The first half of Suny’s book concentrates on the history of the Armenians and the events leading up to their genocide. As per usual in that time period, the Ottoman Empire was based on a hierarchical system where those of one ethnicity and those who are wealthy are higher in the system. The Ottomans emphasized “difference” instead of “sameness” which could have been a foreshadowing on the ultimate outcome for the Armenians. While I support the idea of a nation-state, I believe that everyone should be represented in a government body (something often easier done if everyone has the same ideals), I don’t believe states should persecute others simply to achieve a nation-state. Instead, governments should promote cultural diffusion and loyalty towards the state- patriotism should be the focus of the government, not stopping the nationalism of the several nations in its territory. The Ottoman did the opposite, and focused on separatism and differences; this is possibly why the genocide ultimately happened. The Armenians got tired of the oppression, spoke out, and even rioted; this caused the Ottomans to view them as a threat that had to ultimately be extinguished.
At certain points, it seemed that faith was the most important factor in the Armenian pride and nationalism. At other points, language and historical experiences identified the Armenian nation. It makes me wonder what decides a nation, or if it truly changes depending on the context and time period in which the group is united together. The Armenians were divided by politics, distance, dialects, and class; but, they all fell under a distinct type of Christianity. Was this the deciding factor on the Armenian nation? Or is it like many reformist Armenians described and the Armenian nation was all about experience? Language was steadily changed and sometimes lost; but the church always held onto the traditional language, even as the newer generations called for an end to it. Land was not very important to many Armenians, even though they had the historical texts to trace their hayrenasirutyun (fatherland) back to where they originated. In fact, Iranian Armenians view their fatherland as Iran, not the plateau of eastern Anatolia.
It honestly surprised me that most Armenians simply sought reforms to better their lives in the states they already live in. When we hear about nations being oppressed today, we often hear about their dream of a nation-state (such as the Kurdish fight for independence in northern Iraq today). It also surprised me that the governments so worried about the Armenians fighting actual drive them to fight. If these governments had simply released some power to better the lives of their subjects, the acts of brutality that had transpired could have been avoided.
I wish these things never had to happen, so here’s a picture of a cat: