Starting in the early 1990s, many Turkish citizens who were officially registered as Muslims, have claimed Armenian descent and sought the arbitration of Turkish mid-level courts to register themselves as Christians and adopt Armenian names. Regardless of how smoothly these legal claims may be working procedurally after legal reforms related to the EU accession process, the Armenianness of those seeking conversion is something to be yet proven to Turkish legal authorities, the Armenian Patriarchate, the Turkish public, and the Armenian minority in Turkey.
These recent claims to Armenianness raise several questions: “Who is an Armenian?” “Who decides who is an Armenian?” “What is the definition of religious conversion in Turkey?” “What qualifies one as a convert or return convert?” These questions have ambiguous and conflicting answers revealing that the definitions of Armenianness—legal, religious, genealogical, and cultural—are elusive and uncertain. This lecture tackles these questions from multiple, shifting angles and offers ethnographic perspectives to the primary question of the ways in which religious minorities are defined legally, historically, and politically in Turkey. These return conversions provide a unique vantage point on the contested nature of religious and legal identities in Turkey, coupled with the historically fragile separation between religion, ethnicity, and citizenship in secular nation-states in general.
Ceren Ozgul received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from City University of New York, Graduate Center. Her dissertation, “From Muslim Citizen to Christian Minority: Tolerance, Secularism, and Armenian Return Conversions in Turkey,” analyzes the return conversions of forcibly Islamized Armenians in modern Turkey back to Armenian Christianity. Her postdoctoral research expands on her dissertation research to further study forcefully Islamized Armenians’ strategies to navigate questions of ethnicity and religion within the larger formations of the discourse of tolerance in Turkey. As a Manoogian Simone Foundation Post-doctoral Fellow, she is teaching a course on the anthropological, legal, and political genealogies of the concept of tolerance with a historical and contemporary focus.
Sponsors: ASP, CMENAS, Department of Anthropology