Author, Khatchig Mouradian
Michigan State University Press, 2021
BY MATTHEW KARANIAN
Special to Asbarez
“The Resistance Network” by Dr. Khatchig Mouradian fills a century-old void in the scholarship of the Armenian Genocide. Mouradian accomplishes this by presenting the stories of the Armenians who collaborated to resist their destruction through non-violent and humanitarian methods.
This focus is a fresh departure from much of the current research about the Armenian Genocide, which has often been limited to a presentation of just two facets of this crime against humanity: how it was perpetrated, and how the West responded to save the Armenians through humanitarian relief.
“The Resistance Network” adds to this research the story of the Armenians themselves—the civilian population of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Mouradian’s research shows us that these Armenian subjects of the Empire were not merely passive victims. Instead, he presents remarkable instances where they resisted their government’s effort to destroy their culture by engaging in an underground network of intelligence gathering, and by developing their own grass roots implementation of humanitarian relief.
And, in a bold departure from the research of earlier historians and social scientists, Mouradian tells the story of the Armenians who had already been driven from their ancient homeland on the Armenian Highland and in Cilicia, and who found themselves in Turkish concentration camps in the Syrian Desert—the part of the Ottoman Empire that is located in today’s Syria.
Mouradian tells us in his Introduction to “The Resistance Network” how he accomplished this research. He writes, “I stand on the shoulders of the survivors who told their stories.” He reviewed hundreds of published and unpublished primary accounts written by the survivors themselves.
This is itself a departure from much of the research about the Armenian Genocide. The memoirs of survivors of the Genocide, whether published or not, have often been discounted and disregarded by scholars who concluded that, to avoid perceptions of bias, they must avoid the words of the victims themselves.
Mouradian uses these primary sources to weave together the story of the Armenians who engaged in non-violent and humanitarian resistance in the concentration camps along the Euphrates River in Ottoman Syria.
“Deportees [the Armenians driven from their homes] did not wait idly to die,” Mouradian writes. Instead, they organized life in the concentration camps, set up orphanages, tried to establish lines of communication with other camps, and attempted to protect themselves from looter and bandit attacks. Mouradian writes of men and women who were married during their internment. In one instance, documented through the correspondence of the couple who had lived in Urfa, the man wrote to his future bride, “If we die, let’s die together.”
Mouradian writes about the orphan children who served as couriers of information—an underground railroad of intelligence—that helped inform the decisions of the Armenians who were planning their survival. These orphan messengers, writes Mouradian, were human newspapers, and their bravery challenges our view of children as “passive victims caught in the vortex of mass violence.”
“The Resistance Network” describes instances of righteous Turks who dragged their feet when ordered to implement deportations—today known as the death marches—of the Armenians. Mouradian concludes that personal relationships between Armenians and Turks sometimes allowed Armenians to make appeals to Turks, to the effect of saving lives.
But Mouradian avoids drawing sweeping conclusions about individual acts, and instead shows nuanced and sometimes conflicting responses. He does this, for example with the case of Cemal Pasha, one of the three leaders of the Ottoman Empire. Cemal, writes Mouradian, cultivated an image of himself as a humanitarian, but “emerged as one of the first effective deniers of the Armenian genocide.”
Some of the participants in the humanitarian resistance to the Armenian Genocide were non-Armenians. Some were the other Christians, Muslims, or Jewish people of the Ottoman Empire. And, acknowledges Mouradian, there were also some Armenians who collaborated with the Turks, which he shows through multiple primary sources. This collaboration, in addition to being inexcusable, also shows the depravity of the situation and the profound desperation of some of the victims.
“The Resistance Network” tells a previously untold story of non-violent humanitarian resistance among the Armenians who had been driven from their homes on the Armenian Highland and in Cilicia, to concentration camps in Ottoman Syria. The book does so with the compelling and even-handed narrative of its author, which draws from hundreds of primary accounts of the Armenian victims, themselves. Accordingly, this body of work significantly advances the scholarship of the Armenian Genocide.
Matthew Karanian is an attorney in Pasadena, Calif., and is the author of several books about Armenia, including his latest, “The Armenian Highland: Western Armenia and the First Armenian Republic of 1918.”