Black Dog of Fate: An American Son Uncovers His Armenian Past– Peter Balakian

Black Dog of Fate was one of the first books I added to my book list when I started searching for this blog. It had great reviews, popped up frequently, and sounded enticing. I was thrilled when I got it as a birthday book from my momma a few months back, especially since it’s a country I know very little about. To be honest, I didn’t really know anything about the Armenian genocide until the Kardashians were bringing attention to it on Instagram. Additionally, two people I interact with regularly have Armenian backgrounds, yet neither knew too much about this horrific event.  

Peter Balakian is an Armenian-American who decides to dig deeper into his cultural past, especially what his family went through. The book focuses on different time periods in his life and the people who most closely epitomize that period. 

It begins with his Balakian’s grandmother and some of her Armenian quirks he didn’t fully understand. He then moves onto his parents, and relates some of the differences they had growing up to deeper cultural norms. The next phase is his where he discovers poetry and Armenian history, which almost feels like simultaneous. Lastly, he visits Syria in a newer edition of the book to see where his family fled and part of the death march route. odd ways back to and then him growing up being involved in poetry and how he connected that with his heritage. The book literally ends with Balakian in the Syrian desert sifting through the sand and finding bones. 

I just want to take a moment to discuss something else I learned from this book, and that is that the Turks were also massacring Greeks too. I knew there was tense relations between Greece and Turkey but I thought it was mostly over land. I am further shocked and horrified to hear of the mass killings of Greeks by Turkey. This hits home even more so for me coming from a Greek family and recently traveling to the beautiful country. 

Would I recommend this book? Yes, definitely. Does this book make me want to travel to Armenia? Although the book doesn’t actually take place in Armenia, I definitely think an opportunity to go to Armenia would be an amazing experience. I’d really like to learn more about this tragic and under spoken historical event. 

While reading this book, different themes and ideas kept popping up that really got my brain working in overtime. I’d like to do something different with this post and discuss some of these themes that really tested my brain.

Do “deniers” really deny?

One of the most shocking things I learned while reading Black Dog of Fate is how Turkey continuously denies their horrific treatment of the Armenians in 1915. Even to this day, the Turkish government denies their actions and says any treatment (which was not an attempted genocide) was in retaliation to Armenian’s harsh treatment of the Turks. At first I was shocked a whole nation denies their government’s events. But then I realized most people wouldn’t no different if they’ve always been told one thing by their government. If that’s what you learn, then that’s what you know. I’m not sure that makes you a “denier” but instead miseducated? I feel bad for those people, but utterly detest those who know the truth but instead attempt to cover it up. Then my mind went a step further. Do we deny anything as Americans? Are we miseducated by our government? And if so, what are we miseducated on? I’ve had this conversation with a few of my colleagues. (Who might I add are all highly educated.) With their help, I came to one possible conclusion and that is that we might follow our government blindly when it comes to International Affairs always believing we made the right decision. I think this is fed by the belief by many that the United States is perfect. But, the US isn’t perfect. No country is perfect. I like to hope we are the best, but being the best doesn’t mean you cannot get better. So, be better USA.

Where is the US Government’s Loyalty?

Alright, let me just continue on my criticism of the United States. The US hasn’t openly commemorated, condemned, or officially acknowledged the Armenian Genocide. Yes, “what the fuck” was my thought too. The answer for this absurdity in most simple terms is because every time an opportunity for this arises, Turkey blackmails us into not doing whatever it is. For example, Turkey threatened to close US military bases when the first genocide resolution came before Congress in 1984 and therefore it didn’t pass. This behavior has continued up until today. Even former President Obama promised failed to keep his campaign promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide. For me, all of this behavior makes the United States look weak. Are we beholden to other entities instead of to ideas of good, truth, and equality? All things that should be associated with democracy and our constitution. Again, be better USA.

The Soviet Union is everywhere!

Once again, the Soviet Union’s presence plays a key role in current affairs. It feels like the Soviet Union was everywhere. (Yes, I sound like I am buying into McCarthyism.) It just feels like so many of the books I’ve read have some direct relation to the Soviet Union. I guess the mess the Cold War had on our world really is incomprehensible. I need to find a book that talks about the Soviet Union in lamen’s terms. (On a related note, it sometimes feels like the Ancient Romans and Greeks were also everywhere.)

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