Armenians, Turks, and a Century of Genocide
A probing reflection on how silence and complicity in the face of mass violence affects a society for decades.
The assassination in Istanbul in 2007 of the author Hrant Dink, a high-profile advocate of Turkish–Armenian reconciliation, reignited the debate in Turkey on the annihilation of the Ottoman Armenians. Many Turks subsequently re-awakened to their Armenian heritage, reflecting on how their grandparents were forcibly Islamised and Turkified, and the suffering they endured to keep their stories secret. There was public debate around Armenian property confiscated by the Turkish state and the extermination of the minorities. At last the silence had been broken.
After the First World War, the new Turkish Republic forcibly erased the memory of the atrocities, and traces of Armenians, from their historic lands—a process to which the international community turned a blind eye. The price for this amnesia was, Cheterian argues, ‘a century of genocide’.
Turkish intellectuals acknowledge the price society must pay collectively to forget such traumatic events, and that Turkey cannot solve its recurrent conflicts with its minorities—like the Kurds today—nor have an open and democratic society without addressing the original sin on which the state was founded: the Armenian Genocide.
‘Cheterian provides a well-documented account of the events and politics leading up to [Dink’s] assassination as well as the controversy surrounding the involvement of so-called Deep State’s actors such as Kemal Kerinçsiz and Veli Küçük in the murder… a compelling biography of Akçam’s radical credentials reaching back to his early admiration of Deniz Gezmiş [and]…insightful glimpses into the “re-awakening” of memory work on the part of so-called “Crypto-Armenians”.’ — The Los Angeles Review of Books
‘Open Wounds provides a comprehensive insight into many relevant issues with regard to the consequences of denial for Armenians and other minorities such as the Kurds . . . an impressive account of how survivors and successive generations resisted erasure through Armenian historiography, memory politics and the composition and evolution of the diaspora’. — International Journal of Middle East Studies
‘In this extraordinary and beautifully-written book, Cheterian tells us the little known story of the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. He reaches into the history and present-day politics of Armenians and Turks to tell a story and provide explanations that have been neglected or elided by others. There is no other text like this.’ — Ronald G. Suny, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and History, University of Chicago and former chairman of the Society for Armenian Studies
‘Cheterian’s book offers one of the most complete tellings of the twisted, emotional story of the decimation of 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, during the fury of World War I—and the story of the political struggle over the massacre in the century since it occurred.’ — Foreign Affairs
‘This is an important book about the distortion of history in the service of realpolitik. It demonstrates, cooly and clinically, how the desire of Western nations to keep Turkey “on side” has produced official amnesia about the Ottoman Empire’s attempted destruction of the Armenian race. Cheterian’s fair and finely written reflections on Armenia’s neuralgic need for justice, and the pathological inability of a modern Turkey to face the facts of its past, ends with hope that it may do so – although not soon. This book makes an important contribution to the healing of old wounds.’ — Geoffrey Robertson QC, human rights barrister, Doughty Street Chambers and author of An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians?
‘[Open Wounds] is a probing examination of the impact of 1915 and its aftermath on not just the victims but also the perpetrators of the atrocities. … Some of the most moving chapters and episodes of the book are where Cheterian scratches the surface of today’s Turkey. A slightly closer look begins to reveal traces of a vibrant [Armenian] population in parts of Turkey where one might forget it had ever existed. … Cheterian’s book is … timely, detailed and intensely moving.’ — Turkish Review
‘Open Wounds is a highly readable and engaging work combining historical and political analysis with investigative journalism. It spans a number of key sites in Turkey, Armenia and Lebanon, and makes an important contribution in its rare contextualization of the Armenian Genocide and its aftermath within the power struggles of the wider Middle East.” — Sossie Kasbarian & Kerem Öktem, Caucasus Survey
Vicken Cheterian is a historian and political scientist, and he lectures at the University of Geneva and Webster University Geneva.