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Literature

Prof. Ze’evi Talks to TNH about The Thirty-Year Genocide

The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924 by Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi is a reappraisal of the giant massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire, and then the Turkish Republic, against their Christian minorities. Previous books have examined the genocides against the Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks separately or focused only on the period of 1913-1923, but The Thirty-Year Genocide is the first account to show that the three were actually one intentional effort to rid Anatolia of its Christian population.

This well researched book by Morris, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and Ze’evi, Professor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, is a must read for anyone interested in the tragic events and history which inevitably shaped the modern world.

Professor Morris has published books about the history of the Zionist–Arab conflict and has also written about the conflict in the New York Review of Books, New York Times, New Republic, and The Guardian. Professor Ze’evi has published several books on Ottoman and Middle Eastern history.

As noted in the book’s description, between 1894 and 1924, three waves of violence swept across Anatolia, targeting the region’s Christian minorities, who had previously accounted for 20 percent of the population. By 1924, the Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks had been reduced to 2 percent. Most historians have treated these waves as distinct, isolated events, and successive Turkish governments presented them as an unfortunate sequence of accidents. The Thirty-Year Genocide is the first account to show that the three were actually part of a single, continuing, and intentional effort to wipe out Anatolia’s Christian population.

The years in question, the most violent in the recent history of the region, began during the reign of the Ottoman sultan Abdulhamid II, continued under the Young Turks, and ended during the first years of the Turkish Republic founded by Ataturk. Yet despite the dramatic swing from the Islamizing autocracy of the sultan to the secularizing republicanism of the post–World War I period, the nation’s annihilationist policies were remarkably constant, with continual recourse to premeditated mass killing, homicidal deportation, forced conversion, mass rape, and brutal abduction. And one thing more was a constant: the rallying cry of jihad. While not justified under the teachings of Islam, the killing of two million Christians was effected through the calculated exhortation of the Turks to create a pure Muslim nation.

The National Herald contacted Professor Ze’evi for comment about the book and he took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions via email.

TNH: How long did it take to put the book together from idea to publication?

Prof. Dror Ze’evi: We started thinking about this project about nine years ago. In the beginning, our aim was to study the Armenian genocide during World War I, but as we delved into the research, we understood that the wartime Armenian tragedy was only part of a much larger saga of torment and suffering that lasted three decades and destroyed the Christian communities in Asia Minor – Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians. The huge scope of this tragedy, in both space and time, led us to this nine-year research journey.

TNH: What was the most challenging aspect and also the most rewarding aspect of writing this book?

DZ: Our research took us to many archives in many countries, including the United States, Turkey, Britain, France, and Germany. In all these archives we found large quantities of primary sources. For me the most challenging aspect of writing the book was sifting through these mountains of material, comparing them, and sometimes combining, say, a deportation telegram from the Turkish Interior ministry with the report of a German consul and a letter written by an American missionary to create the narrative. Most rewarding was understanding that all these documents told a lucid and incontrovertible story and that they clearly complemented and completed each other.

TNH: What projects are you working on next?

DZ: We just finished this long and often exhausting project, and at the moment we are still writing articles and lecturing about it around the world. But I have no doubt that we will both continue to write about the fascinating history of our neck of the woods.

The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924 by Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi, published by the Harvard University Press, is available in bookstores and online.

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