Via New Perspectives on Turkey: “A different future? Armenian identity through the prism of trauma, nationalism and gender”

“I find it deeply ironic that I am writing this commentary about the genocide and the lack of a feminist voice in the Armenian-American community in a journal published in Turkey and that the Hrant Dink Memorial Workshop of 2009 whose focus was “Gender, Ethnicity and the Nation-State: Anatolia and Its Neighboring Regions” provided an amazing space for Armenian feminists from the diaspora, those who trace their roots to the region, and Turkish feminists to find each oth- er.20 In addition to a plethora of papers on feminist issues at the confer- ence, many of us gathered informally for very fruitful discussions, our similarities and differences giving us rich insights into our shared histo- ries and contemporary contexts. While I look forward to attending the workshop again, I wish I could imagine such a conference taking place on the other side of the ocean. I wonder what it would take to make that possible. What is the relationship between the narrow focus on the genocide recognition I have discussed and the lack of a feminist voice? What are the connections between the ongoing neglect of the psycho- logical effects of the genocide on Armenian-Americans’ inability or re- fusal to address gender roles? Perhaps when we are able to have serious discussions about these issues we can finally mark the beginning of our recovery from the genocide.

As an Armenian-American, as the child of an immigrant from Iran and a refugee from Turkey, professor and director of a Women, Gen- der, Sexuality Program at a major university, and an anti-racist feminist I have thought and written about identity construction with emphasis on gender and its interaction with other social formations, particularly race/ethnicity/nation, for many years. While not all of this work fo- cuses on my Armenian heritage, it is all informed by my experiences as an Armenian-American who grew up in an Armenian community in New York City in the 1940s and 1950s. The genocide and its denial are, of course, central to that experience. This commentary focuses on Ar- menian-Americans in the United States, with an emphasis on identity construction, nationalism, and gender from the perspective of observer, researcher, and sometimes participant. I am particularly interested in the genocide’s central place in constructions of Armenian-American identity and community institutions, and the absence of a feminist voice in both scholarship and community debate. My thoughts about all of these is- sues are also informed by my participation in the Hrant Dink Memorial Workshop at Sabancı University in the May of 2009 and by subsequent discussions with Armenian and other feminists who trace their roots to Anatolia.”

Arlene Voski Avakian


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