Comprehending Genocide

Journey through Genocide, by Raffy Boudjikanian, Dundurn, 192 pages, release date 15 May, 2018

The author of Journey through Genocide, Raffy Boudjikanian, is a product of genocide himself—from an Armenian family, some of whom were able to escape Turkey, most of whom were not, moving first to Iran, later to Canada. Given this history, he feels compelled to bear witness to contemporary genocides, as he works to understand his family’s experience.

Boudjikanian travels to Chad and Dafur, interviewing genocide survivors. He attempts to let them speak for themselves, including significant passages in their own words, which is a wise choice. He also reflects on the meaning of their experiences—what they tell us about the human capacity for evil, for survival, for simple decency, and for forgiveness.

On the heels of his African travels, he journeys to Turkey, seeking his family history. The official silencing of any discussion of the Armenian genocide makes this a difficult task, and Boudjikanian is on edge—with cause—as he digs through this obscured past.

My experience reading this book was mixed. I learned a good bit about events I’d only known of before in outline. Like Boudjikanian, I was particularly moved by the capacity for forgiveness he finds when genocide is discussed openly. However, because this book recounts a personal jounery, it is sometimes limited in what it can communicate, since we experience all it relates through Boudjikanian’s personal perspective. This is a book that will leave you wanting more, and that’s not a bad thing. The 20th Centuries genocides deserve a firmer, better-informed place in the public consciousness than they currently have.

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