The auditorium at the Glendale Public Library overflowed with people Nov. 6 as more than 250 (more than 50 of them GCC students) found seats and about 60 others waited outside to hear writer Peter Balakian read from his latest book “The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response.”
Before reading a few passages from his new book, Balakian said, “The denial of genocide is the final stage of genocide because it sinks to demonize the victims and rehabilitate the perpetrators; because it tends to mention that the genocide doesn’t matter, that it demands no moral accountability.”
Denial of the Armenian Genocide is central to the book, in which the Turkish government denied the massacres by trying to cover them under the cloak of World War I.
“We often hear coming out of the Propagandavil of the Turkish government, in its attempts to deny and cover up the history of the Armenian genocide, that this event wasn’t organized — that somehow this just happened during World War I and that things got out of control,” said Balakian.
“The Burning Tigris” uses eyewitness accounts, official reports obtained from governmental archives, and photographs of the massacres and deportations taken by people who risked their lives, to provide evidence that the first genocide of the 20th Century was initiated by the Ottoman Turks as early as the 1890s.
On the opposite page from a few striking headlines of the New York Times articles of 1915 is a telegram from American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau to the Secretary of state on July, 16, 1915.
It reads, “Deportation of and excesses against peaceful Armenians is increasing and from harrowing reports of eye witnesses it appears that a campaign of race extermination is in progress under a pretext of reprisal against rebellion.”
“When possible, Armenians did resist and they resisted shrewdly and toughly, but it was difficult to resist because part of the idea of the Turkish Project was to eliminate able-bodied men first,” said Balakian.
The Armenian men were taken out and gunned down in the fields outside of their towns, he said.
Balakian explained how well planned the vicious process of the extermination of an entire people was.
To get rid of the voice of the culture, “you cut the head of the culture first,” said Balakian while explaining how on the evening of April 24, 1915, more than 250 cultural leaders, writers, journalists, clergy and others were arrested, killed and deported. The number of deaths eventually rose to nearly 1.5 million.
“No history of the 20th Century can be adequately understood without understanding the Armenian Genocide,” said Balakian. Growing up in northern New Jersey he came to learn, in his mid 20s, that his maternal grandmother was an Armenian Genocide survivor.
Later, this discovery led him to write the memoir titled “The Black Dog of Fate: An American Son Uncovers His Armenian Past.” Having read the book, Mayor Frank Quintero, who was present at the event, said, “It is very inspirational.”
Pleased at recognizing GCC students amongst the audience, Board of Trustees President, Dr. Armine Hacopian, said, “It’s nice to see the younger generation take an interest.”
Before and after the event, a long line of people, who wanted to personalize their copies of “The Burning Tigris” by having the author dedicate it to them, stretched throughout the auditorium and then extended out in the hall.
Amazed by the number of attendees, Quintero said, “Next time we are going to have to use the Civic Auditorium.”
Balakian, who has a doctorate in American Civilization from Brown University and is a professor of Humanities at Colgate University, said, “I want to tell you that you’ll come away from ‘The Burning Tigris’ with a very clear sense of how well planned and organized the project to exterminate the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire was.”