Congratulations to Taner Akçam author of The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire and Jenny White author of Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks for each having their respective works listed on ForeignAffairs.com’s “Best International Relations Books of 2012” in the “Best Books of 2012 on the Middle East” category- L. Carl Brown’s and John Waterbury’s picks.
“L. Carl Brown, the professor emeritus of history at Princeton University, was Middle East reviewer for Foreign Affairs for the January/February through May/June issues this year. John Waterbury, the William Stewart Tod professor of Politics and International Affairs emeritus at Princeton became Middle East reviewer with the September/October issue.”
Reviews by ForeignAffairs.com:
The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity
The book’s title issues a stark indictment; the text methodically and dispassionately sustains it. In February 1914, international pressure forced the Ottomans to acquiesce to eventual self-rule for the Armenians in Anatolia’s eastern provinces. The Ottomans entered World War I in order to annul this agreement, but they feared that it would come back in some other form. According to Akçam, a Turkish historian, their preemptive “solution” was to shrink the Armenian population from around 1.3 million to around 200,000 within a few years, through deportation, starvation, and other means, including the outright murder of probably around 300,000 Armenians. Akçam claims that the Special Organization of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the secular nationalist party of the Young Turks, handled the genocide and was abetted by Mehmet Talat Pasha, the minister of the interior. All instructions were coded, delivered by CUP emissaries, and destroyed after being read. Plausible deniability was built into the system; the CUP knew it had tracks to cover. For a layman, the argument is convincing but not airtight. It is possible to see how the evidence presented could also be spun to fit a scenario of unplanned mass carnage. But the fact that a Turkish historian with access to the Ottoman archives has written this book is of immeasurable significance.
Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks
Even for those already familiar with contemporary Turkey, this sometimes disturbing book will be an eye opener. Drawing on four decades of direct observation of Turkish society, White explores the complexities of evolving notions of Turkish identity. She focuses mainly on the Muslim nationalists who have emerged since 1980. They are a rambunctious lot, full of seeming contradictions: for example, according to a 2009 study that White cites, 38 percent of young people who support the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party nevertheless describe themselves as “Kemalists”—that is, admirers of Kemal Atatürk, the stringently secularistic founder of the Turkish republic. White also explores the foibles of contemporary Turkish secularists: their obsession with racial purity, their fear of debasement through interaction with outsiders, and their sacralization of the republic’s borders. The new Muslim nationalists, in contrast, are more open to diversity, support Turkey’s association with the eu, and seek ways to include ethnic Kurds and minority sects in the body politic. They have also embraced neoliberal economic thought to a surprising degree. Alas, all these competing visions of modern Turkey relegate women to a subordinate status.