Commemorating the Armenian Genocide: The Politics of Memory and National Identity

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Özbek, Esen Egemen




Turkey's long-standing denial of the annihilation of about one million Armenians, between 1915 and 1917, is well documented. Over the past five decades, however, the nation state has come under increasing pressure from a range of internal and external sites, not only to acknowledge these grave historical atrocities, but also to name them as 'genocide' (a term coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944, on the basis of the annihilation of the Armenians and the Holocaust, which has become a cornerstone of international legal language surrounding crimes against humanity). I begin by rehearsing the official denialist state narratives which are in play immediately following the terrible events of 1915-17 and have continued almost unchallenged in the public sphere until the 1990's, when fuelled by tectonic shifts in Turkish politics and a serious crisis of national identity, critical- revisionist strands of history-writing began to challenge the Turkish official narrative. During the past two decades, there has been a proliferation of individual and collective initiatives advocating a coming to memory of the genocide at a wide range of sites: history-writing, the Law, Civic discourses, fiction, and public commemorations, among others. While I trace the longer trajectory of these counter-memories, the major aim of my dissertation is to provide a "thick description" of commemorative events which concentrates on the post-1980 period and documents and analyzes, for the first time, very recent commemorations of the Armenian genocide in Turkey. I suggest that challenges provoked by an ongoing commitment to the denialist ethos resulted in strategies such as a discourse of "shared pain" which unwittingly mute the transformative potential of these commemorations. In the end, they operate in an in- between space of transgression and containment that reminds us of the immense complexity of the coming to memory of national "difficult pasts".


Middle Eastern History




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Cultural Mediations

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Theses and Dissertations

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