Monday, April 18, 2005


A novelist of the Armenian holocaust

The German magazine Spiegel has published an interview with author Edgar Hilsenrath, a survivor of the Jewish holocaust. Though he has sold over 5 million books, he is relatively unknown. As he says in the interview, "Fame and me just don't go together."

Perhaps one of the reasons for his lack of fame—or notoriety—is that his novels take a darkly comic tone.

The occasion for the interview was the republication of his 1989 novel based on the Armenian holocaust—The Story of the Last Thought. Hilsenrath refuses to reserve the term "holocaust" for the Jews.

Here is that portion of the interview dealing with the Armenians, whom he calls "the Jews of the Ottoman Empire"—

SPIEGEL: In the coming days, your novel "The Story of the Last Thought" is reappearing as part of your annotated complete works. In it, you deal with the genocide against the Armenians, a topic that is now, 90 years after it occurred, suddenly attracting attention again. Would you write the book today just as you did in 1989?

Hilsenrath: Yes I would. I even think it's my best novel. The "Story" is pure poetry. The entire book is poetry filled with black humor.

SPIEGEL: Did the distance help -- in that this time you weren't writing about your own history?

Hilsenrath: The Armenian genocide was also a Holocaust, but it wasn't my Holocaust. To be honest, when I began the book, I didn't want to write yet another Holocaust book. But then I stumbled across the Armenians. I found original sources and even traveled to San Francisco for research purposes. I've even been made a member -- honorary of course -- of the Armenian Writers Association.

SPIEGEL: The Armenian genocide is not nearly as present in the popular conscience as the Holocaust...

Hilsenrath: One could say not at all.

SPIEGEL: Can one risk a comparison between the two slaughters?

Hilsenrath: The Armenians were the Jews of the Ottoman Empire, although there were also Jews living there -- but the Armenians were considered a cursed race and were seen as businesspeople and as greedy. Which wasn't true; most of the Armenians were farmers.

SPIEGEL: For a genocide to take place, both victims and perpetrators are required.

Hilsenrath: But the Turks have completely repressed this chapter of their history. It is forbidden; they aren't even allowed to mention it -- probably out of fear that the Armenians would then demand reparations.

SPIEGEL: Under these conditions, can you imagine Turkey becoming part of the European Union?

Hilsenrath: I have to admit that I'm kind of afraid of Islam. On the other hand though, maybe it would also be a chance for Turkey to exert a positive influence on the rest of the Islamic world.

Related post
The magic word: Genocide (9/13/04)
Insurer pays Armenians—90 years later (1/27/05)
German state cooperates with Turkey to deny Armenian genocide (1/1/05)

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