- Genocide and Holocaust
- Humanitarianism and Human Rights
- Gender History
- Oral History
I think and write about silence in history. My interest in the notion of silence arises from the work I have done on the Armenian genocide and for which I have received several awards. My first monograph on the topic was a completely empty book (2010, 2015) which is on view in several library and art collections around the world.
The book represents my attempt to address the narrow and limiting scope of denial, and its inability to articulate the aftermath of a catastrophe whose effects continue to be felt in our present. I also think of the book as a retake on what the American poet Muriel Rukeyser said in 1949: ‘During the war, we felt the silence in the policy of the governments of English-speaking countries. That policy was to win the war first, and work out the meanings afterward. The result was, of course, that the meanings were lost.’
My forthcoming monograph Reading Silences: Essays on Women, Memory and War in 20th Century Turkey (Degruyter, 2019) discusses how the subject of the Armenian genocide – despite being absent from Turkey’s national narrative – returns as a contemporary discourse which revolves around ‘what is spoken about but not said, and what is not said but is spoken about.’ It provides a critical methodology for responding to textual silences, and those in oral histories, and explores the relationships between silence, voice and power in historical narratives.
With the poet and author Kate McLoughlin, I am curating Into Silence, a series of silent performances featuring film-makers, musicians, sound-installationists, dancers, mime-artists, body percussionists and light-sculptors. I have written the piece 19’15 and performed it at various cultural institutions. Future plans include a new edition of my empty book, a collaboration with Common Ground on a silent tour through the museums in Oxford, and an inter-disciplinary network of scholars working on all aspects of silence.
In my role as British Academy International Newton Fellow at the History Faculty, I am currently preparing a critical edition of Harutyun Alboyadjian’s memoir Dark Times. The book is an account of Alboyadjian’s experiences as a 12-year-old during the Armenian Genocide, as a young man in Stalin’s gulags, as a Soviet soldier in a Nazi POW camp and then as an ordinary family man in Soviet Armenia. In my opinion, what makes his life story so unique– even among survivor testimonies – is not the simple and unaffected language he uses to describe what it meant it to be a child survivor, an orphan, a victim, an innocent man and an Armenian in these inhumane conditions but his courage to suggest that it (all) had meant nothing. Reading his life story we are more than once reminded of Primo Levi’s imperative about survival in Auschwitz: ‘Consider if this is a man ….’ Like Primo Levi or Elie Wiesel, Alboyadjian offers the possibility that humanity perseveres through even the darkest times. Alboyadjian’s memoir belongs to the emerging body of Armenian testimonial literature and its English edition will undoubtedly become an indispensable source for understanding the connective histories of state-sponsored human rights abuses in the twentieth century. (Dark Times is currently under review with the British Academy Monograph Series published by Oxford University Press.)
Additionally, I am facilitating the digitization of an important, widely unknown, collection of 147 testimonies of child survivors of the Armenian genocide, located at Columbia University Libraries (AOHP). My postdoctoral research project Thus makes us orphans all is partly based on the oral testimonies in this collection. Departing from the format of traditional histories on the subject, Thus makes us orphans all intends to tell the history of the Armenian genocide through the eyes of Armenian and Turkish war children.
I am affiliated to the AHRC–funded project ‘The First World War and Global Religions,’ led by PI Dr. Adrian Gregory.