LOS ANGELES / BOSTON — The Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies at Boston University is hosting a virtual lecture series titled, “Encounters With Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Studies.” Part of the goal of the series is to highlight the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Studies minor concentration which has been offered at Boston University since 2016. The first speaker in the series on March 9 was the Istanbul-born Armenian anthropologist, Dr. Melissa Bilal (currently of UCLA).
Program director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights studies minor, Prof. Nancy Harrowitz, welcomed the virtual audience which tuned into Bilal’s lecture, entitled “Voicing and Silencing the Memory of Loss: Lullabies and Stories from Armenian Women in Istanbul.” Dr. Sultan Doughan, a fellow scholar, introduced Bilal, an historical anthropologist who uses ethnomusicology as her lens. Bilal’s lecture “illustrated the capacity of lullabies sung by Armenian women in Istanbul to produce knowledge, functioning as a survival strategy under the regime of denial following the 1915 Armenian Genocide.”
Bilal discussed her interactions with three women in Istanbul, all children of Genocide survivors. In her research, she stresses the connection between generations of women and how daughters of female Genocide survivors inherit their legacy through various ways, one of which is through information coded into music, song, and lullabies. Therefore, she focuses on working with women who are children of Genocide survivors, learning their stories and in particular how they learned about the trauma of the period from their mothers. One of those ways is how a mother sings lullabies to her children.
Bilal described meeting a woman named Naze who was born in Sasun to a family of survivors who managed to stay on their native land. Naze stressed that Sasun was historically Armenian territory referring to it as “Sasun Kavar, Hin Hayastan” (Province of Sasun, Ancient Armenia). Naze sang a lullaby she had learned from her mother Ruri, ruri, nsdim hed orrotsin. This was a folk lullaby from the region that Bilal had not heard before, in fact, probably very few people knew such songs. Modern Armenian lullabies such as Kun Yeghir Balas, Ari Im Sokhag and others produced by nationalist male poets and composers have taken up much of the floor in the years since the Genocide. Bilal was fascinated by Naze’s singing. She argues that music and songs perpetuate communal experiences; in Naze’s case, the life of Armenians in Sasun and of course the massacres that took place there.
In 1923 the Treaty of Lausanne effectively recognized the modern Republic of Turkey by the Western Powers. In the treaty three official minorities of the country were noted: Greeks, Armenians, and Jews. All three have been suppressed to varying degrees. The Suryani or Assyrians, i.e. Aramaic-speaking Christians, are another minority group in the country. They do not have an official status, but have also suffered suppression by the authorities. As for Armenians after the Genocide, they were caught between a desire to give voice to their memories and remain silent in order to avoid repercussions.
As Bilal states “The affective [i.e. emotional] knowledge of Armenians in Turkey stands at the core of what we can conceptualize as ‘double consciousness.’”