The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924
By Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi
Illustrated. 656 pp. Harvard University Press. $35.
By Bruce Clark
Using the word “genocide” to describe an episode of mass killing has consequences. If the horrors are unfolding now, it invites other countries to intervene and punish the perpetrators. If the unspeakable events are in the past, the word’s use can affect the way they are discussed, by historians or ordinary people. Once the term “genocide” has been established, it can seem tasteless or morally impossible to talk in much detail about the context in which mass murder occurred. Any speculation about precise motives or catalysts can sound like making excuses.
But one merit of The Thirty-Year Genocide, about the agonies suffered by Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire immediately before and after its collapse, is that the authors overcome that problem. Their narrative offers a subtle diagnosis of why, at particular moments over a span of three decades, Ottoman rulers and their successors unleashed torrents of suffering.