| Dr. Talin Suciyan speaking at NAASR|
Photo by Marash Girl
Armenians gathered last night, not in modern Turkey, but in Belmont, Massachusetts, to hear Talin Suciyan speak about her new book,
The Armenians in Modern Turkey. [Dr. Suciyan completed her Ph.D. at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, where she is currently an assistant professor at the Institute of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, and works closely with a long-time friend of Marash Girl.]
Suciyan's presentation, sponsored by the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research, is the first history of its kind addressing the questions that so many of us have had throughout our lives: What would it have been like had we been living as Armenians in Turkey today?
Suciyan based her research on records found in the Turkish State Archives (focusing on the post-1923 period), the minutes of the Armenian National Assembly, personal diaries, memoirs, oral histories (which she conducted with Armenians residing in various countries including Germany, but also Turkey, Canada, and elsewhere,) newspapers, yearbooks, and magazines, as well as contemporary interviews with Armenians residing in Germany who had been born in Turkey from 1938-1940.
According to Dr. Suciyan, after 1923, for those Armenians who were lucky enough to survive the genocide, there was official denial of "Armenian life" in Turkey. New surnames were issued, no Armenian schools remained in the provinces [According to Suciyan, female Armenian students faced possible kidnapping . . . ] However, Armenian schools were never closed in Istanbul where teachers were under the close supervision of the state. [The speaker attended one such Armenian school in Istanbul.] Orphanages and Kakhdagan Centers were closed in the late 1930's. There was a "perpetual exodus" of Armenians, and many of those exiting went to Germany as migrant workers. Wholesale destruction of Armenian churches occurred in Turkey, if not by the government, by the locals who used the construction materials to build their houses. (It should be noted that Turkish writer Yashar Kemal, a close friend of Marash Girl's writer friend Memet Fuat Bengu, prevented the complete destruction of Lake Van's Aghtamar Church.)
Denigrating Turkishness became a sin, punishable by . . .
A Citizens Speak Campaign reigned. Armenians had to become invisible. No Armenian books were allowed in schools. (Marash Girl's Uncle Paul, born in Marash in 1908, often spoke of having to hide Armenian books when Turkish gendarmes came into the classroom to make sure only Turkish was being taught). According to Suciyan, Armenians living in Turkey became frightened and burned any Armenian books that they had in their furnaces, or drowned the books in their wells, because they never really knew which books were banned by the Turkish state.
Denial in the community showed itself as "totally agreed upon silence". The Armenians were forced to be a part of that denial, although Armenian intellectuals continued to struggle against such denial. There were no longer Armenian schools. People were banned from going from city to city, thus preventing folks from traveling from the home to work, or even from going to their summer houses. There was strict control over the Armenian newspapers as well as self-censorship.
For the Turkish government, it was easier to control this denial in Istanbul than in the provinces. Although property and military archives are closed, most of the other archives are open. These archives show that Armenian properties were designated as "abandoned property", confiscated ty the state, and sold by the state to third parties.
Suciyan examined "remarkable new primary material -- Turkish state archives, minutes of the Armenian National Assembly, a kaleidoscopic of personal diaries, memoirs and oral histories, various newspapers, yearbooks and magazines, as well as statutes and laws which led to continuing persecution." She emphasized the importance of the Houshamadyans, the "local histories" written during the first half of the 20th Century by Armenians from the various cities, cities such as MARASH! Unfortunately, most of these books, written in Armenian, have not yet been translated into English.
As Marash Girl was unable to take notes quickly enough to provide her readers with a full report of Suciyan's talk, she recommends that her readers purchase the book, THE ARMENIANS IN MODERN TURKEY by Talin Suciyan, available online from Canada. Marash Girl has already ordered her copy. The book promises to be a fascinating read!