by CHRISTIAN PETERSEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on OCTOBER 29, 2015:

Vicken Cheterian
Vicken Cheterian

UnknownThe assassination of the Armenian-Turkish activist Hrant Dink in 2007 raised uncomfortable questions about a historical tragedy that the leaders of the Turkish Republic would like people to forget: the Armenian genocide. In his new book Open Wounds: Armenians, Turks, and a Century of Genocide (Oxford UP, 2015), the journalist/historian Vicken Cheterian offers a scholarly, yet high readable account of this injustice and the century-long silence surrounding it. With engaging prose, he explains how and why this genocide took place, including a description of the violence that Kurds carried out against Armenians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He also helps readers better grasp the continuities in how Sultan Abudhamid II, the Young Turks, and Mustafa Kamal’s Turkish Republic employed violence to deal with their “Armenian problem” and other “internal enemies” such as Greeks, Assyrians, and the Yezidis.

Not one to mince words, Cheterian offers a fascinating description of the Turkish efforts to delegitimize Armenian identities and silence international discussion of the genocide. He also reveals the complexities of how Armenians across the globe, including those of Armenian descent in Turkey, have struggled to raise international awareness about the genocide and make contemporary Turkish leaders confront the past. Just as important, he gives readers a “human feel” for the suffering of the Armenians by delving into the complexities of historical memory and the issue of “forced conversions.” He also takes readers on a guided tour of the Middle East that makes reference to architecture and landmarks to illustrate just how far the Turks have gone to erase historical memories of Armenians. Continue reading

An Interview with Duke’s new Turkish lecturing fellow, Didem Havlioglu

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on OCTOBER 30, 2015: 

Didem Havlioglu
Didem Havlioglu

Didem Havlioglu, a new Turkish Lecturing Fellow in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, did her MA and PhD at the University of Washington, Seattle in Near and Middle East Studies. Her research focuses on Ottoman and Modern Turkish language and literature — in particular, gender and women in literature.

She’s been teaching Modern and Ottoman Turkish language for 15 years, and comes to Duke as a Turkish lecturing fellow, after having taught at Istanbul Sehir University (a new private school in Istanbul) for the past five years. During her tenure at Sehir, she helped start the Turkish language and literature department and the Turkish for International students program.

QUESTION: Which courses are you teaching this semester and next semester?

HAVLIOGLU: I am teaching Elementary and Intermediate Turkish this year at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. My students are interested in Turkish because they want to study Middle East history and culture. They usually go to a study abroad program at Bogazici University in Istanbul or through the Duke in Istanbul program. Upon their return, they take second or third year Turkish. They are all very good students who like thinking outside of the box. For this reason, the classes are fast paced and very enjoyable for all of us.

QUESTION: Do you think interest from students is picking up for learning Turkish?

HAVLIOGLU: I am very happy to find that more students are interested in Turkish language and culture every day. The study abroad and Duke in Istanbul programs are the initiators of this growing interest. After living in Turkey briefly, the students come back to Duke with a good understanding of what they want to do next. For instance, they want to continue exploring, if not expand their initial immersion in Turkish language and culture.

QUESTION: Why should students learn Turkish?

HAVLIOGLU: I have always found it odd when I hear people talking about teaching language, teaching culture, and teaching literature as three distinct areas. For me, language is culture, and literary and other texts are tools that offer insights into the target community’s minds and souls. Carefully chosen texts draw the learners in and awaken them to perspectives that they never knew they had, not only of the other, but also of themselves and their own culture. Likewise, language learning consists not only of learning linguistic structures but also of understanding how meaning, mentality, and worldview vary in different communities that use similar words.

Therefore, I believe, learning Turkish, just like any other language and culture can be instrumental in students’ ability to become world citizens where there are more differences than similarities. We live in a time now where the question is, “How will the world be different because I lived in it?” and I believe my students are the people who will change the way we think about borders that make people apart. Continue reading

by GALYM ZHUSSIPBEK for ISLAMiCommentary on SEPTEMBER 18, 2015:

Galym Zhussipbek
Galym Zhussipbek

It can be argued that all radical Muslims who claim to act in the name of Islam, in reality, quite ironically, do not properly understand the very basic pillar of the Islamic creed — Oneness of God (Tawheed) — which they pretend to defend or restore. But the proper belief in Tawheed signifies the utmost humility and an acceptance of diversity and respect for human-kind.

This is currently one of the most-contested principles in Islam, though an Islamic world-view centered around Oneness of God (Tawheed) necessitates the genuine acceptance of pluralism.

There are some powerful calls for a reformation of Islam — propelled by gross human rights violations of human rights perpetrated by some Muslims or by people acting in the name of Islam who have zero tolerance for pluralism and the diversity of human-kind.

Many people, including Muslims themselves may wonder what connects Islamic creed (aqeedah) and this preference for peace and acceptance of pluralism. Continue reading


by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on SEPTEMBER 14, 2015: 

Earlier this month, the Duke Middle East Studies Center, in partnership with the Duke Center for Jewish Studies and the Duke University Program in Arts of the Moving Image,  screened Sajil Ana Arabi (“Write Down, I am an Arab”) — the 2014 documentary film about “one of the most influential writers of the Arab world” Mahmoud Darwish. It’s the ninth film of award-winning Israeli director Ibtisam Mara’ana-Menuhin.

As written in the official description of the film:

“Write Down, I am an Arab” tells the story of Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national poet and one of the most influential writers of the Arab world. His writing shaped Palestinian identity and helped galvanize generations of Palestinians to their cause. Born in the Galilee, Darwish’s family fled during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and returned a few years later to a ruined homeland. These early experiences would provide the foundation for a writing career that would come to define an entire nation. 

Like other Palestinian citizens of Israel at the time, Mahmoud Darwish grew up under military law that prevented freedom of movement. In 1964 his defiant poem, “Write Down, I am an Arab”, lands him in prison and turns him into an icon of the Arab world. At the same time, he meets and falls in love with Tamar Ben-Ami, a young Jewish-Israeli. He sends her intimate love letters in Hebrew which she keeps secret for decades. The affair ends when Tamar joins the army. 

Darwish leaves Israel in the 1970s, moving to Beirut just before the outbreak of the civil war, where he connects with the PLO leadership and becomes speech writer and confidant to Yasir Arafat. He returns to Palestine in 1995 after years of exile and continues to be the biting and powerful voice of the Palestinian people until his death in 2008. 

“Write Down, I am Arab” is a personal and social portrait of the poet and national myth, Mahmoud Darwish. Through his poetry, secret love letters, and exclusive archival materials, we unearth the story behind the man who became the mouthpiece of the Palestinian people.

Following the documentary screening, Shai Ginsburg (an associate professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and Arts of the Moving Image at Duke University who researches Hebrew literature, Israeli Cinema, and critical theory) engaged the audience in a free-flowing discussion about the life of the famed writer and the literature and politics that informed his work, as well as the state of the Israeli film industry today.

ISLAMiCommentary conducted a written Q & A (below) with Ginsburg to elaborate on these themes and also spoke with miriam cooke (Braxton Craven Distinguished Professor of Arab Cultures at Duke University) about Darwish. Iraq-native Abdul Sattar Jawad (professor of comparative literature and Middle East studies at Duke University) traveled in some of the same Arab writer’s circles as Darwish from the ‘70s through to 2003. He got to know the writer personally, and has also added some of his reflections to the Q & A. Continue reading

The following is a working paper by professor Kubilay Yado Arin. Comments and feedback are solicited and welcome. 

by KUBILAY YADO ARIN for TIRN on JULY 13, 2015: 

Historically, Turkish nationalists and the opponents of EU membership always invoke the spirit of Sèvres. This peace treaty from 1920 was dictated by the victorious powers of World War I, and spelled the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, leaving for the Turks small, rump state. In eastern Anatolia, it was envisaged that independent Armenian and Kurdish states would emerge; in the west, Turkey would lose territory to Greece. After heavy loss of life in the ensuing war of independence, the Treaty of Lausanne recognized Turkey in 1923 without mentioning an Armenian or Kurdish state.[1] Since that time, Turkey’s official position has been for decades to face westwards rather than towards the Middle East – EU accession being, for the Kemalist establishment, the final step in this process.

Fear of Kurdish secession has long been the canker in Turkish democracy, the justification for a raft of laws that restrict human rights and the freedom of expression. Instead of declaring that there is no Kurdish problem, as it did two decades ago, the Turkish government now appears to be saying there is no Kurdish solution. And as long as Turkey blurs the line between terrorism and legitimate protest, it will continue to alienate its Kurdish population while legitimating the men of violence. [2]

Continue reading