Verbal Memory Transportation
“Memory needs a place, a context. Its place, if it finds one that lives beyond a single generation, is to be found in the stories that we tell.” (Kenny 1999, p. 421)
One of the key questions I asked myself during my research was how memory is transported? Like formerly described in chapter 5, memory culture can be constructed through different cultural signs and symbol systems. During the interview, some of the aspects through which memory culture is shaped were actually mentioned like the memorial site for the Armenian Genocide in Armenia “Tsitsernakaberd” by Anna or different movies and books by Mary, Mona and Lara. Going into detail with every aspect of memory culture would take much more space than I can give in this thesis which is the reason why I focused on the one aspect that interacts with the other parts – verbal communication (Brockmeier 2002, p. 38).
We can speak about what we have seen in a movie about Armenian women being raped by Turkish soldiers. We can speak about the scientific paper that we have read about the baby of an Armenian woman being ripped out of her stomach. We can speak about our experiences at the memorial site and the facts that we have learned about Armenian women used as a slaves. All of these documented events and memorial sites shape our conversation in a significant way. Additionally, there are also the personal accounts of contemporary witnesses that influence our own discussion about this topic. After all, like stated in chapter 5.1., communicating what has happened in the past can assure that we learn from the experiences in the past (Misztal 2010, p. 37). Some things are more successfully communicated than others which results in some information being more prominent in our minds than others (Conway and Schaller 2007, p. 108). My aim was to find out to what extent the stories of sexual violence during the genocide are being verbally shared in the Armenian community. During my interviews, I very openly voiced this question. Lara, who grew up in the French-Armenian community, gave me a clear answer on this which she presented very confidently. She could not remember specific situations where that aspect was highlighted in conversations: “Not every time, cause I don’t know when, actually, but not every time” She was unsure about the specific time or place but to her it was no question that the topic did not come up often in the conversations that she had. Mary gave a similar assessment including that in contrast the matter of sexual violence, the Armenian Genocide in general is a common topic in the Armenian community that is often spoken about.:
Mary: “Armenian genocide [is spoken] a lot [about]. Sexual violence maybe not so much. Well we weren’t directly part of these organizations, so we can only speak about the organizations that we’ve been part of”
The Armenian Genocide without doubt takes up a very large amount of space in the communities that Mary and Mona are a part of. It comes up in discussion frequently even though it was not mentioned during the interview whether those discussion were private or during specific events about the Armenian Genocide. When answering my question whether the aspect of sexual violence specifically comes up in those discussions, Mary first had to think about it before answering and even then she was not entirely sure about it and highlighted that she can only speak about the organizations she was involved in. Not all Armenian organization showcase the same kind of structures. So, it highly depends on the type of organization, whether it is a student association or a large organization like the Armenian National committee of America (www.anca.org). Student association are mostly run by the younger Armenian generation while large organizations often have people from the older generations in leadership positions. Those are two completely different demographics which means that their attitude towards sexual violence and the importance that they give to educational work in this regard can also be completely different. Additionally, it depends on the Armenian diaspora we are speaking about. My experiences, as a part of the German Armenian diaspora can be very different to the experiences of Mary, Mona or Lara. They most definitely are completely different to Anna’s who lived in Armenia her entire life. This shows that even though we are speaking about “the Armenian community”, whether the topic of sexual violence is a part of discussion depends on the specific crowd of Armenians we are speaking about. Concerning this issue, there is also a difference to be made between the Armenian surrounding and the non-Armenian one:
Mary: “Well maybe with the Berkley students we did talk about sexual violence more than the organization here in Glendale. Yeah, I mean it’s different with the crowd I would say, like, who is your audience, right? Who is in the room? Not just in the room present but who is also able to speak up and open up and bring those stories from their families because you are sharing that personal thing. Or even with sharing your personal opinion.”
Mary confirms that the conversation matter changes depending on the crowd that you are communicating with. Glendale, a community that is part of Los Angeles, is very largely populated by Armenians while Berkeley is a University in California that is visited by students with all kinds of backgrounds. Consequently, the topic of sexual violence is covered more openly in a social environment that is not solely Armenian which can give an insight to the overall cultural attitude towards sexuality and sexual violence in the Armenian community and will be further discussed in the chapter 6.3. If so, then it may be the case that not the knowledge about it is what holds them back but rather the unwillingness to speak about it in the community. According to Anna, there is a form of implicitness that accompanies this topic. The knowledge about every single detail of the Armenian Genocide is something that is being passed on through DNA for her:
Anna: “I think that kind of conversations are not that general because it is like…those kind of knowledge comes with your DNA or I don’t know…It is not something talked about very often. It is something that you know from everywhere and from anywhere.”
She was very straight forward with her answer about this. Using the word DNA as a way to describe the unquestionability of the knowledge that every Armenian is supposed to have, implies that there is no need to speak about it because you have it passed on through your genetics. It takes away any exception and is ultimately also connected to the environment that she is part of. As an Armenian living in Armenia, it is a part of national history that is being taught in school and thus is present in the minds of most of her co-workers, friends etc. If not through family, there are other ways she will be able to gain that knowledge which then makes it redundant to speak about it too often in her opinion.