A SHAMEFUL ACT by Taner Akçam
Kirkus Star


The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility
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Turkish historian Akçam capably refutes those who deny the Armenian genocide, who will probably not change their minds.

No one knows how many Armenians died at Turkish hands in the 1910s, but the number almost certainly exceeds one million. Akçam, writing from the safe distance of the University of Minnesota, has worked through thousands and thousands of documents to find concrete evidence thereof, against considerable difficulty. For one thing, in the post–World War I era, the so-called Young Turks who had led the genocide were still in power and ordered the destruction of countless incriminating documents. For another, no less comprehensive, that postwar government promulgated an alphabet reform that replaced Arabic script with Latin letters, so that, apart from a few scholars, Turkey is now “a society that cannot read its own newspapers, letters and diaries if they were written before 1928. . . . As a result, modern Turkey is totally dependent on history as the state has defined and written it.” More puzzling is the complicity of the victorious Allies in allowing Turkey to escape punishment for—and then deny—its actions against the Armenians; Akçam turns up documents there, too. He is unsparing in his evidence, including proof that Turkish officials who refused to obey murderous orders were themselves murdered. Yet the author also ventures explanations for how the genocide could have been so easily conducted: Most Turks, it appears, condoned it, believing that with the rapid collapse of the Ottoman Empire, their nation was in danger of being carved up by Armenian nationalists. Ironically, hoping for a homeland of their own, Muslim Kurds joined in the slaughter of Christian Armenians, who had “been willing to convert to escape death.” Convicts released from prison for the purpose butchered tens of thousands, too. Yet the Turkish government bears the greatest responsibility for the murders, even if it will not admit to it.

Of profound importance to history—and certain to stir up nests of hornets.

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 2006
ISBN: 0-8050-7932-7
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2006


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