An Island in Spite of Itself
I currently carry out my fellowship at the Armenian National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Archeology and Ethnography. As part of my fellowship in Armenia, I am in the process of organizing several public seminars and a one-day conference. The first of these events was held on March 23rd at the Institute Library on Charents Street in Yerevan. I presented a paper based on former ethnographic research I conducted in Turkey over a period of 5 years. My paper was entitled “An island in spite of itself: Armenians making community in Istanbul” which made direct reference to Fran Markowitz’s seminal work “A community in spite of itself” published in 1993. My presentation aimed to discuss how the physical space of Kınalıada, a tiny island off Istanbul with a predominantly Armenian population exclusively in summertime, provided basis for collective affiliation. For this, I first located the island community in relation to the larger Armenian population of Istanbul. However, I also located the islanders in relation to other non-Muslim communities in Turkey — and the island in relation to other islands in Istanbul (and elsewhere). A good deal of my presentation focused on unpacking terms such as “yerli” (lit. local/native) and “yabancı” (lit. foreigner) in the context of Turkey in general and the island in specific, as their everyday definitions reflected the stigmatization of non-Muslims and the wider politics of belonging in the country. This is how my presentation necessarily touched upon the nation-building process in Turkey and its impact on place-specific collective affiliations as in the context of the island.
I have been really happy that there were almost no seats left unoccupied at the seminar and the audience was very engaged with my material. Although I initially planned to go on for an hour or so, we easily made it over two hours – quite unusual for an event like this. I am truly indebted to my colleagues at the Institute for helping me in setting up the event and the audience for their often challenging questions. The next of these seminars is scheduled for the first week of May 2018.