What is memory documentation?
The Memory Documentation Project is the Centre for Western Armenian Studies’ flagship initiative, which has as its goal the documentation of an important layer of Diasporan memory which stands in danger of being lost. It is for this reason that this project is imperative today.
Memory of which period?
This priority of this project is the documentation of the memory of the first generation born in the Diaspora post-Genocide. This is the generation which grew up under and bore witness to the arduous task of rebuilding the Armenian home, the mental and spiritual suffering of their parents, and unspeakable deprivation and poverty. This is the generation of silent mourning, witness to the immeasurable pain which their parents were subjected to.
Why this project?
The trajectory of our collective memory is stuck in 1915. It is as if since that date till today we have passed no milestones and our collective life has been unaffected by any events of significance. This fact is clear in recent contemporary historiography, the crux of which is the Genocide. The memories of survivors form a great part of that narrative, but the generation of their children remains the unseen element of this narrative. There is, therefore, a gap between the survivors’ generation and the memories of the second Diaspora-born generation. This project aims to close that gap.
Why is it important?
The layer of memory of the first Diaspora-born generation is one of the most important parts of our history, and it is being lost with the death of this generation. It must be saved at all costs. Towards the end of their seventies and approaching their eighties and nineties, the life history of this generation is intrinsically bound up with the first decades of flight and exile. These memories must be documented and passed on to future generations. The lives of these people are the very history of the Diaspora, and to document them is to write the multifaceted story of the Diaspora. We have a warped understanding of history; for us, history has become the history of political parties and mythicised heroic episodes and characters. The everyday Armenian is not present, and the concept of social history has not taken root in us. This project will uncover that many-layered and diverse human life which has been lost to our mothers and fathers: their parents’ lived experience of the century of catastrophe. The reconstruction of their culture, their social, economic, artistic and cultural expressions is important not only for the transmission of memory in immediate family situations, but also for those curious about the history of our Diaspora, for those who might seek out their ethnic roots, and in general for those who recognise the value of this unique human experience, and who might draw benefit from it in some way.
The geography of the project
The geography of memory has no borders. It can be tied to any place where that first Diaspora-born generation came into the world and still exists. In other words, from those communities which are about to breathe the last breaths of their agony, such as the community of Sudan, to those communities bubbling with Armenian life and endowed with cultural infrastructure, such as the USA. Despite this, the interviewees may have established themselves anywhere in the world, and when we choose our representatives it is not out of narrowmindedness, but because our means are limited:
The documentation will take two forms. First, interviews will be conducted with representatives from the generation in question, which will be recorded and filmed. The second is an intermediary step. That is, in case of the physical absence of a given person, we consider the written or oral documentation of the absent person’s memory by a close relative or friend to be acceptable. The written version of each interview will be annotated.
The interviews will be uploaded to our website with the consent of the interviewees. All materials will be made free and available to the public. If financial means allow, we intend to translate all transcriptions into Western Armenian and English, if they are not already in these languages.
This project will be conducted by two groups. First, we will recruit a paid group of collaborators who are up to the task. Second, we will rely on the initiative of individuals who are enthusiastic about and believe in the importance of this project who would like to pass on the life stories of their parents or grandparents to the next generations of their families and share them with the wider public.
As a general principle, the entirety of the Memory Documentation Project requires the crossing of linguistic boundaries. The interviewees will speak in the language which allows them to express their thoughts most clearly. Nevertheless, we will privilege the position of Western Armenian, since most of the experience that will be recorded was formed in this language.
Archival materials are an important part of memory. Letters, photographs, souvenirs and other culturally significant objects form an important piece of the Diasporan life story. Photographs and letters will be scanned and objects of cultural significance will be photographed or filmed. All these materials will be made freely available. Unwritten memories will be annotated and published. Published or otherwise physically-existing memories will be collected in order to compile a rich collection of memoirs.
This project has been conceived, designed and will be supervised by Dr Krikor Moskofian (Director, Centre for Western Armenian Studies)