2018 Kazan Visiting Professor impacts Fresno’s Armenian community

From left, Barlow Der Mugrdechian, Yektan Türkyilmaz and Richard Hagopian.

~ By Nancy Barragan, student writer for the College of Arts and Humanities

The Henry S. Khanzadian Kazan Visiting Professorship in Armenian Studies is an opportunity that happens only once each academic year, for a semester. This year the Armenian Studies Program hosts Dr. Yektan Türkyilmaz as the Kazan Visiting Professor during the spring semester. 

During his time at Fresno State, Türkyilmaz has been teaching a course on “Armenian Urbanism,” where he focuses on the development of Armenian culture in cities during the late 19th and early 20th century including Constantinople, Tiflis and Yerevan.

“It’s been a great experience covering the Armenian urban experience that is Armenian modernization and the different routes of the Ottoman empire, the Russian empire and the diasporas in the United States,” Türkyilmaz said. “I am also happy with my students. They are very much interested in this topic. I like the fact that they contribute in class, in debates and in discussions. I designed this course specifically for Fresno State’s Armenian Studies Program so it’s not like the ones I’ve taught before.”

The Kazan Visiting Professor endowment allows the Armenian Studies Program to invite an internationally recognized scholar in contemporary Armenian affairs to teach at Fresno State for one semester.

The scholar teaches a single course on a subject related to modern Armenian history, including the Genocide of 1915 and the formation of the Armenian Republic. In addition, the scholar presents three public lectures on a single topic, which are later published as a volume in the Kazan Armenian Studies series.

Türkyilmaz’ final lecture will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, in the University Business Center in the Alice Peters Auditorium at Fresno State. The lecture is called “(Re)-Evaluating the Decision-Making Processes in the Armenian Genocide.”

The lecture will focus on his most recent work about the decision-making processes in the Armenian Genocide. It will include an actor-based framework that highlights institutional interests and political agency.

Türkyilmaz received his Ph.D. from Duke University Department of Cultural Anthropology. He has addressed debates around the notions of collective violence, memory making and reconciliation while teaching at the University of Cyprus, Sabancı, Bilgi and Duke Universities.  

Türkyilmaz is also a research fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin, Germany. Meanwhile, he is also working on his book manuscript based on his dissertation, ”Rethinking Genocide: Violence and Victimhood in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-1915,” which concerns the conflict in Eastern Anatolia in the early 20th century and the memory politics around it.

As this year’s Kazan Visting Professor Türkyilmaz prepared three lectures for the spring semester. He presented his first lecture “Van/Vaspurakan Armenians: From Renaissance to Resistance and Genocide” on Feb. 6. 

His second lecture on March 7 — “Armenians on Records: Music Production from Homeland to Diasporas,” focused on how the Armenians have been interested in record production from the earliest period. 

Türkyilmaz has made a positive impact in the community through his teachings, lectures and relationships in the community, said Barlow Der Mugrdechian, coordinator of the Armenian Studies Program and director of the Center for Armenian Studies:

“Dr. Türkyilmaz brings unique talents to his students. He is not only passionate about history but is also interested in Armenian music and film. He brings that interest to the classroom sharing the importance of studying all forms of cultural production.”

Türkyilmaz said Fresno has a very active Armenian community.

“Here, there is something different about the Fresno community. They enter your story and they find a place for themselves in your story,” Türkyilmaz said. “It turns into an interactive process. … This is a very unique Armenian community in a sense that they are quite engaging. … That is invaluable feedback for any scholar or intellectual.”

Türkyilmaz added, “Fresno State’s Armenian Studies Program has a unique position, which has been the most open to new approaches, critical approaches, to genocide, to the cultural history. The Armenian experience is, in a way, a global experience because it touches everyone.

“The catastrophic experience that Armenians went through has so much to teach us about how evil emerges and how people resist to that,” Türkyilmaz said. “This history is also a history of resurrection. This is a community which was born out of its ashes. Armenian history has a lot to teach us about violence and evil in the world but at the same time has so much to tell about how to deal with it.”

Türkyilmaz also mentions the importance of this from a local perspective.

“If you look at Armenian American history, it’s an American story. … You cannot think of today’s Fresno without looking at the Armenian input in that. Armenians were not only part of Fresno but they were the ones who made and reshaped Fresno in many ways, meanwhile themselves changing as well. One shouldn’t think that it’s only a story of eight million people on the planet because Armenian history has stories that touches everyone.”

Dr. Sergio La Porta, Haig and Isabel Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies and chair of the Department of Philosophy,  said, “The Kazan visiting professorship is intended to provide students with a course on the Armenian Genocide. Although our faculty at Fresno State discusses the Genocide in our courses, it is important to have a course dedicated to that event in Armenian history. … The visiting professorship introduces students to a variety of approaches to and questions about the topic and ensures that they are learning about the most current research.”

La Porta said Türkyilmaz has made significant contributions to the Armenian Studies Program.

“Dr. Türkyilmaz has had a great impact on campus. He has given students an idea what current research into the study of the Armenian Genocide looks,” La Porta said. “He has also helped tremendously in analyzing some of the resources that the program has. In particular, he has been able to provide an expert opinion on the large collection of Armenian records the program has in its possession. It is wonderful to have a researcher who so appreciates what Fresno State’s Armenian Program holds.”

Türkyilmaz said, “The experience of Armenian immigrants involved violence, stories from the homeland, the hardships they were going through, the discrimination, how they wanted to stay as Armenians, on the other hand, they wanted to become Americans and how the community dealt with all of that is beautifully archived in those records. Now I am helping the Armenian Studies Program create its audio archive of all these Armenian recordings.”

Türkyilmaz estimates that the Armenian Studies Program has over 1,000 records including songs, monologues, political marches, revolution songs and religious songs that span from the early 1900s to early 1950s.

“Ninety percent of these records were produced by Armenian immigrants in the United States,” Türkyilmaz said. “These records are part of a beautiful archive of an immigrant experience. This collection tells us so much about the genocide and how people interpreted it and how people dealt with that. This collection is also important for Fresno history because Armenian musicians in Fresno were very active. Actually, the first Armenian records in the West Coast were produced in Fresno.”




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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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