David Leupold on Memories of Violence

by David Leupold (PhD candidate, Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

In my research, I explore memory on violence in the light of national myth and multi-collectivity in the threefold-contested geography Eastern Turkey/Western Armenia/Northern Kurdistan.

My focus lies on the relationship between biographical trajectories, memories of violence and collective boundaries in the Van Lake area – a geography where collective violence stretches back continuously from the Armenian and Assyrian Genocide (1915-1917) of the past to the Kurdish conflict (1984-today) of the present. With its substantial Armenian population in the past and a Kurdish majority population in the present, the Van Lake area predestines itself as a threefold-contested geography at the intersection point where competing Armenians, Kurdish and Turkish national narratives collide.In this context, the erasure of Ottoman Armenians and Assyrians from Eastern Anatolia (1915-1) and the current Kurdish conflict (1984-now) are in an ironical way intertwined. On the one hand, only the enforced absence of the region’s non-Muslim populations paved the way for an incorporation of the Armenian-populated vilayat-ı sitte into what should form as the Turkish homestead (Türk yurdu) the backbone of the current nation state. On the other hand, however, these very policies concentrated a remaining Kurdish population in the region as a critical majority and for its part elicited the demand for incorporation of Eastern Anatolia into an imagined Northern Kurdistan.

Based on a two-track approach, I conduct narrative interviews in both Turkey and Armenia to determine narrative patterns that can bridge memory on the Van Lake area across the divide of the currently residing (Kurds, Turks and Turkified Muhacirs) and the expelled (Armenians, Assyrians and Yezidis). Established expertise of biographical-narrative analysis will be complemented with modern computer-based analytical tools. My focal point lies in the multi-collectivity reflected in the individual account, its potential (and limits) to reconcile contested memory on collective violence beyond state-propagated national myths.From September last year to June this year I conducted field work in Armenia within the frameworks of the Erasmus Mundus MID PhD mobility grant and in Turkey on my own expenses. During my stay in Armenia, I have been able to conduct 60 in-depth interviews, collecting audio material of over 50 hours. My focus region around the Lake Van area is represented with 22 recordings on the Van area, 12 on the Muş area, 11 on the Batman/Sason area and 4 on the Bitlis and Siirt area. During my two-month research in Turkey I was based in Van and worked in four Turkish provinces within the extended Lake Van area (Van, Muş, Bitlis, Hakkari). My focus region around the Lake Van area is represented by 6 interviews in Bitlis, 12 in Hakkari, 2 in Erzurum (Hınıs), 12 in Muş and 12 in Van. Interview participants comprise different generations which allows me to explore the evolution of memory in both a temporal and spatial perspective.

David Leupold received a B.A. in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies from Otto-Friedrich University Bamberg and a M.A. in Comparative Social Sciences from Humboldt University Berlin and Middle East Technical University Ankara. His interests include collective violence, politics of remembering and forgetting and memory as a form of local resistance. Leupold works as a freelance author at The Social Science Post.