Engaged Anthropology Grant: Ozlem Goner

Ozlem Goner is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work at The College of Staten Island – CUNY. In 2010, while a Ph.D. student at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘History in the Present: Historical Consciousness and the Construction of Otherness in Turkey,’ supervised by Dr. Joy Misra. In 2013, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite in Dersim Province, Turkey.

My dissertation research analyzed multiple histories of a series of massacres the state undertook in Dersim, and revealed formation and transformation of outsiderness through direct and indirect, experienced and imagined, past and present forms of historicity. Since I conducted my research, various collective memory projects have introduced new discourses and silences about historical narratives. My engagement project involved sharing my dissertation work with the host community at a time when their history is being narrated in more formulaic and exclusive forms. To this end, I revisited my narrators in various districts and villages of Dersim during which we interpreted the conclusions of my dissertation together. I also organized a workshop among the local researchers who have worked on similar issues to promote a dialogue among different collective memory projects and to make these projects more transparent to the host community. Moreover, in its reinterpretations, history is often mobilized to understand the current relationships between the state and subaltern populations, such as the continuing dam and mining projects, which threaten the livelihood of people in Dersim. This engagement project provided me the chance to participate in various discussions with academics, local researchers, political actors, and local residents, and present how ethnographic research can contribute to more participatory solutions.

This engagement project was based on my dissertation research where I looked into the formations of outsiderness in Turkey, produced simultaneously by the state and by those groups whose identities and memories lay outside of the boundaries of the nation. I focused on the multiple historicities of a series of massacres the state undertook in Dersim, a municipality in Turkish Kurdistan, in the late 1930s, referred in local language as hirusu hest, and the ways this historical event has been silenced, remembered, and mobilized by different actors in formulating outsider identities and movements over time and space.

Because I was interested in the ways history has been lived, conceptualized, and mobilized by different actors and movements, I analyzed both the silences about the hirusu hest, as well as the reconstruction of the event through recent attempts at constructing a more organized collective memory. Different from indirect forms of history, collective memory involves visible processes of selection and representation of narratives over which institutions, political groups and movements have been competing.

My engagement project was most timely at this moment when a more organized and selective form of history about “hirusu hest” is being written in Kurdistan, Turkey and Europe, which has introduced new mechanisms of selection and silencing. This project provided me the chance to share my own research on historical narratives with the host community and researchers.

I started my engagement project by visiting the villages in all the districts of Dersim sharing my work with the narrators of my dissertation research. This was really meaningful because my narrators expressed feelings of being left out of the recent process of collective memory construction. They mentioned that several researchers had visited them over the past three years without “ever getting back in touch”. Moreover, since I conducted my dissertation research, political groups have been involved in mobilizing the memories of witnesses, claiming the authority over interpretation of historical narratives. Especially my narrators in remote villages of Dersim, such as the mountain villages of Ovacik, which were displaced in the 1990s, had no connections with the recent commemorative ceremonies and rallies about hirusu hest. Visiting my narrators in their villages, sharing the end products of my research with them, and hearing their comments and interpretations in this context was a highly fulfilling experience. I would like to thank the Wenner Gren Foundation for providing me with the resources to accomplish this ethical obligation.

Second, I organized a workshop with local researchers, who have been “collecting” memories of hirusu hest. In addition to enabling me to share my research experiences with the local researchers, this workshop was a step for making research projects on hirusu hest more transparent to the host community. Among the participants were Ozgur Findik, a local researcher who directed two documentary projects about the massacres and forced displacements in Dersim in the 1930s, Devrim Tekinoglu, a journalist, publisher, documentary maker who have worked both on hirusu hest and the village displacements in the 1990s, and Cemal Tas, one of the first researchers to conduct interviews on hirusu hest and the director of the Oral History Project organized by European Federation of Dersim Foundations.

The workshop took place both in Turkish and in the local language to make it available to the generation who witnessed the massacres and who hardly understand Turkish. The workshop ended with the showing of different documentary films in respective nights, two on hirusu hest and one on the dam projects in Dersim. This was the most popular component of the workshop since the visual material was more approachable by older and younger generations alike.

As a component of my dissertation research, and based on the questions I was receiving from my narrators, I also got engaged in a project of understating “hirusu hest” in relation to the current problems in Dersim: the continuing effects of the state terror of the 1990s, as well as the dam projects on Munzur River and mining projects in the mountains, undertaken by the state in cooperation with private companies. My dialogues with the researchers, the more political actors and the villagers made me understand research as an ethical and political process especially in subaltern places. Hence as a part of this engagement project I started to work with an activist lawyer who is working with villagers who are threatened by the hydroelectric power plants and mining projects.

The final component of my project is making my research available for the host community for the long term. Dersim does not have any archives or museums to display academic or art work. Since I did not have enough funds to undertake a large-scale project, I contacted the municipal government and the local researchers about founding of a small anthropology and oral history museum in Dersim through a display of my ethnographic research in different forms. My research involves archival material, as well as photographs, videos, and a documentary project prepared with the artists and directors. I received consent from my narrators and made copies of my research material. I also obtained copies of documentaries and art work produced by local researchers and artists. This material that will be presented at a space provided by the Municipal Government starting with late fall.

 

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