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Why we should read... `Murad's Journey' by Zabel Yessayan and Murad (96pp, NB-Press, Yerevan, 1990) Armenian News Network / Groong April 19, 2005 By Eddie Arnavoudian `MURAD'S JOURNEY'- A PAINFUL WITNESS TO THE 1915 ARMENIAN GENOCIDE Entitled simply `Murat's Journey', this booklet is amongst the most moving and most chilling of witnesses to the 1915 Armenian Genocide - a sobering, shocking, troubling account of human barbarism and the process of dehumanisation that it sets in train. The story is narrated by Sebastatzi Murad and recorded by Zabel Yessayan. Sepastatzi Murad was one of the most remarkable Armenian guerrilla leaders fighting Ottoman tyranny; Zabel Yessayan, one of Armenia's greatest modern novelists and prose writers. Together they tell the dramatic tale of Murad's flight from Turkish authorities attempting to entrap and murder him at the same time as they were rounding up other prominent personalities and community leaders as a prelude to deporting and slaughtering a defenceless Armenian population. Suspicious of an official invitation to attend `an important meeting' Murad mounts his beloved and legendary Pegassus (immortalised in Daniel Varoujean's poem of the same name) and with a group of comrades rides into the mountains. His travels take him through a vast swathe of Armenian, Turkish and Greek villages, through mountains and forests towards the Black Sea town of Trabzon and then by a Turkish boat they hijack on to Tsarist controlled Batum. Thereafter Murad was to join the ranks of Armenian military forces struggling to defend portions of western Armenia from Young Turk assault. He was eventually killed in 1918 during another engagement in Armenian self-defence in Baku. But that is another story. This account of Murad's dramatic odyssey from his home-town to Batum offers a horrific insight into virtually every aspect of the genocide. As Murad and his men secretively pass through Armenian villages they see the disintegration of long standing communities. Welcomed with open arms in one they are put up in the local school. Murad tells of how he felt `deeply sad. Desks were strewn about. Abandoned books reminded one of the young children who should have been there. At this time each year they used to flood into school happy and eager filling the hall with great enthusiasm. Where were they now? Hidden behind their closed doors, trembling with fear and terror.' Thereafter Murad continues `with our own eyes we saw the collective slaughter. How can I describe it all? They were throwing the Armenian people, defenceless and unarmed onto the streets where they were victim to plunder by the mob. The people's screams, their cries and their shouts filled the skies. We could hardly bear it. How many times I thought to try and find out which group (of deportees) my wife and children were among so that I could snatch them away&. All the villages in the area had been cleared. (p47-48) Pretending to be Turks, Murad's men capture numerous Turkish soldiers and bandits who confess, proudly, to the most terrible crimes of murder, rape, torture, plunder and destruction. Relations between Armenian and Turk strained and tense in the best of times are slowly transformed into murderous hate. Initially Murad protected innocent Turkish soldiers arguing that they `too were, like ourselves, fugitives from the enemy'. Those suspected of crimes had initially been questioned to establish guilt. But after witnessing repeated confessions of barbarism Murad's men now `pulled them (Turkish soldiers) off the road and without questioning killed them.' Now there `were no more innocent Turks for us` says Murad and adds that he and his group were henceforth `convinced that every one of them (Turkish soldiers) was either a direct accomplice or participant in the terrible events.' On their side, a Turk, again believing Murad to be one of their own, responding to fabricated stories of Armenian brutality retorts `what we have (already) done to them (Armenians) is not enough.' In the mountains Murad and his comrades are not alone. They meet dozens of other small groups of fugitives, all in one way or another engaged in resistance to the Genocide. Experienced fighters, Murad's group capture weapons that they distribute to other fugitive groups. Murad's testimony here is very valuable adding to the record of countless other such groups, whose resistance is usually overlooked in Armenian histories that focus on the main centres such as Van, Diarbekir, Urfa and Musa Dagh. The widespread emergence of such groups, that incidentally included women fighters too, confirms that Armenians did not go to the slaughter like sheep. They underline a spirit of survival that was afoot and suggest that any nationally organised resistance to the Genocide would have met with broad popular support. In `Murat's Journey' we have an immensely valuable primary source with almost every aspect of the history and politics of the Genocide finding some telling reflection. Significant references to the material and social consequences of the earlier mass slaughter in 1895-96 are coupled with testimony of German complicity in the Genocide. Murad witnessed how the `killing and plunder' of 1915 `was carried on before the eyes of German officers' who together with `Turkish officers` would `carry off valuables for themselves.' (p63). Anecdotes confirm widespread Armenian blindness to the criminal intent of the Young Turk government. Even Murad and his men are initially deceived into `believing that these deportations' were no more than `part of the project' to `move people away from areas of military operations.' (p45) Much, much more can be gleaned from this account, including something about the lives of ordinary Turks with their own `difficulties and hardships'; (p37) about the role of Kurds who `in times of peace were oppressed by the Turks more severely' even than Armenians were; (p26) about the position of Greek communities in historical Armenia and last but not least something about the personal qualities, the private pain and emotional turmoil, the talent for leadership, the immense will, power and perspicacity of the narrator, Murad, a memorable figure of the Armenian liberation movement. Narrated and written without exclamation or rhetoric, this little volume has a depth and breadth that gives it the quality of a comprehensive history of resistance and genocide. -- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles.