Bogosian Presents Operation Nemesis Book in Boston Area to Overflow Crowd

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From left, Aram Arkun, Raffi Arkun, Ruth Thomasian, Marc Mamigonian, and Eric Bogosian
From left, Aram Arkun, Raffi Arkun, Ruth Thomasian, Marc Mamigonian, and Eric Bogosian

SONY DSCBy Aram Arkun

Mirror-Spectator Staff

LEXINGTON, Mass. —  Actor, playwright and novelist Eric Bogosian spoke about his new book Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide to a standing room only crowd at the National Heritage Museum (Scottish Rite Masonic Museum) in Lexington, MA. Almost 400 people were in the audience, with dozens others arriving late (on “Armenian time”) and unable to enter the hall because of strict fire regulations. It was a hometown crowd for Bogosian, with family members including his mother in attendance.

The event was presented by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) with the cooperation and co-sponsorship of the Tekeyan Cultural Association, Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) New England District, AGBU-Young Professionals Boston, Armenian Cultural Foundation, Armenian Museum of America, Armenian Women’s Welfare Association, Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society, and Project Save Armenian Photograph Archives.

Master of ceremonies Marc Mamigonian began the event by introducing NAASR National Board of Directors Chairman Raffi P. Yeghiayan, who welcomed the audience and pointed out how happy he was that eight other Armenian organizations came together to sponsor the event both financially and through publicity. This cooperation contributed to the full house this evening.

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Mamigonian then introduced Bogosian with typical humor as the only NAASR member who has costarred with Steven Seagal. Of course he also noted that Bogosian was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his play “Talk Radio” and the recipient of the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear Award, as well as three Obie Awards and the Drama Desk. In addition to his celebrated work in the theater and on screen, Bogosian is the author of three novels.

Bogosian took the stage and said he began the Nemesis project in 2007 as a writer, not expecting that it would last some seven years. The purpose was to publicize a lesser known aspect of the Armenian Genocide, and to give a broad context to the Genocide and Operation Nemesis. He emphasized that he did not write as a scholar or historian, and his work will be an introduction to people who know very little about the subject.

He thanked people who supported him while preparing the book. He said, “I see this as a group effort,” and pointed out that the work of Marc Mamigonian and NAASR, Ruth Thomasian of Project Save, Ted Bogosian the documentary film maker, and Ara Ghazarians at the Armenian Cultural Foundation had to take place so that he in turn had resources to draw upon while researching his book. He singled out Aram Arkun as a scholar with whom he met for years for the translation of Soghomon Tehlirian’s memoirs and for a special “in-house on-going lecture” on topics connected to Nemesis. Arkun later provided some suggestions for various draft versions of the book, along with Mamigonian.

Bogosian read a few excerpts from his book. A bit surprised that the audience chortled when he said his grandfather had enjoined him as a 4-year-old to kill any Turk that he might encounter, he apologized to those who did not laugh, and tried to explain that perhaps the laughter was due to similar messages other Armenians may have received from their grandparents due to serious experiences.

He extremely rapidly charted the course of his life, moving from Armenian Watertown as a 7-year-old to a more American life in Woburn, another suburb north of Boston. Yet, as an American actor in ascendance, he refused suggestions to change his last name and appearance to be less Armenian-looking. He had promised his grandmother not to be like Joe Mannix (the famous role of Armenian-American actor Mike Connors, who changed his name from Krekor Ohanian), but it was hard, though today things have changed and ethnic names are more acceptable.

In the 1990s, several things rekindled Bogosian’s interest in things Armenian. Peter Balakian’s memoir, A Black Dog of Fate, “struck a chord within me,” and soon Bogosian was offered a role in Atom Egoyan’s film “Ararat.” Thirdly, watching scenes of “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia on television made Bogosian realize that this was a modern version of the events through which his ancestors suffered.

Bogosian happened to come across the story of Tehlirian’s assassination of Talat Pasha, and his court trial in Germany and acquittal. First he thought it was “some kind of Armenian pipedream” or fantasy, but soon he found out it was true. Bogosian thought this could make a great movie, and read through the trial. When he read Jacques Derogy’s book, Resistance and Revenge, he found out that the story was much more complicated than an individual’s act of vengeance.

In fact, there was a big network behind him that assassinated other major Ottoman leaders responsible for the genocide. Bogosian felt he needed to do much more reading, and decided to present the story in a factual and readable way to a broader audience. He enriched the story with sources that were not available in Derogy’s time, and this led Bogosian to some new speculation. For example, Bogosian feels that British intelligence was involved in Talat’s death.

Bogosian stressed the remarkable fact that many of the men involved in Operation Nemesis were otherwise seemingly ordinary men, living otherwise mundane lives. They did not have a powerful government helping them but were extremely motivated by the terrible weight of the Armenian Genocide.

Bogosian’s book includes a chapter on the Armenian Genocide in order to make clear the background of Operation Nemesis to a broad readership. Bogosian read a few excerpts from testimony of survivors collected by Dr. Verjine Svazlyan of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia.

Bogosian then turned to Tehlirian’s personal motivation to act, due to his experiences as a volunteer in the Russian army and the loss of his family in the Genocide. He was recruited as part of Operation Nemesis and brought to Germany, where he assassinated Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) leader Talat. Then several other CUP leaders were assassinated by other Armenians.

Bogosian closed by mentioning the effort by Kemalist Turkey to rewrite history. Part of this effort included writing out the Armenians from the history of their ancient homeland, and their erasure from Turkish state museums and textbooks, with the exception of a few hostile mentions. But, Bogosian felt, by now the Genocide is a recognized fact globally, so that these Turkish efforts at disinformation are in vain.

After the conclusion of his formal presentation, Bogosian answered a large number of audience questions. This section of the event was handled by Aram Arkun, executive director of the Tekeyan Cultural Association. Arkun thanked Bogosian for his years of research and writing, and pointed out that as Tekeyan was now being reanimated in the Boston area, those interested in future events like this, or with speakers like Peter Balakian, could send in their email addresses to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator for notices.

The questions, as usual for an Armenian event, covered a wide range of topics. For example, the first one was whether Bogosian has received death threats (the answer, fortunately, was no). In response to another, Bogosian explained the definition of genocide, and said if you care about what happened to the Armenians in 1915 you have to care about what is happening in places like Darfur today.

When he was asked what Armenians should do to promote their cause, Bogosian felt consolidation within the diaspora was important, and seemed to be happening more. He felt that it was enough to be willing to identify as Armenian to be able to be accepted as one.

Other topics included the situation of the Armenians in Syria, the role of Germans in the Armenian Genocide and future international legal efforts concerning the Armenian Genocide. On the latter issue, Bogosian said that there were a lot of avenues to pursue in court, and that “I wouldn’t mess with Armenians.”

He told another questioner that he had few direct encounters with Turkish denial during his book tours, but “I run into ignorance. I run into people who just don’t know the story.”

When asked what was the possibility of making his book into a movie now, Bogosian said there certainly was interest in it. At the end of the event, Bogosian signed copies of his books for audience members.

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