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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Children of Armenia

A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-Long Struggle for Justice

This Story

By Michael Bobelian

Simon & Schuster. 308 pp. $26

Like Native Americans, European Jews and Rwandan Tutsis, Turkish Armenians seem to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. "Children of Armenia," Michael Bobelian's first book, describes the Ottoman Empire's 1915 mass extermination of this Christian minority without getting bogged down in "G-word" histrionics. "The purpose of this book is neither to prove the existence nor affirm the veracity of the Genocide," Bobelian writes: The Armenian holocaust is a historical fact.

"Children of Armenia" focuses on the Turkish nationalism, world war weariness, survivor psychology and Cold War squabbling that let the world forget the unforgettable. Some will flinch at Bobelian's lionization of Gourgen Yanikian, an Armenian who shot two Turks in a revenge plot hatched in the 1970s, but the author stumbles only when he strays into Armenian exceptionalism, the idea that "no other people have suffered such a warped fate -- a trivialization of their suffering and a prolonged assault on the authenticity of their experience." Bobelian should know that if every culture insists on the supremacy of its own suffering, the world will only grow more jaded about stopping current horrors. Instead, any book about Armenia -- no, any exploration of any genocide -- should pose questions relevant to today's ethnic cleansings. Otherwise, who will remember the Sudanese?

-- Justin Moyer moyerj@washpost.com

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