We visited Armenia between 7th and 14th June 2015 with the financial support of Hrant Dink Foundation. As the title of our research indicates, we are trying to understand the post-memory on the Armenian Genocide of Armenian youth of the fourth generation: The memory that the Armenian youth living today have inherited from their parents, through media and education. Yet, this is also a memory which the Armenian youth work on, modify, and make their own, creating a unique kind of post-memory differing from the official historical discourse. We believe that post-memory studies are a way to overcome the inevitable deadlocks that occur between two states, Turkey and Armenia, thereby offering pathways that would lead to the recognition of the Genocide by the Turkish youth; and consequently to a new politics of peace and reconciliation.
We conducted 30 in-depth interviews in Armenia. We visited Gyumri and Yerevan interviewing 11 male and 19 female participants from different occupations from students to NGO workers, pharmacists to chemists, and unemployed persons. Sixteen of them were between 18-24, nine were 25-29 and five were between 30-36 years old. Following, you may see a detailed list of our participants.
It is worth mentioning that our encounter with the Armenian Progressive Youth was one important step to create the common ground for such a project. Our team consisting of 5 researchers collaborated during the visit, effectively becoming a team of 10 members. They did not only help us translating the interviews but also let us gain some fundamental insights in the present day Armenia which is essential to situate our findings in the overall relationships between two countries. Therefore, one other important outcome of our visit was to establish a long-term partnership with an Armenian youth organization. We are still in contact with them and planning to invite them to Turkey as well in order to deepen our joint efforts.As we stated earlier the aim of our research is to create a body of knowledge and pathways that go beyond the academic discourse, creating the ground for a peaceful and continuous dialogue between Armenian and Turkish youths. Therefore, as the research group we adopted a reflexive research method during our field study that positions us as a part of this dialogue. We did not only pose questions, but also explained our points of view about the Genocide, our own reasons to be a part of this research project, and the general conditions of Armenians in Turkey.
The young Armenians that we interviewed did not only answer our questions but also wanted to know what we think on the Armenian Genocide, sometimes asking us directly whether we believed if the Genocide happened. We have clearly understood what it means for them for a Turk to recognize the Genocide. We were somewhat worried before we left for Armenia, thinking that being Turks we might witness a negative reaction on the part of Armenians. That was most certainly not the case: None of them accused us of being the grand-grand children of perpetrators…
It is needless to say that such a project cannot be simply about collecting data. Much more important is the special kind of encounter between the researcher and the interviewee, which transforms them both in the process, shifting their roles. Therefore, our research itself was a part of reconciliation process.
The research team on the way to Gyumri with the Armenian NGO members
We have never been to Armenia before, except one of us who spent four months there. So we have not only met Armenian youth but also found the opportunity to discover Armenia. Following are the observations that we made during the visit.
Perhaps the most important fact about the time that we were in Armenia was that it was the centenary of the Armenian Genocide so we were surrounded by the images of Medz Yeghern. As you may see in some of the photos that we took, they are understandably very negative, presenting Turkey as a country in denial. They were almost everywhere in the city – at metro stations, at the airport, on billboards. Yerevan was a city of mourning, waiting and demanding for recognition as the widespread slogan “we remember and we demand” indicated. As we met more and more people we developed an understanding as to the meaning of that phrase and realized the importance of the recognition. Even if we had known before that the Genocide was the historically constitutive “event” for the Armenian identity, it made a great difference to meet real people explaining the reason why. We were surprised to see, for instance, a lady clapping after we answered that we accept genocide as an historical fact. The interesting thing was, afterwards she started inquiring into our “origins”, trying to convince us that we too may be Armenians even if we do not know it yet. There are so many things to say about that interesting reaction, which is incidentally not so rare (that is, other Turks going to Armenia told us similar things).
However the most important insight that we gained in Armenia is that they still keep a very strong memory of their homeland, but as far as we can tell, this is not a desire to “reoccupy” the land from which they were forcefully expelled in 1915, as the Turkish nationalists claim, but to “reconnect” to it. We are going to go into much more detail about that need to “reconnect” in the final report.
We visited also the Genocide museum where we had the feeling that whole city was actually turned into a huge space of remembrance, with the museum at its center. The history of the genocide was, as it were, concentrated at the museum, sending its images towards the outer city. However we could not help thinking what the reaction of a Turk indoctrinated by official Turkish history would have been, had he visited it. We realized the scope of difficulty for a general recognition of the genocide on the part of “ordinary” Turks, which convinced us once more as to the importance of creating a new discourse differing from the politics of conflict. A discourse which would enable people to reckon with their past without shocking them. One must bear in mind the fact that, denial is not some simple refutation of truth, but basically a defense mechanism helping the Turkish subject to keep its psychic balance. Therefore even if we are going to try and find ways for the Turks to come to terms with their/our past, the ways to do it must be sought at some deeper levels, not only between states but essentially between Armenians and Turks.
Having completed transcribing the interviews we have now started writing a detailed report in which we hope to present not only a body of knowledge about the perceptions of the Genocide on the part of Armenian youth, but also indicate pathways leading hopefully for the recognition of the Genocide by the Turks; the recognition that would not only heal the Armenians living in the memory of Meds Yeghern, but also the Turks living in denial.