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A House in the Homeland: Armenian Pilgrimages to Places of Ancestral Memory

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The Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA presents "A House in the Homeland: Armenian Pilgrimages to Places of Ancestral Memory," by author Carel Bertram, Ph.D. Melissa Bilal, Ph.D., will provide discussant commentary followed by Q&A. This lecture is co-sponsored by the UCLA Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History, the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, the UCLA Working Group in Memory Studies, the UCLA Department of Comparative Literature, the UCLA Armenian Music Program, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), and the Ararat-Eskijian Museum.

Friday, April 22, 2022
10:00 AM - 12:00 PM (Pacific Time)

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For many Armenians whose homeland is the Western Armenia of the Ottoman Empire, now in eastern Turkey, “memory” ended with the genocide in and around 1915. For them, no more “homeland” memories could originate or take place there. But the children and grandchildren of genocide survivors who travel “home” from their various diasporas, are giving new meaning to historical memory by inserting themselves in its arc. Between 2007 and 2015, Carel Bertram traveled with many self-described pilgrims on dozens of home-coming trips led by Armen Aroyan, and A House in the Homeland chronicles what she saw. In this talk, Dr. Bertram describes how, with luggage filled with stories heard from their own family members, including those transmitted through the songs they sang, the dances they danced, the foods they made, and even through their screams in the night, pilgrims understood that they were visiting a sacred landscape, albeit one violated by the profane. In this fraught yet transcendent place, pilgrims invent a series of rituals so that village by village, town by town, or even house by house, they ritually connect with their own ancestors, and, as they stand on their own ancestral land, allow them to be a part of their personal story in the present. Through these rituals, the pilgrims themselves are deeply changed, but so too is their own memory of homeland and even the meaning of homeland itself.


Carel Bertram is Professor Emerita in Middle East and Islamic Studies, Dept. of Humanities, San Francisco State University. Her M.A. in Near Eastern Studies was received at the University of California at Berkeley, her Ph.D. in Islamic Art History at UCLA. Trained in the visual culture of the Ottoman and post-Ottoman era, she uses art, architecture, cities, literature, ethnography, and oral histories to study how we use space and place to represent ourselves in the world; and also how it is that the memory of places creates a particular historical consciousness, especially when remembering a home lost to time or exile.


Melissa Bilal is the associate director of the UCLA Armenian Music Program and lecturer in the Department of Ethnomusicology. Previously a distinguished research fellow at CNES, before UCLA, she was an assistant professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the American University of Armenia, where she continues serving as a core team member developing the Gender Studies minor program. Bilal studied Sociology (B.A. and M.A.) at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul and received her Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from the University of Chicago. Her recent publications include “Lullabies and the Memory of Pain: Armenian Women’s Remembrance of the Past in Turkey” (Dialectical Anthropology 2019, 43/2); Voice Imprints: Recordings of Russian Armenian POWs in German Camps, 1916-1918 (Berlin Staatliche Museen, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Forthcoming 2019); My Heart is like those Ruined Houses: Gomidas Vartabed’s Musical Legacy (with Burcu Yıldız, 2019).

Sponsor(s): The Promise Armenian Institute, Center for Near Eastern Studies, Comparative Literature, UCLA Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History, UCLA Working Group in Memory Studies, UCLA Armenian Music Program, National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), Ararat-Eskijian