Independence and Indigeneity

Independence and Indigeneity

Today is Armenia’s independence day – the thirtieth anniversary, in fact, of this latest manifestation of a place called Armenia on the world map. It has not been an easy three decades, and the last twelve months and more have been marked with a pandemic and a devastating war and its aftermath, among other challenging phenomena.

For the past two weeks now, I have been in Kapan, in the province of Siunik in the south of the country, doing fieldwork for my dissertation. So far, I have conducted about a dozen interviews and had numerous conversations with locals about Siunik and the experience of the new geography of the province and the country since last year. That’s the over-arching theme of the dissertation. Although I do not have many substantial conclusions to draw as of yet, one common theme that has appeared is indigeneity. It is a prevailing part of Armenian discourse that the Armenians are the original inhabitants of this land, their historical homeland.

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Some Thoughts on “Whiteness”, Privilege, and Related Categories in Discourse in the United States

Some Thoughts on “Whiteness”, Privilege, and Related Categories in Discourse in the United States

I have been exposed to numerous news stories, documentaries, long-form articles, and other media products about racism in the United States over the past year and more, ever since George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. It’s not that I had been unaware of racism in America, but I now find myself more educated about the various social, political, cultural, and legal facets of this complex and multi-layered phenomenon. Many questions remain for me, popping up amidst mixed and conflicted thoughts and feelings as I try in particular to tie in the narratives I’ve come across with the experience of the Armenian community in the United States.

At the outset, I have to emphasise that I am not American at all. I have spent quite a few years in this country, but always as a student – an observer and a learner in more ways than one. So my perspectives are that of an outsider.

I remember one of the first times I devoted some thought to the conceptualisation of race in the United States. It was the 2010 census. I filled it in as everyone was required to do so. There were a few basic questions, and then a long list of options for “Race”. It seemed like such a lop-sided form to me. What kind of data would come out of it? As far as I could tell, it would compute how many people were in a given space at that prescribed moment, how old they were, and then lots of variations in how they could label themselves. What purpose could that latter bit serve in public policy?

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Four Reasons Why the Public Recognition of the Armenian Genocide Matters

Four Reasons Why the Public Recognition of the Armenian Genocide Matters

It is April 24 soon – Armenian Genocide commemoration day.

Every year, the public remembrance of the victims of a horrific crime during a tumultuous period becomes political in many places Armenian communities call home, not the least of which in the United States.

The White House has been issuing statements annually on April 24 for more than a quarter of a century now, but always avoiding the term “Armenian Genocide”. The massacres and deportations are duly and solemnly condemned by each president. However, calling it by that explicit term – genocide – would be detrimental to relations with Turkey, because the government in Ankara has long held either denialist positions or has pushed forward modified arguments about the broader historical context, general widespread suffering and chaos during the First World War, and so on. It is comparatively rare in Turkey nowadays to hear outright denial of killings, dispossession, and the exile from Anatolia and Asia Minor of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and other communities in 1915 and later. But describing it as genocide remains taboo in most Turkish circles.

There have been reports that President Biden will invoke “the g-word” this year. Congress, for its part, has acknowledged the Armenian Genocide on a few occasions, most recently in October, 2019, when relations with Turkey were at a low. Almost all state governors or state houses have made various proclamations or passed resolutions on the Armenian Genocide during the last few decades, as have many city-level governmental bodies throughout the United States. However, there is no sustained, federal Armenian Genocide policy position consistently adopted and expressed by the legislative and executive branches in Washington. It remains a challenge at the forefront of the impressive and moving efforts undertaken by the Armenian-American advocacy and activist community.

The broader question lingers: why even acknowledge the Armenian Genocide? What’s the point of any public or national commemoration in the US or elsewhere? It happened more than a hundred years ago. Yes, it was tragic, it should be condemned, the community has every right to hold memorial services. But what makes it a live public, political issue?

I think that is a reasonable question. Here are four reasonable responses.

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Shades of Sèvres

Shades of Sèvres

In Turkish public discourse, “Sèvres Syndrome” refers to the looming legacy of the agreement signed in a suburb of Paris in 1920 which envisioned carving up the crumbling Ottoman Empire. Although it gives off an impression of being conspiratorial at first blush, political leaders in Turkey do have a basis in bringing up the notion of foreign powers planning to dismember the country. For over a century, the Eastern Question was on the agenda in the corridors of power in London, Paris, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and elsewhere. Geopolitical rivalries about this and other matters came to a head with the First World War, with mixed outcomes for all the empires involved. The Republic of Turkey – forged out of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 – has far less reason to suspect aspirations regarding its territory today, Kurdish separatists notwithstanding.

A sovereign Armenian state was foreseen by the Treaty of Sèvres, to include vast swathes of modern-day eastern Turkey. By contrast, Lausanne did not even involve any Armenian delegates during its negotiations, given the inroads made by a resurgent Soviet Russia and the consequent collapse of the infant Armenian republic in the Caucasus next door. As a result of the tumultuous first quarter of the 20th century (among other eras), hindsight and the notion of “historical justice” and “the restoration of historical justice” is ingrained in Armenian public discourse, even featuring in the country’s declaration of independence from the USSR. Nothing could be more emblematic of such a sentiment than Sèvres, which, unlike in Turkey, is shorthand for a missed opportunity alongside insufficient support or intervention from any of the Great Powers, the United States, or the West in general.

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Identity, Narratives, and Symbolism in Conflict Resolution

Identity, Narratives, and Symbolism in Conflict Resolution

Too often the Karabakh conflict is reported in the Western media with great emphasis on oil and gas pipelines. While energy infrastructure is indeed a significant component of that complex issue, the rhetoric from the political leaders and from common voices in the region hinge overwhelmingly around national identity, historical narratives, and symbolism.

For example, the President of Azerbaijan complained in his interview on Al Jazeera English that towns and villages in the region have been re-named in the past decades. Now we see that the Azerbaijani armed forces claim to have taken over the village of Mataghis/Madagiz and Ilham Aliyev’s official Twitter account very soon proclaims a new name for it, rather – “I reinstate the historical name … Sugovushan”.

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Armenia in 2018, Belarus in 2020

Armenia in 2018, Belarus in 2020

It is difficult to avoid drawing parallels between the political developments that took place in Armenia in 2018 and the ongoing events in Belarus. There are significant overlaps, but also substantial differences.

One major difference is in the leadership. Nikol Pashinyan had a long track record as a journalist, opposition activist, and politican, a visible part of street protests that had characterised politics in Armenia since the mid-2000s. He and his team had quite clear methods and tactics in 2018, drawn from years of experience.

I do not know enough about Belarus, but, from as much as I can follow, it seems that the movement is more sporadic, led by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who was unexpectedly thrust onto the scene because of political machinations targeting her husband. It is a different dynamic, even though – quite clearly – both in Armenia in 2018 and in Belarus in 2020, a large proportion of the population expresses the same demand of changing entrenched political leadership.

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A Couple of Notable Words in Arayik Harutyunyan’s Inaugural Address

A Couple of Notable Words in Arayik Harutyunyans Inaugural Address

The fourth president of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh took his oath of office on Thursday, May 21. There are many observations that could be made about the ceremony – the broadcast and the narrative it creates, how it portrays and situates the new leader, Arayik Harutyunyan, within it, the implicit and explicit context created by the visuals, locations, and music, alongside the protocols surrounding the inauguration.

I was drawn to one paragraph in Harutyunyan’s speech:

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Questions of Academic Freedom in Armenian Studies and Turkish Studies in the United States

Essay for a course on the academy and academic life (Joel Peters)

Questions of Academic Freedom in Armenian Studies and Turkish Studies in the United States

The principle of academic freedom may appear on the surface to offer a carte blanche for all matters of scholarly pursuit, whether to instructors or students, and perhaps even to university administrators. There are a few key questions around which that principle hinges. This essay will take up some of them by investigating the history of the development of Armenian Studies and Turkish Studies in the United States and the controversies that have arisen within and across those disciplines.

Brief Overview

This section draws upon Mamigonian (2013), Ergüneş (2018), Reed (1997), and the websites of the Institute of Turkish Studies, the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association, the Society for Armenian Studies, and the Middle East Studies Association.

Armenian Studies and Turkish Studies have been systematically pursued by European scholars initially under the broader Oriental Studies umbrella since even as early as the late 18th century. It is not difficult to point out the political interests that evidently led to and supported the study of language, culture, religion, and society of the Balkans, Anatolia, Asia Minor, and the Levant. The Great Powers were keen to extend their holdings – the so-called “Eastern Question”. In fact, studying Persian, Arabic, or Turkish philology had an immediate association in many capitals with a career in the foreign service (and in espionage). The Diplomatic Academy of Vienna was founded by Empress Maria Theresia as the Oriental Academy in 1754, serving as a sort of prototype. Well into the 20th century, Oriental Studies university programmes were feeders for the KGB in the USSR. Continue reading

Some Questions About This Revolution | Մի Քանի Հարցում Այս Յեղափոխութեան Վերաբերեալ

I am sure we are all very excited and proud about the events in Armenia over the past few weeks, and with good reason. But I’m afraid I have been a sceptic from the start, and some questions are still buzzing about in my mind.

This brief piece of writing is not meant to rain on anyone’s parade or to make people upset – these are genuine enquiries from a concerned citizen. Some key hills have been surmounted, but the road still has a way to go. It could get bumpy.

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Վստահ եմ բոլորս շատ ոգեւորուած ենք ու հպարտ վերջին շաբաթներում Հայաստանում տեղի ունեցած դէպքերով, եւ իրաւունք էլ ունենք: Բայց ես սկզբից ի վեր վերապահումներ եմ ունեցել եւ մի քանի հարցում դեռեւս մտքիս մէջ բզզում են:

Այս կարճ գրառումը ինչ-որ ստուեր գցելու կամ մէկին նեղացնելու համար չէ: Սրանք մտահոգ քաղաքացու անկեղծ հարցադրումներ են: Որոշ առանցքային սարեր յաղթահարուել են, սակայն ճանապարհը դեռ շարունակւում է: Գուցէ անհարթ լինի:

կարդալ մնացածը

The Armenian Identity and the Armenian State

The Armenian Identity and the Armenian State

More than ten years ago now, I had the privilege of participating in an international cultural exchange programme in Poland run by AIESEC, a global student and young professionals network. There were some twenty or twenty-five of us college-age students from a dozen different countries going around various villages and towns throughout Poland. We met with high school students and delivered presentations on our countries and cultures.

Poland is among the most ethnically homogeneous societies in the world. For a teenager in a distant rural area to interact with a young person from, say, Peru, or India, or even more exotic Armenia, must have been a pleasantly disruptive experience. Besides recounting to those bright faces the story of the first Christian nation or the legacy of the genocide, I found myself discussing my own personal family history that, like any good Armenian story, traverses a few seas and continents.

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