The Armenian ****cide: A Question of Unpresentable Memory between Shame and Guilt

By Servan Adar Avsar | 26 September 2011

To quote this document: Servan Adar Avsar, “The Armenian ****cide: A Question of Unpresentable Memory between Shame and Guilt”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Monday 26 September 2011,, displayed on 03 February 2023

The memory of the Armenian Genocide occupies a special place in Turkish history. What questions are raised by the feeling of guilt that can surrounds this episode ?


The twentieth century was an era that saw more mass killings than in any period of human history. All these events left us with the question of understanding what happened, why and how to engage in them; in short, with the question of memory. The twentieth century has also been an era of proliferation of concepts to deal with this question of understanding what happened: genocide, ethnocide, cultural genocide, mass killing, massacre, ethnic cleansing and so on.

Deportation and massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1916 has been one the mass killings of the twentieth century. An event as such, the Armenian ****cide attracted the attention of historians, political scientists, politicians and governments. Although there is a general consensus among Western historians that the Armenian ****cide did happen (and 21 countries have officially recognised it as a genocide), the current state of the Armenian ***cide stands in between recognition pressure from mainly Europe and the US, and Turkey’s position of denial. The Armenian ****cide was excluded from mainstream Turkish histography whereas it has been the central element of the formation of an Armenian identity (Genocide had become central to diaspora – Armenian identity. One can even argue that some people have an interest in the continuation of denial).

Contrary to Armenian claims, Turkey claims that the deaths among the Armenians were a result of inter-ethnic conflicts, disease and famine during the deportation. However, the main concern of this paper is not to discuss the issue within the narrow framework of recognition – denial opposition, but to argue that Turkey’s affirmation of the guilt of the crime may not make Turkey feel that it is truly one. Turkey’s acceptance of the guilt of the crime opens up and preserves a saving distance for Turkey between what it is (identity) and what it has done (crime) - as shown in the article “The Shame of Being a Man”, by Steven Connor. Therefore, it is the shame of the crime which should be at the centre of the discussion which represents “a judgement coming from inside which is an intense internalisation of the guilt”.

The discussion pursued here with reference to literature on memory, shame and guilt attempts to answer the following questions: How do we retrieve past, and do we ever retrieve it at all ? What does it mean to come to term with a past crime that is unimaginable, unpresentable? Do pressures and demands force Turkey to accept the guilt or to be ashamed of itself due to the crime? Or are all these pressures pushing Turkey towards being a part of a (Western) confessional culture in which the subject of genocide threatens to become a growing industry?



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Source : Armenian Genocide in Western Armenia and Turkey, par 517design, sur flickr