NEW YORK—What happens after trauma, genocide, war and sexual violence? How do we heal from the trauma? How do we pass on the positive lessons learned from those atrocities? These and more difficult questions were raised on Monday, August 14, 2023 at Fordham University during an insightful forum titled, “The Armenian Genocide of 1915: Unheard Voices of Armenian and Turkish Women,” led by Dr. Suzan Meryem Rosita Kalaycı.
Dr. Kalaycı teaches history at Oxford University. She is a historian, researcher, author and a Quaker chaplain of St. Hilda’s College. In 2019, together with Professor Theo van Lint, she founded the Oxford Network for Armenian Genocide Research at Oxford, with the goal to foster new research directions in the study of the Armenian Genocide. The project seeks to create a thriving community of researchers at Oxford who study the Armenian Genocide in a global context rather than merely in its local Ottoman setting, with a chronological scope not confined to the period between 1915 and the end of World War I. Dr. Kalaycı’s upcoming book is entitled Reading Silences: Essays on Women, Memory, and War in 20th Century Turkey.
As one of the first of the 20th century’s many genocides, the Armenian Genocide provides a unique path into understanding the connective histories of state-sponsored human rights abuses. A central aim of the Oxford Network for Armenian Genocide Research is to make the Armenian Genocide part of global conversations about human rights, witnessing violence and genocide prevention.
Clearly the complex machinery of state-sponsored violence continues. Chanting and affirming “never again” has not worked. The United Nations Human Rights Declaration, hundreds of peace organizations, civil society activism and conscientious corporations’ efforts have not stopped governments from continuing to wage wars and commit genocide against innocent people, stripping them of their resources and dignity and causing individual, collective and generational trauma.
Kalaycı’s presentation was eye-opening and insightful, addressing several of her projects within the Oxford Network for Armenian Genocide Research and pulling literature from history, oral history, sociology, law and psychology. The network’s activity and academic presence at Oxford University includes:
- International workshop “Weight of Emotions: Humanitarianism, Archives, and Feelings. A Re-reading,” held at Oxford University, 2019.
- Project with the International Armenian Literary Alliance (IALA) in 2021, exploring the role storytelling can play in imagining futures after war.
- Regular invited speakers’ series on the topic of the Armenian Genocide.
- Weekly seminar series: the Gomidas “Silence and Visuality Seminars on Armenian Art and History.”
- Supervision of undergraduate and graduate research on the Armenian Genocide.
- Regular conversations with national government and politicians on genocide awareness and prevention, including formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
- Outreach activities in British schools, including the development of lesson plans and resources for schools to teach the Armenian Genocide in years 11 and 12.
- Open-access publication: Armenian Genocide: A Reader’s Guide to archival sources at the Bodleian Archives Special Collections.
- International partnership with the Oral History Archives at Columbia University (OHAC). Together with OHAC, they digitized and are now in the process of transcribing the Columbia Armenian Oral History Collection—an important, widely unknown collection of 147 testimonies of child survivors of the Armenian Genocide.
- Collaboration with the internationally acclaimed graphic artist, Nvard Yerkanian, who received an Armenian American Illustration Award in 2021 for an illustration they commissioned that was featured on postcards
A vibrant discussion took place following Dr. Kalaycı’s presentation. Discussants were Souren A. Israelyan, a New York City attorney and former president of the Armenian Bar Association, and Professor Ani Kalayjian of Columbia University, an expert on trauma and genocide. Israelyan discussed the urgency of Dr. Kalaycı’s historical work, given the tragic “new genocide” unfolding in Artsakh today, where the Azerbaijani military’s “Operation Iron Fist” is partnering with Turkey for the “ethnic cleansing” of Armenians. Prof. Kalayjian underlined the importance of Dr. Kalaycı’s oral history work to share the “unheard voices” of the Armenian Genocide, especially with continued denials by officials in Turkey and at the U.N. Prof. Kalayjian linked this with the powerful new film Aurora’s Sunrise, which is now in U.S. theatres.
Prof. Harold Takooshian, chairperson of the program, presented Dr. Kalaycı with the 2023 ABSA Outstanding Award Medal. The audience had a diverse background in the arts, law, history, sociology and psychology and shared their efforts of activism and the importance of mindful positive action.
Thanks are extended to the event co-sponsors: Armenian Society at Fordham University, ABSA (Armenian Behavioral Science Association), ATOP MeaningfulWorld and FIRST (Fordham Institute for Research, Service, & Teaching). The presentation is available online at https://youtu.be/_AAWejlm49I.