"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why Deny a Genocide Took Place?

Last month, on Remembrance Day, I gave a lecture on the several massacres of Eastern Christians during the First World War. The Armenian genocide is the best known of them, but they were comparable slaughters of Pontic Greeks, Assyrian Christians, Aegean Greeks, and others, not least when the war ended and the forced population exchanges began in 1922/23 with the destruction of Smyrna. Though the 1915 genocide of Armenians has been increasingly well publicized and studied, many do not realize that 1915 did not fall from the sky one day like a new idea. Mass slaughter of Armenians under the Ottomans had a long history, a history still controversial today in Turkey itself, where denial of a genocide as such is still official policy. Why is it still denied? A recent book attempts to shed light on this question: Fatma Muge Gocek, Denial of Violence: Ottoman Past, Turkish Present, and Collective Violence against the Armenians, 1789-2009 (Oxford UP, 2014), 684pp.

About this book we are told:
While much of the international community regards the forced deportation of Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire in 1915, where approximately 800,000 to 1.5 million Armenians perished, as genocide, the Turkish state still officially denies it.
In Denial of Violence, Fatma Müge Göçek seeks to decipher the roots of this disavowal. To capture the negotiation of meaning that leads to denial, Göçek undertook a qualitative analysis of 315 memoirs published in Turkey from 1789 to 2009 in addition to numerous secondary sources, journals, and newspapers. She argues that denial is a multi-layered, historical process with four distinct yet overlapping components: the structural elements of collective violence and situated modernity on one side, and the emotional elements of collective emotions and legitimating events on the other. In the Turkish case, denial emerged through four stages: (i) the initial imperial denial of the origins of the collective violence committed against the Armenians commenced in 1789 and continued until 1907; (ii) the Young Turk denial of the act of violence lasted for a decade from 1908 to 1918; (iii) early republican denial of the actors of violence took place from 1919 to 1973; and (iv) the late republican denial of the responsibility for the collective violence started in 1974 and continues today.
 develops a novel theoretical, historical and methodological framework to understanding what happened and why the denial of collective violence against Armenians still persists within Turkish state and society.

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