Benny Morris and Dror Ze'Evi, The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey's Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924 (Harvard University Press, 2019). The historiography of the Armenian Genocide has been most often described as a segmented sequence of related events that led up to the tragedy of 1915-1916, in the context of the Great War. The literature on this subject is extensive and devastating and is still being prolifically produced, in the face of denial and outright repression by the Turkish government. (See, for example, Brennan Cusack's recent opinion piece in the New York Times, "Turkey's Crackdown on Academics Represesses History Once Again," July 8, 2019.) Morris and Ze'Evi's important book is a cogent, meticulously researched, and balanced synthesis of this body of work that shifts the context, focus, and periodization to offer a more holistic perspective, one that highlights cause-and-effect, magnitude, and intentionality (thus culpability). Instead of focusing exclusively on the effects of state violence on Armenians, the authors broaden the scope to include all Christian communities in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey from 1894 - 1924, including Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians. Morris and Ze'Evi sum up their central thesis in this way:
In recent decades historians have written well and persuasively about the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1916. But what happened in Turkey over 1894-1924 was the mass murder of the country's Christians--Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians. All suffered massive loss of life, all were equally shorn of their worldly goods, and nearly all who survived--save the Christians of Constantinople--were expelled from the country. In the wake of their demise, the ethnic-religious infrastructure and culture of all three groups were erased, their homes, neighborhoods, towns and villages, churches, schools and cemeteries demolished or appropriated and converted to Mulsim use. In the end, no denomination was shown "favoritism"; all suffered the same fate. (488)
Running 506 pages with more than 1,000 footnotes, The Thirty-Year Genocide, with its unrelenting, graphic documentation off massacres, sadistic violence, and atrocities, will probably not appeal to general readers, as well-written as it is. In some ways, the book's documentary function--the ethical imperative to bear witness in the face of denial--overpowers the book's readability. The relatively brief interpretive conclusion, which compares the Ottoman/Turkish destruction of Christians to the genocide of Jews and other groups by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, is a welcome break from the previous (and somewhat flat) objectivity of the previous chapters. On the other hand, thoughtfully reading and interpreting the documentary/material record without excessive affect is precisely the point. In the end, we are left with a powerful, well-crafted, and, I think, enduring piece of moral history--in the best sense of the term.