- A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire
Nearly one hundred years after the Armenian deportations and massacres in 1915, controversy still rages over how best to characterize them. Most scholars declare that they constituted genocide and, as does Gerard J. Libaridian, dismiss Armenian instigations by placing quotation marks around Turkish allegations of Armenian "terror" (p. 99). The much smaller number of pro-Turkish scholars reciprocates this word game by placing quotation marks around the term Armenian "genocide." Gwynne Dyer once referred to this situation as being a case of "Turkish 'Falsifiers' and Armenian 'Deceivers': Historiography and the Armenian Massacres" (Middle East Studies 12, January 1976, pp. 99-107).
Ronald Grigor Suny, Fatma Müge Göçek, and Norman M. Naimark have brought together fifteen articles presented over the past decade at a series of conferences termed the Workshop on Armenian and Turkish Scholarship (WATS) and the Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar on Mass Killing held over six years at the Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University. The essays in the present volume are grouped into five parts: historiographies of the genocide, on the eve of catastrophe, genocide in international context, genocide in local context, and continuities. Among the authors are several Turkish scholars who support the Armenian position. Missing, however, are any legitimate scholars, such as Bernard Lewis, Edward Erickson, Justin McCarthy, Erman Sahin, Michael [End Page 456] Rubin, or Guenter Lewy, among others, arguing the Turkish position. Thus, the reader is given just one side of the controversy, while the other side is presented only by its opponents. An excellent opportunity to offer a truly thorough examination of the hoary controversy is largely missed.
In addition, the present volume fails to include more recent events, such as the Swiss mediation between Turkey and Armenia that led to what has been called soccer (football) diplomacy. First the Turkish president Abdullah Gul visited Armenia for a soccer game between Turkey and Armenia in September 2008, and then the Armenian president Serge Sarkisian reciprocated by journeying to Turkey a year later for another soccer game between the two countries. As a result, a potential historic breakthrough in relations was reached with the signing on 10 October 2009 of the two Zurich protocols: (1) Development of Relations and (2) Establishment of Diplomatic Relations. Among various intergovernmental commissions, the first protocol provided for the establishment of a historical commission to analyze the events of 1915. Although the ratification of the Zurich protocols has now been stalled by ultra-nationalist sentiment in both countries, the positive movement toward some synthesis of agreement on what actually occurred during World War I and what to call it is patent.
Missing too from the present volume is any serious attempt to detail the Armenian attempt to legislate and politicize history by having the U.S. Congress pass a resolution declaring these events genocide. Ignoring the well-financed, powerful Armenian lobbies, Suny and Göçek fail to explain why these resolutions have failed, simply declaring that "Turkish money financed powerful lobbyists in Washington to work against them, and eventually scuttle, the resolution" (pp. 4-5). However, even former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who often has taken strong but what some might call naïve human-rights positions, declared that if he were in Congress he would not have voted for the resolution because pontificating on what occurred historically is not the business of the U.S. Congress, but rather work best suited to scholars.
In their introduction to the present volume under review, two of the editors—Suny and Göçek—state that, although they believe what occurred was genocide, the title of their book (A Question of Genocide) "reflects both the certainty of some and the ambiguity of others . . . how they [the massacres] might most convincingly be described" (p. 10). Norman M. Naimark, the third editor, also firmly maintains that...