By Aram Arkun
AMSTERDAM — Ugur Ümit Üngör is one of a new generation of scholars emerging from Turkey who deal forthrightly with the Armenian Genocide. Assistant professor at the Department of History at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and researcher at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, his main interest is the historical sociology of mass violence and nationalism. He has recently published three books dealing with the Armenian Genocide and related issues.
Üngör studied at the Universities of Groningen, Utrecht, Toronto and Amsterdam. After obtaining his master’s degree in 2005 at the latter university he continued his studies until defending his doctorate there in 2009. He lectured at the University of Sheffield in England from 2008-09 and served as a post-doctoral research fellow at the Centre for War Studies of University College Dublin (Ireland) from 2009 to 2010.
According to a September 17, 2009 interview with Vahram Emiyan published in the Beirut Armenian newspaper Aztag, Üngör was led to his interest in the Armenian Genocide by reading about the Holocaust, and in particular, a book by Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust. Bauer made comparisons with other genocides, including the Armenian one. Despite his own family origins in the same region as this genocide, Üngör said, “I had never heard about such an event and it sparked my curiosity. When I did my research, I was amazed by the difference between the denial of official histories in Turkey versus what the ordinary population in Eastern Turkey knew about the Genocide. I traveled around Eastern Turkey and did many interviews with old people, who openly spoke about the Armenians as having been massacred by the government.”
In 2007 Üngör published his first book, Vervolging, Onteigening en Vernietiging: De Deportatie van Ottomaanse Armeniërs tijdens de Eerste Wereldoorlog, a short volume in Dutch which provides an overview of the Armenian Genocide. It also includes a sociological analysis of identity conflict. In the Armenian-Turkish conflict, as Üngör later summarized, “Armenians want to remember a history that Turks want to forget.” Since their “constructed memories are a prime component of group identity, both Armenians and Turks experience any deviation from that memory as a direct attack on their very identity. For Turks most of this also relates to a guilty conscience, a so-called ‘perpetrator trauma’: facing the full reality of the genocide is simply too painful and shameful.”