Ugur Umit Ungor

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Young Turkish Scholar Tells Europe About The Armenian Genocide


AMSTERDAM, FEBRUARY 8, ARMENPRESS: Ugur Umit Ungor is one of a new generation of scholars emerging from Turkey who deal forthrightly with the Armenian Genocide. Assistant professor at the Department of History at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and researcher at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, his main interest is the historical sociology of mass violence and nationalism, Armenpress reports citing The Armenian Mirror-Spectator. He has recently published three books dealing with the Armenian Genocide and related issues.

According to a September 17, 2009 interview with Vahram Emiyan published in the Beirut Armenian newspaper Aztag, Ungor was led to his interest in the Armenian Genocide by reading about the Holocaust, and in particular, a book by Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust. Bauer made comparisons with other genocides, including the Armenian one.

Despite his own family origins in the same region as this genocide, Ungor said, "I had never heard about such an event and it sparked my curiosity. When I did my research, I was amazed by the difference between the denial of official histories in Turkey versus what the ordinary population in Eastern Turkey knew about the Genocide. I traveled around Eastern Turkey and did many interviews with old people, who openly spoke about the Armenians as having been massacred by the government."

In 2007 Ungor published his first book, Vervolging, Onteigening en Vernietiging: De Deportatie van Ottomaanse Armeniërs tijdens de Eerste Wereldoorlog, a short volume in Dutch which provides an overview of the Armenian Genocide. It also includes a sociological analysis of identity conflict. In the Armenian-Turkish conflict, as Ungor later summarized, "Armenians want to remember a history that Turks want to forget."

A few years later, Ungor published his doctoral thesis as The Making of Modern Turkey: Nation and State in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-1950 (Oxford University Press, 2011). Here he examined the process of social engineering the Young Turks and their Republican successors engaged in to unsuccessfully create a homogeneous Turkey, including the use of mass violence and genocide against Armenians and Kurds.

His most recent volume, Confiscation and Destruction: The Young Turk Seizure of Armenian Property (London: Continuum, 2011), was cowritten with Mehmet Polatel. It examines how Turkish economic nationalism led to the confiscation of Armenian wealth and property, and how the proceeds were distributed.

Turkish and Kurdish reactions to Ungor's books, ranging "between vitriol and praise," have on the average been "ambivalent." Ungor explained: "Nationalist Turks have placed me firmly on their treachery radar and have threatened me in various ways, whereas liberal Turks have encouraged and praised me for their own reasons.

Since I never lived in Turkey, do not have a degree specifically in Turkish history and therefore do not consider myself a 'Turkologist,' I am rather unknown in and isolated from the Turkish academic community. That might change because my books are currently being translated into Turkish."

Armenians, on the other hand, have generally welcomed and supported Ungor's research. Most of the emails he has received have been from interested Armenian readers, though the situation changes when he critically tackles historical taboos or national myths.

As far as upcoming books go, Ungor is shifting to larger-scale studies, such as a book on genocidal violence in the Hapsburg, Ottoman and Russian Empires. Ungor said, "Currently I'm broadening my intellectual horizon. So far my research and teaching have focused on nation formation and ethnic conflict during the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, including the Armenian Genocide. I would still like to keep one foot anchored in this field, but also reach out the other foot to the global problem of mass violence in general. After all, I came into Armenian Genocide studies through Holocaust studies, and have also worked on Rwanda and the Balkans." He also is in the early phase of writing a more general book on mass violence.

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