History, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE: CULTURAL AND ETHICAL LEGACIES, ed. Richard Hovannisian (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2007), pp. 369-388.


Copyright © 2007 Transaction Publishers.


Historiography normally refers to the act of writing history, the collective writings of history and the history of such activities over time. I This chapter addresses the collective writings of history by a group of scholars of "Turkish origin," mainly deriving from a tradition ofleftist sentiments. What is particular about this group of Turkish liberal historians is that they provide an alternative historical interpretation2 of a specific historical event that is otherwise accepted by the official Turkish history (resmi tarih) as an historical travesty.1 Historical events, which are conventionally regarded as the "building bricks of history," are composed into a certain form that acts as a vehicle for the creation and representation of historical knowledge and historical explanation. 4 In other words, in the writing of history, events are placed into narrative form. Historians argue that narrative is important because it is through it that we understand the relationship between form and content, the word and the world.5 Furthermore, in this process of the creation and the representation of historical knowledge and historical explanation it is narrative that transcends the geographic, religious, national, ethnic, and cultural boundaries in conveying its messages. Hayden White argues on this point saying: "Far from being a problem, then, narrative might well be considered a solution to a problem of general human concern, namely, the problem of how to translate knowing into telling, the problem of fashioning human experience into a form assailable to structures of meaning that are generally human rather than culture-specific .... This suggests that far from being one code among many that a culture may utilize for endowing experience with meaning, narrative is a meta-code, a human universal on the basis of which trans-cultural messages about the nature of a shared reality can be transmitted."6 The shared reality that is being transmitted in this case through the medium of narrative is the historical event of 1915: the Armenian Genocide. Though the historical event of 1915 is considered to be a "shared reality" for both the "perpetrator group" 7 and the "victimized group," it does not mean that both groups have a common consensus or single definition and interpretation of this shared reality. Whereas the "victimized group" for decades has been fighting for international recognition of the historical event itself through using the medium of narrative in its historical explanation, the "perpetrator group" has been trying for decades to hinder the reality of the historical event through creating a narrative of its own by using the methodology of negation, rationalization, relativization, and trivialization of the Armenian Genocide. x Hence, the emergence of a new trend in Turkish historiography that provides an alternative interpretation of the historical event of 1915 ought to be considered as an important step toward a critical assessment of the state's narrative on the historical event of 1915.

Though an alternative interpretation of the historical event of 1915 or a critical assessment of Turkish state narrative on the event is considered to be a sound approach, still one needs not forget that histories are always shaped by both the perception of the historian and the way the historian would like the events to be understood by others through the form of narrative. White argues on this point saying "history can never provide the story, rather it is a narrative designed by the historian as he/she organizes the contents in the form of a narrative of what he/she believes the past was about."9 Furthermore, it is the conglomerations of narratives of the historians that constitute an essential component in the act of collective writing of history that eventually become historiography. Thus, without narrative there can be no reconstruction of the past and without historical imagination there can be no history and without collective writing of histories there can be no historiography. For White "it is the success of narrative in revealing the meaning, coherence, or significance of events that attests to the legitimacy of its practice in historiography. And it is the success of historiography in narrativizing sets of historical events that attests to the 'realism' of narrative itself."

This analysis assesses the contents of the narrative of Turkish liberal historiography on the event of 1915, otherwise known by Turkish liberal scholars as soykmm II (genocide), kzyzm 12 (massacre), katliam 13 (massacre), etnik temizlik14 (ethnic cleansing) and the widely used term by Turkish liberal scholars, kmml5 (mass murder). One needs to take into consideration that each of these terminologies that define the historical event have different meanings ranging from the magnitude to the premeditated nature of the event. This suggests that the employment of different concepts by Turkish liberal historiography in defining the historical event of 1915 demonstrates the variety of their treatment of the historical event and thus shows their non-monolithic approach, contrary to what appears in Turkish official history.