International Journal of Armenian Genocide Studies
In my contribution, I introduce four authors of different generations and languages, but all of Greek origin: Elias Venezis, Dido Sotiriou, Jeffrey Eugenides and Aris Fioretos. Both the works of expelled authors from Asia Minor and of their transnational, postmodern descendants are remarkably free of revanchist clichés or the stereotypical ‘othering’ of Turks or Muslims. While Venezis points to the irritating ‘genocidal corruption’ and dehumanization within the victim group, Sotiriou puts the political responsibility for the ‘Catastrophe’ on Germany and the Entente, depicting Asia Minor as the homeland of Greeks and Turks. Eu genides chooses intersexuality as a metaphor of modernity and hybridity of (Greek and other) immigrant communities, whereas Fioretos is interested in flowing, flexible identities and the intersection of past and present that expresses itself in a non-linear narrative, where everybody and everything is related to others.
In my native German language, fiction is called ‘Dichtung’, a noun that means ‘closely compacted in substance’. In historically based prose, fiction can be defined as condensed reality. The literary ways of condensing reality depend on many factors, but mainly on the talent and intent of the author, on the time of publication and, of course, on the object depicted as well as on the intended functions of a literary work. If genocide as the ultimate crime becomes a literary object, the intentions are multiple, oscillating between documentation, accusation, interpretation and reflection. Literature on genocide may even substitute public discourse. When genocide survivors write about their experiences, literature serves as a ‘means of survival’ (‘Überlebensmittel’), as the German Jewish author and Holocaust survivor Edgar Hilsenrath accurately named this particular type of prose. For survivors, it seems easier to write about genocide as the unspeakable than to discuss it.
All the consequences of Armenian genocide and Jewish Shoah are still not fully realised or comprehended. In addition to the systematic annihilation of populations and cultures, the fates of the survivors continue to be a tragic reverberation of the genocidal events. In both cases, most of the survivors escaped to other countries and later became subjects and objects of a number of biographies and studies. However, not every survivor fled. In both genocides, there were also a remarkable number of victimised individuals who survived the massacres through negligence of the murderers, or by being taken to families, and continued to live in the country of the atrocities, changing or hiding their religious and cultural identity or becoming victims of forced change of identity.
The existence of these peoples in Poland and Turkey remained a curious unrecognized subject that extremely little was known of until recently. In this article, the present situation of both of these groups is discussed in comparative terms in order to outline the character of their identity problems. The comparison is all the more interesting due to the fact that obvious differences between the two social contexts underline the significance of the common factors in the post-genocidal experience.
Of all the many elements that resound and confound as similar between the overwhelming record of historical oppression endured by the Armenians and the Jews, perhaps the most telling is the echo of silence in the wider world during their hour of greatest need. As is well known, the record of Ambassador Morgenthau is a telling counterpoint to the dismaying lack of voices raised at critical junctures. It is my intention here to profile in brief other cases of Jews, from Bernard Lazare of France to Israel Zangwill of England who voiced solidarity and even sought to forge alliance with Armenians. Particular attention will be paid to the German Social Democrats Eduard Bernstein and Hugo Haase, who seceded from their party during the war years, in part, so that they could speak out with their colleagues against the Armenian Genocide. I argue that what united these figures was their progressive inclination and embrace of a discourse of human rights which often entailed a critique of nationalism, specifically mainstream Zionism. The case of the Independent Social Democrats in Germany in particular forms an overlooked corrective to a historiography of German opposition to the Armenian Genocide that has largely focused on the voices of church activists. Before turning to these case studies that broke a silence all too pervasive on the events of the Caucasian Frontline of World War I, I would like to explore the variations and forms this silence takes.