This book review is from Volume 10 of the Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies (1998 1999 ), pp. 152-154. The original pagination has not been kept intact and the paragraphing has been altered for web use. This web edition © 2001 Dennis R. Papazian.
Richard G. Hovannisian, ed. Remembrance and Denial: The Case of the Armenian
Genocide. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University, 1998. Pp. 328.
The purpose of this outstanding collection of essays is to confront the denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government and its pseudo-academic allies. Richard Hovannisian has done genocide and Holocaust scholarship a great service by producing a collection of fresh essays which expand our knowledge and explore revealing facets heretofore ignored. The work is particularly powerful in exploding the myths of denial and demonstrating how power and careerism corrupt scholars and scholarship to the detriment of truth and common decency.
The first essay, by Stephan Astourian, demonstrates--by the use of primary and secondary sources--the evolution of the Turkish view of the Armenians from simple prejudice against a conquered and dominated people to outright racist nationalism, a precursor to genocide.
Ara Sarafian, by the use of archival sources, authenticates the work by Lord Bryce and Arnold Toynbee, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916, which was the first comprehensive collection of primary evidence on the genocidal endeavors of the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire, thus establishing the fact of mass and purposeful killing of the Armenian population.
Hilmar Kaiser writes about German complicity and resistance to the Armenian Genocide by a study of various German archives, particularly those of the German Foreign Office and of the Deutsche Bank, and more particularly its copious files on the Berlin to Baghdad Railway. Some Germans, as Kaiser demonstrates, sympathized with the Armenians but did nothing to prevent the killings; others tried to help the Armenians but were ineffective; while still others were indifferent to the whole matter; a few actually encouraged the Turkish efforts.
Levon Marashlian, by the use of numerous primary and secondary sources, demonstrates that the Turkish Nationalist Government attempted to complete the Armenian Genocide between 1920 and 1923 by massacres of Armenians in Smyrna, on the Mediterranean, in the interior of Anatolia, and in the Caucasus--formerly a part of the Russian Empire. He shows that the Turkish government and the Turkish ruling elites profited mightily by the confiscation of Armenian properties-- land, buildings, movable wealth, and bank deposits--some of which laid the foundation of several great fortunes in Turkey today.
Yair Auron has produced a most interesting, original, and enlightening essay on the strong impact of Franz Werfel's historical novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, on the young Jews of Hitlerian Germany and Eastern Europe. Werfel's book not only foreshadowed the Jewish Holocaust but also inspired hundreds of young Jews in Europe to organize a resistance movement against Hitler, seeking to survive, if possible, or die honorably, if necessary, as did the Armenian resisters portrayed in the novel.
Lorne Shirinian deals with survivor memoirs in the English language of the Armenian Genocide as cultural history and guardians of memory, as well as personal glimpses into history.
Rubina Peroomian explores Armenian-language genocide literature (as opposed to memoirs) as attempts to liberate Armenian psychological, emotional, and creative energies after the devastation of the Armenian Genocide.
Donald Miller investigates the role of historical memory in interpreting "recent events" in the Republic of Armenia and the Caucasus, attributing the strong resistance of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia to Azeri and Turkish threats to a fear of another genocide. Since the Turks are unrepentant of their earlier genocidal attempts against the Armenians, there is a continued fear that it could happen again. Miller's essay contains some valuable "oral history," interviews of Armenians who survived the 1988 and 1990 massacres in Sumgait and Baku, Azerbaijan.
E.A. von Renesse explores the responsibility of the modern-day Federal Republic of Germany toward the Armenian Genocide. He argues that the lack of action on the part of the Imperial German Government to thwart the killings of Armenians by their World War I ally, the Ottoman Empire, places a weight of responsibility on the present German Government to aid the present Armenian Republic.
Richard Hovannisian has written an insightful and learned section on the denial of the Armenian Genocide with some comparisons with Holocaust denial. Using wide-ranging sources, Hovannisian's essay is an early warning to those who think the Holocaust needs no defense against the destroyers of memory. The parallels which he illustrates are both enlightening and frightful.
Marc Nichanian provides a detailed philosophical analysis of the French court case against the author Bernard Lewis and the writings inspired by the case, giving special attention to an analysis of the court's decision. The court decided that it had no jurisdiction over the case since the Armenian Genocide was not covered in the time-span indicated by the law; it did find Lewis in violation of ignoring the facts of the Armenian Genocide and causing mental anguish to the Armenian people.
Yves Ternon writes on the freedom and responsibility of the historian, using the Lewis affair as his starting point. He argues that historians who serve the state, which fosters its own self-serving view of the past, lose their objectivity and thus are disqualified as scientists and become mere publicity agents of the state.
Roger Smith, Eric Markusen, and Robert Lifton have produced a frightening piece which details the actions of Heath W. Lowry, a putative scholar, who prepares letters denying the Armenian Genocide for the Turkish ambassador to sign. These letters are then sent by the ambassador to scholars, impugning their sources and questioning their interpretation of fact. Lowry's action, in their opinion, is an egregious offense that warrants being regarded as a contribution to genocidal violence.
These essays present new concepts, data, and interpretations which significantly add to our knowledge of the field. They generally take a fresh approach to the issues and bring in new facts, ideas, and viewpoints based on sound scholarship.
The individual essays, for the most part, are well organized and the material well written. The organization of the book is appropriate, leading from an entirely new issue, Ottoman racist attitudes toward the Armenians, to the denial of the Armenian Genocide carried on as a campaign by the present Turkish government.
The book should not only be of value to scholars but should also appeal to the interested reader. I believe that it will be widely quoted and will particularly serve those pundits and intellectuals who deal with the issue of genocide.
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Dennis R. Papazian
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