Books: The Genocide through Turkish Eyes


By Daphne Abeel
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

The Gendarme. By Mark T. Mustian G.P.
Putnam & Sons.. 2010. 294 pp. $25.95.
ISBN 978-0-399-15634-2

In his first novel, Mark Mustian has chosen to deal with the subject of the Armenian Genocide through the eyes of his Turkish protagonist, Emmet Conn (Ahmet Khan). Emmet is 92 when the reader meets him. The year is 1990, and his experiences as a gendarme in the Ottoman military are far behind him. Emmet has long been in the United States, married to an American wife, Carol, who was a nurse in the London hospital where he was sent after he was wounded in a violent incident in Aleppo.

He is the father of two daughters, Lissette and Violet, and has a grandson, Wilfred. Carol has died and he is an old man, dealing with terminal illness.

He has had total amnesia about the events of 1915, but he is troubled by disturbing and violent dreams regarding his role in the events of that time. He was assigned as a gendarme to shepherd a convoy of Armenians on their forced march from their homes to Aleppo, Syria.

While he is portrayed as somewhat sympathetic to the Armenians’ plight — he makes sure they have water and gives them frequent rest stops — he, nevertheless, is a witness to the brutal cruelties, killings and rapes, and continues to follow orders. While herding his convoy to Alepp, he is attracted to a young girl, Araxie, who is marked with a peculiar beauty — she has one light, and one dark eye. In one wild moment, he strips her of her clothing, thinking to rape her, but at the last moment, he draws back and becomes her protector.

The device of the novel is to alternate chapters between past and present. Mustian has done his research, as noted in the afterword, and his descriptions of the forced march, the condition of the Armenians, the barbaric behavior of the Turkish soldiers, is described in harrowing detail.

Once in Aleppo, the narrator and Araxie are separated. She manages to find a job in a hospital, and he goes to work in a brothel. Eventually, due to an injury, he is transported to a hospital in London, where he meets the American woman who becomes his life.

The strategy of the alternating chapters works reasonably well, but there are elements that strain credulity. When Emmet attacks a hospital attendant, hallucinating that he is Hussein, a fellow gendarme who hoped to gain Araxie’s favor, he is taken to a psychiatric hospital, from which he ultimately escapes. A friend who works for the FBI has managed to track down Araxie, who is now also in the United States and living on the West side in New York City.

It is difficult to believe that a 92-year-old-man who is stricken with a brain tumor can escape from a guarded hospital and drive hundreds of miles to once more connect with the woman, now 90 herself, who has entranced him for decades. And connect with her, he does, although not in the way the reader might expect. In the interest of not divulging the denouement, these details will not be revealed.

In his Author’s Note at the end of the novel, Mustian explains why he was moved to write this book. He notes that he knew little of his Armenian heritage until he read Peter Balakian’s Black Dog of Fate. He writes, “I learned then the awful fate of the Armenians at the beginning of World War I, and of those, including Peter’s grandmother, who survived the forced trek into Syria….I learned of the denial of the Turkish nation, and of the fact that to speak of the Armenian deaths as genocide remains a crime in Turkey to this day. Eventually, I hit upon the idea of writing a novel about the deportations, but approaching it from the point of view of one of the policemen, the gendarmes, who escorted these groups from the country. Several years later, The Gendarme was born.”

While not entirely successful, this is an interesting effort to view the Genocide from the point of view of a fictional Turkish character. Mustian is an attorney, author and city commissioner who lives in Tallahassee, Fla.