[P4874] Excavating Memories of Minorities in the Middle East

Created by Faedah Totah
Monday, 11/20/17 3:30pm


Acts of war, state and/or structural violence through discriminatory laws, and/or hate crimes have either destroyed well-established minority communities in the Middle East or allowed them to be decimated through forced immigration and and/or expulsion. However, minority communities in the region have not been completely effaced. Physical remnants and traces remain, celebrated by the nation state as cultural heritage and serve as evidence of tolerance and diversity, but often and only after deliberately shrinking the community. Then again, members of indigenous minorities have sought different ways to navigate official narratives of co-existence. This panel addresses the ways in which the nation-state, on the one hand, and indigenous minorities on the other, navigate the issues of inclusion and exclusion in official narratives of ethnic and cultural diversity. The role of the state is highlighted in the papers dealing with Turkey and Syria where each country promotes discourses of tolerance and acceptance in heritage preservation projects that sanitize the discrimination and dispossession of Armenians in Turkey and Jews in Syria. In Ani (Turkey) and Damascus (Syria), both UNESCO Heritage Sites, allow for selective remembering in the celebration of cultural diversity and where voices of the dispossessed minority group are rendered mute. The remaining papers address the ways in which indigenous minorities navigate their silence and erasure in official state histories. One paper focuses on how the remnants of the Armenian community in Turkey, demonstrate their allegiance and belonging to the Turkish state in selective and public ways, which at times is at odds with the official narrative. Another paper examines a group of crypto-Armenians who engage in acts of countermemory that contest state erasure of their presence in eastern Turkey. A paper on the Copts of Egypt demonstrates how inclusion is contingent upon accepting the state’s paternal role in protecting them from sectarian conflict. However, the hierarchy in the Coptic Church embraces the protective role of the state as it enhances its own paternal control over the community.


Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association (OTSA)





Heghnar Watenpaugh

(University of California, Davis)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Elyse Semerdjian

(Whitman College)
Elyse Semerdjian is the Associate Professor of Islamic World/Middle Eastern history at Whitman College. She served as the Dumanian visiting professor in Armenian Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of Chicago...
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair; Presenter;

Paul Sedra

(Simon Fraser University)
Paul Sedra is Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University, and Middle East Editor of the Wiley-Blackwell journal, History Compass. A specialist in modern Egyptian history, Sedra has taught at Dalhousie University and the University of Toronto,...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Faedah Totah

(Virginia Commonwealth University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;