Theater Essays & Articles >> Critique: Straight, No Chaser
Critique: Straight, No Chaser By Bedros Afeyan
Armenian News Network / Groong March 10, 2003
"The Armenian Question" by Bill Rolleri and Anna Antaramian March 10, 2003 at the New Freedom Theatre, Philadelphia PA
A two act play originally written in 1979 and sponsored by st Vartan's Armenian Church of America, New York City. This play has had readings in the past and will have its world premiere on March 10. The following is based on an advanced reading of the script.
A suspense filled and gripping courtroom drama has been put forth by Rolleri and Antaramian where Armenian witnesses and Turkish officials do mental battle, mediated by European and American functionaries who are gathered to decide how much aid to give Turkey as famine relief sometime in the future (blame it on the climate) where we imagine some drought having brought Turkish diplomats to the United Nations Food redistribution Agency (UNFRA) for aid. This is a clever premise. Why should Turks listen to Armenian Question issues unless they are forced to somehow? Well, here they come, tails between their legs, led by their Deputy prime minister, no less, begging for special consideration.
The committee is made up of an American chairwoman and two members, one French, and the other German. The decision on whether to help Turkey or not will come at the end of the play. The suspense is to know whether the committee will grant extra food to Turkey while the entire world is in the midst of a food crisis and whether the Armenian witnesses and their Jewish American lawyer, ordinarily given to defending notorious drug trafficking criminals, will intercede and somehow affect the outcome of this UN body.
In the play, we must suspend disbelief and imagine that a clever NY lawyer with old eye witnesses in toe can arrive in Paris and be heard by this official UN body during its deliberations, and furthermore, that an ex-general in the Turkish army who is now deputy prime minister would actually stand for it? That the machinations available to the Turkish state would not make minced meat of a couple of geriatric witnesses who were raped and whose kin were killed and who now beg for recognition and justice some 65 years later. The lawyer, who is either an opportunist or quite the idealistic believer, is zealous and so clever as to get his poor clients to be heard. This is the premise chosen. It works in as much as it forces Turkish officials to witness the case being put before the committee without being able to walk out. But resist it the general does. Every step of the way, in fact. He is clever, aggressive and almost imperturbable. He contradicts, questions, spews the official Turkish line about Armenian insurrections, Russian barbarian armies, relocation to protect their supply lines to the war front and so on. Lies, lies and more lies piled higher and deeper, of course.
There are two female Armenian eye witnesses. One who was 6 and the other 23, when they saw the atrocities ravage their towns. The horseshoes being nailed to soles of Armenian feet, Bastinato treatments, whips, torture, rape, mass graves, hangings, all are brought out. The General is there to huff and puff and dismiss all this away. But then the interior minister of the Young Turks, Talaat pasha's telegraphs are read out one after the other and they become part of the record. Finally, a German war photographer who smuggled out pictures of the atrocities, now in his 90's, appears and shows slides of what he saw. These slides are chilling and worth thousands of words, as the saying goes. Large screen projection, for all to see, one click after another, the cities, the towns, the rules even for wiping out the infidel Armenians are read out. They are referred to as the ten commandments of the Armenian Genocide in the play. All this is very effective. Morgenthau and the New York times of the day, German and Austrian communiques, eye witnesses and the lone General steadfastly poking holes in their emotional stories. This does make for drama indeed!
I hope many North-Eastern Americans will get a chance to see this play and encourage the bravery shown in producing it during these heady times of war mongering, exaggerated demonizations, polarization between nations, and once again Turkey occupying a pivotal role in current affairs playing one side against the other in world politics. May the average American learn of the tragedy in history where extermination was first attempted (and very nearly succeeded) in the 20th century during the first world war, the Armenian Genocide, paving the way for Hitler to dare dream of emptying Europe of all Jews during the second. He too very nearly succeeded. Let demons with power loose and you are bound to get dehumanization leading to extermination. Hatred lives and persists since it is far easier to hate a weak neighbour or subject than to accomodate them in times of strife and struggle.
With all this in mind, the Armenian Question is also the Kurdish Question and the Cypriot Question and perhaps even the Jewish Question and the Palestinian Question and the Algerian Question and the Vietnamese Question and all the questions that plague the century of infamy we've just barely left behind. See this play and think what may come after March 17 or what will the survivors of this coming war say of the atrocities they were made to witness while the world's attention was directed elsewhere.
Returning to the play, here are a few comments on the language and style as well as a few excerpts. A courtroom drama forces a certain structure and crispness of expression. There are continual interruptions and admonitions. People keep speaking over each other and are warned to stop. This means that tension can build and be artificially dissipated. The various committee members have different backgrounds and historical baggage. The German used to be in the Nazi Army, and is most repentant, the Frenchman is quick to take the Armenian side, the Jewish American lawyer is fully aware of the connections to the holocaust, while the American chairperson is busy keeping things from getting too far out of hand. We imagine reporters being in the audience and taking photographs with annoying flash lights. The chairwoman is also being considered for a cabinet position in the US government and finds herself threatened by the Turkish General, or should I say, "reminded" by the General, that doing the right thing by Turkey would surely please the US President and bolster her chances of getting the cabinet post... This type of open threat and strong-arming is common in the middle east but should appear shocking, when so plainly exposed stateside.
The ten commandments of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 as articulated in the Armenian Question are:
    Shut down all Armenian organizations, march members into the countryside and wipe them out on the road.
  1. Collect all arms.
  2. Use muslim populations to provoke organized massacres by civilians, especially where there has been revolutionary activity such as Van.
  3. Use military forces ostensibly to protect the Armenians but in reality to assist the populace in the execution of the massacres.
  4. Exterminate all males under the age of 50, priests and teachers, leave girls to be...
  5. Isolate all families and cut them off from all food and water.
  6. Expel and execute all Armenians who hold governments posts.
  7. Kill all Armenian members of the Turkish military.
  8. All actions to begin everywhere simultaneously, leave no time for preparation of defensive measures.
  9. Treat these instructions with the greatest confidentiality and deny everything.
Here is the chilling telegram from the Minister of the interior of the Ottoman Empire, Talaat Pasha, as read out in the Armenian Question. Dated September 15, 1915, to the governor of Aleppo: "It was first communicated to you that the Ottoman Government, by order of the Jemiet, has decided to destroy completely all Armenians living in Turkey. An end must be put to their existence, however criminal the measures taken may be. Those who oppose this order and decision cannot remain on the official staff of the Empire. And no regard must be paid to age or sex or to concientious scruple."
The Armenian Question, contains ample food for thought. Full commitment to the cause of human rights is needed and the willingness to direct considerable suspicion towards all acts of dehumanization and the baiting of whole races or ethnic groups as fall guys for the ills suddenly visiting the ruling classes anywhere. Otherwise, genocide will follow genocide and excuses to cover them up will be the cause of all nations and not just that of Turkey, its unrepentant current poster child.
Dr. Bedros Afeyan is a theoretical physicist who works and lives in the Bay area with his wife, Marine. He writes in Armenian and in English and also paints and sculpts. Samples of his work can be found on his personal web pages at:
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