Workshop on Armenian and Turkish Scholarship (WATS XI)

ANN ARBOR, MI — To mark the centennial year of the founding of the Turkish Republic, WATS (the Workshop on Armenian and Turkish Scholarship) has decided to organize an eleventh workshop at the University of Michigan under the auspices of the Center for Armenian Studies.

Marking the centenary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey, the conference aims to bring a critical perspective on the process of making states that involved ethnic cleansing or genocide. Few modern states are free of dark histories of exclusion, forced assimilation, or more sanguinary solutions to the remnants of imperial diversity. Investigating states that were founded on dispossession of indigenous peoples, the conference will examine the Turkish past and the histories of the United States, Israel, and Australia, among others. Turkey is not unique, but its achievement in ridding Anatolia of Armenians and Assyrians, like the removal of Native Americans from continental United States, was admired by and positively referred to by Adolph Hitler as he planned his own genocidal policies in the lands to the east of Germany.

The conference examines the ideological and strategic choices made by Ottoman and Turkish nationalist leaders as they attempted to “modernize” their states through coercive demographic policies and the deployment of violence, which became enshrined as part of the repertoire of governance in the Kemalist state. Having eliminated the bulk of Christians, the heirs of the Ottomans repressed their former allies, the Kurds, turning what they conceived as a homogeneous ethnic nation-state into a mini-imperial state colonizing its non-Turkish subjects.

Just as the controversial 1619 Project in the United States has contested the origins of the American republic by seeking its beginnings with the first importation of African slaves, rather than the revolutionary events of 1776, so shall this workshop explore the formative events and processes from the initiation of systemic reforms in the Ottoman Empire in 1789, through the Tanzimat reforms of 1839 and 1876, the coup d’état of 1908 and the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1916, to the 1918 fall of the empire, the 1919-1922 rise of the Kemalist nationalist movement, and the 1923 founding of the Republic of Turkey.

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