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05 February 2008

2322) Exile And Migration Themes In Armenian Literature

(…) Literature has a significant impact on the development and nature of Turkish-Armenian relations. For instance, the symbols created in literary works like poems, episodes, novels, memoirs, letters, journals, stories, legends, etc. are passed on from one generation to another and extend to our time. One can possibly say these literary genres bring about both negative and positive . . effects. Negative effect is when the negative mutual sentiments of the two nations are transmitted to the readers through these works. However, it is also possible to find out in a work written long years ago how the Turks and Armenians peacefully co-existed despite religious and ethnic differences and how the two communities interacted. From there on, we could infer that the literature assumes a significant function in ensuring communication among societies.

The themes of “exile, migration and 1915” are featured in the works of most of the prominent authors of modern Western Armenian literature. Likewise, several authors of East Armenian literature also used these themes in their works.

(…) Migirdic Margosyan is one of them. In his work titled “Soyle Margos Nerelisen?” [Tell us Margos, where are you from?] Margosyan refers to the effects brought upon him and his family by the World War I, the 1915 events and the migration.

(…) This is an important example as it shows that not only the Armenian authors living in Istanbul but also Armenian authors in Anatolia use this theme in their works as well. Another author following this trend is William Saroyan. He is the first US-born member of an Armenian family that had moved from Bitlis to US. William Saroyan’s book, “Ödlekler Cesurdur” [Cowards are brave], probably his most important work, narrates the problems of people who feel they do not belong to the place they live.

(…) Another literary work based on same themes is “Hilalin Gölgesinde Bir Ermeni Kizin Yazgisi” [The destiny of an Armenian girl under the shadow of the Crescent] that reflects a biased attitude towards Turks and a rather pungent style. The author David Kherdian was born in Wisconsin in 1931. In his book, he narrates the story of his mother, Veron Dumhejian.
(…) It is known that psychological factors as well as historical elements bear a significant impact on the emerging of exile and migration themes in the Armenian literature. Today some scientists argue that the fact that the Armenian community existed as a minority under the protection of the Ottoman Empire led the Armenians to regard the Turks, in other words the majority, as a psychological pressure group or potential enemies. Yet the only reason of that is not because the Armenians had lived as a minority within the Ottoman Empire. The geographical region they had lived on throughout the history pushed the Armenians to settle at the border areas of other huge kingdoms like the Byzantine, Roman, Persian, Arab and Seljuk empires besides the Ottomans, and they were often squeezed in between the conflicts of these big empires. In that case, the Armenians should, logically, display a negative attitude not only towards the Turks but also other nations as well.

Hence, it is possible to say that one should look for other reasons underlying the negativity within the Armenian literature. First of all, it would not be unreasonable to establish that the aspiration to unite the scattered Armenians to reach one single goal is the main reason of the almost hostile style of particularly the authors of Diaspora Armenians. To achieve that goal, a common enemy must be created, as also argued by Erol Goka. He describes the attitude of Diaspora as follows:

“The Diaspora Armenians have no option for a national identity other than sticking to the identity of the rich Western country they live in; but for their group identity, hostility towards the Turks and revengeful feelings might prove functional. They can only enjoy the advantages of having a group identity and suffering from victim psychology (particularly Christian victims) through hostility towards the Turks. The mere common legacy Diaspora Armenians inherited from their parents to develop ethnical group (congregation) identity is Turkish hostility. And as the whole thing is illusory for the second generation of Armenians and their descendants who have never been to Turkey and even seen a Turk before in their lives, it is even easier to extend further the dimensions of the Turkish hostility and build an identity out of it.

So, it would be useful to keep in mind all these possibilities while examining the works of Armenian authors.

(…) Krikor Ceyhan’s story book “Seferberlik Oykuleriyle Buyudum” [I was grown up with mobilization stories] is his first book published in Turkish. In his work, the author tells us in his local dialect about what had happened in Zara in the early years of the Republic and his own experiences. The book sporadically refers to the mobilization, though covertly, and in a way, blames the mobilization for the later consequences. These hints are mostly conveyed to the reader through the mother character. This may be because the author himself did not live through the migration. Therefore, it is observed that the author learnt about the exile and migration through narration by his family members, in other words through oral history and conveys what he has learnt to the readers. For instance, the mother Hafik sometimes refers to the years of mobilization in her songs and lullabies in the story and tells that they lost everything they had because of the migration.

Another theme used in Ceyhan’s story develops around certain implications that several Armenian children were orphaned due to the migration, some others were adopted by Muslim families and the rest made unwanted marriages with people hardly a match for them and were forced to convert.

A similar theme can be seen in the work titled “My Grandma” and written by Fethiye Cetin. In this work, Cetin generally explains that during the years of exile, “women as well as children were subjected to many inhuman treatments, men were brutally killed, those women who were beautiful were dragged by their hair and most of the children were adopted by Muslims”. However, while these claims are included in this work, there is no mentioning of the then war conditions, of the activities carried out by the Armenian committees during that period or of the Armenians cooperating with the Russian armies. Moreover, the reason for the then leaders to take the decision of relocation, those who were subjected to relocation as well as the laws issued to be implemented during the relocation and the then war conditions are all known to everyone; however, the reason for the writer to write down this work, which we can say is a work of intense propaganda, without considering all these facts creates question marks in the mind of the reader.

Another message which Ceyhan sends to the reader in the story on exile and migration is that the exile caused the Armenian families to get separated and migration affected them negatively in economic terms.

The work titled “My Grandma” is about the families which were separated due to the relocation and the events experienced by the family members. Cetin wrote this work upon what his grandmother Seher had told him, and this work explains the shock experienced by the writer upon learning that his grandmother’s real name was Heranus.

Ceyhan suggests that the economic effect created by the exile on his family was that his father lost his job due to migration and that the economic problems of the family increased in time.

(…) The writer explains why his family was sent to exile by drawing on what his mother had told him, and again based on what his mother had told him, he says that his family was sent to exile to Der Zor for hiding those Armenians escaping the relocation, that many members of the family lost their lives during this travel, and that the family who returned to Zara after many years was again subjected to exile for hiding those running away from the relocation.

Cetin, on the other hand, explains that everyone, regardless of whether they had committed any crimes or participated in any insurgency against the Ottoman Empire, was sent to exile, and he explains the difficulties of this travel in detail.

Another issue which Ceyhan mentioned was the fact that the exile affected the psychologies of the family members in a negative way and as a result there emerged certain tensions among the family members. The writer says that his mother did not trust his father for hiding those running away from the relocation and for this reason there always was a tense atmosphere in the house.

(…) Cetin as well as the other writers explained repeatedly that the family members who got separated due to the exile and migration never came together again.

(…) As it is known, the verbal history stands where the individual history meets the social history. And Cetin has made use of this method of verbal history in the work he wrote. However, it is observed that the verbal historical data in Cetin’s work involve certain information other than our historical information. While the historical information is given in a more general manner, the information explained through verbal history makes use of the memory as well or it is possible to deal with it in a more detailed manner when there emerges an issue related with the individual’s own past.

As one can see, literary works are important sources of communication since they reflect the language, religion, education, social lives and cultures of societies. Furthermore, if we take into consideration that literary works are a window from which cultures open out, it becomes clear that they act as a bridge. For this reason, while literary works introduce their own cultures to other countries, they can also criticize the cultures of other countries. These interactions are realized through images. In other words, it seems that political, economic, cultural, religious and historical issues play a significant role in the formation of the image.

Based on the information received during this study, one can say that image has a strong function in societies’ perceiving one another. It was found out that especially the images created in literary works play an important role in improving or breaking off the dialogue among the societies. We can also see the role of literature, which addresses a wide society and contributes significantly to the formation of a social memory, in shaping the relationship between the minority and the majority. In this way, based on the themes of exile and migration mentioned by the writers of the works in question, it can be understood that the said individuals have made Turks alienated. It has also been found out that the perceptions of exile and migration by different writers of different periods have varied according to the economic, political and social structure of the period. There appears to be reaction in the works of the writers generally against the society and the imbalances in political, economic, religious and social relations. Another issue on which the writers focus while dealing with exile and migration is the need of the minority population to instinctively isolate itself from the society in which it lives.

(…) While examining the subject of exile and migration, one reaches a conclusion that as one gets closer to contemporary times, the discourse becomes more negative and the events taking place in the stories told become more tragic. Perhaps these discourses should be examined with their psychological dimensions. While the works written especially in the 1970s and 1950s did not deal with such detailed tragic deaths under the heading of exile and migration, a book printed in 2004 makes all the things, experienced during the 1915 incidents, appear more traumatic compared to the previous years, and this brings the psychological dimension of the issue onto the agenda once again.

For example, the mentioned work involves the following expressions: “they gathered everyone, men and women, and took them to Palu; they cut the men and threw them into the river; blood flowed with the river for many days and then the exile way..”. As these expressions make it clear, the events which Heranus, the main character, did not actually witness were reflected as if they were experienced or the writer reached such a conclusion from what Heranus had told, and all these point to the psychological dimension of the issue.

(…) As a result, it is possible to say that in addition to World War I and relocation, naturally economic, political and social factors also had important contributions to the formation of the themes of exile and migration which are explained in the works of the Armenian writers. It seems that certain issues have a long lasting effect in the literature of societies and this continuing effect come out generally in the themes of “exile” and “migration” in the Armenian literature. It is known that today these themes are included in the works on the Armenian literature written not only in Turkey but also abroad. It is observed that in addition to this theme also the Turkish hatred is comprehensively mentioned in the literary works of the Armenians living abroad, and the Turks are in a way “alienated” in the mentioned works. Such an “alienation” of Turks through literature contradicts also with the nature of literature which undertakes the task of communication among societies. Given the character of literature of conveying the information of the past to us, we can see once again that the studies on this issue should be continued on a wider scale.

Source: Yildiz Deveci Bozkus – Armenian Research Magazine – No. 26