Operation Nemesis: A Story of Genocide and Revenge (2015)
Josh Blaylock, writer
Hoyt Silva, artist
David H. Krikorian & Thomas S. Dardarian, producers
Greg & Fake Studio, colorists
Devil’s Due Entertainment
Trade paperback, 144 page
It’s an event you probably never studied in school, a part of history that few people talk about or even know of unless it affected them personally. And although this event occurred 100 years ago this month, those responsible for it and their descendants continue to deny it ever happened.
Beginning in 1915 and lasting for several years, Talaat Pahsa, the Interior Minister of the Turkish Ottoman Empire ordered the slaughter of all the Armenian people within the borders of Turkey, totaling 1,500,000 men, women and children. One of those murdered was the mother of a student named Saghoman Tehlirian.
Tehlirian is haunted by a vision of his mother, urging him to avenge her and all the Armenian people who were massacred by Pahsa. Soon, Tehlirian joins the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and volunteers to become a key figure in Operation Nemesis, a plot to assassinate Pahsa and all the other Turkish officials who ordered the Armenian Genocide.
Operation Nemesis is a brilliantly conceived and masterfully executed graphic novel covering a topic that could easily suffer from a presentation either too sentimental or too heavy-handed, yet the creators have clearly taken the time and effort to tell a wonderfully artistic tale that doesn’t shy away from the brutality of its subject matter. The book opens where most books would end, with Tehlirian assassinating Pahsa on the streets of Berlin in 1921. The rest of the story concerns how events from the past unfold while Tehlirian stands trial for the murder of the Turkish official.
We see several events leading up to Operation Nemesis: Pasha arrogantly tells Henry Morgenthau (American Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire) that the “Armenian radicals” with their “extremist Christian views” are threatening to undo all of Turkey’s progress and advancements. “They continually undermine the sovereignty of our nation, our safety,” says Pasha, “and I make no apologies for punishing those of them who do so.” We also hear courtroom testimony from people who know Tehlirian and see frightening scenes of killing and torture. This is not a book for the squeamish.
Interspersed between Tehlirian’s trial, testimonies and flashbacks, the creators have produced replicas of actual newspaper stories recounting the awful events, constantly reminding us not to forget that these events actually happened to real people.
One person who did not forget the Armenian Genocide was Adolph Hitler, who in 1943 famously said of the Nazi conquest of Poland, “…the aim of this war does not consist in reaching certain geographical lines… but in the enemies’ physical elimination… Who, after all, still speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Hoyt Silva’s art manages to avoid sensationalism while conveying the horror of death. In many cases, we see a person shot through the head while their eyes remain open, conveying the idea that not only will we remember that last awful expression on that person’s face, but that for just a moment, the victim is consciously recording their final memory, a brutal, horrific one.
Much credit should also be given to the Greg & Fake Studio, colorists for the project. In several scenes, the dark shades and tones of the courtroom give us a sense of the darkness of this period of history. Even more effectively, the faces of the doctors and psychiatrists are frequently presented in shadows while the rest of their appearance is normal, as if the fate of Tehlirian rests behind murky black masks that refuse to be defined or illuminated.
If the graphic novel has any weakness, it comes from being rather text-heavy. Yet this is somewhat forgivable in that the creators are attempting to convey a period of history that may be largely unknown to the majority of its readers. Operation Nemesis is an extraordinary book that should be read by as wide an audience as possible. The creators have produced a work that is powerfully effective without sensationalism or sentimentality, which is no easy task.
Those who read the graphic novel may also be interested in reading the non-graphic novel historical account Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide by Eric Bogosian, which was released on the same day as the graphic novel.
*I must also point out that this title carries a personal connection with me. My wife’s mother is Armenian and in the past 20 years I have learned much from her family about the Armenian Genocide and the Armenian people. It is a frightening tale that evokes sadness, longing and often anger, made even more potent when considering that the Turkish government still refuses to acknowledge its role in the genocide.
(Photos: Devil’s Due Entertainment)