Ms. Sofia Kontogeorge Kostos, first of all congratulations on publishing your new book “Before the Silence”! We, at the Seyfo Center are very pleased and delighted about the publication of your new book. There are many books that have been published about the Genocide that was perpetrated against the Armenians, Assyrians and the Greeks by the Ottoman Empire commencing in 1914, but rarely the Assyrians and the Greeks are mentioned in these books. There was no discrimination when the Armenians, Assyrians and the Greeks were being slaughtered, so it is important to include all the 3 nations when we talk about the Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire. We are very pleased to see that your book mentions all of the 3 nations that were persecuted and slaughtered in the hands of the Ottoman Empire, and of the Young Turks Regime.
“Before the Silence” is not a new title. It was the title of one of your poems from the “Forgotten Genocides of the 20th Century” published in 2005. Why did you choose the same name for your book? Was the poem the motivation for writing the book?
Thank you for mentioning my poem, “Before the Silence” –– actually, my answer can be found in the first stanza of my poem:
Can an unknown tragedy be forgotten?
Lost in a maze of unknowing
Mistaken in the realm of forgot and forgotten
I hungered for answers
From books but they were stolen
I summoned Cleo, the muse of history
She fed me rare books and vintage news,
Revealing truths impossible to forget
When did you commence writing “Before the Silence” and how long did it take you?
Prior to 2003: I had been engaged in sending excerpts (via email) from archival books that had been written by unbiased eyewitnesses in Asia Minor (today Turkey). Namely, they were written by United States Government Officials, Missionaries, Medical Doctors, and others. I named that series of excerpts: “Voices of Truth.”
After 2003: Many of the eye-witness books, were no longer restricted by copyright laws. Therefore, many of the books were reprinted. That is about the time that I shifted my energies to the archival news reports.
On or about 2003, I had the good fortune to meet a great Armenian humanitarian, a man whose memory I will always cherish. He was DR. CHARLES N. MAHJOUBIAN, a retired dentist, a Bill of Rights activist, a community activist, and in his nineties at the time. He had escaped with his family from Konya, Turkey (located in the south central region of Turkey). Eventually they immigrated to the United States. When I expressed my interest in uncovering the facts of what happened in Turkey, “Sófia,” he said, “look for old newspapers because they reported the truth back then.” As my book illustrates, he was right.
It was about 8 years ago that I began to research for archival news reports. I then shared my findings with my email-list. At that time, I discovered a thirst for these eye-opening and heart-wrenching archival news reports. Some of my email recipients from around the world began to send me their personal email lists––asking me to add them to my mailings.
What was your motivation for writing “Before the Silence”?
It was an email that I received from one of my recipients, Dr. Dennis R. Papazian, the Founder and Director of the Armenian Studies Department at the University of Dearborn, Michigan. He turned the light bulb on in my head, when he asked, “Do you plan on writing a book?” I answered, “I am not ready, but will you be willing to add my work to your website?”
As soon as I prepared a substantial body of work, I then approached Dr. Papazian. By that time, unfortunately, he had retired from his position.
Soon after, a telephone call from Mr. Elias Neofytides, the Founder and Director of the Pan-Macedonian Society approached me with the same offer. That time, I answered, “Yes, but I must edit my work.” After I edited my work, unfortunately, Mr. Neofytides had retired from his position.
That is when the historian and doctoral candidate, Mr. Stavros Stavridis, from Melbourne University, spoke to his Assyrian Publisher at Gorgias Press, Dr. George Kiraz, on behalf of “Before the Silence.”
I would imagine writing about Genocide is quite difficult. How did you manage to write about such a horrific topic? What was your motivation and drive?
Yes, it was extremely difficult. There were times that I could not type because of my tear-filled eyes. I was motivated as one of the lines from my poem indicates:
I was 67 years of age, when first I learned about the Genocides of our peoples and was horrified at my self-imposed ignorance. My self-imposed ignorance was due to the fact that when I was a young mother, my wonderful neighbour, Mrs. Amalia Distenfeld, had told me the story of her and her husband Dr. Menachem Distenfeld’s survival under Hitler’s exterminations in Poland. As a good friend I listened attentively, but I no longer could listen to another such story.
While visiting Washington D.C., my husband and I learned about the 75th Anniversary of the Christian Holocaust. What I learned that day put fire in my belly. I was especially horrified to learn that the books written by the eye-witnesses were no longer available, stolen from libraries, and removed from store bookshelves. That knowledge gave me my determination.
As a film buff, I feel insulted that there are several hundreds of movies about the Jewish Holocaust and probably 20 films about the Christian Holocaust. Interestingly the film, “40 days of Musa Dagh” until recently could not be produced. More recently, in 2002, “Ararat” by Atom Egoyan was almost not produced.
Why is the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Genocide important to you?
In my heart and in my mind, I am not a regionalist. A Greek lady who learned that my family was not from Asia Minor, asked me, “Why are you so interested in Asia Minor?” My answer to her was pure and simple, “I don’t stop being Greek because my family is from Euboea, and because I was born in the United States.”
As soon as I learned that the Armenians, and Assyrians suffered the same sad fate as the Greeks–– I could not in good conscience separate them. This applies to the Greeks of Asia Minor whether they were from the Pontian Region, East or West they were all Greeks.
From this day forward: We would all do well by our people if we all would spell the word “Genocide(s)” with a capital “G.”
What is the message you are trying to convey to your readers in your book?
My book should cut through Turkey’s lies and deceptions. The very nature of the so-called “deportations” in reality were “death marches.” Death marches were part of the hidden agenda to exterminate all of the Christians and to make “Turkey for the Turks Only.” Turkey now boasts that they are 99% Moslem –– one need ask how did that happen?
We know you have co-authored a book which was a Poetry compilation titled “Forgotten Genocides of the 20th Century”. Have you published any other books besides your recent publication “Before the Silence”?
No I haven’t.
What other books about the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Genocide do you recommend to the readers?
Specifically, there are too many books to list by the many missionaries, medical doctors, diplomats, etc. who were serving the needs of specific peoples in Asia Minor.
In my book, Before the Silence; Archival News Reports of the Christian Holocaust That Begs to Be Remembered, I take great pride in recommending specific books by titles and authors. The eye-witnesses in Asia Minor were great writers as well. To my knowledge, the authors when referring to the Assyrians, wrongfully referred to them as “Syrians.”
It is my understanding that the Westerners when interviewing the Assyrians mistakenly described them as “Syrians.” The Westerners including the highly esteemed U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, confused the spoken language “Syriac” as being that of the “Syrians.”
Might I add: In the mid-70’s while living in Athens, Greece, I had the pleasure of meeting the first Assyrian I ever met. He was Valentine Lazar, an Assyrian pilot from British Airlines. I remember him for his extraordinary kindness and consideration.
Do you intend to write any more books?
I have two in the oven, and more poems as well.
What do you know about Seyfo Center and its activities?
I guess not as much as I should. I am aware of your Center through the Internet and from occasional emails that I receive. Incidentally, I believe that the Assyrian flag is the most beautiful flag I have ever seen.
Seyfo Center would like to thank you for taking the time and accepting to interview with us. Once again congratulations for your new publication of “Before the Silence”. We wish you every success with the book and hope to see more books from you in the near future.
Ms Sofia Kontogeorge Kostos’ book “Before the Silence” can be purchased from Gorgias Press