Monday, August 10, 2015

History of the Armenian Genocide

Cover image for "They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else": A History of the Armenian Genocide by Ronald Grigor Suny, 374 pages

2015 marks the hundredth anniversary of the height of the mass slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman government, a horror which resulted in the first use of the term "crimes against humanity".  Not surprisingly, a number of books have been released to coincide with the anniversary, and Suny's is surely one of the best.  He relates in careful detail how modernity and its attendant ethnic nationalist factionalism turned Armenians from the best trusted and most loyal subjects of the Sultan into an oppressed, marginalized ethnic group.  The eventual genocide is revealed as the culmination of an escalating series of massacres and persecutions carried out despite, not because of, military necessity.

The book takes a middle course, concentrating on the narrative of how the genocide developed, rather than on extensive statistical analyses of the populations involved or the visceral personal experiences of victims and killers.  Perhaps no book could do all three well, and by making the choice he did, Suny is able to not only illuminate what happened in Anatolia a hundred years ago, but also to sketch the general process by which genocides are born.

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