Responding to a question during a breakfast with the Diplomatic Correspondents Association in Ankara recently, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone called on Yerevan and Ankara “to deal with their history in a way that is open and honest and just.”
The comment, eerily reminiscent of the “just memory” discourse of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, was preceded by the glorification of the latter as “an eminent world class scholar and historian.” After lavishing praise at Davutoglu, Ricciardone noted that he himself is “an amateur” when it comes to history, and mentioned a World War I book he is currently reading, titled The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power. The book, by Bilkent University professor Sean McMeekin, refers to 1915 as the “Armenian massacres,” and considers genocide denier Gunther Lewy’s The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide “by far the best overview on the subject.”
This is not a book review where we discuss the merits—which are many—and shortcomings of The Berlin-Baghdad Express. However, as far as 1915 is concerned, the book clearly suffers from an obsession with “Armenian atrocities,” “Armenian uprisings” sweeping through the region, “Armenian partisans,” “Armenian guerillas,” and “Armenian bandits.” On the other hand, the systematic deportation and massacre of Armenians receives little if any attention, and scholarly papers exploring the role the Berlin-Baghdad railroad played during the Armenian genocide are not even considered worthy of a mere footnote by the author.
Yet, Ambassador Ricciardone cites this book as an example of how, in the context of 1915, “[t]here’s a lot of great scholarship that wasn’t possible 15 years ago. And it’s now coming out because Turkey is more confident of itself and more willing to have scholarly examination of the records of the past.”
Below, we present a short list of books published in recent months that might help Ambassador Ricciardone deal with 1915 in a way that is more “open and honest and just”:
1-Confiscation and Destruction: The Young Turk Seizure of Armenian Property by Ugur Ungor and Mehmet Polatel (Continuum, 2011)
The book’s title is self-explanatory. The authors summarize the theft of Armenian property during the genocide: “The Young Turk political elite played the decisive role in the subjugation of the Ottoman Armenian economy to an ideologically legitimized process of mass pillage. Local elites collaborated in this endeavor by assisting the militias that came to deport and murder Armenian shopkeepers, manufacturers, craftsmen, peasants. Moreover, ordinary Turks, such as direct neighbors, bazaar merchants or refugees from the Balkans, profited from the confiscation policy in different ways. Altogether, these classes and groups contributed to the economic destruction of Ottoman Armenians and the construction of a Turkish national economy.”
2-The Armenian Genocide: A Complete History by Raymond Kevorkian (I.B. Tauris, 2011)
This 1,000-page monumental book is the most comprehensive history of the Armenian Genocide ever written. The author examines the genocidal process by zooming in on Armenian-populated towns and villages across the Ottoman Empire.
3-A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire edited by Ronald Grigor Suny, Fatma Muge Gocek, and Norman Naimark (Oxford University Press, 2011)
In this book, 15 experts on the Armenian Genocide and Ottoman history delve into the history and historiography of the genocide, and discuss the continuities between the Young Turks and the Turkish Republic.
4-The Making of Modern Turkey: Nation and State in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-50 by Ugur Ungor (Oxford University Press, 2011)
The author examines the violent destruction of the multi-ethnic fabric of the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire. He notes that these provinces “became an epicenter of Young Turk population policies and the theatre of unprecedented levels of mass violence.”