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(IN) VISIBLE DIASPORA AGENTS: A REPORT ON THE PRESENTATIONS BY T. GRIGOR & H. BERBERIAN

Alain Navarra-Navassartian. PhD art history , PhD sociology


Speakers of the colloquium "Armenian Diaspora(s) in Motion" co-organized by Hyestart in Paris on 14-15 March 2024
Speakers of the colloquium "Armenian Diaspora(s) in Motion" co-organized by Hyestart in Paris in 03.2024


A REPORT ON THE PRESENTATIONS BY :

TALINN GRIGOR, Art Historian, University of California, Davis &

HOURY BERBERIAN, Historian, University of California, Irvine.

 

First of all, it was a pleasure to be part of the organization of this symposium and of the scientific committee, on both a human and intellectual level. Khatchig Tölölyan's contributions highlighted the need for multidisciplinary and comparative approaches to the study of Armenian diasporas. The social sciences as a whole should be called upon to further this study, as they shed light on concepts such as minorities, notions of individual or collective identity, mobility, memory, nationalism, the economic and participatory relationship with Armenia, etc.

 

The colloquium highlighted certain changes in Armenian diaspora studies.

 

Some panels have vigorously challenged old definitions and approaches, conceptualizing new forms of dispersion, diaspora and transnationalism. It's hard not to think of the work of Martine Hovanessian, who in France laid the foundations for comparative work with other diasporas, considering the Armenian diaspora as a construction that articulates temporalities rather than as a fixed category. All the presentations questioned the notions of migrant or transmigrant communities, which create new social spaces, as well as hybridization, métissage, transculturalism and collective action in favor of Armenia.

 

Identification is no longer based exclusively on the past or shared roots, but on a future that diasporic people, as actors, develop and negotiate on a daily basis.

 

Of the various contributions to this colloquium, I would like to draw attention to the panel on which I was the discussant:


"Of feminist interventions in Irano-Armenian diaspora in motion" : Suitcase objects as depositary. Taline Grigor.


"Of feminist intervention in Irano-Armenian diaspora in motion: Informality of oral histories. Houry Berberian.


The invisibilization of women in history and the invisibilization of women's history (including in Armenian historiography, particularly that of the genocide) are important research themes. Their often erased presence, destroyed or incomplete archives and the lack of "traces" to write these stories are notorious in the theater of memory. It seems that women are shadows. With this presentation, which precedes the publication of a book, the Berberian, Grigor tandem opens up a wide field of research for Armenian studies.

 

Art historian Talinn Grigor uses Lyotard's concept of "petits récits" to shed light on these women's journeys. These narratives are very different from the grand narratives, and in particular from the dominant narrative of classical historiography. Here, the legitimization of knowledge is offered by multiple, interwoven narratives. The point here is not to explore Jean François Lyotard's rich and fruitful thought, but to emphasize the emancipating perspective this presentation offers in the context of Armenian studies. Houry Berberian and Taline Grigor's work unleashes a historical imagination, starting from the point of view and position of these women, questioning the established practices of historiography and emphasizing "small realities" through the multiplication of social-cultural environments or micro-communication phenomena.

 

The history of these Iranian-Armenian women from the USA is not written in a way that pre-inscribes meaning into a pre-established form, but from new materials (objects, testimonies, oral history) that transform and problematize the position of these women, some of whom are self-assumed feminists. Little is known about the repertoire of actions, demands and declensions relating to the women's movement in the Armenian diasporas. The presentation, which gives access to individual women's trajectories, highlights the personal emancipation processes of "ordinary" women, understood as protagonists not enshrined in established memory. It's the power to act that is also shown, but above all how this capacity to act is constructed, neither totally freely improvised nor entirely determined. The process of individualization, that "sense of self" (Levy 2008) negotiated (with family, husband or self) or conquered. This minority within the minority, these Iranian-Armenian women in the USA, seen through the prism of art history and history, questions the traditional sectors of Armenian women's history, not only in the diaspora but also in Armenian historiography.

 

By restoring snippets of their history, we take into account the situations and rules that often make their journeys invisible.


To escape from the silence of certain historical data, it is important to borrow certain tools from other disciplines, such as art history and the history of material culture. The object, the artifact, has become a document through which economic, social or cultural phenomena can be explored: embroideries, photographs, engravings, leaflets, books, etc. refer to the epistemological dimension of materiality for the analysis of cultural and social manifestations. As the "remains" of an action that took place in the past, objects enable a kind of archaeology of practices, and a grasp of "lost understandings".

 

This is just one of the many interests of this presentation; orality, testimony and oral history are another. While the Anglo-Saxon world has been using testimonials as a source of scientific production for some time now, notably among the sociologists of the Chicago school, the historical practice of interviewing poses more problems in France in particular, where it affects less varied fields than in the USA. In recent years, art history in particular has witnessed an unprecedented interest in the oral archive, to which it has long remained reticent: the project to collect oral testimonies from André Chastel's close friends and collaborators in 2014 and the creation of an oral art archive database for the contemporary period (available on the Agorha platform of the Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art) attest to a renewal of investigative methods, going beyond the traditional artist interview. It is therefore interesting to see an art historian working in tandem with a historian to insert their work into fields more varied than social history or collective trauma.


It's not the expression of a personal point of view, but the result of knowledge about the past that becomes collective knowledge because it's inherited from previous generations, shared knowledge. This raises the question of memoriality (Florence Descamps. 2019) and the intertwining of individual and collective memory. It allows us to update the "social frameworks of memory" identified by Maurice Halbwachs in 1925 and historicize them: places, names, language, time, chronological markers, topographical markers, social classes and their representations, the family, friendships and "affective communities", political and social communities, professions, bodies, systems of thought or values, religions, traditions and customs... In this way, we can hope to grasp and document the link between collective memory and individual recollections, by adopting Maurice Halbwachs' principle that "the individual remembers from the group's point of view [while] the group's memory is realized and manifested in individual memories". (Maurice Halbwachs. Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire. 1925).

 

An interest in the narrative or rhetorical repertoires of these women offers a rich register of analysis just as important as the memorial repertoires used by the witnesses.

 

How do we remember? What do we remember? In what words do we remember? What objects are memory supports?, but also what is left aside in the memory? For which audience are we remembered? Do the memories change depending on the listeners?

 

So many avenues opened by this presentation which allows, through transversal and complementary approaches, to structure and contextualize the conditions of production of these testimonies. It is not the least of the merits of the work of Houry Berberian and Tallin Grigor that it allows us to move away from globalizing knowledge but to promote the understanding of the complexity of the dynamics which emerge in university research.

 

It is always exciting to see new approaches in the production of knowledge in Armenian studies. The meeting of an art historian and a historian is particularly fruitful: the spaces multiply, from the most universal to the most singular within the framework of a “social” history in the most encompassing sense, a history of the construction of social bonds of all kinds.

 

The feminist approach is essential. We have already highlighted the distortion of reality and the scarcity of sources on women's history, particularly Armenian history. It is the female experience which is at the heart of the social, economic and political transformations of these women, first in Iran then in the USA. The female experience is a reference model and women are the measure.

 

We are therefore impatiently awaiting the book, because the presentation during the conference provides a glimpse of research methods and the production of emancipatory knowledge in the field of Armenian studies as a non-unitary field in constant evolution.

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