by CHRISTIAN PETERSEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on OCTOBER 29, 2015:
The assassination of the Armenian-Turkish activist Hrant Dink in 2007 raised uncomfortable questions about a historical tragedy that the leaders of the Turkish Republic would like people to forget: the Armenian genocide. In his new book Open Wounds: Armenians, Turks, and a Century of Genocide (Oxford UP, 2015), the journalist/historian Vicken Cheterian offers a scholarly, yet high readable account of this injustice and the century-long silence surrounding it. With engaging prose, he explains how and why this genocide took place, including a description of the violence that Kurds carried out against Armenians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He also helps readers better grasp the continuities in how Sultan Abudhamid II, the Young Turks, and Mustafa Kamal’s Turkish Republic employed violence to deal with their “Armenian problem” and other “internal enemies” such as Greeks, Assyrians, and the Yezidis.
Not one to mince words, Cheterian offers a fascinating description of the Turkish efforts to delegitimize Armenian identities and silence international discussion of the genocide. He also reveals the complexities of how Armenians across the globe, including those of Armenian descent in Turkey, have struggled to raise international awareness about the genocide and make contemporary Turkish leaders confront the past. Just as important, he gives readers a “human feel” for the suffering of the Armenians by delving into the complexities of historical memory and the issue of “forced conversions.” He also takes readers on a guided tour of the Middle East that makes reference to architecture and landmarks to illustrate just how far the Turks have gone to erase historical memories of Armenians.
The continuing debates about the appropriateness of using the term “genocide” to describe the Turkish treatment of the Armenians should not overshadow Cheterian’s accomplishments. He makes a strong case that Turks will not build a genuine democracy until their leaders begin to confront the past in honest ways and stop tolerating their “deep state’s” ongoing war against Armenians. The recent cracks in the global silence on the Armenian genocide raise an important question: Just how much will the increased willingness of Turks to identify with their Armenian heritage and speak about the genocide influence Turkish foreign policy and domestic development in the years ahead?
LISTEN TO INTERVIEW WITH CHETERIAN