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Aram AntonianAram Antonian
(1875 - 1951)

Aram Antonian was born and educated in Constantinople. An active and hard working young man, he was able to rise directly to the forefront of the literary milieu. He edited satirical and literary periodicals, he also authored articles, and short stories portraying life in the capital, he criticised social ills and made political inquiry of the Armenian plight in the Ottoman Empire.

An activist in the S. D. Hunchakian party, he had served time in prison for participating in a political rally. Thus, as an undesirable, on the evening of April 11, 1915 (April 24 by the new Armenian calendar), he was among the first group to be arrested in Constantinople, along with hundreds of Armenian political leaders and intellectuals - poets, writers, teachers, publishers and journalists, artists and musicians - and sent to the deserts of the Ottoman Empire for extermination.

In route to the desert, Antonian fell from an open vehicle loaded with prisoners and broke his leg. The accident saved his life, for he was left behind to die while the others were taken away and shot. After his fortunate escape, Antonian spent nine months wandering in the mountains, hiding from the gendarmes and government officials to evade capture. With all roads to freedom blocked to him, he had no choice but to join deportees on a death march toward Der-el-Zor in Syria. The roads he travelled on foot, were covered with bodies of the murdered and mutilated, and the victims of disease, famine, and thirst.

Antonian stayed with the deportees in a concentration camp around the town of Meskeneh in the desert, near the shores of the Euphrates River, not far from Aleppo. He came to realise how the continuous physical and emotional hardship strips the victims of their ability to endure cold, heat, starvation, disease, degradation, humiliation. Taking advantage of the confusion caused by the dismissal of the camp director, Antonian escaped a second time, and fled to Aleppo.
 
Until the end of the World War I, he was on the run to dodge imminent arrest. He spent time in Aleppo, Damascus, and Beirut, always haunted by his memories of death and destruction. When the English army entered Aleppo and the Turks tumultuously withdrew, Antonian found the peace of mind to resume his profession as a writer and transform the unique experience he had survived into the universal world of language.

He wrote his recollections of the nation’s agony, revised and clarified the episodes he had scribbled hastily as he watched them happen in the concentration camps, and tried to retrieve history “by interviewing those survivors who could still remember the unspeakable horrors of the past five years. ...Thousands of women and men came to me. They spoke; they wrote down [their stories], and no one’s ordeal resembled that of another.” Antonian believed that he owed it to the Armenian nation to commit his experience to writing. For the sake of history, the truth had to be salvaged from oblivion, but the task was overwhelming. His own first-hand encounters and the eyewitness accounts confided to him by survivors were added to by a unique source, the memoirs of Naim Bey, chief secretary to the committee in charge of deportees in Aleppo.

Antonian met him in 1916 in Meskeneh, where Naim Bey had been sent to carry out the extermination of the surviving deportees. After the war, in 1918, they met again. The former government official provided Antonian with documents, telegrams, deportation and execution orders, his own accounts of the slaughters at Ras-ul-Ain and Der-el-Zor, and his interpretations and analysis of the Young Turk policies.

In 1919, Antonian in Paris, translated all the document into Armenian and compiled them in 'Mets Vochire'1 (The Great Crime), published in 1921 in Boston. Antonian believed that only by reading the actual letters and telegrams that contained the government’s detailed orders could one comprehend the full scope and reality of the atrocities taken against the Armenian people. Thus the Great Crime projects an accurate picture of the annihilation of those Armenian deportees who had survived the death march. It exposes the liquidation of entire concentration camps for the intend of making room for new arrivals.

Also written in 1919, 'Ain Sev Oreroun' (In Those Dark Days), Antonian comprised six short stories about Armenian deportees during the death marches and in the concentration camps. Antonian did not shy away from unconventional imagery. Unlike his contemporaries, he refused to be constrained by the acceptable conventions of literary idioms.

In 1951, Aram Antonian died in Paris. He will always be remembered as the great historian that he was.

Note: 1. Sponsored by the Turkish Historical Society, many Turkish and non-Turk scholars are working to challenge the authenticity of Armenian and foreign documentation of the Armenian Genocide. One such attempt, cast against the Naim-Antonian documents, spawned a meticulous, scholarly investigation by Vahakn N. Dadrian to prove the document’s authenticity. The result of Dadrian’s research was published as the “The Naim-Antonian Documents on the World War I Destruction of Armenians: The Anatomy of Genocide,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 18:3 (1986), 311-360.

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Copyright© 2005 S.D.H.P. Australian Leadership