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Armenian Museum of Fresno releases eye-witness accounts of Genocide in new book

The Armenian Museum of Fresno has released The Cry of the Tormented, a book comprising more than 300 letters written by Armenians during 1915-1918 who were facing atrocities, starvation, deportation, murder, and annihilation, Asbarez reports.

These letters were written to relatives and friends across the world, including those who settled in Fresno and across the United States. First published in Armenian in 1922, it is now available on-line in English and Russian. The project is ongoing and German, Turkish, and French editions are forthcoming with even more translations to follow.

On Thursday, May 21 the book was officially presented at a special event held at the University of California Center in Fresno. Armenians and non-Armenians alike—were in attendance for the release and the panel discussion that followed. Bill McEwen Editorial Pages Editor of the Fresno Bee served as the Master of Ceremonies. Opening remarks were made by Varoujan Der Simonian, President of the Board of Directors of the Armenian Museum of Fresno; the panelists were Garo Khachigian, MD, Mary Ellen Hewsen, and Margit Hazarabedian, Ph.D.

The Cry of the Tormented is a large volume collected by Bedros Donabedian, a humanitarian worker for Armenian refugees. Although a century has passed since that dark period of Armenian—and, indeed, human—history, many voices of the victims of the Genocide remain unheard. Hundreds of those voices are contained in this book. Thus, the Armenian Museum of Fresno –upon the encouragement of Abraham Terian, Ph.D., who presented the Museum with a copy of the book—undertook a project to translate The Cry of the Tormented into as many languages as possible, to amplify these voices of truth against the suffocating silence of death and denial. In Dr. Terian’s words, “This is yet another centennial memorial by the Fresno Armenians for the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide.”

The letters that make up The Cry of the Tormented are preserved verbatim and edited only for formatting and accessibility to English readers. The rough, peasant vernacular of the original text is present with all of its linguistic and grammatical idiosyncrasies present to the best of the translators’ abilities. As with the original publication, the new translations of The Cry of the Tormented maintain all the experiential and emotional power of its contents by retaining its unedited, extemporaneous form.

 The Cry of the Tormented brings the unimaginable horrors of the Armenian Genocide to life in a way that, in the words of the book’s German translator, Margit Hazarabedian, Ph.D., “became personal, became visceral. I was reading, but I saw with my own eyes.” That is the power of these letters. Their contents are so real that they take the discourse on and understanding of the Genocide from the lofty perch of analysis and intellect to an emotionally comprehensible level. Indeed, it is a necessary and important thing to be able to comprehend the incomprehensible in such a way that no one can shut it out, and, moreover, makes it accessible to as many of the world’s people as possible. As English editor, Mary Ellen Hewsen, remarked, “I always understood something of the Armenian Genocide intellectually, analytically, I studied it in school, but it took these letters to teach me emotionally what I missed intellectually.”

The veracity of the letters that make up this book is confirmed and enhanced by the book’s preface. It is “Neither Violets Nor Petals of a Rose”, the last column written for The Fresno Bee by the late Roger Tatarian, Former Vice President and Editor-In-Chief of United Press International and Professor of Journalism at CSU Fresno. Written three days before his passing, the piece reflects upon the letters sent to his father from Bitlis –in what is now Eastern Turkey—by his uncle Simon between 1912 and 1914, and how the contents of the letters described events in the region that foreshadowed the coming massacres and deportation of the Armenian people. Interspersed in those accounts are many messages of hope, wisdom, and faith for the Armenians of Bitlis and Van and for Roger Tatarian’s family struggling to survive in their new home in Fresno. The firsthand presentation of history and hope-against-hope is akin to those in The Cry of the Tormented and further validates them.

What The Cry of the Tormented shows is that the Armenian Genocide is more than just a tragedy; it is a crime against humanity. Through reading this collection of letters, one can see great inhumanity and not divorce oneself from it, and, instead, be engaged in demanding justice for all human beings and making this a world where atrocities against entire nations can no longer take place.

The Armenian Museum of Fresno would like to thank everyone who contributed to this extraordinary project. The first thanks goes to Dr. Abraham Terian who provided the Armenian Museum with original 1922 text and initiated the translation project. “Without him, this book would not have happened,” said Varoujan Der Simonian, Director of the Armenian Museum of Fresno. Next, the Museum acknowledges the time and dedication of the team of scholars who have and continue to put months of emotionally and intellectually taxing work into this project. These incredible volunteers from three generations include Dr. Garo Khachigian, Mary Ellen Hewsen –English edition; Alex McKinsey and Professor Irina Merzakhanian –Russian edition—and Margit Hazarabedian, Ph.D. into German.

In his opening remarks, Der Simonian extended special thanks to Dr. Khachigian and Mary Ellen Hewsen, who are, respectively, the translator and editor of the English edition of The Cry of the Tormented. “Dr. Khachigian is familiar with the complex dialects of Armenian that these letters are written in as it is akin to the language of his grandfather, thus he had the monumental challenge of literally translating the Armenian text that was often mixed with Turkish, Kurdish, and Arabic.  Besides being a difficult task, it was also emotionally very demanding,” said Der Simonian.   The Cry of the Tormented is more than just a memorial for the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide, “our goal is that after 100 years we want their voices to be heard by as many people as possible – it is a call to our collective responsibility to make this world a better place for all human beings to live and let live,” Der Simonian said.

Dr. Terian emphasized the significance of these letters by saying that they are written during the genocide – while the atrocities were actually taking place.  He further commented that these letters are not recollections of memories that someone may argue of their validity, but they are the voices of the eyewitnesses, themselves, who are no longer with us.

Dr. Khachigian describes his integral role in this project in his own words, “I am not a translator, but my heart and brain worked as one to the task, with passion.  I realized the importance of this task that Varoujan Der Simonian had initiated, and took the challenge to translate into English” Mary Ellen Hewsen, a scholar of political science, especially as it pertains to the study of the Middle East observed in the editing process that “Trying to remain clinical while working was the hardest part,” because of the great trauma depicted in the letters. However, in reflection on her role in the project, she says that “I am humbled, as an odar, to be among so many Armenians.”

The Armenian Museum extends additional thanks to The Fresno Bee. In particular, Executive Editor, Jim Boren and Editorial Pages Editor, Bill McEwen. They were responsible for providing and permitting the use of Roger Tatarian’s “Neither Violets Nor Petals from a Rose” collection of letters that Mr. Tatarian’s father had received from his uncle prior to WWI that were published two weeks before his death in his last column in the Fresno Bee.  Mr. McEwen read some of these letters to the audience.

All profits from the sale of The Cry of the Tormented will go to a fund to have hard copies of the translation printed and distributed to schools, libraries, churches, and cultural centers around the United States, with Fresno County as the priority.

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