An Eye-Opener

An Eye-Opener 21 October 2015
Ragnar Naess, a Norwegian philosopher, has written a new book on the "Question of the Armenian Genocide.” The volume has been released by the Gomidas Institute (UK) "to promote critical debate.”

According to Ara Sarafian, director of the Gomidas Institute, Naess is quite well-read on the subject of the Genocide and well-known to many academics, lobbyists and others on Internet discussion groups related to the Armenian Genocide. Indeed, he has gained a reputation for his forthright and probing manner in these discussions – sometimes infuriating people on both sides of the so-called Turkish-Armenian divide. Naess insists that it is only with open discussion and critical documentation that sensible progress on the Armenian issue may be made.

In line with this philosophy, in May 2008 Naess, arranged a closed meeting of an unlikely group of people to discuss the Armenian Genocide. The participants ranged from Khachig Mouradian (editor of the ARF organ Armenian Weekly),  and Dennis Papazian (Armenian Research Center, Dearborn) to Justin McCarthy (University of Kentucky), Inanc Atılgan (Turkish Historical Association) and Kemal Çicek (Turkish Historical Association). Others included Ara Sarafian (Gomidas Institute, London), Garabed Moumjian (an independent scholar), Hilmar Kaiser (European University), Baskin Oran (University of Ankara), and Yavuz Baydar (journalist). Naess also endorsed the participation of Levon Marashlian (Glendale Community College) at the Turkish Historical Society’s 1990 conference in Ankara.

On Friday, October 16, Naess presented his views on the Armenian Genocide at Litteraturhuset (Oslo, Norway), with the release of his 448 page book, A Genocidal Age and its Aftermath: Notes on the Question of the Armenian Genocide. This work revolves around thee key elements

Firstly, Naess takes the view that the work of many authors writing about the Armenian Genocide need to be scrutinised more carefully, and their views need to be substantiated. It is his expectation that his own work will also be held to such standards.

Secondly, he presents his assessment of different academic works related to the Armenian Genocide, including those of Raymond Kevorkian, Taner Akcam, Wolfgang Gust, Klas-Jöran Karlsson, Uğur Ümit Üngör, Kamuran Gürün, and Edward Erickson, as well as Ara Sarafian, Hilmar Kaiser, Justin McCarthy, and Kemal Çiçek.

Finally, he offers his own assessment of the Armenian Genocide as a historical event.

Commenting on the first element of the book, Sarafian – who was at the book launch in Norway - endorses Naess’ call for more critical assessment of academic works on the Armenian issue. "This question of a critical approach and the need for ‘documentation’ to sustain key points of argumentation appears frequently and should be taken seriously.”  

Concerning the second element, Sarafian welcomes the opportunity to look more carefully at Naess’ assessment of published works. "However,” Sarafian notes, "when making his own assessment – though he often makes interesting points – Naess begins to show his own weaknesses."

As for the
third point, Naess’ own assessment of the Armenian Genocide is probably the most contentious element of his book. He considers the destruction of Ottoman Armenians to have been a brutal response to a perceived anti-Muslim threat posed by the Russian invasion of the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

According to Sarafian, Naess’ perspective is an interesting one because his views are often hinted at by deniers of the Armenian Genocide. His interpretation seems highly ‘contextual’ and lacking in serious content. Having such views openly stated, however, allows for a more thorough discussion of such views.

Ragnar Naess, A Genocidal Age and its Aftermath: Notes on the Question of the Armenian Genocide, (London: Gomidas Institute), 448 pages, ISBN 978-1-909382-12-1, pb. UK£35.00 / $55.00

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