The legacy of the history and historiography of the 1915 Armenian genocide is a fraught one. Ece Temelkuran's Deep Mountain: Across the Turkish-Armenian Divide, an exploration of the controversial subject of the living history and continuing denial of the Armenian genocide, has attracted both high praise and strong criticisms from different quarters.
For the New Left Project, Jamie Stern-Weiner describes Deep Mountain as "a thoughtful reflection on the personal and communal politics of nationalism". Introducing his interview with Temelkuran, he summarizes his thoughts on the book thusly:
Its value, in my view, lies primarily in its exposition of the subjective experience of nationalism and the ways in which personal and communal identity can become bound up with political demands.
While Stern-Weiner's views are characteristic of the more positive reviews, the book has also garnered a response of a very different kind. G. M. Goshgarian writing for New Politics has penned a scathing attack on the book which he deems as "genocide denial light". In an in-depth and comprehensive piece, he explains that he was baffled as to why Verso had published a book that, in his words, could be best be likened to "latter-day national- socialist treatments of the holocaust". With the aim of facilitating an open dialogue on this sensitive issue, it is interesting to present his critique here. Goshgarian hopes that his review will add to a wider discussion that "may help spark a badly needed clarification of the ambiguities muddying the political and ideological movement that has spawned Temelkuran's book."
Goshgarian argues that Temelkuran:
1) indirectly justifies, in Part I of Deep Mountain, Ankara's main policy objective vis-à-vis Armenia, a normalization of diplomatic and economic relations without prior recognition of the genocide; 2) firmly condemns, in Part II, a proposed French law, which Ankara is fighting tooth and nail, to make denial of the Armenian genocide a crime, as Holocaust denial already is; and 3) faithfully reproduces, in Part III, Turkish diplomacy's and the Turkish mass media's stock image of the mighty U.S. Armenian lobby and the fanaticized Diasporan masses at its beck and call. More generally, she downplays issues of responsibility and reparations, and banishes the very thought that redress might involve territorial adjustments.
He goes on to examine her prescription for a "Turkish-Armenian "dialogue" without preconditions", surmising that:
The short form of her lesson is: let them talk about their "genocide" all they want, and listen sympathetically to their tales of woe until they finally get tired and stop. A certain family resemblance between that proposal and Ankara's is hard to miss. Her humanist justification for hers, to be sure, is her own: only dialogue will allow the two sides to dissolve their differences in their Common Humanity. The purity of her intentions is beyond doubt. That does not necessarily recommend them.
He further objects to the characterisation of Armenians in the book and the nature of the dialogue depicted:
Many are, rather, "hardline sectarians" (180), also known as "shouters" (153, 248). These Armenian enemies of dialogue routinely identify themselves as such by rudely "thrusting" Turks such as Temelkuran "into the position of someone who has to 'deny' or 'recognize' genocide" (208)... Temelkuran by no means denies that the Armenian fanatics who insist on genocide recognition have their opposite numbers on the other side of the Turkish-Armenian divide. One of her central theses, in fact, is that there are "hardline sectarians positioned on opposing sides of the same game" (180). The Turkish sectarians are the ultra-nationalists and fascists. Whence a fine distinction. "Those who assault writers as they're hauled into court," Temelkuran declares (perhaps thinking of the thugs who tried to attack Orhan Pamuk when he was brought to court under Article 301 in December 2005 for affirming in an interview that "we killed a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds") "are no more representative of my people than those who chant 'Recognize the genocide or get lost!' are representative of all the Armenians living in distant lands" (99, emphasis added). The "all" is all-important: it indicates that the Armenian-Turkish divide runs between a representative majority of Armenian extremists and an atypical minority of ultra-nationalist Turks. That may explain why Deep Mountain's "illuminating look at the part nationalism plays in the way we see ourselves and others" (the blurb) is essentially a look at the blinding effects of Armenian nationalism on Armenians. The Turkish shouters are neither named nor described, let alone interviewed. Despite the subtitle (for which the author may bear no blame), Deep Mountain is thus about, not the Turkish-Armenian, but the Armenian-Armenian divide.
Further probing Temelkuran's arguments, he states:
Temelkuran would appear to concede, most of the time, that the wounds to be healed are mostly the Armenians'. From this it follows that the dialogue is of a special sort, so that it might be better "if we replaced 'dialogue' with a different word: listen. Listen in silence until they've said all they need to say" (235). This will "alleviate the burden of these conflicting versions of a shared past.... That's what they need" (208).
"We," however, know that most of "them" do not know that "that's what they need." Our fantasy therefore threatens to founder on the fact that the real supports of our imaginary relation are, on our own witness, mainly sectarian shouters, resistant to therapeutic dialogue with such as us. Deep Mountain proposes the classic humanist solution to this problem. It runs: 1) the basis on which we can "share [their] stories" is our "common humanity" (199); 2) de-Middle-Easternized Brownians and Smithians aside, even Armenian hardliners have a share in it; ergo 3) "people like us" can experience fleeting moments of communion even with hardliners. We may thus reasonably hope that they, too, will one day become willing partners in the all-embracing dialogue of reconciliation that will efface the Armenian-Armenian and, simultaneously, Armenian-Turkish divides. Meanwhile, it isn't our fault if they haven't come round.
The crucial corollary runs: Just as, in much of the world, our Common Humanity is Northern European, so in Eastern Turkey - Anatolia - our Common Humanity is Anatolian. With that, we have arrived at the fantasy that sustains the fantasy of therapeutic reconciliation, the one on which Deep Mountain ultimately rests.
Temelkuran did not invent it. Anatolianism is currently in vogue on one Turkish leftish fringe... "Us," to be sure, is us Anatolians, not us Turks. Anatolia, however, has been under Ottoman or Turkish rule since about 1500 CE.
He concludes by examining Temelkuran's vision and what he views as the ultimate problem of the book:
"If the label we attach to our pain makes it impossible to discuss that pain" (100), should we not, as patriotic Anatolians, forget about "mere labels," remember that we are "a people bound together by tales of Anatolia," and get on to the real, the only serious business to hand: telling and listening to those stories? It is a matter of some urgency: "our people have scattered, to Armenia, France, America, and who knows how many other places [our Anatolian people have scattered to Armenia?] - members of a Diaspora even in their own countries" (192).
It was necessary to reproduce this much of Temelkuran's vision in order to make that last sentence comprehensible. Many a reader will still not have understood it. Those who have will also have understood that it is, at the discursive level - her manifestly good, internationalist intentions notwithstanding, there is unfortunately no avoiding the word - genocidal. One hopes the movement she belongs to will notice the fact, and point that out, not last to her.
To read Stern-Weiner's interview with Ece Temelkuran in full please visit New Left Project.
To read Goshgarian's review in full please visit New Politics.