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"Sabiha Gök̨cen's 80-year-old secret" : Kemalist nation formation and the Ottoman Armenians


This dissertation explores the socio-historical forces that account for the ongoing Turkish denial of the genocide of the Ottoman Armenians for ninety-five years after the event. I argue that because of the temporal proximity of and the institutional continuities between the two events - Armenian deportations and massacres (1915 -1916) and the rise of the new Turkish nation-state with a legendary War of Independence led by Atatürk (1919-1922) - "Turkishness" invented by the Kemalist elites during the inter-war era remained inextricably implicated with and ideologically positioned in relation to the absent presence of the Ottoman Armenians. To be able to deconstruct the relationship between the Turkish denial and the Kemalist nation formation, I tried to trace and recover these implications and the ideological repositionings along the axis of four main institutions : national press (the period from the Sabiha Gökçen controversy in 2004 until the assassination of Hrant Dink in 2007), national economy (and class formation), charismatic authority (Atatürk), and national education. My analysis showed me that what we today call "genocide denial" is more fundamentally related to the moral abyss constructed in the founding national narrations between the "Turks" and the "Armenians." Another central premise of this dissertation is that even though Ataturk was not involved in the Armenian deportations and massacres of 1915, his memory and his charismatic authority that came to be routinized over all state institutions in Turkey as the moral compass of the nation remains profoundly entangled with the legacy of the Armenian genocide and the Unionists who orchestrated it. In my analysis I do not separate state identity and its formative process anchored in Ataturk's charisma, from national identity and its formative process; I argue that these two processes can't be separated in the context of Turkish nationalism. Through rigorous historical analysis, I try to understand the ways in which this unity not only accounts for the eccentricity of the Turkish national project but also sustains the moral abyss between the Turkish "innocence" and the Armenian "evil" and the contemporary Turkish denial

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