Issue 27’s Review
Review by Jemimah Halbert Brewster (this review can also be read in the Underground zine, issue 27: Case)
Ashley Kalagian Blunt’s work My Name is Revenge is a novella just over fifty pages in length followed by three essays: Writing Violence, Arousing Curiosity; The Crime of Crimes; and Life After Genocide. The novella is the story of Vrezh (literally meaning ‘revenge’ in Armenian), a student living with his family in Sydney in the 1980s. The story opens with the assassination of a Turkish diplomat in Sydney, a true crime that has never been solved, and the rest of the novella follows the actions Vrezh takes after the assassination. Vrezh and his family – his older brother Armen, mother and father, and paternal grandfather Arshag – came to Sydney as refugees when Vrezh was a child, and throughout the story there are stark reminders of the conflict that displaced them. A common occurrence through the story is of Vrezh and his mother taking turns to sleep on the old sofa outside Arshag’s room, who often wakes in the night screaming that the Turks are coming to get him. As he ages Arshag finds it difficult to distinguish his present life with the night his village was invaded by Turkish soldiers, forcing everyone with whips to walk into the desert and killing anyone who fell behind, including his mother and younger brother. This is the history of violence and displacement that Vrezh wishes to avenge when he starts helping his older brother on a mysterious mission out in the bush. His conviction begins to unravel when he is confronted with the seriousness of their work, and the thought that bystanders might get hurt, not just the object of their anger.
Blunt weaves a narrative in fifty pages that captures everything from the generational trauma of genocide and displacement, to the oppressive heat of the NSW bush, to the indifference of the Australians that the family encounter in their everyday lives, many of whom have no way of understanding what Vrezh’s family has been through. The story itself is an excellent piece of writing, and the essays that follow take further the issues and history that Blunt explores in the novella. For example, in The Crimes of Crimes Blunt details her research into genocide generally and the Armenian genocide specifically. Its comparative anonymity when compared to the Jewish Holocaust is remarkable. However, ‘the most direct link between the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust was drawn by Adolf Hitler himself. In 1939, days before the invasion of Poland, the Nazi leader said in a speech to an assembly of his generals: “Who after all speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”’ (page 97).
Most Australians today have not heard of the Armenian genocide, and this is partly through the efforts of the Turkish government that formed after WWI actively suppressing its history and their involvement, often described as the final stage of genocide. This event, however, is intricately linked to Australian history. The Armenian genocide began on the 24th of April, 1915. It is not a coincidence that this is the day before Anzac day; the Ottoman government knew that British forces (i.e. the Anzacs) would soon be invading them. So they put into action their plan to exterminate the Armenian population that they saw as the cause of their crumbling empire. During the Gallipoli offensive many Anzac POWs were held in confiscated Armenian churches while Armenians were being forced out of their homes nearby. Some Armenians were rescued by Anzac diggers, and their stories are in war diaries and documents at the Australian War Memorial. They are now collected in a book published in 2016 by Vicken Babkenian, Australia, Armenia and the Great War. This is the research that Blunt has spent years collecting, analysing and processing, and it is remarkable that such a short work can capture so much history, trauma and injustice.
In light of all this, Blunt’s novella is extremely important, and I have found myself referring to it no less than three times since I read it a month ago, in conversations about the world as we know it and how it got to be this way. I would recommend this work to anyone who wants to know more about this history, what happened and how, and to those who want to understand the psychological effects of denying atrocious events and what that can do to a person, a family, a nation. This is something we in Australia have a particular responsibility to learn about and take on board, and reading this work is another valuable way of achieving that understanding.