Peroomian Discusses Sexual Violence, State Censorship

BELMONT, Mass. (A.W.)—On April 2, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) presented a talk by Rubina Peroomian on the topic of her recently published book, And Those Who Continued Living in Turkey After 1915: The Metamorphosis of Post-Genocide Armenian Identity As Reflected in Artistic Literature (Armenian Genocide Museum Institute, 2008).

 Peroomian’s earlier English-language book Literary Responses to Catastrophe: A Comparison of the Armenian and the Jewish Experience (1993) analyzed Armenian and Jewish literary works written in response to the horrors of genocide. Peroomian holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages and cultures from UCLA and has been a lecturer in Armenian language and literature as well as Armenian history at UCLA, the University of Laverne, and Glendale College. She serves as a member of the NAASR Board of Directors for southern California.

“I’m a very diligent scholar but it was the hardest thing trying to find a publisher for my book,” Peroomian began. “The book was very popular in Yerevan but it had its disadvantages self-publishing so I thank NAASR for their support.”

Peroomian continued, “This is the second in a trilogy, the follow-up to my first book in 1993… The first book dealt with those in the Armenian Diaspora of the second and third generation and how they dealt with trauma. I’m trying to finish the trilogy with a forthcoming study of the effects of the genocide on those in Soviet Armenia and how this trauma was transmitted.”

“Since the book was published in Armenia, I felt a need to satisfy Armenian readers with a 25-page schematic survey of the book in Armenian,” she said.

“The methodology encapsulates my readings of these various genocide literatures that exist and the dynamics of them.” Muslim Armenians in Turkey, such as the Hamshen, she said, “are for some people a paradox.”

“To answer the question, ‘Why this book?’ I’ve been interested in the field of genocide literature in the diaspora for 25 years. But that was the diaspora. But I always wondered, ‘What about those in Turkey that couldn’t get out?’ Until 15 years ago we knew nothing of these people, only that some tourists talked to some very old Armenians [in Turkey].”

Peroomian stated, “In Istanbul literature, you had to read between the lines, and in fact more research is needed on Istanbul Armenian literature.”

Peroomian gave examples of the cryptic prose used to describe the genocide and get past the state censors in works of fiction. “It is very typical for the narrator to say in Istanbul Armenian literature of the 1950’s and 60’s that ‘My mother and father had brothers and sisters, but they all died before I was born.’”

“In that atmosphere of constant harassment and persecution, especially for those Armenians living in the interior of Turkey, to them, all they had to do was survive until they could go abroad or to Istanbul. And this in fact was the intension of the Turkish government; to evacuate these regions of Armenians.”

Everywhere in Turkey after the genocide, she explained, it was banned to talk about Armenians in the media. Only about a dozen novels in the republic period talked about Armenians and most of them followed the government line of ethnic identity.”

But, she added, “Because of the Diaspora Armenians’ activities and because of some of the Armenian armed struggle activities—like the assassinations of Turkish diplomats—in the 1970’s, Turkish people started asking themselves, ‘Who are these Armenians and what are their claims?’”

“At this point, Turkish youth began to be raised to hate Armenians as traitors that went against the Ottoman Empire. There are many intellectuals and modernists who talk about these topics now in Turkey, tasking the government to confront the past and do it justice in the name of a multiculturalism that will only help to democratize Turkey.”

However, she countered, “Author Orhan Pamuk says there are two souls of Turkey [on the genocide issue] that are constantly combating each other to change the other. Elif Shafak has said, ‘God save me from my own people.’”

“Of course, these intellectuals are constantly under persecution and harassment but they are active,” Peroomian said. “And the more active they are, the more active the ultra-nationalists are. Hrant Dink’s assassination was proof of this.”

Peroomian recounted the controversy caused in part by Dink when he helped prove that Ataturk’s adopted daughter, a renowned pioneer aviatrix and the first female combat pilot Sabiha Gokcen, was in fact an Armenian orphan whose family had been decimated during the genocide. She stated, “She was very popular in Turkey and for him to expose the truth like that, [to them] he had to pay for it.”

Of the questions that provoked her own research, Peroomian said, “‘Did women taken into harems and forced to convert to Islam truly convert to Islam? How did they feel in their womb with [the child] of the perpetrator inside them?’ These are the things I was looking for in the research I’ve done.”

Peroomian continued, “Henry Morganthau wrote in his memoirs about the acts of rape against boys during the genocide as much as the conventions for society in 1915 would allow. I’ve seen a few good articles on sexual violence against male and female victims coming forth.”

She noted that such domination acts sought to de-masculinize and de-humanize the victim. “There was physical violence as well against Armenian women and boys after the genocide, in the orphanages and in adopted families. And as we saw in the former Yugoslavia, sexual violence is a form of genocidal war.”

Peroomian cited the 1998 “Sexual Violence Report” by the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and noted, “There is so much research on these topics, but at one point I had to stop and actually publish.”

“I know I haven’t said the last word at all,” she said. “I want this to be my attempt to loosen the tongue of a forbidden past, that is the Turks’ past as well.”

And Those Who Continued Living in Turkey After 1915: The Metamorphosis of Post-Genocide Armenian Identity As Reflected in Artistic Literature is available for purchase at the NAASR bookstore, online at naasr.org/store/home.php.

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Andy Turpin

Andy Turpin has been the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly since 2006. He was raised in Palma City, Fla. His family is of Italian, Welsh and Armenized-Romani stock. He graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., with degrees in history and journalism. Following graduation, he went to Armenia as an English as a Second Language (ESL) U.S. Peace Corp volunteer. He received his CELTA-ESL degree from Cambridge University in 2006.

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