Nation-making Amnesia

A Shameful Act
The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility
Taner Akçam
Metropolitan Books, $30, 496 pp.

It is hard for Americans to imagine a topic almost a century old that remains so wounding that writers risk their lives merely for raising it. Yet in Turkey, the nightmarish events of 1915–16, when upwards of a million Armenians may have perished at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, remain so bitterly contested that even using the word “genocide” can get you into trouble. Recently an organization of Turkish nationalist lawyers brought charges against the novelist Elif Shafak-citing a 2005 law against “insulting Turkish identity”-for having an Armenian character in her novel The Bastard of Istanbul condemn the “Turkish butchers” who killed his ancestors. The same organization had earlier succeeded in getting the novelist Orhan Pamuk (who in October received the Nobel Prize for literature) indicted under the same law. Both cases attracted international attention, embarrassing the Turkish government, which, unlike the nationalists, wants to join the European Union (EU). Charges against Pamuk were eventually dropped, and Shafak was acquitted. Hrant Dink, editor of the bilinguial Armenian-Turkish weekly Agos (circulation 6,000) was not so lucky. Dink had written against French efforts to make recognition of the Armenian genocide a precondition for Turkey’s entry into the EU, arguing that when democracy and free speech came to Turkey, the truth about 1915 would prevail. He was convicted under Article 301 for insulting Turkishness. Although...

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About the Author

Margaret Lavinia Anderson teaches history at the University of California, Berkeley.