I first became aware of Armenia in 1988. I was working for the Australian Red Cross at the time the massive earthquake decimated the population, killing 25 000 and destroying the homes of half a million people. But even then, I was not really cognizant of Armenian history, specifically the genocide of 1915 which resulted in the deaths of one and a half million people, and the creation of hundreds of thousands of stateless refugees. In response to this horrific event (the precursor to the Holocaust of World War Two), a series of international terrorist attacks occurred around the world, including Australia, up until the 1990’s. In December 1980, the Turkish consul-general to Sydney and his bodyguard were assassinated in upmarket Vaucluse. Armenian culture has a rich history and a bloody past littered with conflict and disaster – why then, do we know so little about it?
Author Ashley Kalagian Blunt’s great-grandparents were among those refugees and the author has spent over a decade researching and writing the history of her family and Armenian society, asking questions and looking for answers. When faced with the accepted version of that history, she dug deeper, searching for the truth hidden behind the propaganda. What she found both challenged and confronted her.
Kalagian Blunt’s book is a slim volume containing a novella, a collection of three essays and some arresting black and white photographs. A finalist in the 2018 Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award, and now published through a small press, My Name is Revenge (Spineless Wonders Short Australian Stories 2019) is a fine example of what can be achieved by combining history with fiction, how we can examine the reality of the past through the prism of imagination, and how important it is that the history of all participants is recorded, not only the dominant narrative.
Kalagian Blunt believes she has some ‘essential Armenianness inside me, a few drops of pomegranate juice in my veins’. Her novella is a clever reimagining of the 1980 assassination (the actual killers were never caught) but viewed from the perspective of those committing the crime, through the compassionate lens of desperate people who have suffered oppression for too long. But it is a balanced story, allowing the reader the freedom to sympathise with both sides, and to ponder the real question of how far back the spark of violence is ignited, and how far forward the long arm of revenge can reach.
Her three companion essays speak candidly of her family, her history, her travels through Armenia, and the unsettling emotions she experiences when she discovers that conflict is often two sides of the same coin. She investigates the Armenian genocide in the cultural and historical context of other terrible events in world history and tries to comprehend how displaced and abused communities can recover and even flourish in modern times, despite the horror they have survived.
The story alone is a fine novella, but combined with the well-researched and documented essays, this book is a perfect package of fact and fiction. This is a must-read for students, particularly those interested in the examination of genocide or ethnic cleansing, but is also an informative – but easy to read – book about our communal past and how it influences – still – our present society.