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Agop Hacikyan’s A Summer without Dawn

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Authors: Agop J. Hacikyan, Jean-Yves Soucy
Translators: Christina Le Vernoy and Joyce Bailey
Publisher: Interlink books, Northampton, Massachusetts 01060
Number of pages: 545
ISBN number: 978-1-56656-802-9
Retail price: $20.00

Hasmik Najaryan  photoA flock without its shepherd, lost and struck down... Invisible but violent surges shake the miserable history of the life of my people. The callous hunters have caught the defenseless fish in their net. The atmosphere is filled with poison. There is no escape. Destruction, horror, and violence on the one hand, and indifference and dirty hearts on the other hand...Our bodies have rotted, our souls desecrated, life is coated with corpses...". This is how the prominent Armenian composer and musicologist, Komitas Vardapet described the events he saw and experienced in 1915. Those tragic events permeated all his further creative work, as it did the artistic, cinematic and literary legacy of many composers, artist, singers and writers of Armenian descent. Their works communicate trauma and pain caused by the events of 1915 through their repeated return to those shocking experiences of the past. A Summer Without Dawn by Agop Hacikyan (co-authored by Jean-Yves Soucy, translated from French by Christina Le Vernoy and Joyce Bailey) is no exception.

The story of Vartan Balian remains unfinished so long as there is a Turkish government that refuses to acknowledge and accept responsibility for its bloody past.
The horrendous events around which A Summer Without Dawn revolves is Turkey's elimination of more than a million of its Armenian citizens through massacre and forced deportation in 1915. The book carries the reader through the incomprehensible evil, suffering, and humiliation of the death marches of the little-remembered genocide of the Armenian people. Through the story of an Armenian family residing in Turkey, the author shows us the horrifying experiences of ethnic cleansing from 1915 to 1918 carried out under the orders of the newly established Young Turk Government known as Ittihad. The triumvirate of Young Turks, consisting of Talaat, Enver, and Cemal Pasha, set out to create a new Turkish empire, a "great and eternal land" with one language, Turkish, and one religion, Islam. The elimination of all undesirable elements, i.e. the Christian Armenians, became an issue of utmost importance. The attempts to sweep away Armenians from their Anatolian homelands in Eastern Turkey through forced mass marches to the Syrian deserts resulted in the deaths of a million and a half Armenians.

Days after the government orders the deportation of the Armenians, Vartan Balian, a reserve medical officer serving in the Turkish army, who also writes articles for the international press, is detained and tortured by Turkish authorities for being accused of being what he is, an Armenian. He becomes a hunted man for refusing "to convert to Islam and to cooperate with the Ittihad" (p.171). The development of events on the deportation road and Vartan's endeavors, after escaping execution, to find his family catches the reader up in the terrible immediacy of the genocide. As the story unfolds, hideous atrocities occurring on the way are devastatingly re-enacted for the reader. During the implementation of the state vendetta against Armenians, mass murders, rape, starvation, brutality, and dehydration become standard components of the depictions of the deportations leading to "the noxious swamps on the banks of Euphrates River or to the Syrian Desert" (p. 55). The "fortunate" ones end up being taken into Turkish harems or houses, prohibited from using their Armenian names and language or are forced to witness their children being auctioned in before their eyes--"eleven children for a few kouroush-- less than the price of a sheep" (p. 165). As you read through the fate of deportees on their route to Calvary, dragging on for months, burdened with such awful physical and intellectual shocks, it is horrifying to realize that what is being described in the novel is a realistic re-creation of documented events that happened 95 years ago.

Throughout the whole book one can feel the author's anguish as he ponders questions of remembrance and the denial of the Armenian genocide by the Turkish Government. Through the characters of government officials such as Gani Bey and Riza Bey the author represents how skillfully the truth is twisted and maneuvered by the Turkish government officials of the day, which continues into the present. Gani Bey attempts to use a prominent Armenian, Vartan Balian to write articles for the foreign newspapers "praising the organization, the humane conditions under which the deportation is taking place and the beauty of villages where they are resettling the exiles" (p.111). Riza Bey saves Maro, Vartan's wife, from rape and possible death because he falls in love with her while leading forces carrying out the massacres. Riza makes a list of several Armenians and some missionaries willing to testify that he protected and helped them and thus gets away with the massacre of thousands of others. Hacikyan's pain and anger are palpable as he describes how the Turkish government gets away with a well-orchestrated program of atrocities and killings.

Even though Hacikyan holds the Ottoman Empire responsible for this ethnic cleansing, he avoids condemning all Turks and portraying them only in a negative light. Hacikyan does not fail to recount the humanism of some Turks towards their Armenian friends. Vartan is saved from the gallows by his Turkish friend, Ibrahim, who later pays for this act of humanity with his own life. Vartan manages to survive the ordeals encountered on his way thanks to a few Turks who risk their lives to help him.

By the end of the novel, as the ordeals of the Balian family draw to a close, the story seems to come to an end. However, the story of Vartan Balian remains unfinished so long as there is a Turkish government that refuses to acknowledge and accept responsibility for its bloody past, as Vartan vows to "raise a monument of words" to let the world know about all the wounds of the Armenian tragedy. A Summer Without Dawn is a perfect example of just such a monument.

Published - January 2011


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