Book Review: The Dreamt Land

Book Review: The Dreamt Land

The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California
By Mark Arax
576 pp., Knopf
$21.23 hardcover

For two summers in a row, I had the privilege of acting as an interpreter for a team of auditors of an international development organization which was involved in a reservoir and irrigation project in Armenia. My two big memories from that experience were the adage, “Water is life” and how rural individuals and groups in Armenia had it in them to get organized and advocate for themselves in the face of a rather rigid government and a major global donor. It was moving and impressive.

The Dreamt Land by Mark Arax has numerous such tales to share in the continuing saga of “Water is life” across a territory about 15 times the size of Armenia with a history of pipelines, wells, irrigations, dams and claims and counter-claims on land and land use that date back two centuries. The book is in part a history of California told through its management of water and other natural resources and a compilation of investigative reporting pieces, alongside profiles of notable figures past and present. There’s also plenty of social commentary, as well as autobiographical elements. It is a lengthy piece of writing – sometimes disjointed, often very much detailed – but always revolving around the same key question: Who gets to decide what to do with the land and the water in California, how and why?

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Home away from home

Home away from home

Mutig in die neuen Zeiten,
Frei und gläubig sieh uns schreiten,
Arbeitsfroh und hoffnungsreich.
Einig lass in Jubelchören,
Vaterland, dir Treue schwören.
Vielgeliebtes Österreich,
Vielgeliebtes Österreich.

The Austrian national anthem consists of three verses, each ending with a reverential description of the country – much-vaunted Austria, much-tested Austria, much-beloved Austria. The lyrics, composed after WWII, are telling. Austria, situated in the middle of the Continent, had had to re-invent itself as a republic following the fall of the House of Habsburg with the end of the First World War; and within two generations, had again to re-imagine its place in the world, in the aftermath of its wartime Nazi associations.

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Book Review: Mr Five Per Cent

Book Review: Mr Five Per Cent

Mr Five Per Cent: The Many Lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the World’s Richest Man
Jonathan Conlin
Profile Books, 2019
416 pp.
$24.31 hardcover

As the title suggests, there is more than one Calouste Gulbenkian portrayed in this comprehensive biography by Jonathan Conlin. Two in particular stand out: Calouste the indefatigable man of business and Calouste the Armenian, who belongs to everywhere and to nowhere. For both and more, Conlin has put together a revelatory piece of writing, having gained access to the archives at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal, among a broad variety of other sources. Combined with his adept skills as a historian and storyteller, Conlin’s work makes for engaging reading. (Some disclosure: I had the privilege and pleasure of assisting with archival research for this book.)

As far as the first Calouste goes, this book offers a detailed account of the life and efforts of a remarkable and influential man whose actions informed key aspects of the world’s economy in the 20th century. The development of the oil industry and the financial practices and networks associated with it owe a great deal to Gulbenkian, as does the shaping of commerce between the Western world’s powers and other regions at a time when European colonial empires were being challenged by a rising United States and an upstart Soviet Union.

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From “Intervention” to “Protection”: The Power of Discourse in International Affairs

Paper for a course on theories of power and policy (Chad Levinson)

From “Intervention” to “Protection”: The Power of Discourse in International Affairs

What is the relationship between discourse and power? Once an issue makes it to the agenda, how do its framing and the specific terms used to discuss it influence policy outcomes?

This paper will attempt at providing an overview of how discourse relates to power dynamics in international affairs by taking up in particular the concept of the responsibility to protect or “R2P” and how discourse on intervention preceding it shifted in the 20th century. Continue reading

Contentious (S)Parks: Reclaiming Public Space in Yerevan and Istanbul

Paper for a course on social movements (Ariel Ahram)

Contentious (S)Parks: Reclaiming Public Space in Yerevan and Istanbul


Neither Armenia nor Turkey have enjoyed reputations of being states with stable democratic regimes. Turkey has had experience as a pluralist republic over the course of many decades, though often punctuated with military coups. Armenia, for its part, has managed to carry out free and fair elections on only a few occasions since independence following the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Both countries have on the whole demonstrated much more undemocratic tendences in the recent past. Armenia and Turkey were consistently categorised as “Partly Free” by Freedom House from 2005 to 2015, with medium-to-low rankings of political rights and civil liberties (Freedom House, n.d.). The two countries have been variously characterised as illiberal republics, outright authoritarian, or unconsolidated or competitive authoritarian states at different points during the past two decades.

At the same time, both Armenia and Turkey have managed to develop substantial civil society sectors, with robust social movements galvanising segments of the population in order to influence decision-making from the streets. Ranging from leftist or feminist claims to ecological or human rights concerns, numerous protest movements have marked shifts in the political winds in Armenia and Turkey since the 1990s and 2000s.

This brief study will first discuss conceptual approaches to understanding social movements drawn from Tilly and Tarrow (2015) and Steinberg (1998). The two cases of the Mashtots Park protests in Armenia in 2012 and the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013 will then be outlined. The discussion section that follows will compare and contrast how contentious politics over public space in those two urban centres played out. Included among the sources for the discussion are two interviews with first-hand observers and participants (see Appendix B). Finally, concluding thoughts on the causes and consequences of Mashtots and Gezi will be fleshed out in detail. Continue reading

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

The Media as a Diaspora-Homeland Bridge

The Media as a Diaspora-Homeland Bridge

1512, Venice, Italy and 1794, Madras (Chennai), India – what do these years and places, each so far apart from the other, have in common? They were both significant firsts in the Armenian world: the first published Armenian book and the first Armenian newspaper. The printing press has played a key role in keeping the Armenian identity alive around the world for centuries now, whether through Bibles or school books, yerazahans (“dream dictionaries”) or active media providing information on local events and sometimes having connections with goings-on in other parts of the global Diaspora.

Unfortunately, the Diasporan Armenian media has not always had the strongest links with Armenia itself, even in this age of the internet and social media. That relationship has undergone major changes in recent years, something which became even more evident over the course of tumultuous weeks in April and May, 2018, when the country saw tremendous political developments that were very closely followed across the planet from Boston to Beijing or Buenos Aires to Beirut, whether through pixels on a screen or through ink on paper. The Diaspora-Homeland media connection has entered a new era.

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Armenia’s victory for the people faces at least 3 challenges

Armenia’s victory for the people faces at least 3 challenges

What transpired in Armenia over the past month was astonishing, sometimes bewildering, often inspiring, and in all events historical. The people in Armenia and the Armenians in diaspora communities throughout the world were on tenterhooks as they followed the fast pace of developments in the country. They have a right to feel pride in a political movement that galvanised Armenian society in an unprecedented manner, lending a voice and a sense of empowerment to many who had long felt marginalised and alienated. They can breathe a sigh of relief as the leadership of the popular opposition movement takes office.

But the real work begins now. Aside from a number of general principles of policy such as clamping down on corruption and boosting the rule of law, opposition leader and now prime minister Nikol Pashinyan has declared a few specific points on his agenda: reforms of the electoral code and the law on political parties, followed by extraordinary elections within a reasonable timeframe. A new parliament for a new Armenia must be as legitimate as possible, based on free and fair elections, truly reflecting the popular will.

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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 Clash of Turkish and Armenian Narratives

The Clash of Turkish and Armenian Narratives

The debates and tensions that very often characterize the interactions between the Turkish and Armenian peoples do not easily fit into frameworks adopted by studies of international affairs. One problem is that of identifying specific actors: states, diasporas, community-level and international organizations, religious bodies, individuals, broader regional or global players and trends. A second problem is identifying what is at stake: moral, ethical, or religious principles, core hard power interests, legal disputes, economic calculations. The complexity of the case challenges any single approach to analysis but at the same time offers the opportunity for multiple points of view to bring forward meaningful insights. This study uses narratives as a source and as a method.

Narrative moved out of its realm of literature and the arts and began to be applied to the social sciences during the 1970s and 1980s. It provided an alternative to the more rigid theoretical frameworks that reflected natural science methodologies. Accounting for a phenomenon through narrative allows for more personal, more subjective points of view. This is problematic for objective analysis, but can nevertheless prove to be useful for a more comprehensive understanding. In the case of Turkish-Armenian relations, there are no current immediate security threats, no reasonable expectations of hostilities between the two states, much less between dispersed peoples, nor are there any living participants of the most significant episode in Turkish-Armenian relations, namely the Armenian Genocide. Instead, it is the public memory of 1915 in Turkey, in Armenia, and around the world that most deeply informs inter-personal, inter-communal, and inter-state relations regionally and globally. If there is to be any resolution and lasting reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian peoples, it will begin at the level of the narrative.

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