This superb volume, also published in Armenian, has been prepared by a leading research fellow at the Department of Contemporary Anthropological Studies in the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. It is a highly stimulating and informed in-depth study, nourished by first-hand documents, iconographic and oral material, as well as personal field observation about the shift from an identity based on victimhood to one based on strength and resilience. The research shows the role played by the memory of the Armenian genocide during the Qarabagh movement of 1988 that paved the way to independence. The genocide had remained an unspoken collective memory during most of the Soviet era to emerge as a revolutionary factor during Perestroika. As a direct consequence of the alliance between the Bolsheviks and the Kemalists, the sovietisation of Armenia in 1920-21 imposed Armenians to forget about their western provinces in the late Ottoman Empire, left to the Turks, and about the genocide which was commemorated only in the Diaspora until the fiftieth anniversary: only in 1965 were Soviet Armenians allowed to recall this major tragedy of their contemporary history, which they did with a demonstration of unseen scale demanding “justice” and “lands”. A memorial was built in the centre of Yerevan in 1969, but it was only in 1988, at the zenith of the Qarabagh movement, that the Genocide Day (April 24) was decreed a public holiday as a concession by Soviet authorities to calm down mass demonstrators. Thus, interrelations of the past and present are clear in public policy as they are in the shaping of a consensual national identity. Nostalgia of the lost homeland of Western Armenia could easily be transferred to another endangered part of the homeland in Qarabagh, as well as the traumatic memory of the genocide could be linked and revived by the anti-Armenian pogroms in Sumgait and Baku.
A lot of things have been written about these connections, but the great originality of this volume is the use not only of theoretical, historiographical and anthropological materials, but also of field survey materials including observations, the recording of opinions expressed by the Movement’s participants, speeches, photos and films, and last but not least of the slogans, the posters and banners of the movement. Together with a colleague, Levon Abrahamian, H. Marutyan has systematically collected these iconographic witnesses of the social processes entailed by the Qarabagh movement, which constitute an invaluable source for following the concerns, the moods and the wishes of the population and their interpretation of the events during “this first truly nationwide insurrection in terms of the range of mass protests to have occurred in secession in various parts of the Soviet Union.” As H. Marutyan rightly asserts, “posters were mediators and tools in the relationships of individual to authorities, and society to state,” and they are “equal to tens or hundreds of interviews, sociological surveys and inquiries, and the fixing of the circumstances of their appearance was in itself a field survey among the participants in rallies.” The volume provides 250 photographs of these posters, a chronology of events, an extensive bibliography, as well as precious footnotes. All along the seven chapters, the author combines sociology and anthropology with political science and history in assessing the events that led to the demise of the Soviet Union, and in demonstrating the powerful influence of memory in shaping national identity. In all: major contribution to our understanding the collapse of an empire and of the concomitant (re)birth of a national state.
Claire Mouradian, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris