The Workshop for Armenian/Turkish Scholarship
The Workshop for Armenian/Turkish Scholarship (WATS) has been an ongoing effort on the part of a number of scholars—Armenian, Turkish and other—to investigate the causes, circumstances and consequences of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, overcoming the politics of recognition and denial. Initiated by a group of faculty and graduate students at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in recent years the organizing committee has consisted of Professors Muge Gocek (Sociology), Gerard Libaridian and Ronald Suny (History) at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Over the last decade a group of scholars has managed to meet, discuss, present papers, and establish a shared historical record and rough consensus on interpretation of the tragedies of the last years of the Ottoman Empire. The University of Michigan was host to the second meeting of WATS in 2002, the first having been held at the University of Chicago. A selection of the papers from the first seven workshops was published recently by Oxford University Press with the title “A Question of Genocide.”
Continuing the series of workshops begun in 2000 the eighth meeting of WATS will convene in conjunction with the International Institute of Social History and the Center for Genocide Studies, Amsterdam. The theme for WATS VIII is: “The Peoples of Empire: The Millet System and the Last Years of the Ottoman Empire (19th and 20th Centuries).” The workshop will take place October 27-29, 2011 at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.
The Center for Armenian Studies at the University of Michigan will be co-sponsoring WATS VIII in recognition of the contributions of Armenian studies faculty who have been instrumental in the genesis and continuation of the project, a group which in addition to those mentioned above, includes Prof. Kevork Bardakjian. After more than a decade of leadership in this project, Professors Gocek, Libaridian and Suny have decided to transfer the project to a new team of scholars that will be formed by October 2011.
The State of Armenian Studies
In 2008 the CAS has initiated a special project on “The State of Armenian Studies” that will result in a report on the subject with the cooperation of the National Association for Armenian Studies and a large number of scholars around the world.
A first meeting of the workshop, with the participation of scholars from Armenia, Europe and the US, met on campus on September 2008 and defined the parameters of the project. Since then the team has collected a large amount of information on Armenian studies chairs, programs, libraries, organizations and institutions as well related materials. The collected data will constitute the basis for a draft report on the state of Armenian studies to be discussed at a second international workshop scheduled to meet in October 2011.
The final report and supporting data will be made available to all concerned and to the public at large sometime in early 2012.
Given the significant differences in the understanding, practice and even the definition of the field, the project director and manager decided that at this stage the project should be limited to institutions in the Diaspora.
The project is directed by Professor Gerard Libaridian and managed by U-M Ph.D. student in Near Eastern Studies Vahe Sahakyan, with volunteer support from U-M MA student Naira Tumanyan.
The project is supported by the Harry Ardashes Paul Memorial Fund of the Center of Armenian Studies.
Oral History Project in Armenia
Four years ago CAS initiated an oral history project in Armenia with the purpose of recording the memoirs of political leaders from the Soviet period to early independence. Questionnaires were developed and a special team of interviewers was trained by Professor Gerard Libaridian, director of the project. On site in Armenia this project has been managed by Ms. Gayane Sargsyan of Yerevan.
The purpose of the project, according to the project director, is “to capture for history and make available to historians facts, aspects, dimensions and causalities relevant to Armenia’s development that will otherwise be lost because many important decisions and processes have not left a paper trail during times of transition and chaos; because people forget, willfully or otherwise; because people die before they have a chance to write their memoirs or be interviewed in their old age; because some will never write their memoirs; and because we never know what will be of interest to future historians. What may be a detail today may become a significant fact in the future.”
Thus far some 25 individuals have been interviewed, including Fadey Sargsyan, the last Prime Minister of Soviet Armenia; Valdimir Movsisyan, the last First Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Armenia; Vazgen Manukyan, the first Prime Minister of independent Armenia, Babken Araraktsyan, the first Speaker of the parliament of independent Armenia, and others.
“It has been a very slow process,” explained Prof. Libaridian. “We have not been able to move as fast as we wanted. We have lost some of our interviewers; Armenia has a very fluid society; young scholars and professionals engaged in our work have moved on and it takes time and effort to find and train new ones. The dominance of politics in the country and the polarization of forces have made it difficult for individuals to focus on the past. In the process, we have lost some important figures we wanted to interview to age and illness."
Nonetheless, the project is going forward and is scheduled to end by April 2012. The interviews, done mostly in Armenian, will be available both in audio-tape and in transcribed format.