We know Eric Bogosian from television and films, as an actor and a writer of plays and scripts. His writing for theater and television demonstrates an acute sense of contemporary culture. Operation Nemesis makes obvious that Bogosian is also a researcher and historian who brings the eye of a dramatist to the writing of history.
Operation Nemesis tells the story of the Armenians who sought to avenge the deaths of family and friends during the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire. To understand this conspiracy one must know the background of the Genocide. Bogosian offers a broad portrait of the development of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. He describes the pogroms and genocidal efforts to rid the Empire of Armenians prior to 1915 and then details the genocide that began 24 April 1915 with the arrests of Armenian leaders. Soldiers forced Armenians from cities and villages to go, under guard, to the deserts. Men were killed. Women were raped. Children died.
Bogosian quotes a notice given Armenians in one village:
Leave all your belongings—your furniture, your beddings, your artifacts. Close your shops and businesses with everything inside. Your doors will be sealed with special stamps. On your return, you will get everything you left behind. (p. 74)
Of course, they did not return and their belongings became the property of the state and of those who looted these Armenian properties. The government confiscated churches and turned them into mosques or prisons. An Armenian cemetery became Taksim Square in Istanbul. Genocide aims not only to eliminate people, but also to eliminate all traces of a particular culture.
Today with digital communication, we marvel that such events happened; however these efforts at genocide continue throughout our world.
We meet Soghomon Tehlirian, the man who assassinated Talat Pasha, and other members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Tashnagtsutiun or Tashnags). We learn of the international conspiracy financed primarily in the United States and with actions taking place in Germany, Italy, Turkey, and elsewhere. Bogosian also helpfully writes of the consequences of the Genocide for Armenians and for the United States, including the politics of genocide denial.
Bogosian details an attempt to film The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Published in 1933, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh focused on an Armenian village that resisted the Turkish military. Franz Werfel based this novel on the experience of a village on the Mediterranean coast. Because of the book’s international success, Louis B. Mayer of MGM bought film rights. Bogosian tells how the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America through its Hays Office, which censored or approved films, blocked the making of that film, a decision made as a result of pressure from the US Secretary of State Cordell Hull following pressure from the government of Turkey. The State Department maintains its official stance of denying recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
Operation Nemesis includes a short glossary, an index, and other reference aids. The book may be difficult for some readers because Bogosian does not turn away from the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide. As one whose relatives died during the Genocide, the familiar stories remain unsettling. Bogosian’s work contributes to our need to remember that Genocide and its continued impact on people and nations. For this I give thanks.
Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot That Avenged the Armenian Genocide, by Eric Bogosian. Little, Brown and Company