- Denial of Violence: Ottoman Past, Turkish Present, and Collective Violence Against the Armenians, 1789–2009 by Fatma Müge Göçek
One of the serious risks involved in undertaking research on the denial of the Armenian Genocide has been the moral engagement and emotional attachment of some of the scholars involved in this particularly sensitive research. This problem tends to distract scholars, and hence their readers, from approaching empirical evidence and historical analysis with an open mind. In a very self-aware manner, Fatma Müge Göçek's book mostly manages to avoid this problem. Although this topic has been addressed from a few perspectives and by generations of scholars, such as Richard Hovannisian, Israel Charny, Yair Auron, Roger W. Smith, Taner Akçam, Uğur Ümit Üngör, Tunç Aybak, Marc Mamigonian and others, Denial of Violence by Göçek is an excellent monograph that offers, for the most part, nuanced interpretations of empirical research to fill a substantial gap in scholarship on this topic.
In overview, the recent trend in Holocaust and genocide studies has been to approach the Armenian Genocide not so much as an example of the first modern genocide than as a part of the complexities of the last period of the Ottoman and European empires and the creation of an ethnically homogenous nation-state system. Göçek's focus on these "interconnected modernities" (23) parallels that of Donald Bloxham (2005) and more recently Raymond Kévorkian (2011) and Ronald Grigor Suny (2015).1 This trend is also apparent in the works of Taner Akçam (2004) and Erik Jan Zürcher' (2004) on modern Turkish history, each of which explore that history (modern Turkish history) in the context of the transformation from Ottoman Empire to Turkish Republic.2 Göçek's contribution to this literature is to apply this idea of "interconnected modernities" to the denial of [End Page 656] the violence perpetrated against the Ottoman Armenians in earlier periods and thus to understand the 1915 Genocide, and the history of its denial, in tandem with the histories of earlier violence against Armenians. More specifically, while most of the works on the denial of the Armenian Genocide focuses on the aftermath of the Genocide (1921 and onwards), Göçek explores that aftermath through a nuanced understanding of earlier massacres against the Ottoman Armenians (1893–1896).
Further, Göçek's premise is to emphasize the symbiotic relationship between state and society as a key element in understanding the long-standing Turkish denial of violence against the Armenians. In this regard, the book mainly focuses on analysing the sociology of emotions; i.e. how perpetrators of mass violence and Genocide deal with their own suppressed emotional states of fear, anxiety, anger etc., in the course of serving as state officials and undertaking civil service. This in turn unfolds to a collective emotional state that leads to nationalism, trauma and thereby to denial (34). A further element that distinguishes Göçek's current book from many works on the denial of the Armenian Genocide is its use of sources. Göçek refers to approximately 307 autobiographical first-hand accounts of Ottoman and Republican officials, and in so doing proposes that "sites of memory in general and memories in particular are an ideal empirical source for analyzing denial because, unlike official spaces and documents, they contain knowledge on the informal and emotional aspect of life, thereby allowing access to meaning production in society" (47). Göçek conducts a very self-aware discussion regarding these memoirs, pinpointing why and how these were selected in terms of their distribution of gender, profession, ethnicity and religion. She also considers the possible shortcomings of her selected data; for instance, she argues that "given the CUP had played such a significant role at the end of the empire, through the independence struggle into the republic, I was concerned that its nationalist political strands would dominate the narrative, eliminating the possibility of capturing many instances...