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NEW YORK —
Professor Akçam—an international authority on the Armenian Genocide, and one of the first Turkish academics to acknowledge and openly discuss it—introduced his book at the Diocesan Center in New York on Thursday, October 18, during an evening co-sponsored by the Eastern Diocese and other Armenian organizations.
Peter Balakian, the leading public voice of Armenian Genocide advocacy and the author of several books on the subject, introduced Professor Akçam last Thursday.
Mining some 600 documents from the Ottoman archives—many of them previously unstudied—Professor Akçam outlines how the Ottoman government aimed to reshape the population of the empire in the wake of the Balkan War of 1912-13. He argues that the ruling Committee of Union and Progress, having suffered large territorial loses in the Balkan War, concluded that tolerating the empire’s Christian minority—which made up 30 percent of the total population—would lead to the unraveling of the Ottoman state.
In response, the CUP embarked on a policy of resettling and assimilating Christian families to ensure that the Christian population in a given town or village would not exceed 5 to 10 percent of the local Muslim population. This policy, Professor Akçam said, was closely tied to the notion that the Christian minority posed a serious threat to the empire’s existence. “The impetus was less about a well-developed ideological mindset, and more about anxiety about security,” he said.
According to Professor Akçam, this new research expands the understanding of genocide by shedding light on social engineering practices designed to strip Christian minorities—especially the Armenians—of their identity. It shows that “genocide is broader than the mere physical destruction and annihilation of a group of people,” Professor Akçam said.
Of course, ultimately, the homogenization policy became just that. By the spring of 1915, the Committee of Union and Progress gave up its resettlement policy and turned to the more familiar destruction of the Armenian population—killing orders, massacres, and desert death camps.
Professor Akçam added that he hopes his findings will help to establish the Ottoman archives as reliable sources, which can be used alongside materials available in the West. “Taken in their entirety, the Ottoman and Western archives jointly confirm that the ruling party CUP did deliberately implement a policy of ethnoreligious homogenization of Anatolia that aimed to destroy the Armenian population,” he writes in the book.
He acknowledged that while “there is practically no chance of finding records of the plans for annihilation …among the Ottoman state documents…. such an enormous crime left traces among official state documents… [and] the genocidal policy against the Armenians can be demonstrated through these documents alone.”
Professor Balakian recounted how Professor Akçam began his career as a student activist in Ankara. Imprisoned for his ideas about Turkish identity, he escaped and subsequently made his way to Germany, where he studied sociology at Hanover University and began his research on the Armenian Genocide.
“What has been missing throughout the decades [from discussions of the Armenian Genocide] is a Turkish voice,” Professor Balakian said. “Taner’s work has helped add that crucial piece to the evolving discourse on the Armenian Genocide.”
More than 100 people gathered for the lecture. Diocesan Council chair Oscar Tatosian gave opening remarks. The Very Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian closed the evening with a prayer.
The book talk was organized by the Eastern Diocese, with the participation of AGBU Ararat, the Knights and Daughters of Vartan, Tekeyan Cultural Association, C.A.R.S., Tibrevank Alumni, Hye Doon, and Eseyan-Getronagan Alumni.