Submitted by: Amanda Jarrett
I studied the Armenian Genocide to discover its effects on the psychology and the culture of the Armenian people so I could understand its implications on future generations. For the psychological view of my narrowed topic, I considered the trauma that the survivors endured from the events of the genocide, how that trauma affected their lives, and how it has been transferred to future generations by understanding the kind of trauma transferred. For the cultural aspect of my narrowed topic, I focused on the cultural trauma imposed on the Armenians due to the genocide. I explored how the cultural identity of an Armenian and the Armenian community has changed through the generations, and how the genocide has placed pressures on future generations for the preservation of their culture and ideals. Additionally, I explored the idea of memory so I could understand how Armenian culture and memory of the genocide is passed on within a family and how collective memory influences the Armenian culture. To interpret these perspectives on my research, there was a need to thoroughly understand how the genocide began and know the important events that lead up to the decision of genocide.
In the third century of the Common Era, Armenians distinguished themselves as Christians, which separated them from the rest of the population living on the Asia Minor. The Armenian Church can be described as Apostolic, democratic, liberal, independent and strongly influences the shape of the Armenian ideals. Throughout the ages, Armenians have been the scapegoats of the region, facing oppression and degradation socially and politically. In the 19th century, the Armenian people began to accept ideas such as human rights and self-determination, getting these ideologies from European countries and America. The Armenians also began to become more politically aware of their status in society, which made the Kurds feel threatened because they were treating the Armenians as second class citizens, with the Armenians only political identity being “the loyal millet.” The Kurds did not want the Armenians to rise politically and threaten the Kurds own status in society.
The Kurds were the people who exploited the Armenians and were taking advantage of their lower status. Through the Cyprus Convention, Armenians were shown that it was not necessary for them to seek help from the Russians but instead could get their protection from Great Britain. Armenians felt as if they could receive fortification from the Kurds and Turkish under the Ottoman Empire because of the intervention of European powers working in their favor, but Great Britain ended up falling through on their promise because of the Treaty of Berlin (1883). With no protection from other powers, the Kurdish continuously massacred Armenians throughout the years of 1894 and 1896. This played a big role in the Armenians attitude towards the Turkish.
Before, the Armenians and the common Turkish folk had friendly relations, but after these acts, distrust and distance grew between the two peoples. The Kurdish began the massacres in retaliation of the Armenians gaining political awareness, differences in religious beliefs, and because they were afraid of how the Armenians would undermine their political power. Therefore, this was the reason the Kurdish continued to oppress the Armenians by taking away their right to bear arms which prevented them from being able to protect themselves against the violence that persisted for many years. The Turkish government did not allow Armenians to own a gun or take up arms against any threats. This set the stage for more disastrous occurrences.
In 1908, there was yet another massacre. When World War I commenced, the Ottoman Empire began the official mass deportation of Armenians. Turkish soldiers spontaneously killed men either in their own home or on the streets. From Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide by Donald and Lorna Miller, men who were not slaughtered right away were sent off to the war front as “volunteers” to be killed off so the Turkish government did not have to take care of the business themselves. Women who were deported became sexually violated in multiple ways, one of them being rape. Children of Armenians were abducted, forced to leave their homes and families. The women and children were the primary population that were forced to deport from their homes, leave their possessions, and exit their city to travel the harsh trail through rough, desert terrain.
Many of the young women committed suicide to save themselves from the dangers of the road, such as rape and from the high possibility of being taken away by a Turk and being forced to marry him. Mothers had to leave behind infants and children on the trail because they did not have the supplies to keep them alive, leaving them on rocks in the middle of a river so if they were to turn over or move they’d drown—a merciful death. Furthermore, mothers were not allowed to give their children proper burials on their journey, making it harder for them to deal with their loss. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed during the genocide, with its precedence beginning in the late 1800s, and much of it occurring during World War I between the years 1914-1918. Knowing the horrors that the Armenians endured as a population allows for an understanding of the genocides effects on the Armenian people. There was a tremendous feeling of loss both personally and culturally, which negatively impacts the survivors and future generations psychology.
In my original hypothesis, I believed that the Armenian Genocide had negatively impacted the psychology of not only the first generation of survivors, but also future generations of Armenians. I believed that the Armenian Genocide has negatively impacted the Armenian culture by creating damages that could not be restored. Though I have found that I was correct on the psychological aspect, I was wrong about the cultural side. The Armenian Genocide did indeed have a negative psychological impact on first-generation survivors along with second and third generation Armenians, with each generation being differently influenced. And though the Armenian culture has acquired cultural disintegration from the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian people and their culture are very resilient in light of the damages and persistent in preserving their traditions and ideals like marrying within their ethnicity and passing on the family name. Though, the psychological impacts on an individual and a community directly effects the culture of that population.
The psychology of the Armenian survivors has been effected in many ways. During the genocide, and especially afterwards, survivors were left with memories that haunted them and continuously reminded them of all the hardship and loss they went through during the genocide. There was a traumatized silence as a result of the Turkish government’s actions against the Armenians because it was hard for survivors, bystanders, and witnesses to process the events that took place. The kind of trauma Armenians received was complex trauma, which can be identified as coming from experiences of war, imprisonment, and/or witnessing events that are life threating, which was explained in Consequences of Denial by Alayarian.
In the case for most men, their complex trauma comes from war and imprisonment, which was of course life threatening. For women and children, theirs mostly ranges from feelings of imprisonment to encountering and witnessing life threatening events. Complex trauma is also defined as trauma that is reoccurring, meaning that a person will continuously relive traumatizing moments. It is unsurprising to have found that survivors would be enthralled with the results of the genocide like thinking about the loss of their family as they grow older. A survivor at a young age, going through the events of the genocide will mostly be focusing on their survival and not their losses due to their survival instinct. More specifically, within the realm of complex trauma, the Survivor Syndrome has been seen in the Armenian survivors. This syndrome consists of the inability to speak or work at times, fear of repeated persecution, and survivor’s guilt.
Survivor’s guilt is where the survivor asks the questions: why me and why am I alive while my family is not? They feel guilty for being the ones who survived instead of their sibling(s) or parent(s). Also, Alayarian talks about five psychological themes found within the survivors. The Death Imprint is where a person may feel struck and can be easily reminded of the dreadful death(s) of family by the five senses (hearing, touching, tasting, seeing, and smelling). The Death Guilt, previously mentioned, stems from feelings of helplessness and incompetence to act. These start from when there is a gap between their physical and psychological self. Psychic numbing is the result from psychological defense against anything the survivor deems as traumatic and causes an insensitivity to death. When a survivor has “sensitivity to counterfeit nurturance,” it is because they resent help that is presented because of a presumed weakness of themselves. Lastly, they struggle to find meaning in their life because they want an acknowledgement of the crimes committed against them by the government in order from them to be reconciled and receive value in society.
After experiencing such traumatic events, an individual must cope with it somehow. A few strategies Armenians used to cope with their trauma was: avoidance and repression, outrage and anger, revenge and restitution, reconciliation and despair, and explanation and rationalization. The most common coping mechanism was the “avoidance of reminders of the trauma” (Alayarian, p. 43). They did not want to see a place or person, hear a sound, or feel anything that would remind them of what happened during the genocide and cause the traumatic memories to come rushing back into their minds.
Avoidance would not allow them to properly heal, so “Consequently, the trauma they endured would be left unresolved, and, therefore, would be transmitted to future generations” (Alayarian, p. 32). The complex trauma that survivors have is witnessed by their children, second generation Armenians. Through witnessing, a child can see the mental illnesses and psychological effects in their parent(s), such as depression, PTSD, and sadness, and begin to develop symptoms of their own to the same or similar mental illness. An example of this can be seen in Chobanian’s—my interviewee who was my old high school teacher—grandfather who was clinically depressed as a result of the genocide because he was never able to get over the loss of his family. Her grandmother was a hoarder and was never able to bring herself to talk about the events of the genocide. Chobanian’s father, growing up noticed the traits in his parents, developed depression and alcoholism due to the genocide’s personal impact on his family. Chobanian said that it is impossible to separate the genocide with the identity of an Armenian, along with consequently becoming impossible to separate from a family’s history. These effects do not give a survivor or the family the ability to escape the consequences of the genocide, which negatively impacts their psychology.
Another way for trauma to be passed down from one generation to the next is through the socio-political situation of the survivors being unresolved and unimproved leaving future generations to deal with the disparities and its effects on them (Alayarian). The status of Armenians before the genocide, second-class citizens, has been passed down through the generations because of the Turkish government’s failure to acknowledge the genocide reinforces that second-class citizenship to Armenians today. By having this reiteration, they still feel like the demonized victim of the Ottoman Empire (Hovannisian). Also, the denial of the Turkish government makes it very difficult for Armenians to properly heal from the traumatizing events because they have not been able to gain closure for the government’s actions and worsens the trauma inflicted by those actions.
Not only has the genocide resulted in negative effects to the Armenian psych and their community, but the genocidal acts has also caused a devastating impact of their culture. The Armenian people have found a collective identity through their suffering. This group identity allows individuals to come together through diaspora to help each other through the traumatic experiences they endured during the genocide, which is proved by the case study Kuzirian performed. Though this may seem beneficial, their collective trauma pushes them further from their cultural centre. This happens both figuratively and literally. Figuratively, the Armenians are removed from their cultural centre because the loss of their culture makes it hard for them to pass along with their Armenian identity and history. In the literal sense, they are removed from their home land. They cannot be in the place that has been their home for thousands of years because a large majority of the Armenian population has been displaced from the Asia Minor which causes a loss of identity because their geographical location has been a large part of their Armenian identity for a long time.
Many Armenians do not have physical access to the origins of their culture. With this move from their cultural centre, it leaves future generations to find the key to the unanswered questions of the genocide, identity, social organizations, and ideology (Alayarian). This causes the Armenian people to feel as if the genocide cannot be separated from their identity and culture (Chobanian, Kuzirian) because mass trauma causes mass implications on their culture. Lastly, the Armenian culture cannot be separated from the negative cultural implications of the genocide is Turkey’s denial of the events.
The Turkish government’s denial has played a huge role in the Armenian culture, especially for the second and third generation Armenians, by influencing them in a negative way. From Remembrance and Denial, “Denial aims to reshape history in order to rehabilitate the perpetrators and demonize the victims” (Hovannisian, p. 286). It allows the Turkish government to shape a history that accommodates them, prevents other governments from acting against them for the genocide, and further harms the Armenian population. Along with having the Armenian history distorted, the survivor’s truths and rationality have been squashed due to the denial. The future generations of Armenians have been advocating for the Turkish government to take responsibility for the genocide because they want to seek justice for their family. The denial has been preventing psychological healing and there is no acknowledgment for the emotional and psychological pain of the survivors which makes the traumatic effects even worse for them individually and as a culture. There are feelings of anger and frustration in the second and third generation because they have seen the way in which the denial has personally impacted their family.
Other than the governmental denial, the genocide had more negative impacts on the Armenian culture. Within their culture, so much was lost that cannot be replaced such as relics, statues, personal belongings, and heirlooms. The loss of family heirlooms effects a family’s history because they can no longer pass something down that was from the “old country,” which relates back to being further away from their cultural centre. Heirlooms are a part of an Armenian’s identity because such a material possession represents so much of their culture. Many items were ransacked from Armenian houses by the Turkish after being forced to evict from their homes and deported. Items were lost, stolen, and taken from them. Having family heirlooms gave a sense of tradition that is now lost because they cannot continue passing down an item that is representative of their family. These pieces were representative of the Armenian culture, religion, and language.
Additionally, the Armenian community experiences a loss in properly transmitting culture, otherwise known as cultural disintegration (Alayarian). There is an overwhelming sense of guilt and loss due to the loss of centuries of Armenian Identity (Hovannisian). So, there is a pressure placed upon the offspring of the survivors to carry on what is left of the Armenian culture. It is their job to make sure their culture and identity are not lost. The genocide has caused many diasporas like in America, which takes into account that some survivors have written their stories down in English as a way to show that part of the Armenian experience is the diaspora and demonstrates how that is an element of their cultural history (Hovannisian).
Considering all this loss of culture, there are some positive results of the genocide. Firstly, the Armenian people “invented new literature, that of testimony” (Hovannisian, p. 165). More specifically, they have created genres within their literature. Survivor testimony, survivor memoir, and oral testimony have status within the Armenian community because it is a way for survivors to create a cognitive commemoration of their experiences of the genocide. It is also a way to document and have a way for people to piece together their stories to get an idea of what happened during the genocide. This is important in a historical context because this will help interpret history through memory.
There are a few ways that the Armenians pass on their culture. It can be done through the passing down of family recipes from one generation to the next because food plays a big part in their culture. Food is a unifies their people by bringing Armenians together to gather and enjoy each other’s company. The continuation of their language is important to be passed down because it is part of their identity. It distinguishes them from other ethnicities and gives them a sense of pride in who they are. Education is huge for the second and third generations because there is a big push to become doctors, lawyers, and to be successful in business. It is the older generations way of saying that Armenians will raise up even better than before, a way to show that they do not accept defeat after the genocide, and that their spirit has not been broken.
The way Chobanian has preserved her Armenian culture is by ensuring that her child knows their family history and what happened to them during the genocide, by marrying a Lebanese man because he understood her family history more than most, and by giving her child her Armenian last name. The last name is a huge identifier of an Armenian because all Armenian last names end in “-ian.” She hyphenated her last name for her child because she has no brothers and wanted the last name to be something she could pass on to future generations. Chobanian agreed that she felt a pressure to ensure the continuation of the Armenian culture, which is why she wanted to be sure that her Armenian heritage could be passed on in some way to her kid. The pressure to continue their culture is especially present in diasporas.
As mentioned earlier, Armenians have been displaced from the Asia Minor, which causes diasporas like the one in Pasadena, California to form. When waves of Armenians moved to Pasadena they felt like they were forced to learn English in order for them to confirm security within the American community, though they still made sure to speak in their native tongue and keep their culture instead of fully assimilating into American culture. Within their community, some businesses have signs in ancient Armenian and in English. Future generations of the migrates that came to America see it necessary to marry another Armenian in order to continue the Armenian lineage and feel a sense of pride and duty to do so. When an Armenian and another Armenian marry, there is a sense of reassurance that their culture will be passed one. They feel protected from possible scrutiny because the larger their population, the harder it will be to try and terminate them again. They also see it as crucially important to practice their religion because that is why they were persecuted for in the first place. And those with a “strongly developed Armenian identity may be a protective factor and support resiliency in [their] population” (Kuzirian, p. 18). This is because they are the major factor in the continuation of their culture by ensuring that their flame does not burn out.
My research is significant in many ways. The survivor’s testimony of the Armenian people has carved a path for other oppressed groups to find their voices in similar ways. The survivor testimony forces people to become aware of the world around them and addresses topics that cannot be found in the media. The speechlessness of the Armenians, and even facelessness, are a concern that should transcend generations. Also, the Armenians have had their political, social, and civil rights oppressed intentionally by a national government. By bringing light to this topic, it allows for people to start holding governments accountable for their actions, which is something that needs to become more frequent in the international community. Lastly, as Hannah Arendt says in We Refugees, suicide is the “last and supreme guarantee of human freedom,” and the fact that many young women during the genocide chose death as a better outlet than life should spark interest in people to figure out why death was a better option for these people. My research sheds only the barest of light on the horrors of this topic. There is hope that the world will join up as one community to guarantee that the Turkish government gets held accountable.
In conclusion, the Armenians have suffered a great deal, in respects to both psychology and culture. The psychological implications lasted a lifetime for those who survived the genocide and even transcended generations of Armenians. There is an unresolved anger from the descendants of survivors on the Turkish government for denying the genocidal acts they carried out and for not recognizing the all the pain and damage they caused because of both the genocide and their denial. The psychological impacts will linger on for more generations to come. The Armenian culture has experienced cultural disintegration. But, the Armenian people, as strong as they are, have proven that a culture can receive damage but they do not have to accept it. “Once the collective traumatic event recedes or ends completely, people almost always reconstruct their society on the loose ends of the culture upon which they had been so dependent” (Alayarian, p. 53). Though the damages on the Armenian culture are significant, the Armenian people have already began repairing the damages that were done. The pride and courage that they have in their identity causes a persistence that cannot be trifled with. The Turkish government attempted to wipe out the Armenian race, but have failed to do so.
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