Michelle Tusan maps the Armenian Genocide with innovative technology
Tusan frequently referred to the British occupation of Baghdad in 1917 as a turning point in the refugee crisis. From 1915 to 1917, Armenians were internal refugees; after 1917, the Allies set up a humanitarian aid network that worked to reverse the ongoing genocide under the Ottomans. The areas where the deportees had ended up were under Allied military occupation and rather than bringing refugees to the West or to other parts of the Middle East, they were working to bring the refugees home, apparently while seeking to occupy parts of the Empire. where these houses were.
As a cultural historian, Tusan says she “looks for role models.” In the case of the Armenian Genocide and this mapping project, she wanted to focus on individuals. Much of the important work of delineating the political causes of the genocide, the orders given by Ottoman officials, the chronology, etc., has been done. Tusan’s current project aims to focus more on the human side: how people experienced the Genocide. By reading the memoirs of survivors, who in some cases have not been taken so seriously by researchers before, Tusan sees the facts on the ground of what happened in real time during the atrocities. But she needed “a new model to capture the human aspect of the Genocide”. As she put it, “quantitative data allows me to ask qualitative questions”. This is where “deep maps” and the technology of ArcGIS come into play.
The Armenian Genocide left few traces
Using deep maps, Tusan is able to compare and contrast the journeys of multiple survivors at the same time. Most people who have studied the Armenian Genocide have seen the famous maps with big red dots – the bigger the dot, the more deaths there. The Tusan Map Project is like this map but with added dimensions and with the stories of a growing list of individuals.
Deportation routes, time spent in internal exile, how, when and where survivors travel, it all matters, says Tusan. It’s time to show the data for the many personal stories that have been written and collected over the years, and “to expand the story as much as possible,” she said. Therefore, the basic concept of the project is to plot on a map the route and stopping places of each individual whose story is used.
Concentration camps were formed in the desert at places like the infamous Deir-ez-Zor. But many of these sites were converted into humanitarian refugee camps after the British conquered Baghdad and occupied other parts of the Middle East. This led to a very important observation from Tusan: the Armenian Genocide left few traces. That is, although the Armenian people have left a huge amount of legacy in Turkey (despite the government’s continued destruction of churches), the actual genocidal apparatus has left few traces; there are no gas chambers like those Holocaust students can see in today’s Auschwitz, for example. The only things left are mass graves, which, as Tusan pointed out, the Turkish government will explain today as victims of war or civil unrest. This lends greater prominence to Tusan’s project of illuminating the geographical realities of the Armenian Genocide.
A world that didn’t want them to exist
Tusan displayed several maps, for example showing generalized deportation routes. Bringing together information from 34 survivor memoirs, several routes were used throughout the period and these have been displayed in a stylized fashion to show how many sources used each route. Tusan also showed his audience maps outlining where the survivors ended up and their routes leaving Anatolia.
Thirty-four is a low number of sources when talking about the Armenian Genocide, of course, but Tusan pointed out that this project is just getting started and not only does she plan to add many more accounts, but hinted that the collaboration with other academics was possible and desirable. , to expand the project to include as many survivors as possible.
The concept of deep maps allows the computer program to create several different map images with one, some, or all of the source information; it’s a concept that most are aware of in everyday use of Google Maps and similar apps, but one that hasn’t been fully applied to historical research.
Eyewitnesses and aid workers also have stories that could be added to the project. They are also “participants” in this historic event, Tusan said. After the occupation of Baghdad in 1917, help is easier to access. For her, as a historian of the First World War, this aspect is particularly interesting.
Tusan also showed maps depicting the journeys of subgroups of survivors, such as all women or all single men. Differences in gender and life status seemed to play a role in the fate of survivors; for example, women tend to take a long trip while single men seem to have moved around a lot. Tusan noted that political exiles often ended up settling in places where communities grew, but some of these places were “unexpected” as refugee destinations, Tusan speculated that political exiles triggered the formation of communities in these places.
Tusan noted that many survivors actually attempted to return home to Anatolia, some under the protection of the French occupation of Cilicia. After 1923, when the Republic of Turkey came into existence, some victims remained “in a world that did not want them to exist”. We tried to adopt survivors into Muslim families, which was a way of making them disappear. But because their presence disrupted the social order, the Turkish government eventually resorted to an expulsion decree in 1930. Turkey attempted to establish itself as a homogeneous ethno-state, rebranding the Kurds as “Mountain Turks “, etc.
Tusan’s conclusion was that “genocide is the experience of a people”, and it is therefore the individual experience of the survivors that she highlights, while maintaining the objective attitude of a historian.