The Light of Darkness by Louis Nowra

Contact Us

BBC Radio 3, 1 August 2010
Australian-based Louis Nowra's play focuses on the Armenian massacre that took place in the eastern Turkish province of Harput during 1915. It recounts the events from an outsider's perspective: the Ottoman rulers - symbolized by Governor Sabit Bey (Jack Klaff) are seen as obsessed with the idea of cleansing their territory from what they perceive as potentially subversive forces. The Light of Darkness suggests that the Armenians, while being identified by the Ottomans as subversive, are in fact entirely innocent. Two Americans, Dr. Atkinson (Scott Handy) and consul Leslie Davis (John Guerrasio) are pitchforked into this conflict; Davis begins by trying to exploit the land for America's commercial gain, but ends by playing poker with the Governor to save the lives of his Armenian secretary (William El Gardi), his interpreter (Betsabeh Emran) and countless other Armenian refugees seeking shelter in his consulate.
Inevitably the play takes the Armenian side, portraying Sabit Bey as a well-educated xenophobe revelling his power, regularly meeting with Davis to discuss diplomatic issues but at the same time reminding him that according to contemporary Ottoman protocol, Davis' status as a diplomat has been removed. The play reinforces the stereotype of the Ottoman Turk as untrustworthy,m unreliable, reluctant to confront serious issues (Sabit regularly absents himself from Harput province during political upheavals), and enjoying the benefits of polygamy. His sadistic sidekick, Rachid Bey (Basher Savage) comes straight out of Midnight Express, speaking a garbled form of Turkish that's difficult if not impossible to understand, and favouring violence rather than discussion as a solution to any problem. The play contains one 'good' Turk, the Anatolian Mr. Kemal (Abdullah Tercanli), who understands the Ottomans' reasons for ethnic cleaning, but cannot prevent them. Harput province is transformed into a hell-hole run by beasts: the only people who retain their humanity, according to Davis, are those who stand up to them.
Despite the fact that the Ottomans were eventually removed and replaced by a new government under Kemal Ataturk, many of those responsible for the massacres in 1915 escaped punishment: Governor Sabit ruled the eastern province of Erzurum, while Rachid never stood trial for his crimes. Meanwhile Davis wrote a book on the affair.
The main problem in dealing with such material is that it is difficult to portray the Ottomans in anything else but a bad light. What happened in 1915 only served to reinforce historic stereotypes of the cruel Turk, despite subsequent attempts by the Republican government to change that image. Memories die hard: for the Armenian community at least, the experience of 1915 will always be with them. This disturbing production was directed by Judith Kampfner.