mass graves, hangings, all are
brought out. The General is there to huff and puff and dismiss all
this away.  But then the interior minister of the Young Turks, Talaat
pasha's telegraphs are read out one after the other and they become
part of the record. Finally, a German war photographer who smuggled
out pictures of the atrocities, now in his 90's, appears and shows
slides of what he saw. These slides are chilling and worth thousands
of words, as the saying goes. Large screen projection, for all to see,
one click after another, the cities, the towns, the rules even for
wiping out the infidel Armenians are read out. They are referred to as
the ten commandments of the Armenian Genocide in the play. All this is
very effective.  Morgenthau and the New York times of the day, German
and Austrian communiques, eye witnesses and the lone General
steadfastly poking holes in their emotional stories. This does make
for drama indeed!

I hope many North-Eastern Americans will get a chance to see this play
and encourage the bravery shown in producing it during these heady
times of war mongering, exaggerated demonizations, polarization
between nations, and once again Turkey occupying a pivotal role in
current affairs playing one side against the other in world
politics. May the average American learn of the tragedy in history
where extermination was first attempted (and very nearly succeeded) in
the 20th century during the first world war, the Armenian Genocide,
paving the way for Hitler to dare dream of emptying Europe of all Jews
during the second. He too very nearly succeeded.  Let demons with
power loose and you are bound to get dehumanization leading to
extermination. Hatred lives and persists since it is far easier to
hate a weak neighbour or subject than to accomodate them in times of
strife and struggle.

With all this in mind, the Armenian Question is also the Kurdish
Question and the Cypriot Question and perhaps even the Jewish Question
and the Palestinian Question and the Algerian Question and the
Vietnamese Question and all the questions that plague the century of
infamy we've just barely left behind. See this play and think what may
come after March 17 or what will the survivors of this coming war say
of the atrocities they were made to witness while the world's
attention was directed elsewhere.

Returning to the play, here are a few comments on the language and
style as well as a few excerpts.  A courtroom drama forces a certain
structure and crispness of expression. There are continual
interruptions and admonitions. People keep speaking over each other
and are warned to stop. This means that tension can build and be
artificially dissipated. The various committee members have different
backgrounds and historical baggage. The German used to be in the Nazi
Army, and is most repentant, the Frenchman is quick to take the
Armenian side, the Jewish American lawyer is fully aware of the
connections to the holocaust, while the American chairperson is busy
keeping things from getting too far out of hand. We imagine reporters
being in the audience and taking photographs with annoying flash
lights. The chairwoman is also being considered for a cabinet position
in the US government and finds herself threatened by the Turkish
General, or should I say, "reminded" by the General, that doing the
right thing by Turkey would surely please the US President and bolster
her chances of getting the cabinet post... This type of open threat
and strong-arming is common in the middle east but should appear
shocking, when so plainly exposed stateside.

The ten commandments of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 as articulated in 
the Armenian Question are:

    1. Shut down all Armenian organizations, march members into the
       countryside and wipe them out on the road.
    2. Collect all arms.
    3. Use muslim populations to provoke organized massacres by
       civilians, especially where there has been revolutionary
       activity such as Van.
    4. Use military forces ostensibly to protect the Armenians but in
       reality to assist the populace in the execution of the massacres.
    5. Exterminate all males under the age of 50, priests and
       teachers, leave girls to be...
    6. Isolate all families and cut them off from all food and water.
    7. Expel and execute all Armenians who hold governments posts.
    8. Kill all Armenian members of the Turkish military.
    9. All actions to begin everywhere simultaneously, leave no time
       for preparation of defensive measures.
    10. Treat these instructions with the greatest confidentiality and
	deny everything.

Here is the chilling telegram from the Minister of the interior of the 
Ottoman Empire, Talaat Pasha, as read out in the Armenian Question. 
Dated September 15, 1915, to the governor of Aleppo: "It was first 
communicated to you that the Ottoman Government, by order of the 
Jemiet, has decided to destroy completely all Armenians living in 
Turkey. An end must be put to their existence, however criminal the 
measures taken may be. Those who oppose this order and decision cannot 
remain on the official staff of the Empire. And no regard must be paid 
to age or sex or to concientious scruple."

The Armenian Question, contains ample food for thought. Full
commitment to the cause of human rights is needed and the willingness
to direct considerable suspicion towards all acts of dehumanization
and the baiting of whole races or ethnic groups as fall guys for the
ills suddenly visiting the ruling classes anywhere. Otherwise,
genocide will follow genocide and excuses to cover them up will be the
cause of all nations and not just that of Turkey, its unrepentant
current poster child.

Dr. Bedros Afeyan is a theoretical physicist who works and lives in
the Bay area with his wife, Marine. He writes in Armenian and in
English and also paints and sculpts. Samples of his work can be found
on his personal web pages at:

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