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Reviewed by:
  • Tormented by History: Nationalism in Greece and Turkey
  • Alexander Kitroeff
Tormented by History: Nationalism in Greece and Turkey. By Umut Özkīrīmlī and Spyros A. Sofos. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. 320 pp. $45.00 (cloth).

This comparative presentation and analysis of Greek and Turkish nationalism is an extremely ambitious undertaking. Its authors, Umut [End Page 202] Özkīrīmlī, a professor of politics at Istanbul Bilgi University, and Spyros A. Sofos, a senior research fellow at Kingston University in London, are both experts on the theory of nationalism. In this book they examine Greek and Turkish nationalism, a dual project very few other scholars have attempted and whose efforts they set out very clearly in their introduction. Their own approach blends theory with empirical data with the aim of pursuing an ambitious three-part agenda. They seek to provide a critical analysis of the emergence and development of the Greek and Turkish nationalist projects, a critique of the official myths and narratives of those two nationalisms, and relate those two cases to the debates on nationalism and also to theorize the respective nationalisms. This three-part goal is as daunting as it sounds for two reasons. The first, obviously, is because to cover such an agenda in a book-length study is more than challenging. The second is that there is a dearth of theoretically informed and empirical studies of both those nationalisms, and this makes the task of an overall synthesis even more difficult, although it must be said that the two authors have nonetheless marshaled an impressive array of secondary sources.

Özkīrīmlī and Sofos set about their considerable tasks by adopting a thematic approach. Following a first introductory chapter, the second one is on modernity and Westernization; the third is on culture, identity, and difference; the fourth is on the past—in terms of memory and history; the fifth is on space and territory; the sixth is on the ways minorities are regarded; and the seventh is a concluding chapter. Internally, each chapter is divided into two parts, one that examines Greek nationalism and the other Turkish nationalism. The authors take great care to demonstrate, time and time again, the constructiveness and internal inconsistencies of the two nationalisms, what they call at one point the "existential schizophrenia" of Greek and Turkish nationalism. In this respect, their insightfulness is one of the strengths of their study.

Viewed as a whole, each chapter consists of a juxtaposition of the two nationalisms rather than a comparison or even contrast between them. Thus they tend to stress the differences even more than the similarities of the evolution of these two nationalisms. What we get therefore is a parallel discussion of how each nationalism relates to the particular topic of each chapter. But the thematic focus of each is not arranged either in terms of its relative importance or in terms of its chronological significance. Despite the extraordinary range of empirical sources consulted, there is a top-down sense to the authors' approach, namely a privileging of the themes, that is, the aspects of nationalism they consider significant. A different, more explicitly historiographically [End Page 203] influenced approach could have privileged the chronology and on-the-ground evolution of these two nationalisms, and this may have highlighted their parallel or divergent paths more clearly and perhaps teased out the dynamic of their mutual opposition over time. In its present form, this juxtaposition of Greek and Turkish nationalism reads somewhat like a collection of stand-alone articles with parallel tracks that treat the Greek and Turkish experience according to the thematic focus of the chapter. And as a book-length study, therefore, this plan makes for difficult reading even for those with a working knowledge of the overall trajectory of both these nationalist projects. There is overlap among them, a back-and-forth along a fairly long chronological plan. And concerned with doing justice to their ambitious agenda, the authors pack as much theoretical and empirical information as possible in each chapter. Long paragraphs, dense prose in some parts, and a succession of theorists and nationalist advocates mentioned by name but not always contextualized requires a great...