Shahkeh Yaylaian Setian’s New Book Illuminates the Dynamics of Genocide

In her first book, “Humanity in the Midst of Inhumanity”, author Shahkeh Yaylaian Setian suggests that in addition to the Armenian Genocide, the Jewish Holocaust and subsequent genocides, these tragic events should be forever remembered in the annals of history.

Despite this dark period, we can be inspired in knowing that one can still find “Humanity in the Midst of Inhumanity.” As the daughter of Armenian Genocide survivors, Setian feels the need to record the stories of brave Muslims who saved Armenians during the 1915 Armenian Genocide and she shares them in her new book.

While growing up, she did not viscerally understand her connection with the catastrophe of the Genocide because her parents did not talk about the Genocide in her younger years. The Genocide was an accepted part of who they were as Armenians. She scoured books and articles about Genocide hoping some clarity would emerge from the research and writings by scholars. Later, her mother and her peers began to share with Setian some glimpses of the extent of their suffering and grieving for their loved ones and others lost in the Genocide. Thus, the real understanding of Genocide began with the ability to integrate the happening of the Genocide with the core of her identity.

The Genocide and subsequent events are prelude to the passion that Armenians feel to preserve the culture that the Ottoman Turk tried to wipe off of the face of the earth in their goal of Turkification. (Turkification, Turkey only for Turks.) Assyrians, Greeks, and Jews were also targets in the net of destruction. Woven throughout Armenian history from its birth as a nation in ancient times to its struggles for growth and survival to its demise and to its rebirth as the modern Republic of Armenian in 1991, a story is told that personifies love of country, love of land and love of one’s culture.

“Humanity in the Midst of Inhumanity” features many stories about missionaries, other organizations, Muslims and other individuals who came to the aid of the suffering Armenians which illustrates the many faces of humanity. Despite the threat by the government that anyone who helped an Armenian would have their house burned down, their family killed in front of them, and then he/she would killed, brave Muslims acted out of their humanity. Lives were saved, but a country was lost.

Humanitarian aid continued in ensuing years. Setian sheds light on how Armenians in America reconstructed their shattered lives in the face of prejudice and discrimination. She describes the after effects of the Armenian Genocide in its manifestations on individual lives, the Armenian community, and the political structures and actions of world powers, especially in America. She also explains the predicament of Armenians living in Turkey today.

Setian describes the geo-political issues of the Genocide times and other issues of interest with commentary, such as the betrayal of Armenians in the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty which did not mention Armenia nor the Armenian massacres. The omission of fairly settling the Armenian issue was in order for allies to control the oil wealth in the region. “He who owns the oil will rule the world.” (M. Henry Berenger, French senate, 12-12-1919).

She graphically describes the vicious treatment of victims in order to convey the horrors committed by out of control citizens and instigated and committed by government officials that seared the atmosphere. And to illustrate that those who were tortured and murdered were not simply numbers reported in statistics, but were living, breathing children, women and men. Sadly, it also illustrates the inhumanity of man. Inhumanity became the perverted norm.

Setian explains Turkey’s multi-million dollar lobbying efforts to this day to deny the Genocide. Historian Eli Weisel calls denial, “a second death.” Two trips to to historic Armenia (today’s Turkey), the cemetery of Genocide victims, created a passion that called for justice. She was able to see that the Turkish government had relentlessly tried to eradicate all evidence of the presence of historic Armenia on the land.

The Blue Ink Review describes her book as an eloquent “cri de coeur” by a writer, teacher, humanitarian activist whose parents survived the infamous Armenian Genocide…. Setian not only provides detailed and cultural background but harrowing personal testimony from survivors (via 16 of their descendants) who were saved by sympathetic Muslims at the risk of their own lives.

The voices Setian has gathered vary in pitch but unite in remembrance. Glendale, California’s Haroot Pushian tells us how his then teenaged father, the only survivor in a family of nine, swam across the Euphrates River to Iraq, was adopted by a Muslim family and later thrived in Baghdad. We learn of a woman who fled for weeks carrying her crippled son on her back. The author relates the day soldiers herded her father, Mourad Yaylaian and the other Armenians in the village into their churchyard—and promptly shot Mourad’s fiancée to death before his eyes. He was spared when a Turkish farmer said he “looked like a strong boy” and took him off to the fields where he severely abused him. [Author’s note: her father escaped after a year and worked for a friendly Turkish family on their farm. He called one of the women in the family, “Aunt”.]

Setian hopes this moving book will illuminate “the dynamics… of ethnic conflict and genocide” and, in the wake of 9/11, “mitigate the prejudice against innocent Muslims” around the world. She’s done her part.

About the Author

The daughter of Genocide survivors, Dr. Setian has three children and five grandchildren and lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She is sensitive to injustice and human rights and is dedicated to helping create a just and peaceful world. She lived for a year, travelling alone, without guarantee for living quarters, as an independent volunteer in solidarity with the people that she wanted to help and whom she came to love in Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh), a country that was recovering from the little known war and attempted ethnic cleansing against the citizens of the Armenian enclave by neighboring Azerbaijan, a Turkish co-hort.

She taught at Springfield College, Massachusetts, Cape Cod Community College, and Artsakh State University, and has facilitated workshops and presented talks about Genocide, Injustice, and Values. She has earned awards for short stories, has had several articles published, including photo journalist newspaper articles, and co-edited two volumes for the Values Realization Institute.

Dr. Setian earned a doctorate in Education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and completed an intensive course in Armenian History and Language in Venice, Italy at Universita` degli Studi Ca` Foscari di Venezia.

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