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The politics of Instagramming genocide

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As seen on Instagram recently, Kim Kardashian and her sisters were in Armenia to pay their respects to their ancestry and to recognize the upcoming 100-year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Why should you even care about their visit or their Instagram accounts? Because the comments section is strikingly filled with ethnic hate, denial and maliciousness.

The Armenian Genocide is a traumatic event in Armenian collective memory, both for the large Diaspora of five million and for the three million Armenians in the nation proper. April 24 marks the 100-year anniversary of the commencement of the 1915 atrocities, which left anywhere from an estimated hundreds of thousands to 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians massacred under the ruling command of the Young Turk regime. This event, which still cuts deep for Armenians, is vehemently denied in Turkey’s official state rhetoric.

But I am not here to start a debate about whether or not these events happened. I do not believe it is a debate, as my maternal great-grandparents fled from their homes in eastern Anatolia to escape deportations and mass murders which left most of their families killed. I am here to ask, why in the present day, we as humans find it OK to make dirty racial and ethnic comments to each other? Where will it get us? It hurts to see commentators on Kim Kardashian’s most recent Instagram pictures call Armenians scoundrels and liars and to read other equally hateful remarks about Turks. And these sentiments do not just litter a reality-star’s social media account, they exist in other forms of news media, scholarly literature and even in day-to-day interactions.

No doubt the Kardashians are generating attention for Armenia, but it is all attention that links the nation to a traumatic past. Most of their posts have referenced the Genocide in some way, reducing Armenian culture to one of victimhood. Since these atrocities have not been officially recognized by the Turkish state or even by the United States government, they sometimes promulgate vitriol cycles of hatred in both Armenian and Turkish communities. This is by no means productive, and if reconciliation is envisioned for the future we must find avenues to influence and celebrate our cultures in positive ways. As an Armenian American myself, I have decided to focus appreciation for my culture through the choice of my PhD studies which seeks to analyze the preservation, presentation and management of archaeological heritage sites in Armenia, with the hope that one day my dissertation can have an impact on cultural policy in Armenia.

In the week preceding April 24, Stanford has been hosting several Armenian Genocide commemoration events. While I believe it is important to have a space to recognize the great loss of Ottoman Armenians at the start of the 20th century, I also think it is important that at commemoration events, like the ones at Stanford, we can start conversations that celebrate Armenian culture and not just its loss. Collectively banding together over vibrancy and vitality rather than over trauma, loss or abhorrence is a way to heal painful memories, mend fraught relations and move confidently into the future.

Sabrina Papazian, PhD Student, Department of Anthropology

Contact Sabrina Papazian at spapaz ‘at’ stanford.edu.