- The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians, and: The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide
There are few historical episodes more painful than the Armenian genocide. Many thousands of reliable eyewitnesses of various nationalities, Turks included, have written detailed descriptions of the horrors that the Armenians endured—including maiming, torture, starvation, disease, abduction, rape, mental and physical abuse, and mass execution. There continue to be serious debates about how many Armenians died, with estimates ranging from 600,000 to 1.5 million. There can be no controversy, however, about the victims' suffering.
But the pain is not limited to our empathy for the victims and their families. The Turkish government systematically denies the Armenian genocide and silences Turkish writers and intellectuals on the subject; Turkish citizens who have discussed the genocide publicly have been arrested and indicted for "insulting Turkish dignity." The government's attempts to keep allied governments from formally recognizing the genocide have negatively affected Turkish foreign policy. In turn, Turkish policies have prompted equally misguided attempts in other countries to legislate against denial—such as the October 12, 2006, bill passed by the French National Assembly making it a crime to deny that Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of the Turks.
Such ill-advised efforts aside, there can be no question that denial is traumatic for Armenians. As Donald Bloxham writes in his latest work, The Great Game of Genocide, "The massive trauma inflicted on the collective consciousness of the Armenian people is an open wound, continually aggravated by the refusal to acknowledge its infliction" (p. 234). It is almost impossible for the Armenians to come to terms with their past as long as the perpetrators' heirs and their helpmates among Western Ottomanists continue to deny that the genocide took place. Turkish denial has at least three other serious consequences: it precludes dialogue between Turks and Armenians about their common past; it limits access to the Ottoman Turkish archives, making it impossible for researchers to address the many unanswered empirical questions about 1915; and it deprives the Turkish people of the opportunity to confront their own past. The Armenian genocide is an "open wound" not just for the Armenians, but for the Turks as well. [End Page 298]
The historiography of the Armenian genocide has been of little help in resolving the claims and counter-claims by Armenians and Turks. First, the available source base is much weaker than that for Hitler's war against the Jews. We simply do not have the kinds of unambiguous documentation of the intentions, plans, and actions of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) government in 1915 that we have of the Nazi regime's "Final Solution." Second, the historiography of the subject remains polarized, with some contributors insisting that genocide was the logical culmination of the Ottoman Muslim regime's policies towards the Christian Armenians, and others asserting that the deportation of Armenians to their death in 1915 was the unfortunate but natural consequence of Armenian disloyalty to the Turkish state under difficult wartime conditions. Both extremes have their obvious faults, as Guenter Lewy emphasizes in his new book, The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey. But it is also true that both positions have been modified and made more nuanced in recent scholarship—a fact that Lewy for the most part ignores. In March 2000, scholars Ronald G. Suny, Fatma Muge Gocek, and Kevork Bardakjian initiated a series of annual workshops in Armenian-Turkish studies with the intent of opening a dialogue between Armenian and Turkish scholars. The papers and publications resulting from the workshops have substantially narrowed the gap between the Armenian and Turkish exclusivist narratives. Although the use of the term "genocide" for the massacres in 1915 is still controversial, a great deal of progress has...