A definitive history of the 20th century's first major genocide on its 100th anniversary
Starting in early 1915, the Ottoman Turks began deporting and killing hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the first major genocide of the twentieth century. By the end of the First World War, the number of Armenians in what would become Turkey had been reduced by 90 percent—more than a million people. A century later, the Armenian Genocide remains controversial but relatively unknown, overshadowed by later slaughters and the chasm separating Turkish and Armenian interpretations of events. In this definitive narrative history, Ronald Suny cuts through nationalist myths, propaganda, and denial to provide an unmatched account of when, how, and why the atrocities of 1915–16 were committed. Drawing on archival documents and eyewitness accounts, this is an unforgettable chronicle of a cataclysm that set a tragic pattern for a century of genocide and crimes against humanity.
"Diyarbakir was a ruined landscape of destroyed or abandoned houses and people left without work or sustenance," writes Suny (A Question of Genocide), a scholar of Armenian and Soviet history at the University of Michigan, describing scenes that prefigured the Armenian genocide of 1915. The chaos and social collapse produced by the death throes of the Ottoman Empire could be seen as early as two decades before WWI, as Asia Minor's ancient traditions of religious and ethnic tolerance gave way to horrifying communal violence: "War, hunger, and dislocated populations tore asunder the threadbare fabric of Ottoman society." Suny, whose own ancestors perished in the massacres, manages to approach his subject with both a scholarly detachment and a certain sentiment, lending his work academic and emotional weight. Tracing how a growing sense of Turkish nationalism turned localized disturbances into a coordinated national policy of extermination, he argues that the conflict arose with "the accelerating construction of different ethnoreligious communities within the complex context of an empire." Precise and objective, Suny demonstrates that genocide was instigated by the grassroots and adopted by the Young Turks only after it had proven its usefulness as a political strategy.