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Category Archive for 'Turkey'

Although most people know that World War I began in 1914, far fewer know that while that war was being fought in Europe, a million Armenians were being exterminated by the Turks. In a series of massacres over a period of more than twenty years, most notably between 1894 and 1915, the Armenians were forced from their land, marched across barren plains under deplorable conditions, and subjected to depredations from which death was often a merciful release. Author Judith Mitchell seizes on the fact that many Armenian-Americans fought in the war in Europe but were also committed to making Turkey pay for its crimes against their families and culture. She creates a fascinating plot which brings to life the efforts by Armenians in Europe and America to address the wrongs done to them by bringing the Turkish leaders of the massacres to justice, either legal or ad hoc.

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The land of Mesopotamia, in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, once boasted the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, among the Seven Wonders of the World. Highly developed ancient civilizations competed for power there, leaving behind sites of immense archaeological importance as they defeated each other and formed new civilizations. In the modern era, Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq, fell under a succession of foreign rulers, and by 1914, when this novel opens, it was ruled from Constantinople by the weakened Ottoman Empire. Virtually every country in Europe is on site, vying for oil. The Germans are building a railroad from Basra through Baghdad, an American from Standard Oil is there, the French are trying to gain a foothold so that the railroad will not take shipping business from them, and the Russians and the Austro-Hungarian Empire may help finance the railroad in exchange for a piece of the action. Trying to ignore most of this turmoil is John Somerville, a thirty-five-year-old archaeologist who has been working an ancient site near Baghdad. In the nonstop action, no one can trust anyone else. Unsworth creates a vibrant picture of a tumultuous time and place, endowing what might have been an exotic tale of archaeological discovery with a broader thematic scope.

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Orhan Pamuk–SNOW

The rich story-telling tradition of the Middle East enlivens Turkish author Orhan Pamuk’s novel about the residents of Kars, a town in the remote northeast corner of Turkey, as Kerim Alakusoglu, known as Ka, returns after many years to investigate a spate of suicides by young women forbidden to wear headscarves in school. Though Kars, which comes from the Turkish word for “snow,” was once a crossroads for trading between Turkey, Soviet Georgia, Armenia, and Iran, all of which are within a few miles of the town, it is now “the poorest and most overlooked corner of Turkey.” All the conflicting political and religious tensions of the country are seen here, its residents representing a melting pot of historical influences—socialism and communism, atheism, political secularism, ethnic nationalism (especially the Kurds), and the most rapidly growing movement, Islamist fundamentalism. Many-leveled, beautifully wrought, and complex in its themes, this is a novel which thoughtful western readers will want to explore, a haunting novel rich with insights which should not be ignored.

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