When and why do states change the stories they tell about dark pasts? Over the past two decades, as international expectations about truth-telling and accountability have grown, many states have been called on to recognize and apologize for historic wrongs. While some states have apologized for past crimes, others continue to silence, deny, and relativize dark pasts. Scholarship in the fields of international relations and memory studies offers partial answers to the question raised above, but neither offers a systematic answer to this question. Drawing on analyses of the post-World War II trajectories of Turkey’s narrative of the 1915-17 Armenian Genocide and Japan’s narrative of the 1937-38 Nanjing Massacre, I argue that international pressures increase the likelihood of change in official narratives of dark pasts, while domestic actors and considerations largely determine the content of such change.
Jennifer M. Dixon is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Villanova University. Her research lies at the intersection of international relations and comparative politics, and focuses on the politics of memory, genocide and mass killing, and the diffusion and impact of international norms. She has a forthcoming article in Perspectives on Politics, along with articles in South European Society and Politics, the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and the International Journal for Education Law and Policy. She holds an MA and PhD in Political Science from UC Berkeley, and an AB in Government from Dartmouth.