Date of this Version
Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies 20 (2011), pp. 173-187
Over the course of the past two decades, the historiography of the Armenian Genocide has evolved through the introduction of new methodologies, approaches, and more complex analyses of the Genocide that venture beyond rudimentary and essentialist arguments and representations. Concomitantly, denialist literature has also developed, reinvigorated in the U.S. by the presentation of alternative ways of viewing the event in order to counter “Armenian allegations.” The latest such endeavor, disguised under the cloak of “scholarship,” has been the introduction of the concept of “crimes against humanity” as an alternative designation to genocide or as a new “compromise” when dealing with the annihilation of the indigenous Armenian population of Anatolia.
In the light of such obfuscations, the book edited by Ronald Grigor Suny, Fatma Müge Göçek, and Norman N. Naimark entitled A Question of Genocide: Armenians and the Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire should be considered an important contribution to the historiography of the Armenian Genocide. The volume encompasses a collection of essays written by scholars who were involved for more than a decade in the Workshop of the Armenian and Turkish Scholars (WATS) established at the University of Michigan/Ann Arbor. The workshop’s aim was to investigate “the causes, circumstances, and consequences of the Armenian Genocide of 1915,” while “overcoming the politics of recognition and denial,” by bringing Armenian, Turkish, and other scholars of genocide together into dialogue. Organized by Fatma Müge Göçek (Sociology), Gerard Libaridian and Ronald Grigor Suny (History), WATS has initiated a total of eight meetings since its inception, the last of which took place in October 2011 at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, with the stated goal to “meet, discuss, present papers, and establish a shared historical record and rough consensus on interpretation of the tragedies of the last years of the Ottoman Empire.” The volume under review represents a selection of papers from the first seven workshops.
The collection is thematically organized according to the following five subjects: historiographies of the Genocide; ethnic relations in the immediate pre-genocide era; the international context of the genocide; local perspectives of the genocide; and finally continuities of the Genocide from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic. In opening new perspectives on the Armenian Genocide, the volume significantly enhances our understanding of the topic. Nonetheless, while many of the essays live up to their description as “‘state of the art’ in the field” (p. xviii), they are uneven in that profound and innovative approaches to the Genocide are accompanied by more prosaic and introductory ones. In addition, some of the contributions seem to lack the necessary linguistic tools and literary evidence required to fully treat their subjects. These shortcomings, however, do not detract from the overall impact of the volume that indeed will stimulate fruitful discussion for many years to come. In my comments below, I have tried to provide a summary analysis of all the essays in the volume as well as to draw attention to those areas in which new ground has been broken and which are deserving of further research.