Tag Archive | Identity

Jiray: Being Armenian in Boston

As I drove from Belmont to Watertown, the Boston skyline loomed in front of me, reminiscent of the hazy view of Ararat one has from nearly any vantage in Yerevan. I began to see signs in Armenian over storefronts. For a moment I was transported in time to last winter, taking a terrifying ride through the city in a Heifer International company car, on my way to some ancient church built 1500 years ago (was it St. Hiripsime’s? Noravank?). It was with fondness then, after my visit to both the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) and Project SAVE, that I entered Arax Market on Mt. Auburn Street in Watertown. The familiar hum of Armenian bickering surrounded me once again. I gazed at the wooden crates of fruit, the piles of lavash and pita. Several workers were standing around, chatting with customers. If this wasn’t where the diaspora was, then where could it be?

photo 2 (2)

Earlier in the day I had met with the director of NAASR, a tall bespectacled man in his late forties. He excitedly invited me on a tour of the place. He whisked me from the bookstore, to the meeting room, his office, and then upstairs to the library. Later, down in his office, I asked the director whether he had any immigrant or refugee Armenians as regular visitors? Not really, he answered. At certain lectures and other events they seem to come out of the woodworks, but otherwise he doesn’t here much from that community. I mentioned that through the interviews I’d conducted over the past month, that there were far more politics within the diaspora than I had assumed. He agreed on that point. He was wondering when these recent immigrants (Armenians living in the US since the 1980s and 90s) would become “just Armenians.” It seemed to him that the prefixes “Baku” or “Karabakh” seemed to act as a wall between these recent Armenian immigrants and the rest of their fellow diasporans. With this thought I set off to Watertown to visit another Armenian organization in the area.

photo 1 (2)

The headquarters of Project SAVE, an organization dedicated to collecting and archiving photographs from throughout Armenian history is Read More…


Jiray: Religion, Identity and the Diaspora

If answering any theoretical questions about diaspora communities is difficult, imagine trying to locate those communities. It is easy enough to find individual members, to ask them about their lives, and to try to shed some light on the elusive diaspora identity (if such a thing can be singled out and studied). If you’re lucky, maybe they see themselves as part of that immensely complex community. Maybe that connection lies only in the label others place on them. While these conversations have been immensely helpful in gaining a keener understanding of Armenian identity within the diaspora, especially in light of the Karabakh conflict, they have left something to be desired. Where are these identities being formed? Reformulated? Maintained? What I have gathered from conversations with individuals in the Armenian diaspora is that there is a constant sense of searching, of transition, of adaptation. This is not to say that a sense of “home” can never be achieved. Rather, that sense of home is constantly being negotiated within the past, present, and future.

As I’ve learned over the past month, the role of the anthropologist is not simply to have conversations. Some of the most important elements in any ethnographic project come from participant observation. Within this framework my line of questioning has evolved from “Who do I talk to about the Karabakh conflict and Armenian identity within the diaspora?” to “Where are these identities being constructed and reconstructed?” and “How do I (physically and geographically) contextualize these experiences?” These questions became all the more complicated when, in a phone interview, I asked a man if he knew of any expatriate populations, or had a personal relationship with expats in his area? He told me Read More…

Caroline: Researching in NOLA

A couple of days ago I got bit by a dog at my job at a doggie daycare, sent out five email solicitations for interviews (confirmed one), got a chunk of reading done, and enjoyed happy hour at a Christmas themed bar with my friends – this has been the gist of my last FWT and its been pretty great, although stressful, so far.

In my busy days I’ve been trying to find a balance between my life at home and spending time on my project. This has proved, by far, to be the hardest part of this independent study.  All of a sudden I feel like I’ve lost the ability to gauge how much work I should be doing, and time seems to be moving along more and more quickly, making me more and more anxious, but I suppose that’s part of doing this kind of independent work.

Researching a place I am so intimately familiar with has also proved difficult in interesting ways. The line between research and recreation has become blurred in a way that makes me uncertain about whether what I am doing is actually ‘work’ or not. This, I think, has worked both for and against me. It has meant that I am thinking about this work most of the time, regardless of what I am doing; but it has also made me seriously reconsider what does and does not count as anthropological research and information. This is something that is completely fascinating but is, especially the midst of a project like this, something almost terrifying. I feel good about what I’ve accomplished up to this point, but I am feeling the pressure to untangle my life from academic interests – an impulse which may or may not be entirely helpful.

Jiray: A Citizen in Absentia

I had made the mistake of sitting almost directly under the speakers that provided music for the whole cafe. Some soft rock was playing right above our heads, and it seemed to rain down directly into my recorder. Still our conversation moved along. “And um, but, it seems like the way that I feel constantly changes. You know it goes from not thinking about the place [Baku, Azerbaijan], there’s nothing that ties me to there, but at the same time I lived there for thirteen years. You can’t take that out, you can’t take that away.” I nodded in agreement. At the start of this project, I didn’t think I was going to be examining the spaces of diaspora (whether those spaces are emotional, mental, cultural, geographical, etc.). But here I was, listening to a woman describe the constant tension she experienced in trying to reconcile her relationship with two different homes (Providence and Baku).

That sense of home, however bifurcated, was tied directly to the people she was with. In Baku, her fellow Bakutsi Armenians, her Azerbaijani neighbors, her Russian schoolmates Read More…

Ali: Human Rights and Cultural Schizophrenia in Pakistan

Ali Faateh here, folks. I’m a senior and I study writing and public action at the college. This FWT, I’m back in my hometown of Lahore, where I’m working as a research assistant for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an independent, non-state organisation. Mostly I’m helping with their flagship annual publication, “The State of Human Rights in 2013,” and I contribute to their social media campaign too.

(Photos courtesy of Marc and Raphaëlle Chiapolino. A couple are mine.)

different centuries  Golden Mosque

Pakistan is a bundle of contradictions; it lives in different centuries at the same time, firmly rooted in tradition on the one hand while also warily inching—in fact, sometimes hurtling—toward modernity. It’s an unimaginably, ethnically diverse place, so although I’ve lived here all my life, Pakistan never ceases to amuse and amaze me with its cultural schizophrenia. As a “frontline state” in the war on terror and the supposed epicentre of terrorism, Pakistan has lost nearly 50,000 citizens over the past twelve years. Rampant violence, sectarian strife and a independence movement in Balochistan are threatening its existence.


Walled City Badshahi Masjid - Royal Mosque

The HRCP takes the state to task over its failure to protect its citizens; Read More…

Jiray: Identity in Nagorno-Karabakh

My name is Jiray and I am a senior at Bennington where I study anthropology. My senior work has taken the shape of a thesis on the Nagorno-Karabakh War (fought between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the late 80s/early 90s). Here is where things get interesting! Originally, I had planned to travel to Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) for my independent study in order to interview Karabakhtsis (Armenian term for people who live in NKR) on Armenian social identity (i.e. various traditions and practices that make Armenians in distinct form others). Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances, I was unable to travel to Armenia or NKR. In light of those changes, I will be undertaking my independent study in Rhode Island, where I am from.

photo 2 (3) In many ways this adjustment has been an ongoing challenge, but in the week that I’ve spent preparing my reoriented IS, I realized a number of really important things I may have taken for granted had my plans gone accordingly. In conversations with Noah and Mirka, I realized that doing participant observation amongst Armenians (especially in disparate places like NKR and the northeast United States) begs the question: where does one observe a diaspora community? What common denominator ties these geographically separated populations together? Is it possible to link observations and interviews done in an Armenian community in Providence, RI to the lived experience of those Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh?

I realized that, as Razmik Panossian puts it, the Armenian “nation” is Read More…

Caroline: Exploring how the people of New Orleans define and relate to nature

My name is Caroline and I am a senior studying Media and Anthropology with a focus on the environment. I am spending my last Field Work Term in New Orleans, my hometown, conducting interviews with locals about how they make sense of and interact with their environment. The specific question I am trying to address with my research is: Within the city of New Orleans, what are the different definitions of nature at play and how are they acted out in relation to each other and to the environment? This question is one in a web of others that this project will touch on tangentially, all of which are concerned in some way with how the physical environment of the city informs its personality, how this collective identity changes over time, and how nature facilitates this change. In an attempt at making this line of inquiry more manageable and meaningful, I’ve decided to try delineating between different types of people, namely: the state, general citizenry, and experts (i.e. environmentalists/scientists). I will be pairing my interview work with visual contextual information that will be provided by a fellow student. I am excited to use this opportunity to delve into the world of visual anthropology as well.

Read More…

Kate: Folk Singing in Ireland

My name is Kate McCann and I am a senior spending FWT 2014 conducting research for my thesis in anthropology.  In a nutshell, my thesis explores the practice of Irish traditional song in contemporary society, and how the tradition’s changes and manifestations relate to the state of Irish and global society currently.

(To get an idea of what Irish song sounds like, check out this video.  It is an unaccompanied style of singing done in both the English and Irish language, and an emphasis is placed more on the words and story than the performer or act of performing.)

Read More…