gazer, krondorfer gutachten zu wevelsiep Gutachten und Diskussionsbeiträge zu Christian Wevelsiep, Umstrittene Geschichte. Der Völkermord an den Armeniern im Spannungsfeld der Erinnerungspolitik



1. Prof. Dr. Björn Krondorfer, Northern Arizona University

2. Prof. Dr. Hacik Rafi Gazer,  Universität Erlangen-Nünrberg



1. Prof. Dr. Björn Krondorfer, Northern Arizona University

Evaluation of Christian Wevelsiep’s Umstrittene Geschichte. Der Völkermord an den Armeniern im Spannungsfeld der Erinnerungspolitik

Christian Wevelsiep uses a few contours of the Armenian genocide to illustrate the need for reflecting on the contested territory of memory and history, specifically with regard to questions of a responsible memory politics that neither exhausts itself in ethnocentric narratives nor serves narrow national interests.  On one level, his essay is an attempt at infusing history (and historiography) with a moral sensibility toward victim experiences; on another level, he introduces a dialogical element into contested historical memory, with the aim of puncturing the denial inherent in many national memory politics. How does one square the Turkish narrative of a heroic national origin in 1915 with the Armenian narrative of the genocide that was unleashed in the very same year? Do they simply remain incompatible and irreconcilable? Or can we create a framework of “historical accountability” (historische Verantwortung) that allows for acknowledgement of past wrongs wrested from dialogical engagement?  

The questions Wevelsiep asks in his essay are important; the answers he provides are a little disappointing. He remains too vague to be persuasive and too general to keep his focus. He restlessly moves from historical data of the Armenian genocide to discussing conceptual issues, from the problematics of victim narratives to the unattainability of a unifying history curriculum, from German “Erinnerungspolitik” to the potential of a transnational approach to history in the European Union. Perhaps the author has set himself too ambitious an agenda and thus fails to argue in more depth for one of the many good ideas he is presenting. It is not clear, for example, why he starts with the Armenian genocide when he later exemplifies theoretical insights with Germany’s post-1945 mastering of its past or the communicative strength of the European Union.

I do not mean to imply that the author has no important insights to share. First among them is his resistance to the logic of ethnocentric narratives that present history in partisan ways—a discursive operation that is certainly used in national self-representations (especially in the case of Turkey), but also employed by victim groups. Although Wevelsiep does not say so directly, he does seem to grant a certain hermeneutical privilege to narratives of victim communities. He sees in traumatic experiences an articulation of “human authenticity,” whereas national master narratives are frequently coded by him as “denial” or politically motivated “forgetfulness.” There is, of course, truth in this very observation, since victim communities and perpetrator societies pursue not only different political agendas, but also employ different narrative strategies of legitimation that are rooted in particular emotional and psychic investments in large-group identities. But how do we move beyond this impasse?

Wevelsiep argues that a moral framing of the question of historical accountability needs to be anchored in a transnational setting in which “self-criticism” and “acknowledgment” are possible and desirable. I fully agree. In the many years in which I facilitated dialogical seminars and workshops for social groups in conflict, I witnessed time and again the difficulty of groups to abandon (at least in part) the compulsion of retelling uncritical versions of their master narrative. I have observed the tendency to avoid self-criticism and to stick to cultural master narrative in the presence of the respective other in many intercultural settings, including Palestinians and Israelis, Germans and Jews, or American students of different ethnic backgrounds in racial reconciliation seminars. However, in order to transform relations among people antagonized by historical injustices, it is essential for participants to learn to adopt a self-critical attitude toward their own attachment to particular narratives. This is hard to do for any side involved in a past or current conflict. From an ethical point of view guided by principles of social justice, it makes sense to grant a victimized community the privilege of repeatedly returning to narratives of victimization, especially if the degree of traumatization is extremely high (as in the case of genocide). One may not want to grant a similar privilege to representatives of perpetrator societies and their descendants who may hold on to various degrees of denial of culpability. Yet, in actual dialogical encounters between groups in conflict, it is extremely difficult for all people involved to let go of rehearsed narratives, for it requires of them to give up—at least temporarily—part of their social identity.

Wevelsiep speaks of the necessity of an intercultural dialogue as a way out of the impasse of ethnocentric and politically motivated memory production in order to move toward a place of self-criticism and acknowledgement. As readers, though, we do not get a sense that he has real dialogical encounters in mind. Rather, he is pursuing a philosophical-historical quest. He lists separate steps toward a dialogical culture of remembrance, but it is here that his essay falls disappointingly short. One of the more convincing steps he unfolds for the reader is his plea for mutual “intercultural acknowledgment” that would allow for the integration of diverse experiences beyond “centrist” memory discourses. Strangely, though, perpetrators and victims are absent at this crucial juncture of his essay. Hence, it is not clear what the author means by “acknowledgement.” Without any reference to the Armenian genocide and Turkish nationalism, we do not know who needs to acknowledge what. Do Armenians need to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Turkish national narrative? Do contemporary Turks need to acknowledge the genocidal violence inflicted in the name of their government one hundred years ago? Apart from political practicability, would such mutual acknowledgment even be desirable?

Another step toward dialogical culture of remembrance, according to Wevelsiep, is to create a “moralische Bedeutungsrahmen” (a moral framing of meaning-making). This is an intriguing idea, but Wevelsiep moves too quickly from the specifics of the Armenian genocide to the general meaning that this event holds for modernity as such. Taking such a fast-paced leap—from real people in a real contracted conflict about history and memory (Armenians and Turks) to the unpeopled abstraction of “modernity”—we lose sights of the blood and soul of the Turkish-Armenian conflict. In the end, the essay is not really about the Armenian genocide (though this is its title and starting point), and we may rightly ask: are Turks and Armenians really needed? Or are they merely anemic figures employed for a philosophical argument, which still lacks the alertness tested in the bloodstained messiness captured in Walter Benjamin’s image of the angel of history? This angel, according to Benjamin, faces history as he is pushed backward into the future, while the debris of the past is piling up before him, growing skyward.


Prof. Dr. Hacik Rafi Gazer,  Universität Erlangen-Nünrberg

Gutachten zu dem Aufsatz  "Umstrittene Geschichte. Der Völkermord an den Armeniern im Spannungsfeld der Erinnerungspolitik" von Christian Wevelsiep

Die Behauptung, die jungtürkischen Machthaber im Osmanischen Reich hätten am 24. April 1915 "200 armenische Nationalisten" in Istanbul verhaften lassen, ist irreführend. Die Zahl stimmt nicht, es waren wohl mehrere hundert. Unter den „Nationalisten“ verbergen sich eigentlich Journalisten, Juristen, Geistliche, also die gesamte Elite. Der Terminus „Nationalisten“ ist hier unpassend, denn der Verf. verweist später selbst auf die „gebildete Elite“.

Auch die Behauptung, der Genozid sei gegen "die gebildeten Eliten der Armenier gerichtet" gewesen, ist unrichtig. Der Genozid war nicht nur primär gegen die Eliten gerichtet – sonst könnte man nicht von Genozid reden.

Schließlich ist auch die Behauptung, "[d]ie armenische Gemeinschaft weist wenig offizielle Formen der Bewahrung und Weitergabe, verbindender Rituale und Gedenktage auf" falsch. Der 24. April etwa ist weltweit in den armenischen Gemeinschaften ein Gedenktag.

In dem Aufsatz finden sich zudem eine Reihe unklarer, unscharfer und ungeschickter Formulierungen, die präzisiert werden müssten:

Die Formulierung, nicht die türkische Gegenwartsgesellschaft sitze "vereinfacht gesprochen auf einer solchen Anklagebank", ist kolloquial.

Der Verfasser schreibt im Text von "dem Begriff einer umkämpften Geschichte". In der Überschrift findet sich hingegen „umstrittene Geschichte“; im Aufsatz changieren die Begriffe „umkämpft“ und „umstritten“. Er schreibt von "geschichtspolitischen Phänomenen". Dies ein unklarer Terminus. Ebenso handelt es sich bei dem von ihm benutzten Ausdruck "Identitätspolitik" um einen unklaren Begriff. Er spricht davon, den allgemeine Rahmen einer "Theorie historischer Verantwortung" zu beschreiben. Das ist ein umständlicher Ausdruck. Was ist gemeint? Wenn er davon spricht, Muster der Leugnung, Relativierung oder der Widerlegung ließen sich bis in die "politisch-diskursive Gegenwart nachverfolgen, was sich etwa an der Amtlichkeit der diskursiven Muster" belegen lasse, so ist das ebenfalls nur eine unscharfe Beschreibung. Er nimmt Bezug auf Charles Maier und "die von ihm identifizierten Auswüchse der Gedächtnisindustrie". Es wird aber nicht klar, wie der Begriff auf den thematischen Fokus des Aufsatzes angewendet wird. Schließlich sollte in dem Satz "Weit anspruchsvoller geht es beim Bedenken der Geschichte in einem transnationalen Rahmen um das Wechselspiel von Selbstkritik und Anerkennung dessen, das sprachlich schwer fassbar erscheint" der Ausdruck "beim Bedenken" durch "bei der Reflexion" ersetzt werden.

Zur Formulierung des Verf., dass die Geschichte "zum Spielball außerhistorischer Interessen" werde, ist festzuhalten: „Außerhistorische“ Interessen wird es kaum geben! Der Verf. spricht auch von der "politischen Identität der türkischen Nation". Welche andere Identität sollte die „Nation“ sonst entwickeln, wenn nicht eine politische?

Wenn der Verf. zu Beginn des dritten Abschnitts festhält, "eine der Möglichkeiten, der Geschichte der Gewalt einen Sinn zu verleihen, besteh[e] verkürzt gesagt darin Geschichte von unten zu erzählen", dann fragt sich der Leser unwillkürklich:" Ist das also das Anliegen dieses dritten Kapitels?"

Die gegen Ende des Aufsatzes getroffene Feststellung der "Genozid an den Armeniern gehört in diesem Sinne zur Tradition der „Historia Magistra Vitae“, wäre sinnvoller gleich am Anfang genannt worden, um das Anliegen des Aufsatzes klar zu machen.

Hacik Rafi Gazer, geb. 1963, Professor für Geschichte und Theologie des Christlichen Ostens an der Friedrich-Alexander-Unversität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Erlangen.


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