CounterPunch, the political newsletter published in the US, recently included an article (November 16-30, 2010; couldn’t find the article online at time of posting this) by Larry Portis about the short film, “Barking Island.” Portis describes how the film contrasts “aesthetic beauty” and the “horror it recounts.” The animated images produced by filmmaker Serge Avedikian, according to Portis, reveal “luminous depth of the colours, the invocations of oriental Constantinople and the ferocity of figures [are] sublimely, compellingly cruel.”
When I first watched Barking Island I was completely taken in by the world Avedikian creates; however, as the true story unfolds the ultimate horror of its outcome is only revealed with further understanding of why the film was made.
At some point, it was suggested that the animals be simply rounded up and transported to a desert island in the Bosporus. It would be an open-air dog pound where, eventually, about 30,000 offending creatures were concentrated. And there the extermination proceeded. The fact that no vegetation or other edible substance existed on the island en- sured a definitive resolution to the nuisance they represented. The island was too far from land to allow the creatures to swim back, although many tried. The only disagreeable aspect of the plan, once put into operation, were winds that conveyed the sounds of screams and howls to Constantinople. But this annoyance ceased after a few weeks.
I could not believe that this was a true story that happened in 1910. But it is. Then, I discover the deliberate abandonment of some 30,000 dogs on an island, which is not only unforgivable in of itself, that their murder was an instrument to facilitate the method to slaughter an even larger number of people.
“The plan to kill upward of one and a half million Armenians between 1915 and 1918,” Portis writes, “requred careful planning and rational experimentation. This is where the dogs came in. Cleansing Constantinople of the thousands of dogs roaming free there provided a fine opportunity to test methods used later on the Armenians.”
Kill tends of thousands of dogs to not only rid them from the streets of Constantinople but also use the experience to learn how to more effectively kill as many as 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1918.
“The massacre of the Armenians followed much the same pattern,” writes Portis. “Although gassing, burning, drowning, the injection of typhus bacilli in children, and other imaginable methods were employed, in the end most of the victims were forcibly displaced and died from exhaustion and starvation.”
He goes on to quote Avedikian who said,
The condition of dogs in Muslim countries is very particular. On the one hand, dogs are not generally allowed inside human dwellings. They are considered to be impure. But, on the other hand, they are recognized as having a social function and have the right to live. In fact, dogs are accepted and protected in these countries as nowhere else. In 1910, there were many examples of people interfering with the collection and deportation of the dogs. But the film is really concerned with more than just the events of 1910. Let me put it this way: modernization, especially urbanization, and now globalization, means the death of the free dogs. The dogs were scapegoats then, and now there is no room for free agents any- where. Whoever is on the margins, who is nonconventional, who refuses being controlled and forced into the national-state mold, will be an object of such repression. How many errant dogs or errant people will be allowed to exist? That is the question.