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Surviving Traces, Traces of Survival: Critical Interventions from within Armenian Studies

Panel XIII-15, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
What are the surviving traces of genocides and mass atrocities? How do historians, literary critics, and anthropologists trace such survivals? This panel seeks to offer answers to these broader questions through critical interdisciplinary interventions in recent scholarship and creative production by panelists simultaneously grounded in but committed to gesturing beyond Armenian Studies. With the aim of generating interdisciplinary discussion among panelists and between panelists and conference attendees, this panel will be of interest to those who seek to trace the afterlives of genocides and other mass atrocities without being confined to the history and/or experience of trauma. To that end, this panel employs juxtapositions of the key terms “surviving/survival” and “traces” to signify that panelists form their respective disciplinary trainings take up both a conceptual approach (“traces of survival”) and critical approach (“surviving traces”) to illuminate what continues after loss, especially in diverse diasporic centers within and beyond the Middle East, and to reflect on modes of inquiry and meaning making for the study of the people, ideas, and things which remain. While recognizing both the scale of the catastrophic history and the legacies of the genocidal process, each presentation makes an intervention within Armenian Studies in context of the wider Middle East insofar as decentering the tendency to focus on naming perpetrators, victims, and bystanders in the study of this concentrated period of collective violence to instead centering lifeways, creative production, and intellectual discourse generated as communities survived at home and beyond the epicenter of traumatic experience. The purpose of this panel is to ultimately produce a comparative and connective dialogue in terms of objects (memory work, creative writing, print culture, critical historiography), methodologies (literary criticism and theory, archival research, ethnographic inquiry, and uses of an endangered language), and geographies of study (Armenians as part of the Middle East and its diasporas). In this manner of making and situating critical interventions, the panelists proffer their respective rubrics of nested memory, stateless language, de-nativization, and life-writing. These frameworks complement one another while making distinct inroads to the study of such broader concepts as forced migration, diaspora, and exile as well as the notion of afterlives increasingly invoked in various area studies.
  • As one of the few surviving and active Western Armenian women authors today, I often think about the role of women authors in the emergence of an Armenian imaginary or an Armenian futurism. My talk will draw from a current creative project around life-writing which aligns and interweaves my own familial history with the works of my literary foremothers. Through a discussion of my own conceptual creation, I will make the following critical argument: that across the life-writing of a number of Western Armenian women authors, there is the foresight of an imagined Armenian future that is not disabled by the genocidal trauma of its past. My critical approach reframes and challenges the standard ways in which Armenian literary history is compiled and taught, by asking to shift its paradigms from the narrative of a traumatic-patriarchal framing to a healed-matriarchal one. By taking examples from both the poetry and the life-writing of several Armenian women authors, I further argue that this category of texts function expansively, by providing both a hopeful and holistic experience, beyond the factual and the prescriptive, towards self-induced and intentionally positioned explorations, that contribute to a Armenian imaginary that can free itself from the binds of its historic trauma. My paper will also bring in the discussion of how such a framing and approach to Armenian literary history can help work through questions around the status of Western Armenian as an endangered language— currently categorized as “Endangered I” or “definitely endangered” by UNESCO.
  • At the turn of the 20th century, the Young Turk regime’s massacre and deportation of Ottoman Armenians living in the empire’s eastern provinces ruptured the burgeoning literary community of the empire’s capital as well. Constantinople, which had served as the site for Western Armenian’s modernization efforts, was emptied of its Armenian intellectuals, who were arrested and later executed. In the aftermath of the Armenian genocide, surviving writers from the Ottoman empire gathered in various cities across the world and attempted to produce Western Armenian intellectual thought in dispersion. In this paper, focusing on the ways print culture helped to center communities of dispersion, I discuss the literary activity of emergent transnational spaces following the genocide. More specifically, I analyze the manifestos and announcements of literary journals published in Paris, Boston, Beirut, Aleppo and Cairo to distinguish between the post-genocide linguistic and literary development’s early transnational orientation and later consolidation around the concept of diaspora. Framing Western Armenian as a “stateless language,” I suggest that in the long run, directly linking language maintenance with a narrative of return proved detrimental to literary production in the diaspora, especially following Armenia’s 1991 Independence.
  • What happens when we recognize that inheritors of traumatic cultural memory can also be witnesses to succeeding events of collective violence? More specifically, how does the field of contemporary cultural memory studies develop tools to make meaning of the narrativization of those acts of witnessing when such acts occur in context of the displacement of an already diasporic community? In this presentation, I proffer the rubric of what I call “nested memory” by analyzing portrayals in Armenian American and Palestinian American literary texts of this phenomenon of living through the recursivity of collective trauma. More broadly, my larger project on nested memory takes up study of a triangulation of critical and creative engagement with histories of removals, the third point of comparison being Indigenous North American literature. Through a contrapuntal approach for literary analysis informed by my bridging of Ottoman, Middle East, and Armenian studies with discourses in Indigenous, settler colonial, and American studies, I illuminate depictions of inherited memories of removal—a particular kind of forced migration—that are nested into collective memories of succeeding experiences of upheaval and displacement. For this presentation, I similarly work in this manner of literary analysis grounded in juxtaposition and build theoretical nuance for the study of removal memory as it is portrayed as reactivated in instances of intergenerational internal and external displacement. In doing so, I make legible rather than erase the tensions that are raised when we bring together the afterlives of structural violence in different, non-Eurocentric geopolitical sites. At the same time, by bringing in conversation seemingly disparate histories of cultural traumas experienced by Middle Eastern/SWANA communities, I revisit inherited genealogies of trauma and memory studies and ask how such frameworks need to be nuanced to best attend to geopolitical conditions and regions they were not developed in reference to. My methodology of tracing survivals and survivals of traces in terms of aesthetic representations of memory work, as well as attending practices of relating different literary canons and bodies of critical discourse, generates a worlding of Armenian Studies as a thought field. Derived from a globalized view aimed at unearthing understudied connections and making such links, my project on nested memory ultimately contributes to the overlapping but also distinct methodological aims for the study of the migration of memory, memory and migration, and the memory of migration.
  • After WWI, only a small fraction of the Armenian survivors remained in their homelands and became Turkish citizens when the republic was established in 1923. This paper focuses on Armenian survivors in Turkey to ask: How do we trace the silenced (hi)stories of survivors that continued living under the very regime that once sought their annihilation? The paper grapples with the central predicament of the Armenian survivors in Turkey, who exist outside both Turkish historiography (even though they are Turkish citizens) and Armenian diasporic historiography (even though they survived the genocide). In writing against the normative nation-state order, it argues that we can only conceive of Armenian survivors in Turkey by both decentering nationalism and writing to overcome the limitations of inherited frameworks for Armenian historiography which position the genocide as the dominant point of concern. In taking up these practices, this paper critiques methods of historical inquiry which tend to bifurcate Armenian historiography between the diaspora framework for Armenian diasporic communities and minority studies for those who remained in Turkey. This paper intervenes methodologically to circumvent such a bifurcation, bringing to the foreground the silenced experiences of violence endured by the Armenian survivors without defining them by the genocidal violence that they endured. To this end, I employ the concept of denativization as an intervention in modern Armenian historiography to describe the ongoing process of dispossession, erasure, and elimination experienced by Armenians. I define denativization as a process by which Armenians were turned into a foreign minority in Turkey, even while some continued to live in their native villages, cities, and lands. Denativization is the name for the process by which Armenians have been erased from historiography to serve nationalist narratives, and by which their built environment has been and continues to be removed from the Anatolian landscape, or renovated in ways that divorce it from the history of violence committed against Armenians. And it is the process by which Armenians have lost or become estranged from their homelands, livelihood, traditions, histories, experiences, languages, or sense of belonging to a place. The process of denativization began prior to the Armenian genocide and continues through the present. From this specific case, the paper looks outwardly and concludes by arguing that the framework of denativization could be employed to understand the histories of marginalized, unwanted, and erased populations in postcolonial and indigenous settings in the Middle East and beyond.