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Armenia - The Unanswered Question

Charlie Cox | 03.12.2007 11:35 | History | Repression | Social Struggles | World

On Tuesday 6th November, Aegis Trust and Nottingham Student Aegis Society, in association with Nottingham Playhouse, a pre-show talk for Beast on the Moon to look at the history behind this compelling play took place. Enclosed is the report with pictures.

The Unanswered Question

On Tuesday 6th November, Aegis Trust and Nottingham Student Aegis Society, in association with Nottingham Playhouse, a pre-show talk for Beast on the Moon to look at the history behind this compelling play took place.

Richard Kalinoski, author of the play was kind enough to join in the discussion, and explained how writing a story like Beast on the Moon was a way for him to learn more about the subject that he didn’t really know about. After marrying an Armenian-American in the 1970’s, Richard was keen to learn more about the subject, and by writing the play hoped to try and understand the effect that such horrific events can have on people who have experienced them, and how they strive to come to terms with them.

Giles Croft, director of the play and artistic director for Nottingham Playhouse said that when he first saw the play years ago, the emotion, power and resonance of the play really struck accord and stayed with him. When planning the current season for the Playhouse, that resonance kept ringing through his head and compelled him to put the play on here in Nottingham.

I was very grateful to have Dr. James Smith, Chief Executive of Aegis Trust, the anti-genocide organisation based at the Holocaust Centre in Newark, join in the discussion. Despite other commitments to another talk organised by Nottingham University Jewish Society that night, James was able to create enough time to attend this discussion and give his invaluable analysis of the word ‘genocide’ and how it is applied to atrocities around the world and throughout history. As he explained, Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish lawyer who coined the word in 1943, had looked back over mankind’s history and seen how although individuals are imprisoned for acts of murder, Governments that are responsible for the deaths of thousands to millions of people, somehow manage to get away with it, unpunished. He went on to explain how it’s very easy for governments and countries to try and justify huge numbers of innocent people dying through civil-war, religious differences or defectors, but mass murder is still genocide no matter what reason you use.

James also highlighted the important point that atrocities like these and the repercussions they cause can have on an affect on the descendants of these people, whether on the side of the victims or the perpetrators, and resolving these issues is required to move past them. A question from the audience which I’m really glad was asked, was what we as individuals can do to help try and stop atrocities like those, such as in Darfur today, from happening. James explained how one of the biggest reasons is that people just don’t know or care about them. The more that awareness is spread and action taken, the more likely governments and institutions are to act upon them. He also highlighted the way that people can get involved with organisations like Aegis Trust through their website.

At this point Giles noted how interesting it has been during rehearsals and performance to see the cooperation between Karine (Seta) an Armenian, and Youssef (Aram) a Muslim, and how they have been able to work around each other to ensure a positive working atmosphere.

I tried my best to organise a representative of the Turkish community to participate and explain Turkey’s position on the Armenian question, but unfortunately no one responded to my requests. As a result, I did my best to relay this information, explaining that Turkey, though admitting that people did loose their lives during the civil war, they do not accept the events that took place as genocide. From websites such as the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, I explained how they wished to highlight events prior to World War I, particularly the war between Turkey and Russia, and how Russia had sought to undermine the Ottoman Empire’s strength from within, stirring up unrest between the Christians of Armenia and the Muslims of Turkey. This resulted in the formation of revolutionary groups such as the Hunchak and Tashnak Committee’s, who encouraged backlashes against the native Turks within the Empire, hoping that they would retaliate with violence and lead to intervention from the European and Russian powers, to gain independence in a ‘Greater Armenia.’

I closed by adding that Turkey has opened its archive of records and documents completely, and that an attempt to form a joint investigation into genocide claims between Turkey and Armenia had been turned down.

Haniel Riviere-Allen then proceeded to talk about her grandfather, Hagop Arevian, an Armenian whose father had been imprisoned by the Ottoman Empire and had his forearms cut off by his captors as an act of humiliation, because they likened the Armenians to pigs and forced him to eat as such. She talked about how Hagop had fought for the French at the Somme, and after being injured by a bullet to the head, he survived and went on to fight with the French Foreign Legion, determined to continue fighting against the Turks. When the opportunity rose, he jumped at the chance of being part of a 5000 strong troop of Armenians, in particular fighting in the battle against General Moustapha Kemal in Syria, September 1918.

The final speaker, Hugh Goddard, Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Nottingham, gave some fantastic information on Muslim-Christian relations in history. He talked about a book he had written on the subject, and how he was corrected by a reader who pointed out that there was nothing referring to Turkey and Armenia’s relationship. Having assumed that this conflict was based on an ethnicity issue, he was glad to have been corrected, and duly went about correcting this oversight. He also looked at how such fractures could be reconciled in the future, and how difficult such a resolution would be. Religious disputes will always be a highly contentious issue, with neither side wishing to lose pride for their country or religion that they have defended so vigorously. Unfortunately, there is no single answer to this difficult question, but countries and individuals need to find some way of overcoming them in order to restore peace between one another.

Bringing the talk to a close, Haniel told the audience about an upcoming event on Wednesday 16th January, 2008 where the documentary ‘We have drunk the same water’ by Serge Avedikian will be shown, and a debate will follow with Dr. Claire Mouradian, a specialist in Armenian history.

Dr. Smith also re-emphasised the importance of individual actions, not just writing to your local MP, but working together with like minded people, and organisations like Aegis Trust.

Unfortunately time was always against us for this talk with the stage needing to be setup for the performance, but I did manage to end with what I see as a very important message to the audience; governments and organisations thrive on their ability to mislead the people that they rely on, for their own personal gains of money, territory and power - don’t be sucked in by whatever means they use to blind you, do some work for yourself and find out the truth on your own.

I would like to extend my special thanks to all of the speakers who shared their time, knowledge and experience with us. It was a great discussion that I am extremely proud to have been a part of. Each of the panellists topics of discussion linked together better than I could have planned, resulting in an informative and engaging discussion.

For more information on Aegis Trust, please visit

For more information on Hagop Arevian, please visit

For more information on Nottingham Trent Aegis Student Union, please visit

For more information on Nottingham Playhouse, please visit

Thanks for reading,

Charlie Cox
Audience Development
Nottingham Playhouse

Charlie Cox
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