Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town [NOOK Book]


An esteemed journalist travels to Turkey to investigate the legacy of the Armenian genocide and the quest for Kurdish statehood.

In 2001, Christopher de Bellaigue, then the Economist's correspondent in Istanbul, wrote a piece about the history of Turkey for The New York Review of Books. In it, he briefly discussed the killing and deportation of half a million Armenians in ...
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Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town

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An esteemed journalist travels to Turkey to investigate the legacy of the Armenian genocide and the quest for Kurdish statehood.

In 2001, Christopher de Bellaigue, then the Economist's correspondent in Istanbul, wrote a piece about the history of Turkey for The New York Review of Books. In it, he briefly discussed the killing and deportation of half a million Armenians in 1915. These massacres, he suggested, were best understood as part of the struggles that attended the end of the Ottoman empire.

After the story was published, the magazine was besieged with letters. This wasn't war, the correspondents said; it was genocide. And the death toll was not half a million but three times that many. De Bellaigue was mortified. How had he gotten it so wrong? He went back to Turkey, but found that the national archives had sealed all documents pertaining to those times. Undeterred and armed with a stack of contraband histories, he set out to the conflicted southeastern Turkish city of Varto to discover what had really happened.

There, de Bellaigue found a place in which the centuries-old conflict among Turks, Armenians, and Kurds was still very much alive. His government escort began their association by marching with him arm in arm through the town's shopping district to show his presence; the local police chief, sent by the central office in Ankara to keep an eye on the Kurds, was sure he was a spy. He found houses built from the ruins of old Armenian churches, young boys playing soccer with old skulls, and a cast of villagers who all seemed unwilling to talk.

What emerges is both an intellectual detective story and a reckoning with memory and identity that brings to life the basic conflicts of the Middle East: between statehood and religion, imperial borders and ethnic identity. Combining a deeply informed view of the area's history with the testimonials of the townspeople who slowly come to trust him, de Bellaigue unravels the enigma of the Turkish twentieth century, a time that contains the death of an empire, the founding of a nation, and the near extinction of a people. Rebel Land exposes the historical and emotional fault lines that lie behind many of today's headlines: about Turkey and its faltering bid for membership into the EU, about the Kurds and their bid for nationhood, and the Armenians' campaign for genocide recognition.
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Editorial Reviews

Joseph O'Neill
De Bellaigue investigates…brilliantly and evenhandedly (if occasionally emotively)…It's a sense of trust, though, that Rebel Land ultimately bequeaths—a rare, remarkable feat, given the treacherousness of the terrain. De Bellaigue concludes his personal story with the information that, having wandered restlessly among "the tall stalks of identity," fatherhood has returned him to England and to a new appreciation of his citizenship. That may be so; but whatever his protestations to the contrary, his heart remains part Turkish. And Turkey, however much it may not like it, is lucky to have Christopher de Bellaigue. This book ought to be compulsory reading from Batman to Bodrum.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
A brave investigation into the buried history of Armenian massacre and Kurdish violence in a small Turkish village. Conversant in Turkish and charmed by the cosmopolitan nature of the people, foreign correspondent de Bellaigue (In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran, 2005, etc.) was posted to Istanbul for some years before he began to question the official Turkish story that the forced deportation and massacre of Armenians during World War I had been provoked by their rebelliousness and collusion with Russia. Moreover, the perpetual harping on the supposed genocide was the result of "a vindictive Armenian lobby and its friends in Europe and America-xenophobes and racists." In order to uncover the truth, de Bellaigue installed himself in the mountainous village of Varto, just east of the Iranian and Armenian borders, in the heart of what used to be a thriving population of Armenians, now dominated by Kurds and Alevis, a kind of offbeat Shia sect. In these prickly ethnic pockets, the author found a troubling, fairly typical "history of forced removal and migration, a memory of flight" still fresh in the minds of the inhabitants. From Mus to Erzurum, he learned about the massacre of Armenians, such as the cold-blooded slaughter of a caravan of refugees heading toward Syria by official Turkish decree in June 1915. In his readings and travels, the author discovered the bewildering history of heroes and turncoats in the area, including Ataturk, who wielded modern Turkey out of the Ottoman collapse, but ultimately turned a blind eye to the Kurds, setting in motion "decades of oppression and denial"; Varto native Halit, the architect of the Kurdish rebellion of 1925; and Mehmet SerifFirat, author of a late 1940s' history that first defined an identity for the Alevi, at the expense of the Kurds, then was murdered for it. These are blistering, long-running controversies, and de Bellaigue gets in the thick of it. A tortuous, somewhat discombobulated tapestry of research and experience. Agent: Peter Straus/Rogers, Coleridge & White
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101196274
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/4/2010
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 876,778
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Christopher de Bellaigue was born in London and spent the past decade in the Middle East and South Asia. He has worked as a foreign correspondent for a number of publications, including the Financial Times, The Economist, and The New York Review of Books. His previous book, In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs, was shortlisted for the 2004 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize.
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Table of Contents

Dramatis Personae x

Map of Turkey and Her Neighbours xii

Prologue: The Mirror 1

Map of the District of Varto 12

1 An Infinity of Shapes 14

Map of the Town of Varto 25

2 Rebel Land 77

3 The Massacre of Newala Ask 85

4 Great Man 112

5 The Death of Mehmet Serif Firat 150

6 Gumgum! 164

7 Scab 187

8 The Siege of Varto 204

9 Deep State 237

10 The Captain's Victory 258

Epilogue: The Silver Belt 262

Acknowledgements 265

Bibliography 267

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Still A Riddle

    An interesting combination of history, politics, war, feuds and genocide in Anatolia (district of Varto). After the author had wrote a couple of pro-Turkish articles concerning the Armenian genocide of 1915 for a magazine, he recieved several complaints indicating that he was biased and hadnt researched his subject matter. With that in hand, de Bellaigue decided to rectify the situation by traveling to Eastern Turkey and doing first hand research and interviews to see what he had missed. Along the way he dicovers deceptions, cover-ups, fear, and an area that is still at war with itself. Not much has changed, apparently, in the last 100 years. An interesting book for anyone interested in the regions, ethnic, religious, and political history(Armenian, Turk, Kurd) but wrote in a difficult style. This is not an easy read and has some graphic violence as well as politics that some ethnic groups may not like. To me it was disturbing but honest.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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