Latest:

Kings of Spades (Part 1): Fantasies of Sovereignty in a Pathology Plot

click for more

The Armenian Weekly Magazine
April 2012 

A woman raped, disenchanted, and sickened by the burden of proof. Dogmatic, hypocritical, cowardly students. The first represents the Armenian Diaspora, and the second, politicized Kurds, in two telling fantasies that have adorned the pages of Taraf, the sometime-contrarian Turkish newspaper, which recently boasted the Wikileaks first-publication rights in Turkey, and which is best known for its profound ambivalence with respect to just about everything but the military establishment. The fantasies in question were featured in columns by Alper Görmüş, in “Why are Armenians ‘stuck’ in 1915 . . .”, and by Halil Berktay, in “Not that I was asked, but no, I do not want to teach at the BDP,” which appeared at the tail-end of 2011.1

In the Turkish media of all stripes sexism comes in spades.

These pieces exemplify a kind of quick psychologizing discernible in many writings that, while purporting to lend some kind of sociopolitical support to Armenians and Kurds, in fact objectify them as highly irrational, unstable, susceptible subordinates trapped or reveling in victimhood. The writers slip into the shoes of authority they criticize, and identify themselves with its gaze—the venerable older brother, the master professor—in formulaic, instrumentalizing readings of the other as though in a laboratory experiment. Gutted by the very fantasies they conjure up in order to illustrate their anti-authoritarian claims, their analogical and interrogative tautologies delineate the very bounds and fabric of the imagination.

‘HEY, I GOT A SOCIAL DISEASE!’2: THE DISEASE ANALOGY

In the title of the column by Alper Görmüş, a seasoned journalist who received the Hrant Dink prize in 2009, the quotation marks around the word ‘stuck’ (‘takılıp kaldı . . .’) foreground the citable, repeatable quality of the word while mirroring the responsibility-shirking attitude of the column. Unlike other, affirmative or critical, uses of scare quotes in a title, the quotation marks here serve as a safety net around a phrase left hanging (a sense reinforced by the ellipses placed within the quotation marks in the original) as someone else’s qualifier about Armenians. The entire title is a question that the writer himself simultaneously poses and withdraws by replacing the question mark with ellipses: “Why are Armenians ‘stuck’ in 1915 . . .” Other than a disclaimer of the kind it’s not me who said it, the title registers no distance, no analytical or critical distinctions.

The same attitude is visible in the more earnest overarching descriptions of crime denial, and the denial of the “1915 massacres” in particular: “The perpetrator’s denial of his crime can, in some cases, be even more damaging than the crime itself,” reads the very first sentence, which would clearly have the reader empathize with the hypothetical victim. But the tentative nature of the qualifier “in some cases” is quickly lost in the “fated” (mukadder) damage which comes to possess the victim in the most absolute terms:

Every victim who encounters such a denial will expend all their energy on turning the ‘denial’ into ‘acknowledgement,’ unless they have exhausted all of their life energy and retreated or ended their lives. . . The primary feeling of such a person will inevitably be ‘rage.’ On the other hand, a huge ethical problem presents itself when deniers, forgetting that they are the very cause of this ‘rage,’ further attempt to accuse a person almost sickened [neredeyse hastalanmış] with rage for being in that state. Forgiving does more good to the forgiver than to the forgiven . . .” (italics mine, quotations in bold in the original).

What Görmüş objects to here and later is not the characterization (“almost sickened with rage”) of the victim who, he further adds, will need to “pour out the venom inside her,” but the deniers’ attempt to lay the blame for some such “almost sickness” on the victim herself. The vagueness of the phrase “almost sickened” itself captures the status of “sick” between a metaphor and a medical diagnosis, thus echoing the responsibility-shedding quality of the quotation marks in the title. The moment unfolds as yet another instance of misplaced analogies to human physiology, pathology, and contagion in reference to social problems, as well as imputations of social psychological illness, that pervade the Turkish media and the columns of many self-proclaimed democrats. Before analyzing imputations of psychological illness, it is interesting to note how anti-discrimination writings analogically slip into biological determinism, and how the language of “disease” (hastalık),3 marshaled to metaphorically displace sociopolitical problems, taps into a repository of fear and mystification surrounding the number one historic cause for death en masse: epidemics. As a political analogy, the language of “disease” is an alarmist and mystifying concoction that pushes many buttons at once: It evokes images of personal stigma (through additional metaphors stigmatizing diseases),4 doom, and global apocalypse; it blurs agency through connotations of natural determination and preordainment, and recalls epidemic-related states of emergency that have historically licensed witchhunts, minority pogroms, and even anti-(bio-) terror laws. The disease analogy rather successfully intensifies angst, mystifies all, and explains nothing.

One is tempted to joke that the use of disease as a metaphor is so pervasive as to be called, well, a disease. Nor are all of its uses metaphorical. Lamentably, in 2010 the same Taraf hosted in the guest column “Every Side [Her Taraf]”5 edited by Markar Esayan what amounted to a relentless “debate” amongst conservatives as to whether homosexuality is a sin, or quite literally, a disease.6 But the analogical use of the word disease proves the most fruitful and, as I will try to show, relevant. Markar Esayan himself privileges “disease” as one of the many introductory metaphors in his book The Tight Room of the Present (Şimdinin Dar Odası).7 Quoting the opening paragraph of his own award-winning book in his Taraf column, “The Past,” he writes: “To be a person without a past… This hang-up is not new. . . This disease is not one acquired on purpose or knowingly. [We Armenians,]8 [w]e Easterners [and] we Anatolians live mostly in the Narrow Room of the Present, and fear the past just as much as the mouse fears the cat and the cat fears the dog.” Elsewhere, ruminating on “the Kurdish issue,” Esayan declares: “We are all sick; we have all gotten sick and we maintain a very good relationship with our sickness. Writing our immoralities backward, we read them as virtue.”9

The analogy of “disease” is also a favorite of Ali Bayramoğlu’s. A columnist in Yeni Şafak and one of the leaders of the “Great Catastrophe” apology campaign,10 Bayramoğlu has no fewer than 12 columns with the word “disease” in the title, in immediate or latent reference to “symbolism defect disease,” staunch laïcité, militarization, misconceptions of society, anti-government prejudice, the deep state, nationalism, power, and “The Kurdish and Military Problem: Two Intertwined Diseases.” Concerning nationalistic objections to the protest slogan ‘We are all Armenian’ in the aftermath of the murder of Hrant Dink, Bayramoğlu observes, “we are faced with a structure that does not understand metaphor, that has nothing whatsoever to do with simile, that is literalist, that attempts to explain everything by way of straight signs, that tries to graft even Islamism and nationalism on this symbolic defect.” Perhaps in defiance of such pedantry, that last column is titled “Political Symbol Disease.”11

Of all the devotees of the “disease” analogy, Etyen Mahçupyan, writing earlier for Taraf and now back in Zaman, is the most committed to making it work. In a column titled, quite simply, “Disease,” Mahçupyan asserts that “human perception” (insani bir algılama) accounts for the corollary between medicine and politics, and defends its salience despite acknowledging its flawed positivist thrust (never mind that defining as natural the metaphorical corollary between the body and society is tautological). The quotient of social “health” according to “sociopsychology,” in this view, is the ability for co-existence and functional communication, as opposed to assimilation, the use of force, and blame-game (itemized as the Turkish state and society’s “sick” attitudes toward the Kurds).12 In another column titled “Acute and Chronic,” the writer explores the etiology of infectious and autoimmune diseases, only to analogically find that European racism, even as it takes the immigrant to be a “germ,” itself constitutes the “chronic” and “self-generated” (bünyenin kendisinde) disease issuing from European modernity and liberalism. By contrast, racism—and according to the writer, its root-cause nationalism—“entered” the otherwise robust Ottoman Empire as an “infection,” but then became “chronic.”13 European racism was thus a self-generated disease of seeing immigrants as germs, as opposed to the Ottoman Metabolism’s originary good health. One begins to wonder whether European racism should more concisely be diagnosed Regional Congenital Hypochondria.

Where does this analogical thinking come from and where does it lead? Languages have disease-related dead metaphors such as “plagued by, poisoned by, infested with, congested, contagion, immunity, virus, toxic, antidote,” and, of course “social ills.” Words that once literally spelled horrors in human existence or exuded a sense of new scientific explanatory power can in their next or parallel lives adopt secondary or idiomatic meanings that are, nevertheless, unsuitable for rhetorical heavy-lifting. Disease-related dead metaphors gain discursive power when used pervasively and superficially to stigmatize an opponent group or theory. But they crumble under the weight of one bold-faced, capitalized title after another. And as a social theory, extended metaphors of disease not only hark back all the way to Antiquity but are rather antiquated themselves.

This last point is no small matter. The notion of a “body politic,” grafted upon an analogy between society and the individual organism, dates back to a determinable point in history not because there is a similarity grounded in “human perception,” but because political discourse, historically that of ruling elites, co-opted the body as a resource for metaphor as well—a resource that is readily experienced as a unit of coherence by the individual subject and that can never be avoided by her. As metaphors, the body politic and its pathologies evolved along with societies and with increasingly elaborate scientific understandings of the body. And yet, “the body that featured in comparisons of body and society did not have a historical dimension.”14 Colorful physiological analogies for social problems and ideals pervaded pre-modern Europe, and fueled the French Revolution (the body as a metaphor for sovereignty, as a narrative device concretizing political abstractions, and as an element of ceremonial spectacle), followed by another peak in social functionalist organicism in 19th-century sociology and anthropology. Social theories scripted on the body-society analogy assume and idealize social integration and cohesion, using the analogy as a narrative tool to create the illusion of and excuse for “scientific” claims.15 The history of the categories of the normal versus the pathological in “hard” sciences itself has long been a subject for study, as have the analogies to physiological pathology favored by totalitarian regimes—such as Nazism with its “body politic” and the racially designated “toxins, parasites, tumors, bacteria,” etc., of which it should be “purged.”16 If knowing that extended metaphors comparing society to the body are, and have always been, thoroughly ideological is not enough to dissuade a social theory enthusiast from searching for the “right” physiological analogies for society in lieu of the “wrong” ones, then perhaps a step-by-step invitation to consider both the individual psychoanalytic dimension of otherness and the historical, fluid stereotypes of racial, sexual, and psychological “pathology” would prove liberating.17 It may be difficult for us all to recognize the stereotypes going into our assumptions; it should not, however, be difficult to realize that the problem is not this or that particular stereotype attributed to a group, but the ever-present endeavor of stereotyping itself.

In short, the comparison of nationalism and racism to “disease” is no more natural than the nationalist and racist comparison of minorities, immigrants, or foreigners to disease. In the world as we (should) know it, the comparison of the society to an “organism” with its taxonomy of “pathologies” is studied as a historic artifact, not a living legacy—unless the better half of the previous century and this one have entirely passed one by. The metaphors of pathology, if ever used, are best humored as dead metaphors, not mobilized for stigmatizing discourse or resurrected as sociological zombies. The urge inherent in the society-body comparison here and elsewhere18 might be one of rhetorical subversion, but the logic is amiss. Just as one cannot subvert a bad racial stereotype with a good racial stereotype, one cannot subvert a bad analogy by taking its square, as in “racism is the disease of calling a group of people a disease.” Furthermore, stereotyping one group is not counterbalanced by “even-handedly” stereotyping another; rather, this piles one set of stereotypes upon another. But the most egregious thoughtlessness takes place when a writer calls nationalism or racism a disease, and then frames a particular geographic or ethnic entity as (inherently!) racist or nationalist, effectively designating that entity as a carrier of disease. How is that not nationalistic or racist? Moreover, conveniently, the metaphor is used to reinstate a prelapsarian cohesion, thus externalizing a “racism via nationalism” as “not self-generated.” But most importantly, this tautological metaphor of “the disease of racism in the social organism” tells us absolutely nothing about racism. Identifying sociopolitical segments, actors, agents, groups, attitudes, facts, and events all at once as “sick” and demanding their responsible “treatment” is a contradiction in terms—in metaphor—that blurs and in fact eliminates agency and causality altogether. Disease actively spreads and yet cannot itself be addressed with a question. Agency falls squarely in the middle of nowhere between germ, cell, symptom, sickness, sick organism, medication, doctor, and hospital in this analogical universe. Which one of these is the state? Which one is the society? Which are journalists? Writers?

‘LIKE WE’RE PSYCHOLOGICALLY DISTURBED!’19: AN ALL-PURPOSE FORMULA OF PSYCHOLOGICAL DISEASE

Insinuations of “psychological illness” straddle the metaphorical and the medical—not because psychological illness doesn’t exit, but because discourses “of” psychological illness, especially as attributed to groups, are always other than cases in psychiatry, itself a self-critical field with an institutional history. Surely, when it comes to writings on “the diaspora” (declared “not monolithic” and then characterized as a two-part or single entity all over again), “disease” is asserted as both a metaphor and a literal psychological diagnosis of collective trauma. Typical elements of the psychological disease formula may include some or all of the assertions to the effect:

1. that (all of) “the diaspora” and (ultra-nationalists in) Turkey are both (equally) “sick”;

2. but that one must focus on the diaspora’s “psychological illness” in order to “empathize” with them;

3. that one first sees the immediate content of their “illness”: rage and vengefulness;

4. but that deep down, damaged victims are needy, in fact dependent on the “homeland,” for a final merciful recognition of some kind, most urgently of their pain (“Like inside, the worst of us is good!”20).

The formula can be evinced in starry-eyed, cheeky personal anecdotes along the lines of, “I saw the diaspora with my own eyes!” In this new subgenre of travel writing, each “Travels to the Diaspora” lays claims to honest unbiased observation while reproducing the same stereotypes as the next. The formula can also take the shape of intelligence reports by informants who then lament the diaspora’s “trust issues.” It can take the shape of a lab technician’s report recording the strange habits of a curious species.21 It can, on occasion, come with fictional fantasies.

This feat makes its most intriguing appearances in pieces written as if to counteract damning or demonizing language about the Armenian Diaspora. The column by Alper Görmüş is one of them. In his column, Görmüş quotes Hosrof Dink, the brother of Hrant Dink, and the weekly newspaper Agos on the topic of what became known in Turkey specifically as “the French law criminalizing Armenian Genocide denial.” In an interesting synthesis, Görmüş agrees with Hosrof Dink’s contention that Armenians in Turkey must have the better fortune in being “treated” (tedavi) but criticizes him for seeing geographic location as the reason why the diaspora is “so angry” and “stuck.” For Görmüş, it is not their living abroad but the “internal” denial (in Turkey) that accounts for “why they are like that.” Like what, is where Görmüş’s protest against Hosrof Dink becomes no protest at all. Görmüş’s last section is strewn with these words in bold and quotation marks—borrowed words, as it were, that tirelessly recount the same master-narrative of trauma which he would criticize, and for which he will yet assume no responsibility: Some are in fact the words of Hosrof Dink quoted on the page, but others are not. “Treatment” is chief among many: “The process of the Armenians’ ‘treatment’ can only begin with ‘the denial of denial,’” Görmüş writes; the diaspora “was given no chance to have any feeling but ‘rage’”; even the opportunity for healing [iyileşme] by forgiving was taken away from them. I believe that when making references to Armenians’ rage and their ‘sickened’ state, something must be said about what made them like this.” Görmüş then traces the diagnosis of sickness backwards to a cause, one that is conveniently both interned and externalized for damage control: “Had the State of the Turkish Republic put a distance between itself and the gangs that plotted and executed the massacres of 1915 and accepted all that happened in all its clarity, the Armenians living abroad would have long begun the process of ‘treatment’ by now.” Just as the apparent wish to absolve the diaspora of blame for its “sickness” serves to confirm its status as sick, the desiderata for truth with “all its clarity” confirm a simple, self-contained, appropriately distanced criminal band as the locus of evil. A sickness so certain, so general as to encompass an entire diaspora; an etiology so contained and extrinsic as to escape diagnosis. All of these implications fall under the rubric of “treatment,the bold scare quotes borrowed from medicine as if for a fleeting taste of authority from on high.

As the person to whom Görmüş defers in his sequels to the first column, Etyen Mahçupyan well deserves another stop in the whirlpool of disease language concerning the diaspora in the Turkish media. Ever the proponent of quaint discourses of “Eastern mentality” and “Western mentality” in his books as well as articles,22 Mahçupyan further clings to essential differences between the Armenians of Turkey versus those in the diaspora (understood as non-Anatolian). The first are privileged with deeper insight into “free will” and “the wide expanse between recognition and denial.” But at the end of the day, “even the harshest names of the diaspora” could fathom these notions, if it were not for the fact that “their emotional need is far greater. . . They have been longing too long for an outstretched hand.”23 Finally, in his column “The ‘Sick’ Children of Anatolia,” he is at great pains to apply the analogy of disease: “in the 19th century, everyone got sick one by one. Interestingly, the last ones to get sick were the Armenians and the Turks who ‘discovered’ their identity. [. . .] And not surprisingly, the disease [of nationalism] ate its own children.” Mahçupyan here emphasizes a vast difference in power between Ottoman and Armenian nationalisms, but concludes by way of intoning a sad past that “whispers in our ears how nationalism sickened these lands, and why we still fail to listen to or understand each other. It tells us why Armenians abroad support the Dashnaks and why they are so dependent on [muhtaç olduklarını] Turkey’s voice of the heart [gönül sesine]. Anatolia is searching for the conscience and the heart that it has lost . . .”24 Notice that the politicohistorical descriptions lend themselves to a metaphor entirely lacking in agents, the extrinsic “disease” of nationalism, which morphs into yet another metaphor (the past with its seductive whisper), and into yet another (the voice of the heart). In a few nonchalant strides, we depart from the “positive” pathology of the social organism and arrive at the sing-song neighborhood of conscience. (It is not surprising that Ece Temelkuran, the exemplary focus of my previous article, “Queens of Hearts,” has recently become the object of Mahçupyan’s ire, but not on account of “the book” she wrote—therein they have so much common ground.25 ) Committed as he is, Mahçupyan is only taking his turn in a chorus refrain teeming with the innate disease of racism, the extrinsic disease of nationalism, the venom of racism in the blood, the venom of nationalism in the milk, the desperate Armenian, the Armenian stuck in the past, the sick Diaspora Armenian, the cured Armenians of Turkey. The pervasiveness is tragic; the pervasiveness is overwhelming; the pervasiveness is, sometimes, even surprising.26

As anxious as democrats/journalists in the Turkish media might be to “talk trauma,” someone is always talking faster. “Psychological war” and “victimization psychology” are some of the oft-used phrases in denialist sources—websites, conference proceeding, books—idealizing and extolling a (racially defined) Turkish history, blaming Western imperialism and Armenian separatism, and attributing to the diaspora such characterizations as copy-cat behavior based on “the success of the Jewish Holocaust propaganda”; “trauma psychology” explained as the “psychology of victimization and exemption”; “Diaspora psychology” itemized as self-alienation, purely imaginary reconstruction of the past, and an identity developed around hatred; “the Armenian Psychological War” concocted internationally to constrain Turkey and dismiss Ottoman war psychology, among others.27

The co-option of the terminology of psychology as nationalist discourse is not only a denialist project; it can be a non-negligible, and sometimes defining, aspect of the state orchestration of post-genocidal “reconciliation” processes as well. As Thomas Brudholm eloquently argues in Resentment’s Virtue: Jean-Améry and the Refusal to Forgive,28 reconciliation processes such as those in Germany and South Africa can dictate forgiveness rather than inspire or even elicit it—not least by insinuations about mental health. Therapeutic language, itself under increasing criticism in relation to mass atrocity, can be co-opted by the authorities and the perceived leaders of the public sphere to frame victims as traumatized, self-preoccupied, deficient citizens stuck in the past. Dissent and resistance are suppressed and the victims’ responses instrumentalized toward the higher end of a complete “social harmony.” Emotions can be divested of their moral dimension and cast as the purely sentimental and spiritual. In contrast to such framing, and because of it, rage and resentment can be part of a legitimate demand for justice and reparations. They can constitute ethical, rather than vengeful and violent, resistance. As in the work of Améry, resentment can substantiate an “impossible” demand that the society wish what “should never have happened” never happened, that its view of the past and social identity be fully informed at all times and not selective, and that its future be marked, not by a damning collective guilt, but by fully-formed social responsibility.

THE SPADE IN ITS LIKENESS: THE RAPE SICKNESS ANALOGY

A truly perplexing aspect of the column by Görmüş is that he devotes about a fifth of it to recount the plot for a story or novel he has never written, a plot that functions much like a parable reflecting the longer narrative of the column, “Why are Armenians ‘stuck’ in 1915…” This is not only a story-within-a-story, but a mise en abîme that analogically reproduces the greater narrative. The sub-plot sets up a (secondary) metaphorical relationship: The larger narrative is “like” the parable inside it. An example for this narrative strategy can be found in the Bible, in the story of King David and Bathsheba, which has “the parable of the rich man” embedded in it. David sees himself in the narrative mirror of the rich man, and through this metaphorical detour comes to develop a moral feeling about his own action. The story-within-the-story implicitly invites the reader to do the same, that is, to identify herself with David in his moral self-discovery. But of course, there is no way of guaranteeing with whom the reader will in fact identify herself. And there is no guarantee that even after such self-identification takes place, the same emotional response to the character in a story will arise in response to oneself.29

Analogies can get the better of a writer, and illuminate other things than their analogous moral. Görmüş embeds his parable in his column thusly:

“Years ago, I had formulated in my mind a plot for a story (perhaps a novel) around this theme . . . My heroine was a woman who was raped by a man she very much trusted and called ağabey’ [older brother]. When trying to deal with the trauma caused by the shattering of her trust, the woman faced one that was even worse: The man was saying that he had never done such a thing, and to top it off, the woman’s friends and acquaintances were speaking his language. My heroine decides to leave Istanbul, where she was born and raised, to move to a remote Anatolian city where her older sister and brother-in-law live, in the hopes of forgetting both the rape and the pain that the denial of the crime caused, and of curing [tedavi] herself. There, she would wield her rage on the one hand and keep track of the lawsuit she had filed on the other. Nonetheless, a few years would suffice for her to realize that this choice of hers would not serve the purpose she had intended. The woman would come to realize in that time frame that what really made her “sick” was, more than the rape, the denial of the injustice she had been objected to by the man she had called “older brother” and by everyone who knew the truth. In the plot in my mind the woman was driven by this perception to return to the lands where she was born and raised, and to face her friends and acquaintances. Even if the beginning would be disappointing, a friend whose conscience was bleeding would finally acknowledge the truth and apologize, and the process of her treatment would thus begin.”

A preliminary reading of this storyline, which of course tells us so much about fantasy and nothing about the “analogous” history Görmüş has in mind, will be about the elements of the story/analogy in itself. Here we have a rape narrative following a certain set of premises that indicate an urban cultural context which recognizes the woman as possessing a valid and independent, if violated and obstructed, personal identity, agency, physical integrity, sexual dignity, and privacy. In this regard, this is a fairly standard rape-and-denial narrative most familiar from Hollywood movies (one in eight of which features the rape of a woman, as well as male revenge on her behalf) and sensational books such as Cry Rape: The True Story of One Woman’s Harrowing Quest for Justice, which may or may not thoroughly explore how a seemingly gender-egalitarian system continues to uphold male dominance through sociocultural and legal mechanisms. (In Europe and the United States alone, of all the rapes reported, a small percentage is charged, and roughly about 10 percent get convictions. The ratio is but a fraction of this in many parts of the world.)30

But even this premise is simultaneously and severely compromised: The storyline explicitly endorses male domination as assumed by the female outlook into the world and warranted by her inherent frailties. It may be a factual given that a large number of rapes of women are by men of their acquaintance, but it is not a given that these men are originally revered by those women. Yet the story repeatedly asserts that the woman deeply trusted the man as an “older brother,” and the denial by someone she so profoundly trusted hurt her more than the rape itself. This is an incredibly problematic premise that implicitly attributes boundless naiveté, dependence, and internalized submission to the woman, a premise that in fact twice holds the victim herself as the greater cause of her own suffering on account of her original, misplaced trust—the wrong place being not the social structure but that particular bad egg. “Trust” (güven), unless phrased so as to indicate mutuality, pertains to the one who trusts, and not to the one to whom trust is directed. Her trust was so absolute as to be of the kind placed in an “older brother” (an uncontested criterion), but placed in the wrong man. What is problematized is not the replication of a hierarchical family paradigm, but the woman’s inability to detect aberration.

This causality immediately and consistently anchors our attention on the series of frailties in the woman—her original misjudgment, her total devastation, her negative, self-destructive, fruitless emotional response of holding a grudge and seeking legal recourse. The storyline defines this early on as “trauma” and then as “sickness” and reports from on high that the woman “realizes” [i.e., the fact that] this is not the way to go, because the actual cause of her suffering is not so much the rape, not even so much denial, but that she needs to trust again.

The perpetrator is never the problem as an agent, but remains an absent “denier” to the woman of everything he could have given her: complete trust in the system as a family structure where she would remain the happy subordinate. With the law crossed out as an incomplete, and therefore irrelevant, basis for relationships of trust, we are to read this storyline as a personal problem, between an aberrant, individual perpetrator (and cohorts who inexplicably back him up) and a subordinate individual victim. The problem is essentially interpersonal and only tangentially communal. The crime temporarily upset the prelapsarian ideal of family cohesion: The solution can only be a post-lapsarian reinstatement of the same.

Meanwhile, the victim does all the work—travels years and distances—all of which comes to nil, with the final reward magically bestowed by a random denier in a split second: a personal apology which finally begins the victim’s “healing process.” This is suggestive, but in more layers than the obvious. The “trauma” victim again had mistakenly deserted Istanbul (twice reiterated: “where she was born and raised”) for a remote town in “Anatolia”—the privileged locus of self-reflection. She returns—as it is she who must travel yet again to face her deniers—and it takes just one denier’s momentary change of heart, or shift in “conscience,” to begin her healing. Just because the victim happened to materialize in situ.

In this analogy, the Diaspora Armenian = rape victim is “stuck” indeed first and foremost because she is cast as a generic, objectified victim in the raw through historic time: the victim herself, and beside herself. A victim with neither her wits about her, nor her descendants, nor her defenders. The absent perpetrator, however, is both interned and externalized—a singular pervert buried in history. And yet, the perpetrator is indomitably represented through historic time by proxy, through the denialist cohorts. The Diaspora Armenian = rape victim has self-generated flaws (trust in the wrong superior, fleeing roots), and the constitutive weakness of being destructible = rapeable. Her fate is one of long and hard work in realizations about herself, of her own trauma sickness, and her inevitable return to the location of crime which she herself had deserted (a caveat overwriting forced displacement and generational turnover in the diaspora). The perpetrator makes a comeback by proxy, in the form of a fellow denier, now becoming the Savior of the victim returned to sender as damsel-in-distress.

In the Turkish media of all stripes sexism comes in spades. Ahmet Altan, editor-in- chief of Taraf, routinely compliments the Prime Minister on his delikanlı ways—connoting good-willed macho, man of his word, patron of the ’hood, “green” yet virile lad. In a recent drama of political turnover in Turkey, Altan wrote that Turkish governments used to be to the state as the “submissive woman” is to “the brutish man” (sprinkled with domestic abuse details). But now, the state is to the government as the “wanton woman” is to the seducible man. That makes for some anti-climactic content for a column titled “The Roles Have Changed.”31 In all of one paragraph, Markar Esayan, too, likened “the past” first to a “shameless . . . black widow,” then a “virgin” who becomes a “wanton, coquettish . . . temple whore” sleeping with “many a brute,” but still remaining “girl-boy-girl” [kızoğlankız, i.e., maiden]; the iconographic virgin-whore who “worships power. . . flirts with the powerful. . . and offers herself first to this one, then to that.”32 Indeed!

On the other hand, the column by Görmüş does less, which is more. It parades a reactionary storyline as an emancipatory one, and leaves the ugly object hidden in plain sight. For rape is not like genocide; it is part of genocide.

If we want to “talk trauma,” and rape immediately springs to mind, but not the kind partaking in the history being represented, there is a problem. If we are instead seeking a generic analogy in rape cum trauma, then it is vital to remember that a woman’s rape is a pervasive representational trope for exploiting entirely irrelevant political agendas. We must also remember that men, too, get raped, in significant percentages especially in prison but also elsewhere, as is coming into clearer contemporary focus despite gender codes dictating silence. Although statistically men are more often the victim of all violence, women live in much greater fear of assault. If we want to talk rape-in-hierarchy, we can recall that women officers of the United States Army who get raped are, instead of legally heard as they wish, often discharged by their own superiors on spurious diagnoses of “personality disorder” (as opposed to post-traumatic stress)—a verdict rewriting the victims’ past, the crime, as well as their future. If we want to talk rape and denial, we can remember that, steering clear of Hollywood movies, rape goes by and large unreported in the greater world where there is no structure that recognizes a woman as the owner of her own body in the first place. Historically and in many parts of the world, what is considered violated is not her own body or integrity but male ownership and honor “embodied” in her alienable chastity, and purged through her exile or murder when violated. In perhaps the world over, rape, violence, and murder charges for a man can be mitigated by allegations on the woman victim’s sexual conduct, but charges for a woman can only be mitigated by the violence she herself endured at the hands of her victim. The law has only recently begun recognizing domestic rape (and that, only in certain countries), and rape remains that odd crime hinging on “consent.”33

A writer can devise whichever rape story he pleases. But a serious problem arises where mass atrocity is compared to a singular urban scenario of “sick” legal recourse for rape, followed by a randomly “curing” apology from a fellow denialist (no charges pressed). That problem might be: Is there in fact a similarity between mass atrocity and rape, and could that similarity be the fact that there are kinds of rape and mass atrocity that cannot be legally actionable, that remain absent from the entire grammar of the law? Representation where there is no representability pretends to grant the woman a kind of agency she never had, and strips away all the agency and resistance that she did assert.

The growing literature and documentation on rape during mass atrocity reveals many genocidal attitudes and practices in history: the prohibition on sexual intercourse with “non-Aryans” and simultaneous sexual abuse in Germany; the use of rape as a genocidal terror and assimilation mechanism to induce pregnancy in Bosnia; genocidal rape, forced conversion, and assimilation of women as domestic servants, sexual slaves, or coerced wives in the Ottoman Empire, among a host of others.34 Genocidal rape as warfare comprehends the above pervasive effect of rape in the world at large on a massive scale of destruction, violence, and stigma.

And yet, instead of looking into rape as a reality in genocide, Görmüş prefers to take it as an analogy for the diaspora’s “sickness.” The diaspora becomes an inherently subordinate, naive, raw, sick victim of urban rape, misguidedly seeking recourse in cold legal indictment and enraged structural intervention—a recourse itself cast as irrelevant to the ineffable and total destruction of the woman’s soul. The writer drives the fantasy home, to the family reunion in the indivisible empire of the imagination, where the sickened damsel-in-distress will be brought back to life by the perpetrator-prince’s “brotherly” kiss of apology, personalized by proxy.

ENDNOTES

1. See www.taraf.com.tr/alper- us/makale-ermeniler-neden-1915-e-takilip-kaldi.htm. This column became the first of a three-part series, although there was a significant time gap before the second installment, which followed, according to the author, significant responses from the paper’s readership. The second column in question, by Halil Berktay, will be the subject of my sequel to this article, which will appear in the Armenian Weekly next month.

2. From the song “Gee, Officer Krupke” in “The West Side Story,” parodying the various stereotypes that the establishment uses to frame social problems—in this case juvenile delinquency. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, 1956.

3. The word “hastalık” could be rendered variously: “disease, illness, sickness, malady, ailment,” among others. I suggest that “disease” comes closest to “hastalık” in its nominal form, which connotes pervasiveness without definitively implying “contagion” or “infectious” disease (“bulaşıcı hastalık”).

4. Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor compares psychological associations of diseases themselves—tuberculosis in the 19th century and cancer in the 20th—as either an expression of the patient’s character or an expression of the repression of the patient’s ‘true’ character. The work was followed by a sequel, AIDS and Its Metaphors.

5. “Taraf” can mean aspect, way, (taking) side(s), (on) behalf (of), party (to a negotiation, conflict, etc.).

6. The “debate” itself was sparked by a comment by Aliye Kavaf, minister of “women and the family,” to the effect that homosexuality is a disease and must be cured. Some of the contributions were then deemed prime examples of hate speech. Responses have included those by Ayşe Günaysu (see www.sesonline.net/php/genel_sayfa_yazar.php?KartNo=55223&Yazar=Ay%C5%9Fe+G%C3%BCnaysu) and the organization Nefretsoylemi.org, which tracks hate speech (see www.nefretsoylemi.org/rapor_aciklamalar.asp#). The newspaper Taraf itself otherwise reports on and has regular columnists writing on LGBTT issues.

7. Further metaphors will be discussed below.

8. The book won the Inkılap Kitabevi book prize in Turkey in 2005. For variations, compare the author’s quotation from his own book in his own column at www.taraf.com.tr/markaresayan/makale-gecmis.htm (reprinted in the author’s website) with the commercial blurb at www.kitapyurdu.com/kitap/default.asp?id=88409, also in the author’s own website www.markaresayan.com/?page_id=359.

9. See http://taraf.com.tr/markar-esayan/makalekurt-sorunu-nasil-hallolunur.htm.

10. The text of this extremely controversial campaign can be found in a number of languages at http://ozurdiliyoruz.com/.

11. See http://yenisafak.com.tr/yazarlar/?t=31.01.2007&y=AliBayramoglu.

12. See http://www.zaman.com.tr/yazar.do?yazino=1162747.

13. See http://www.zaman.com.tr/yazar.do?yazino=1166319.

14. A. D. Harvey, Political Metaphor and Political Violence (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), 2–3.

15. See Jonathan Gil Harris, Foreign Bodies and the Body Politic: Discourses of Social Pathology in Early Modern England (Cambridge UP, 1998) and Antoine de Baecque, The Body Politic: Corporeal Metaphor in Revolutionary France, 1770–1800, transl. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford UP, 1993).

16. See, for example, Georges Canguilhem’s The Normal and the Pathological (1943; 1966; published in English with an introduction by Michel Foucault in 1978). Examples on Nazi scientific practices, ideas, and physiological metaphors include Robert J. Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (Basic Books, 1986) and Robert Proctor, The Nazi War on Cancer (Princeton UP, 1999).

17. See, for instance, Sander Gilman’s Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race, and Gender (Cornell UP, 1985) and Mieke Bal’s scathing review demonstrating how critics themselves are prone to the very same stereotypical gaze that they would criticize (“The Politics of Citation,” Diacritics, 21.1 [1991]: 24–45). Sander Gilman has since pursued further research into racial, gendered, and “psychological” stereotypes of pathology in medicine and biology.

18. The extensions and applications are discussed in the next section.

19. See note 2.

20. ibid.

21. Examples follow in an endnote below detailing the pervasiveness of the “sicknesss” discourse—although I am just as interested in its rhetorical role as extended metaphor and analogical displacement.

22. For some such article in English, see www.eurozine.com/articles/2006-01-18-mahcupyan-en.html.

23. Even “The Demonized Children of Anatolia,” a column against the denialist demonization of the diaspora, proceeds to characterize the diaspora as largely depoliticized, but forced by the politicized few into a singular identity based on ever-present pain (www.zaman.com.tr/yazar.do?yazino=1224394&keyfield=). For the writer, the Westernized, sophisticated versions of Armenian nationalism “uninfluenced by Armenia” and the more heavy-handed and brutish Turkish version can always be interchangeable: “We should not forget that this is how former Unionists ( İttihatçılar) viewed the Armenians, and it was due to this kind of view that genocide occurred. It is disgraceful that Armenians are sticking to the mentality that led to their own destruction” (see www.zaman.com.tr/yazar.do?yazino=1221333&keyfield= and—in English—www.todayszaman.com/columnists-204751-the-armenian-genocideand-disgrace.html). The writer states that Armenians need to appeal to Turkish people with their pain and approach their humanistic side, not aggravate matters by political insistence on recognition.

24. See www.zaman.com.tr/yazar.do?yazino=1223842.

25. Mahçupyan deplores Temelkuran for an antigovernment piece she wrote for the international media, accusing her of supporting the deep-state and of using the memory of Hrant Dink in that article as well as in “the book” (he means: Deep Mountain: Across the Turkish-Armenian Divide [Verso 2010]). Temelkuran herself had concluded her article thus: “As Dink said five ago in his last article, we journalists are ‘like frightened doves’. One killed, two imprisoned, myself unemployed.” The English-language articles are available at www.todayszaman.com/columnist-270333-hrants-parasites.html and www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/27/turkishjournalists-fight-intimidation.

26. Before the murder of Hrant Dink, his prosecution and conviction over a series of articles in Agos were in part based on a reading of the words “poisonous blood” as racist (whereas the analogy was between poisonous blood and racism itself), thus making him a target. Other analogies to physiological pathologies are marshaled in these articles to describe racism itself, but also the generalized “unhealed trauma” and “sickness” Dink attributes to the diaspora, as well as the twin “clinical condition” of trauma and paranoia to Armenians and Turks, respectively. In view of the essentialist or generalizing categories (Oriental, Anatolian, Armenians of the diaspora/Armenia) it is important to note that discourses, and precisely physiological metaphors such as those I analyze in this article, are either explicitly or implicitly validated as the legacy of Dink. Baskın Oran, who later presided much of the discourse on the apology campaign, has been resorting to numerous such analogies, for instance of “poison in the milk” (in reference to Turkish-Kurdish nationalisms) and persistent equalization of nationalisms through the language of disease and psychological sickness. One such example is the article “The Wheel Torture and Honor” in which Oran provides his bullet-point presentation of the “Armenian Psychology” by way of “reporting” according to his purposes on a scholarly group: www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalEklerDetayV3&ArticleID=920692&CategoryID=42. Exactly the same psychological formula appears in Markar Esayan’s recent article after the French Legislation debates, “Thoughts on a Trip to France” (www.taraf.com.tr/markar-esayan/makale-bir-fransa-seyahatinin-dusundurdukleri.htm). Orhan Kemal Cengiz advanced the same stereotypes in “My Encounter with the Armenian Diaspora” (www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalYazar&ArticleID=1083345&Yazar=ORHAN-KEMAL-CENGIZ&CategoryID=98), which “counteracts” the characterization of Turkey as a “sick individual” in “An Armenian with a Mexican Hat.” Ece Temelkuran’s pervasive stereotypes in her book Deep Mountain were discussed in my review and Michael Goshgarian’s. Rober Koptaş, presently editor-in-chief of Agos, also elaborates on nationalism as a disease, argues against demonizing the diaspora, and yet calls for “Pedagogy for the Turk, Psychology for the Armenian” as well as categorizes “Armenian the Victim [mağdur], Armenian the Tyrannical [gaddar],” These are reproduced, respectively, on his website: http://hayatoldugugibi.blogspot.com/2010_05_01_archive.html, http://hayatoldugugibi.blogspot.com/2009/05/turke-pedagoji-ermeniye-psikoloji.html, and http://hayatoldugugibi.blogspot.com/2009/04/magdur-ermeni-gaddar-ermeni.html. In “The Diaspora and ‘Giuardians of the Temple,’” Murat Belge succumbed to the same stereotype of “rage” as psychological frailty alongside his “cocoon” metaphor designating the diaspora, along with numerous other direct stereotypes for “good” and “bad” essential qualities he attributes to Armenians, regionally classified in his travels: www.taraf.com.tr/murat-belge/makale-diaspora-vetapinak-bekcileri.htm. In 2004, Yıldırım Türker had portrayed “Armenian belligerence” abroad as resulting in the “roughing up” of Armenians in Turkey, and chimed, “[we must bear in mind that] Diaspora Armenians and Turkish nationalists suffer from the same disease,” referencing Hrant Dink: www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalYazar&ArticleID=732271. Even Ragıp Zarakolu briefly concurred that “both societies need therapy” in a piece on the constraints on the public statements of Armenians in Turkey: www.evrensel.net/news.php?id=8770.

27. Examples include this article on the website “The Armenian Problem” (www.ermenisorunu.gen.tr/turkce/makaleler/makale25.html); the book Ermeni Psikolojik Savaşı: Talat Paşa’dan Alican Kapısı’nın Açılmasına, Özkan Yeniçeri and Ümit Özdağ (Kripto 2009); the abstracts for the conference “The Armenian Symposium of the Political Psychology Association” (http://www.avim.org.tr/degerlendirmetekli.php?makaleid=287); and online articles (accessible in cache at time of writing) www.donusumkonagi.net/MerakEttikleriniz/9/psikosiyaset/2733/turkiyeermenistan-iliskilerinin-psikolojik-savas-acisindandegerlendirilmesi.html and www.donusumkonagi.net/MerakEttikleriniz/9/psiko—siyaset/2206/turk-ermeni-meselesinde-magduriyet-psikolojisinin-etkisi.html.

28. Temple UP, 2008

29. See Ted Cohen, “Metaphor, Feeling, and Narrative” in “Philosophy and Literature,” 21.2 (1997): 223–244; 236. Ted Cohen’s example of this parable is particularly interesting—although he does not call it mise en abîme—also because of the topic: In the passage, King David, who has a harem, takes the virtuous soldier Uriah’s only wife and has him killed in battle. Nathan tells him a parable about a rich man, an owner of herds who slaughters a poor man’s only and beloved lamb for a banquet. This story makes David recognize his own act as reprehensible. What is mysterious is how a feeling about the self that was not there before arises in response to a displaced metaphorical analogy. That response would require two steps: the (morally motivated) story-teller and the reader/listener responding to a character in the same way, and then the reader/listener responding to themselves as they responded to their counterpart in the story.

30. For key research on rape, representations of rape, rape narratives, and criticism by/of feminist theory on rape, see: Sorcha Gunne and Zoë Brigley Thompson, eds., Feminism, Literature, and Rape Narratives (Routledge, 2010), especially the editors’ “Introduction: Feminism Without Borders: The Potentials and Pitfalls of Retheorizing Rape” (1–20) and Sorcha Gunne’s “Questioning Truth and Reconciliation: Writing Rape in Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit and Kagiso Legeso Molepe’s Dancing in the Dust (164–180); also see: Carine M. Mardorossian, “Toward a New Feminist Theory of Rape” (Signs, 27.3 [2002] 743–775); Jane Monkton Smith, Relating Rape and Murder: Narratives of Sex, Death, and Gender (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Amy Greenstadt, Rape and the Rise of the Author: Gendering Intention in Early Modern England (Ashgate 2009); Sabine Sielke, Reading Rape: The Rhetoric of Sexual Violence in American Literature and Culture, 1790–1990 (Princeton UP, 2002); Corrine Sanders, Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England (D.S. Brewer, 2002); Jocelyn Catty, Writing Rape, Writing Women in Early Modern England: Unbridled Speech (Palgrave Macmillan 2011, c1999); and Sandra Gunning, Race, Rape and Lynching: The Red Record of American Literature, 1890–1912 (Oxford UP, 1996). An earlier reference was made to Bill Lueders’ Cry Rape: The True Story of One Woman’s Harrowing Quest for Justice (Terrace Books, 2006).

31. See http://www.taraf.com.tr/ahmet-altan/makale-roller-degisti.htm.

32. See the first column quoted, note 8.

33. In addition to the key sources in note 30, see http://goodmenproject.com/good-feedblog/as-victims-men-struggle-for-rape-awareness/, www.nytimes.com/2009/08/05/world/africa/05congo.html, and http://edition.cnn.com/2012/04/14/health/military-sexual-assaults-personality-disorder/index.html.

34. In addition to the attention on this subject in the arts and film, for specific literature see: Lisa Sharlach, “Rape as Genocide: Bangladesh, the Former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda,” New Political Science 22.1 (2000): 89–102; for an excellent review of the literature in the topic as relating to the Armenian Genocide: Matthias Bjørnlund, “‘A Fate Worse Than Dying’: Sexual Violence during the Armenian Genocide,” in Dagmar Herzog, ed., Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe’s Twentieth Century (Palgrave Macmillan 2009), 16–58. Also see: Beverly Allen, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia (U Minnessota P, 1996); Patricia A. Weitsman, “The Politics of Identity and Sexual Violence: A Review of Bosnia and Rwanda,” Human Rights Quarterly 30 (2008): 561–578; Vahé Tachjian, “Gender, Nationalism, Exclusion: The Reintegration Process of Female Survivors of the Armenian Genocide,” Nations and Nationalism 15.1 (2009): 60–80; Keith David Watenpaugh, “The League of Nations’ Rescue of Armenian Genocide Survivors and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism, 1920–1927,” The American Historical Review, 115. 5 (2010): 1315–1339.

2 Comments on Kings of Spades (Part 1): Fantasies of Sovereignty in a Pathology Plot

  1. Dear Burcu,

    Congratulations on an impressive exploration of the use of sickness analogies to avoid responsibility and truthfulness. Much as I have been wanting to comment on it, I find it very difficult to ‘criticize’ anything you have said. I also particularly appreciate the insights into gender politics.

    What sticks out, of course, is the pathology :-) of ‘the perpetrator’ ‘being stuck’ on advising ‘the victim’ how to ‘heal herself’. The worst aspect of this: the perpetrator almost allows that this can and could happen again, whether the rape scenario or the larger issue of genocide or any other mass murder and denials that follow.

    What makes people so afraid to own up and apologize, instead of advising the injured party to reach out and forgive ‘for its own good’? Might it be because they have to work on forgiving themselves first? In order to do this, one would have to understand the ‘wrongness’ of the crime as a first step, and then understand that humans make mistakes – some of them horrible mistakes. The awareness might result in a sense of confidence that one doesn’t have to be pegged with a crime others might also have committed under other circumstances – and thus make an apology easier and more sincere.

    As for forgiving the other (I am free associating here based on Gormus’s words) : Personally, I can see how the genocide of 1915 might be ‘forgivable’ – though not of course ‘condonable’ – if only in the sense that it is past and widely recognized in the world, if not always ‘officially’. The ‘denial’ is more difficult to forgive, imho, because it is ongoing, as are its effects, especially within Turkey.

    Moreover, in order to forgive the denial, one would have to forgive all the governments and other establishments of the world that are supporting – or at least ‘respecting’ – the denial.

    Gormus is wrong because when it comes to denials ‘forgiveness’ is not the issue at hand. Bearing witness to present truth is.

    Lastly, related to the above two paragraphs, there is the ‘sickness’ in the world of deceptive politics, of seeming to be ‘peaceful’ while perpetrating wars, of fear.

    These are the sicknesses that all need to deal with, rather than be fooled by those who try to use what are only symptoms to make it seem as though the conflicts in question, be it genocide affirmation or rape, are merely a matter between two parties. One needs to question all who focus on the symptoms alone, as they are likely to be linked to the main causes, if only emotionally.

    with regards,

    Tanya

  2. Impressive insights and very thought-provoking. Congratulations on a great article.

    Tanya, I agree: ” Bearing witness to present truth” (is the main issue at hand). Nothing fixes the ‘dis-ease’ caused by deception like a good dose of truthful validation.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

*