Abstract: Based on ethnographic research the proposed paper is a reflection of a person living in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal) on unceded Kanien'kehá:ka [Mohawk] territory, of Armenian heritage, on human rights and genocide. The paper highlights the personal and intimate expressions of loss and grief in the context of the survivor narratives of the Armenian Genocide from a feminist and historical materialist perspective. The focus is on the study of narratives of survivors of the Armenian Genocide and the inability to mourn the loss. In examining survivor narratives, the paper also re-visits Walter Benjamin's historical materialist approach to mourning that brings the past to the present.
To historians who wish to relive an era, Fustel de Coulanges recommends that they blot out everything they know about the later course of history. There is no better way of characterizing the method with which historical materialism has broken. That method is a process of empathy whose origin is the indolence of the heart, acedia, which despairs of grasping and holding the genuine historical image as it flares up briefly. Among Medieval theologians it was regarded as the root cause of sadness. Flaubert, who was familiar with it, wrote: “Peu de gens devineront combien il a fallu être triste pour ressusciter Carthage.” The nature of this sadness stands out more clearly if one asks with whom the adherents of historicism actually empathize. The answer is inevitable: with the victor.
Walter Benjamin's “Theses on the Philosophy of History”(1940) might be described as a treatise on the political and ethical stakes of mourning remains — mourning what remains of lost histories as well as histories of loss. According to Benjamin, to mourn the remains of the past hopefully is to establish an active and open relationship with history. This practice—what Benjamin calls “historical materialism”—is a creative process, animating history for future significations as well as alternate empathies. For the historical materialist, to relive an era is not to “blot out everything” one knows “about the later course of history”— simply to bring memory to the past. On the contrary, reliving an era is to bring the past to memory. It is to induce actively a tension between the past and the present, between the dead and the living. In this manner, Benjamin’s historical materialist establishes a continuing dialogue with loss and its remains (David L. Eng and David Kazanjian ed. Loss, Mourning remains, introduction, 2003: 1)
Dr. Aprahamian holds a Doctoral degree in anthropology granted at McGill University. She is currently working on the following projects: A virtual museum of objects that have survived the Armenian Genocide and are in Canada and their stories; Narratives of Displacement; Ottoman women's movement(s). Her Doctoral Dissertation (based on fieldwork in the Beka’a valley of Lebanon and funded by SSHRC) was entitled The Inhabitants of Haouch Moussa. She has been organizing several panels in academic conferences over the years on literary responses to genocide, feminist perspectives on genocide, as well as publishing and presenting papers on identity issues, gender, genocide.