Crime of Numbers
The Role of Statistics in the Armenian Question (1878-1918)
Statistics have played an important role in the recognition of the Armenian question on the international landscape as well as its "definitive solution" resulting in the Armenian genocide. The importance of statistics first surfaced at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, where differences in the approach toward numbers between the Armenian and the Ottoman Empire, and the role of statistics within the Ottoman state apparatus, became an issue. At that international gathering, the Armenian question was considered part of the "Eastern Question" paradigm of Western diplomacy. It would soon become a code word for the question of "civilization" itself.
Those administering the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire perceived the Armenian issue not only through ethnic and religious perspectives, but also through statistics. As Dundar shows, statistics became the vehicle through which the Ottoman state apparatus was forced to include non-Muslim populations of the Empire in the state apparatuses and local councils. This occurred long before the Armenian question surfaced. The aim of Ottoman reforms was to ensure that all communities participated in the affairs of the state and that such participation was proportionate to their numbers. Through its role in these reforms, statistics emerged as a constant matter of debate in the Armenian question.
As a result of the Armenian genocide, the statistical record has become quite sensitive. Today, accounting for the numbers of Armenians murdered in 1915 usually means calculating the number of Armenians who were massacred or died of other causes such as disease, hunger, exhaustion, and the like during deportations or immediately after. This is a work of brilliant archival history and imaginatively uses social statistics.
“[Crime of Numbers] is a much needed work on what continues in Turkish and Armenian history to be a very problematic topic, namely the investigation of what has been referred to as 'the Armenian question' that emerged between 1878 and 1918 to still haunt both the Turks and the Armenians almost a century later…Fuat Dündar brings to this scholarship the much needed analysis of the role of statistics that played an inordinately significant role not only during the period leading to such deportations, but also in its aftermath as many attempted and still endeavor to interpret what transpired. Dündar's meticuolus use in particular of existing Ottoman and Allied documentation on the Armenian Question makes this book a must-read for all those interested not only in this issue, but also one the use of the modernity of quantification for destructive ends.”
– Fatma Müge Göçek, The University of Michigan