Research Interest and Methodology
The topic of this thesis has been a focus of mine for a long time already. For the most part there is no denying that through my Armenian heritage the Armenian Genocide always had been present in my mind and in discussion matters. However, it was not until choosing it as a topic for my very first term paper in high school that I learned a lot about the history and was able to examine it from a more semi-academic perspective. Even then, I already noticed that especially the fate women suffered during that time motivated me to explore this aspect in more depth. Although ever since then I have not academically approached it in other term papers of mine, I still have been reading many papers on this and listening to different talks that raised my interest because of their feministic approach to the Armenian Genocide.
My background as a student researcher has been intentionally focused on classes surrounding the topic of feminism and women’s rights. Through a class about “feministic technology” I first started to understand that many different issues and subject matters can and should be viewed through a feministic lens to open up a conversation that intentionally and unintentionally has been silenced for many years. The final decision to write this thesis and the reason I find this topic to be of uttermost importance in the academic world came to me more incidental. While looking for a focus for my bachelor thesis I listened to an academic talk about “women in genocide” and during the Q&A session with the professor I became aware of the fact that the focus on women was overshadowed by questions on recognition and commemoration in general. I assume that the sexual violence Armenian women had to suffer during the Genocide is a topic that is only openly spoken about on rare occasions. However, as this is only an assumption I wanted to turn it into a hypothesis that I can base my bachelor thesis research on. There is not going to be a fulfilling answer to this complex issue that can be found through the limited amount of data generated but by bringing this issue up, it may lead to further discussions or research.
In order to achieve my goal, it was vital to choose the right kind of tools and methods. Bachelor theses are rarely read by people other than the professors who have to grade them. I became aware of this problem amid my research which is the reason why I decided to create a website that can showcase the most important parts of my thesis. It will also be an easy way for people to download the whole thesis and read it if the need should be there. By using this tool, I will be able to reach a larger audience and maybe achieve my goal of starting an in depth discussion about this topic.
Concerning the methods I used, it can be said that there is a clear difference in researching about memory culture on the Holocaust for example since the Armenian Genocide is set further in the past. Additionally, the Holocaust was recognized internationally much sooner and thus was documented more thoroughly These conditions had a large impact on the methods I used during my research since I was not able to rely on contemporary witnesses to understand the issue and the time better. This is why the literary research, for instance, takes up a very large part in my bachelor thesis.
There is a need to garner a deeper understanding for the Armenian genocide and specifically the aspect of sexual violence to grasp the importance it has in memory culture inside as well as outside of the Armenian community. Since my aim is to highlight the aspect of sexual violence and not just state it as another horrific fact of the genocide among others, I will keep the more general overview of the events during the Armenian genocide fairly short.
Furthermore, the involvement of different theories on memory culture ensures clarification on why it is important to remember or forget and what types of memory exist, which is the basis for my empirical research. The empirical research will be taking up most of the space in my thesis. It is fundamental for a topic like memory culture, which can be viewed from many different perspectives, to hear the voices of members of the Armenian community. The interview strategy had to be adapted due to Covid-19 Pandemic and the great territorial distance that I had to my interviewees which did not allow any in-person meetings. For this reason, I conducted the interviews via Zoom and limited myself to them only for the research. I chose to do a guideline-based interview according to the scheme of Judith Schlehe (2008, p. 126). The reason for this was that in narrative interviews, my interviewees could have focused on the Armenian genocide in general instead of the aspect of sexual violence. Because of my former experience during the scientific talk, I wanted to have the possibility to steer them to the direction that was envisioned for this research.
When it comes to the choice of interviewees, it was very important for me to have members of different Armenian diaspora communities. The Armenian diaspora is without doubt a very diverse one, with influences from different cultures, depending on where these people have been living. This can have an effect on the way they treat memory culture concerning the genocide. Ultimately, I decided to use two very influential diaspora communities the French and the American one. The French-Armenian population is estimated to a number of 450.000. At the same time the American-Armenian community is even estimated to a number of 1.4 million and thus also established as the second largest Armenian community living outside of Armenia (Dreuße 2008, p. 52). After all, I chose those two communities since the chances of finding interviewees with an Armenian surrounding were higher that way. Of course, it was also necessary to understand how the situation is in the Republic of Armenia, which is the reason why I included an interview with someone from that society as well. Apart from this, I actively avoided using my ties to the Armenian diaspora in Germany since I would be biased due to my own experiences and the fact that I am a board member of the German-Armenian Youth Association as well. This would leave me too involved in the community and could potentially prevent me from forming an unbiased perception.
The other selection factor for my interviewees was their age. I wanted to see how the memory culture developed in generation Y and Z since that is most distant in terms of time from the genocide and the one that in my opinion is not heard as much as the previous generations. From personal experience, I observed that younger people are often encouraged to read and speak about the genocide but only on rare occasions asked for their perception on the events. Furthermore, I decided to include solely women as interviewees since that is also an underrepresented social group. Moreover, the topic of sexual violence is one that involved the female Armenian population mostly and thus automatically creates a tie to Armenian women today. There are two specific characteristics that my interviewees unintentionally had in common. Firstly, all of them have an academic background which did have an influence on the way they treat memory culture and the memory about the Armenian Genocide in particular. Secondly, the interviewees are active members of the Armenian youth community. They were all more or less were part of clubs, associations or organizations that are devoted to the Armenian cause which encouraged many of them to be involved with the commemoration of the Armenian genocide in one way or another.
The first people I interviewed were the sisters Mary and Mona who live in the US, in California, Glendale. Mary is 27 years old, and Mona is 24. Both were part of Armenian student associations in high school, college and at university. During the interview it was very apparent that both have a strong connection to their Armenian roots by being born in Armenia and actively involving themselves in Armenian causes. Especially the way Mary differentiated herself from the non-Armenian people in her social environment highlighted the strong identification that she has to her Armenian culture. In the following quote, she explained the situations where she is being addressed on the commemoration of the Armenian genocide by non-Armenian people that she surrounds herself with:
“I had a coworker who came to me once, she is the most awkward person on the planet, she came and tapped my shoulder and she’s like ‘Just so you know, I recognize the Armenian genocide.’ Okay, thank you, like it meant nothing to me but these “otar” (engl. in this case ‘foreign’) people don’t know what to say and how to say it.”
The second interview I conducted was with Anna, a 25-year-old woman born in Masis who currently still lives in Armenia. Her Armenian identity seemed to be more of a natural thing that she did not think about too much: “I guess I am just a part of Armenian youth community. I was born here and lived here for the most part of my life.” This is a difference worth to be acknowledged since it has an effect on the role history plays for the own personal identity and thus also memory culture. Anna’s identification is a different one due to the fact that she is not a member of the diaspora. The Armenian diaspora often has a strong connection to its roots because of the need to preserve their homeland and the emotional attachment that many still have to it (Baser and Swain 2009, p. 48). Most of the members are more deeply engaged in questions of identity because they live in a foreign country and are often torn between two cultures. The last person I interviewed was Lara, an Armenian woman from France, Marseille who currently lives in Armenia for one and a half years. She was educated in an Armenian school and was part of an Armenian basketball club in Marseille which explains her deep connection to her homeland and the final decision to even live there for a long period of time. I decided to use only four different members of the Armenian community from three different countries. Even though I am aware of the fact that the Armenian diaspora is larger and far more diverse than that, the intention of this thesis is only to give a general overview of this issue.
The analysis of these interviews is divided into three different parts. I am going to start with the different triggers that were needed for my interviewees in order to speak about the issue of sexual violence. The commemoration as well as the own Armenian identity are important factors that can lead to dealing with this topic in more detail. Thereafter, the focus is put on the extent to which the aspect of sexual violence is verbally shared in the societies that my interviewees are a part of. Does the topic of sexual violence come up in discussions about the Armenian Genocide or not? Lastly, I am going to discuss the reason for the current status quo. It is going to be necessary to acknowledge that the attitude of the society we are living in substantially forms our opinion on certain subject matters. If sexual violence is seen as a taboo topic, it will make it difficult to start a conversation about it openly in any given context. Connected to this is the observation that deeply rooted patriarchal structures leave no room for memory culture shaped by “feminine” issues.