Armenian Mirror-Spectator Staff
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On Saturday, September 30, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research ( NAASR ) welcomed an audience of over 200 to a symposium at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, titled “Armenian-Turkish Dialogue and the Direction of Armenian Studies,” in celebration of its 50th anniversary.
The basic message from the panelists’ different points of view was that dialogue has begun, but there needs to be much more of it.
Following opening remarks by NAASR Board Chairman Nancy R. Kolligian, Marc A. Mamigonian, NAASR Director of Programs and Publications, paid tribute to the organization’s history for the many programs, lectures, symposia and “exchanges of ideas that move the field [of Armenian studies] along.”
Mamigonian also acknowledged Dr. Suzanne Moranian, who, he said, had suggested the symposium topic. “Armenian-Turkish dialogue has generated great interest, and there are now Turkish scholars who are engaged. There are hopeful signs that this dialogue has the potential to lead to a better relationship and an understanding of Armenian culture and history,” he said.
The first speaker, Dr. Christina Maranci, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Wisconsin , Milwaukee , spoke on “Future Directions in Medieval Armenian Architecture : The Case of Mren, Kars Region.” She addressed how and why modern conditions have affected the field of Armenian architecture.
Contrasting the explorations of Austrian art historian Josef Strzygowski in 1913, when he documented and photographed over 700 Armenian monuments in eastern Anatolia, she stated that today limited access to Armenian structures in Turkey has constrained the study, publication, and distribution of information regarding the importance of Armenian architecture in the broader context of the Middle Ages.
“Only Ani and Akhtamar have received much attention .... Very few scholars have pursued any comparative study of Armenian architecture,” she said.
Maranci cited the Church of Mren , a seventh-century church near Kars , which still stands, crumbling in an isolated field. Its reliefs and inscriptions deserve further study and documentation, “Yet Mren is largely unknown,” she said.
“Publication of scholarship can help protect these monuments from vandalism. There is a great need to bring the study of Armenian architecture to a broader audience. And there are signs that a younger generation of scholars, including those working in Turkey , have become more interested in the Armenian tradition.”
Dr. Gerard J. Libaridian. Alex Manoogian Professor of Modern Armenian History at the University of Michigan , in his talk, “Levels and Forms of Turkish/Armenian Dialogue : The Role of Scholarship,” pointed to some of the obstacles to Armenian-Turkish dialogue - the personal and communal internalization of the Armenian Genocide in the Armenian community and Turkey ’s state ideology of genocide denial.
“Yet,” he said, “the independence of Armenia has changed the spectrum of issues. And dialogues have already occurred in many forums, including TARC [Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission], meetings in France and Vienna and the workshop for Armenian-Turkish scholarship. Most of these have failed, but the many attempts have become part of life. History must be continuously explored to find the answers and the best conclusions.”
Regarding Armenian studies, Libaridian asserted, “We have to separate scholarship from advocacy. Advocacy and propaganda should not become a part of history. The task of scholarship is to help us disengage from terms so loaded they no longer answer questions.”
Said Libaridian, “We have to find a common language. Armenians and Turks have lived in the same space. We have more commonality than differences and that common space needs to be found.”
Next, Rachel Goshgarian, Ph.D. candidate in History and Middle Eastern studies at Harvard University, spoke on her topic, “Armenian and Ottoman : Moving towards Inclusive History.”
She noted that “Armenian history has aroused little interest in Armenian-American children and that this history is often distorted.”
“There is a great need to integrate Armenian studies into the field of Middle Eastern studies, to integrate it with Turkish studies. At the moment, these fields are delineated along ethnic lines. The field of Ottoman history speaks one language. Armenian history speaks another,” she said. “Armenians are being left out of the narrative of medieval Anatolia . Ottoman history is dominated by a certain Turkish cen-tricity. And the field is complicated by linguistic barriers and political barriers.”
She cited the need for more translation and the need for Armenian and Turkish scholars to learn each other’s languages.
Dr. Taner Akçam, visiting Associate Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, advanced what is perhaps the most creative and novel approach to the great barrier between Armenians and Turks - the recognition of the Armenian Genocide- in his address, “The Creation of a Common Body of Knowledge and the Importance of Ottoman Documents.”
“We need a new definition of the problem,” said Akçam. “The Armenian Genocide should be addressed as a human rights issue and seen in the context of democratization of both countries. Turkey seeks admission to the European Union ; Armenian is facing a new reality as an independent nation,” said Akcam.
He added, “Both societies are traumatized. The way to build the future is to confront the shared histories and interact with each other. Both societies must talk to each other.”
He addressed the need for further study of Ottoman documents. “Turkish society knows almost nothing of the variety of sources available. They rely only on documents in Istanbul and ignore all others.”
Dr. Richard G. Hovannisian, the Armenian Educational Foundation Professor of Modern Armenian History at the University of California , is widely recognized as the dean of Armenian studies. Speaking on the topic, “Dialogue : Historical Impediments and Future Goals,” Hovannisian, in contrast to Libaridian, said he found “great difficulty in separating pure scholarship and the moral efficacy of scholarship. Scholarship cannot be totally neutral.”
Reviewing past obstacles to dialogue, Hovannisian cited by name some of the organizations and scholars such as Heath Lowry, Justin McCarthy, and Bernard Lewis, who perpetrated denial of the Armenian Genocide and denounced the truth in return for financial gain.
“My generation found it very lonely. When I attempted to present a paper at the Middle Eastern Studies Association on Armenian-Turkish relations, I was stuck in a seminar with the Turkish Studies Association. There was a time when it was our role simply to protest and obstruct,” said Hovannisian.
Hovannisian pointed to Akçam’s appearance in Yerevan at the 80th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan as a moment that opened doors.
“I am pleased that now Taner Akcam is not alone. There are 30 or 40 Turkish scholars and writers who have opened a little window, who want to set the historical record straight. But I want to emphasize again that we shouldn’t separate scholarship and ethics. I think they are bound together and need to be bound together.”
Kevork Bardakjian, Marie Manoogian Professor of Armenian Language and Literature at the University of Michigan , took the role of panel respondent to all the presentations. However, he also had his own points to make.
“ Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora, each has its own agenda. Armenia , since independence, has been trying to build a viable, prosperous state. The post-Genocide diaspora has its own agenda. The attempt to emphasize that we are one nation with one church, one language is simply not true,” said Bardakjian. “What is diaspora ? Do we speak in one voice ? Diaspora is a duster of communities and no two are alike.”
Bardakjian also emphasized the need for translation of more documents and suggested that perhaps NAASR might establish scholarships and prizes for translation.
Part of Bardakjian’s concluding remarks paid tribute to the staff of NAASR and particularly to Manoog S. Young, honorary symposium chairman, and Chairman Emeritus of NAASR .
The morning’s proceedings concluded with the announcement of the endowment by Elizabeth and Charles Kenoshian of a chair in Modern Armenian History and Literature at Boston University . The positive audience response signaled optimistic support for NAASR ’s future mission - the continuing scholarly development of Armenian studies.
[ Armenian Mirror-Spectator , Saturday, October 7, 2006]
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