Research Paper: Genocide the Second Most Studied

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[. . .] The result was to portray Armenians as hostile to Turkish interests and the genocide as a conflict between the Turks and a potential oppressor in which both sides suffered casualties (Ulgen, 2010). The importance of Kemalism, as Ulgen refers to the ideology of Kemal, cannot be underestimated in its effect on Turkey's treatment of the Armenian question long after Kemal's party had been replaced.

For instance, the genocide was rarely discussed until the 1960's and 1970's. Dixon (2010) reports that in 1965 (the 50th anniversary of the genocide) and the 1970's Armenian groups began to try to force recognition of the issue internationally and by Turkey via political means and terrorism, but with little effect on Turkey's position. Turkey had issues of its own including internal political unrest and continued to deny the genocide and respond in a reactive manner to Armenian terrorists. Interestingly, the drive towards and the maintenance of nationalism in Turkey resulted in a formal rewriting of history by the Turkish government. Dixon (2010) believes that as interest and requests for Turkey to admit to the genocide peaked in 1980s the nationalistic leaders of Turkey actually defended the narrative of the "Armenian question" by means of a strategy that involved the use of a number of government agencies and was aimed at both domestic and international targets. She describes five general elements to this strategy: (1) centralizing control over the narrative, (2) publishing defenses of it, (3) creating or assembling evidence for it, (4) teaching it to Turkish students, and (5) finding international support for it. This is paralleled today by Iranian denial of the holocaust. Since the 1980's Turkish students have been taught the official narrative as if it is historical fact. On an international level Turkey agreed to open its official achieves on the matter, but Dixon (2010) notes that not all material was available and those granted permission to review them were scholars who would not question Turkey's position on the matter.

Of particular interest is the teaching of the official narrative to students and its evolution over time as efforts to promote nationalism increased. This is a prime example of how nationalistic attitudes shape the memories of historical events in favor of the ruling class. The policy from the 1950s through the 1970s was that high school students in Turkey were not exposed to anything concerning the existence of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and certainly did not learn anything concerning the deportation during WWI (Holthouse, 2008). Beginning in the 1980s however, the new initiative led to high school history textbooks teaching students that the Armenians revolted and assaulted the Ottoman government and its citizens before and during the war (WWI). The Ottoman government was then forced to relocate the Armenians in an effort to protect the Turkish nation (Holthouse, 2008). Ten years later Turkish students were being taught that the Armenians were in effect traitors and spread vicious propaganda in an attempt to take advantage of the Ottoman Empire during the weakened state of the Empire due to the War. This creates the impression that Armenians actually backstabbed the Turks and that the Turks were defending themselves against a vicious, conniving, untrustworthy enemy that would stop at nothing to eliminate them. Most recently Turkish history high school texts have described the so-called "Turkish-Armenian War" that allegedly occurred following the end of WWI. The new story is that excavations have documented the Armenian attempts at committing genocide against Turks (Holthouse, 2008). The progression of the nationalistic "myth" is illustrated in this sequence of nothing being taught about the genocide to the events being described in reverse.

Again in the 1990's and early 2000's pressure was exerted on turkey regarding its position. Dixon (2010) observes that several international situations including issues with Republic of Armenia and Turkey's possible acceptance into the EU, Turkey's reforms regarding human and civil rights, and international recognition of the genocide forced the resurgence of the issue. In the early 1990s a small number of books critical of the official narrative were published in turkey for the first time. Up until this time such a formal critical discussion of this issue in Turkey was not permitted. On other hand, international recognition of the Armenian genocide had increased with a number of states having officially recognized the genocide in 2000 and 2001. Dixon (2010) observed that official Turkish government agencies still supported the narrative, but that internal political factions opposing Turkish nationalism freely challenge the narrative (e.g., the mostly Kurdish Democratic Society Party [DTP]). In 2008 the DTP called for an official apology by the Turkish government. Other political parties have gained power in Turkey (e.g., The Justice and Development Party [AKP]) and in an attempt to garner votes from disenfranchised groups have also pressured for a rebuttal of Turkey's official narrative on the Armenian question. Nonetheless, the military and bureaucracy still have a foothold in Turkish politics and an interest in maintaining the official stance.

Dixon (2010) reports that there have been some subtle shifts in the official narrative such as signing a protocol to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia in 2009 and subtle admissions such as a recent admission that more Armenians were killed than the official narrative claimed and the admission that there were instances of deportation. However, the official government response has still favored a nationalistic approach and polices of publishing books and gathering official support for the narrative, teaching the official narrative in Turkish schools, and attempting to gain international support for the narrative are still in effect. Kemal's strategy is still alive and well in Turkey.

The Turkish treatment of the Armenian Genocide, an event acknowledged nearly all over the world outside of Turkey and its closest allies, is representative of how nationalistic attitudes rewrite actual historical events in favor of a ruling party. It is easy to criticize the Turks in this matter, but in actuality the Turkish attitude towards the Armenian question calls for a critical eye in every country regarding its presentation of international events and the need for objectivity in understanding truth.


Akcam, T. (2004). From empire to republic: Turkish nationalism and the Armenian genocide. London: Zed Books.

Dixon, J. (2010). Defending the nation? Maintaining Turkey's narrative of the Armenian Genocide. South European Society and Politics, 15(3), 467-485.

Holthouse, D. (2008). State of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Genocide the Second Most Studied.  (2012, June 7).  Retrieved June 16, 2019, from

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"Genocide the Second Most Studied."  June 7, 2012.  Accessed June 16, 2019.