Cover image for The burning Tigris : the Armenian genocide and America's response
The burning Tigris : the Armenian genocide and America's response
Balakian, Peter, 1951-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, [2003]

Physical Description:
xx, 475 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
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DS195.5 .B353 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Awarded the Raphael Lemkin Prize for the best scholarly book on genocide by the Institute for Genocide Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY Graduate Center.

In this groundbreaking history of the Armenian Genocide, the critically acclaimed author of the memoir Black Dog of Fate brings us a riveting narrative of the massacres of the Armenians in the 1890s and genocide in 1915 at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Using rarely seen archival documents and remarkable first-person accounts, Peter Balakian presents the chilling history of how the Young Turk government implemented the first modern genocide behind the cover of World War I. And in the telling, he also resurrects an extraordinary lost chapter of American history.

During the United States' ascension in the global arena at the turn of the twentieth century, America's humanitarian movement for Armenia was an important part of the rising nation's first epoch of internationalism. Intellectuals, politicians, diplomats, religious leaders, and ordinary citizens came together to try to save the Armenians. The Burning Tigris reconstructs this landmark American cause that was spearheaded by the passionate commitments and commentaries of a remarkable cast of public figures, including Julia Ward Howe, Clara Barton, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Alice Stone Blackwell, Stephen Crane, and Ezra Pound, as well as courageous missionaries, diplomats, and relief workers who recorded their eyewitness accounts and often risked their lives in the killing fields of Armenia.

The crisis of the "starving Armenians" was so embedded in American popular culture that, in an age when a loaf of bread cost a nickel, the American people sent more than $100 million in aid through the American Committee on Armenian Atrocities and its successor, Near East Relief. In 1915 alone, the New York Times published 145 articles about the Armenian Genocide.

Theodore Roosevelt called the extermination of the Armenians "the greatest crime of the war." But in the turmoil following World War I, it was a crime that went largely unpunished. In depicting the 1919 Ottoman court-martial trials, Balakian reveals the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide confessing their guilt -- an astonishing fact given the Turkish government's continued denial of the Genocide.

After World War I, U.S. oil interests in the Middle East steered America away from the course it had pursued for four decades. As Balakian eloquently points out, America's struggle between human rights and national self-interest -- a pattern that would be repeated again and again -- resonates powerfully today. In crucial ways, America's involvement with the Armenian Genocide is a paradigm for the modern age.

Author Notes

Peter Balakian was born in Teaneck, New Jersey on June 13, 1951. He received a B.A. from Bucknell University, a M.A. from New York University, and a Ph.D. in American civilization from Brown University. He has been an English professor at Colgate University since 1980. His collections of poetry including Father Fisheye, Sad Days of Light, Reply from Wilderness Island, Dyer's Thistle, June-Tree: New and Selected Poems 1974-2000, Ziggurat, and Ozone Journal, which won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. He has also written works of nonfiction including Theodore Roethke's Far Fields and The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response. His memoir, Black Dog of Fate, won the PEN/Albrand Prize for memoir.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Culminating in the organized murder of more than one million Armenians in 1915, the Armenian genocide was both a systematized continuation of violence begun in the nineteenth century and a chilling premonition of larger and more systematic European genocide to come. A detailed account of the hidden holocaust sewn together from archival research and the testimony of survivors, this selection also documents another tragedy: America's response to the crisis. In the 1890s, led by William Jennings Bryan and Theodore Roosevelt, among notable others, American Protestants felt a sympathy for the plight of their fellow Christians that was both heartfelt and fashionable. It was, argues Balakian, an inaugural moment for the American defense of international human rights. Yet political concerns kept Woodrow Wilson from declaring war on Turkey, and by the late twentieth century, moral clarity sadly erodes in the face of cold war necessity and oil-driven foreign policy. Even today, Turkey denies that a genocide ever took place. In this important book, Balakian proves adept at presenting both human horror and political tragedy. --Brendan Driscoll Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Now faded from memory in the shadow of the Holocaust, the Turkish slaughter of more than a million Armenians in 1915-1916 was a virtual template for the 20th-century horrors that followed, and much of what Balakian describes so powerfully is now chillingly familiar: inhuman brutality; mass deportations of helpless civilians (often in overcrowded railroad boxcars); headlines screaming of "systematic race extermination"; activists and intellectuals calling for intervention; and, most devastatingly, the lack of political will in the West to intervene to stop the slaughter. Balakian exposes the roots of the genocide in the "total war" atmosphere of WWI, which combusted with the pan-Turkish nationalism of the Young Turk government, inflamed Muslim rage against "infidel" Armenian Christians, and a long-simmering Ottoman hatred of the Armenians dating to Sultan Abdul Hamid II and his slaughters in the 1890s. Balakian, who wrote so movingly of the impact of the genocide on his own family in Black Dog of Fate, also underscores how well known the Armenian destruction was in America through detailed reports by U.S. consuls throughout Turkey and steady newspaper reporting, and how great the response was in providing humanitarian assistance to refugees and survivors. In a horrifying account, city by city, region by region, Balakian quotes firsthand testimony about the decimation of the Armenian population and their towns and culture. Yet he retains the measured tone of a historian throughout; if anything, he lets Woodrow Wilson off too easily for not declaring war on Turkey. But readers will come away sadly convinced that Armenians' brave but doomed stand in Van should be as celebrated as the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and the corpse-strewn Lake Gaeljak as well known as Babi Yar. 16 pages of b&w photos and maps not seen by PW. (Oct. 7) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Author of the award-winning Black Dog of Fate, Balakian explores America's efforts to save Armenians from genocide. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Burning Tigris, The The Armenian Genocide and America's Response Chapter One A Gathering at Faneuil Hall Ah, Mrs. Howe, you have given us a prose Battle Hymn. -- Frederick Greenhalge, governor of Massachusetts The light in New England in late fall is austere and clean and rinses the white steeples of Boston's Congregational and Unitarian churches, the red brick of the State House, and the gray stone of the Back Bay town houses. Even the gold dome on the white cupola of Faneuil Hall reflects its luster. It's November 26, 1894, the Monday before Thanksgiving, a windy and clear evening, as men and women file into Faneuil Hall from all over Boston and from the suburbs of Cambridge, Watertown, Winchester, and as far out as Quincy and Andover. They have come to this public meeting place near the harbor to talk about the most pressing international human rights issue of the day. Schooners and sloops and oyster scows make a grid of rigging that glows in the sunset. The sound of squawking gulls. Buckets of cod and haddock on the docks. The outline of the giant masts of the USS Constitution fading in the twilight of the Charlestown Naval Yard. Across the street the stalls of Quincy Market are closed, the awnings rolled up for the night. Faneuil Hall was known as the Cradle of Liberty because Samuel Adams and James Otis and the Sons of Liberty had met here in the decade before the American Revolution to form their opposition to the sugar tax, the stamp tax, and other forms of British oppression. The Boston Tea Party was conceived here. The space itself was made even more dramatic when the architect Charles Bulfinch redesigned it in 1805. Even after government by town meeting ended in Boston in 1822, the hall continued to be the main forum for political and social debate. Here in the 1840s William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, and Frederick Douglass gave some of their most important antislavery speeches to overflowing crowds. By 1873 women were speaking from the podium, and suffragists Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe were among the first to address the movement for woman suffrage on that stage beneath George A. Healy's dramatic painting of Daniel Webster exhorting, "Liberty and union, now and forever" on the Senate floor. In keeping with that spirit of reform, a group of prominent New Englanders filled Faneuil Hall on that blustery late-November evening. All that summer and fall, news of the massacres of the Armenians at the hands of the Turks in the Ottoman Empire reached Americans through news reports and bold headlines in the New York Times , the Washington Post , the Boston Globe , the Chicago Tribune , the San Francisco Chronicle , and in the nation's leading magazines -- The Nation , The Century , and Harper's . The news came from American missionaries who were teaching Christians at missionary colleges all across the Anatolian plain of central and eastern Turkey; it came from American and British diplomats stationed in the Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire, from European and American journalists, and from Armenian survivors and refugees. And recently it came by way of a new invention -- the wireless telegraph. The outrage over the Armenian massacres emerged in a culture that was just beginning to look outward to the international arena in which the United States would define a global identity in the coming decade. In the first years of the 1890s, there had been a near war with Chile over the killing of two American sailors in Valparaiso, and U.S. involvement in a border dispute between British Guiana and Venezuela that brought jingoism to a new level. Americans such as Theodore Roosevelt began to broadcast their feeling that the country needed a war. The question of annexing the Hawaiian Islands dominated a tug-of-war between the imperialists and anti-imperialists that lasted throughout the decade. Americans also expressed great sympathy for the Cubans in their struggle for independence from Spain. By 1895, when Cuban rebels rose up against the deplorable conditions to which they were subjected by their Spanish rulers, the Cuban crisis became a Western Hemisphere liberation cause for Americans. By 1898 the Cuban struggle would lead to the Spanish-American War -- the war that consummated the jingoist spirit and launched the United States as a colonial force in the world. With the defeat of Spain, in a war that lasted ten weeks and gave Cuba its independence, the United States acquired Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam, giving the nation a rising sense of global power. The 1890s were a transformative time for U.S. foreign policy -- a decade in which it would embrace imperialism and assert itself, at times, with a rhetoric of Protestant Anglo-Saxon superiority over the "backward" peoples of the world. The Armenian Question emerged, in some ways uniquely, as a humanitarian project at a time when imperialist designs were governing most American international interventions. Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the Turkish caliph, had begun to implement his solution to what was now internationally known as the Armenian Question. In short, the Armenian Question revolved around the issue of much-needed reform for the oppressed Armenians -- the largest Christian minority living under Ottoman Turkish rule in Anatolia. As the British journalist and longtime resident of Constantinople -- Sir Edwin Pears -- put it, all the Armenians "desired was security for life, honour, and property." But, the sultan's lifetime friend and confidant, the Hungarian scholar Arminius Vambery, wrote, the sultan had decided that the only way to eliminate the Armenian Question was to eliminate the Armenians themselves. The means would be government-sanctioned mass murder on a scale never before seen. The Turkish massacres of some fifteen thousand Bulgarians in 1876 (a response to the Bulgarian uprising for independence) had been an unprecedented act of state-sponsored mass murder that riveted Europe and the United States ... Burning Tigris, The The Armenian Genocide and America's Response . Copyright © by Peter Balakian. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response by Peter Balakian All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xiii
Part I The Emergence of International Human Rights in America: The Armenian Massacres in the 1890s
1. A Gathering at Faneuil Hallp. 3
2. "There in the Woods"p. 13
3. Yankees in Armeniap. 23
4. The Sultan and the Armenian Questionp. 35
5. Killing Fields: The Massacres of the 1890sp. 53
6. Humanity on Trial: Clara Barton and America's Mission to Armeniap. 63
7. Walking Skeletonsp. 81
8. "The Tears of Araxes": The Voice of the Woman's Journalp. 93
9. The Ottoman Bank Incident and the Aftermath of the Hamidian Massacresp. 103
10. "Our Boasted Civilization": Intellectuals, Popular Culture, and the Armenian Massacres of the 1890sp. 117
Part II The Turkish Road to Genocide
11. The Rise of the Young Turksp. 135
12. Adana, 1909: Counterrevolution and Massacrep. 145
13. The Balkan Wars and World War I: The Road to Genocidep. 159
14. Government-Planned Genocidep. 175
15. Van, Spring 1915p. 197
16. April 24p. 211
Part III American Witness
17. The Ambassador at the Crossroadsp. 219
18. The News from the American Consul in Harputp. 225
19. Land of Deadp. 241
20. From Jesse Jackson in Aleppop. 251
21. "Same Fate": Reports from All Over Turkeyp. 265
22. America's Golden Rule: Working for Armenia Againp. 277
Part IV The Failed Mission
23. Wilson's Quandaryp. 299
24. The Rise of a New Turkish Nationalism and the Campaign Against Armeniap. 319
25. Turkish Confessions: The Ottoman Courts-Martial, Constantinople, 1919-1920p. 331
26. The American Mandate for Armeniap. 349
27. The New U.S. Oil Policy in the Middle East and the Turnabout on the Armenian Questionp. 363
Epilogue: Turkish Denial of the Armenian Genocide and U.S. Complicityp. 373
Notesp. 393
Photograph and Map Acknowledgmentsp. 435
Glossaryp. 437
Selected Bibliographyp. 441
Acknowledgmentsp. 455
Indexp. 459
About the Authorp. 476