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Living with Remnants

(credit: Emrah Gokdemir)

Dr Yael Navaro

In contemporary Turkey, we are witnessing a proliferation of memory talks. Concepts such as identity, violence, nationalism, and cosmopolitanism lace together current academic and popular discourses that have gradually emerged as public responses to repressive state practices and ideologies. Political subjectivities continue to emerge, constituted as oppositional to the official imagination of national identities. Various struggles for human rights and democratization, and against racism, nationalism and other schemes of exclusion and discrimination have opened up spaces to confront past and contemporary experiences of those communities in Turkey (Armenians, Kurds, Arabs, Assyrian-Syriacs, Greeks, Jews) that have been rendered abject and invisible.

This project provides scholarly analysis and critical reflections on such efforts to ‘confront the past’ in Turkey. It does so by tracing remnants left behind by communities who were displaced, deported, exterminated or ethnically cleansed and by ethnographically studying the place of such remainders in Turkey’s present-day politics. Our objective is to ethnographically research how the past is engaged in present-day Turkey by focusing on practices of 'living with remnants,' capturing the feelings, imaginaries, and experiences of everyday survival in the shadow of remnants. Highlighting this, in an ethnographic / historical as well as theoretical / conceptual exploration of 'remnants,' we study the dialectical relation between remnants and subjectivities of past and present inhabitants by exploring the ways in which residual traces are either silenced and erased or surprisingly referenced in daily lives, making unlikely appearances in Turkey’s present.

The synonyms for ‘remnants’ are in the multiple: the notions of ‘ruin,’ ‘remainder,’ ‘trace,’ ‘leftover,’ and ‘residue’ all capture aspects of the remnants we aim to site and explore. We conceptualize 'remnants' as multiplex phenomena which have an enduring effect in the after-life of persons and communities that were once associated with them. These may be material remains in the form of land, houses, temples, and other forms of built structure once used and inhabited by communities that were displaced, deported, ethnically cleansed, or exterminated. 'Remnants' may also be immaterial affects, in the form of memory or the imagination as associated with past atrocities, such as accounts of haunting and/or loss in the aftermath of violence. Likewise, 'remnants' figure in subjective worlds, in intimate relations, or in embodied forms where contemporary inhabitants of Turkey have begun to claim Armenian, Kurdish or Arab ancestry, reaching back to grandparents who were adopted, converted, or assimilated. 'Remnants' are also 'political' insofar as they constitute the context for
ongoing inter-communal relations in and outside Turkey, relations that sometimes take 'legal' and 'economic' forms. Such remnants, once owned or associated with people or communities now mostly gone, are complex phenomena. In their various sorts and forms, both tangible and intangible, remnants get entangled in new social practices and relations. We ethnographically and historically research these experiences of 'living with remnants' in Turkey and its associated diaspora communities.

Dr Yael Navaro is the PI with post-doctoral Co-Is Dr Zerrin Ozlem Biner, Dr Alice von Bieberstein and Dr Seda Altug.

For further information please see the Living with Remnants website


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