Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, and the Armenians

Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, and the Armenians

Recommended Reading


Visible Islam in Modern Turkey, by Adil Özdemir— This volume presents a rich panorama of Islamic practices in today’s Turkey. The authors, one a Muslim and one a Christian, introduce readers to Turkish Islamic piety and observances. The book is also a model for Muslims, for it inteprets the foundations of Islam to the modern mind and shows the relevance of Turkish Islamic practices to modern society. Packed with data and insights, it appeals to a variety of circles, both secular and traditional. 


The Forbidden Modern: Civilization and Veiling, by Nilufer Gole— Why do Muslim women cover themselves? This book is a most scholarly answer to that question. The author is a professor of sociology at Bogazici/Bosphorus University in Istanbul. She has studied the factors that influence young women pursuing university educations in Turkey to adopt seemingly fundamentalist Islamic traditions, such as veiling. Gole uses the personal interview to do her research.


The Veiling Issue, Official Secularism and Popular Islam in Modern Turkey, by Elisabeth Ozdalga—The author of this short book is now the head of the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul. Americans often wonder about the AKP – the current governing political party of Turkey, which is more sympathetic to Islam than the previous very secular Turkish governments. They ask what effect the rise of this AKP has on women’s rights, especially on the headscarf issue. The author discusses the rise of AKP and looks at the headscarf as a cultural symbol of conflict between secular and religious forces in Turkey. [A controversial online document that discusses how the most radical reforms for Turkish women have been conducted under the rule of the AKP government is “Sex and Power in Turkey: Feminism, Islam and the Maturing of Turkish Democracy,” available here. It is an amazing story of how Turkish law was reformed by the current government.] 


Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World, by Hugh Pope—The Turkic people originated in Central Asia and through years of migrations, have created a band of Turkic peoples stretching from China, through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Azerbaijan to modern day Turkey. Hugh Pope is a wonderful writer who traces the migration and development of these Turkic nations and the impact they have had on the surrounding cultures. 


A Traveller’s History of Turkey, by Richard Stoneman—The region that is modern day Turkey has been at the heart of several civilizations and empires, from prehistoric Anatolia to the modern day Republic of Turkey. People are often surprised that the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire all existed in this region. This book is a good historic summary for anyone planning on travelling to Turkey or who wants a brief but informative summary of all of the history that has occurred in this region.


A Short History of Byzantium, by John Julius Norwich—Norwich is one of the foremost historians on the Byzantine Empire and has attempted to reduce his several volume history of this Empire into one volume. It can be a bit tedious but it certainly is thorough, as he traces Byzantine history from emperor to emperor. 


The Ottoman Centuries, by Lord Kinross—One of the classics on the Ottoman Empire, this book is a “richly detailed, engrossing history of the Ottoman Empire from its dawn in 1300 through its zenith under Suleiman the magnificent and up to the foundation of the modern republic in 1923.”


The Ottoman Turks: An Introduction to 1923, by Justin McCarthy— McCarthy has written a very readable history of the Ottoman Turks. This book, in particular, portrays life within the Ottoman Empire at all levels of society. He describes the Turkic tribal migrations from Central Asia, how the Turks became Muslims, and how the Ottoman Turks came to domination in Anatolia. McCarthy is known for his interest, in particular, on the Balkan region. This region is fascinating for the historic interaction and collision of Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Ottoman Islam.


The Ottomans, by Andrew Wheatcroft—Wheatcroft has written a book that intentionally chooses to move away from the Western stereotyping of the Ottomans as the “Sick Man of Europe” or the “Terrible Turk” and explore Ottoman rule, culture, history and its legacy to the region of today. 


A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, by David Fromkin—Perhaps the best account of World War I as it impacted the Ottoman Empire, this book is important in helping readers today understand the processes that led to the dilemmas and difficulties facing prospects for peace today. Highly recommended. 


Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922, by Giles Milton—Examining the period in Ottoman/Turkish history near the end of, and immediately following, World War I is to venture into conflicting narratives and perspectives. Milton focuses on the very cosmopolitan city of Smyrna, eventually to be renamed Izmir, and presents the events of 1922 through the primary sources of the city’s inhabitants, particularly expatriates who only knew Smyrna as home. The tragedy of a massacre, and the various responses to it, are told in smooth prose. 


Turkey Unveiled: Ataturk and After, by Nicole and Hugh Pope— Published in 1997, this book is written by people who are very familiar with the country of Turkey. This book is quite insightful and informative for those wishing a clearer understanding of post-1923 Turkey.


Crescent & Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds, by Stephen Kinzer— This book is written by a journalist who demonstrates a lot of insight into the complexities of contemporary Turkey as the country moves into a modern day democracy after centuries of rule by Ottoman Sultans. Kinzer examines current issues in their historic and social context.


Birds Without Wings, by Louis De Bernieres—This very well written novel is set in a village in South Western Turkey at the end of the Ottoman Empire during World War I and the Turkish War of Independence. The village described is based on a real village in which Greeks and Turks lived from the 13th Century until 1923. The plot moves between a love story of two members of this village and the wider history of Turkey going on at the same time, including the story of the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. The characters and setting are memorable. 


Academies for Anatolia: A Study of the Rationale, Program, and Impact of the Educational Institutions Sponsored by the American Board in Turkey, 1830-2005, by Frank A. Stone—With elegance and passion, Dr. Stone, a former Board missionary in Turkey, has made an excellent contribution about the historical presence of the Board in Turkey. Focusing on the schools and their histories, Dr. Stone provides insights into the issues faced by the missionaries with respect to the people in Turkey with whom the Board has worked over the past two centuries: Armenians, Greeks, and Turks. He has offered us perspective in the “way things were” and in doing so, some perspective on the “way things are.”


Ringing the Gotchnag, by Jonathan Conant Page—This book traces the lives and careers of the Allen and Wheeler families, missionaries who served in Anatolia in the 19th century. The book is especially interesting as it relies on correspondence and other primary sources to glean insight on the daily life of missionaries in this period. It also sheds some light into the debates that were taking place in the Board around educational institutions and the role of missionaries.


Biblical Sites in Turkey by Everett C. Blake & Anna G. Edmonds— “Turkey, as part of the Near East, has been an important corner of the stage on which the history of Western civilization has been played. This handbook carries up-to-date, concise information about the locations and about the events mentioned in the Bible which occurred in this holy land” (from the book jacket). 


Turkey’s Religious Sites, by Anna G. Edmonds—“This book describes places that have had continuing and diverse religious interest in Turkey from very earliest times…. [I]t has been a bridge, a crossroads, a place of pilgrimage, challenging people to envision new and more complex concepts in political, social, artistic, and religious terms. In spite of both the beauty and the harshness of the land, the generations who have lived here have contributed a remarkable degree of understanding of life and toleration for each other’s faith…” (from the book jacket). 


Twice a Stranger, by Bruce Clark—In this volume, Clark intermingles diplomatic and political history at the end of WWI (focusing specifically on the Lausanne Treaty of 1923) with a human history of those Greeks and Turks who were affected by the population exchange that took place as a result. The power of this book is the oral history it offers. This often overlooked historical event is significant in the development of modern Turkey and Greece, and has implications for today, in a post-Lausanne, globalized world. 


Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town, by Christopher de Bellaigue—Sparked by the controversy over an article he wrote in the New York Review of Books, de Bellaigue decided, a few years on, to do some further exploration and research. The result is this book. In it, he focuses on the Varto region and town in Turkey, and explores the relationships among Turks, Armenians, Alevis, and Kurds, over the course of time. The book is immensely interesting, but the style is rather aimless. The stories and history provided are very helpful in learning about some of the dynamics of ethnic relationships in Turkey.


(Re)Constructing Armenia in Lebanon and Syria: Ethno-cultural Diversity and the State in the Aftermath of a Refugee Crisis, by Nicolas Migliorino—This book is dense, as the subtitle suggests, but extremely interesting. In it, Migliorino tracks the late history of the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire up through the 1980s and the 1910s, and the refugee crisis caused by the two periods of “deportation.” He then sets to the main task of describing and analyzing the social, cultural, educational, and religious, as well as political and economic, realities of the Armenian communities as they developed in Syria and Lebanon. The two trajectories are in no way exact parallels, due to the varying trajectories of Lebanon and Syria themselves. This is part of the main value of this book. This is not light reading, but quite astute.


Imperialism, Evangelism, and the Ottoman Armenians, 1878-1896, by Jeremy Salt—This is a 150-page examination of the historical record corresponding to the first massacres of Armenians living in Anatolia. The author approaches the record through the lens of orientalism to demonstrate that what happened to the Armenians in 1894-96 has traditionally been described by accounts in England and the US (including missionaries) by those who had a natural proclivity to an anti-Muslim, and therefore anti-Turkish, bias. Salt considers the record and concludes that the dominant narrative of oppressed Armenians is tinged with prejudice and therefore should be reconsidered.


The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, by Peter Balakian—A very detailed book on that demonstrates Balakian’s insistence on documentation to describe the genocide, as well as to investigate the American involvement in response, including that of the American Board. This book is essential reading to learn about the events of the “deportations.” 


Towards Golgotha: The Memoires of Hagop Arsenian, a Genocide Survivor, translated and annotated by Arda Arsenian Ekmekji—In this very personal chronicle of the period before, during, and after the Genocide, Arsenian records the events of his daily life. It is a poignant first-hand account, a personal story that so illuminates the tragedy. Beginning in Western Turkey, Arsenian’s path is that of many others—some who survived, most who didn’t—through central Anatolia. His resourcefulness help him survive with his immediate family, eventually arriving in mandate Palestine. His accounts of both the “deportations” and of Palestine are very insightful, and are complemented by the personal journey of his granddaughter, who translated the book, and who is today the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Haigazian University in Beirut. 


Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide 1915- 1918, by Grigoris Balakian (translated by Peter Balakian)—This heavy book was originally published about 90 years ago as a memoir, but has only recently been translated into English. The day-to-day life of an Armenian Orthodox priest who lived through the deportations is fascinating and horrifying at the same time. His gentle style of narration makes this an enthralling read, but the seriousness of the subject matter deserves attention.


Taner Akçam’s A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility. This book is written by a very courageous Turkish historian who now teaches in the US. Dr. Akçam sets the entire context for what happened in the second half of the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries involving the last decades of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of Turkish nationalism, and the global circumstances that contributed to the tragedy (and as he concludes, planned effort) resulting in the deaths of more than 800,000 Christians and Armenians. (An opposing perspective is offered in The Ottoman Turks, by Justin McCarthy.) 


Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-Long Struggle for Justice, by Michael Bobelian—The early chapters recount an interesting history of the 1915-1923 period, including discussions of the Treaties of Sevres (1920) and Lausanne (1923), and the implications for the Armenians. The next part is on the Cold War dynamics and the implications for the quest for genocide recognition. The rest of the book is about efforts to raise awareness (and recognition) of the genocide in the US, especially since 1965, the 50th anniversary. It is well written and an invaluable addition to the corpus of literature on the debate. [Two interesting and helpful articles related to this issue, in the context of the House Foreign Relation Committee vote in March, 2010 to recommend voting favorably in the House on recognizing genocide: here and here


The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak—This novel traverses the US and Turkey. In its narration and dialogue, an excellent presentation of Turkish, Armenian, Turkish-American, and Armenian-American perspectives on the genocide are presented. While fiction, the reader will gain valuable insight into the history and debate over the events of 1915 (and following).