Part of The Best Books of 2012 on the Middle East

The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire

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.

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