Canadian Play tells story of Armenian Genocide
Canadian Play tells story of Armenian Genocide –
A few weeks ago I saw Nameless, a mesmerizing one-act play performed at the Rotunda Theatre, on the Queen’s University campus. Written by Devon Jackson (pictured), a fourth-year student at Queen’s, it is a recounting, in some cases a re-enactment, of the atrocities committed by the Ottoman Turks against the Armenians 100 years ago. Nearly 1.5 million Armenians were exterminated between 1915 and the end of the First World War, a carefully planned and executed massacre that, in 1943, inspired Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin to coin the word “genocide” to describe what had happened.
Jackson wrote the play, he says, because he hadn’t heard of the Armenian Genocide until he stumbled upon the music of Zulal, a group of Armenian singers, and began reading about their background.
“Something in the women’s songs touched me,” he says, “and through writing I realized that the stories of the Armenian Genocide were human stories, part of our collective history as human beings.”
Few of Jackson’s contemporaries at Queen’s knew of the genocide, either, despite the fact that there are more than 50,000 Armenians living in Canada, most of them in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Some of Canada’s best-known cultural figures have been Armenian: the children’s singer Raffi; the photographer Yousef Karsh; filmmaker Atom Egoyan. Theatre critic and poet Keith Garebian, who has a PhD from Queen’s and whose father was Armenian, grew up not speaking Armenian and knowing little about his family’s history.
“I was exogenous to Armenia,” he writes in his memoir, Pain: Journeys Around my Parents, “having grown up ignorant of my father’s origins and language.”
In Nameless, stories of the genocide are told partly through the experiences of the four characters — like Zulal, all women, since few men survived the genocide — and partly through a kind of nonfiction narration of the massacre as an historical event. Tolstoy employs the same interplay of fiction and history in War and Peace; so does John Steinbeck in Grapes of Wrath. Jackson is in good company.