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Diaspora 7:1 1998 Diaspora and Denial: The Holocaust and the "Question" of the Armenian Genocide Gregory F. Goekjian Portland State University The Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide have been considered comparable events ever since the term "genocide," coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944, was used at Nuremberg. The comparison leads to the recognition of differences between the two genocides, differences often used by revisionist historians to deny the very substance of genocide to the Armenian case. I want to argue that these differences are real, but that they are structural, not substantive, and that the impact of structural difference may be understood through an examination of the relationship among modern historiography , genocide, and diasporization. Put simply, the Holocaust constituted a symbolic end to the Jewish diaspora, whereas the Genocide is the symbolic origin of the Armenian diaspora. In actuality , of course, an enormous and powerful Jewish diaspora remains after the Holocaust, and Armenia had a significant diaspora for centuries before the Genocide. But whereas the Holocaust resulted in the creation of a concentrated, modern center for Jewish historical discourse, the Armenian Genocide erased that center, creating a "nation" that has had to exist in exile and memory—in diaspora.1 My point here is not simply that a concentrated, unified Jewish state was created, in contrast to a dispersion of the Armenians, but that the creation in both cases is the logical if sometimes ironic outcome of very different visions of the goals of those who perpetrated the genocides. The strength, growth, and rapid development of Israel as a nation-state since World War II is evident enough—they constitute the antithesis of a worldwide eradication of the Jews (in the most nightmarish of Nazi visions). In the Armenian case, it is the diaspora that has gained political and discursive strength: enough, in recent years, to lead revisionist scholars of Turkish history, incensed by diasporan efforts to maintain and promote consciousness of the Genocide in the face of Turkish denials, to complain bitterly of the Armenian diaspora's "undue" power and political influence. The irony here springs from the fact that the Turkish dispersion of the Armenians—the Armenian Genocide—created that "powerful" diaspora. 3 Diaspora 7:1 1998 Diasporization and Genocide Two recent studies, one an empirical and comparative sociopolitical study of the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide, the other a more philosophical study of the effects of modernity on the Holocaust alone, share an interest in the origins and enabling conditions of genocide, including the thesis that twentieth-century genocide has been constituted by a radical break with previous history. Robert Melson has produced the most comprehensive comparative study to date. Melson finds these two events examples of "total genocide" and "total domestic genocide," as opposed to "massacre ," "pogrom," or "partial genocide" (2-3, 26-9, passim). Such genocides are, according to Melson, state-initiated "instances of revolutionary violence meant to transform the social structure by physically and socially eliminating a communal group or class from society" (28). In the twentieth century, their enabling condition has been revolution, in conjunction with conditions ofwar and "the prerevolutionary identity of the excluded groups of collectivities" (19). Melson argues, conventionally enough, that the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, originally committed to a revitalization of Ottoman and pan-Islamic values that accepted the Armenians as lesser but fully integral citizens of the empire, was moved by the exigencies of war to a pan-Turkish ideology and ultimately to a "political myth of Turkish nationalism" (143). Initially, the Armenians supported the Young Turks in overthrowing Sultan Abdul Hamid, who had promoted and condoned massacres in the late nineteenth century. Only when the Young Turks joined Germany in the war against the Russian Empire, which had a sizeable Armenian population on the Turkish border, and when Turkish military reverses on the Russian front created a rationale for their destruction, did the non-'Turkish" Armenians of Anatolia come to be considered internal enemies. For Melson, revolution, combined with war, was the genocidal catalyst. Similarly, polarization ofthe Weimar Republic after the German Revolution of 1918 led to the rise of Nazism: No longer were the revolutionary antisémites or their successors attempting to topple a legitimate...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 3-24
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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