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29 September 2014

3487) Book Review: Between Counterinsurgency and Genocide

Richard Outzen
September 18, 2014 · in Book Reviews
Edward J. Erickson, Ottomans and Armenians: A Study in Counterinsurgency (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)

It is rare that a military historical study simultaneously informs professional debate and viscerally angers segments of the general audience, but Edward Erickson’s Ottomans and Armenians seems destined to do just that. The book provides valuable insights on the interrelationship of insurgency, counter-insurgency, atrocity, and conventional war.

Military officers and general readers will find in Erickson’s work a nuanced discussion of thedilemmas and shortcomings of counterinsurgency as a mode of warfare. They may also be surprised at the complexity of the situation faced by Ottoman armies in the east in 1915. This is a welcome contribution, given the still unsettled debate on counterinsurgency in the wake of drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan and the still contentious history surrounding the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The latter issue grants the book policy relevance beyond what one finds in most recent texts on counterinsurgency. This book can help stimulate and inform a higher level political debate that is certain to intensify over the coming year: whether the United States should formally recognize the killings of Armenians in eastern Anatolia during the First World War as genocide, in the centennial year of 1915.

Relatively little has been published in English specifically about the Ottoman eastern fronts. Past authors have either covered the charges of genocide without detailed treatment of military considerations (such as Hovannisian), or focused on conventional military operations with little on the deportations (such as Allen and Muratoff).

Erickson ignores neither Ottoman strategists nor the Armenian deportees; instead, he argues that the desperation of the former tragically led to the annihilation of the latter. He argues that the Ottoman political and military leadership did not initiate the brutal campaign of Armenian deportations in the Ottoman east in order to destroy a people, but did so in response to serious strategic threats to vulnerable lines of communication and to incitement of Armenian rebellion by the Entente powers. His conclusions are the result of his time studying Ottoman archival materials, providing a logical, evidence-based perspective about Ottoman motives and plans that have been viewed previously through polemical or conjectural
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