Academic journal article The Historian

Sasun: The History of an 1890s Armenian Revolt

Academic journal article The Historian

Sasun: The History of an 1890s Armenian Revolt

Article excerpt

Sasun: The History of an 1890s Armenian Revolt. By Justin McCarthy, Omer Turan, and Cemalettin Taskiran. (Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press, 2014. Pp. 496. $32.00.)

The Sasun crisis in 1894 was a watershed in Ottoman-Armenian history, as it marked the beginning of the process of elimination of the native Armenian population, continuing with widespread massacres in 1895-1896 and in 1909 and culminating in the genocidal deportations and massacres of 1915 to 1923. The historiography of more than a century has described and analyzed in detail the tribulations of the Armenian peasantry in the mountains of Sasun in the eastern reaches of the Ottoman Empire, their being stirred up by revolutionaries to resist Kurdish predations, and their victimization in 1894, reportedly with the involvement of regular Turkish armed forces.

Admittedly, the Sasun crisis was complex with rapidly changing political and economic structures affected by the extension of firmer governmental control in the eastern Ottoman provinces, the sharpening of tensions between the Armenian peasantry and the local Kurdish tribesmen and their exacting agha chieftains, and the agitation of Armenian political activists who urged the villagers to stand firm against the heightened exploitation. These and other factors created a deadly scenario of Armenian resistance, Kurdish retribution, and Turkish military involvement, ending in brutal killings and plunder of large numbers of Sasun-Armenians and the destruction of many villages.

In this volume, as it were, the authors set out to debunk what they consider to be the Sasun myth. To that end, the voluminous corpus of contemporary press accounts, missionary reports, consular dispatches, diplomatic correspondence and official publications, and the findings of the European delegates attached to the Ottoman Commission of Inquiry that were subsequently sent to the region are examined. Each, in turn, is found to have contributed to the distortion of what really happened and to creating the false impression of Armenian victimhood and Turkish and Kurdish aggression, when, as the authors would have it, the Armenians were in revolt and the truth was more or less the opposite. …

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