ARTS AND LITERATURE
- Taboos, Tattoos, and Trauma: Making ‘Grandma’s Tattoos’ By Suzanne Khardalian
- The Seed that Finally Took Root: The Kernel that Led to ‘The Sandcastle Girls’ By Chris Bohjalian
- The Making of ‘Deported/a dream play’ —By Joyce Van Dyke
- Turkey Has Acknowledged the Armenian Genocide By Ugur Ümit Üngör
- Post-Denial Denial By Henry C. Theriault
- Tlön, Turkey, and the Armenian Genocide By Marc Mamigonian
- Kings of Spades: Fantasies of Sovereignty in a Pathology Plot By Burcu Gursel
- A Tale of Two Monuments: An Extremely Belated Anatomy of Two Radically Understudied Makings and One Unmaking By Ayda Erbal
- Does the French Law Penalizing Genocide Denial Restrict Free Speech? By Harut Sassounian
FOR THE RECORD
- Virtuous Victims: Imagining Armenians in the West By Matthias Bjørnlund
- Armenian Representation in Turkey? By Talin Suciyan
- Syrian-Armenian Memory and the Refugee Issue in Syria under the French Mandate (1921–46) By Seda Altug
By Khatchig Mouradian/ The Armenian Weekly Magazine / April 2012
Khatchig Mouradian is the editor of the Armenian Weekly, the program coordinator of the Armenian Genocide Program at Rutgers University, and a PhD candidate in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University. He has lectured extensively and participated in academic conferences in Armenia, Austria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Norway, Switzerland, Syria, Turkey, and across the U.S. Write to him: firstname.lastname@example.org
1)The Power Of Words
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” Over the years, the April magazine issue of the Armenian Weekly has provided extensive space to the topic of choosing the right words and adopting the proper discourse—a challenge that seems to pervade much of the writing on minorities, gender, human rights violations, and genocide.
The magazine you hold in your hands (or are reading on your computer/smartphone screen) tackles this challenge head on. For example, Theriault examines “the commitment to denial,” nondenial, and the space in between, and points out how denialism conceals truth in a “multiplicitous ambiguity,” where “all discussions of mass violence in the present [become] mutual military conflict, and in the past mutual rhetorical conflict.” Mamigonian looks at how “[i]nstead of confronting the genocide head-on, deniers play upon widespread ignorance of the subject and seek to create doubt,” which is then propagated by lazy journalism. Gursel, in turn, explores problematic discourses by looking at representations of the Armenian Diaspora in Turkish newspapers, tearing apart disease, psychological illness, and rape analogies.
In 2011–12, novels, plays, and films approaching the Armenian Genocide from different vantage points have been or will be released. We have asked a playwright, a novelist, and a filmmaker to tell the story of how their work took shape. The power of their words and the themes they explore echo the issues raised above.
And finally, a third section in the magazine examines perceptions of and discourse on Armenians—as genocide victims, as refugees, and as citizens in an unrepentant perpetrator state–in the early- and mid-20th century, and how those perceptions resonate today.
2) Taboos, Tattoos, and Trauma: Making ‘Grandma’s Tattoos’
By Suzanne Khardalian/The Armenian Weekly Magazine/April 2012
Suzanne Khardalian is a documentary filmmaker based in Stockholm, Sweden. Her films include “Back to Ararat,” “I Hate Dogs,” and “Grandma’s Tattoos.” She contributes regularly to Armenian-language newspapers.
I have a tree, my own tree in Stockholm. A dead oak tree. Majestic from a distance. Yet it holds as its secret the big hole inside its trunk. You will not see it unless you climb down and examine it closely. This magnificent oak has still kept its form. The beautiful woody branches still rise to the sky. But the tree is dead; it has been dead for more than a decade. It is a monument to things gone. And it is mute; you will not hear its leaves murmur. I am surprised no one has decided to cut it down.
The tree has lost its roots, just like me. It is standing with no roots. Living yet dead. Just like my culture, my mother tongue.
I am full of dying or dead words. A lifeless existence. On my way to being extinct.
Why am I writing about my tree? The oak evokes in me a world that is disappearing. But what fascinates me is this unique state, of being half dead, half alive. What does a dead tree have to offer? Not life!
Herein are the origins of my interest in memory and its reflections in my work.
Why do we remember things? What is memory? What is it that we choose to remember, and what do we decide to forget? Do we even decide? How much can we influence the process of memory-making?
And why do we remember genocide? Why do we want to remember the pain? Why do we want to pass it on? Is there anything at all to learn from genocide?
And what about selective amnesia? Why do we decide to remember certain stories about the Armenian Genocide, but have difficulty even mentioning some others?
I’ve been grappling with these questions for more than two decades now. They are at the core of my films.
In documentary film and photography, one is inclined to associate pictures or film sequences and frames with a specific depiction of history. We call it a “slice of time,” or sometimes “frozen moments.” From this perspective, frozen moments are nothing but flat constructions that we pick randomly from a constant flow of events. And shooting a film means stopping time in artificial ways. But reality is something else: Time is a machine that is moving us, the film viewers, hopping randomly from one event to another, while still sailing the stream.
This is how Heraclitus looked at history and time: “Just as the river where I step is not the same, and is, so I am as I am not.” He was attempting to understand history through channeling world events into one big coherent unit, harmonious and consequential. But the camera gives us the opposite picture. It makes time look fragmented. There is no one big river, flowing. It makes us believe that there is no one big narrative, and therefore no place for the art of narration, storytelling.
Yet, Democritus understood time as a big ocean and waves, as big and small explosions, a sea of eruptions. Each event is unique, and independent. There are only free atoms flying around us. In contrast to the first concept, instead of a flowing river, the privilege here goes to unique moments.
So what happens when we look at film as a series of eruptions? This has been the model I’ve worked with in my films. I see it as an exciting thought that could open the door for new interpretation. According to conventional storytelling, the camera fragments time and consequently the world. But we can never say what came before or after a certain fragment. Time as a sea of eruptions gives us the possibility to see each picture as an entity, freely moving in space and time.
Heraclitus’ and Democritus’ concepts of time do not contradict each other. Photos are not frozen moments but instead are a “state of things.” And film becomes a machine that translates this “state of things” into a series of scenes.
I made this introduction about time in order to reflect on my work that has long had the Armenian Genocide as its subject. When making “Back to Ararat,” “I Hate Dogs,” and “Grandma’s Tattoos,” I consciously tried not to limit myself to the traditional art of storytelling, and to instead show that the depiction of the genocide does not come in sequences, but as explosive outbursts.
Film not only makes it possible to capture these violent eruptions, but also encapsulates the power that lies within these outbursts. Only then can we understand the power that the survivors’ stories carry.
Documentary filmmaking has never been about packaging and storing time, but for me it has been about giving the viewer access to an experience that is pressing and distinct in its nature. And my intention has been to capture fragments of traumatic time. Every frame, each picture, each scene, is a standpoint that reminds the audience that in reality there is no room for readymade solutions.
There is a connection between the camera and the structure and functioning of traumatic memory. Trauma is disorder in time and memory. Trauma is not the product of the event itself, but is the creation of the experience that, although registered by the individual, never evolves into meaningful memory. Trauma blocks the routine mental processes that usually translate an experience into a memory. Documentary film can give access to an experience that cannot be recalled, but that, at the same time, cannot be forgotten. Film has the potential to urge the viewer to confront a past moment—one that has been lived, but never internalized, and thus never understood.
The genocide has turned into a collective trauma for us Armenians. In an historical reality such as genocide, there are no simple ways to access the truth. I have tried to capture those persistent uncertainties, the fears and doubts that are still not dealt with, the unresolved issues. I have worked extensively with survivors. Their recollections, their fragmented stories tell about the unique experience, yet with no cohesion and context. They give us a series of eruptions. Through film and storytelling, the sum of the parts become one, integrated. And their eruptions acquire a context. The genocide experience becomes real, lived; it gets a meaning and can finally be turned into a memory.
The viewer cannot identify with an experience if that experience does not have a holder. Genocide survivors and their stories have stopped being private. Testimonies are so general that they’ve lost their human dimension. They’ve become numbers. For a human being, it is easy to understand a single tragedy, and to internalize it. But a human being is never able to internalize the death of a million people. Our mind cannot make sense of it.
I want to stress that I am not questioning the veracity of the survivors’ recollections. Undoubtedly what they went through was atrocious. But precisely because of that, these stories need to be placed in their right context. This is why I keep on returning to the private, to the individual, to the specific. Only through the personal pain and suffering can the horror be approached.
“Back to Ararat,” which was released in 1988, was my effort to describe how we were dealing with the acceleration of history. As Armenians, we were rapidly distancing ourselves from the past. We no longer inhabited that past; we only communed with it through relics, ruins, and vestiges that had become—and still are—mysterious to us, and that we would do well to question, since they hold the key to our “identity,” to who we are. We were cut from the land, from the language, from the nature, sounds, and places that once were our keys to our identities.
The “acceleration of history” had two effects on our memory. First, we started stockpiling. Caught up in this feeling of loss, we began establishing institutions and instruments that relate to memory: museums, archives, libraries, and digitized collections. Yet, we also found ourselves caught between a past shrouded in darkness or mist and an unforeseeable future. The present emerged as the only category for understanding our lives, but ours was a present that was already historical. “Back to Ararat” dealt with how our past no longer guaranteed our future. It is essentially on this ground that memory came to play such an active role in our communities.
Investing in memory was a warranty, a promise of continuity. “I Hate Dogs–The Last Survivor,” from 2005, was about establishing individual memory, and about the demand for truth—more “truthful” than that of history, the truth of personal experience and individual memory. Unlike history, which has always been in the hands of powerful states, public authorities, scholars, and specialized peer groups, we gave memory all the new privileges and prestige of a popular protest movement. It has come to resemble the revenge of the underdog or injured party, the outcast. My film reflected the mood, and told the story of those who were denied their right to history.
“Grandma’s Tattoos,” which was released in November 2011, again deals with memory. This time my intention was to reflect the mood that memory, too, can be collective, and both liberating and sacred. Before, only individuals had memories, and collectivities had histories. The idea that collectivities have a memory, too, represents an important transformation in the status of individuals within society and of their relationship to the community at large. In this documentary, Grandma becomes us, we become Grandma—a reasoning that mirrors the shift in our understanding of identity.
The concept of identity has undergone a reversal in meaning at the same time as that of memory. It has gone from being an individual and subjective notion to a collective, quasi-formal, and objective one. The expression identity now is a group category, a way of defining us from without. Identity, like memory, is now a form of duty. As Simone de Beauvoir remarked, “One becomes a woman,” and “One is not born a woman.” I am asked to become what I am: a Swede, an Armenian, a film director, an American, or even a Muslim Armenian. It is at this level of obligation that the tie is shaped between memory and social identity. The two terms have become synonymous, and the fact that they have merged reflects a change in the way that history and society interact. No one has a monopoly on history today.
May be that is why “Grandma’s Tattoos” created so much controversy.
As mentioned earlier, the survivors’ traumatic memories were disorders in time and memory. Certain memories were amplified, others were suppressed; certain memories became taboos, never to be touched. It disturbed the essence of our identity. “Grandma’s Tattoos” was about unlocking the attic door and bringing down the walls of oblivion.
“Grandma’s Tattoos” was, for me, the most difficult film to make. We have rarely dealt with the issue of gender, even less when it comes to gender and genocide. It is remarkable that so little is written about the fate of women in wartime. Only now have we started to confront ourselves and ask the questions that were never meant to be asked.
Usually, a film on genocide is viewed as a bad idea, as commercially non-viable. Yet I fought, and persistence yielded results. That is how “Back to Ararat” and “I Hate Dogs” were made. But this time the resistance was incomprehensible, irrational. Already from the beginning, while researching, I was told, “Fate of the women? That is a strange way to approach the genocide.”
A commissioner could allow himself to say, “But what is the big deal with rape?”
And sexual violence is almost taken for granted. But that is not surprising. After all, history is written by men; so it is with genocide. Women as casualties is only now becoming an international security issue.
There was another challenge with “Grandma’s Tattoos”: How could you tell the story of thousands of victims while making it interesting, touching, and comprehensible at the same time? The victims, these women, had long passed away.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, was fighting my own blindness, my belief that I knew it all, that I had seen all the photos and read all the books. I was shocked when I found out that my own grandma had been a victim. And I was shocked by my family’s choice in dealing with the problem—selective amnesia.
It took me three years of research and of fighting opposition to the project, but the reception to “Grandma’s Tattoos” was overwhelming. We were all discovering ourselves. Women were mostly touched by it. Men were angry. But in the end, the anger was only a sign of desperation.
“Grandma’s Tattoos” was aired on Al Jazeera English, and reached a large audience. It was launched at the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. But reaction form the Turkish side came only when the film was to be aired on Swedish television, SVT; Turkish organizations and Turks living in Sweden bombarded SVT with letters, demanding the film not be shown. Instead, they demanded the showing of “Sari Gelin.”
For several weeks the campaign went on. However, “Grandma’s Tattoos” was broadcast as scheduled.
The film was also selected by FILMMOR, in Istanbul. This time, the Azeris took the lead and contacted the festival with threatening words, asking for the film to be removed from the program. The festival committee, however, decided not to politicize the issue, and insisted on screening the film. “Grandma’s Tattoos” was screened in Istanbul three times.
3) The Kernel that Led to ‘The Sandcastle Girls’
By Chris Bohjalian /The Armenian Weekly Magazine
Chris Bohjalian is the author of fifteen books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Night Strangers, Skeletons at the Feast, and The Double Bind. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah's Book Club. His work has been translated into more than 25 languages, and three of his novels have become movies (Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers). Bohjalian's novel of the Armenian Genocide, The Sandcastle Girls, arrives on July 17, 2012.
Sometimes my novels have positively elephantine gestation periods—and even that, in some cases, is an underestimate. A mother elephant carries her young for not quite two years; I have spent, in some cases, not quite two decades contemplating the tiniest seed of a story and wondering how it might grow into a novel.
Chris Bohjalian’s novel of the Armenian Genocide, The Sandcastle Girls, arrives on July 17.
Moreover, in the quarter-century I’ve been writing books, I’ve realized two things about a lengthy gestation period. First, the longer I spend allowing an idea to take root inside me, the better the finished book; second, the more time I spend thinking about a book, the less time I spend actually writing it. Here’s a confession: The first draft of the novel for which I may always be known best, Midwives, took a mere (and eerily appropriate) nine months to write. Skeletons at the Feast, another book I will always be proud of, took only 10. But I spent a long time pondering both of these novels before ever setting a single word down on paper.
Perhaps in no case has the relationship between reflection and construction—between the ethereal wisps of imagination and the concrete words of creation—been more evident than in the novel I have arriving this summer, The Sandcastle Girls. The novel has been gestating at the very least since 1992, when I first tried to make sense of the Armenian Genocide: a slaughter that most of the world knows next to nothing about.
My first attempt to write about the genocide, penned 20 years ago now, exists only as a rough draft in the underground archives of my alma mater. It will never be published, neither in my lifetime nor after I’m dead. I spent over two years struggling mightily to complete a draft, and I never shared it with my editor. My wife, who has always been an objective reader of my work, and I agreed: The manuscript should either be buried or burned. I couldn’t bring myself to do either, but neither did I ever want the pages to see the light of the day. Hence, the exile to the underground archives.
Moreover, just about this time, Carol Edgarian published her poignant drama of the Armenian Genocide and the diaspora, Rise the Euphrates. It’s a deeply moving novel and, it seemed to me, a further indication that the world didn’t need my book.
And so instead I embarked upon a novel that had been in the back of my mind for some time: A tale of a New England midwife and a home birth that has gone tragically wrong.
Over the next 15 years, all but one of my novels would be set largely in New England. Sometimes they would be about women and men at the social margins: homeopaths, transsexuals, and dowsers. Other times they would plumb social issues that matter to me: homelessness, domestic violence, and animal rights.
The one exception, the one book not set in New England? Skeletons at the Feast, a story set in Poland and Germany in the last six months of the Second World War. That novel is, in part, about a fictional family’s complicity in the Holocaust. Often as I toured on behalf of the book in 2008 and 2009, readers would ask me the following: When was I going to write about the Armenian Genocide? After all, from my last name it’s clear that I am at least part Armenian. (I am, in fact, half-Armenian; my mother was Swedish.)
I had contemplated the subject often, even after failing in my first attempt to build a novel around the Meds Yeghern. The Great Calamity. Three of my four Armenian great-grandparents died in the poisonous miasma of the genocide and the First World War. Moreover, some of my best—and from a novelist’s perspective most interesting—childhood memories occurred while I was visiting my Armenian grandparents at their massive brick monolith of a home in a suburb of New York City. Occasionally, my Mid-Western, Swedish mother would refer to their house as the “Ottoman annex of the Metropolitan,” because it was—at least by the standards of Westchester County in the middle third of the twentieth century—so exotic.
In 2010, my father’s health began to deteriorate badly. He lived in Florida at the time, while I lived in Vermont. I remember how on one of my visits, when he was newly home after yet another long stay in the hospital, together we looked at old family photographs. I was trying to take his mind off his pain, but I also found the exercise incredibly interesting. In some cases, these were images I had seen on the walls of my grandparents’ or my parents’ house since I was a child, but they had become little more than white noise: I knew them so well that I barely noticed them and they had grown as invisible to me as old wallpaper.
Now, however, they took on a new life. I recall one in particular that fascinated me: a formal portrait of my father when he was five years old, his parents behind him. All of them are impeccably coiffed. My grandfather is seated in an elegant wooden chair in the sort of suit and tie and vest that he seemed always to be wearing when I was a boy, and my grandmother is standing beside him in a beautiful black dress with a white collar and a corsage. I can see bits of my daughter—their great-granddaughter—in my grandmother’s beautiful, almond-shaped eyes. My father, a kindergartener at the time, is wearing shorts, a white shirt, and a rather badly knotted necktie with a cross on it.
I knew almost nothing about my grandparents’ story. But that picture reminded me of those moments when, as a child myself, I would sit on my grandfather’s lap or listen to him, enrapt, as he played his beloved oud. I recalled the wondrous aroma of lamb and mint that always wafted from their front door when I would arrive, and my grandmother’s magnificent cheese boregs. I thought of their library filled with books in a language—an alphabet—I could not begin to decipher, even as I was learning to read English.
And at some point, the seeds of my family’s own personal diaspora began to take root. I had no interest in revisiting the disastrous manuscript that was gathering dust in my college archives. But I knew that I wanted to try once again to write about the Armenian Genocide. A good friend of mine, a journalist and genocide scholar, urged me on.
Ironically, I was about 90 pages into my new book when Mark Mustian published his beautifully written and deeply thought-provoking novel, The Gendarme. I felt a bit as I had in 1994 when I read Carol Edgarian’s Rise the Euphrates. Did the world really need my book when it had Mark’s—or, for that matter, the stories and memoirs that Peter Balakian, Nancy Kricorian, Micheline Aharonian Marcom, and Franz Werfel had given us? It might have been my father’s failing health, or it might have been the fact that I was older now; it might have been the reality that already I cared deeply for the fictional women and men in my new novel. But this time I soldiered on.
I think The Sandcastle Girls may be the most important book I’ve written. It is certainly the most personal. It’s a big, broad, sweeping historical love story. The novel moves back and forth in time between the present and 1915; between the narrative of an Armenian-American novelist at mid-life and her grandparents’ nightmarish stories of survival in Aleppo, Van, and Gallipoli in 1915. Those fictional grandparents are not by any stretch my grandparents, but the novel would not exist without their courage and charisma.
Is the novel among my best work? The book opens with memories from my childhood in my grandparents’ home, what my mother referred to as the Ottoman Annex. In other words, it has been gestating almost my entire life.
The Making Of ‘Deported / A Dream Play’
By Joyce Van Dyke/The Armenian Weekly Magazine
Joyce Van Dyke
Joyce Van Dyke is a playwright and descendant of Armenian Genocide survivors. She is the author of “Deported / a dream play” and “A Girl’s War,” a story of love and war set in Karabagh which has received multiple productions and awards and was published in Contemporary Armenian American Drama (2004). Her play, “The Oil Thief,” won Boston’s Elliot Norton Award for best new play in 2009.
Joyce Van Dyke’s “Deported / a dream play” tells the story of two women deported together from Mezireh in 1915: the playwright’s grandmother, and her best friend, Varter, the mother of Dr. H. Martin Deranian. “Deported” just received its first professional production, playing to sold-out houses at the Modern Theatre in Boston from March 8 to April 1, 2012. The play was directed by Judy Braha and produced by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre in association with Suffolk University.
How can you make a play about the genocide and its aftermath? How do you tell a story that is unspeakable, unimaginable even? And if you do, will anybody come see it? Those were questions I started struggling with five years ago.
The playwrights grandparents and mother Elmas Boyajian called Victoria in the play with her husband Harry and daughter Rose Providence. All three are characters in the play.
The playwright's grandparents and mother – Elmas Boyajian (called Victoria in the play) with her husband Harry and daughter Rose, Providence. All three are characters in the play.
At the same time, director Judy Braha and a company of actors began collaborating with me to explore and shape the material that would eventually become Deported / a dream play. The story of two women friends, Victoria and Varter, Deported fuses the everyday and the surreal. It opens in Providence in 1938, then jumps forward 40 years to LA in 1978, and finally moves into a dream world of the future.
Early on I decided to tell the story of these two women genocide survivors as a “dream play.” The play would be composed out of dreams. When the lights first come up, we see the main character, Victoria, lying asleep on a table, dreaming about her friend, Varter. Dreams are woven throughout the action, and the entire final Act of the play, set in the future beyond 2015, interweaves Victoria’s dreams with those of other characters.
Dreams allowed me to crystallize a complicated history in visual images onstage. Dreams could accordion a great expanse of time into a moment. People and objects could magically appear and disappear. Real doors on stage could open into the past or the future. In the twinkling of an eye, we could slide from one world to another.
Making the play out of dreams was exciting and artistically challenging for me. It was also an attempt to wrest something beautiful out of this dreadful subject matter. That was an imperative I felt from the very beginning, for myself and for the audience: that if I was to write this play it had to embody a kind of beauty and vitality, that it had to represent humor and hope, that it couldn’t just reflect the genocide but had to reflect life beyond it too. The resurgence of life and dreams of the future—these needed to be a part of the play.
But at a deep level, it felt like a necessity rather than an artistic choice to make this a dream play. The form of the play was dictated by the need to tell the truth. What these characters had actually experienced in their lifetimes was surreal, nightmarish—the swift destruction and transformation of a whole world. How could I be true to the strangeness of their experience, to the way the genocide shattered not only family and culture, but space and time? How could I show their dislocation and disorientation? These were people for whom, as the main character Victoria says, “too much has happened,” like an earthquake whose repercussions went on and on, down through the years. I could never recreate that story in a realistic play. But I could evoke it in dreams.
Varter and her first husband, Mr. Nazarian, Mezireh. Both are characters in the play.
So, a dream play, but also a documentary play. Half of the play’s characters are invented, but the others are historical. Much that the historical characters say and do in the play was taken from life. I used their real names, with just one exception. That, too, was a decision made early on. I wanted to save things. I wanted to use the literal facts where I could. These remnants felt precious, and whenever I could use real details in the play it gave me a special satisfaction. So, for example, Varter’s artistry in making Armenian needle lace; her husband taken away in the middle of the night in his pajamas; the house Harry built at 74 Sargent Avenue in Providence; Victoria rehearsing a play in the attic of that house for the Armenian Euphrates Evangelical Church theatre group; the Turkish sergeant who followed Varter from Ourfa to Aleppo after she escaped. All of these and many more real-life details became motifs and events in the play. In larger matters, too, the play’s stories are true, including the story of how these two women lost their children on the deportation.
As I began to work on the play, my original dread of confronting the subject matter gave way to a sense of happiness and release that took me by surprise. Although the writing process was often painful, it greatly deepened my knowledge and love for my grandparents, and for my grandmother’s best friend, Varter, Martin Deranian’s mother, whom I never met but came to love. The more I worked on the play, the more I felt the living miracle of their strength and heroism.
I was sustained throughout the creation of the play by the many people and Armenian organizations that gave me support: our Deported Advisory Board, Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA), Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA), Knights and Daughters of Vartan, National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives, Sayat Nova Dance Company, and the many individuals who generously contributed to our special fundraising campaign to help support the production. We were thrilled when Boston Playwrights’ Theatre agreed to produce the play in association with Suffolk University at the newly renovated Modern Theatre.
I would like to mention two particularly wonderful features of this production. One was the beautiful photo exhibit in the lobby of the Modern Theatre, curated by Ruth Thomasian of Project SAVE. The exhibit was specially keyed to the “Deported” story and included photos of characters in the play, providing a moving complement to the production and drawing the attention of audiences before and after the show, many of whom were given a guided tour of the exhibit by Thomasian herself. I also cherished the Armenian dancing in the play choreographed by Apo Ashjian of Sayat Nova, who taught our whole company how to dance. Ashjian’s beautiful weaving of those dances into the play made them a highlight of the production, communicating the joy and vitality that I so hoped the show would convey.
Bobbie Steinbach as Victoria and Jeanine Kane as Varter, in Deported.
There are certain people without whom this play would never have come to be. I call Martin Deranian the godfather of this play. He inspired me to write it and was the source of everything I know about Varter, as well as, remarkably, much that I learned from him about my own grandmother.1
My artistic collaborator, director Judy Braha, was my partner in the creation of this play from the very start. Braha not only directed the beautifully realized Boston Playwrights’ Theatre production at the Modern, but had worked with me over a five-year period to develop the play. Starting before we had any script or even a story, she held improvisational workshops with our company of actors, which became the laboratory for developing the play. Most of these actors appeared in the production at the Modern. Their creative work, as well as public readings and an earlier workshop production at Boston University that Braha directed, all contributed to the evolution of the script.
“Deported” is a challenging play to stage. In Braha’s words: “The play leaps from the intimate to the epic, and it leaps quickly. Dreams tumble out of Victoria’s imagination in multiple layers and leave as fast as they arrived… One of our greatest challenges was arriving at a scenic design that could easily, almost magically, shift from an attic in 1938 to a garden in LA in 1978 to a dream space in the future.”2
An especially evocative and affecting element of the production was not my invention at all, but Braha’s idea: that the Suffolk University students, who were cast as Armenian dancers in the show, should double as “Dreamers”—beings who swirled in and out and made the magic happen in the play, making lace and chairs appear and disappear, and repeatedly transforming the world before our eyes.
To my enormous gratification, large audiences came to see the show, and we even sold out most performances. People wept, and they laughed. I was thrilled to see that the audience members were of all ages and backgrounds. One night a busload of 40 college students from North Carolina came; they’d just seen “Les Miserables” at the Opera House next door, and were now taking in “Deported.” Parents brought their children. Adults brought their elderly parents. A group of half a dozen women in headscarves came one night. A teacher brought his entire high school class. A lot of Armenians came to see the show, yet they made up less than half of the total audience, in my estimation.
A friend said to me, “Every Armenian’s story is different, and they’re all the same.” Many came up to me after the play and said, “That was my story,” “You told my mother’s story,” “my grandparents’ story” “my uncle’s,” although not all of those people were Armenian. As we heard from many audience members—and as we had hoped in creating the play—it resonated with those whose families were changed by the Holocaust, by more recent genocides, by fighting in World War II, and by American slavery.
As for what comes next: My goal is for “Deported / a dream play” to go on to productions in other cities, between now and 2015, and beyond. I believe the theatre is uniquely able to convey the visceral and emotional reality of this story. But I would also like to say that the play ends with hope. In the last scene, set some years beyond 2015, Turks and Armenians from the past and from the future gather together onstage, searching for the words that will allow them to speak. I hope this play can contribute to that conversation.
1. See www.bu.edu/bpt/pdfs/press/deportedpreview.pdf for the story told in a March 3 Boston Globe article.
2. See http://artsfuse.org/53505/fuse-theater-interview-deported-a-dream-play-a-tale-of-new-england-with-global-implications/ for the interview with Braha and Van Dyke.
The playwright's grandparents and mother – Elmas Boyajian (called Victoria in the play) with her husband Harry and daughter Rose, Providence. All three are characters in the play.
Ungor: Turkey Has Acknowledged the Armenian Genocide
By Ugur Ungor/The Armenian Weekly Magazine
Ümit Üngör is Assistant Professor at the Department of History of Utrecht University and at the Institute for War and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam. He specializes in genocide, mass violence and ethnic conflict. His recent publications include Confiscation and Destruction: The Young Turk Seizure of Armenian Property (Continuum, 2011), and The Making of Modern Turkey: Nation and State in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-1950 (Oxford University Press, 2011).
“Turkey denies the Armenian Genocide” goes a jingle. Yes, the Turkish state’s official policy towards the Armenian Genocide was and is indeed characterized by the “three M’s”: misrepresentation, mystification, and manipulation. But when one gauges what place the genocide occupies in the social memory of Turkish society, even after nearly a century, a different picture emerges. Even though most direct eyewitnesses to the crime have passed away, oral history interviews yield important insights. Elderly Turks and Kurds in eastern Turkey often hold vivid memories from family members or fellow villagers who witnessed or participated in the genocide. This essay is based on countless interviews conducted with the (grand-)children of eye witnesses to the Armenian Genocide. The research results suggest there is a clash between official state memory and popular social memory: The Turkish government is denying a genocide that its own population remembers.
IMG 3414 300x225 Ungor: Turkey Has Acknowledged the Armenian Genocide
Children in Mush (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)
Oral history in Turkey
Oral history is an indispensible tool for scholars interested in mass violence. A considerable collection of Armenian and Syriac oral history material has been studied by colleagues.1 The existing body of oral history research in Turkey, though gradually developing, has hardly addressed the genocide. A potential research field was politicized by successive governments and the Turkish Historical Society. Several documentaries about the victimization of Ottoman Muslims in the eastern border regions have included shots of elderly Muslims speaking about their victimization at the hand of Armenians (and presumably Cossacks) in 1918. It seems unmistakable that the Turkish-nationalist camp fears that the local population of Anatolian towns and villages might “confess” the genocide’s veracity and disclose relevant details about it. For example, the 2006 PBS documentary “The Armenian Genocide” by Andrew Goldberg includes remarkable footage of elderly Turks speaking candidly about the genocide. One of the men remembers how his father told him that the génocidaires had mobilized religious leaders to convince the population that killing Armenians would secure them a place in heaven. Another middle-aged man recounts a recollection of his grandfather’s that neighboring Armenian villagers were locked in a barn and burnt alive.2
In the past decade, I have searched (and found) respondents willing to relate their personal experiences or their family narratives related to the war and the genocide. In the summers of 2002 and 2004-07, I conducted up to 200 interviews with (grand-)children of contemporaries in eastern Turkey, all semi-structured and taped. Needless to say, oral history has its methodological pitfalls, especially in a society where the memory of modern history is overlaid with myth and ideologies. Many are unwilling to reflect about their family histories because they have grown accustomed to ignoring inquisitive and critical questions, not least on their own moral choices in the face of their neighbors’ destruction. Others are reluctant to admit to acts considered shameful.3
But while some were outright unwilling to speak once I broached the taboo subject, others agreed to speak but wished to remain anonymous, and again many others were happy to speak openly, with some even providing me access to their private documents. Even though direct eyewitnesses to the crime have most probably passed away, these interviews proved fruitful. Elderly Turks and Kurds often remember vivid anecdotes from family members or villagers who witnessed or participated in the massacres. My subject position as a “local outsider” (being born in the region but raised abroad) facilitated the research as it gave me the communicative channels to at once delve deeply and recede at the appropriate moments. It also provided me with a sense of immunity from the dense moral and political field in which most of this research is embedded.
Turkish and Kurdish eyewitness accounts
A.D., a Kurdish writer from Varto (Mus,), recalled a childhood memory from 1966 when an earthquake laid bare a mass grave near his village. The villagers knew the victims were Armenians from a neighboring village. According to A.D., when the village elder requested advice from the local authorities on what to do, within a day military commanders had assigned a group of soldiers to re-bury the corpses. The villagers were warned to never speak about it again.4
Interviews with elderly locals also yielded considerable useful data about the genocide itself. For example, a Kurdish man (born 1942) from Diyarbekir’s northern Piran district, had heard from his father how fellow villagers would raid Armenian villages and dispatch their victims by slashing their throats wide open. As they operated with daggers and axes, this often led to decapitations. After the killing was done, the perpetrators could see how the insides of the victims’ windpipes were black because of tobacco use.5 Morbid details such as these are also recorded by the following account from a Kurdish man from the Kharzan region, east of Diyarbekir:
My grandfather was the village elder (muhtar) during the war. He told us when we were children about the Armenian massacre. There was a man in our village; he used to hunt pheasants. Now the honorless man (bês,erefo) hunted Armenians. Grandpa saw how he hurled a throwing axe right through a child a mother was carrying on her back. Grandpa yelled at him: “Hey, do you have no honor? God will punish you for this.” But the man threatened my grandfather that if he did not shut up, he would be next. The man was later expelled from the village.6
Here is another account from a Turkish woman (born 1928) from Erzincan:
Q: You said there were Armenians in your village, too. What happened to them?
A: They were all killed in the first year of the war, you didn’t know? My mother was standing on the hill in front of our village. She saw how at Kemah they threw (döktüler) all the Armenians into the river. Into the Euphrates. Alas, screams and cries (bag(?ran çag(?ran). Everyone, children and all (çoluk çocuk), brides, old people, everyone, everyone. They robbed them of their golden bracelets, their shawls, and silk belts, and threw them into the river.
Q: Who threw them into the river?
A: The government of course.
Q: What do you mean by ‘the government’?
These examples suggest that there still might be something meaningful gained from interviews with elderly Turks and Kurds. Needless to say, had a systematic oral history project been carried out in Turkey much earlier, e.g. in the 1960’s or 1970’s, undoubtedly a wealth of crucial information could have been salvaged. Besides the excellent research conducted in Turkey by colleagues such as Leyla Neyzi, Ays,e Gül Alt?nay, and others, interviews by individual researchers are at best a drop in the ocean. A measured research project with a solid book as output would be a memorable achievement for the centenary of the genocide.
When I was traveling from Ankara to Adana in the summer of 2004, I stopped by the friendly town of Ereg(li, north of the Taurus mountain range. My friend, an academic visiting his family, had invited me along. Strolling through the breezy town, we came across one of my friend’s acquaintances, an “Uncle Fikri.” The old man looked sad, so we asked him what was wrong. He said, “My father has been on his deathbed for a few days now.” When we tried to console him, he answered: “I’m not sad because he will die, he has been sick for a while now. I just cannot accept that he refuses to recite the Kelime-i Shehadet before he passes on.” (Shahadah, the Muslim declaration of belief: “There is no God but Allah and Muhammed is his Prophet.”) The man looked deep into our eyes, there was an awkward silence for four seconds, we understood each other, and we parted.
In this example, only two generations separated us from the eyewitness generation. Therefore, I believe there might still be avenues for oral history research on the genocide. Father Patrick Desbois is a French Catholic priest who travels to Ukraine in a concerted effort to document the Shoah through the use of oral history. His team locates mass graves and interviews contemporary witnesses about the mass shootings of Jews, which often took place just outside the Ukrainian villages they visit. The elderly respondents usually remember the slaughter in vivid detail.8 Desbois’ work on Ukraine has proven helpful in completing the already comprehensive picture historians have of Nazi mass murder in that region. During a private conversation, Desbois intimated that he would be interested in launching a similar project in Turkey, if a viable initiative was proposed.9 It might be worthwhile to gauge what place the Armenian Genocide occupies in the social memory of Turks and Kurds, even after nearly a century. The conclusion would undoubtedly warrant my introductory comment: The Turkish government is denying a genocide that its own population remembers.
1. Donald E. Miller and Lorne Touryan-Miller, Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993; David Gaunt, Massacres, Resistance, Protectors: Muslim-Christian Relations in Eastern Anatolia during World War I, Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2006, appendix; Ays,e Gül Alt?nay and Fethiye Çetin, Torunlar (Istanbul: Metis, 2009).
2. Andrew Goldberg, “The Armenian Genocide,” Two Cats Productions, 2006.
3. For parallel problems in Russian history, see Orlando Figes, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, London: Penguin, 2007, p. XXXV.
4. Interview conducted with A.D. (from Varto district) in Heidelberg, Germany, Nov. 24, 2009.
5. Interview conducted with M.S,. (from Piran district) in Diyarbak?r, July 15, 2004.
6. Interview conducted with Erdal Rênas (from the Kharzan area) in Istanbul, Aug. 18, 2002.
7. Interview conducted with K.T. (from Erzincan) in Bursa on June 28, 2002 and Aug. 20 2007, partially screened in the documentary “Land of our Grandparents” (Amsterdam: Zelovic' Productions, 2008).
8.Patrick Desbois, Porteur de Mmémoires: sur les Traces de la Shoah par Balles, Paris: Michel Lafon, 2007. Also, see www.shoahparballes.com.
9. Personal communication with Patrick Desbois at the conference “The Holocaust by Bullets,” organized by the Amsterdam Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the Nationaal Museum Vught (Netherlands), Sept. 11, 2009.
#1 Comment By A. Maranci
Professor Ungor’s article and his thoughts for the continuation of research on the collective memory of the genocide in the third generation living in Eastern Anatolia is certainly very worthwhile. I hope various Armenian, Assyrian and Kurdish organizations will fund the research. True to his name, may:
(Ugur) Luck follow him, (Umit) Hope lead him and (Ungor) Fame be his reward.
#2 Comment By Barkev Asadourian
How could should not called A Genocide, this is one thousans proof ,have the World know that..we people looking for Justice for to Recognize the Genociide by Turkey!!
#3 Comment By paul
as I have said countless times, pursuing the recognition is a total waste of precious Armenian money and a waste of time, Genocide recognition will not accomplish anything whatsoever, what is important and should be pursued vigorously is the UN resolution to recover the $60 billion as compensation as well as the Armenian properties.
Letting Turkey know that we are less interested in recognition and more interested in recovering and restitution, Turkey maybe more receptive to our demands.
#4 Comment By Umut Ermec
Just wanted to say that not every Turk denies the Armenian Genocide. I am amongst the ones who recognizes the genocide, shares Armenians’ pain and are sorry about what happened. As a Turkish citizen, I will try my best to make Turkey recognize Armenian Genocide and apologize officially. I protested Turkish Embassy in New York City by myself on 04.24.2012 and many others did the same thing in Turkey. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.212967712139529.31092.142172542552380&type=3
#5 Comment By David
To Umut Ermec,
Thank you for your heartfelt words of recognition of the Armenian Genocide. It’s people like you that give me hope for humanity. You also give me reason to remember how my family was saved by a Turkish family during the 1895 massacres that preceded the full blown Armenian Genocide. Lately I’m finding lots of similar stories where honorable and courageous Turks risked much to protect and save Armenians. So I think it’s fair to say that you are the latest in a long legacy of courageous Turks that will do what is right despite the circumstances.
You are in my hopes and prayers Umut. God Bless you my friend.
#6 Comment By Avery
That was very brave of you Umut, particularly you being a Turkish citizen.
Hopefully Turkish officialdom will not harass you when you return to Turkey.
I don’t know any Armenians who believe all Turkish citizens or all Turks are Denialists. A very brave Turk woman, Ms. Ayse Gunaysu, lives in Turkey and is a columnist here at AW. So, if there is one, there must be many more like her in Turkey.
And certainly Turks like Mr. Ugur Ungor and Prof. Taner Akcam have published important research to demolish the vacuous arguments of the Denialists.
Unfortunately you and those like you are in the minority in the population of Turkey.
Nevertheless, individuals like you are a force-multiplier, being non-Armenian Turkish citizens.
#7 Comment By Harut
Thank you for your research, as i said before and i will say it again there are many Turks that recognise the Armenian Genocide and i know sooner or later which will be sooner the Turkish Government has to recognise the Armenian Genocide and we all will be living next to each other as good neihgbours , of course there has to be the reperations and our land also there i sno question about that, it is time i mean is it time for the Turkish people to stand up agains their own Government and ask for justice, we are living in a new age with a new generation why should i remind the Turkish people about it every time i see one in the street and yes we live in Los Angeles ( Los Armenios) it is time to see each other in the eye and say Salam malekom arxadash.
#8 Comment By Umut Ermec
Thank you for all of your support and compliments. I believe Armenians and Turks will make peace sooner than we expect; we have a solid cultural foundation for it. The poison from the CUP racists cannot be that powerful to last more than a century; more and more people realize that the racist’s denial arguments are actually not true day by day. We are healing. People of Turkey will understand that advocating the ideas and sins of some murderers, rapists and plunderers who lived a century ago is wrong and dishonorable. As I said in front of the embassy: “confession fits better to us, not denial”
#9 Comment By Umut Ermec
Here are some pictures of some Turkish citizens who recognize Armenian Genocide from Istanbul,Turkey
#10 Comment By Aram
I, like thousands more, went to Dsidsernakabert (the Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan) not to hate Turks but rather to honor the memory of the
victims of “man’s inhumanity to man”. I know first hand that there are many Turks
like Mr. Ugur Ungor who acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. The difficult task ahead is to educate more Turks and not hate them, keeping in mind that those brave souls who acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in and out of Turkey do take a risk.
#11 Comment By ragnar naess
oral history certainly is a very important source for discovering what happened in Eastern Anatolia and Syria in 1915-16. If Turkey proceeds to a situation in which people are exhorted to tell what their parent and grand parent generation witnessed many questions may be answered better than today. But in order to get there , Turkish politics must be based on a genuine will to look for the truth. I am afraid that day is still far away
#12 Comment By VTiger
Hi Ragnar,hope you are well.Absolutely there’s no need to discover what happened.Discover?I should consider it as an insult …It’s a fact for us the Armenians & for the rest of the world.Turkish government keeps on chewing the old gum hoping that this subject will disappear.
Turkish/Kurdish oral history is a necessity so that it does not get lost & to tighten the noose on to what happened.Turks & Kurds know super very well what happened.Over the years & each time I met a Turk or a Kurd ,whether in Turkey or outside they used to whisper question me…”is it true what our grandparents told us?”
Anyway,Zorian institute has thousands of Genocide survivors’ witnessing videos.
#13 Comment By VTiger
Regarding mass graves:
Iin “Rebel Land: Among Turkey’s Forgotten Peoples
by Christopher de Bellaigue” & in Varto region the subject of mass graves is discussed…
#14 Comment By VTiger
Furthermore please read what president Gul when he spoke on the 97th anniversary of the battle of Canakalle:
“After the Republic was established, we avoided reopening old wounds so future generations would not inherit these pains. Unfortunately, the Armenian Diaspora has started to use this tragic event as a tool for preserving their identity and enhancing the feeling of solidarity between themselves since the 1960s.”
Can you see the contrast between the memories of the common folk in Turkey & their president who should be reflecting image of its people?
#15 Comment By VTiger
Also in Kemal Yalcin’s ‘You Rejoice My Heart’ book there are the testimonies/memories of ‘hidden or islamised’ Armenians’ whether in Turkey or Germany.
The hidden Armenians’ memories should be a very beneficial point of Mr. Ungor’s study/research.The problem is always finding or convincing them to talk.
#16 Comment By Harut
Hello Umut my friends call me Uncle Artin or Uncle HArut i understand what you are saying and that is a very good idea of what by standing in front of the turkish embassy telling them how you feel, Umut lets go back lets say about 700 years when your people came to the Armenian lands what did we did then we opened our arms as people and excepted your people as people and ypour people the Turks lived on our land for so many centurys and as time went by, yes you grew in numbers and things started to change slowly but surely some of the people in the Turkish government started to have different feelings toward us the Armenians on our own land, as you can see were i’m going with this Umut , we opened our doors for you and in return well i should not say any further, hope one day things will change for better.
#17 Comment By LNG
“The poison from the CUP, Ataturk, and the kemalist racists…”
THAT IS WHY it lasted this .long, and seems like it will last longer
actually, that poison was introduced in the 19th century (if not even earlier), much before CUP grabbed power
#18 Comment By Harut
Here it is Umut the Hidden Armenians in Turkey
Yusuf Halaçog(lu, the ex-chairman of the Turkish Historical Society, is fiercely indignant over the awakening of national identity among “hidden” Armenians.
One of the Turkish nationalistic websites has put on his statement saying: “Several years ago I warned many Armenians were concealing their national identity, claiming they were Kurds. I stated all that on the basis of data from U.S. archives which gave them an alias ‘Armenian Kurds’. According to the information at my disposal, about 500,000 Armenians concealing their national identity and claiming to be Kurds are residing in Turkey now,” Halaçog(lu said. According to him, Armenians’ national identification in Turkey creates favorable conditions for growing demands for restitution on the Turkish Government. He stressed that this process will also cause similar processes among the other Turkey-based minorities, namely, Turkmens and Alevis.
#19 Comment By gaytzag palandjian
Today May 9th 8.30 am Eastern Time, the AL JAZEERA, is showing a documentary on the ARMENIAN GENOCIDE .Turks are verifying what happened in ottoman Turkey then in 1915-23. A rather lengthy Documentary.
Al Jazeera must be commended.
All the Moslem world is watching …millions get to know better WHAT TURKS DID TO ARMENIANS!!!!!
sO FAR NO ANY FOREIGN SOURCE HAS SO WELL SHOWN THE genocide perpetrated on our people.
Kudos to Al Jazeera!!!!
Children in Mush
Theriault: Post-Denial Denial
By Henry Theriault/The Armenian Weekly Magazine
Henry C. Theriault earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy in 1999 from the University of Massachusetts, with a specialization in social and political philosophy. He is currently a professor in and chair of the Philosophy Department at Worcester State College, where he has taught since 1998. Since 2007, he has served as coeditor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal Genocide Studies and Prevention. His research focuses on philosophical approaches to genocide issues, especially genocide denial, long-term justice, and the role of violence against women in genocide. He has lectured widely in the United States and internationally.
In 2012, we might wonder what the point of engaging denial yet again could be. The best thinking on the Armenian Genocide has moved far beyond it, to the question of reparations; the genocide’s gendered dimensions, including the sexual violence and slavery of Armenian women and girls; attention to the micro and meso levels of perpetration, particularly the complex and varied role of regional1; and the expansion of theorization of the genocidal process to include Assyrians and Greeks.2Why does denial persist at all? Is it just the atavistic stubbornness of some segment of Turkey’s political and military institutions? Is it an embedded prejudice widespread in the Turkish population, especially its growing external component in North America and Europe, a prejudice that continues even in progressive circles and despite much rhetoric to the contrary? Is it a reassertion of genocidal hatred, a mocking of the victims, a refusal to give up the thrill of power and domination that comes from knowing your group has the absolute power of life and death over not just some set of individuals, but entire and ancient peoples? Have denial’s proponents, especially academics in the United States, so boxed themselves into an untenable corner, so deeply compromised themselves in their public advocacy for an odious and duplicitous attack on basic human rights and decency, that their only hope for psychological, material, and status self-preservation is in preserving the lie? Is it the all-too-common genocidal state version of corporate greed and self-interest that subjects all human relations and social commitments to the drive for pure profit, that is, the refusal to give up one iota of the immense material gains from the genocide in land and wealth that endure today as the foundation of the growing Turkish economy? Has denial simply become a habit that those promoting it are just too rigid and lazy to break, a pseudo-religious faith making sense of a complex and changing world without meaningful thought and challenge, even an addiction with its own self-destructive pleasures? Or have its purveyors, its perpetrators, learned from Armenians themselves, who could easily have given up at any point during the past 89 years, stopped fighting tooth and nail to preserve a damned identity that gave no hope or solace to those marked by it, that the refusal to accept the inevitable undercuts and fractures the inevitable?
Itzkowitz pioneered a vulgar postmodern relativist denial that melted all material historical facts into purely linguistic narratives all of equal status because all are equally constructs. Armenians had their narrative and Turks theirs. “Truth” disappeared into multiplicitous ambiguity, and all discussions of mass violence in the present became mutual military conflict, and in the past mutual rhetorical conflict.
Regardless, engaging denial in 2012 is an intellect- and soul-deadening chore, a distraction from the real intellectual and political work that lies ahead for those Armenians and Turks looking forward to a new shared universe in which the Ottoman-Turkish genocidal process has been addressed through a reparative process that reestablishes, in however muted a manner, the long-term viability of its victim groups, and establishes this genocide’s lessons learned, for instance, for the struggle against the contemporary trafficking of women and children for sexual and other slavery and the epidemic of violence against women globally. We’re still dealing with denial in 2012. But I guess there are those who still argue adamantly that the earth is flat, cigarettes don’t cause cancer, the earth’s climate is not getting warmer due to human pollution, and dinosaurs are a myth or lived only after the earth was created 6,000 years ago.
While the tremendous material resources—a benefit of the massive wealth expropriation of the genocide itself—that Turkey and its allies in the political and corporate realms are able to pour into denial mean that the effort can be extended indefinitely on multiple fronts, including public relations/lobbying and academic, given the growing fracture over denial in Turkey itself coupled with the increasing boldness of states such as France in their refusal to give in to political and economic blackmail, legal cases have become the rearguard venue of choice for deniers. The irony, of course, is not lost on those who notice that the Turkish government and its allies continue to parrot the nonsensical insistence that the Armenian Genocide should not be a political or moral issue but should be left entirely to historians at precisely the same historical moment as some proponents of denialist positions take the issue right out of academia and place it squarely in the legal system with lawsuits meant to promote the teaching of discredited denialist material on websites and to prevent denialist editorializing and “scholarship” from being accurately labeled as such. It is not the effectiveness of this new dimension of the campaign against truth and healing that should give us pause, as its only success came as the result of the legal and political ineptitude and moral cowardice of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which instead of taking the heat and consequences itself of its amateurish public statements about Guenter Lewy, simply heaped on the victim group of genocide yet more calumny by retreating completely from its challenge to denial and even promoting and praising Lewy in order to save itself from a lawsuit. When push comes to shove, the line of least resistance is always to sacrifice or harm the victims again. What should draw our attention is the attempt to enforce relativism on the issue, to require that the “second side of the story” be legalistically stapled to the true one side of the story so that the latter can never be uttered without its parasitic other clinging to and sucking the life out of it.
This new legalism has a crucial parallel, which has as yet not been commented upon by even the most sophisticated discussants of the Armenian Genocide. Ten years ago those very few of us present in the public discourse on the Armenian Genocide who insisted that reparations, and not denial, is the central issue, were met with public dismissal and academic rejection, where our work was taken up at all and not simply ignored. We have continued to make our arguments, and one by one academics, religious leaders, and Armenians, as well as many outside the Armenian community, including U.S. legislators, have shifted their views or come to appreciate the importance of reparations where they had not considered it before. But, if one thing should be learned from Etienne Balibar,3 it is that steps forward, particularly in regard to oppression, quite often lead to new veiled forms of the same basic oppressive forces rather than a meaningful supersession of oppression. And so it is with the new attention on reparations, which has replicated among those—even in the Armenian community—who recognize the Armenian Genocide (including some who do not use the term but recognize an unlabeled “that which inflicted great harm on the Armenians”) an emerging structural dichotomy that mirrors the tension between truth and denial itself. The problem is not a function of falsification versus truth, as denial has never been about truth and falsity, but about power and the prevention of rectification of the impacts of and ethical accounting for the genocide. Those who believe that establishment of the truth is the telos of human rights advocacy for Armenian Genocide victims misunderstand entirely what is at stake in any case of genocide, perhaps because they confuse the putative goal of academic research (production of “truth”) with the complex political and ethical terrain in which this research is rightly situated. Denial can be abandoned at precisely the point at which some new means of resistance to rectification can be engaged more effectively, relative to the current successes or failings of denial. Even if it were true that denial as a state-driven political campaign would cease with the end to the possibility of any material or symbolic reparations (and as the opening paragraph suggests, it might not be), that does not mean that the end of denial can only come in this way. The tension at the core of denial can morph into another debate or struggle, which will be all the more effective because so much focus has been placed on ending denial as the key to resolving the Armenian Genocide.
The commitment to denial described in the introductory paragraph suggests deep psycho-social roots that go beyond expediency. The triumph of the Turkish state has been to structure Turkish national identity itself in two key ways. First, it has forced that group identity to be central to individual personal identity—explaining the former’s more bizarre and dramatically ironic manifestations, such as the voting of Kemal Ataturk as the greatest in just about every category of a turn-of-the-century Time Magazine poll—and, second, it has made that identity frail and rigid. This is interesting in itself: The Turkish elites have driven the development of a national identity that is (intentionally?) insecure while making individual wellbeing dependent on national self-esteem, in order to bind individuals to the state seen as the only capable defense of that national identity. Denial is one method used to preserve that psycho-social complex in the face of political advocacy toward rectification of the damage (in its more primitive stage, a simple quest by the victim group to gain widespread acceptance of the truth), but it is merely a method, not the foundational problem, in the way that biological race theories are one form of racism but not essential to racism, with a generic racism existing at a deeper level and fueling a variation of forms. New forms of racism emerge, though we can modify Balibar to hold that the old forms do not simply disappear, but that over time more and more kinds of racism aggregate and become options that impose a comprehensive and even hermetically sealed context in which no matter what resistance and facts are met, there is always another way for racism to function that is not susceptible to that resistance—or the particular ethical commitments of this or that individual. While we can see a temporal progression of forms, this is not a linear but an additive history, a packrat historical trajectory in which no oppressive method that has had success in the past is ever really abandoned.
Is there a new tension, a new form, in addition to denial? We are actually seeing the third such emergence. The first was manifested in the tension over whether the term “genocide” should be used to characterize the “events of 1915.” For those Turks and others for whom denial of the facts on the ground of widespread government-sponsored killing of Armenians grossly disproportionate to any putative cause became intellectually or morally impossible—for this they deserve some credit—but who could not face the full reality of history, a compromise position became recognition of the violence against Armenians—if not its fully systematic nature—coupled with a claim that “genocide” should not be applied to that violence. The reasons included the mistaken notion that the concept of genocide did not emerge until after the Armenian Genocide, so it would be historically essentialist to apply it “retroactively” (conveniently ignoring what is now widely know, that in coining the term in 1943 as well as creating the concept at least a decade earlier, Raphael Lemkin had the genocide of Christians in the Ottoman Empire fully in mind as a major example); the vulgar postmodernist claim that a unifying term such as “genocide” suppressed the complex and polyvalent details of the “events [note the fracturing plural] of 1915”; and that, regardless of whether the term is technically correct, its use would alienate the general Turkish population by offending their sensibilities by characterizing some of their national predecessors as genocidaires. Others and I have exposed the logical fallacies and imperial mentality underlying such approaches, and there is no space here to revisit them. The relevant focus here is, rather, the shift that this turn from outright denial to mischaracterization represented. As denial became untenable for individuals and to an extent for Turkey in general, a rearguard action ensued that saved the refusal to admit genocide by admitting lower-level violence.
Among some Turks, a second shift paralleled or followed the terminological refusal. The fault line here was between one or more of (1) recognition, conflict-resolving dialogue, or apology and (2) a genuine process of repair. Denial could be set aside and even genocide admitted so long as the immediate next step was the resolution of tensions between Turks and Armenians and a supersession of the genocide issue. My forthcoming article in the Armenian Review’s special issue on reparations covers aspects of this issue in detail; here, what is important to notice is the way this shift at once leaves denial or misrepresentation behind at the same time as it resists meaningful and respectful resolution of the Armenian Genocide issue.
But even this dichotomy has not been stable, and some of its proponents have retreated further, accepting that repairs must be made. The latest fault line cuts through the notion of “repair” itself, as what has long been proposed as group repair is facilely misrepresented as individual repair. This dichotomy is present among Armenians, who engage the suffering and material losses of direct family members—sometimes even possessing title deeds—at the same time as they are by communal losses of land, institutions, cultural viability, identify, etc. Both forms of repair address some of the present harms of the genocide, but it is group repair that is the tremendously more significant and necessary for the long-term viability of Armenian identity and statehood. Once more, the issue of why has been covered elsewhere, for instance in the draft report of the Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group.4 The key point here is that individual reparations do not even address the genocide as genocide. They remedy specific thefts of businesses, lands, etc., in exactly the same way that they would if the thefts had been the result of individual thievery, fraud, or other criminality. Individual reparations are not reparations for genocide, but for some particular loss. While in reality each such loss was part of the overall impact of the genocide, treating the losses as individual dissolves the fact of the genocide itself.5
In this way, the conflating of individual and group reparations entails a conceptual confusion that is the hallmark of denial in its more advanced forms. If explicit denial began as a confrontational disavowal of the facts of history and their proper characterization, it later became not only a demonstration of power over the victim group(s)6 and the perpetrator group’s general population (see above), but also a method of befuddling those outside the victim and perpetrator groups. The function of denial, beyond the dominational (sadistic or imperial) thrills it provides its purveyors within and outside the Turkish people, is the conditioning of the global population to experience intellectual confusion at the mere mention of the Armenian Genocide.
The triumph of deniers has been to present the production of this confusion as the activity of the scientific critical thinking that is meant to overcome such confusion.7 The most obvious is Descartes’ method of critical doubting, by which he subjected classes of beliefs, up to and including mathematical facts such as 2 + 3 = 5, to various philosophical doubts about their certainty. Descartes’ method, of course, was the beginning point of a powerful philosophical progression in which Descartes built up extensive and comprehensive layers of certainty. Deniers, however, stop at the end of Meditation 1, and mistake “critical thinking” for the mere introduction of logical doubt regarding all assertions of fact. They fail to understand that Descartes’ process of destructive doubting, of tearing down belief systems, was the prelude to and had value only as the occasion for a much richer constructive project of knowledge production. By disconnecting the negative or destructive phase of Descartes’ project from the constructive, deniers can situate themselves within the legacy of Cartesian critical thought without following it out to its logical extension. In other words, they simply raise logical doubts, typically not reasonable, against any and all factual claims, no matter how well supported, and remain at that point.
This false Cartesianism has a certain half-life. While it can and presumably will be used indefinitely, over time it becomes less and less effective as information about the Armenian Genocide becomes more widely disseminated and available. As the factual basis becomes more established and assumed, the general population becomes less and less vulnerable to the attempts to confuse them through manipulative misuse of critical thinking principles. Doubt about empirical facts depends to a significant degree on ignorance of the comprehensiveness and internal consistency of the relevant empirical facts.
But since the 1990’s and the work of Norman Itzkowitz,8 a new approach to confusion has also been evident. Itzkowitz pioneered a vulgar postmodern relativist denial that melted all material historical facts into purely linguistic narratives all of equal status because all are equally constructs. Armenians had their narrative and Turks theirs. “Truth” disappeared into multiplicitous ambiguity, and all discussions of mass violence in the present became mutual military conflict, and in the past mutual rhetorical conflict. While this is resonant with some lesser strains of postmodernism, it grossly oversimplifies the complex views of the relationship between text/language and materiality characteristic of such figures as Foucault and Deleuze. What is more, in its relativizing use of the concept of the “other”—another term characteristic of postmodern discourse but actually with its origins in the earlier and politically unambiguous existentialism of de Beauvoir and Fanon—to mean any asserted difference between groups, it loses the core of the notion as a question of power relations: The “other” is properly that population whom the dominant exclude, demean, etc. Yet, in current discourse on Armenian-Turkish relations, the term is applied in both directions, as if Armenians are in the position to exclude or demean the Turkish state and society in a manner that has any demonstrable effects or approaches even partially the devastating impact of Turkish otherization of Armenians.
Similarly for “trauma,” which has become a vague and empty term as it spills out of the pens of many discussants of Turkish-Armenian relations. Following Itzkowitz and his co-author Vamik Volkan, “trauma” has been stripped of its proper clinical meaning as a specific, deep psychological reaction to destructive events, with serious psychological symptoms that can compromise the sufferer’s basic functioning, including such things as physical and mental hypervigilance, flashbacks, panic attacks, and so on. In discourse on genocide and particularly perpetrator-victim relations, the term is misused to designate lingering dislike or discomfort about some aspect of reality or intergroup relations one finds unpleasant or against one’s interests. The dissolution of the meaning of trauma undermines its clinical importance and reservation for those who have genuinely suffered, as opposed to those who might feel aggrieved because they are no longer a dominant empire or find unpleasant being faced with negative aspects of their past and the way that past affects conditions today.9
Postmodern philosophy tends not to be system-building, but rather aims at undercutting claims of unity, essence, and the like. In this sense, it might appear to be an advanced version of the same destructive first movement of Descartes, and it is often treated that way, for instance by Halil Berktay.10 But political postmodernism, as opposed to the lightweight popularized derivative versions that permeate academia and popular culture today, contains within its very destabilization of key facets of modernity attempts to grapple with the results of that destructive process and, if not to build replacement systems, then to fashion some means of living a meaningful existence. The conceptual confusion introduced by decontextualized applications of postmodernism is more difficult to counter than the perversion of Cartesian doubt, as inherent in postmodern work is the uncertain struggle to overcome the loss of the possibility of unity, essence, certainty, etc. As its reductive conceptual framework becomes entrenched in academic study of conflict, violence, and oppression, it becomes a powerful tool because it undercuts the possibility of truth (there is no “truth,” only narratives, each as valid as the next), so that defeat of this kind of denial automatically leads nowhere, means nothing. This misapplication is a kind of metadenial that prevents even the possibility of establishing the veracity of a genocide. It is an end to direct or explicit denial precisely because it renders it unnecessary. By seizing control of the mental framework through which its victims think, it wins the battle no matter what path of analysis they take.
And this threatens to be the case, as well, regarding reparations. As the term is stretched to designate any kind of provision by some element of a perpetrator group of any material satisfaction to the victim group, the connection between what is given and the true damage done by genocide is obscured and confused. The issue is looked at from the perspective of the current status quo and its projection forward, in which no reparations would be made. From this perspective any provision is a positive step. When the issue is considered within full view the extensive harms still impacting the victim group, including its very possibility of long-term viability as a cohesive entity, however, the connection between profound harm and extensive necessary remedy is clear. If in decades past the very framework through which the events of the genocide were engaged undermined proper understanding of those events, today the very framework through which the ultimate resolution of the “Armenian Question” is considered threatens a similar undermining.
The foregoing suggests that the standard dichotomy between denial and non-denial is misleading. Since denial itself has been designated as such, this discrete binary dualistic11 split has been assumed without critical evaluation. This has resulted in an either/or exclusive categorization of individuals treating the Armenian Genocide—and similarly other genocides—as either deniers or not. But denial and truth are poles of a continuum, and the positions discussed above represent different points on that continuum. The enforced either/or has meant that some responsible scholars genuinely trying to understand the issues at stake have been reduced into the denialist category, while some scholars presenting problematic views that stray from the range of accurate possible characterizations of genocide have been put into the truth category and the problems thus shielded from critique. Lest this approach be seen to exonerate any of the resistant positions discussed in this article, it must be emphasized that avoidance of the term genocide remains far from the positive pole. What is more, the denial-truth continuum itself has given way to a cognitive correlate continuum between full impunity for genocide and full repair. If truth is the most that can be attained in terms of knowledge of the genocide, full repair is the most that can be achieved regarding the genocide itself. Both the recognition/dialogue/apology models and the individual reparations models, while not at the extreme of impunity for the genocide, are still far from the full repair pole.
1. See especially Ugur Ümit Üngör, “Confiscation & Colonization: The Young Turk Seizure of Armenian Property,” in the Armenian Weekly magazine, April 2011: 6-13.
2. Hannibal Travis, “On the Original Understanding of Genocide,” Genocide Studies and Prevention 7, 1 (April 2012): 30-55 at 31.
3. In “Is There a ‘Neo-Racism’?” in Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, eds., Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, trans. Chris Turner (London: Verson, 1991), 17-28, Balibar argues that the defeat of biologically based racist ideologies did not mean an end to racism, but racism itself morphed into a new form or forms that were not susceptible to the criticisms leveled rightly against biological racism. Indeed, even the term “race” seems to have dropped out, as codes such as “immigrants” make acceptable treatment that if it were explicitly racially based would not be tolerated. The net result is still extremely harmful to the victims of racism, but the form their oppression takes is different from earlier forms.
4. The members of the group are Alfred de Zayas, Jermaine McCalpin, Ara Papian, and myself.
5. As I argued in “Reparational Efforts for Lost Armenian Properties,” presented at “The Armenian Genocide: From Recognition to Compensation,” Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon, Feb. 23-25, 2012, on Feb. 25.
6. See Israel W. Charny, “A Contribution to the Psychology of Denial of Genocide,” in Genocide & Human Rights: Lessons from the Armenian Experience, special issue of Journal of Armenian Studies 4, 1-2 (1992): 289-306.
7. See Theriault, “Against the Grain: Critical Reflections on the State and Future of Genocide Scholarship,” Genocide Studies and Prevention 7, 1 (April 2012): 123-144 at 133.
8. For the analysis of Itzkowitz’s denial methods as discussed here, see Theriault, “Universal Social Theory and the Denial of Genocide: Norman Itzkowitz Revisited,” Journal of Genocide Research 3, 2 (2001): 241-56.
9. The analysis in this and the preceding paragraph is based on Theriault, “Against the Grain”: 129-132.
10. See Theriault, “Post-Genocide Imperial Domination,” in Controversy and Debate, special Armenian Genocide insert of the Armenian Weekly, April 24, 2007: 6-8.
11. See Anne Waters, “Language Matters: Nondiscrete Nonbinary Dualism,” in American Indian Thought: Philosophical Essays (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004): 97-115.
#1 Comment By Jack Kalpakian
It is time to petition the American Psychological Association to take a clear stance on Mr. Volkan’s abuse of the term “trauma.” The APA is politically vulnerable at this stage in history and should be asked to clarify its position concerning Mr. Vadim Volkan’s arguments. Kudos for the author for basically nailing down his bias.
#2 Comment By Sonya Varoujian
A fantastically written article – covering a lot of very valid points and questions – thank you.
#3 Comment By Sonya Varoujian
A fantastically well written article – covering a lot of very valid points and questions – thank you.
#4 Comment By Boyajian
Almost 100 years ago the Ottoman Empire was on the brink of utter disintegration. With strategic foresight, those in charge devised a salvage plan. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, instead of complete destruction, the modern republic of Turkey emerged to carry on the Seljuk legacy. Never mind the ethnic cleansing and genocidal acts utilized to achieve this goal.
Most Turks take great pride in this achievement and in the triumverate and Kemal Ataturk for leading them there. Survival against tremendous odds is their source of pride. Flourishing while others may denigrate them makes many beam. A national identity based on such dynamics makes bending a knee in humility near impossible. No wonder the tactics for genocide denial continue morphing with every new attempt to pressure Turkey to face justice. Turkey will resist all efforts that threaten its sense of national and territorial security. They are formidable opponents and Armenians should not underestimate this.
It is not merely denial of a crime. Denial is only possible because the victims and their loss have first been devalued in service of the need to preserve national integrity. Artificial constructs such as mutual suffering have been allowed to pervade the dialogue to diminish the sense of guilt. Black and white has morphed to shades of gray. The obstinancy of denial has given way to individual legal action to prove real loss, but these individual actions threaten to impede full repair of the group damage to the Armenian nation caused by the genocide.
Dr. Theriault has deconstructed post-denial denial brilliantly. Is it possible for Armenians to regain what was lost? No one can say for sure. But it certainly can’t happen if we Armenians don’t keep in mind that the Armenian genocide, though there were at least 1.5 million individual victims, was essentially an attack on Armenians as a group; the intent being to destroy the group. Our efforts for repair should concentrate on re-establishing the long-term viability of the group. Individual legal claims have their place, but should not be allowed to dilute the larger group claim for compensation and reparation of damage to the Armenians as a nation.
#5 Comment By mardehros
Professor Theriault writes:
…Southern Poverty Law Center, which instead of taking the heat and consequences itself of its amateurish public statements about Guenter Lewy, simply heaped on the victim group of genocide yet more calumny by retreating completely from its challenge to denial and even promoting and praising Lewy in order to save itself from a lawsuit.
The Armenians could sue SPLC too. it’ll make things pretty interesting and get increased notice for the Armenian Genocide issue.
Kings of Spades (Part 1): Fantasies of Sovereignty in a Pathology Plot
By Burcu Gursel/The Armenian Weekly Magazine
Burcu Gürsel grew up in Istanbul and received her degrees from the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania (comparative literature). In 2011 she held a postdoctoral fellowship at Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin.
A woman raped, disenchanted, and sickened by the burden of proof. Dogmatic, hypocritical, cowardly students. The first represents the Armenian Diaspora, and the second, politicized Kurds, in two telling fantasies that have adorned the pages of Taraf, the sometime-contrarian Turkish newspaper, which recently boasted the Wikileaks first-publication rights in Turkey, and which is best known for its profound ambivalence with respect to just about everything but the military establishment. The fantasies in question were featured in columns by Alper Görmüs,, in “Why are Armenians ‘stuck’ in 1915 . . .”, and by Halil Berktay, in “Not that I was asked, but no, I do not want to teach at the BDP,” which appeared at the tail-end of 2011.1
In the Turkish media of all stripes sexism comes in spades.
These pieces exemplify a kind of quick psychologizing discernible in many writings that, while purporting to lend some kind of sociopolitical support to Armenians and Kurds, in fact objectify them as highly irrational, unstable, susceptible subordinates trapped or reveling in victimhood. The writers slip into the shoes of authority they criticize, and identify themselves with its gaze—the venerable older brother, the master professor—in formulaic, instrumentalizing readings of the other as though in a laboratory experiment. Gutted by the very fantasies they conjure up in order to illustrate their anti-authoritarian claims, their analogical and interrogative tautologies delineate the very bounds and fabric of the imagination.
‘HEY, I GOT A SOCIAL DISEASE!’2: THE DISEASE ANALOGY
In the title of the column by Alper Görmüs,, a seasoned journalist who received the Hrant Dink prize in 2009, the quotation marks around the word ‘stuck’ (‘tak?l?p kald? . . .’) foreground the citable, repeatable quality of the word while mirroring the responsibility-shirking attitude of the column. Unlike other, affirmative or critical, uses of scare quotes in a title, the quotation marks here serve as a safety net around a phrase left hanging (a sense reinforced by the ellipses placed within the quotation marks in the original) as someone else’s qualifier about Armenians. The entire title is a question that the writer himself simultaneously poses and withdraws by replacing the question mark with ellipses: “Why are Armenians ‘stuck’ in 1915 . . .” Other than a disclaimer of the kind it’s not me who said it, the title registers no distance, no analytical or critical distinctions.
The same attitude is visible in the more earnest overarching descriptions of crime denial, and the denial of the “1915 massacres” in particular: “The perpetrator’s denial of his crime can, in some cases, be even more damaging than the crime itself,” reads the very first sentence, which would clearly have the reader empathize with the hypothetical victim. But the tentative nature of the qualifier “in some cases” is quickly lost in the “fated” (mukadder) damage which comes to possess the victim in the most absolute terms:
“Every victim who encounters such a denial will expend all their energy on turning the ‘denial’ into ‘acknowledgement,’ unless they have exhausted all of their life energy and retreated or ended their lives. . . The primary feeling of such a person will inevitably be ‘rage.’ On the other hand, a huge ethical problem presents itself when deniers, forgetting that they are the very cause of this ‘rage,’ further attempt to accuse a person almost sickened [neredeyse hastalanm?s,] with rage for being in that state. Forgiving does more good to the forgiver than to the forgiven . . .” (italics mine, quotations in bold in the original).
What Görmüs, objects to here and later is not the characterization (“almost sickened with rage”) of the victim who, he further adds, will need to “pour out the venom inside her,” but the deniers’ attempt to lay the blame for some such “almost sickness” on the victim herself. The vagueness of the phrase “almost sickened” itself captures the status of “sick” between a metaphor and a medical diagnosis, thus echoing the responsibility-shedding quality of the quotation marks in the title. The moment unfolds as yet another instance of misplaced analogies to human physiology, pathology, and contagion in reference to social problems, as well as imputations of social psychological illness, that pervade the Turkish media and the columns of many self-proclaimed democrats. Before analyzing imputations of psychological illness, it is interesting to note how anti-discrimination writings analogically slip into biological determinism, and how the language of “disease” (hastal?k),3 marshaled to metaphorically displace sociopolitical problems, taps into a repository of fear and mystification surrounding the number one historic cause for death en masse: epidemics. As a political analogy, the language of “disease” is an alarmist and mystifying concoction that pushes many buttons at once: It evokes images of personal stigma (through additional metaphors stigmatizing diseases),4 doom, and global apocalypse; it blurs agency through connotations of natural determination and preordainment, and recalls epidemic-related states of emergency that have historically licensed witchhunts, minority pogroms, and even anti-(bio-) terror laws. The disease analogy rather successfully intensifies angst, mystifies all, and explains nothing.
One is tempted to joke that the use of disease as a metaphor is so pervasive as to be called, well, a disease. Nor are all of its uses metaphorical. Lamentably, in 2010 the same Taraf hosted in the guest column “Every Side [Her Taraf]”5 edited by Markar Esayan what amounted to a relentless “debate” amongst conservatives as to whether homosexuality is a sin, or quite literally, a disease.6 But the analogical use of the word disease proves the most fruitful and, as I will try to show, relevant. Markar Esayan himself privileges “disease” as one of the many introductory metaphors in his book The Tight Room of the Present (S,imdinin Dar Odas?).7 Quoting the opening paragraph of his own award-winning book in his Taraf column, “The Past,” he writes: “To be a person without a past… This hang-up is not new. . . This disease is not one acquired on purpose or knowingly. [We Armenians,]8 [w]e Easterners [and] we Anatolians live mostly in the Narrow Room of the Present, and fear the past just as much as the mouse fears the cat and the cat fears the dog.” Elsewhere, ruminating on “the Kurdish issue,” Esayan declares: “We are all sick; we have all gotten sick and we maintain a very good relationship with our sickness. Writing our immoralities backward, we read them as virtue.”9
The analogy of “disease” is also a favorite of Ali Bayramog(lu’s. A columnist in Yeni S,afak and one of the leaders of the “Great Catastrophe” apology campaign,10 Bayramog(lu has no fewer than 12 columns with the word “disease” in the title, in immediate or latent reference to “symbolism defect disease,” staunch laïcité, militarization, misconceptions of society, anti-government prejudice, the deep state, nationalism, power, and “The Kurdish and Military Problem: Two Intertwined Diseases.” Concerning nationalistic objections to the protest slogan ‘We are all Armenian’ in the aftermath of the murder of Hrant Dink, Bayramog(lu observes, “we are faced with a structure that does not understand metaphor, that has nothing whatsoever to do with simile, that is literalist, that attempts to explain everything by way of straight signs, that tries to graft even Islamism and nationalism on this symbolic defect.” Perhaps in defiance of such pedantry, that last column is titled “Political Symbol Disease.”11
Of all the devotees of the “disease” analogy, Etyen Mahçupyan, writing earlier for Taraf and now back in Zaman, is the most committed to making it work. In a column titled, quite simply, “Disease,” Mahçupyan asserts that “human perception” (insani bir alg?lama) accounts for the corollary between medicine and politics, and defends its salience despite acknowledging its flawed positivist thrust (never mind that defining as natural the metaphorical corollary between the body and society is tautological). The quotient of social “health” according to “sociopsychology,” in this view, is the ability for co-existence and functional communication, as opposed to assimilation, the use of force, and blame-game (itemized as the Turkish state and society’s “sick” attitudes toward the Kurds).12 In another column titled “Acute and Chronic,” the writer explores the etiology of infectious and autoimmune diseases, only to analogically find that European racism, even as it takes the immigrant to be a “germ,” itself constitutes the “chronic” and “self-generated” (bünyenin kendisinde) disease issuing from European modernity and liberalism. By contrast, racism—and according to the writer, its root-cause nationalism—“entered” the otherwise robust Ottoman Empire as an “infection,” but then became “chronic.”13 European racism was thus a self-generated disease of seeing immigrants as germs, as opposed to the Ottoman Metabolism’s originary good health. One begins to wonder whether European racism should more concisely be diagnosed Regional Congenital Hypochondria.
Where does this analogical thinking come from and where does it lead? Languages have disease-related dead metaphors such as “plagued by, poisoned by, infested with, congested, contagion, immunity, virus, toxic, antidote,” and, of course “social ills.” Words that once literally spelled horrors in human existence or exuded a sense of new scientific explanatory power can in their next or parallel lives adopt secondary or idiomatic meanings that are, nevertheless, unsuitable for rhetorical heavy-lifting. Disease-related dead metaphors gain discursive power when used pervasively and superficially to stigmatize an opponent group or theory. But they crumble under the weight of one bold-faced, capitalized title after another. And as a social theory, extended metaphors of disease not only hark back all the way to Antiquity but are rather antiquated themselves.
This last point is no small matter. The notion of a “body politic,” grafted upon an analogy between society and the individual organism, dates back to a determinable point in history not because there is a similarity grounded in “human perception,” but because political discourse, historically that of ruling elites, co-opted the body as a resource for metaphor as well—a resource that is readily experienced as a unit of coherence by the individual subject and that can never be avoided by her. As metaphors, the body politic and its pathologies evolved along with societies and with increasingly elaborate scientific understandings of the body. And yet, “the body that featured in comparisons of body and society did not have a historical dimension.”14 Colorful physiological analogies for social problems and ideals pervaded pre-modern Europe, and fueled the French Revolution (the body as a metaphor for sovereignty, as a narrative device concretizing political abstractions, and as an element of ceremonial spectacle), followed by another peak in social functionalist organicism in 19th-century sociology and anthropology. Social theories scripted on the body-society analogy assume and idealize social integration and cohesion, using the analogy as a narrative tool to create the illusion of and excuse for “scientific” claims.15 The history of the categories of the normal versus the pathological in “hard” sciences itself has long been a subject for study, as have the analogies to physiological pathology favored by totalitarian regimes—such as Nazism with its “body politic” and the racially designated “toxins, parasites, tumors, bacteria,” etc., of which it should be “purged.”16 If knowing that extended metaphors comparing society to the body are, and have always been, thoroughly ideological is not enough to dissuade a social theory enthusiast from searching for the “right” physiological analogies for society in lieu of the “wrong” ones, then perhaps a step-by-step invitation to consider both the individual psychoanalytic dimension of otherness and the historical, fluid stereotypes of racial, sexual, and psychological “pathology” would prove liberating.17 It may be difficult for us all to recognize the stereotypes going into our assumptions; it should not, however, be difficult to realize that the problem is not this or that particular stereotype attributed to a group, but the ever-present endeavor of stereotyping itself.
In short, the comparison of nationalism and racism to “disease” is no more natural than the nationalist and racist comparison of minorities, immigrants, or foreigners to disease. In the world as we (should) know it, the comparison of the society to an “organism” with its taxonomy of “pathologies” is studied as a historic artifact, not a living legacy—unless the better half of the previous century and this one have entirely passed one by. The metaphors of pathology, if ever used, are best humored as dead metaphors, not mobilized for stigmatizing discourse or resurrected as sociological zombies. The urge inherent in the society-body comparison here and elsewhere18 might be one of rhetorical subversion, but the logic is amiss. Just as one cannot subvert a bad racial stereotype with a good racial stereotype, one cannot subvert a bad analogy by taking its square, as in “racism is the disease of calling a group of people a disease.” Furthermore, stereotyping one group is not counterbalanced by “even-handedly” stereotyping another; rather, this piles one set of stereotypes upon another. But the most egregious thoughtlessness takes place when a writer calls nationalism or racism a disease, and then frames a particular geographic or ethnic entity as (inherently!) racist or nationalist, effectively designating that entity as a carrier of disease. How is that not nationalistic or racist? Moreover, conveniently, the metaphor is used to reinstate a prelapsarian cohesion, thus externalizing a “racism via nationalism” as “not self-generated.” But most importantly, this tautological metaphor of “the disease of racism in the social organism” tells us absolutely nothing about racism. Identifying sociopolitical segments, actors, agents, groups, attitudes, facts, and events all at once as “sick” and demanding their responsible “treatment” is a contradiction in terms—in metaphor—that blurs and in fact eliminates agency and causality altogether. Disease actively spreads and yet cannot itself be addressed with a question. Agency falls squarely in the middle of nowhere between germ, cell, symptom, sickness, sick organism, medication, doctor, and hospital in this analogical universe. Which one of these is the state? Which one is the society? Which are journalists? Writers?
‘LIKE WE’RE PSYCHOLOGICALLY DISTURBED!’19: AN ALL-PURPOSE FORMULA OF PSYCHOLOGICAL DISEASE
Insinuations of “psychological illness” straddle the metaphorical and the medical—not because psychological illness doesn’t exit, but because discourses “of” psychological illness, especially as attributed to groups, are always other than cases in psychiatry, itself a self-critical field with an institutional history. Surely, when it comes to writings on “the diaspora” (declared “not monolithic” and then characterized as a two-part or single entity all over again), “disease” is asserted as both a metaphor and a literal psychological diagnosis of collective trauma. Typical elements of the psychological disease formula may include some or all of the assertions to the effect:
1. that (all of) “the diaspora” and (ultra-nationalists in) Turkey are both (equally) “sick”;
2. but that one must focus on the diaspora’s “psychological illness” in order to “empathize” with them;
3. that one first sees the immediate content of their “illness”: rage and vengefulness;
4. but that deep down, damaged victims are needy, in fact dependent on the “homeland,” for a final merciful recognition of some kind, most urgently of their pain (“Like inside, the worst of us is good!”20).
The formula can be evinced in starry-eyed, cheeky personal anecdotes along the lines of, “I saw the diaspora with my own eyes!” In this new subgenre of travel writing, each “Travels to the Diaspora” lays claims to honest unbiased observation while reproducing the same stereotypes as the next. The formula can also take the shape of intelligence reports by informants who then lament the diaspora’s “trust issues.” It can take the shape of a lab technician’s report recording the strange habits of a curious species.21 It can, on occasion, come with fictional fantasies.
This feat makes its most intriguing appearances in pieces written as if to counteract damning or demonizing language about the Armenian Diaspora. The column by Alper Görmüs, is one of them. In his column, Görmüs, quotes Hosrof Dink, the brother of Hrant Dink, and the weekly newspaper Agos on the topic of what became known in Turkey specifically as “the French law criminalizing Armenian Genocide denial.” In an interesting synthesis, Görmüs, agrees with Hosrof Dink’s contention that Armenians in Turkey must have the better fortune in being “treated” (tedavi) but criticizes him for seeing geographic location as the reason why the diaspora is “so angry” and “stuck.” For Görmüs,, it is not their living abroad but the “internal” denial (in Turkey) that accounts for “why they are like that.” Like what, is where Görmüs,’s protest against Hosrof Dink becomes no protest at all. Görmüs,’s last section is strewn with these words in bold and quotation marks—borrowed words, as it were, that tirelessly recount the same master-narrative of trauma which he would criticize, and for which he will yet assume no responsibility: Some are in fact the words of Hosrof Dink quoted on the page, but others are not. “Treatment” is chief among many: “The process of the Armenians’ ‘treatment’ can only begin with ‘the denial of denial,’” Görmüs, writes; the diaspora “was given no chance to have any feeling but ‘rage’”; even the opportunity for healing [iyiles,me] by forgiving was taken away from them. I believe that when making references to Armenians’ rage and their ‘sickened’ state, something must be said about what made them like this.” Görmüs, then traces the diagnosis of sickness backwards to a cause, one that is conveniently both interned and externalized for damage control: “Had the State of the Turkish Republic put a distance between itself and the gangs that plotted and executed the massacres of 1915 and accepted all that happened in all its clarity, the Armenians living abroad would have long begun the process of ‘treatment’ by now.” Just as the apparent wish to absolve the diaspora of blame for its “sickness” serves to confirm its status as sick, the desiderata for truth with “all its clarity” confirm a simple, self-contained, appropriately distanced criminal band as the locus of evil. A sickness so certain, so general as to encompass an entire diaspora; an etiology so contained and extrinsic as to escape diagnosis. All of these implications fall under the rubric of “treatment,” the bold scare quotes borrowed from medicine as if for a fleeting taste of authority from on high.
As the person to whom Görmüs, defers in his sequels to the first column, Etyen Mahçupyan well deserves another stop in the whirlpool of disease language concerning the diaspora in the Turkish media. Ever the proponent of quaint discourses of “Eastern mentality” and “Western mentality” in his books as well as articles,22 Mahçupyan further clings to essential differences between the Armenians of Turkey versus those in the diaspora (understood as non-Anatolian). The first are privileged with deeper insight into “free will” and “the wide expanse between recognition and denial.” But at the end of the day, “even the harshest names of the diaspora” could fathom these notions, if it were not for the fact that “their emotional need is far greater. . . They have been longing too long for an outstretched hand.”23 Finally, in his column “The ‘Sick’ Children of Anatolia,” he is at great pains to apply the analogy of disease: “in the 19th century, everyone got sick one by one. Interestingly, the last ones to get sick were the Armenians and the Turks who ‘discovered’ their identity. [. . .] And not surprisingly, the disease [of nationalism] ate its own children.” Mahçupyan here emphasizes a vast difference in power between Ottoman and Armenian nationalisms, but concludes by way of intoning a sad past that “whispers in our ears how nationalism sickened these lands, and why we still fail to listen to or understand each other. It tells us why Armenians abroad support the Dashnaks and why they are so dependent on [muhtaç olduklar?n?] Turkey’s voice of the heart [gönül sesine]. Anatolia is searching for the conscience and the heart that it has lost . . .”24 Notice that the politicohistorical descriptions lend themselves to a metaphor entirely lacking in agents, the extrinsic “disease” of nationalism, which morphs into yet another metaphor (the past with its seductive whisper), and into yet another (the voice of the heart). In a few nonchalant strides, we depart from the “positive” pathology of the social organism and arrive at the sing-song neighborhood of conscience. (It is not surprising that Ece Temelkuran, the exemplary focus of my previous article, “Queens of Hearts,” has recently become the object of Mahçupyan’s ire, but not on account of “the book” she wrote—therein they have so much common ground.25 ) Committed as he is, Mahçupyan is only taking his turn in a chorus refrain teeming with the innate disease of racism, the extrinsic disease of nationalism, the venom of racism in the blood, the venom of nationalism in the milk, the desperate Armenian, the Armenian stuck in the past, the sick Diaspora Armenian, the cured Armenians of Turkey. The pervasiveness is tragic; the pervasiveness is overwhelming; the pervasiveness is, sometimes, even surprising.26
As anxious as democrats/journalists in the Turkish media might be to “talk trauma,” someone is always talking faster. “Psychological war” and “victimization psychology” are some of the oft-used phrases in denialist sources—websites, conference proceeding, books—idealizing and extolling a (racially defined) Turkish history, blaming Western imperialism and Armenian separatism, and attributing to the diaspora such characterizations as copy-cat behavior based on “the success of the Jewish Holocaust propaganda”; “trauma psychology” explained as the “psychology of victimization and exemption”; “Diaspora psychology” itemized as self-alienation, purely imaginary reconstruction of the past, and an identity developed around hatred; “the Armenian Psychological War” concocted internationally to constrain Turkey and dismiss Ottoman war psychology, among others.27
The co-option of the terminology of psychology as nationalist discourse is not only a denialist project; it can be a non-negligible, and sometimes defining, aspect of the state orchestration of post-genocidal “reconciliation” processes as well. As Thomas Brudholm eloquently argues in Resentment’s Virtue: Jean-Améry and the Refusal to Forgive,28 reconciliation processes such as those in Germany and South Africa can dictate forgiveness rather than inspire or even elicit it—not least by insinuations about mental health. Therapeutic language, itself under increasing criticism in relation to mass atrocity, can be co-opted by the authorities and the perceived leaders of the public sphere to frame victims as traumatized, self-preoccupied, deficient citizens stuck in the past. Dissent and resistance are suppressed and the victims’ responses instrumentalized toward the higher end of a complete “social harmony.” Emotions can be divested of their moral dimension and cast as the purely sentimental and spiritual. In contrast to such framing, and because of it, rage and resentment can be part of a legitimate demand for justice and reparations. They can constitute ethical, rather than vengeful and violent, resistance. As in the work of Améry, resentment can substantiate an “impossible” demand that the society wish what “should never have happened” never happened, that its view of the past and social identity be fully informed at all times and not selective, and that its future be marked, not by a damning collective guilt, but by fully-formed social responsibility.
THE SPADE IN ITS LIKENESS: THE RAPE SICKNESS ANALOGY
A truly perplexing aspect of the column by Görmüs, is that he devotes about a fifth of it to recount the plot for a story or novel he has never written, a plot that functions much like a parable reflecting the longer narrative of the column, “Why are Armenians ‘stuck’ in 1915…” This is not only a story-within-a-story, but a mise en abîme that analogically reproduces the greater narrative. The sub-plot sets up a (secondary) metaphorical relationship: The larger narrative is “like” the parable inside it. An example for this narrative strategy can be found in the Bible, in the story of King David and Bathsheba, which has “the parable of the rich man” embedded in it. David sees himself in the narrative mirror of the rich man, and through this metaphorical detour comes to develop a moral feeling about his own action. The story-within-the-story implicitly invites the reader to do the same, that is, to identify herself with David in his moral self-discovery. But of course, there is no way of guaranteeing with whom the reader will in fact identify herself. And there is no guarantee that even after such self-identification takes place, the same emotional response to the character in a story will arise in response to oneself.29
Analogies can get the better of a writer, and illuminate other things than their analogous moral. Görmüs, embeds his parable in his column thusly:
“Years ago, I had formulated in my mind a plot for a story (perhaps a novel) around this theme . . . My heroine was a woman who was raped by a man she very much trusted and called ‘ag(abey’ [older brother]. When trying to deal with the trauma caused by the shattering of her trust, the woman faced one that was even worse: The man was saying that he had never done such a thing, and to top it off, the woman’s friends and acquaintances were speaking his language. My heroine decides to leave Istanbul, where she was born and raised, to move to a remote Anatolian city where her older sister and brother-in-law live, in the hopes of forgetting both the rape and the pain that the denial of the crime caused, and of curing [tedavi] herself. There, she would wield her rage on the one hand and keep track of the lawsuit she had filed on the other. Nonetheless, a few years would suffice for her to realize that this choice of hers would not serve the purpose she had intended. The woman would come to realize in that time frame that what really made her “sick” was, more than the rape, the denial of the injustice she had been objected to by the man she had called “older brother” and by everyone who knew the truth. In the plot in my mind the woman was driven by this perception to return to the lands where she was born and raised, and to face her friends and acquaintances. Even if the beginning would be disappointing, a friend whose conscience was bleeding would finally acknowledge the truth and apologize, and the process of her treatment would thus begin.”
A preliminary reading of this storyline, which of course tells us so much about fantasy and nothing about the “analogous” history Görmüs, has in mind, will be about the elements of the story/analogy in itself. Here we have a rape narrative following a certain set of premises that indicate an urban cultural context which recognizes the woman as possessing a valid and independent, if violated and obstructed, personal identity, agency, physical integrity, sexual dignity, and privacy. In this regard, this is a fairly standard rape-and-denial narrative most familiar from Hollywood movies (one in eight of which features the rape of a woman, as well as male revenge on her behalf) and sensational books such as Cry Rape: The True Story of One Woman’s Harrowing Quest for Justice, which may or may not thoroughly explore how a seemingly gender-egalitarian system continues to uphold male dominance through sociocultural and legal mechanisms. (In Europe and the United States alone, of all the rapes reported, a small percentage is charged, and roughly about 10 percent get convictions. The ratio is but a fraction of this in many parts of the world.)30
But even this premise is simultaneously and severely compromised: The storyline explicitly endorses male domination as assumed by the female outlook into the world and warranted by her inherent frailties. It may be a factual given that a large number of rapes of women are by men of their acquaintance, but it is not a given that these men are originally revered by those women. Yet the story repeatedly asserts that the woman deeply trusted the man as an “older brother,” and the denial by someone she so profoundly trusted hurt her more than the rape itself. This is an incredibly problematic premise that implicitly attributes boundless naiveté, dependence, and internalized submission to the woman, a premise that in fact twice holds the victim herself as the greater cause of her own suffering on account of her original, misplaced trust—the wrong place being not the social structure but that particular bad egg. “Trust” (güven), unless phrased so as to indicate mutuality, pertains to the one who trusts, and not to the one to whom trust is directed. Her trust was so absolute as to be of the kind placed in an “older brother” (an uncontested criterion), but placed in the wrong man. What is problematized is not the replication of a hierarchical family paradigm, but the woman’s inability to detect aberration.
This causality immediately and consistently anchors our attention on the series of frailties in the woman—her original misjudgment, her total devastation, her negative, self-destructive, fruitless emotional response of holding a grudge and seeking legal recourse. The storyline defines this early on as “trauma” and then as “sickness” and reports from on high that the woman “realizes” [i.e., the fact that] this is not the way to go, because the actual cause of her suffering is not so much the rape, not even so much denial, but that she needs to trust again.
The perpetrator is never the problem as an agent, but remains an absent “denier” to the woman of everything he could have given her: complete trust in the system as a family structure where she would remain the happy subordinate. With the law crossed out as an incomplete, and therefore irrelevant, basis for relationships of trust, we are to read this storyline as a personal problem, between an aberrant, individual perpetrator (and cohorts who inexplicably back him up) and a subordinate individual victim. The problem is essentially interpersonal and only tangentially communal. The crime temporarily upset the prelapsarian ideal of family cohesion: The solution can only be a post-lapsarian reinstatement of the same.
Meanwhile, the victim does all the work—travels years and distances—all of which comes to nil, with the final reward magically bestowed by a random denier in a split second: a personal apology which finally begins the victim’s “healing process.” This is suggestive, but in more layers than the obvious. The “trauma” victim again had mistakenly deserted Istanbul (twice reiterated: “where she was born and raised”) for a remote town in “Anatolia”—the privileged locus of self-reflection. She returns—as it is she who must travel yet again to face her deniers—and it takes just one denier’s momentary change of heart, or shift in “conscience,” to begin her healing. Just because the victim happened to materialize in situ.
In this analogy, the Diaspora Armenian = rape victim is “stuck” indeed first and foremost because she is cast as a generic, objectified victim in the raw through historic time: the victim herself, and beside herself. A victim with neither her wits about her, nor her descendants, nor her defenders. The absent perpetrator, however, is both interned and externalized—a singular pervert buried in history. And yet, the perpetrator is indomitably represented through historic time by proxy, through the denialist cohorts. The Diaspora Armenian = rape victim has self-generated flaws (trust in the wrong superior, fleeing roots), and the constitutive weakness of being destructible = rapeable. Her fate is one of long and hard work in realizations about herself, of her own trauma sickness, and her inevitable return to the location of crime which she herself had deserted (a caveat overwriting forced displacement and generational turnover in the diaspora). The perpetrator makes a comeback by proxy, in the form of a fellow denier, now becoming the Savior of the victim returned to sender as damsel-in-distress.
In the Turkish media of all stripes sexism comes in spades. Ahmet Altan, editor-in- chief of Taraf, routinely compliments the Prime Minister on his delikanl? ways—connoting good-willed macho, man of his word, patron of the ’hood, “green” yet virile lad. In a recent drama of political turnover in Turkey, Altan wrote that Turkish governments used to be to the state as the “submissive woman” is to “the brutish man” (sprinkled with domestic abuse details). But now, the state is to the government as the “wanton woman” is to the seducible man. That makes for some anti-climactic content for a column titled “The Roles Have Changed.”31 In all of one paragraph, Markar Esayan, too, likened “the past” first to a “shameless . . . black widow,” then a “virgin” who becomes a “wanton, coquettish . . . temple whore” sleeping with “many a brute,” but still remaining “girl-boy-girl” [k?zog(lank?z, i.e., maiden]; the iconographic virgin-whore who “worships power. . . flirts with the powerful. . . and offers herself first to this one, then to that.”32 Indeed!
On the other hand, the column by Görmüs, does less, which is more. It parades a reactionary storyline as an emancipatory one, and leaves the ugly object hidden in plain sight. For rape is not like genocide; it is part of genocide.
If we want to “talk trauma,” and rape immediately springs to mind, but not the kind partaking in the history being represented, there is a problem. If we are instead seeking a generic analogy in rape cum trauma, then it is vital to remember that a woman’s rape is a pervasive representational trope for exploiting entirely irrelevant political agendas. We must also remember that men, too, get raped, in significant percentages especially in prison but also elsewhere, as is coming into clearer contemporary focus despite gender codes dictating silence. Although statistically men are more often the victim of all violence, women live in much greater fear of assault. If we want to talk rape-in-hierarchy, we can recall that women officers of the United States Army who get raped are, instead of legally heard as they wish, often discharged by their own superiors on spurious diagnoses of “personality disorder” (as opposed to post-traumatic stress)—a verdict rewriting the victims’ past, the crime, as well as their future. If we want to talk rape and denial, we can remember that, steering clear of Hollywood movies, rape goes by and large unreported in the greater world where there is no structure that recognizes a woman as the owner of her own body in the first place. Historically and in many parts of the world, what is considered violated is not her own body or integrity but male ownership and honor “embodied” in her alienable chastity, and purged through her exile or murder when violated. In perhaps the world over, rape, violence, and murder charges for a man can be mitigated by allegations on the woman victim’s sexual conduct, but charges for a woman can only be mitigated by the violence she herself endured at the hands of her victim. The law has only recently begun recognizing domestic rape (and that, only in certain countries), and rape remains that odd crime hinging on “consent.”33
A writer can devise whichever rape story he pleases. But a serious problem arises where mass atrocity is compared to a singular urban scenario of “sick” legal recourse for rape, followed by a randomly “curing” apology from a fellow denialist (no charges pressed). That problem might be: Is there in fact a similarity between mass atrocity and rape, and could that similarity be the fact that there are kinds of rape and mass atrocity that cannot be legally actionable, that remain absent from the entire grammar of the law? Representation where there is no representability pretends to grant the woman a kind of agency she never had, and strips away all the agency and resistance that she did assert.
The growing literature and documentation on rape during mass atrocity reveals many genocidal attitudes and practices in history: the prohibition on sexual intercourse with “non-Aryans” and simultaneous sexual abuse in Germany; the use of rape as a genocidal terror and assimilation mechanism to induce pregnancy in Bosnia; genocidal rape, forced conversion, and assimilation of women as domestic servants, sexual slaves, or coerced wives in the Ottoman Empire, among a host of others.34 Genocidal rape as warfare comprehends the above pervasive effect of rape in the world at large on a massive scale of destruction, violence, and stigma.
And yet, instead of looking into rape as a reality in genocide, Görmüs, prefers to take it as an analogy for the diaspora’s “sickness.” The diaspora becomes an inherently subordinate, naive, raw, sick victim of urban rape, misguidedly seeking recourse in cold legal indictment and enraged structural intervention—a recourse itself cast as irrelevant to the ineffable and total destruction of the woman’s soul. The writer drives the fantasy home, to the family reunion in the indivisible empire of the imagination, where the sickened damsel-in-distress will be brought back to life by the perpetrator-prince’s “brotherly” kiss of apology, personalized by proxy.
1. See www.taraf.com.tr/alper- us/makale-ermeniler-neden-1915-e-takilip-kaldi.htm. This column became the first of a three-part series, although there was a significant time gap before the second installment, which followed, according to the author, significant responses from the paper’s readership. The second column in question, by Halil Berktay, will be the subject of my sequel to this article, which will appear in the Armenian Weekly next month.
2. From the song “Gee, Officer Krupke” in “The West Side Story,” parodying the various stereotypes that the establishment uses to frame social problems—in this case juvenile delinquency. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, 1956.
3. The word “hastal?k” could be rendered variously: “disease, illness, sickness, malady, ailment,” among others. I suggest that “disease” comes closest to “hastal?k” in its nominal form, which connotes pervasiveness without definitively implying “contagion” or “infectious” disease (“bulas,?c? hastal?k”).
4. Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor compares psychological associations of diseases themselves—tuberculosis in the 19th century and cancer in the 20th—as either an expression of the patient’s character or an expression of the repression of the patient’s ‘true’ character. The work was followed by a sequel, AIDS and Its Metaphors.
5. “Taraf” can mean aspect, way, (taking) side(s), (on) behalf (of), party (to a negotiation, conflict, etc.).
6. The “debate” itself was sparked by a comment by Aliye Kavaf, minister of “women and the family,” to the effect that homosexuality is a disease and must be cured. Some of the contributions were then deemed prime examples of hate speech. Responses have included those by Ays,e Günaysu (see www.sesonline.net/php/genel_sayfa_yazar.php?KartNo=55223&Yazar=Ay%C5%9Fe+G%C3%BCnaysu) and the organization Nefretsoylemi.org, which tracks hate speech (see www.nefretsoylemi.org/rapor_aciklamalar.asp#). The newspaper Taraf itself otherwise reports on and has regular columnists writing on LGBTT issues.
7. Further metaphors will be discussed below.
8. The book won the Ink?lap Kitabevi book prize in Turkey in 2005. For variations, compare the author’s quotation from his own book in his own column at www.taraf.com.tr/markaresayan/makale-gecmis.htm (reprinted in the author’s website) with the commercial blurb at www.kitapyurdu.com/kitap/default.asp?id=88409, also in the author’s own website www.markaresayan.com/?page_id=359.
9. See http://taraf.com.tr/markar-esayan/makalekurt-sorunu-nasil-hallolunur.htm.
10. The text of this extremely controversial campaign can be found in a number of languages at http://ozurdiliyoruz.com/.
11. See http://yenisafak.com.tr/yazarlar/?t=31.01.2007&y=AliBayramoglu.
12. See http://www.zaman.com.tr/yazar.do?yazino=1162747.
13. See http://www.zaman.com.tr/yazar.do?yazino=1166319.
14. A. D. Harvey, Political Metaphor and Political Violence (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), 2–3.
15. See Jonathan Gil Harris, Foreign Bodies and the Body Politic: Discourses of Social Pathology in Early Modern England (Cambridge UP, 1998) and Antoine de Baecque, The Body Politic: Corporeal Metaphor in Revolutionary France, 1770–1800, transl. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford UP, 1993).
16. See, for example, Georges Canguilhem’s The Normal and the Pathological (1943; 1966; published in English with an introduction by Michel Foucault in 1978). Examples on Nazi scientific practices, ideas, and physiological metaphors include Robert J. Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (Basic Books, 1986) and Robert Proctor, The Nazi War on Cancer (Princeton UP, 1999).
17. See, for instance, Sander Gilman’s Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race, and Gender (Cornell UP, 1985) and Mieke Bal’s scathing review demonstrating how critics themselves are prone to the very same stereotypical gaze that they would criticize (“The Politics of Citation,” Diacritics, 21.1 : 24–45). Sander Gilman has since pursued further research into racial, gendered, and “psychological” stereotypes of pathology in medicine and biology.
18. The extensions and applications are discussed in the next section.
19. See note 2.
21. Examples follow in an endnote below detailing the pervasiveness of the “sicknesss” discourse—although I am just as interested in its rhetorical role as extended metaphor and analogical displacement.
22. For some such article in English, see www.eurozine.com/articles/2006-01-18-mahcupyan-en.html.
23. Even “The Demonized Children of Anatolia,” a column against the denialist demonization of the diaspora, proceeds to characterize the diaspora as largely depoliticized, but forced by the politicized few into a singular identity based on ever-present pain (www.zaman.com.tr/yazar.do?yazino=1224394&keyfield=). For the writer, the Westernized, sophisticated versions of Armenian nationalism “uninfluenced by Armenia” and the more heavy-handed and brutish Turkish version can always be interchangeable: “We should not forget that this is how former Unionists ( I.ttihatç?lar) viewed the Armenians, and it was due to this kind of view that genocide occurred. It is disgraceful that Armenians are sticking to the mentality that led to their own destruction”
(see www.zaman.com.tr/yazar.do?yazino=1221333&keyfield= and—in English—www.todayszaman.com/columnists-204751-the-armenian-genocideand-disgrace.html). The writer states that Armenians need to appeal to Turkish people with their pain and approach their humanistic side, not aggravate matters by political insistence on recognition.
24. See www.zaman.com.tr/yazar.do?yazino=1223842.
25. Mahçupyan deplores Temelkuran for an antigovernment piece she wrote for the international media, accusing her of supporting the deep-state and of using the memory of Hrant Dink in that article as well as in “the book” (he means: Deep Mountain: Across the Turkish-Armenian Divide [Verso 2010]). Temelkuran herself had concluded her article thus: “As Dink said five ago in his last article, we journalists are ‘like frightened doves’. One killed, two imprisoned, myself unemployed.” The English-language articles are available at www.todayszaman.com/columnist-270333-hrants-parasites.html and www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/27/turkishjournalists-fight-intimidation.
26. Before the murder of Hrant Dink, his prosecution and conviction over a series of articles in Agos were in part based on a reading of the words “poisonous blood” as racist (whereas the analogy was between poisonous blood and racism itself), thus making him a target. Other analogies to physiological pathologies are marshaled in these articles to describe racism itself, but also the generalized “unhealed trauma” and “sickness” Dink attributes to the diaspora, as well as the twin “clinical condition” of trauma and paranoia to Armenians and Turks, respectively.
In view of the essentialist or generalizing categories (Oriental, Anatolian, Armenians of the diaspora/Armenia) it is important to note that discourses, and precisely physiological metaphors such as those I analyze in this article, are either explicitly or implicitly validated as the legacy of Dink. Bask?n Oran, who later presided much of the discourse on the apology campaign, has been resorting to numerous such analogies, for instance of “poison in the milk” (in reference to Turkish-Kurdish nationalisms) and persistent equalization of nationalisms through the language of disease and psychological sickness. One such example is the article “The Wheel Torture and Honor” in which Oran provides his bullet-point presentation of the “Armenian Psychology” by way of “reporting” according to his purposes on a scholarly group:
www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalEklerDetayV3&ArticleID=920692&CategoryID=42. Exactly the same psychological formula appears in Markar Esayan’s recent article after the French Legislation debates, “Thoughts on a Trip to France” (www.taraf.com.tr/markar-esayan/makale-bir-fransa-seyahatinin-dusundurdukleri.htm). Orhan Kemal Cengiz advanced the same stereotypes in “My Encounter with the Armenian Diaspora”
(www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalYazar&ArticleID=1083345&Yazar=ORHAN-KEMAL-CENGIZ&CategoryID=98), which “counteracts” the characterization of Turkey as a “sick individual” in “An Armenian with a Mexican Hat.” Ece Temelkuran’s pervasive stereotypes in her book Deep Mountain were discussed in my review and Michael Goshgarian’s. Rober Koptas,, presently editor-in-chief of Agos, also elaborates on nationalism as a disease, argues against demonizing the diaspora, and yet calls for “Pedagogy for the Turk, Psychology for the Armenian” as well as categorizes “Armenian the Victim [mag(dur], Armenian the Tyrannical [gaddar],” These are reproduced, respectively, on his website:
http://hayatoldugugibi.blogspot.com/2010_05_01_archive.html, http://hayatoldugugibi.blogspot.com/2009/05/turke-pedagoji-ermeniye-psikoloji.html, and http://hayatoldugugibi.blogspot.com/2009/04/magdur-ermeni-gaddar-ermeni.html. In “The Diaspora and ‘Giuardians of the Temple,’” Murat Belge succumbed to the same stereotype of “rage” as psychological frailty alongside his “cocoon” metaphor designating the diaspora, along with numerous other direct stereotypes for “good” and “bad” essential qualities he attributes to Armenians, regionally classified in his travels: www.taraf.com.tr/murat-belge/makale-diaspora-vetapinak-bekcileri.htm. In 2004, Y?ld?r?m Türker had portrayed “Armenian belligerence” abroad as resulting in the “roughing up” of Armenians in Turkey, and chimed, “[we must bear in mind that] Diaspora Armenians and Turkish nationalists suffer from the same disease,” referencing Hrant Dink:
www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalYazar&ArticleID=732271. Even Rag?p Zarakolu briefly concurred that “both societies need therapy” in a piece on the constraints on the public statements of Armenians in Turkey: www.evrensel.net/news.php?id=8770.
27. Examples include this article on the website “The Armenian Problem” (www.ermenisorunu.gen.tr/turkce/makaleler/makale25.html); the book Ermeni Psikolojik Savas,?: Talat Pas,a’dan Alican Kap?s?’n?n Aç?lmas?na, Özkan Yeniçeri and Ümit Özdag( (Kripto 2009); the abstracts for the conference “The Armenian Symposium of the Political Psychology Association”
(http://www.avim.org.tr/degerlendirmetekli.php?makaleid=287); and online articles (accessible in cache at time of writing) www.donusumkonagi.net/MerakEttikleriniz/9/psikosiyaset/2733/turkiyeermenistan-iliskilerinin-psikolojik-savas-acisindandegerlendirilmesi.html and www.donusumkonagi.net/MerakEttikleriniz/9/psiko—siyaset/2206/turk-ermeni-meselesinde-magduriyet-psikolojisinin-etkisi.html.
28. Temple UP, 2008
29. See Ted Cohen, “Metaphor, Feeling, and Narrative” in “Philosophy and Literature,” 21.2 (1997): 223–244; 236. Ted Cohen’s example of this parable is particularly interesting—although he does not call it mise en abîme—also because of the topic: In the passage, King David, who has a harem, takes the virtuous soldier Uriah’s only wife and has him killed in battle. Nathan tells him a parable about a rich man, an owner of herds who slaughters a poor man’s only and beloved lamb for a banquet. This story makes David recognize his own act as reprehensible. What is mysterious is how a feeling about the self that was not there before arises in response to a displaced metaphorical analogy. That response would require two steps: the (morally motivated) story-teller and the reader/listener responding to a character in the same way, and then the reader/listener responding to themselves as they responded to their counterpart in the story.
30. For key research on rape, representations of rape, rape narratives, and criticism by/of feminist theory on rape, see: Sorcha Gunne and Zoë Brigley Thompson, eds., Feminism, Literature, and Rape Narratives (Routledge, 2010), especially the editors’ “Introduction: Feminism Without Borders: The Potentials and Pitfalls of Retheorizing Rape” (1–20) and Sorcha Gunne’s “Questioning Truth and Reconciliation: Writing Rape in Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit and Kagiso Legeso Molepe’s Dancing in the Dust” (164–180); also see: Carine M. Mardorossian, “Toward a New Feminist Theory of Rape” (Signs, 27.3  743–775); Jane Monkton Smith, Relating Rape and Murder: Narratives of Sex, Death, and Gender (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Amy Greenstadt, Rape and the Rise of the Author: Gendering Intention in Early Modern England (Ashgate 2009); Sabine Sielke, Reading Rape: The Rhetoric of Sexual Violence in American Literature and Culture, 1790–1990 (Princeton UP, 2002); Corrine Sanders, Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England (D.S. Brewer, 2002); Jocelyn Catty, Writing Rape, Writing Women in Early Modern England: Unbridled Speech (Palgrave Macmillan 2011, c1999); and Sandra Gunning, Race, Rape and Lynching: The Red Record of American Literature, 1890–1912 (Oxford UP, 1996). An earlier reference was made to Bill Lueders’ Cry Rape: The True Story of One Woman’s Harrowing Quest for Justice (Terrace Books, 2006).
31. See http://www.taraf.com.tr/ahmet-altan/makale-roller-degisti.htm.
32. See the first column quoted, note 8.
33. In addition to the key sources in note 30, see http://goodmenproject.com/good-feedblog/as-victims-men-struggle-for-rape-awareness/, www.nytimes.com/2009/08/05/world/africa/05congo.html, and http://edition.cnn.com/2012/04/14/health/military-sexual-assaults-personality-disorder/index.html.
34. In addition to the attention on this subject in the arts and film, for specific literature see: Lisa Sharlach, “Rape as Genocide: Bangladesh, the Former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda,” New Political Science 22.1 (2000): 89–102; for an excellent review of the literature in the topic as relating to the Armenian Genocide: Matthias Bjørnlund, “‘A Fate Worse Than Dying’: Sexual Violence during the Armenian Genocide,” in Dagmar Herzog, ed., Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe’s Twentieth Century (Palgrave Macmillan 2009), 16–58. Also see: Beverly Allen, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia (U Minnessota P, 1996); Patricia A. Weitsman, “The Politics of Identity and Sexual Violence: A Review of Bosnia and Rwanda,” Human Rights Quarterly 30 (2008): 561–578; Vahé Tachjian, “Gender, Nationalism, Exclusion: The Reintegration Process of Female Survivors of the Armenian Genocide,” Nations and Nationalism 15.1 (2009): 60–80; Keith David Watenpaugh, “The League of Nations’ Rescue of Armenian Genocide Survivors and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism, 1920–1927,” The American Historical Review, 115. 5 (2010): 1315–1339.
#1 Comment By tanya
Congratulations on an impressive exploration of the use of sickness analogies to avoid responsibility and truthfulness. Much as I have been wanting to comment on it, I find it very difficult to ‘criticize’ anything you have said. I also particularly appreciate the insights into gender politics.
What sticks out, of course, is the pathology :-) of ‘the perpetrator’ ‘being stuck’ on advising ‘the victim’ how to ‘heal herself’. The worst aspect of this: the perpetrator almost allows that this can and could happen again, whether the rape scenario or the larger issue of genocide or any other mass murder and denials that follow.
What makes people so afraid to own up and apologize, instead of advising the injured party to reach out and forgive ‘for its own good’? Might it be because they have to work on forgiving themselves first? In order to do this, one would have to understand the ‘wrongness’ of the crime as a first step, and then understand that humans make mistakes – some of them horrible mistakes. The awareness might result in a sense of confidence that one doesn’t have to be pegged with a crime others might also have committed under other circumstances – and thus make an apology easier and more sincere.
As for forgiving the other (I am free associating here based on Gormus’s words) : Personally, I can see how the genocide of 1915 might be ‘forgivable’ – though not of course ‘condonable’ – if only in the sense that it is past and widely recognized in the world, if not always ‘officially’. The ‘denial’ is more difficult to forgive, imho, because it is ongoing, as are its effects, especially within Turkey.
Moreover, in order to forgive the denial, one would have to forgive all the governments and other establishments of the world that are supporting – or at least ‘respecting’ – the denial.
Gormus is wrong because when it comes to denials ‘forgiveness’ is not the issue at hand. Bearing witness to present truth is.
Lastly, related to the above two paragraphs, there is the ‘sickness’ in the world of deceptive politics, of seeming to be ‘peaceful’ while perpetrating wars, of fear.
These are the sicknesses that all need to deal with, rather than be fooled by those who try to use what are only symptoms to make it seem as though the conflicts in question, be it genocide affirmation or rape, are merely a matter between two parties. One needs to question all who focus on the symptoms alone, as they are likely to be linked to the main causes, if only emotionally.
#2 Comment By Boyajian
Impressive insights and very thought-provoking. Congratulations on a great article.
Tanya, I agree: ” Bearing witness to present truth” (is the main issue at hand). Nothing fixes the ‘dis-ease’ caused by deception like a good dose of truthful validation.
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Erbal: A Tale of Two Monuments
By Ayda Erbal
An Extremely Belated Anatomy of Two Radically Understudied Makings and One Unmaking
The Armenian Weekly Magazine
Ayda Erbal is writing her dissertation in the department of politics at New York University. She teaches two advanced undergraduate classes, “International Politics of the Middle East” and “Democracy and Dictatorship,” as adjunct professor of politics. Her work focuses on the politics of changing historiographies in Turkey and Israel. She is interested in democratic theory, democratic deliberation, the politics of “post-nationalist” historiographies in transitional settings, and the politics of apology. She is a published short-story writer and worked as a columnist for the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos from 2000-03.
The annals of Turkish-Armenian “rapprochement,” “reconciliation,” “initiative,” and “dialogue” marked Jan. 8, 2011 as the day when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdog(an called the Monument of “Humanity” by Mehmet Aksoy in Kars a freak (ucube), overshadowing a nearby Islamic shrine, and ordered its demolition. This position would later be supported by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on aesthetic grounds: “Kars has an architectural tradition inherited from the Ottomans and the Seljuks. This monument does not reflect that architecture. It does not befit these architectural aesthetics.
The Monument of Humanity in Kars. (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)
Works in compliance with the architectural heritage of the region should be constructed,” he said.1 Sculptor Mehmet Aksoy, hailed by Today’s Zaman columnist Yavuz Baydar as “a very well-known and deeply respected artist in EU circles,”2 said his work “carries anti-war and friendship messages” and added, “I depicted the situation of a person that is divided in two. This person will be ‘himself ’ again when these two pieces are reunited. I want to express this. … You cannot immediately label this a ‘monstrosity.’ It is shameful and unjust. One should understand what it says first.” He was right in that one should have understood what the monument itself meant, or even how the history and construction of the monument evolved, in the context of domestic Turkish politics or the larger Turkish-Armenian relationship, before taking a pro/con position. Alas, this was hardly the case for either the Turkish or, for that matter, Armenian press.
According to Kars Mayor Nevzat Bozkus,, “a commission of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism had earlier decided to demolish the monument after it emerged that the statue was illegally constructed in a protected area.”3 Strangely enough, the monument was commissioned by no other than the former mayor of Kars, Naif Alibeyog(lu, himself then elected on an AKP (the ruling Justice and Development Party) ticket during the 2004 municipal elections.
In the following week, Erdog(an reacted strongly against accusations that he was not qualified to appreciate the arts, or that he was an enemy of the arts, like the Taliban who in 2001 dynamited the ancient Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan. Erdog(an claimed he had “warned the mayor when the construction of the monument began,” that the “Natural and Cultural Heritage Preservation Agency also decided to destroy the monument,” and that “it was mayor’s responsibility to implement the decision.”4 He also said, “It is not necessary to graduate from Fine Arts. We know what a monument is. I worked as a mayor for 4.5 years and as a prime minister for 7.5 years. I have never destroyed a single statue or a work of art.”5
Echoing Davutoglu’s seemingly aesthetic concerns, Erdogan also argued that “[t]he dome of the [Seyyit Hassan el Harkani] mosque and the hilltop that hosts the statue are at an equal height. Then you have a 48-meter-high statue on the hilltop. You can’t allow construction to overshadow such a historic building.”6
As is typical with debates involving the Turkish political spectrum—which now also unfortunately misinforms the Armenian public sphere with its reductio ad absurdum binary nature devoid of any real substance—the country immediately got divided among “conservative” “nationalist hawks” (to whom Erdog(an was supposedly catering to secure AKP seats in Kars in the upcoming elections7) and “non-nationalist” “progressive” “doves” (who wholeheartedly embraced both the statue’s concept and implementation).
The debates also problematically legitimized a whole array of politically national-socialist conservative artists, including the sculptor himself and Bedri Baykam (the former, an avid defender of the national-socialist Dog(u Perinçek line; the latter, an avid Kemalist who fell out with Perinçek and later penned an open letter in which he dismissed Perinçek of “leftism” and “Kemalism”)8. Five months into the “freak/monstrosity” debates and during the electoral season, the “peace-loving” sculptor baptized the Talat Pasha March organized by Perinçek—an Ergenekon suspect and genocide denier—in Switzerland as a saga of heroism in a TV program aired by Ulusal Kanal, the channel associated with Perinçek’s national-socialist Labor Party. In an interview with Funda Tosun of Agos, Aksoy claimed the Labor Party’s Ayd?nl?k newspaper had twisted his words from the program, even though Tosun confronted him, saying she had watched the original TV excerpt.9 Aksoy would also come to say that his monument was wanted by Armenians in Armenia, implying it was legitimate. Pressed further, he’d twist his own words into a typical “I’m for all freedoms” line that can qualify for the most famous not-properly-challenged empty-signifier in Turkey. As if the issue discussed on the TV program was one of cherishing freedoms and not of glorifying mass murderers, Aksoy said, “I fight for freedoms, I participate in Dink marches, and I fight for Dogu Perinçek.” Unfortunately what Armenians in Armenia and the diaspora knew or didn’t know about the sculptor’s politics or how the former mayor and the artist defended their project was less important than scoring hackneyed political points against Turkey (and, in the case of Turkish “progressives,” against the AKP).
In Responsibility and Judgment, Hannah Arendt recounts how the debates about Eichmann in Jerusalem ended up being “a controversy about a book that was never written”; then she refers to the words of an Austrian wit: “There is nothing so entertaining as the discussion of a book nobody read.” The non-substantial quarrel and campaigns surrounding the Monument of “Humanity” were precisely that. As the proverbial bookmark of the book-nobody-read-but-everybody-discussed, the cherry on the cake, the co-chair of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee Hélène Flautre, visited the sculptor and joked, “Kars should be chosen as the European Capital of Culture in order to save the sculptures.”10 We should all be thankful that her proposition—a much funnier joke than Flautre then likely realized—indeed did remain a joke. If it were not for Erdog(an, who pushed forth the execution of a former decision by the Erzurum Regional Directorate of Pious Foundations, for a seemingly nationalist political agenda, Armenians and others, with the ideological guidance of their Turkish “progressive” friends, would have baptized the sculptor who applauded the Talat Pasha demonstrations in Switzerland, as the poster child for peace and Turkish-Armenian “re”conciliation.
Barring the pro-AKP director Sinan Çetin, who agreed with Erdog(an on his aesthetic choice11, and a few scholars12 hinting on the margins about the aesthetic value or political meaning of the statue, a well-rehearsed but one-dimensional “Art can’t be destroyed” drumbeat started against the destruction of the “statue” of “humanity,” and even led to a comparison of Erdog(an’s move to “Entartate Kunst” exhibition of the Third Reich,13 a periodical analogy that some Turkish journalists throw in once in a while, nonchalantly, to spice up their exaggerated arguments against the authoritarian policies of the AKP.14,15
Before I move forward, I would like to end this preamble with an observation of what I think became a circular regularity of things Turkish-Armenian in the last decade. Ever since the 2005 Bilgi University conference “Ottoman Armenians During the Decline of the Empire,” whose date was modified several times, finally matching the then-upcoming Turkey-EU round of talks,16 Turkish-Armenian civil societal politics has operated on a dim-witted and dumbing—but notwithstanding working—formula that was also at the basis of the Monument of “Humanity” drama: Turkish “progressives” preempt/dictate an action, a campaign, a commemoration, or erect a monument, all without true deliberation.17 In doing so, let alone their complete disinterest for deliberating with a broad base of representative Armenians18 they fail to deliberate even among themselves or with the people they think they are “educating” top-down. Then, very much expectedly, the ultra-nationalists attack them either directly or via the AKP (as in the case of Ucube).
And Armenians both in the diaspora and Armenia issue either call to action or some political statement exhilarated by whatever scandal-du-jour where the Turkish side looks bad. From a distance, it looks like a win-win situation, where Turkish “progressives” win the unchallengeability of their position because now they are not only the victims of the Turkish state but also of the Turkish right, and where the Armenian side wins showing for the n’th time that the Turkish elite are notorious for throwing the ball out of the game. This is how a complex web of problematic policies, arguments denialist at core, ideological lines, and personal/political/national interests are reduced to a meaningless and empty set of binaries where it’s impossible to criticize any kind of form, text, content, action, workshop, persona, or larger than life character because there’s always a crisis, some half-baked “progress” to be defended against the ultra-nationalists. Neither in the intellectual sphere—as in the debates over the Monument of “Humanity”—nor in the political sphere are the parameters of the discussion set or shared by Armenians with representative power themselves; instead they are altogether instrumentalized in a political quarrel between the right and the left of a country not yet committed to a post-genocidal normative institutional order. Imagine an institutionally non-committed post-World War II Germany whose left will be framed and defined by a relentless German right who has a track record of having used violence in intra-ethnic conflict.
In this normatively non-committed state of affairs, the Armenian Genocide is seen both in the domestic and foreign policy discourse as an obstacle to be dealt away by sweetening hearts and minds with the bait and switch policy-du-jour (anywhere from “we hear/share your pain” to “we eat the same dolma” to “don’t talk about recognition, let’s talk about our common ‘humanity’”), rather than by delving into a genuine intellectual quest in understanding what the genocide means for the Turkish state’s institutional framework and the grammar of ethnic relations in Turkey. The circular win-win character of the game distracts from the substance of the game, whose limits are determined, depending on the day, either by the boundaries of the Turkish right or by the “realities” of the situation on the ground.
We have been told several times that the political discourse regarding the Armenian Genocide needs to be formulated first and foremost by catering to the sensitivities of the Turkish people in order to score progress. Incidentally the coup d’etatist generals and their international supporters branded this as the “country’s specific conditions”19 in the past in order to legitimize a top-down institutional restructuring by the military, implying the country is not yet “ready” for democracy. It’s interesting, to say the least, how the discourse of the country’s so-called liberals mimic that of the generals on two counts of Turkish “exceptionalism,” crystalized in their willingness to speak in a language of “specific conditions” on the one hand, and to shelter themselves in a Jacobinist top-down non-readiness argument on the other—claiming the masses are not ready to confront genocide as is, but instead are fed either symmetrical responsibility tales or third-way non-solutions as in the case of the Monument of “Humanity.”
The monument in Igdir
As the attentive eye will remember, both the former mayor Naif Alibeyog(lu and the sculptor Mehmet Aksoy defended the Monument of “Humanity” as “an alternative to both Armenia’s Dzidzernagapert Genocide monument and the monument in Ig(d?r—the monument that “monuments can’t be destroyed” camp pretended did not exist during the debates of non-destroyability of monuments, both of which “promote a bad relationship and are designed to divide the two people.”20 In an interview that was not translated by the Armenian press, Alibeyog(lu further claimed that they wanted “to have a monument that showed that Turkish people did not commit genocide. There would have been a 35-meter tear of conscience. Water was going to flow as opposed to the fire [of Dzidzernagapert]. We were going to show that we were for peace and humanity, that we did not commit genocide.”21
It is without the knowledge of this background that Armenian parties, including the Armenian Foreign Ministry and several diaspora organizations, reacted to what became the Monument of “Humanity.” We will continue with several key turning points in the five-year history of the monument while problematizing the monument itself and the entire political process from an analytical perspective, taking into account aesthetic, spatial, and political problems that marred not only its destruction but also its conception and inception.
Editor’s note: The second part of this article will appear in the Armenian Weekly in May 2012.
1. See www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?load=detay&newsId=232071&link=232071.
2. See www.todayszaman.com/columnistDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=232204.
3. See link in Note 1.
4. See www.armenianweekly.com/2011/01/27/not-even-a-handshake/.
5. See www.todayszaman.com/news-232333-turkey-press-scan-on-january-13.html.
6. See www.todayszaman.com/news-232393-the-people-will-write-newconstitution-says-prime-minister.html.
7. Bask?n Oran in see link in Note 4.
8. See www.turksolu.org/89/baykam89.htm.
9. See http://arsiv.agos.com.tr/index.php?module=news&news_id=16331&cat_id=1.
10. See http://www.todayszaman.com/mobile_detailn.action?newsId=233449.
11. See www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalDetayV3&ArticleID=1036353&CategoryID=77.
12. See www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalEklerDetayV3&ArticleID=1035819&CategoryID=41.
13. See www.hurriyetdailynews.com/a-tale-of-two-cities–freaks-of-karsand berlin.aspx?pageID=438&n=a-tale-of-two-cities–freaks-of-karsand-berlin-2011-02-16.
14. The analogy itself is a prime example that they know very little about the Third Reich except perhaps having listened to a popular Naomi Klein speech comparing the Third Reich to current American domestic politics.
15. See www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalDetayV3&ArticleID=1040964&CategoryID=82.
16. See www.armeniapedia.org/index.php?title=Conference:_Ottoman_Armenians_During_the_Decline_of_the_Empire
17. Hence highly problematic from conception to inception.
18. We can’t be more insistent on this aspect of lack of representation and how it usually revolves around either a cherry picking, or tribal formula of representation. In this context, cherry-picking means choosing from non-representative Turkish-Armenians whom the “progressives” think should represent Turkish-Armenian political opinion. It would be unthinkable to pick the Taraf or Radikal newspapers as the representative of all Turks, whereas since this is a mostly reductionist orientalist setting when it comes to the little brothers, there are no limits to instrumentalizing a party around our own scheme of political convenience. It’s not what Armenians think of their institutions that matters here; it’s more what their Turkish “brothers” like to see/hear. There’s a similar but still slightly different method of choosing from their friends (so to speak, the tribal method) and baptizing them as the rational Armenians that the world should listen to. Mind you, all these people should be self-declared socialists; if by accident they are pro-AKP figures such as Etyen Mahçupyan, they should be beaten even more than an average Sunni pro-AKP columnist. Yet the same protagonists think they are not being racist in their apparent squared disgust towards Mahçupyan.
19. See a Harold Pinter anectode regarding the specific conditions discourse at www.haroldpinter.org/politics/politics_torture.shtml.
20. See link in Note 4
21. See link in Note 11
#1 Comment By gregg dourgarian
As a math guy Ayda I especially liked’ reductio ad absurdum binary nature devoid of any real substance—the country immediately got divided among “conservative” “nationalist hawks”’
This was a most enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading it again and again.
#2 Comment By memik
I agree that Turkish Left/progressives have to engage in a “genuine intellectual quest in understanding what the genocide means for the Turkish state’s institutional framework and the grammar of ethnic relations in Turkey”. First step must be diversifying their communication with Armenians, going beyond ‘cherry-picking’ (focusing on voices they deem “safe” since, as Erbal says, because they buy into the idea that “exceptional” level of development renders people unready to face full-reality). As in the Monument debate, Turkish Left and liberals couldn’t overcome the sentimentalizing discourse (which I may summarize as “oh, everyone suffered, let’s not single any “offender” out in order to respect the “suffering” as a whole”), a rather sterile way of dealing with Armenian genocide. Erbal is right to argue these unilateral gestures fail and I’d add, have no footing in general public opinion in both countries.
Having said this, Left-progressive-liberal position—entangled with harsh debates surrounding Left’s responsibility in the 1 May 1977 Massacre etc.–is going through a difficult process. This may not be the best time to swallow yet another criticism, given that the Left was marginalized after the 1980 Coup and built its identity around a feeling of victimness (this aspect pretty resembles to the Tashnak position that turns a blind eye on atrocities of the fedayees). Whether timely or not, the fact remains that the majority of Left/progressives and liberals in Turkey failed to find an impartial-moral ground to discuss AG. Yet, this is partly due to the still ‘tribalist’ nature Turkish political culture (“either with us or against us!”). And this is most clearly diagnosed by Mahçupyan, who I think Erbal unfairly deemed to be simply pro-AKP and whose critique receives a disproportionally harsh reaction (whether because of hidden racism or not, given the tribalism, it’s pure speculation to me). Both Turkish and Armenian Left/progressives have much to learn from Mahçupyan’s suggestion of a non-confessional (politically) and impartial stand-point that cuts through sentimentality and could generate truly popular ways of facing the truth. He reminds us our passions can strengthen our resolve for impartiality…
Sassounian: Does the French Law Penalizing Genocide Denial Restrict Free Speech?
By Harut Sassounian/The Armenian Weekly Magazine
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the United Armenian Fund, a coalition of the seven largest Armenian-American organizations, and senior vice-president of Kirk Kerkorian’s Lincy Foundation. From 1978-82, he worked for the Procter & Gamble Company in Geneva, Switzerland as an international marketing executive. For 10 years, he served as a non-governmental delegate on human rights at the United Nations, playing a leading role in the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the UN in 1985. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and an MBA from Pepperdine University. He is the author of The Armenian Genocide: The World Speaks Out, 1915-2005, Documents and Declarations, which was published in English and Arabic. He has been decorated by the president and prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
In recent months, this controversial topic has made worldwide headlines.
Beyond just a legal, ethical, and philosophical controversy, this issue has brought NATO allies France and Turkey to a major confrontation, disrupting their mutual political, economic, cultural, and military ties.
Does the French Law Penalizing Genocide Denial Restrict Free Speech?
Let us briefly review the historical background and the lobbying efforts of the French-Armenian community, the Turkish government’s counter-lobbying (perhaps more appropriately described as bullying), and the awkward, vacillating position of French officials caught in the middle of the two battling sides.
The French Parliament first recognized the Armenian Genocide on May 28, 1998. The French Senate recognized it on Nov. 7, 2000. But because of the intervening elections between the two votes, the Parliament had to vote on it for a second time on Jan. 18, 2001.
Then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and President Jacques Chirac on Jan. 29, 2001 signed the following single-sentence law: “France publicly recognizes the Armenian Genocide of 1915.”
As the reader may have noticed, there is no mention of Turks or Turkey in this law. They were not accused of committing a genocide; yet, with a guilty conscience, Turkish officials immediately identified themselves as the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide, and, in protest, withdrew their ambassador from Paris.
However, even after the adoption of this law, French-Armenians continued to endure Turkish state-sponsored lies and ridicule, which repeatedly insulted the sacred memory of their ancestors who were victims of the genocide.
Such denial also violated the French law on the Armenian Genocide but with impunity. In 1990, France had adopted another law that penalized the denial of the Jewish Holocaust. French-Armenians soon-after began demanding the same legal protection.
If one is punished for denying the Jewish Holocaust, then there should be a similar punishment for denying the Armenian Genocide. There should be no discrimination among genocide victims and no double standards.
In the United States, we highly value our freedom of speech and expression. However, even in this country, freedom of expression has certain limitations. For example, one can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater and cause a tragic stampede. And one can’t libel or slander others.
In France, there are even more limitations on free speech. Those who think it unacceptable to punish someone for denying a genocide should remember that we are talking about legal limitations in the context of the value system of another country, not those of the U.S.
Since there are already many laws in France that restrict free speech, including the denial of the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide law of 2001 had to be brought to its logical conclusion by setting a penalty for all those who break that law.
After several years of lobbying, the French-Armenian community finally succeeded in getting the French Parliament to adopt a bill, in 2006, that set a penalty of one-year imprisonment and a 45,000 euro ($60,000) fine for denying the Armenian Genocide.
To become law, this bill had to also be approved by the French Senate. President Nicolas Sarkozy, however, just like someone in the White House, did not keep his promise to his Armenian constituents and blocked its adoption by the French Senate. A second attempt failed in the Senate in May 2011.
New developments in late 2011, however, came to breathe new life into this bill.
In October 2011, Sarkozy visited the three Caucasus republics. It was obvious that something had changed in the French president’s outlook on the Armenian Genocide bill. He spent only a couple of hours in Azerbaijan and Georgia, while staying overnight in Armenia.
Sarkozy also made powerful pro-Armenian remarks while in Yerevan. He warned Turkey that he would take additional steps, meaning that he would support the bill criminalizing genocide denial, if Ankara did not recognize the Armenian Genocide in a couple of months.
No one really knows what prompted Sarkozy to change his position on this issue. World-famous French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour had recently blasted Sarkozy for not keeping his promise to Armenians, warning him that no Armenian would vote for him in the April 2012 presidential elections. However, those who think that Sarkozy supported the genocide bill to win the votes of 500,000 French-Armenians in the elections are sadly mistaken. To begin with, the 500,000 figure is grossly exaggerated; there are only around 400,000 Armenians in France. And many of them cannot vote, either because they are recent immigrants from Armenia or are under the legal voting age. That leaves at most 100,000 eligible French-Armenian voters. Since the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of France has already endorsed Francois Hollande, the leader of the Socialist Party and Sarkozy’s rival in the presidential election, Sarkozy would likely not get more than 50,000 Armenian votes.
Can anyone honestly believe that the president of a major country like France, just before the presidential elections, would:
1) carelessly risk billions of dollars of trade with Turkey during such tough economic times?
2) create a major confrontation with Turkey, a fellow NATO member?
3) antagonize French exporters, the military establishment, members of the media, and influential intellectuals who oppose restrictions of any kind on their ability to express controversial opinions?
This is all highly unlikely for a mere 50,000 Armenian votes, out of the millions of French votes to be cast, especially when there are at least as many Turkish voters as Armenian ones among the 500,000 recent Turkish immigrants to France.
There may be other reasons why Sarkozy supported the Armenian bill, such as his long-standing opposition to Turkey joining the European Union (EU), and his intent to win the votes of millions of French citizens who are antagonistic to Turks, Muslims, and foreigners in general.
Just to be a little charitable to Sarkozy, let’s also assume that he wanted to keep his campaign promise, at long last.
In my opinion, there are three main reasons why, in late 2011, the Armenian bill got a new boost: The first is Sarkozy’s unexpected support for the bill. The second is the support of Francois Hollande, the Socialist presidential candidate. Significantly, the Socialist Party won the majority of seats in the Senate in last September’s elections. Thus, for the first time, the two largest political parties in the French legislature, and the two leading presidential candidates, supported the genocide bill. The third reason is the decision of the European Union in 2008 to have all 26-member countries adopt laws that punish racism, xenophobia, denial of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
Based on this new EU initiative, Valerie Boyer, a French Parliamentary member, proposed a new law that would ban denial of all genocides recognized by France, without specifically mentioning the Armenian Genocide. But, since France only officially recognizes two genocides—the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide—and Holocaust denial is already banned, the new law would effectively ban denial of the Armenian Genocide.
Notice how, once again, the text of this proposed law does not mention Turks or Turkey, nor even the Armenian Genocide. Nevertheless, Turkish officials went into overdrive with their usual threats, pressures, and insults, identifying themselves as perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide.
The Turks’ bullying tactics, however, did not scare off the legislators. On Dec. 22, 2011, the French Parliament voted to approve the genocide bill.
Turkey once again withdrew its ambassador from Paris, only to return him after a couple of weeks. A month later, despite more Turkish threats to cut off economic, political, military, and cultural ties with France, the Senate, after a heated seven-and-a-half hour debate, approved the genocide bill on Jan. 23, 2012, with a vote of 127 to 86.
Significantly, not a single member of the French Parliament or Senate, not even those who voted against the bill, questioned the reality of the Armenian Genocide.
After the bill was approved by the Senate, Sarkozy had 15 days to sign it into law. He did not rush to sign it (perhaps because he did not want to be accused of depriving the bill’s opponents of the opportunity to challenge its constitutionality). Unfortunately, Sarkozy did not anticipate that the bill’s opponents would be able to collect the 60 signatures needed to appeal the bill to the Constitutional Council. Even if he had signed before its appeal, the new law would have been contested as soon as someone was arrested for denying the Armenian Genocide.
Imagine how much more disappointed the supporters of the new law would have been if it were to be thrown out after it was signed into law by the president!
The Turkish government and its surrogates not only used threats and even personal inducements, but hired a French lobbying firm (contradicting their announced boycott of French companies) to collect the necessary signatures and appeal to the Constitutional Council on Jan. 31.
The council is comprised of 11 prominent individuals, including 2 former presidents and several former legislators. Some of the council members had serious conflicts of interest involving their families who had business ties to Turkey, or had taken a position against this bill when they were in the legislature. Most amazingly, one of them was a member of the Bosphorus Institute, a Turkish think-tank that lobbied against this bill.
After a French newspaper exposed their sinister affiliations, two members of the council removed themselves from sitting in judgment on the bill, and former President Chirac did not participate in the vote due to illness.
That left eight members. At least two others should have withdrawn their names due to conflict of interest, in which case only six members would have remained—one short of a quorum.
Unfortunately, the eight members of the Constitutional Council on Feb. 28 decided that the genocide bill was unconstitutional because it violated freedom of speech. The council members, however, failed to explain why punishing denial of the Holocaust is not a restriction on free speech while punishing denial of the Armenian Genocide is.
French-Armenians are now planning to appeal the council’s ruling to the European Court of Human Rights.
After the council’s negative decision, Sarkozy repeated his earlier pledge to re-submit to the legislature a revised bill taking into account the council’s objections. Hollande, his Socialist rival, who is ahead of Sarkozy in the polls, also pledged to bring up the bill again.
Unfortunately, the French legislature is now in recess due to the upcoming presidential elections, making it impossible to submit a revised bill to the Parliament and Senate at this time.
Sarkozy now promises to, if re-elected, bring up this bill in June. Hollande has made the same pledge. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that Armenians have learned from previous disappointing experiences not to trust politicians who make campaign promises.
It is important to pass this law in France and other countries in order to stop Turkey from exporting its denialist policies beyond its borders. Switzerland and Slovakia have already adopted laws penalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide.
And for those who naively say that Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code—the so-called “insulting Turkishness” law—which makes it a crime to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, is the same thing as the French bill (thinking that both restrict free speech), that is not the case, at all! When this bill is adopted, it would be against the law in France to lie about genocide, whereas in Turkey, telling the truth is against the law.
Even though Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu declared victory after the French bill was ruled unconstitutional, this is just a temporary setback and not a final defeat for the Armenian side.
French-Armenians will very likely continue to support this bill until it is signed into law. Even if it does not pass, Armenians will seek other avenues to pursue justice for the victims of the Armenian Genocide.
Punishing genocide deniers is not as critical as the pursuit of more important demands, such as restitution and return of Armenian properties, churches, and the occupied territories of Western Armenia.
Pursuing the just cause of a people is a marathon race, not a sprint.
Armenians are an ancient nation. Throughout their long history, they have overcome and survived many calamities, invasions, wars, and even genocide.
Armenians will certainly continue their struggle until they realize their long sought-after dream.
Bjørnlund: Virtuous Victims? Imagining Armenians in the West
By Matthias Bjornlund/ The Armenian Weekly Magazine
Matthias Bjørnlund is a Danish archival historian specializing in the Armenian Genocide. He currently teaches at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) in Copenhagen.
During the winter of 1902-03, small groups of Armenian refugees began arriving in Sweden, survivors of the 1890’s Abdülhamid massacres,1 and according to newspaper reports some even made it all the way to Norway.2But it was claimed by an alleged authoritative source that such groups were not, or not necessarily, actual Armenians at all. In the summer of 1903, a party of “fake Armenians” arrived in Copenhagen, ostensibly collecting funds for victims of the massacres. As a Danish popular periodical wrote in a rather sarcastic tone that speaks volumes of widespread perceptions of the Oriental Other:
Armenians in the West
A German handcolored depiction of Armenians from J. A. C. Löhr, Die Länder und Völker der Erde; oder vollständige Beschreibung aller fünf Erdtheile und deren Bewohner [The Countries and Peoples of the World; or a complete description of all five continents and their inhabitants , Vol. II, Leipzig 1818, p. 55. The accompanying text acknowledges that there are conflicting views on Armenians--some say they are devious, some that they are honest--but the emphasis is on Armenians as basically cowardly merchants.
A few days ago, Copenhagen had the honor of receiving a strange visit. It was said that a group of unfortunate Armenians had arrived from Riga to collect money for the victims of the cruelties perpetrated by the wild Kurds, and the noble feelings already began to stir in the soft Danish hearts. Later the feelings took another direction. It so happens that the Asiatic party, consisting of six men, one woman, and four children, had not counted on the fact that at the moment there lives a man in Copenhagen who could check them thoroughly: The former Turkish consul general, Ali Nouri, whose name will be familiar to the readers of this journal as a regular contributor. … Police Inspector Petersen then summoned the Swedish Turk, and he quickly informed the police about the true nature of these ‘Armenians.’ It has become a large and profitable industry among industrious inhabitants of Asia Minor to journey around Europe begging, falsely claiming to be refugee Armenians. … It is no wonder that such swindlers quickly inspire others. They come home, buy a house, and live off their money—and they are not unwilling to share this business secret with family and friends for a fee. At the moment Europe is being flooded with hundreds of these charlatans, and they have even extended their business to America.3
How Ali Nouri Bey (a.k.a. Swedish convert, Ottoman dissident, and Young Turk sympathizer Gustaf Noring) managed to determine that the members of the “Asiatic party” were not Armenians but, as he claimed, Chaldeans, is unclear. In any event, as a result of instant taxonomy, they were shipped off to Lübeck, Germany. Whatever their claim to “true” Armenianness and victimhood, the apparent fact that this and many similar groups made a living traveling through Europe, reaching as far as Scandinavia on a wave of sympathy in the wake of the 1890’s massacres, shows that the “Armenian Question” was a matter of serious concern way beyond the Ottoman borders.
Who, then, were the Armenians suddenly mentioned so often in newspapers, petitions, public speeches, academic publications, even police reports? How should they be classified, what was their “essence”? This became a hot topic, a battleground between realpolitik and humanitarianism, between more or less scientific world views, political ideologies, religious affiliations, and economic interests. As seen in the example above, human taxonomy is rarely an innocent occupation: How Ottoman Armenians were classified in the West—in Europe and North America—could have direct and far-reaching consequences when linked to discussions of the Armenian Question, in general, and to issues of intervention, proselytizing, and relief work, in particular. Did Armenians deserve aid? Were they worthy of the money and time spent by good Western citizens? The question of how to define the “true nature” of various Ottoman groups even became a topic when discussions of whether any given group deserved, or were capable of managing, a national home when the empire was carved up in the wake of World War I.4 In this article a small but representative sample of mainly Scandinavian sources is used to analyze and categorize—classify, as it were—Western attitudes towards Armenians in the wake of the 1890’s Abdülhamid massacres in the Ottoman Empire in an attempt to address these questions.
In general, knowledge about Armenians (and all other Ottoman groups) before the Abdülhamid massacres was marked by racism, religious prejudice, or superficial research. It has been said that “in its narratives of cross-cultural contact, the Western form of the travel book continually sees otherness as inferiority.”5 While this is not necessarily true, the information about Armenians that reached Western countries was in fact mainly provided by popular travelogues or ethnographic accounts that often portrayed Armenians as greedy, devious, and cowardly—in short, like Jews were supposed to be.6 One early example will suffice to illustrate this point: In a detailed and otherwise rather nuanced account of encounters with Armenians, Greeks, Turks, and Jews in Constantinople in 1831, Danish theologian J. F. Fenger could only compare Armenians to Jews, “God’s chosen people wandering the earth, worshipping material goods and a dead religion.”7
Bjørnlund: Virtuous Victims? Imagining Armenians in the West
A postcard from the archives of the Danish Women Missionary Workers, c. 1910, one of a series sold to raise money for missionary work among Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The caption reads: ‘Young Armenian women in national costumes’ These Armenian women, probably from the Kharpert region where the Danish organization was based, would have looked exotic in the West at the time, but they do not look weak or passive as ‘Oriental’ women often do in Western imagery. It is rather an image of strong, assertive women, an image which women missionaries would not have picked at random to put on a postcard. Virtuous victims, perhaps, living proof that missionary work mattered?
But it took a human catastrophe, the Abdülhamid massacres, to truly put a distant, “exotic” people like the Ottoman Armenians on the map in the Western world. These events happened to more or less coincide with the rise of certain vital aspects of the modern age: scientific classification; nationalism; racial thinking; public opinion; improved means of transportation and communication increasing the speed, quality, and quantity of travel and news reports; professionalized grassroots movements; debates on human rights and humanitarian intervention, etc. Thus, the nature and timing of the massacres made the Armenian Question an issue among populations, not just elites. Nor was it an issue only for major countries like Great Britain, France, or Germany with significant political and economical interests in the Near East. Scandinavian and other “peripheral” sources suggest that Armenophobia and Armenophilia in fact became truly widespread transnational cultural phenomena during and after the 1890’s massacres. Indeed, this quote by famed Norwegian author Knut Hamsun (later to become a Nobel laureate in literature and a staunch supporter of the Nazi regime in Germany) is quite representative of a certain type of Western reaction to the resurfacing Armenian Question:
Armenians are the trade Jews of the East. They penetrate everywhere, from the Balkans to China, in every city you go to the Armenians are up to their old tricks. While the papers of the West are overflowing with tears over the misfortune of this people it is not rare to hear in the East that they deserve their fate, they are remarkably unanimously represented as a people of scoundrels. In Turkey proper they push the country’s own children out of one position after the other and take their places themselves. Trade falls into their hands, pawn-broking and money. And the extortion.8
With apparent ease intellectuals such as Hamsun extended their “classic” (ethno-religious) and/or “modern” (racialized) anti-Semitism to include Armenians and other “similar peoples,” like Greeks. Especially those with no nation state—Jews and Armenians—were viewed with contempt. In an age of nationalism, persons without a national home were cosmopolitan, city people, rootless; they were “modern,” removed from the soil in body and soul and thus unclean, suspicious, and possibly or even inherently subversive. Often, Jews were the prism, their alleged traits were the traits of the negative other par excellence. Any person or people, Semitic or not, deemed to possess some or all of these traits were considered unreliable at best. At worst they were considered deserving of persecution or destruction. Edward Said wrote that Islamophobia is a “secret sharer” of anti-Semitism.9 Armenophobia was certainly also a “sharer” of anti-Semitism, and it was hardly a secret: Anti-Semitism and Armenophobia went hand in hand in the media and popular culture around the turn of the century and for decades to come, often contrasted with other, “nobler” peoples.10 For every villain there is a hero in the classification game.
Examples of Western intellectual Armenophobia are legion and can be found in major newspapers, periodicals, authoritative encyclopedias, and publications from large, respected publishing houses. In 1900, a major, authoritative Danish ethnographical volume briefly defined Armenians as “an intelligent race,” but—paraphrasing the classic proverb, “One Greek cons two Jews, one Armenian cons two Greeks” 11—more greedy, cunning, and ruthless than Greeks and Jews, “races” that, it is implied, were already plenty greedy, cunning, and ruthless.12 Danish reporter Frantz von Jessen wrote during the 1903 uprising in Ottoman Macedonia that “all connoisseurs praise the Turks at the expense of Greeks, Armenians, and Jews.”13 Yet another variation of the stereotype can be found in a book by Swedish officer and war correspondent Spada (Johan Christian Janzon), Incursions into the Orient. Here, Spada also contrasts in a typical fashion what is described as the loud and cunning behavior of Greek, Jewish, and Armenian merchants at a Constantinople bazaar with the dignified, calm, and stoic composure of the Turkish merchants.14
Such views spread into educational materials, including a geography textbook endorsed by the Danish Ministry of Culture,15 and they were indeed quite common in the press as well from early on. In 1895, in a leading Danish journal, it was stated that though there was no excuse for the ongoing Abdülhamid massacres, and though the Western Powers and Russia could reasonably demand that the empire avoided such incidents in the future, it was equally reasonable and understandable that “strict measures” were applied to suppress the Armenians:
A rebellious Armenian in the Ottoman Empire is quite the same as a rebellious Hindu in British India; the Sultan cannot tolerate that the orders of his officials are being challenged by such an ignorant and restive people as the Armenians who are subjects in his Empire, and when the Mohammedans are defending themselves in their own country they are only exercising their right.16
This was a defense of empire and imperialism, wherever and with few restrictions; a defense of Turks/Muslims as perhaps brutal masters, but rightful masters nonetheless, pitted against Armenians/Christians. They, in turn, were lowly, rebellious, cunning, intelligent and/or primitive subjects (logical consistency is rarely a hallmark of racist beliefs), a miserable people who brought their misery upon themselves through protests or provocations; they were alien usurpers with no rightful claim to influence or equality, let alone power or land.
Armenophobia could also be an expression of a “scientific” racist negative stereotype influenced by a certain branch of Marxist thinking—the widespread variant of the comprador or “middleman” thesis that brands groups like Jews, Greeks, and Armenians as parasitic, bourgeois agents of international capitalism and imperialism, preventing a certain “progressive” economic development in, for example, the Ottoman Empire.17 For sure, very many merchants, etc., in the Ottoman Empire were Armenians, Jews, and Greeks, but this fact alone hardly explains the outright hatred directed at these groups. On April 30, 1909, on the front page of the official organ for the Danish Social Democratic Party, Social-Demokraten, a background article on Turkey, the Motley Empire, was printed following the Adana massacres. The reality of the massacres was readily acknowledged, but rather than seeing Armenians and other Ottoman Christians as “virtuous victims,” they were once again designated as cold, calculating, dishonest business-minded people that belonged to an economic class exploiting the “honest” and “easygoing” Turks.
There were variations of Armenophobia based on the primacy of the environment, not biology, in determining human behavior. According to such explanatory models, Armenians were not born, say, bloodsuckers or “vagabond, ransacking, plundering invaders” as Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) characterized them in 1920.18 (They were in fact usually not associated with such martial traits in the West until during and after World War I, when actual or invented armed resistance and “cultural machismo” became assets in the competition between would-be nation states.) Armenians had rather developed their alleged negative traits after centuries of oppression by the Turkish invaders, but were now exploiting their proud but indolent masters.19 As a former Serbian ambassador to the Ottoman Empire put it, “It is said that in cunning and astuteness the Jews are innocent babes when compared with the Armenians. Personally, I do not believe that that has anything to do with the race, and probably it is the result of the peculiar circumstances in which they live. Give them liberty, give them the responsibility of a self-governing nation, give them possibilities of higher culture, and the Armenians, in a couple of generations, would prove to be a noble and generous, as well as a highly intelligent race.”20 Finally, some claimed that while the Armenians encountered in the ports and bazaars of Constantinople and Smyrna (Izmir) were notorious cheats and liars, Armenian peasants were honest and laborious, uncorrupted by city life.21
U.S. historian and publisher William M. Sloane neatly summed up some important basic assumptions shared by all the above Orientalist persuasions in 1914:
It is no exaggeration to say that the passing generation had in its youth little conception but that the homogeneity of nationality with which they were familiar at home was to be found within the territories represented by each of these dividing lines. If it was England for the English and France for the French and so on, why not Turkey for the Turks? Starting from this deep-seated conviction, a few of the better educated and more intelligent read such delightful books of travel in Turkey and the Orient as Byron and Kinglake had rendered attractive and fashionable. Even from the perusal of them, there survived a general impression that within the Ottoman Empire there were ruling Turks who were Mohammedans and gentlemen; that the aristocracy was fairly refined and likewise Mohammedan; and that there was otherwise a huge plebeian mob separated in refinement and culture from the rest by an impassable chasm.22
The beginnings of Armenophilia
While Armenophobia was arguably widespread among intellectuals, it was hardly the “natural” unchallenged position in the West. Pro-Armenian sentiments appear, in fact, to have been more common, perhaps because support for the persecuted Armenians was not “negative” or speculative like Armenophobia. It was a tangible “good cause” with larger potential for mobilization, as many found it easy to sympathize or even identify with the victim group, and it had broad appeal, as it commonly transgressed otherwise rigid boundaries of religion, politics, class, and gender. Whether based on notions of Christian solidarity, human rights, or plain outrage, condemnation of the massacres was an issue for feminists, conservatives, liberals, and school children, Christians, Jews, pacifists, atheists, and military men, evolving into a virtual counter-discourse to Armenophobia. Detailed information on the massacres quickly became available and helped create this situation, as in 1895 when a popular Norwegian journal with readers and contributors from Denmark as well as Norway published a serialized treatment of the massacres, their background, the Armenian Question in general, and Europe’s responsibility to protect the Ottoman Armenians.23
“Europe” felt otherwise, but despite political inaction, the Ottoman Armenians were not quickly forgotten. Papers and public figures raised awareness of the atrocities, thereby laying part of the foundation for the substantial missionary and relief work that lasted through the Armenian Genocide and beyond. Missionaries and relief workers were sent to the Ottoman Empire, thousands of “ordinary citizens” in Scandinavia alone donated money for the cause or sponsored Armenian orphans, while articles, pamphlets, and books on the subject kept being published, including in Scandinavia: Swiss theologian Georges Godet’s Les souffrances de l'Arménie was translated for a Danish and Norwegian audience in 1897, with the proceeds of the sale going to ”the miserable Armenians,” and Edouard (Edward) Bernstein’s speech on the sufferings of the Armenians was published in several countries.24 In 1904, Johannes V. Jensen, a Danish author who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1944, had an encounter with an Armenian massacre survivor as one of the central scenes in his popular novel Madame D’Ora, which was published simultaneously in Denmark and Norway.25 The Suffering Armenian had become a literary figure.
Partly as a reaction to Armenophobe stereotypes, pro-Armenians began at the turn of the century to introduce what became a recurring theme of depicting Armenians as a persecuted people that not only deserved sympathy, but respect for their virtues and accomplishments, whether acquired or “natural.” In missionary circles there was much Armenophobia, especially early on, but it was often stated outright that, by sticking to their faith through centuries of oppression and persecution, culminating with the genocide, Armenians had become virtuous by redeeming themselves and their “petrified” Apostolic Christianity. They had become the “martyred people,” a people to be admired and respected as “keepers of the faith,” even if they remained alien, “Oriental,” in the eyes of the Western beholder. Danish relief worker Karen Jeppe, on the other hand, believed Armenians were “naturally virtuous,” and she consistently underlined in public what she believed to be either Western or generally positive qualities of Armenians—Christianity, work ethic, honesty, moral conduct, willingness to sacrifice.26
In 1903, a Danish periodical published Armenian poems introduced and translated by writer and feminist activist Inga Collin (from 1904 Inga Nalbandian, after her marriage to an Armenian scholar), who later became an important figure in the international Armenophile movement as well as the International Woman Suffrage Alliance well into the 1920’s. In her introduction, she stated that “awareness of the limitless sufferings of the Armenian people has eventually been thoroughly raised, it has in a manner of speaking become part of today’s culture; but awareness of the great spiritual value of this mistreated people is completely lacking in this country.”27 There was an implicit, sometimes explicit, message from Collin, Jeppe, and others to domestic and international audiences where many were exposed to anti-Armenian articles, etc., and where many (but far from all) believed that freedom from foreign rule or oppression was a Western or white prerogative anyway. The message was that Armenians as virtuous victims had the same rights to peace, prosperity, security, self-rule, or independence as other “civilized peoples.”
In the end, the Ottoman Armenians were destroyed by the Young Turk dictatorship, partly to avoid giving Armenians exactly such rights, while the survivors were persecuted by the Kemalists and abandoned by Western governments. And in that sense Armenophobia, realpolitik, or just plain indifference prevailed over pro-Armenian sentiments. Furthermore, as the Armenian Question ceased being a media issue in the 1920’s, most intellectuals and ordinary citizens found new worthy causes to fight for or donate money to. But while other causes célèbres came and went, the most dedicated of the Western missionaries, relief workers, and activists carried on their work among the remnants of the Ottoman Armenians in exile—some, like Danish missionary nurse Maria Jacobsen, almost until the Armenian Question resurfaced once more in the 1960’s.
1. Tomas Hammar, Sverige åt svenskarna. Invandringspolitik, utlänningskontrol och asylrätt 1900-1932, Stockholm: Caslon Press 1964, p. 70.
2. Nordlands Avis, June 30, 1904; Ranens Tidende, July 12, 1911.
3. Hver 8. Dag, No. 41, 1902-1903, July 12, 1903, pp. 643-644.
4. See, e.g., G. W. Prothero, ed., Armenia and Kurdistan, no. 62 in the series Handbooks Prepared under the Direction of the Historical Section of the Foreign Office, London: H.M. Stationery Office 1920, p. 4.
5. Howard J. Booth, “Making the Case for Cross-Cultural Exchange: Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana,” in Charles Burdett and Derek Duncan, eds., Cultural Encounters: European Travel Writing in the 1930s, Berghahn Books 2002, p. 163.
6. See, e.g., Alexander von Humboldt, A. v. Humboldts Reiser i det Europæiske og Asiatiske Rusland, transl. by Hans Sødring, Copenhagen: F. H. Eibes Forlag 1856, p. 231; Pierre Loti, Tyrkiske Kvinder: Nutidsroman fra de tyrkiske Haremmer, transl. By Elisabeth Gad, Copenhagen: Gyldendal 1908, p. 15. For an early, relatively positive appraisal of Ottoman Armenians, see P. Blom, Fra Østerland, Christiania: Alb. Cammermeyer 1875, pp. 71ff.
7. J. F. Fenger, ”Erindringer fra et Ophold i Constantinopel i Aaret 1831,” part II, Nordisk Kirke-Tidende, vol. 4, no. 37, Sept. 11, 1836, pp. 576-591.
8. Knut Hamsun, ”Under Halvmaanen,” in Stridende Liv: Skildringer fra Vesten og Østen, Gyldendal: Copenhagen and Kristiania [Oslo] 1905, pp. 204-206.
9. Edward Said, Orientalism, New York: Vintage Books 1978, pp. 27-28.
10. See, e.g., J. E. Rosberg, Bland alla slags Nationer under Himmelen den Blå, Helsingfors: Söderström & Co. 1923, p. 197; Dr. L. Sofer, ”Armenier und Juden,” Zeitschrift für Demographie und Statistik der Juden, no. 5, 1905, p. 65.
11. Stephen H. Astourian, “Modern Turkish Identity and the Armenian Genocide: From Prejudice to Racist Nationalism,” in Richard G. Hovannisian, ed., Remembrance and Denial: The Case of the Armenian Genocide, Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press 1998, p. 30.
12. Kristian Bahnson, Etnografien fremstillet i dens Hovedtræk, vol. II, Copenhagen: Det Nordiske Forlag 1900, pp. 357-358.
13. Frantz von Jessen, Mennesker Jeg Mødte, Gyldendal 1909, p. 84.
14. Spada, Ströftåg i Orienten, Stockholm: Oscar L. Lamms Förlag 1881, pp. 212-213. See also Vahagn Avedian, The Armenian Genocide 1915. From a Neutral Small State’s Perspective: Sweden, unpublished MA Thesis, Uppsala University 2008, p. 29.
15. Johannes Holst, Geografi med Billeder, 17. ed., 296,000-320,000 copies, Copenhagen 1914, p. 92.
16. Illustreret Tidende, no. 3, Oct 20, 1895, p. 34.
17. See Hilmar Kaiser, Imperialism, Racism, and Development Theories: The Construction of a Dominant Paradigm on Ottoman Armenians, Ann Arbor, MI: Gomidas Institute 1997; Margaret Lavinia Anderson, “‘Down in Turkey, Far Away’: Human Rights, the Armenian Massacres, and Orientalism in Wilhelmine Germany,” The Journal of Modern History, vol. 79, March 2007, pp. 80-111; Mark Levene, “Port Jewry of Salonika: Between Neo-colonialism and Nation-state,” in David Cesarani, ed., Port Jews: Jewish Communities in Cosmopolitan Maritime Trading Centres, 1550-1950, London and Portland, OR.: Frank Cass 2002, pp. 135-36; Ingrid Leyer Seeman, “A Turkish Proverb and Its Tradition,” Haigazian Armenological Review, vol. 28, 2008, pp. 391-405.
17. Fatma Ulgen, “Reading Mustafa Kemal Ataturk on the Armenian genocide of 1915,” Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 44, no. 4, 2010, p. 380.
18. Fra alle Lande, no. 2, 1876, pp. 47-49.
19. Chedo Mijatovich [C(edomilj Mijatovic'], “The Problem of the Near East. I. Sultan Abdul-Hamid. A Character Sketch,” The Forthnightly Review, no. CCCCLXXVIII, New Series, Oct. 1, 1906, p. 577.
20. Vatche Ghazarian, ed., Armenians in the Ottoman Empire: An Anthology of Transformation, 13th-19th Centuries, Waltham, MA: Mayreni Publishing, p. xxi; J. E. Rosberg: Jordens Länder och Folk: Geografisk Handbok, vol. II, Stockholm: Bokförlaget Natur och Kultur 1926, p. 165.
21. William M. Sloane, The Balkans: A Laboratory of History, New York: Eaton and Mains 1914, p. 23.
22. Mac Coll Malcom, “Til belysning af det armeniske spørgsmaal,” in Gerhard Gran, publ., Samtiden. Populært tidsskrift for litteratur og samfundsspørgsmaal, vol. 6, Bergen: John Griegs Forlag 1895, pp. 318-336, 384-395.
23. E. Bernstein, Det Armeniske Folks Lidelser, Tale holdt i Berlin d. 28 Juni 1902, Copenhagen: Jul. Gjellerups Boghandel 1902. German version: Die Leiden des armenischen Volkes und die Pflichten Europas, Berlin 1902. On Bernstein, see also Yair Auron, The Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the Armenian Genocide, Transaction Publishers 2000, pp. 110-111.
24. Johannes V. Jensen, Madame D’Ora, Copenhagen and Kristiania [Oslo]: Gyldendal 1904, pp. 28-29.
25. Matthias Bjørnlund, “Karen Jeppe, Aage Meyer Benedictsen and the Ottoman Armenians: National Survival in Imperial and Colonial Settings,” Haigazian Armenological Review, vol. 28, 2008, pp. 9-44.
26. Dansk Tidsskrift, 1903, p. 764. Italics in original.
#1 Comment By Random Armenian
One of the ways the world can improve is anyone to use the hatred and racism thrown at them to understand how it happens to others or even how they themselves may be looking at others in a racist manner. It’s amazing how so many people just can’t see the wrongs committed against them is also wrong when committed on others.
#2 Comment By Dave
In many ways the West is scared of and subservient to Turks and long has been. Look at the way minorities are mistreated in Turkey today and look at the relatively muted reaction by the West. Sure, the West speaks out from time to time but actions speak louder than words and there are few actions.
Suciyan: Armenian Representation in Turkey?
By Talin Suciyan / The Armenian Weekly Magazine
Talin Suciyan is an Istanbul Armenian journalist who lived in Armenia from 2007-09. She is currently based in Munich, Germany, where she is pursuing her graduate studies. She was a contributor to Agos (from 2007-2010) and regular writes for newspapers in Turkey.
“No Assimilation could be achieved merely by
surrendering one’s past but ignoring the alien past.
In a society on the whole hostile to the Jews… it is possible
to assimilate only by assimilating into anti-Semitism also.”1
This year, again, the Armenians of Istanbul were confronted with theheavy duty of responding to the dominant atmosphere of political and social hatred against them in the country where they live. The reason was the bill intending to criminalize genocide denial in France. In Turkey, a political campaign to generate public consensus against the bill was successfully initiated and reached its peak with a demonstration on Feb. 26, organized jointly by Turkey and Azerbaijan, in the center of Istanbul—and what was nothing other than a rehearsal of the Sept. 6–7, 1955 events. Beginning in December 2011, anti-Armenian campaigns were run in the Turkish media with the participation of politicians, academics, and public opinion makers, both on the local and national level.
In Turkey, a political campaign to generate public consensus against the bill was successfully initiated and reached its peak with a demonstration on Feb. 26, organized jointly by Turkey and Azerbaijan, in the center of Istanbul—and what was nothing other than a rehearsal of the Sept. 6–7, 1955 events.
In crisis situations, Armenians in Turkey have been called to represent their community. In the absolute absence of political representation—prohibited from having a political organization as an ethnic group—Armenians have always been requested to react politically and be representatives of their community. The media, politicians, and public intellectuals pose this request incessantly, all of a sudden feeling the need to “give a voice to the voiceless.” However, the response should also meet the needs correctly: You are not expected to be a conscious pariah in Arendt’s terms—that is, “accepting the challenge and responsibility of being an outsider even among one’s own people”2; rather, you are expected to assimilate into anti-Armenian campaigns, which also entails hatred against and dehumanization of the Armenian Diaspora. As an Armenian still living in Turkey, then, you are offered to take part in and reproduce hatred against your sisters, brothers, uncles, or aunts living in other parts of the world. In this way, you are expected to become an enemy of your own past, of your own biography, and reject your own present.
“Forcing Armenians to react” in situations of crisis has a historicity. For instance, from 1941 onwards in Turkish newspapers, news items and articles started to appear regarding Armenians being a “fifth column”3; accused of supporting the Germans, Armenians in Istanbul were asked to give a necessary reaction to these accusations. Without having any politically representative body, the community was required to respond to such war politics, and during a time when Turkey was still selling chrome to the Nazi government. On Jan. 5, 1946, the famous article by Zaven Biberyan, “Enough Is Enough,”4 was published in the Nor Lur Armenian newspaper, and was in direct defiance to these allegations as well as the Turkish public opinion makers. Biberyan argued that these public opinion makers (specifically As?m Us in this case) were implicitly trying to put the blame on Armenians, whereas actually a broad segment of Turkish society—but not Armenians—had been pro-German. We can read this of course as an attempt to shape public opinion in a way that would rescue the image of Turkey and the consequences of Turkish-German alliance in the international arena during the post-WWII period. Time and again, it is impossible not to remember Biberyan, since the Armenian community in Istanbul is in such a fragile situation, and yet is expected to be a political actor, in order to rescue Turkey from the probable consequences of the criminalization of genocide denial in France. The text entitled “Turkey wants to have the right to denial,”5 with all its shortcomings, was still an important reaction given by the handful of Armenians remaining in Turkey to the politicians and public opinion makers. Nevertheless, neither the mentioned text, nor the open letter of businessman Ishak Alaton calling on Turkish intellectuals to stop denial, seem to have influenced the public intellectuals in Turkey. It was only after the Hodjali hate rally that the public intellectuals comprehended the degree of rising racism, and saw how denial fuels this racism, how it could all be organized on the state level, and how easily “human resources” could be generated for its implementation.
PROCESS OF STRUCTURAL ERADICATION
Beginning in 1840, the Armenian community had de facto administrative institutions. In 1847, an election system was introduced for these institutions.6 The Armenian constitution (Nizamname) of the 19th century was a legal guarantor of these processes. During the first decade of the republic, however, these electoral systems were abolished as a result of systematic state politics. First, the Patriarchate could not withstand the pressures and paved the way for the abrogation of the Civil Assembly, which was in charge of civil affairs. Later, in 1938, a second electoral process on the district level was abolished. The practice of electing administrative bodies with the participation of a district’s inhabitants to administer the properties of the given foundations was replaced with a “single trustee” appointed by the government. The period 1938-49 was marked by difficulties created by the “single trustee” (tek mütevelli dönemi) system within the minority communities. Elçin Macar’s article on the issue has some very valuable information about the period.7 State policy regarding the appointment of these representatives was extremely arbitrary; people who had nothing to do with the communities were appointed as trustee.8 Not being able to collect regular revenue from the properties meant not being able to finance community organizations, such as schools, churches, cemeteries, hospitals, and orphanages, as well as people in need.
During the Single Party years between 1924 and 1946, stateorchestrated intimidation policies, legal pressures of various kinds,9 and normalized daily racism in society10 were all part of the systemic policies that encouraged the remaining Armenians to leave. The loss of elected Civil Assembly in the case of the Armenians, and the introduction of the single trustee system, endangered and discouraged public participation in the administration during those years. Although the practice of electing representatives to administer the properties of foundations had to be re-established in 1949, the right to have an elected council to deal with civil issues has never been restored. As a result, a practice that was established over one hundred years was extinguished within the first decade of the republic. Had the Civil Assembly not been abolished, would it be enough today to meet the needs of the community when confronted with situations loaded with heavy politics, such as the recent French law criminalizing genocide denial? Perhaps not, but it would have given us an organizational model with over nearly two centuries of experience, with its pros and cons—a good reference point to begin with.
Arendt’s remark on the price of being a Jew in Europe in the 19th century is still relevant for Armenians in Turkey today. For, they are not only asked to surrender their past but are expected to ignore their past, which encompasses everything from their social, legal, cultural, and political rights to their very existence, as well as the annihilation of their ancestors. This is the only way offered to survive in a state of denial. Armenian representation under these conditions is and can only be a political one, because the hostile attitude against Armenians in Turkey has been one of the longest lasting political attitudes in the country.
1. Hannah Arendt. Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewish Woman. HBJ Publ. 1974, p. 224.
2. Richard Bernstein. Hannah Arendt and The Jewish Question, MIT Press, 1996, p. 18.
3. Rifat Bali. II. Dünya Savas¸?nda Gayrimüslimlerin Askerlik Serüveni: Yirmi Kur’a Naf?a
Askerleri. (Istanbul: Kitabevi Yay. 2008), p. 31.
4. Nor Lur. Jan. 5, 1946.
5. “Türkiye inkar hakk?n?n pes¸ inde,” Dec. 22, 2011
6. For more, see Hagop L. Barsoumian. The Armenian Amira Class of Istanbul, American University of Armenia, Yerevan, 2007, pp. 112-119.
7. Elçin Macar. “Bas¸bakanl?k Cumhuriyet Ars¸ ivi Belgelerine Göre Tek Parti Döneminde Cemaat Vak?flar?n?n Sorunlar?” (see www.istanbulrumaz?nl??g?.com), 2007; see also Macar, Cumhuriyet Döneminde Istanbul Rum Patrikhanesi ( stanbul: letis¸ im Yay 2003).
8. Macar. “Bas¸bakanl?k…”
9. Settlement Law (1934), 20 Kura Askerlik (1941), Wealth Tax (1942), Law prohibiting professions for non-Muslims, etc.
10. Campaigns like “Citizen speak Turkish,” hundreds of cases filed against non-Muslims under the law “denigrating Turkishness” (for more, see Cemil Koçak. Ayin Karanlik Yüzü in Tarih ve Toplum Yeni Yaklasimlar. No:1, 2005. pp. 147-208; and Koçak, www.stargazete.com/yazar/cemil-kocak/gayri-muslimler-ve-turkluge-hakaretdavalari-ayin-karanlik-yuzu-haber-375966.htm.
#1 Comment By Nancy Kricorian
Thanks for this important piece, Talin. The closing paragraph reminds me of the Palestinian slogan: “Existence is resistance.”
#2 Comment By Arshag
It seems that there is no other way out from the ongoing culture of hatred in Turkey than the disintegration and breakaing up of that very country. Turkey has not changed from the days of Genocide in any meaningful sense. I hope, but I am almost sure, that this will happen unless the progressive forces in Turkey can organize themselves into a force to reckon with. They are the only hope for Amenians, as well as for the Turks.
#3 Comment By lara
i always love reading your articles, it gives a different perspective on things, a different discourse than the one we are used to hear in the diaspora. Abres!
#4 Comment By VTiger
Regarding Armenians being a “fifth column” please read the here below article which was published yesterday in Hurriyet:
Police files to reveal dark times in Turkish history
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish novelist Sabahattin Ali was killed at the Bulgarian border in 1948.
Secret Turkish police files dating from before 1963 providing priceless information on some of the darkest periods of the early Republic are to be revealed to the public, daily Aks,am has reported.
The files include documents about Turkish poet Naz?m Hikmet, Turkish novelist Sabahattin Ali, as well as files about the violent massacre against Alevi rebels in the eastern province of Tunceli (formerly known as Dersim) that occurred between 1936 and 1939 and resulted in the deaths of at least 13,800 people.
Millions of documents
The Turkish General Police Directorate has handed over more than 500,000 files consisting of 250 million documents, including their digital copies, to the State Archives General Directorate.
The order to release the files to the public was recently given by Turkish General Police Director Mehmet Kiliçlar.
According to the documents about the massacre in Dersim (Tunceli), the police reported that “a group in Dersim has held a religious ceremony in the Armenian language.”
The documents also include details regarding Kurdish rebellions in contemporary Turkish history, such as the 1925 Kurdish rebellion led by Kurdish religious leader S,eyh Sait.
#5 Comment By Genis
Vtiger, i see you visiting almost all Turkish media everyday. You like us Turks too much, dont you?
i just wonder how you Ermenian people would spend your times without us.
#6 Comment By Arshag
Genis, Necati, Necari Genis … ,
The same goes for you, isn’t it? May be even more.
#7 Comment By VTiger
Hamshen necati,unlike you I do not hate Turks.
#8 Comment By john
Genis, you seem to be on the “ARMENIAN WEEKLY” blog quite frequently..Maybe you can’t get enough of the Armenians?
Syrian-Armenian Memory and the Refugee Issue in Syria under the French Mandate (1921–46)
By Seda Altug/ The Armenian Weekly Magazine
Seda Altug teaches at Bosphorus University. Her dissertation is entitled “Sectarianism in the Syrian Jazira: Community, land, and violence in the memories of World War I and the French mandate (1915–39).” Her research interests are state-society relations, and minority issues in colonial and post-colonial Syria.
An overwhelming majority of today’s Syrian-Armenians are the descendants of Ottoman-Armenians who survived the 1915 Armenian Genocide. The 120,000–150,000 deportees in Ottoman Syria, who had hoped to return to their homeland as soon as World War I was over, returned to Cilicia, which, by the time of the Mudros Armistice (Oct. 30, 1918), had come under French occupation. All hope of rebuilding their communities, however, vanished with the Turkish National Liberation War (1919–21) and the ceding of Cilicia to the Turkish Republic following the formalization of the Turco-Syrian border in the Ankara agreement on Oct. 21, 1921.
Armenian refugees in Syria (Near East Relief)
During these years, the killing, intimidation, abduction, and stigmatization of Armenians in Cilician cities—such as Adana, Mersin, Tarsus, as well as in cities like Urfa, Kharpert, Malatya, Diyarbekir, and Arabkir—continued, culminating in a second Armenian exodus towards French Syria and Lebanon. Between 1921–23, 80,000 new refugees arrived in Syria and Lebanon by land or by sea. Richard Hovannisian estimates that by the end of 1925, approximately 100,000 refugees were living in Syria; 50,000 in Lebanon; 10,000 in Palestine and Jordan; 40,000 in Egypt; 25,000 in Iraq; and 50,000 in Iran.1
The third wave of expulsion towards French Syria, in particular north-eastern Syria, in Jazira, took place following Turkey’s military suppression of the Kurdish Sheikh Saïd Revolt in 1925. According to figures compiled by the League of Nations, between 8,000 and 10,000 Kurdo-Armenians, as named by the French sources, from the rural parts of Diyarbekir, Mardin, Shirnak, Siirt, Bitlis, and Cizre, joined the Armenian deportees who had arrived in Syria earlier, in 1915–16 and 1921–23.2
The history of the post-genocide world in Syria has not yet been critically assessed. Very few scholarly works have incorporated the social and political history of the Armenian refugees into the general history of Syria. It seems that the politics of fear is also quite pervasive among researchers. Accordingly, the scholarly field inevitably silences and marginalizes controversial historical phenomena from scholarly scrutiny, such as the issue of sectarianism or the refugee issue. This piece will shed some light on the Armenian refugee experiences upon their arrival to their new residence in French Syria.
In the Syrian-Armenian memory, 1915 is seen as a decisive event, a violent ending, but also as a new beginning, and a new period of struggle in a hostile and foreign setting. The violence of the genocide—while it took different forms in social, class, cultural, and geographic terms—constitutes the foundation of all the historical narratives of that time. And they all begin with the violence the survivors were exposed to in their home towns or on the deportation routes to Syria, namely an entire life was left behind and would never be returned; Its fields, trees, rivers, and climate are remembered with extreme grief, and the new refuge is never really accepted as a substitute.
The French mandate (1921–46) rule in Syria and the colonial agency are obscured, or rather assimilated, into a survival narrative where the main provider is depicted as the “Syrians” if not the “community” itself. The new life in French Syria indicates a positive change from bad to good, namely from insecurity, fear, instability, and oppression to security, stability, and tolerance. Generosity and respect on the part of the Syrian Arabs are presented as the underlying factors in this safety and security. No mention is made of the distress felt by the local Syrians due to the refugee flow to French Syria; nor of the dominant French colonial perspective on the Christian refugees and the fragile bargaining between the two; nor of the tacit agreement between the Arab nationalists and later the Armenian leadership of the early 1930’s.
Obscuring the colonial period as well as the current state of things in Syria while underscoring the 1915 memories is not a mere coincidence. Neglect of the post-genocide Armenian experience in Syria is apparently related to the repressive conditions that have existed there since independence (1946). Equally important, the genocide is actually the main event underlying the uprooting and deportations of the majority of Armenians to Ottoman/French Syria between 1915 and the late 1930’s. Being the “unacknowledged” victims of the Turkish nationalist venture, and given the lack of space for the Syrian-Armenians’ narratives to be recognized in Turkey, the Syrian-Armenian memory can be considered, as de Certeau reminds us, as “unrecognized reminders of a historical and still ongoing repression.”3 In other words, the omnipresence of the memory of 1915 is also a response to the current denialism on the part of the Turkish state and a segment of Turkish society. Moreover, the genocide is the main event underlying the deracination, uprooting, and deportations of the majority of Armenians to Ottoman/French Syria between 1915 and the late 1930’s.
THE REFUGEE ISSUE IN FRENCH SYRIA
There is almost no integrated history of the controversial encounters between the newcomer refugees and the local population during the early days of French colonial rule in Syria.4 Nora Arissian’s piece The Echoes of the Armenian Genocide in the Syrian Press may be considered the first attempt to write the history of the Armenian Genocide as seen through the eyes of the Syrian Arab nationalists.5 Together with her study of the memoirs of Syrian intellectuals on the genocide (both have been banned in Syria), her work paved the way for further research on the topic.6 Despite being under-researched, the refugee issue was one of the most controversial issues in post-World War I Levant, posing serious concerns not only for the governing colonial powers and the home state, but also for the displaced and host populations.7
Concerned with the economic, social, and political costs of settling refugees in inner Syria or the Turco-Syrian frontier zone, the French authorities had to deal with the refugee issue without causing a deep crisis of legitimacy, both in the eyes of the Muslim majority and the local as well as refugee Christians in Syria. Justifying their presence in Syria and Lebanon as “the protectors of Christians,” the mandate authorities aimed to avoid increasing anxiety among the Syrian Arab nationalists. The French archives are full of reports drafted in the 1920’s about the refugee populations—especially Armenians and Kurds from Turkey, and Assyrians from British Iraq—and various settlement projects concerning these groups. These documents demonstrate that the French mandatory state did not adopt a comprehensive refugee policy, but embraced a pragmatic approach that took into account particular political, economic, diplomatic, and social concerns.
In the meantime, the Turkish state was fearful of an “enclave of undesirables”—in particular, Armenians and Kurdish political refugees—forming outside of its control, just south of its border in Jazira.8 The correspondence between Ankara and the French High Commissariat showcase Turkey’s complaints over “malicious elements” in the form of Armenians in the frontier zone and of rebellious Kurdish tribes residing in Jazira.9 The settlement of the Armenians along the Turkish-Syrian border, their recruitment into the French administration and army, and the trans-border incursions by the Kurds into Turkey form the sine qua non topic of the intelligence reports, telegrams, and correspondences from 1925–27. The French are criticized for providing protection to the Kurdish rebels and allowing the settlement of Armenians in areas near the border.
The French central authorities were well aware of the need to regulate the refugee flow. The High Commissariat in Beirut had, after 1925, become more responsive to the demands from the Turkish Foreign Ministry. In a report drafted after the Sheikh Saïd Revolt, entitled “Du passage en Syrie des populations Kurdes ou Chrétiens ou de déserteurs Turcs,” High Commissar Maurice Sarrail openly proposed to Paris to “organize the regulations pertaining to accepting refugees in Syria.”10 Despite the pragmatic approach adopted by the French central authorities, certain local officers still held their ground and took initiative in the settlement of the refugees, in particular Kurdish refugees from Turkey. In a letter dated Jan. 27, 1925, a local French officer described the Turkish allegations of Armenian colonization on the border as mistaken and exaggerated:
‘Since the beginning of the armistice, the biggest problem that the mandatory power is trying to resolve is the refugee problem. We have received 96,450 refugees since then and they are all impoverished people. France has made great economic sacrifices for them. Just for the sake of relieving pressure on the north of Syria, we have settled two-thirds of these poor people in inner Syria. The rest reside in Aleppo and in the Sanjak of Alexandretta, and their settlements were realized calmly and in deference to the Muslim population.’11
Among the Syrian Arab nationalists, too, the “refugee problem” was a hotly debated issue. Until the mid-1920’s, it was as much a political issue as it was a social and economic problem, especially as the settlement of refugee groups—in particular the Armenians, in inner Syrian cities—began to be felt more acutely.12 Relief, food programs, and settlement arrangements were offered to Armenian refugees by several missionary organizations, as well as by the French mandatory authorities. The refugee issue, along with the French surrender of some Syrian land to Turkey, formed the major criticism expressed by the Syrian-Arab nationalist elites towards the Ankara Agreement formalizing the Turco-Syrian border.
The arrival and settlement of the refugees either in inner Syrian towns or in the remote corners of French Syria were directly linked to colonial “divide and rule” politics. The flow of refugees into the Syrian space, which continued through the 1920’s without any expression of consent by the local Syrians, evoked a “lack of agency” because of a “sovereignty deficit” in the Syrian national self. Arguing that Syria had turned into a “whore,” as refugees could freely enter the country, several articles in the nationalist press demanded the regulation of the border without regard to the ethnicity and religion of the refugee group.
The French strategy of reinforcing and expanding the political space reserved for the Armenians in the new confessional system in French Syria worsened the situation. In Aleppo, which had the biggest immigrant population, the social and economic discomfort was translated into clashes between the communities.13 Christians made up 35 percent of Aleppo’s population, and the French embarked on manipulative efforts to “counter” Arab nationalist political activity by playing the “Christian card”: The
Armenian refugees were granted Syrian citizenship and acknowledged as one of the official sects among 14 in September 1924, after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923.14
Anti-Armenian sentiments became especially apparent following the 1926 elections, when the High Commissioner reshuffled the existing representative council in order to counter the nationalist vote.15 As a result of this French manipulation of the population figures, Armenians were accorded two representatives in the 1926 elections, despite the fact that their population was not sufficient even for one. In 1928—when the French authorities were trying to assure as large a Christian vote as possible to counter the political power of the National Bloc16—French High Commissioner Henri Ponsot affirmed that Armenian refugees residing in Syria had the right to vote in the Constitutional Assembly election.
The refugee issue manifested itself violently in the immediate aftermath of the first mass anti-French uprising—the Great Revolt in 1925—where a battalion of Armenian-French soldiers fought Syrian anti-French rebels. The subsequent angry attack on the Armenian Quarter in Damascus and the killing of 30 Armenians was justified by referring to the latter’s “proven unfaithfulness” and the claim that Armenians “have been fighting against those in whose land they are camping.”17 The French were blamed for the Armenian colonization in Syria and the mobilization of Armenians against Syrians.
The last and biggest wave of refugees—mostly Armenians, Kurds, and Syriacs from the Kurdish provinces of Turkey in the late 1920’s, and of Assyrians from Iraq to Syrian Jazira in 1933—caused extreme alarm and anxiety among the Arab nationalists. Their unease was expressed in a new framework: “harmful strangers vs. outraged Syrians.” A joint declaration by the main Armenian political parties (Hnchak and Dashnak) published in an Arabic-language article in the journal Le Liban on May 15, 1930 reassured the Arab nationalists that there would be no attempt in founding an Armenian state in Syria.18 “We only have one homeland; that is Armenia,” the statement read. “In this hospitable country, our unique effort is to provide the needs of our families and assure the education of our children. We would like to see that the cordial relations between the Arabs and the Armenians are maintained and the misunderstandings that give rise to suspicions are stemmed.”19
GOOD REFUGEE VS. BAD REFUGEE
The refugee issue reappeared in a different context following the Franco-Syrian Treaty in 1936, which promised independence to Syria within the next five years, and foresaw the incorporation of the autonomously administered regions into a united Syria. These regions included the Sanjak of Alexandretta, the Sanjak of Alawites, and the Sanjak of Druze and Jazira (north-eastern Syria). The treaty was never ratified, but the fierce controversy over two fundamental articles in the treaty—that of the protection of minorities and the unity of Syria—has had longlasting implications concerning Syrian Christians, in general, and Armenians, in particular. These controversies involved two opposing political movements in French Syria, the Unionists and the Autonomists. The reference point for the Unionists was the Arab nationalists, who were aspiring for full independence in a united Syria, while that of the Autonomists was the Francophile Syrians, who asked for an additional article in the constitution on the protection of minorities, as well as the continuation of the status of the autonomously administered regions under the French mandate.
The notion of minority was contested by the rival Autonomists and Unionists to advance their political claims. While the Autonomists promoted an ethno-religious-based definition of minority-ness and asked for special protection against the majority, namely the Sunni Arabs, the latter avoided confronting the minority question. Rather, they opted for the strategy of incorporating ethno-religious belonging into Syrian Arab national identity. The Unionist majority expected the non-Muslim and non-Arab Syrians to obscure and de-politicize their ethno-religious differences. The nationalist slogan “Religion is for God and the nation is for all” evoked such an idea.
The most explicit sign of the Syrian Christians’ pragmatic consent to an apolitical and inclusivist definition of Syrian national belonging came after two bloody incidents in mid- 1936 and 1937: the Sunday market incident in Aleppo and the Amouda incidents in Jazira. After each incident, the nationalist Christian leaders intervened to calm the Christian community and reassure the Muslim majority. The Armenian Orthodox patriarch, Ardavazd Surmeyan, may be considered one of the first-comers to the rapprochement scene following the Sunday market incident on Oct. 12, 1936. In his visit to the Armenian refugee camp in the north of Aleppo, he said:
“I came here with the nationalist leaders to invite you to be calm and to return to your work. We have every interest in having cordial relations with the Muslims. The incidents of last Sunday’s market had their origin in the ‘White Badge’ who are bought and paid for by certain traitors; they create discord between the elements of the country in order to obtain their goal. I ask therefore all Armenians to have no relations with the ‘White Badge’ and to even prevent these people from circulating around [the tent-city].”20
While the Armenian political parties (Dashnak, Ramgavar, and Hnchak) were aiming to maintain amicable relationships with both the French and Arab nationalists, they began to take a more pragmatic approach in the mid-1930’s towards greater cooperation with the Arab nationalists in Syria, particularly after 1936.21 The Armenian communists in the Syrian Communist Party had always sided with the Arab nationalists’ struggle for full independence.
The interaction between the notions of political dissidence and minority-refugee status in the Syrian Arab nationalist imagery is related particularly to the Autonomy Movement in Syrian Jazira. The Autonomist faction in Jazira asked for a special minority status for the Jaziran population, which was made up of mostly Christian and Kurdish refugees from Turkey, and aspired for the continuation of autonomous rule in the region under the French mandate. While the Autonomists depicted the Jazirans under the rubric of minority on the basis of being non-Arab and non-Muslim refugees from Turkey, a significant portion of the Arab nationalists attempted to counter the Autonomists’ formulation between the status of refugee and minority. Prime Minister Sadallah Jabiri said in a speech that the “ex-refugees of the 1920’s have integrated and become like us, thus they should not be asking for special treatment.” The Arab nationalists labeled the leaders of the Autonomy Movement in Jazira as “refugees who deny favor” in upbraiding rhetoric.22 Eventually the notion of refugee came to stand only for the “minority” and represented the “interest- seeker dissident rebel.” As minority-ness conjured up the image of political dissidents, the majority among the ex-refugees soon conjured up the image of “simple people who are only interested in their daily bread, but nothing else.”23 In a way, the Syrian-Armenians entered the post-colonial era after they were stripped of transformative political agency.
Until the 1940’s, French Syria was still a refuge for thousands of “undesirables” for whom Turkish nationalism had left without a home.24 The bargain between the colonial power and the Armenian refugees contributed to some extent to the social and economic betterment of the Armenians, while the bargain with the local Arab nationalists helped to calm the ever-lost feeling of security and stability—but only through a patrimonial relationship and at the expense of free political agency. Nevertheless, memories of the horrors of 1915 were evoked during several instances: during the Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hama in 1981, the Kurdish resistance in Qamishli in 2003, and likely during current days of anti-regime uprising in Syria. Memories of 1915 and the oppressive regime generate a politically conformist discourse among the Syrian-Armenian establishment and the community at large. The spell of the past will start to crumble, however, when the 1915 violence is acknowledged and, as Walter Benjamin said, when “the causes of what happened then have been eliminated.”25
1. Richard Hovannisian, “The Ebb and Flow of the Armenian Minority in the Arab Middle East,” Middle East Journal, xxvii, winter 1974. For different estimates, see Thomas H. Greenshields, The Settlement of Armenian Refugees in Syria and Lebanon, 1915–1939, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Durham, 1978.
2. For an elaborate discussion of the last wave of deportations, see Vahé Tachjian, La France en Cilicie et en Haute Mésopotamie (Paris: Karthala, 2004), pp. 301–317.
3. Michel de Certeau, Heterelogies (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p. 4.
4. Several works on Syria mention the bad conditions and treatment the refugees endured prior to their arrival, but only in passing. Among the few critical works on the refugees are: Keith Watenpaugh “Towards a New Category of Colonial Theory: Colonial Cooperation and the Survivors’ Bargain—The Case of the Post–Genocide Armenian Community of Syria under French Mandate,” in Peter Sluglett and Nadine Méouchy (eds.) The British and French Mandates in Comparative Perspective (Leiden: Brill, 2004), pp. 597–622; Keith Watenpaugh, “‘A pious wish devoid of all practicability:’ Interwar Humanitarianism, The League of Nations and the Rescue of Trafficked Women and Children in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1920–1927,” American Historical Review, 115:4 (October 2010); for Jazira, see Seda Altu?g, “Sectarianism in the Syrian Jazira: Community, land and violence in the memories of World War I and the French mandate (1915–1939),” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, June 2011, Utrecht; Seda Altug, “Armenian Genocide, Sheikh Said Revolt, and Armenians in Syrian Jazira,” www.armenianweekly.com/wp-content/files/Armenian_Weekly_April_2010.pdf; Ellen Marie Lust-Okar, “Failure of Collaboration: Armenian Refugees in Syria,” Middle Eastern Studies, 32, 1(1996), pp. 53–68.
5. Nora Arissian, Asda’ al-ibada al-armaniyya fi al-Sahafa al-Suriyya 1877–1930 (Beirut: Zakira Press, 2004).
6. Nora Arissian, Ghawa’il al-arman fi al-fikr al-suri (Beirut, Dar al-furat, 2002).
7. John Hope Simpson, Refugees: Preliminary Report of a Survey (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1938).
8. See Seda Altug and Benjamin White, “Frontières et pouvoir d’État: la frontière turco-syrienne dans les années 1920 et 1930,” Vingtième Siècle, September 2009.
9. Altug, “Türkiye Suriye ile S?n?r?n? Temizlerken, 1, 2, 3,” Agos, 9, 14, 27. March 2007.
10. CADN, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique, Box 572, Service des Renseignements, Service Central, no. 868/K.S., March 5, 1925, Beirut.
11. MAE, Série Syrie-Liban, vol. 177, Relation Turquie-Française.
12. Thomas Greenshields, “The Settlement of Armenian Refugees in Syria and Lebanon, 1915–1939,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Durham, 1978, p. 60.
13. Pierre La Mazière, Partant pour la Syrie (Paris: Libraire Baudiniere, 1926), pp. 200–203.
14. Until the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, the peoples residing in the territories controlled by the French, including the Armenians, had maintained the legal status of Ottoman citizens. Nicola Migliorino, (Re)constructing Armenia in Lebanon and Syria: Ethno-cultural Diversity and the State in the Aftermath of a Refugee Crisis (New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2008), pp. 52–55. Uri Davis, “Citizenship Legislation in the Syrian Arab Republic,” Arab Studies Quarterly, 1, 1996, pp. 1–15.
15. Stephen Hemsley Longrigg, Syria and Lebanon under the French Mandate (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), pp. 171–172.
16. Stephen Longrigg, Syria, p. 181.
17. al-Cha’b, “al-arman wa qadiyyat askanuhum fi suriyya,” Dec. 21, 1926.
18. Taken from CADN, Cabinet Politique, Box 576, Service Politiques, Bureau d’études, “L’Arménie et les Arméniens, » rédacteur: cdt. Terrrier.
20. CADN-MAE, Fonds Beyrouth, Cabinet Politique, 392, Sûreté Générale (Aleppo), no. 3829, Oct. 16, 1936; taken from Keith Watenpaugh, Being Modern in the Middle East, p. 271.
21. Miglioriono, (Re)constructing Armenia in Lebanon and Syria, pp. 58–62.
22. al-qabs, Feb. 5, 1938, “wataniyya al-fiqra wa masharia’ alsahra.”
23. Several newspaper articles from the Arab nationalist press construct the “nationalist majority” in Jazira as such.
24. Watenpaugh, pp. 597–622.
25. Theodor Adorno, “The Meaning of Working Through the Past,” in Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), p. 103.
#1 Comment By Darwin Jamgochian
It makes you wonder why Armenia didn’t try a different tact during the breakup of the Soviet Union It might have done better had it decided to become an oblast of Russia similar to Kaliningrad. Russia might have taken the bit in an effort to protect its southern frontier. It’s almost impossibe to swim in a shark tank.
#2 Comment By Vahram Sookikian
Born and bred in Brooklyn, New York it’s interesting to me that while the Sunday Market Scenario was taking place in Syria, another entirely different scene took place in the Syrian neighborhood of Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn.
It could very well have been Oct. 12, 1936; I was age 9 and always accompanied my mother to the Syrian market. I would carry away bundles of groceries from “Yergan’s” Grocery (He was 7 foot tall) and who would always give me a “sweet”.
Next we would visit the butcher whose “kore achg” was the source of my mother’s name for him. I don’t know how he tolerated my fussy mother; first with this piece of meat, and then with that piece of meat until she sensed his
discomfort and settled on the first piece, after all!
I had a cat which was always hungry and so “kore achg” would give me two pennies worth of scrap meat.
Then we’d cross the Avenue to a basement bakery for the “Potsh Hatsh” Here my reward was a piece of freshly cooked Syrian bread that smelled oh so good!
The walk home took only 10 minutes during which I’d ask my mother why she settled on the first piece of meat afterall. Her answer was “So he wouldn’t think I was an easy customer”.
After feeding the cat I couldn’t wait to mash the garlic, brown it in butter and help myself to “tahn abour”
I’m glad I didn’t know Armenians and Syrians were “breaking each others heads”
#3 Comment By Murat
It would have been very relevant and useful to delve into the history and deeds of the Armenian Legion formed under the command and control of the French Army occupying Kilikya between the Armistice and the Turkish War of Liberation. It is an important part Syrian-Armenian history. I certainly understand why the author has kept clear of the topic in great Armenian tradition.
#4 Comment By Avery
The French Armenian legion was formed in November of 1916.
The Armenian Genocide began in April 1915.
In the normal Universe and time continuum we live in, 1915 precedes 1916.
The Legion was formed as a direct result of the Armenian Genocide being conducted by Turks at that time.
Its aim was to try to defend and prevent massacres of as many Armenian civilians in Cilicia as possible.
As is the custom of Denialist Turks, they routinely forget to mention that they, the Turks, stated the whole cycle of violence and bloodshed.
Starting with the invasion of Armenian and Christian lands by Seljuk Turks.
I certainly understand why the Denialist Murat has kept clear of the topic in the great Denialist Turkish tradition.