But their self-imposed mission is to emphasize continuity. As they argue, the Armenian death marches of 1915-16 are by now well documented, and their status as a genocidal crime, with one million or more victims, well established. By contrast, they feel, things that happened at the beginning and end of their chosen 30 years need to be better known, so that all the travails of the Ottoman Christians over that time can be seen as a single sequence.
Between 1894 and 1924, they write, between 1.5 million and 2.5 million Ottoman Christians perished; greater accuracy is impossible. Whatever the shifts in regime, all these killings were instigated by Muslim Turks who drew in other Muslims and invoked Islamic solidarity. As a result the Christian share of Anatolia’s population fell from 20 percent to 2 percent.
Well, all those statements are accurate as far as they go, and they reflect one aspect of the multiple tragedies that attended the region’s lurch toward modernity. Yet it remains difficult to express the authors’ core case in a single true-or-false proposition. Are they suggesting that Islam is intrinsically violent? No, they reject that view. Are they implying that a 30-year plan was formulated and then implemented, albeit by different regimes? At times, they hint at something like that. But their skill as historians holds them back from saying anything so crude.
In one of their best passages, Morris and Ze’evi carefully discuss possible interpretations of the 1915-16 blood bath, and offer comparisons with debates about Hitler’s Holocaust. As they note, historians have disputed how far in advance the mass annihilation of Jews was dreamed up. Regarding the Armenians, they say, there is no doubt that the death marches that began in April 1915 were centrally coordinated. But there have been reasonable arguments over how long in advance they were planned, and whether it was always intended that most victims would die.
Sifting the evidence, Morris and Ze’evi conclude that the Ottoman inner circle began planning deadly mass deportations soon after a Russian victory in January 1915. However, Ottoman policy was also shaped and hardened by the battle of Van, in which Russians and Armenians fought successfully, starting in April 1915. These conclusions rest on careful analysis.
But they are less confident about the fate of the Greek Orthodox subjects of the Ottoman Empire from 1919 to 1922. They document many horrifying incidents but these do not add up to a fluent story.