Leiden University Trip to Turkey to Witness 100th Anniversary of Armenian Genocide Commemoration Events

Emre Erol and Tsolin Nalbantian, two lecturers at LIAS, are organizing a trip to Turkey from 18th to 24th of April to participate in Armenian Genocide commemoration events. This six-day study abroad trip will include visits to Bitlis and Diyarbakır, lectures on the centenary of the Genocide, visits to historical sites and participation in the events of the commemoration. The trip is open for all BA, MA, ResMA, and PhD students at Leiden University.

We have planned an amazing trip and hope you will be interested in joining us!

2015 marks the centenary of the forceful displacement and massacre of the Armenian communities in Anatolia. This human tragedy affected history of the Middle East in profound ways.

April 24 commemorates both the deportation of Armenian intellectuals on April 24, 1915 from Istanbul (Constantinople) and the larger Armenian Genocide. The first commemoration took place in Istanbul in 1919, when a group of Armenian intellectuals gathered to remember those killed. One of the writers alive at the time, Hakob Sirouni wrote in his memoirs, “The mourning ceremony became a tradition.” Ever since, April 24 has been adopted by those who remember the victims of the Armenian Genocide as a symbol of mourning and remembrance.


We, as lecturers of Middle Eastern Studies and members of LIAS, think that the centenary of the Armenian Genocide in Spring 2015 would be a unique opportunity to take part in these commemorations in Turkey. This year not only marks a centenary but also a historic moment for reconciliation between peoples of the region. In the last two decades, peoples’ opinions about their respective ‘other’ have changed dramatically despite the persistence of the official nationalist discourses. The use of the term ‘genocide’ is still a matter of discussion. However, meticulous works in recent scholarship have left no doubt about the stages, extent, and the history behind the destruction of the Armenian communities in Anatolia. The discussion of the Armenian Genocide, a long-standing national taboo, has become a matter of public discussion in Turkey since early 2000s.

With each passing year, more and more peoples of Turkey have started to join the annual commemorations of the Genocide. As contemporary witnesses of mourning, we would also be there to celebrate the unprecedented development of communal commemorations that incorporate the various populations of Turkey, including Armenians, Kurds, Assyrians, Greeks, and others. This novel approach to mourning also delves into an arena of acknowledgment of commonalities that have unfortunately been ignored in the politicization and categorizations of populations.

Our presence will also be part of worldwide commemoration festivities and will present those in attendance with the opportunity to conduct fieldwork on memory, public remembrance, the role of local and central governmental officials in organizing or thwarting such events, and the reactions of members of the population in reconciliation efforts. In our act of commemorating in Turkey over the lives lost in 1915, we would, as representatives of Leiden University also participate in the collective struggle with Turks, Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and Kurds to prevent future injustices.


Plan

We will first fly into Bitlis on April 18 and spend four days touring with the students. Along with walking tours of the city, the students will learn about its development during the early days of World War I and the Armenian Genocide. We will have the opportunity to meet and speak with its government officials, along with members of the Bitlis Bar Association and the İHD. We will be attending a public discussion entitled What Happened to the Bitlis Armenians (1915-2015) and a public film screening on the Genocide and remembrance. Both events are the first of their kind to be held in the city, with full support by the local government.

From Bitlis we will make two day-trips: one to Mutki, where we will also meet the mayor and visit the abandoned Aghberig monastery; and the second to the western region of Lake Van, where we will visit abandoned Armenian churches. Our time in Bitlis will be a unique opportunity to explore the city and its surrounding environs and engage with their historical layers, which even long time residents of Turkey do not have.

We will then travel by bus (approximately 3 hours) to Diyarbakir on April 22, to partake in the collective commemorations that are sponsored by the Diyarbakir municipality. Together with members of the local government, Diyarbakir residents, and domestic and international visitors, we will visit the major massacre site where over 600 Armenians were killed. We will also visit the gravesite of Mihemedê Mistê of Êlih, the Kurdish tribal leader who opposed the massacres. Attending memorials at both sites emphasizes the pivotal role that many local leaders played in saving members of their communities. These memories, in turn, become contemporary sites of possible reconciliation. In addition, we will attend special events and exhibitions throughout the city and at St. Giragos and St. Sarkis churches along with local and international human rights activists and supporters. This will culminate in the public rally that will be held on April 24, sponsored and organized by the Diyarbakir municipality and the local branches of the Turkish Human Rights Organization (İHD) and will be followed by serving helva in memory of all the victims of 1915 and their descendants.

Tentative Schedule

While our schedule is not fixed, our schedule will be similar to the commemorative program put forth by the Gomidas Institute and the Turkish Human Rights Organization (İHD):

  • April 18: Bitlis
    Morning: meet city governmental officials, visit William Saroyan Street, Bitlis town, and Armenian sites in the city.
    Afternoon: Visit Papshen village and its medieval church.
    Evening: Meet up with other members of our group and local members of İHD.
    Overnight in Bitlis

  • April 19: Bitlis
    Morning: Meet with Bitlis Bar Association and Human Rights' Association (IHD).
    Afternoon: Public Lecture and Meeting: “What Happened to the Bitlis Armenians, 1915-2015?” (Sponsored by Bitlis Bar Association, İHD, and the Gomidas Institute) Three speakers with open forum for discussion, followed by press conference.
    Evening: Public screening of Saroyan Land
    Overnight in Bitlis

  • April 20: Day Trip to Mutki (Sassoun)
    Morning: Reception with Mutki Mayor.
    Afternoon: Visit former Armenian villages in the region. Weather permitting, visit Aghperig Monastery (40 minute ascent to mountain top).
    Evening: Free in Tatvan. Informal talks continue about the history of the area and 1915.
    Overnight in Bitlis

  • April 21: Day Trip to Western Lake Van
    Visit to Mush, and the abandoned St. Garabed church and Arakelots Monastery.
    Overnight in Bitlis

  • April 22: Travel to Diyarbakir by bus
    On route, visit Silvan and its mosque built by Salahadin, arriving in Diyarbakir by mid-afternoon.
    Afternoon: Tour old city, meet at St. Giragos for informal meeting with local Armenians, Kurds and Turks inhabitants.
    Overnight in Diyarbakir

  • April 23: Diyarbakir
    Morning: Visit the major massacre site (Batman) where over 600 Armenians, including the Diyarbakir Armenian leadership, were slaughtered.
    Afternoon: Visit the gravesite of Mihemedê Mistê of Êlih, the Kurdish tribal leader who opposed the Genocide of Armenians.
    Evening: Visit special events and exhibitions in the city or gather at St. Giragos with human rights activists and supporters. This event will take place at the same time of the canonization of the victims of 1915 in Echmiadzin, Armenia.
    Overnight in Diyarbakir

    April 24: Diyarbakir
    Morning: A commemorative ceremony in the ruins of St. Sarkis church in remembrance for Armenians and Assyrians.
    Noon: Public rally organized by the Turkish Human Rights Organization (İHD), the Diyarbakir Bar Association, and the Greater Diyarbakir and Sur Municipalities. Featuring speakers from local Kurdish leaders, Armenian, and Assyrians, followed by a press conference. The serving of “helva” in memory of all the victims of 1915 and their descendants will follow this event.

Projected Costs

(Please note these are approximate costs)

Airfare: You should reserve a flight from the Netherlands to Muş (airport code: MSR), returning Diyarbakır (airport code: DIY) to the Netherlands.
Visa: Check Turkey’s website for visa fees. For Dutch nationals visas are approximately 20euro.
Transportation: Leiden University will take care of local transport for the day trips as well as from Bitlis to Diyarbakir. The only transportation costs you will be responsible for (aside from airline ticket) are the trips to and from the airports: from Muş airport to Bitlis, and from Diyarbakır to Diyarbakır airport. We will organize the transportation, and this should cost approximately 5euros per person.
Hotels: We will reserve block hotel bookings in Bitlis and Diyarbakir. The prices will be approximately 55euro double occupancy (30 euros per person). For the week, expect to pay 210euros (less if you prefer triple occupancy, more if you prefer single).
Food: Food is not very expensive in Turkey. Expect to pay approximately 125euros for the week.

Total approximate costs: Airfare + visa + 340euros

Contact

If you are interested or have any questions, please contact Tsolin Nalbantian and Emre Erol for additional information. In addition, once you contact us, we will let you know when we will be holding a meeting to discuss the plan and answer any questions you may have in person.

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Last Modified: 19-02-2015