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Armenian Golgotha:
A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915“1918

by Grigoris Balakian
translated by Peter Balakian and Aris Sevag
Knopf, 509 pages, $35

On April 24, 1915, police arrested 250 leaders of the Armenian community in Istanbul and deported them to the Turkish interior. Among them was an Orthodox priest, Fr. Grigoris Balakian. For the next three years, he was an eyewitness to the Armenian genocide, an ethnic-cleansing campaign in which, under pretext of wartime deportations, authorities eliminated the Armenian population of Anatolia”up to one million people. He survived through faith and cunning, eventually escaping disguised as a German railway worker. In this memoir, available for the first time in English, he describes the death marches and recounts how, with government collusion, mobs massacred Armenians with whatever was available”axes, hoes, and clubs. Those few officials who objected were quickly replaced. Balakian explains that the genocide’s motivation was partly religious. At the beginning of World War I, Turkey’s Sheikh-ul-Islam declared a jihad against Christians; Armenians, as well as Greeks and Assyrians, were marked for destruction. In the book’s most vivid episode, Balakian describes riding through a valley filled with victims’ bones, accompanied by the police captain who had proudly supervised the killings as a religious duty. Authorities spared those who agreed to become Muslim. In Ankara, for example, Catholics had the choice of deportation or converting to Islam. Most chose deportation. Ankara’s Catholics had been convinced that their European connections would immunize them from persecution. Like other Mideast Christians before and since, they were sadly mistaken