As long as the Genocide remains unacknowledged by the Turkish government, “time cannot quench the bitterness of the memories.” – Margaret DiCanio
BY HASMIK PILIPOSYAN
IRVINE, Calif—The Humanities Gateway at UC Irvine overflowed with the Armenian spirit on the evening of January 17th, welcoming Dr. Rubina Peroomian, currently a Research Associate at the UCLA Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Department. It was one out of a series of lectures to be held at UC Irvine to educate and bring awareness to the Irvine community about the Armenian Genocide as well as sponsor the yet to be established Armenian studies program. The attendees enjoyed learning about the Armenian Genocide through a literary perspective using accounts of the psychological impacts of genocide survivors and the importance of Armenian Genocide literature as a tool to prevent the memory of the genocide from fading into oblivion.
The lecture began with Professor Touraj Daryaee, professor of ancient Armenian and Persian studies at UC Irvine, who introduced Professor Peroomian with a brief summary of her life, achievements, and active role in the Armenian community. Peroomian has been an expert on the Armenian genocide for years, teaching and also educating others on how to effectively communicate knowledge about the horrific massacres of 1915. Her literary works alongside her unfailing faith in the Armenian Cause have gained her a Lifetime Achievement award by the Armenian Educational Foundation, one by the Armenian National Committee of America, and many other medals and awards. It was truly an honor to be in the presence of a fearless and inspirational individual. You could feel the everlasting fervor in her delicate voice as she spoke about the continuous struggle of a people to attain justice after decades of ruthless denial.
Peroomian discussed her latest book The Armenian Genocide in Literature: Perceptions of Those Who Lived Through the Years of Calamity (2012), which provides the means of analyzing and understanding the interpretations of transmission of the traumatic memory through first, second, third, and even fourth generations of survivors. She believed in the Armenian Genocide literature being the most meaningful monument in the memory of the Armenian Genocide. By conducting interviews with Genocide survivors and reading stories of genocide, Peroomian broke into the “gloomy labyrinth of Armenian Genocide literature” and was deeply affected by the material she heard and read. She was living the agony of the genocide survivors. In the words of the Professor, “The Armenian Genocide is not a matter of discussion or negotiation. It is a point of departure in my work. The Armenian Genocide is there in the lives of the survivors whose stories touched my heart. The Armenian Genocide is like a red thread running through each page of my writing.”
Peroomian’s first book on genocide literature, Literary Responses to catastrophe, A Comparison of the Armenian and Jewish Experience (1993), provides a historical context of the literary responses to persecutions and national disasters Armenians and Jews endured through time. Focusing on the first generation Diasporan Armenian and Jewish survivor-writers of the Genocide and Holocaust, she traces similarities and differences of their responses and how the established paradigms of responses endured and continued to explain, or they ruptured unable to explain the Catastrophe.
Throughout the Republican era in Turkey, there was no mention of the Armenians and the past atrocities against them in Turkish textbooks. Lately, as they mention Armenians, they show them as traitors and rebels who stabbed Turkey in the back. Generations of Turks grew up either ignorant of the Armenian question or full of hatred against Armenians. Armenians themselves in Turkey, under heavy censorship or fear of persecution did not speak or write about their ordeal. Around the start of the 21st century, there was a change in the Turkish literary arena as some intellectuals began to delve back into history to discover their true identities, not the identity forced upon them by the Turkish formal narrative of “One nation, One language, One religion.” After decades of historical manipulation, scholars in Turkey began to question the events of 1915 and many brave individuals came to the inevitable truth of the genocide while their government punished them for “insulting Turkishness”. Such bold and dauntless human beings as Hrant Dink and Taner Akcam put humanity over politics. Peroomian’s second book on the topic of Armenian Genocide literature, And Those who Continued Living in Turkey after 1915 (2008, 2012), deals with this reawakening of the Armenian issues in Turkish literature as well as the persisting memory of the past traumatic experience and a sense of belonging to their ethnic origin in Armenians of Turkey whether Christian, Islamized, or “hidden,” that is Armenians who have converted to Islam but they secretly practice Christianity.
Before ending the lecture, the professor expressed her hopes in establishing the Armenian studies program here at UC Irvine in keeping Armenian history and language alive. The Armenian youth are the heirs to the memory of the Genocide and will continue to fight until justice is rendered.