Armenian Studies in Conversation with Critical Indigenous Studies and Settler Colonial Studies

An Invitation

In: Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies
Helen Makhdoumian Department of Comparative Literature, The Promise Armenian Institute, University of California Los Angeles, CA USA

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This article argues that Armenian Studies can learn from and contribute to the fields of critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies in generative ways, especially as those fields increasingly become global in scope. After surveying recent scholarly discourses in Armenian Studies, I illuminate pathways forward for interdisciplinary approaches to the study of indigeneity, colonization, genocide, removal, dispossession, biocultural assimilation, cultural heritage preservation, and memory work. I situate these potential possibilities and needed nuances within a larger discussion on the origins, aims, and current state of critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies, two interrelated but distinct modes of inquiry.


This article argues that Armenian Studies can learn from and contribute to the fields of critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies in generative ways, especially as those fields increasingly become global in scope. After surveying recent scholarly discourses in Armenian Studies, I illuminate pathways forward for interdisciplinary approaches to the study of indigeneity, colonization, genocide, removal, dispossession, biocultural assimilation, cultural heritage preservation, and memory work. I situate these potential possibilities and needed nuances within a larger discussion on the origins, aims, and current state of critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies, two interrelated but distinct modes of inquiry.

The call to “An Invitation” in the title of my article means, in part, a call to recognize the transcultural connections that literary texts depict, to take inspiration from these acts of theoretical and critical reflection rendered through narrative craft, and to transform that inspiration into a practice of relational thinking in support of scholarly production in Armenian Studies.1 This conceptualization of an invitation builds upon a method of analysis that I have taken up in a number of places, including in my study of Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s Draining the Sea (2008) – the third novel in what can be described as a trilogy of novels concerning the everyday of genocidal violence and its legacies in terms of intergenerational trauma and memory work.2 In the form of a novel, Marcom’s Draining the Sea brings to US public consciousness the history of the Armenian Genocide, the genocide of the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe, in what is now the LA basin, and the genocide of Maya peoples, particularly the Ixil, during the Guatemalan Civil War. In my own reading, I argue that the unnamed Armenian American narrator productively confronts entangled histories of settler colonialism in the Americas to then understand his few inherited memories of his Armenian grandmother’s experience in terms of the “logic of elimination.”3 Though I used the work of Australian historian and settler colonial studies scholar Patrick Wolfe then, my analysis of the novel and how its portrayal of a triangulation of genocidal histories can illuminate the perpetration of the Armenian Genocide in terms of removal and dispossession shares thinking with Keith David Watenpaugh’s arguments for conceptualizing the Armenian Genocide in terms of what he calls “indigenous genocide.”4 In my reading of the novel, I also elucidate that in remembering our removal from our homelands in Western Armenia, and while maintaining transnational kinship networks in the US, Armenians must reckon with the mnemonics of the US settler colonial state, especially regarding its founding in genocide, territorial dispossession, and enslavement. As evinced by that Modern Fiction Studies article, bringing literature and scholarship to bear on one another positions me to ask weighty questions. Draining the Sea, for instance, prompts me to ask: How do inheritors of removal memory confront the multiple subject- positions of witnessing that they hold in settler colonial spaces outside of their homelands?

As a scholar whose methodology brings in conversation disparate histories of cultural trauma, literary canons, and bodies of critical discourse, my invocation of “invitation” serves another rhetorical and intellectual purpose: to facilitate reflection on how we come at indigeneity as an analytical rubric.5 What I will be arguing for, then, is the potential possibilities and needed nuances when Armenian Studies scholars, especially those working in the US, begin to engage two distinct yet overlapping fields of inquiry: critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies. The Routledge Handbook of Critical Indigenous Studies, for instance, features essays that articulate “critical understandings of indigeneity in relation to ontology (ways of being), epistemology (ways of knowing) and axiology (ways of doing).”6 The respective fields of critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies lend themselves to that intellectual work but through different emphases that can facilitate different goals in critical inquiry. I would like to explicate these distinctions. Settler colonial studies emphasizes the means of territorial acquisition, the subjugation and elimination of native societies, and settler subjectivity. In contrast, Audra Simpson (Mohawk), working within critical Indigenous studies, proffers Indigenous “nested sovereignty,” nationhood, and continued kinship networks in the face of nation-state policies.7 Similarly, in revealing how these nation-state policies seek the disappearance of Indigenous presence, Glen Coulthard (Yellowknives Dene) illuminates the ongoing practice of “grounded normativity” or “Indigenous land-connected practices and longstanding experiential knowledge that inform” a “system of reciprocal relations and obligations” among humans and with nonhuman others (emphasis original).8 Still others, like Nick Estes (Kul Wicasa), bring to light histories of Indigenous resistance movements and radical Indigenous internationalism.9 I am not advocating for scholarship from critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies – largely developed in relation to the study of the Americas and Oceania and the latter in relation to White or Anglo settlers – to travel as a one-to-one equation for the study of the Armenian Genocide, removal, territorial dispossession, and the afterlives of such violence. Rather, my end goal is to elucidate how a set of methodological tools that comes from these areas of exploration can generate new questions, modes of inquiry, and practices of interdisciplinarity and connection within Armenian Studies, that also lend themselves towards solidarity across geographies. My study here is ultimately a reflection on how the study of indigeneity – as well as scholarship from critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies – can more broadly come to bear on the field of Armenian Studies.

Understanding how scholars have thought through these same questions in Palestine Studies has also helped my work move toward particularity while still articulating historical resonances. From my own disciplinary situatedness, literature invites further study of connection. Poems by Jerusalem-born Palestinian Arab poet Najwan Darwish in Nothing More to Lose (2014), for instance, position readers to understand both the perpetration and afterlives of the 1948 Nakba, translated as catastrophe, in relation to the 1915 Aghed, also translated as catastrophe.10 Beyond literary studies, I conceive Laura Robson’s arguments in States of Separation: Transfer, Partition, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2017) as making an implicit and viable case for worlding the historiography of the Armenian Genocide. Robson situates the events of the Armenian Genocide in a larger history of violence carried out against SWANA communities, which were generated by “European colonial modes of establishing land claims and controlling populations,” Ottoman efforts at “nationalization,” and “racialized settler colonialism in the form of Zionism.”11 Inspired by both literary texts and Robson’s wider contextualization of the genocidal process – through what she calls a “massive experiment in demographic engineering” – this article will gesture at times towards scholarship on Indigenous removal and dispossession in the Palestinian context to identify potential interlocutors for relational thinking.12 This dialogue will be generative as scholars in Armenian Studies contribute to the global turn in critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies.13

In what follows, I take stock of where we are in the field: where we could go, how we might get there, and to what end. By completing discursive analysis of recent scholarship in Armenian Studies and demonstrating how arguments, rhetorical constructions, and ideas already prime the field for pathways forward, I build dialogue between our field and others while not losing sight of distinction. I first suggest that an approach to the study of indigeneity in Armenian Studies must grapple with the relationship between postcolonial studies on the one hand, and critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies on the other. Such confrontations matter given both the intellectual history that led up to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s rich articulations in “Will Postcolonialism Travel?” and citations of that essay in Armenian Studies since. Spivak asserts: “‘Armenia’ cannot lean toward existing theories. It cannot be comfortably located in the generally recognized lineaments of contemporary imperialism and received postcolonialism. It has been too much in the interstices to fit such a location.”14 From there, I distill two topics in the field of Armenian Studies in which the question of indigeneity is arising: the study of the Armenian Genocide and of the afterlives of Armenian experiences in Turkey. Such scholarship, I show, positions us for an expansive study of the Armenian Genocide, one that builds upon past discussions but also adds a new level of analysis, namely concerning colonization, and that illuminates how the vocabulary of “settlers,” “empty lands,” and “theft” is entering the field. Next, I articulate additional possibilities concerning the legacies of dispossession, Indigenous territorial removal, cultural genocide, and the destruction of cultural heritage. The article then makes the case that Armenian Studies can productively enter broader conversations unfolding in the academy by understanding that the questions it poses and pursues are echoed in other cases. Finally, I welcome future discussion by posing the questions: What might the place of indigeneity hold as an analytical tool beyond the study of Armenian experiences in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, as well as in context of the genealogy and current construction of Armenian Studies as a discipline?

Hinges: From History to Critical Theory and from the “Native” in Postcolonial Studies to the “Native” in Critical Indigenous Studies

One could argue that critical Indigenous studies, settler colonial studies, and postcolonial studies all broadly concern the “native.” While this is true to a degree, there is risk in not seeing the important nuances between the invocation of this term in these distinct fields. For instance, J. Kēhaulani Kauanui (Kanaka Maoli) critiques the settler colonial use of “native” as a framework that situates Indigenous peoples in the past and has argued for the necessity in recognizing that “indigenous peoples exist, resist, and persist.”15 To concretize this further, Joanne Barker (Lenape) has argued in reference to the United States and Canada that “multicultural liberalism” is “inclusive of Indigenous people only in costumed affiliation,” an affiliation that produces an image of the “Indigenous dead.”16 In ascribing Indigenous peoples as part of the nation-state’s past not its present through this “modernist temporality,” lived “Indigeneity is ever presently made over as irrelevant as are Indigenous legal claims and rights to governance, territories, and cultures” (emphasis original).17 From Armenian Studies, Keith Watenpaugh’s arguments can further add to the exigence of exploring these distinctions in frameworks of indigeneity. He writes,

thinking about the Ottoman State as a colonial-setter state is a tool that can help make better sense of the politics, atrocity, and social change witnessed over the last two centuries and as a point of origin for better characterizing state violence in contemporary Turkey.18

I agree with Watenpaugh’s assessment about the generative repercussions of critical inquiry when conceptualizing the genocide of Armenians through settler colonial studies and critical Indigenous studies. In doing so, we ask ourselves why Armenian Studies scholars might be reluctant to engage these fields. I want to offer more insight on this topic, one having to do with the place of critical theory in Armenian Studies. For the future of Armenian Studies, engagement with critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies would mean understanding that the stakes of critical scholarship produced through those disciplines are related but not identical. It would also mean not mischaracterizing the interventions of both critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial scholars as simply a critique about the positioning of the native as informant.19 Nevertheless, bringing together these diverse disciplines can be generative. Given the history of the founding of Native American or American Indian studies programs in the US academy, the formation of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), and how these fields and the organization have critiqued anthropological and historical study of Indigenous peoples through the academy, I am sympathetic to Marc Nichanian’s claims about what he frames as the “philological operation,” namely what he calls the “invisible institution of its mourning.”20 Moreover, work by Edward Said does prove useful to the study of questions of exile, dispersion, and cosmopolitanism as they pertain to Armenian history. However, an analysis of how scholars in Armenian Studies address the question of what happens at home after the formative period of genocidal violence reveals the limitations in applying postcolonial studies scholarship. The critical Indigenous studies scholarship – with which I began this section – can serve as a productive source for overcoming those limitations.21

Learning from how scholars in critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies ask the questions they do has allowed me to bear witness to, and take seriously, what appears in recent Armenian Studies scholarship to be a critique of the implications of the “post-” in postcolonial studies – a critique that some Indigenous scholars have launched in their respective disciplines.22 In reference to American Indian and Indigenous Studies, Jodi Byrd (Chickasaw) asserts that “postcolonial theory has been especially verboten precisely because the ‘post-,’ even though its contradictory temporal meanings are often debated, represents a condition of futurity that has not yet been achieved as the United States continues to colonize and occupy indigenous homelands.”23 The phrase “post-genocide” serves as a useful marker of periodization for a cogent study of Armenian experiences in Turkey – in this case, the period after the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Still, in her work on lullabies as a means of gendered and embodied traumatic memory transmission, Melissa Bilal, drawing on Wolfe, articulates that the contemporary Armenian community of Istanbul perceives structural continuations of the genocide.24 Those structural continuations are generated through the nexus of Turkish nation-state identity politics and remembrance practices that renders an “imagining of the past, present, and future of Anatolia” in which “Armenians are displaced.”25 Wolfe’s argument that the “logic of elimination” refers not only to “summary liquidation of Indigenous people” appears conducive both to the study of the genocidal process as it is temporally located by historians from 1915–1917, to 1919, or 1923 and the legacies of this concentrated period of orchestrated collective violence.26 That is, in reference to the Republic of Turkey, violence of the past reverberates into the present and the past is not yet past – neither for a nation-state that disavows Indigenous territorial, material, political, and cultural dispossession nor for the removed and dispersed peoples who counter the silencing of “historical episodes deemed unspeakable within the civilizing narrative of the state,” to borrow the words of Banu Karaca.27 In moving forward, we can understand critical Indigenous theory as “provid[ing] a diagnostic way of reading and interpreting the colonial logics that underpin cultural, intellectual, and political discourses.”28 Rather than a recovery or discovery project, it is this diagnostic way of reading that I take up in imagining the place of indigeneity as an analytical rubric in Armenian Studies. In so doing, I come to recognize that although Bilal does not explicitly critique postcolonial studies in her ethnographic study of post-genocide or more broadly post-Ottoman Empire Armenian lived realities in Turkey, her language suggests a confrontation with the term “post-” that corresponds to Indigenous Studies’ vexed relationship to postcolonial studies as previously outlined.

Where We Are, or, On Ways of Seeing: The Study of the Armenian Experience in Turkey

While my practice of reading and analysis emphasizes connection, I intentionally strive in my critical readings to not ultimately collapse the genocidal process in the founding of the United States and that of the Republic of Turkey. I avoid equation so that in support of the work of Indigenous scholars, I highlight the particular history and ramifications of federal Indian policy, the treaty-making system that informs US nation-state and tribal national government-to-government relations, and claims for sovereignty that continue to affect over 574 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native peoples.29 Still, rhetoric Jean M. O’Brien (White Earth Ojibwe) employs to describe the erasure, memorialization, and supposed total extinction of Indigenous peoples for the larger colonial goal of refuting American Indians’ claims to land and rights has helped me grasp the stakes of the language that a group of Armenian Studies scholars working on the issue of minoritization puts to use as they elucidate the afterlives of the genocidal process. Specifically, O’Brien turns to a breadth of texts to understand how non-Indians in New England laid claim to territorial belonging as a process, a process through which they “convinced themselves that Indians there had become extinct even though they remained as Indian peoples.”30 O’Brien argues that this practice of historical writing underpinned an “ideological project” that continues to shape the narration of American Indians’ presence – or what is rendered rather as absence or extinction – in US history and the “ongoing future of the United States.”31 To compare in Armenian Studies, Melissa Bilal, Hakem Al-Rustom, and Lerna Ekmekçioğlu, have from their respective disciplines, addressed the Turkish Republic’s minority governance regime as well as the nation-state’s practices of rendering Armenian presence as absence or extinction. As I see it, in these three scholars’ arguments a call rests for thinking about the limitations of the terms “ethnic minority” and the rubric of multiculturalism to articulate questions of belonging in the modern nation-state of the Republic of Turkey. Simply, I come to recognize these three scholars’ interventions having comprehended O’Brien’s interventions. I also see a desire for a more nuanced language in the vocabulary of “minoritized,” “process,” and “regarded as foreigners in their homelands.”32 The response to that felt need both communally and in terms of knowledge production in the academy as well as to the practices of the nation-state is why and where “Indigenous,” “native,” and “indigeneity” arise in Armenian Studies.

When taking a closer look at this corpus of critical texts in light of similar topics taken up outside of the field of Armenian Studies, we see that a conceptualization of Armenian indigeneity is formed through critiques of the process of minoritization and attending processes of state-sponsored memory work, governmental constructions of citizenship and belonging, and political practices of recognition in service of the state moving on from the past. Those interlinked processes situate Armenians not as a native community that perceives itself as continuing to live simultaneously in their homeland and within the borders of republican Turkey but as the “Indigenous dead,” or as vanishing remnants of an Anatolian past as imagined and narrated by the nation-state, or as foreigners that have no claim to prior occupancy.33

As the question of indigeneity linked to the study of the Armenian Genocide continues to unravel, these discussions on minoritization processes past and present can be further situated in relation to additional bodies of scholarship beyond Armenian Studies that could push us in potentially different though not necessarily mutually exclusive intellectual ends. To return to Barker, American Indian and First Nations scholars’ arguments exemplify how the study of indigeneity in the US and Canada reveals that multicultural liberalism makes irrelevant Indigenous peoples’ claims and rights to governance, territories, and cultures. A promising site for the bridging of analyses both in terms of periodization and methodology is Ekmekçioğlu’s study of the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923. She not only places the policy within historical discussions on sovereignty, self-determination, and political representation but also its repercussions in terms of the treatment of minorities in Turkey since. From deep archival work and historical granularity, Ekmekçioğlu sets up the larger stakes of her research on the treaty, including to critique the purposes and outcomes of the League of Nations interwar minority protection regime – a “national and international legal order” of majorities and minorities informed by “US president Woodrow Wilson’s understanding of multicultural liberalism.”34

I am not arguing for equivalency here. Rather, I wish to suggest that in tracing the circulation of thoughts through policy development and implementation, we can reveal potential “intimacies” of continents and instances of “inter-imperiality.”35 Second, this scholarship on minoritization could very well learn from or complicate Mahmood Mamdani’s arguments on the formation of the modern nation-state through connected practices of colonialism and nationalism, the creation of minorities under the rule of colonizers, and the roots of extreme violence.36 The same may go for Eric D. Weitz’s explication of Armenians’ minority status in the Ottoman Empire as part of his larger exploration on the imbrication between the creation of nation-states, the origins and development of human rights, and the extension of rights by the state to some, not all, of its inhabitants.37 Third, given the way that the process of “firsting” and “lasting” O’Brien theorizes has been taken up in Liora R. Halperin’s The Oldest Guard: Forging the Zionist Settler Past (2021), comparisons warrant a confrontation of a triangulation of histories, to return to my opening arguments in this article. That global scope of settler colonial studies and critical Indigenous studies, in turn, calls for empirically and historically grounded analysis, made possible by the work of another group of scholars.

Where We Are Continued, or, On Additional Ways of Seeing: The Study of the Armenian Genocide

The discourses on being made into a “foreigner,” “stranger,” and “minority” have been emerging at the same time as a body of scholarship historicizing the Armenian Genocide in terms of colonial violence. We could summarize the stakes of these two tracks of knowledge production as follows. First, the field is deriving a conceptualization of indigeneity from our particular histories, languages, and communities; identifying Armenians as a native people in the construct of a settler-native binary via the framework of the logic of elimination; and, if not already, will need to grapple with the implications of identifying as Indigenous and hence among many Indigenous peoples across the globe. Second, it is at the same time, delineating who fills the position of the settler and the means, modes, and mechanisms of settlement. Some of that discourse comes through the invocation of “internal colonization.” In shedding light on the emergence of Turkish economic nationalism, the economic ramifications of the genocidal process, and the orchestration of plunder, Uğur Ümit Üngör and Mehmet Polatel use the interconnected processes of “confiscation” and “colonization.” By “confiscation,” the authors mean “the involvement of an extensive bureaucratic apparatus and illustrate the legal façade during the dispossession of Armenians.”38 As for the concept of colonization, the authors refer to the “redistribution of their [Armenian] property as a form of internal colonization.”39 The additional language that Üngör and Polatel use, though, points to the limitations of the phrasing “internal colonization” as it does not directly communicate the historical circumstances of settlement that they study. In reference to the influx of refugees, Üngör and Polatel note that “[t]ogether, the Balkan and eastern refugees were known as ‘refugee’ (mülteci) and ‘immigrant’ (muhacir)” but that they as authors “refer to them as settlers, since they were used by the CUP as settlers for the empty Armenian spaces.”40 More recently, Ella Fratantuono has made the case for “immigrant settlement” as “integral to Ottoman internal colonization, state building, territoriality, and population politics.”41 Fratantuono begins with an analysis of two components of the Ottoman state’s “colonization scheme” – the 1857 Migration Regulations and 1858 Land Law.42 She also uses such vocabulary as the “ideal Ottoman” and the “ideal Ottoman settler” – for example, when she writes that “Ottoman officials used immigrant settlement to create, identify, and place ‘ideal’ Ottomans, to categorize and make legible populations and spaces, and to disrupt and erase existing communities.”43

My goal in highlighting this recent scholarship is to show that vocabulary in the field – such as settlers, settlement, colonizer, colonization, and in the case of Fratantuono, “empty land” as both historical vocabulary and conceptual understanding of immigration and settlement – is positioning the field of Armenian Genocide studies, and by extension, Armenian Studies, to confront the applicability of arguments from settler colonial studies for the study of the foundational violence of the Turkish nation-state and the afterlives of that collective trauma.44 Wolfe, himself, argued that the “best known of all genocides was internal to Europe, while genocides that have been perpetuated in, for example, Armenia, Cambodia, Rwanda or (one fears) Darfur do not seem to be assignable to settler colonialism.45 He was, however, neither an Armenian Studies nor Ottoman Studies scholar. If either or both of these fields head in the direction of engaging settler colonial studies, we will need to pause and ruminate on how we narrate this more expansive understanding of genocide, removal, and dispossession. In cautioning the US academy from inadvertently allowing settler colonial studies to take the place of Indigenous studies by assuming their aims are one and the same, Kauanui makes clear that to “exclusively focus on the settler colonial without any meaningful engagement with the indigenous – as has been the case in how Wolfe’s work has been cited – can (re)produce another form of ‘elimination of the native.’”46 Whatever Armenian Studies scholars’ engagement with Wolfe’s and other settler colonial studies scholars’ works looks like in the future, Kauanui’s words underscore the need to not lose sight of the stories of the dispossessed and displaced – the stories that Bilal, Al-Rustom, and Ekmekçioğlu bring to light – nor the state’s process of lasting as the contours of the category of settler and the parameters of colonization are developed and refined.

We can get there by imagining how the Armenian context might lend itself to the point about access to territory as the primary motive for settler colonialism and the formation of what we might call studies in settler colonialisms, which would allow for the study of a common element while offering differentiation. The rhetoric of “empty land” and “refugee” or “immigrant” settlers are key. So too is an understanding of the discursive work of colonialism, in particular, the “discovery moment” narrative and the “legal fiction of terra nullius – land belonging to no one.”47 This latter “colonial construct” maintains that “lands were empty of meaning, of language, of presence, and of history before the arrival of the European.”48 Or, more broadly, the discursive work of terra nullius takes “lands already inhabited by peoples with their own laws, customs, languages and orderings of the world,” then “declares said lands ‘uninhabited,’” and finally “proceeds to establish another alien world as the dominant order.”49 Writing in the context of Australia, Aileen Moreton-Robinson (Goenpul) has argued that the tangible effects of Captain James Cook’s so-called discovery of the new world and of this discursive work of terra nullius is a legal regime that positions Indigenous peoples as “trespassers.”50 Where might “strangers” or “foreigners,” to return to the work of Bilal and Al-Rustom, fit in relation to this construction of “trespassers”? Or, in thinking about the language of “immigration settlement” and the notion of refugees who become settlers at the hands of governmental policies, we might then situate these categories in relation to the work of Wolfe again, this time as he writes about the “quest to replace Native society” in his Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race (2016).51 There, Wolfe asserts that early Zionist “arrivals, refugees and otherwise, were nonetheless settlers, since the Natives whom some of them may have been surprised to encounter were nonetheless dispossessed.”52 In further articulating the dispossession of Palestine’s Indigenous Arab population and seizure of Palestinian land, Wolfe uses such phrases as “forcibly expelled,” “expropriation,” and “ongoing post-Nakba removal.”53 If the theoretical language does not invite further study of connections and comparisons, then perhaps historical circumstances do. The recently published Allotment Stories: Indigenous Land Relations Under Siege (2021) features an essay in which Munir Fakher Eldin discusses the Tanzimat reforms and argues that the Ottoman sultan Abdülhamit II served as a kind of “absentee owner” of the Beisan Valley and “became a major contender for landed property and a key player in the transformation of Palestine.”54 Reading key terms of analysis across geo-political contexts counters the insular practice of Armenian Studies. An even further next step would be to world such projects outlined in this article by looking at what was happening contemporaneously in Ottoman Arab territories or their aftermaths in resultant nation-states.

Further Possibilities for Critical Engagement: Springboards from the Study of Dispossession

While in the previous section I put into practice a methodology of reading that unpacks the stakes of current scholarship on the Armenian Genocide and minority experiences in Turkey in light of critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies as tools of inquiry, that very practice risks a collapsing of the field of Armenian Studies into itself. Here, I want to imagine what it would look like for the field to give back to this same critical thought. Understanding the Armenian Genocide from the vantage point of a larger discussion on dispossession, for instance, opens doors to make connections across bodies of scholarship. In so doing, the field is poised to draw on the rich microhistories it is developing to then contribute to political economy, theories of capital, the use of law and legal procedures to facilitate displacement and occupation in emptied lands, and ultimately, the colonial aspects of genocide.55 Although Harry Harootunian, in The Unspoken as Heritage: The Armenian Genocide and Its Unaccounted Lives (2019), may not have intended a play on words, his cleverly-titled chapter “History’s Interruption: Dispossession and Genocide” breaks from the genre of the text as memoir to offer a worthy challenge for the field. He writes, “It is almost another mystery of the genocide why so many of the historical accounts have simply bypassed the magnitude and significance of expropriated wealth connected to the mass murder.”56 If we are to take inspiration from Harootunian’s additional claims, the potential for a connective study on structured dispossession in diverse geo-political contexts is ripe. That is, he cites the Indian Removal Act in 1830 signed by then president Andrew Jackson to argue that “it was the United States as it moved west that provided the model for the equation of expropriation and dispossession, a form of internal colonization, resulting in deportation marches and ultimately genocide in the service of primitive accumulation.”57 Why not take cues from the title of Harootunian’s chapter, draw on the historical research deftly undertaken by aforementioned scholars on settlement and internal colonization, and ultimately contribute to ongoing discourses on dispossession as a category of critical theory, including the relationship between dispossession and genocide? Better yet, why not come to this knowledge development through a comparative study?

A constructive approach to such a comparative undertaking would recognize that “shared terms of critique frequently mask distinct and divergent histories, intellectual contexts, and traditions of interpretation,” to adapt the words of Robert Nichols.58 Nichols makes this observation while proffering what he calls “recursive dispossession” (emphasis original), a process that involves a logic of “transference, transformation, and retroactive attribution” (emphasis original).59 To come to this formulation of recursive dispossession as it pertains to the late modern and contemporary Anglo settler world, Nichols brings scholarship by Indigenous scholars in conversation with anarchist, Black radical, feminist, Marxist, and postcolonial thought. Nichols’s ability to historicize the concept of dispossession – how it arose and how it was applied in respective genealogies of thought – and then make thought-provoking arguments on the concept itself can serve as a model for how we might take up a “historical-reconstructive critique” in our own field.60 In a comparative gesture that situates attempted elimination within a global view of empire, Harootunian invokes phrases such as “large-scale theft” and Marx’s “‘so-called primitive accumulation’” or “‘original accumulation’” to historicize the emergence of the modern Turkish Republic in the wake of foundational nation-state violence.61 Armenian Studies is circling around the term “dispossession,” including drawing on a particular genealogy of thought. In addition to using this key concept of “primitive” or “original accumulation” from Marx, it is time to return to the archives and look anew – what vocabulary did, for instance, survivors use as they witnessed and lived through the genocidal process? Might the vocabulary they used name processes that amount to dispossession? Simply put, I am suggesting that historical documents give us language, literally and conceptually, that amounts to a form of critical theory. Let us ask and answer what the origins and development of discourse on dispossession has been in Armenian Studies as a thought field and to that end, create space to read together the work of contemporary critical thinkers among us and a breadth of historical and literary texts. This type of approach allows us to: illuminate our own intellectual tradition on this topic; understand it in relation to Marx’s scholarship now referenced in the field; and perhaps, as Coulthard does, confront the lineaments of primitive or original accumulation when applied to different contexts.62

To facilitate such expansive studies in the field in terms of terminology, we can bring in conversation recent scholarship on the Abandoned Properties Laws, a “structural element of the Armenian Genocide.”63 As Taner Akçam and Ümit Kurt have argued, the “Republic of Turkey and its legal system were built, in a sense, on the seizure of Armenian cultural, social, and economic wealth, and on the removal of Armenian presence”64 Kurt takes up the Abandoned Property Laws in greater detail in his The Armenians of Aintab: The Economics of Genocide in an Ottoman Province (2021), proffering what he calls the “economy of plunder.”65 With this framework, Kurt details the decision-making processes and policies of the Ottoman central government, providing new insights on the causes and origins of the genocide and their influence on the making of the modern Turkish Republic. He ultimately conceptualizes the removal of Armenians not just in terms of the physical removal of Armenians to the Syrian deserts but also in terms of the removal of Armenians from the economy. We can adapt frameworks of inquiry in critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies, ground these practices of inquiry by turning to the Armenian Studies scholarship I cite here, and aim for larger conceptual stakes that contribute to ongoing conversations and debates beyond our field. The end goal of such a process would not mean to flatly argue that Ottoman policy mimicked the Indian Removal Act of 1830 or the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 in the United States. Nor, in a more global context, to the Natives Land Act of 1913 or the Natives Resettlement Act of 1954 in South Africa. It means, however, to locate this particular history within a world history of forced removal, land expropriation, resettlement, and their catastrophic impacts. Similarly, one need not equate the Abandoned Properties Laws that scholars such as Kurt and Akçam study with the Absentees’ Property Law of 1950 or the Order Regarding Abandoned Property of 1967 in the context of Palestine. Juxtaposition, nevertheless, will prompt fruitful questions such as what happens to property after removal and how the legal system which facilitates the holding of and deprived access to property factors into structural genocide, the rights of return as much as rites or passages of return, and the processes of transforming presence into absence, minoritization, or turning removed communities into strangers and foreigners.66

Further Possibilities for Critical Engagement: Springboards from the Study of Biocultural Assimilation

Sometimes, being in conversation with critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies will mean revisiting archives and seeing the connections that they map beyond the tendency to define “settler colonialism” only in terms of expropriation of Indigenous lands. In their work on allotment, O’Brien and Daniel Heath Justice (Cherokee) assert that “Privatization schemes underscore settler colonialism as a violent, land-centered project, one that attacks Indigenous relationality attached to the land and waters.”67 To think beyond expropriation is not to deny the centrality of land. Rather, it is to suggest that if we engage work such as Wolfe’s, we also take note of his other claims. In Wolfe’s formulation, the “logic of elimination” centers on “structural genocide,” which addresses not only the annihilation of Indigenous peoples but also the “concrete empirical relationships between spatial removal, mass killings and biocultural assimilation.”68 On the point of biocultural assimilation, we may turn to arguments by Keith David Watenpaugh. Taking as a case study the orphanage in Antoura, Lebanon, Watenpaugh asserts: “Indeed, what was happening in the Ottoman state parallels historically contemporaneous programs for enculturation of indigenous children in North America and Australasia.”69 The point is not to collapse two distinct histories at the nexus of genocide and colonial violence, one with a well-developed and established body of scholarship, one emergent. Rather, it is to hold a mirror to inherited tools, as Watenpaugh is doing.

Watenpaugh cites both the “harm done to First Nations peoples in Canada at the hands of teachers and administrators at residential schools” and the “treatment of Karnig Panian at the hands of Halidé Edip in the orphanage at Antoura” to bring attention to what he calls “para-lethal” elements of genocide and their multigenerational effects on survivors and descendants.70 In proposing his holistic approach to the study of genocide, Watenpaugh turns to the concept of “social death,” which he adapts from the philosopher Claudia Card.71 I want to pose the open-ended question: what happens when the study of the Armenian Genocide moves towards the language of dispossession, colonization, removal, and settlement, as I articulated previously? If Watenpaugh’s recent revisiting of his earlier scholarship is any indication, it is that one of the outcomes of such larger trends will be an understanding of social death in relation to the orphanages that learns from the language of “biocultural assimilation” that Wolfe outlined. That may in turn inform the teaching of genocide as a concept. Watenpaugh asserts that “para-lethal elements” such as forced assimilation policies at the orphanages and Indigenous boarding and residential schools “have too often been consigned to the status of mere ‘cultural genocide’” and as result, these elements “can be more easily dismissed as ‘soft’ aspects of genocide, and not ‘hard’ in the way mass-killing is.”72 At least one scholar has taken up a comparative study of cultural genocide, one that historicizes deliberate uses and non-uses of the phrase and the politics of the concept as detailed by Indigenous thinkers and nations.73 Though he does not articulate it as such in his recent work on “indigenous genocide,” it seems to me that the concept of biocultural assimilation helps Watenpaugh overcome the shortcomings of the term “cultural genocide” that he raised in his earlier work. Repercussions may extend further if we ask how social death or biocultural assimilation relate to work such as Ayşe Gül Altinay and Fethiye Çetin’s The Grandchildren: The Hidden Legacy of ‘Lost’ Armenians in Turkey (2017).74

Further Possibilities for Critical Engagement: Springboards from the Study of Cultural Heritage Preservation and Objects

In a similar vein of expansive study, Armenian Studies can place conversations on cultural heritage within larger frames of inquiry. In retracing the steps of the Zeytun Gospels in her The Missing Pages: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript, From Genocide to Justice (2019), Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh situates critical discourses on cultural heritage within a larger conceptual framework concerning cultural genocide.75 To illustrate how and why the phrase “cultural genocide” emerged, especially in relation to the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the crime of Genocide, Zeitlian Watenpaugh references the passage of the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in the United States, balancing praise of how the act has been put to good use while pointing out how its implementation has not fully been realized. Armenian Studies can further actualize admirable gestures like these in a reciprocal approach to learning from and carrying forward critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies. In undertaking scholarly production, we as a field can look beyond our community’s experiences and, alongside scholars working in critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies, ask tough but needed questions: How do the colonial logics that underpin genocidal processes inform nation-state policies in the present? What role did colonialism both in terms of material circumstance and as a body of thought play in the definition and adjudication of genocide?76

Such questions matter because in the study of the Armenian Genocide, a statement that scholars and community members regularly invoke is that the Armenian experience in the Ottoman Empire informed Raphael Lemkin’s thoughts that led to the coinage of the term “genocide.” Less often discussed, if at all, is that Lemkin’s initial definition of genocide encompassed “vandalism,” or the destruction of cultural heritage and cultural works such as art, and “barbarity,” which “combined acts against individuals and collectivities,” as well as what ended up happening to the vandalism component.77 As A. Dirk Moses asserts, “Clearly, what the UN defined as genocide was the first part of Lemkin’s proposal in 1933, namely barbarity. It excluded the equivalent of the second part, vandalism.”78 Why? One answer can be found in that fact that settler colonial states objected to the cultural dimension of genocide due in part to what the adoption of a cultural genocide clause would mean for them and their treatment of Indigenous peoples.79 The links Zeitlian Watenpaugh draws can serve as the foundation for larger productive dialogues with potential real stakes in terms of policy. At the same time, these potential connective discourses may illuminate how structured relationships between states and their maintenance of sovereignty – especially in the contexts of Indigenous removal and settlement, property relations after dispossession, and memory regimes concerning the genesis of the nation-state born of collective violence – may dictate our inheritances in the study and teaching of genocide as a concept, the emphasis on land in the study of settler colonialism, and the laws, policies, and (un)actualized efforts around cultural heritage preservation.80 In other words, critical analysis of policies on cultural heritage protection and repatriation may shed light on how we get to the point where we do not name the colonial roots of the genocide concept – a kind of “colonial unknowing,” to adapt the phrase.81

Further Possibilities for Critical Engagement: Springboards from the Study of Memory Work

Memory circulates amidst calls for reparation, restitution, and reconciliation. Memory also circulates intergenerationally as part of healing processes for diasporic communities. We need not equate the “how” and “why” of the circulation of memory in distinct geopolitical spaces. Still, a contrapuntal study makes possible a conceptualization of denialism as a kind of memory practice. In a speech given in 2018, Akçam offers “temporal compartmentalization” to characterize Turkish nation-state denialism of the Armenian Genocide. By this he means the “tendency to place the past and present into different boxes and to ignore their interconnectedness.”82 Of note in Akçam’s speech is the way in which he situates this practice of denialism in a global framework of comparison and draws links between the practice of denialism and contemporary political problems. Noting the differences between Holocaust denial and Armenian Genocide denial, he asserts that the “U.S. engages in denial about Native American Genocide and the legacy of mass violence from the history of slavery. The U.K. has not fully come to terms with the ill effects of colonialism. And Israel will have to face its own history regarding the treatment of Palestinians.”83 Akçam’s words matter for where we are on the study of indigeneity in Armenian Studies in that they can serve as a welcome for us to name the foundational violence of the nation-state in which those of us scholars in the US work, study, and live while also naming forms of violence that have affected Armenians, Kurds, Alevis, and other communities historically in the Ottoman Empire and in the Republic of Turkey in its wake. That process of looking abroad and locally may open critical scholarship at the nexus of memory studies and settler colonial studies, critical Indigenous studies, or both. One tangible way forward might be to revisit an observation made in reference to the protests at Taksim Square: that the northern part was once Surp Hagop Armenian Cemetery and that its tombstones were used in the building of Gezi Park’s steps in the 1930s.84 For many years, across Gezi Park, one could take buses to Sabiha Gokçen International Airport. Gokçen – known as the first combat pilot of the world, one of Atatürk’s adopted children, and the subject of a newspaper article by Hrant Dink that some believe led to his assassination – actively took a role during the Dersim Massacre in 1937–1938 which targeted Alevi Kurds.

Memory work as narrative spoken between communities produces contact points between histories of collective violence. A study of memory work conceptualized in this way then makes possible discussions on indigeneity in Armenian Studies attuned to the very social processes that produce subjecthood in the location of our knowledge production. It means asking as Scott Lauria Morgensen does, “Who, under what conditions, inherits the power to represent or enact settler colonialism?”85 With this question, Morgensen widens the discourse from “questions of status” as implied in “‘Who is the settler?’” to “respond[ing] to political demands that subjects who inherit the power of settler colonialism challenge their inheritance.”86 One way to get to this analysis is through the study of what Michael Rothberg theorizes as the “implicated subject” and the related notion of “implication.” Implicated subjects “occupy positions aligned with power and privilege without being themselves direct agents of harm; they contribute to, inhabit, inherit, or benefit from regimes of domination but do not originate or control such regimes.”87 Another way we get to the analysis of our locatedness and the multiple positions we may hold is through critical study on the politics of Armenian American citizenship and racialization.88 How might we speak of indigeneity while also holding in our purview the history of legal whiteness for Armenian Americans – even as we critique those categorizations – as well as our implication in settler colonialism in the US? We can speak of our “survivance” in Turkey and in diaspora while also recognizing that in the context of the US, we are also refugees, immigrants, or so-called native-born citizens of the nation-state.89 As holders of such subject-positions, we may inadvertently facilitate the practices of firsting and lasting that O’Brien articulates when we do not also witness Indigenous survivance in the face of colonial violence, genocide, and territorial dispossession – historical circumstances that allow our presence here.

What Remains to Be Said and One Last Invitation

The discourse in the US academy on implication and racialization in reference to the US nation-state leads us to larger questions about how indigeneity might travel. In critical Indigenous studies, several scholars have argued for conceptualizing indigeneity as mobile rather than static. They have done so by understanding Indigenous nation-to-nation relations and migrations across land and ocean. For Armenian Studies, a necessary future step is to ask how indigeneity travels outside of the real borders of the Republic of Turkey.90 For the global diaspora, we must ask what traveling indigeneity amounts to in the context of our arrivals to the Americas or Oceania as opposed to the South West Asian and North African region outside of our homelands given that scholarship on indigeneity in reference to the first two regions is well-developed. Armenian Studies will have to locate itself, then, in conversations on “Indigenous transnationalisms” or “Indigenous diaspora.”91 That work is especially relevant given the historicization of Armenian diasporas and transnational communities both in the plural sense. In his own rumination on the applicability of Indigenous status for Armenians, H. Aram Veeser concludes, “Inside every Armenian alive, worldliness confronts indigeneity. It is an essential conflict, and it cannot be resolved.”92 Perhaps resolution need not be the ultimate pursuit. After all, the pairing of “diasporic” or “transnational” with “Indigenous” is a strategic intellectual move: it inherently implies mobility that counters popular imagination of indigeneity as stagnant and always place-bound.

Those of us interested in the question of indigeneity as it pertains to Armenians and more broadly the place of indigeneity as an analytic for inquiry in Armenian Studies can put into practice a growing interest for bringing the field in line with contemporary practices of interdisciplinary inquiry. Understood in this way, my exploration of “indigeneity” can hold a mirror to the history of ideas in the field. For if anything, the scholarship I reference here illustrates that the language of “indigeneity” can ask of the field a simultaneously reckoning with the workings of empire and its legacies both abroad (the Ottoman Empire and its resultant nation-states, especially Turkey) and locally (the Americas, especially the US and Canada). That work is possible when we take seriously how theory and historical record can illuminate one another and when Armenian Studies links into other conversations. Those are the promises of possibility, generated from needed nuances, that I see in engaging critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies.

In light of this vision, the final, broadest sense of an “invitation” I want to put forth is that it is critical to ask questions that can open new avenues of inquiry in Armenian Studies. We will carry within ourselves much, if not all, of the research that I referenced from critical Indigenous Studies and settler colonial studies for some time. It is the will to hold that information – to have the patience to learn from, learn how to bridge, and learn to contribute thoughtfully with clear visions of how our arguments may travel – that will allow us to make meaningful interventions both in Armenian Studies and other fields.


I thank Melissa Bilal, Antoinette Burton, Dilara Çalışkan, Ara Oshagan, and the anonymous peer reviewers for their thoughtful feedback on different drafts; Sabrina Y. Lee and Daniel Gonzalez for serving as soundboards as I thought through possible structures for this essay; Tamar M. Boyadjian and Rachel Goshgarian for their labor and commitment to seeing this article through to publication; Dirk Moses for once using “relational thinking” to describe my process of inquiry and interpretation as a scholar (a useful phrase, it turned out); and Dilara for alerting me to the local history of the airport near Gezi Park.


Helen Makhdoumian, “Connected Memoryscapes of Silence in Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s Draining the Sea,” Modern Fiction Studies 66, no. 2 (2020): 301–324. See also, the lectures: “To Withhold is Not to Forget: On Memories of Removal and the Everyday” (Armenian Studies Program, University of California, Berkeley, 25 October 2022): .com/watch?v=No1OwrgrN98; and “Toward a Theorization of Nested Memory” (Center for Armenian Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 12 January 2022):


Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006): 388.


Keith David Watenpaugh, “Kill the Armenian/Indian; Save the Turk/Man: Carceral Huma‑ nitarianism, the Transfer of Children and a Comparative History of Indigenous Genocide” Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies 29, no. 1 (2022): 35–67.


J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, “‘A Structure, Not an Event’: Settler Colonialism and Enduring Indigeneity” Lateral 5, no. 1 (2016), nialism-enduring-indigeneity-kauanui/.


Brendan Hokowhitu, “Introduction,” in The Routledge Handbook of Critical Indigenous Studies, eds. Brendan Hokowhitu, Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Linda Tuhiwai-Smith, Chris Andersen, and Steve Larkin (New York: Routledge, 2021), 3.


Audra Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 11.


Glen Sean Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2014), 13.


Nick Estes, Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (New York: Verso, 2019).


Najwan Darwish, Nothing More to Lose, trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid (New York: The New York Review of Books, 2014). See specifically the poems “Identity Card” (8–9), “The Nightmare Bus to Sabra and Shatila” (14–15), “‘Who Remembers the Armenians?’” (16), and “Armenian Cognac” (72). For additional comparative analysis grounded in the study of literature, see Helen Makhdoumian, “Worlding Armenian Studies: What Our Diasporic Condition Tells Us” (Center for Armenian Studies, University of California, Irvine, 8 February 2023).


Laura Robson, States of Separation: Transfer, Partition, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017), 6.


Robson, States, 6.


I see Palestine Studies scholars’ engagements of critical Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies – and vice versa – as reflective of those latter fields’ increasing considerations of geopolitical regions beyond North America. For examples of geographical breadth covered, see Brendan Hokowhitu, Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Linda Tuhiwai-Smith, Chris Andersen, and Steve Larkin, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Critical Indigenous Studies (New York: Routledge, 2021) and Edward Cavanagh and Lorenzo Verancini, eds., The Routledge Handbook of the History of Settler Colonialism (New York: Routledge, 2020).


As an introductory note to this revisited 1994 essay, Spivak writes: “When I was asked by the editor to place what follows in that inaugural issue of the Armenian Forum, I politely declined. I did not know enough about Armenia. Yet, without too many revisions, I have included it, for at least two kinds of reasons.” It was meant to be included in the 1998 issue of the Armenian Forum, according to the footnotes. Later in the essay, Spivak clarifies how her thoughts on the topic of a potential Armenian postcolonialism came as a response to the question posed by Anahid Kassabian and David Kazanjian in their own scholarship. “Will Postcolonialism Travel?” in Other Asias (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2008): 117. For a reference to this essay by Spivak, see Myrna Douzjian, “Perennially Transnational: Armenian Literature after the Armenian Genocide,” November 6, 2009, https://asbarez .com/perennially-transnational-armenian-literature-after-the-genocide/. This quote by Spivak is also referenced as part of the promotional materials for the “Infidelities” conference held in March 2023. The organizers describe the event as “A conference about new directions in the study of Armenian memory, culture, and displacement.” See “Infidelities: A Conference About New Directions in the Study of Armenian Memory, Culture, and Displacement,” accessed July 10, 2022,


Kauanui, “‘A Structure.’”


Joanne Barker, “Introduction,” in Critically Sovereign: Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, ed. Joanne Barker (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), 3.


Barker, “Introduction,” 3.


Watenpaugh, “Kill the Armenian/Indian,” 38.


In making this assessment, I have in mind the construction of the following sentence by Marc Nichanian, which nicely indexes questions about who or what is under study as well as the different emphases methodologies for knowledge production have: “Is the purpose [of the philologist] to come as close as possible to the native again?” Marc Nichanian, Mourning Philology: Art and Religion at the Margins of the Ottoman Empire, trans. G.M. Goshgarian and Jeff Fort (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004): 47. Nichanian, working outside of critical Indigenous and settler colonial studies, also goes on to assert that “the ‘native,’ that crucial philological personage, that central figure suddenly invented in the nineteenth century” is a “personage lacking the capacity to represent himself” and therefore in “various branches of philology,” it is deemed “necessary that an external agency intervene in order to serve as a crutch in the process of auto-representation” (47). For analysis that uses “indigeneity” and “indigenous,” see Melissa Bilal, “Thou Need’st Not Weep, for I Have Wept Full Sore: An Affective Genealogy of the Armenian Lullaby in Turkey” (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 2013) and Bilal’s lecture for the roundtable for the “Dispossession and Its Legacies: Comparisons, Intersections, and Connections” workshop (Center for Armenian Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 11 February 2022), On the “native informant” in postcolonial studies broadly, see Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999).


Nichanian, Mourning, 52.


For engagement with Edward Said’s work, see Nichanian, Mourning, 66–105; Hakem Al-Rustom, “Internal Orientalism and the Nation-State Order: Turkey, Armenians, and the Writing of History.” Ariel 51, no. 4 (2020); and Sylvia Alajaji, Music and the Armenian Diaspora: Searching for Home in Exile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015).


See Jace Weaver, Craig Womack, and Robert Warrior, eds., American Indian Literary Nationalism (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006) and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, A Separate Country: Postcoloniality and American Indian Nations (Lubbock: Texas University Press, 2011).


Jodi Byrd, The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011): xxxii.


Melissa Bilal. “Lullabies and the Memory of Pain: Armenian Women’s Remembrance of the Past in Turkey,” Dialectical Anthropology, 43 (2009): 186.


Melissa Bilal. “The Lost Lullaby and Other Stories about Being an Armenian in Turkey.” New Perspectives on Turkey, 34 (2016): 89.


Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism,” 388.


Banu Karaca, “‘When Everything Has Been Said Before …’: Art, Dispossession, and the Encounters of Forgetting in Turkey,” in Women Mobilizing Memory, eds. Ayşe Gül Altinay, María José Contreras, Marianne Hirsch, Jean Howard, Banu Karaca, and Alisa Solomon (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019): 286.


Byrd, Transit, xxx.


See Sovereignty Matters: Locations of Contestation and Possibility in Indigenous Struggles for Self-Determination, ed. Joanne Barker (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005).


Jean M. O’Brien, Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010): xii.


O’Brien, Firsting, xiv.


Bilal, “Lost,” 73. In the footnote to her most recent article, “Lullabies and the Memory of Pain: Armenian Women’s Remembrance of the Past in Turkey,” Bilal clarifies, “I prefer to use the term ‘minoritized’ in order to emphasize the process rather than taking the term for granted” (186). I also see a desire for a more nuanced language in Al-Rustom’s contention that “Armenians were a community that was turned into a statistical and conceptual ‘foreign’ minority, while they continued living on their native land as the ethno‐sectarian Republic of Turkey was established.” Hakem Al-Rustom, “Rethinking the ‘Post-Ottoman’: Anatolian Armenians as an Ethnographic Perspective,” in A Companion to the Anthropology of the Middle East, ed. Soraya Altorki (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2015): 463.


Barker, “Introduction,” 3.


Lerna Ekmekçioğlu, Recovering Armenia: The Limits of Belonging in Post-Genocide Turkey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016), 93.


See Lisa Lowe, The Intimacies of Four Continents. Durham (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2015) and Laura Doyle, Inter-Imperiality: Vying Empires, Gendered Labor, and the Literary Arts of Alliance (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020), respectively.


Mahmood Mamdani, Neither Settler nor Native: the Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020).


Eric D. Weitz, A World Divided: the Global Struggle for Human Rights in the Age of Nation-States (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019).


Uğur Ümit Üngör and Mehmet Polatel, Confiscation and Destruction: The Young Turk Seizure of Armenian Property (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), 65.


Üngör and Polatel, Confiscation, 65.


Üngör and Polatel, Confiscation, 81. See also Donald Bloxham, “Internal Colonization, Inter-Imperial Conflict and the Armenian Genocide,” in Empire, Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occupation, and Subaltern Resistance in World History, ed. A. Dirk Moses (Berghahn Books, 2008), 325–342.


Ella Fratantuono, “Producing Ottomans: Internal Colonization and Social Engineering in Ottoman Immigrant Settlement,” Journal of Genocide Research 21, no. 1 (2019): 2. See Fratantuono’s footnotes for how she engages Wolfe’s work.


Fratantuono, “Producing Ottomans,” 22.


Fratantuono, “Producing Ottomans,” 2.


Fratantuono, “Producing Ottomans,” 17.


Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism,” 387.


Kauanui, “‘A Structure.’”


Aileen Moreton-Robinson, The White Possessive: Property, Power, and Indigenous Sove‑ reignty (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 4.


Byrd, Transit, 64.


Byrd, Transit, 64.


Moreton-Robinson, White Possessive, 18.


Patrick Wolfe, Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race (London: Verso, 2016), 267.


Wolfe, Traces, 204–205.


Wolfe, Traces, 207, 206, 237.


Munir Fakher Eldin, “After Property: The Sakhina Struggle in Late Ottoman and British-ruled Palestine, 1876–1948” in Allotment Stories: Indigenous Land Relations under Settler Siege, eds. Jean M. O’Brien and Daniel Heath Justice (Minneapolis: University of Minne‑ sota Press, 2022), 259.


For essays that uncover the colonial roots of the genocide concept and that operationalize Raphael Lemkin’s insight that genocides are intrinsically colonial, see A. Dirk Moses, ed., Empire, Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occupation, and Subaltern Resistance in World History (New York: Berghahn Books, 2008).


Harry Harootunian, The Unspoken as Heritage: The Armenian Genocide and Its Unaccoun‑ ted Lives (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), 101.


Harootunian, Unspoken, 157.


Nichols, Theft is Property!: Dispossession and Critical Theory (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020), 5.


Robert Nichols, Theft, 8.


Nichols, Theft, 146.


Harootunian, Unspoken, 87.


Nichols cites Glen Coulthard’s Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition, which I cite in the introduction to my article here. Coulthard – in theorizing “colonialism as a form of structured dispossession” as part of his project to illuminate the historical and ongoing political relationship between First Nations peoples and the Canadian state – revisits Marx’s theory of primitive accumulation (7). While arguing for the critical purchase of Marx’s primitive accumulation thesis, Coulthard critiques three of its features: what he sees as “Marx’s rigidly temporal framing of the phenomenon” (emphasis original) (9); the need for “any analysis or critical critique of contemporary settler-colonialism” to strip the “Eurocentric feature of Marx’s original historical metanarrative” (10); and a more expansive understanding of “colonial relations of power” than how Marx conceived of violence in terms of brute force and servitude (15). For work that responds to and expands upon Nichols’s work on the category of dispossession and that could serve as a comparative model for such an undertaking, see David Kazanjian, “Ante-Possession: A History of Dispossession’s Present,” American Literary History 34, no. 3 (2022): 863–892.


Taner Akçam and Ümit Kurt, The Spirit of the Laws: The Plunder of Wealth in the Armenian Genocide, trans. Aram Arkun (New York: Berghahn, 2015), 2.


Akçam and Kurt, Spirit, 2.


Ümit Kurt, The Armenians of Aintab: The Economics of Genocide in an Ottoman Province (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2021), 10.


See Marianne Hirsch and Nancy K. Miller, eds., Rites of Return Diaspora Poetics and the Politics of Memory (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).


Jean M. O’Brien and Daniel Heath Justice, “What’s Done to the People is Done to the Land” in Allotment Stories, xii.


Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism,” 403.


Keith David Watenpaugh, Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2015), 145.


Keith David Watenpaugh, “Genocide and the Social Death of Children,” https://stanford


Watenpaugh, “Genocide.”


Watenpaugh, “Genocide.”


Dorota Glowacka, “A ‘Vanished World’: Cultural Genocide of Eastern European Jews through the Lens of Settler Colonialism in,” Colonial Paradigms of Violence: Comparative Analysis of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Killing eds. Michelle Gordon and Rachel O’Sullivan (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2022): 31–59.


Ayşe Gül Altinay and Fethiye Çetin, The Grandchildren: The Hidden Legacy of ‘Lost’ Armenians in Turkey, trans. Maureen Freely (Routledge: New York, 2017).


Zeitlian Watenpaugh makes observations like these in the course of setting up her larger interventions, including further developing the concept of what she calls “survivor objects,” referring to artifacts that have survived atrocities and that “symbolize violence but also survival and resilience.” Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh, The Missing Pages: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript, From Genocide to Justice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019), 40.


For additional scholarship that considers what Armenian engagement in global Indigen‑ ous issues might look like, see Simon Maghakyan. “Is Indigeneity Discourse Productive for the Cause of Preserving Armenian Cultural Heritage?” Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies 29, no. 1 (2022): 85–95.


A. Dirk Moses, “Raphael Lemkin, Culture, and the Concept of Genocide,” in The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies, eds. Donald Bloxham and A. Dirk Moses (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 31.


Moses, “Raphael Lemkin,” 38.


Shamiran Mako, “Cultural Genocide and Key International Instruments: Framing the Indigenous Experience,” International Journal on Minority and Group Rights, 19, no. 2 (2012): 180–183.


For an intervention on how we teach and study genocide, especially genocide in relation to nation-states and their acts of collective violence in service of sovereignty, see A. Dirk Moses, The Problems of Genocide: Permanent Security and the Language of Transgression (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021).


Manu Vimalassery, Juliana Hu Pegues, and Alyosha Goldstein, “Introduction: On Colonial Unknowing,” Theory & Event 19, no. 4 (2016).


Taner Akçam, “Upstander Award Speech for World Without Genocide.” 13 May 2018. hyetert .org/2018/05/17/taner-akcams-upstander-award-speech-for-world-without-genocide/.


Akçam, “Upstander.”


Bürge Abiral, Ayşe Gül Altinay, Dilara Çalışkan, and Armanc Yildiz. “Mobilizing Memory Through Collective Walking and Storytelling in Istanbul” in Women Mobilizing Memory 84–104.


Scott Lauria Morgensen, Spaces Between Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decolonization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 20.


Morgensen, Spaces, 20.


Michael Rothberg, The Implicated Subject: Beyond Victims and Perpetrators (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019): 1.


See Sophia Armen, Aram Ghoogasian, and Hrag Vartanian, “Beyond Jermag Yev Sev: A Roundtable on Armenian American Identity,” Los Angeles Review of Books, September 5, 2020, -armenian-american-identity/ and Bedros Torosian, “Ottoman Armenian Racialization in an American Space,” Mashriq and Mahjar 8, no. 2 (2021): 31–58,


Gerald Vizenor, Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance (University of Nebraska Press 1999).


That question is also of relevance to scholars who take up indigeneity in reference to Artsakh. See, for example, the special issue of HyperAllergic titled “Artsakh: Cultural Heritage Under Threat,” ed. Hrag Vartanian,


See Joseph Bauerkemper, “Indigenous Trans/Nationalism and the Ethics of Theory in Native Literary Studies,” in The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature, eds.James H. Cox and Daniel Heath Justice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) and Jenny L. Davis, Talking Indian: Identity and Language Revitalization in the Chickasaw Renaissance (Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2018.), respectively.


H. Aram Veeser. “The Case for Armenians as Indigenous People,” Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies 29, no. 1 (2022): 84.

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