1 – The Book of Whispers
Varujan Vosganian is a Romanian politician, economist, essayist and poet. A member of the National Liberal Party, Vosganian was Romania’s Minister of Economy and Commerce in the Tăriceanu cabinet.
In 1990, he became president of the Armenians’ Union of Romania and he was twice (1990-1992 and 1992-1996) elected a member of the Chamber of Deputies, and twice a Senator (1996-2000 and 2004-2008), on the lists of the National Liberal Party.
Between 1996 and 2003, he was the leader of Uniunea Forţelor de Dreapta, a small right wing liberal party, which was eventually merged into the National Liberal Party.
Vosganian has written several books, especially on economics and politics, but also fiction and poetry. He is a member of the Romanian Writers’ Union, and since 2005, he has served as its vice president. Vosganian is also a leading member of the Romanian Humorists’ Association.
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Varujan Vosganian “ The Book of Whispers”
“ Do not harm their women,’ said Armen Garo. ‘And nor the children.’
One by one, all the members of the Special Mission gathered at the offices of the Djagadamard newspaper in Constantinople. They had been selected with care. The group had been whittled down to those who had taken part in such operations before, working either alone or in ambush parties.
‘I trust only a man who has killed before,’ Armen Garo had declared. They were given photographs of those they were to seek out, wherever they were hiding. Their hiding places might be anywhere, from Berlin or Rome to the steppes of Central Asia. Broad-shouldered, bull-necked Talaat Pasha, the Minister of the Interior, was a brawny man, whose head, with its square chin and jaws that could rip asunder, was more like an extension of his powerful chest. In the lower part of the photograph, his fists, twice the size of a normal man’s, betokened pugnacity. Beside him, fragile, her features delicate, his wife wore a white dress and a lace cap in the European style, so very different from the pasha’s fez. Then there was Enver, a short man made taller by his boot heels. He had haughty eyes and slender fingers that preened the points of his moustache.
He was proud of his army commander’s braids, which, cascading luxuriantly from his shoulders and covering his narrow chest, sought todisguise the humble beginnings of a son whose mother, in order to raise him, had plied one of the most despised trades in all the Empire: she had washed the bodies of the dead. In one of the photographs, his thin, possessive, but nonetheless timid arm encircles the delicate waist of his wife, Nadjeh, a princess of the imperial harem, and therefore a daughter of the sultan. And in another photograph, Enver, the son of the woman who washed the dead, the son-in-law of the sultan, strains to look lofty, his face set rigid, between portraits of his idols, Napoleon and Frederick the Great. Then there was Djemal Pasha, the Lepidus of that martial triumvirate.
Ordinary in appearance, if he had not worn the epaulettes of a minister of the navy, he would have gone completely unnoticed, although he made painful efforts to match the brutality of Talaat and the haughtiness of Enver. Then there were Dr Nazîm and Behaeddin Shakir, the ideologues of the Union and Progress Party, who had come up with the idea of releasing criminals from the prisons. Enrolled in armed units, the criminals were to guard the caravans of Armenians and slaughter them at the crossroads. We do not know how beautiful their wives were: they were plump and had black hair, but their features are hard to make out, since the only photographs we have of them are from their youth and show them with veiled faces, weeping by the coffins of their husbands, after the avengers had completed their mission. And the others, Djemal Azmi, prefect of Trebizond, Bahbud Khan Djivanșir . . . Armen Garo picked up the photographs of Talaat and Enver, pictured with their wives. He looked at each of his men in turn: Solomon Tehlirian, Aram Yerkanian, Arshavir Shiragian, Hrach Papazian, Misak Torlakian.
‘Do not kill the women,’ he repeated. ‘And nor their children.’
The date when that meeting took place is of no importance to us. The Book of Whispers is not a history book, but one of states of conscience. This is why it becomes pellucid and its pages are transparent. It is true that in The Book of Whispers there are many precise dates, which specify the very day, hour and place. The pen moves swiftly, but sometimes it decides to linger, waiting for the reader and me to catch up, and then perhaps it goes into greater detail than necessary. Each additional word illumines, but precisely for that reason it diminishes.
And so even if we were to strike from it each list of years and each tally of days, The Book of Whispers would still preserve all its meanings. Such things have always happened to people everywhere. In fact, at its core The Book of Whispers remains the same for all time, like a chorale by Johann Sebastian Bach, like a narrow gate through which people pass, stooping or huddling close to each other.
‘Above all else, they killed our poet,’ said Shavarsh Misakian.
The newspaper offices had escaped the disaster as if by miracle. In any event, after the slaughter that began on 24 April 1915, when hundreds of intellectuals were arrested and the greater part of them slain, all the capital’s Armenians had taken it to be a miracle when the deportation order was rescinded. They had been about to share the fate of the other Armenian communities, driven from their homes and plundered of everything they owned, although their lot would have been harder, for unlike the Armenians of Van, Sivas and Adana, their caravans would have had to traverse the whole of the Anatolian plateau on their way to the deserts of Syria, where, unless they were massacred by the gangs of armed criminals or the bands of nomads, they would have died of hunger and cold amid the expanses of makeshift tents, in the desert where the scorching heat of the days and the freezing cold of the nights claimed their equal share of victims.
Outlawed in 1915, the central press organ of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, named Azadamard at the time, re-appeared in 1918 under a new name, albeit one that evoked the first: Djagadamard. Shavarsh Misakian was the editor-in-chief at the time; he had returned to take up his old job. He sat in a corner. He was not a member of the Special Mission, but he had the authority that Armen Garo and Shahan Natali needed, an authority lent not by his stature, but rather, with his drooping left shoulder and crooked head, precisely by his lack of grandeur. It was his infirmity that made him imposing, because it reminded others of the stubbornness with which he had endured torture in the military prison where he had been taken in March 1916 and where, a few months later, he had torn himself from the hands of his tormenters and hurled himself from the third floor into the courtyard below. He had survived his serious injuries and was released on 27 November 1918, when the capital was occupied by troops. But his broken body had taken upon itself the crookedness of the world, a reminder to all that he had been delivered from the fear of death.
Their enemies knew that in order to annihilate them as a people, they would have to kill their poet without fail. To an oppressed and threatened people, the Poet becomes the leader. Daniel Varujan had been arrested along with the other intellectuals on 24 April 1915. He was tied to a tree and stoned to death, then left to the scavenging animals and the phantoms of the night. Legends tell that he is alive still. During the burning of Smyrna some told that for an instant they had glimpsed his face in the burning mirrors. The only thing that we can prove from these legends of the resurrection of Daniel Varujan is that although we know the site of his passion, bound to the trunk of a tree, to a living cross, we do not know in what place his grave might lie. As we have proof of his death and even know the name of his executioner—Oguz Bey, captain of the Ceanguiri—but have no knowledge of his grave, we may be tempted by the thought of his resurrection.
(Chapter seven/ Translation: Alistair lan Blyth)