My Name is Revenge. by Ashley Kalagian Blunt. Spineless Wonders, 2019. Pp 154. A$24.99
‘Who after all speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’– Adolf Hitler, 1939
Ashley Kalagian Blunt references the above quote many times in her innovative literary creation My Name is Revenge, and it is a quote that will stick in your mind long after you finish reading. The work is in two parts: a novella of fiction, followed by a series of three short essays detailing background and Kalagian Blunt’s own Armenian heritage.
Both sections begin with an event in Australian history decades in the making—the assassination of the Turkish consul-general and his bodyguard in Sydney on the morning of December 17, 1980. The assassination was part of a series of international terrorist attacks carried out by The Justice Commandoes of the Armenian Genocide between 1973 and 1990.
For many, the assassination is barely a memory. For many more, the memory of the motivation behind it will be non-existent. Yet Australia’s own history connects to these events. Kalagian Blunt outlines it for us:
The Armenian genocide began on 24 April 1915. That this is the day before Anzac Day isn’t a coincidence. The Ottoman government knew British forces were about to burst onto their shores, right near Constantinople, the capital. Feeling what historians have described as a ‘state of siege’, they decided to put into action the plans they’d laid to rid themselves of the Armenians. The Ottomans had come to see their Armenian citizens as an enemy, the reason their empire was crumbling. And so, during the long months of the Gallipoli offensive, some Anzac diggers were witness to the genocide.(p. 66)
In 1915, around 1.5 million Armenians were systematically and brutally targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government. Through her novella, Kalagian Blunt reminds us of a history many have repeatedly attempted to remove from the records. Set in Australia shortly after the assassination of the Turkish consul-general, My Name is Revenge introduces us to Vrehz. A young man in his early twenties and an Armenian by heritage, Vrehz is still attempting to come to terms with the intergenerational trauma that the events of 1915 have seeped into his family and cultural community. Living at home with his parents, older brother, and grandfather, Vrehz sees the devastation that the attempted genocide of his people has caused first hand. His family history is lost, and his grandfather, who is in the final stages of dementia, is forced to relive violent nightmares of the traumatic events he witnessed.
Following the news of the assassination, Vrehz, long suspicious that his brother, Armen, is involved with the Justice Commandoes, searches Armen’s room and finds the evidence he needs to confront him, and to force his own way into joining. It’s a pathway that demands more of him than he expects, ultimately leading into dangerous territory, and challenging every fibre of his moral code. Kalagian Blunt does a remarkable job of juxtaposing the two brothers—one, determined, willing and ferocious in his pursuit of justice; the other, naïve, good-hearted and conflicted. She wields a convincing portrayal of just how complex ‘radicalisation’ can be.
In her essays, Kalagian Blunt argues that it was important for her not to shy away from what the details of the attempted genocide involved. Equally, it was important to allow the reader to embrace the story without feeling assaulted by the brutal events. It’s a balance she achieves amazingly well, leaving the reader with the deep emotional pain of her people, yet prepared to continue reading.
Kalagian Blunt goes on to say that in her novella, she has attempted to explore Vrehz’s struggle “to reconstruct the Armenian cultural narrative in a way that, to his mind, achieves a sense of justice. He is working through the traumatic fragments of family memory in an attempt – however misguided – to develop a healthy relationship with the past.”
Through her essays, she provides not only historical and cultural context but reveals the deep pesonal connection to the story too. The trauma faced by Vrehzs’ grandfather is based on the real-life experience of her own great-grandfather, who suffered from terrible waking nightmares towards the end of his life. Scattered amongst her essays are photographs of her own visit to Armenia, and one can see that Vrehz’s narrative, of coming to terms with the past, is very much intertwined with hers. She finishes one of her essays with:
I will probably be writing about the Armenian genocide for the rest of my life, working to keep it alive in cultural memory, not only because it is part of my story, but because it is a part of everyone’s story.(p. 80)
My Name is Revenge is an exceptionally moving and informative collection of writing. More than its historical emphasis, it is a story of family, community, and the importance of telling the stories of those who have, and continue to be, denied a voice.
Elaine Mead is an educator, writer, and editor, currently based in Hobart, Tasmania. Since completing her degree in psychology she has been passionately fascinated by the different ways we learn – academically, socially and culturally – and how we utilise our experiences to become more authentic versions of ourselves. She is an avid reader and book reviewer, and you can find more of her work online at www.coffeeandbooks.co or follow her on Instagram @cestelaine.