Religious Minorities and Navigating Exclusionary Landscapes

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Yesim BAYAR, St. Lawrence University, USA
The story of nation-building has long been told through the eyes of the state and through the actions of the political elite. This particular focus remains warranted especially for late nation-building cases such as Turkey, where the political elite undertook sweeping societal and political changes swiftly and single-handedly. It was again in cases such as Turkey that the formation of a minority regime by the state have been at the heart of the process of nation formation. While examining the formulation and treatment of minorities by the state has its obvious merits, the story remains incomplete. The present discussion follows those works which aim at rectifying this state-heavy focus. To this end, and rather than looking at the actions of the state, this paper looks at the exclusionary state practices and rhetoric from the perspective of the minorities themselves. More specifically, it discusses the case of Armenians from Turkey and their experiences of growing up in a nationalist political and social landscape.

The discussion here draws on the in-depth interviews conducted with Armenians who have grown up in Turkey and who have eventually immigrated to Canada. The findings elucidate the complexity and multi-layered quality of the lived experiences of my participants as well as the ways they navigated a highly exclusionary and nationalistic social and political landscape. The nationalist policies and rhetoric of the Turkish state have long simplified, and reduced the understanding of the religious and ethnic minorities to their respective identities. Contrary to this, my data presents a clear challenge to the treatments of ethnic and religious minorities as homogenous entities. The findings further suggest that ethnic and religious identifications are often subsumed under other ones such as identifications with a particular geographical area, political preferences and class.