Dr. Mehmet Polatel

TCA Metro LA Chapter Hosts Two Successful Educational Programs Online This Spring

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By Sevan Boghos-Deirbadrossian

LOS ANGELES — In May and June, during challenging and unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic and after cancelling many events this past Spring, the Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA) Metro Los Angeles Chapter stepped up and took the decision to remain productive and influential in enriching Armenian society with its cultural events.

On May 27, the group organized a Zoom webinar titled “Confiscation and Destruction: The Young Turks’ Seizure of Armenian Property,” delivered by Dr. Mehmet Polatel.

The presentation was co-sponsored by several Armenian organizations, which showed interest in unfolding the layers and processes of not only the annihilation of a nation, but also the erasure of its roots, lands and properties. Co-sponsors included the AGBU Western District, Armenian Assembly of America, Armenian Council of America, Armenian Rights Council of America, Armenian Society of Los Angeles, Nor Serount Armenian Cultural Association, and the Organization of Istanbul Armenians, all of which teamed up to help promote the presentation via their respective social media platforms and event calendars.

Mihran Toumajan, Western Region director of the Armenian Assembly of America, and also an active member and ex-officio advisor of the TCA Metro Los Angeles Chapter, co-moderated the presentation with Sevan Boghos-Deirbadrossian.

More than 150 spanning six continents and over 18 countries took part in the Zoom webinar. Many attendees of TCA’s first Zoom webinar expressed enthusiasm and keen interest in a serious matter involving the confiscation and destruction of properties owned by Armenians prior to the 1915 Genocide. The presentation was also displayed in real time via the Facebook Live platform.

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The insightful lecture was conducted by Genocide studies scholar, Dr. Mehmet Polatel, who serves as a junior postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research. Of Turkish heritage. He received his PhD from Bogazici University in Istanbul with his dissertation focusing on the emergence and transformation of the Armenian land question in the late Ottoman Empire. He earned a BA in international relations from the University of Middle East Technical University in 2007, and an MA in comparative studies in history and society from Koç University, Istanbul in 2009.

After receiving his doctorate, he was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship in Armenian Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His main research interests are state-society relations, socioeconomic history, the Armenian Genocide, and the dispossession of Armenians. He has co-authored a book with Ugur Ü. Üngör titled Confiscation and Destruction: Young Turk Seizure of Armenian Properties (Bloomsbury, 2011), and has published several articles and book chapters on the Hamidian massacres, the land question, and the Armenian genocide.

Polatel started his presentation by referencing his early research, which focuses on the processes of property transfer and dispossession during the Armenian Genocide. He provided examples of churches turned into auction sites for the transfer of movable Armenian properties. Further, he touched on his contemporary research about the relationship between the 1894-96 Hamidian Massacres and the Genocide, in terms of local perpetrations and mass violence, by examining the testimonies of Genocide survivors in the archives of the USC Shoah Foundation. Polatel detailed some of the testimonies in his lecture.

He highlighted the fact that, in addition to massive violence, genocides have multiple dimensions, and one such characteristic is the forced transfer and dispossession of properties which unfold unique insights and means of genocidal contexts.

Polatel also explained, in detail, about the Young Turks’ legal framework, and how properties were taken into consideration by the Ottoman Turkish authorities when they issued the deportation law, and how Armenian properties ought to be used, in order to settle in Muslim immigrants. Moreover, he followed up by providing the layers of property transfers and the practice of dispossession, whether through official channels, corruption, unofficial seizures by officials themselves, pillage, destruction, or unofficial seizures by civilians.

Polatel emphasized that the Armenian Genocide was a complex event with multiple manifestations of death, destruction and property confiscation. He also reminded participants that new findings on the Genocide and its consequences have been revealed by research conducted by contemporary scholars, and that knowledge about various aspects of the genocide continues to expand in academia.

The presentation raised many questions by participants and interesting ideas which were discussed for an extended period of time.

Dr. Bert Vaux

Dialects by Vaux

On June 17, the organization sponsored a program titled “An Introduction to Modern Armenian Dialects” by Dr. Bert Vaux.

The lecture was organized by the Tekeyan Cultural Association Metro Los Angeles Chapter with the participation of Tekeyan Cultural Association chapters in North America: Detroit, Greater Boston, Greater New York, Los Angeles, Montreal and Pasadena-Glendale.

Vaux currently teaches phonology and morphology at the University of Cambridge. Previously, he taught for nine years at Harvard University and three years at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. He specializes in phonological theory, dialectology, field methodology, and languages of the Caucasus. He was editor of the journal Annual of Armenian Linguistics from 2001 to 2006 and is co-editor of the book series Oxford Surveys in Generative.

Vaux is primarily interested in phenomena that shed light on the structure and origins of the phonological component of grammar, he also enjoys working with native speakers to document endangered languages, especially dialects of Armenian, Abkhaz, and English.

From the very beginning of the lecture, Vaux captivated the audience with interactive and interesting recordings, engaging polls and quizzes throughout the presentation. The participants were excited to get virtually involved. The main focus was on the differences between the traditional dialects and the variety of spoken standard Armenian: when did these dialects develop? In addition to a tour of traditional dialects in present tense formation, Dr. Vaux used Toumanian’s “The Liar ” and “The Lord’s Prayer” in presenting a variety of dialects, some still alive and some that are not. He mainly explored the significant lexical pronunciations and grammatical differences of the large variety of the traditional dialects in the Armenian world.

Vaux said he believes that the value of preserving a dialect is similar to preserving biodiversity. Every variant found in every different dialect reveals something about the potential and the ability of the human mind and what it can do. In his professional life, Vaux tests theories that are made about how languages can work or not by using evidence from Armenian varieties. Very often things that claim to be impossible in human languages are found in Armenian. “Vive Le Difference,” Dr. Vaux says.

Humans can be different from each other; however, in the Armenian case, the range of the variety that you find is also an important historical demonstration of where Armenians have lived. They may have changed the names of the Armenian villages in Turkey, but you can still infer from the dialects spoken about the Armenian communities that lived there. Linguistic variations are also historically and politically important.

Vaux emphasized the importance of taking advantage of internet resources to keep many dialects alive, to document and revitalize them: whether by performing virtual interviews and recording the last speakers of these dialects, or administer dialect surveys online where the speakers can answer questions directly or with the help of interpreters. The aim is to increase awareness and generate interest to help preserve and document these dialects before it is too late.

During the question-and-answer session a variety of questions about many dialects were posed. The questions were very specific and professional to the point that all agreed to have another lecture in the near future.

 

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