“A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility,” by Taner Akcam, translated from Turkish, Metropolitan Books, 483pp., reviewed by Michael Oren, “The New York Review of Books,” May 10, 2007.
This was a good review. The reviewer really liked the book, mostly because of the research done in original Turkish sources. For my part, I appreciated the answers it gave to questions about this genocide that often pop up. Also, there is one big question which still isn’t answered.
But first, what is answered. Yes there was a genocide perpetrated by elements within the Turkish government against the Armenian people between 1915 and 1918. The American ambassador called it “race extermination.”
The Armenians were Christians living within the then Ottoman Empire. The Turks had been seeing their Empire broken up and take by the Christian West piecemeal for several centuries and they snapped and took out their frustrations on the Armenians since they could not do anything about the Russians, German, French, British, etc. who were picking them apart.
The Genocide has much in common with that of the Nazi’s thirty years later. It was sanctioned by powerful elements within the government, it was hidden from the public and done in secret “without the knowledge of the cabinet or the parliament.” It was seen as a final solution to the problem of an alien un-Turkish race living in Turkey, and it was cruel and inhumane. 1.5 million were killed men, women, babies, children, old people, without mercy.
Ataturk said it was a “shameful act” but, the reviewer says, he held that “the Turkish nation bore no collective responsibility” for it. The evidence suggests that it was only some elements in the government that carried it out-- some officials along with “provincial governors and gendarmes.”
The reviewer says, that unlike Germany, “the Republic of Turkey has never admitted its part in the mass murder of Armenians.” But there was no Republic when this happened. It was done by Ottoman officials at the end of the Ottoman Empire (and hidden from the cabinet and parliament.) The Republic overthrew Ottoman rule years later.
This Is what I don’t understand. Why the Turkish government doesn’t just admit that this was an Ottoman genocide [I’m not talking about “collective guilt”] and try to make up with the Armenians? What is the point of denying it ever happened (i.e., that it was genocide)? It makes Turkey look like it is acting in bad faith. It is surely correct to think that unless the Turks are mature enough to face their own history they will never have a fully bourgeois democratic government. The author writes, “Only full integration of Turkey’s past can set the country on the path to democracy.”