- Österreichs Dilemma 1915: Türken oder Armenier?, and: Sorrowful Shores: Violence, Ethnicity, and the End of the Ottoman Empire, 1912–1923
The gradual but steady collapse of the Ottoman Empire between 1912 and 1923 witnessed war, paramilitarism, occupation, forced population transfer, massacres, and genocide—violence that engulfed millions. Students of this unhappy time operate in a charged moral and political environment; several nation-states derive portions of their national myths from the period. Colleagues venturing into the historiography are to be commended for their courage. Given the field's politics and polemics, the quality requirements for scholarship must be set high. In several respects the titles under review represent the most effective and the most disappointing of current work on the Ottoman imperial apocalypse, worlds apart in approach, coverage, argumentation, and overall quality.
The field of Armenian Genocide studies is developing rapidly. The publication of several important monographs in the past decade has covered new ground on the [End Page 316] organization of the mass violence, the international context of imperialism and national context of ethnic homogenization, and rescue efforts. Although we have solid studies on German response to the genocide, there exists no detailed treatment of how the Ottoman Empire's other ally, Austria-Hungary, responded. How do third parties behave during an escalating process of persecution? Atilgan has provided a fragmented discussion that has some merits but mostly grave shortcomings.
His volume covers the Austro-Hungarian Empire's alliance with the Ottoman Empire and, in particular, the former's response to the Young Turks' destruction of the Armenians. Chapter 1 covers Habsburg-Ottoman relations up to World War I, and Chapter 2 discusses the outbreak of war. The third chapter charts many sources, such as newspapers and diplomatic reports, as well as memoirs of individual Habsburg officials and officers such as Joseph Pomiankowski and Victor Pietschmann; it intersperses long quotations from many of the latter. For scholars of the period, the most interesting chapter is the fourth, an eighty-page chronology of 1915 via Austro-Hungarian sources. Chapter 5 is the conclusion, though an epilogue adds further thoughts.
Atilgan has set himself the challenging task of outlining the events of 1915 "from the perspective of Austria-Hungary" (p. 16). The book mobilizes considerable empirical material, including lengthy quotations and interesting graphic material such as propaganda photos, cartoons, calendars, postcards, document facsimiles, contemporary drawings, and maps. Reproductions of articles from the Wiener Zeitung add to the sense of immediacy (pp. 158–68). The chapter structure facilitates navigation through the complex history, and an appendix provides useful biographical information and a chronology of the war.
Limitations of space forbid a lengthy identification of the book's flaws, but at least six aspects appear problematic: historiography, problematization, detachment, essentialism, concepts, and conclusions.
First, the author overlooks the rich literature on the Armenian Genocide, incorrectly dividing the historiography into antagonistic (pro-) Armenian and (pro-) Turkish scholars. Any assumption of an overlap between scholarship and ethnicity misrepresents the complexity of the literature and reduces it to mere politics. The book neglects work by Akçam, Bloxham, Dadrian, Kaiser, Kévorkian, and others, failing to critically engage the current discourse. Second, the book lacks a clear problematization. The reader does not learn what it is about Austro-Hungarian perspectives on the Armenian Genocide that Atilgan proposes to elucidate. The author poses no explicit research questions, something central to studying any genocide, or indeed any major historical event. The book comes across as incoherent, with no clear direction in the way it piles on empirical material.
The author seems not to have taken into account Jacques Sémelin's caution that genocide researchers need to distance themselves from legal and political approaches to genocide. The foreword and introduction to Österreichs Dilemma [End Page 317] 1915 repeatedly mention Turkey's possible accession to the EU, though without connecting the subject matter of...