The Armenian Genocide of 1915 is one of the most horrifying tragedies of the twentieth century. The exterminationist campaign caught its victims in total shock, who lacked any preparations to stand against or avoid it. As I show in my broader research the catastrophe occurred immediately after a period when the Ottoman Armenian communities and their political elites were the most optimistic about the prospects of the Armenian people in the empire. Even after the First World War broke out, the commonly held view among the leading Armenian circles was that “before the Armenian people was rising a new, unlimited and fascinating horizon.” Within months after the war began, however, this optimism was abruptly replaced by a sudden escalation of conflict, which eventually would lead to the destruction of the Ottoman Armenians by the Young Turk government. The existing scholarship in Armenian Genocide Studies does not explain the radicality of this sudden shift from widespread optimism to the escalation of conflict. The current literature frames the pre-genocide context as a long-term and gradual escalation as an ideologically, politically, and socially foreordained process. Even those who have raised fundamental challenges to its dimension of teleological historical determinism concur that “on the eve of the First World War, the empire and its Armenian population stood on the edge of a precipice.” Drawing on Ottoman, Armenian, British and American missionary archival materials, Armenian and Ottoman periodicals, memoirs, and secondary sources this presentation traces the roots of the widespread optimism among the Armenians in the time period between the Balkan Wars and the First World War. Going beyond deterministic, escalationist, and teleological perspectives on the antecedents of the Armenian genocide, my analysis highlights political agency and enabling structures of the war, offering a new perspective on the tragic violence of Eastern Anatolia in the early 20th century.
Yektan Türkyılmaz received his Ph.D. from Duke University Department of Cultural Anthropology. He taught courses at the University of Cyprus, Sabancı, Bilgi, Duke, and California State Universities addressing the debates around the notions of collective violence, memory-making and reconciliation, and politics of music. He is working on his book manuscript based on his dissertation, Rethinking Genocide: Violence and Victimhood in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-1915, that addresses the conflict in Eastern Anatolia in the early 20th century and the memory politics around it. His new project concerns the emergence of the sound recording industry and its implications on the remaking of public space in the broader Ottoman and post-Ottoman world. He is currently a research fellow at the Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at the CEU.
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