Lorenzo D'Orsi, Postdoctoral Visiting Researcher, Institute for Turkish Studies (SUITS), Stockholm University

When silence talks. The moral landscape of leftist painful memories in Turkey

Drawing on an ethnography carried out in Istanbul, this talk examines the experience of silence in Turkish former revolutionaries’ families, the main victims of the 1980-1983 military coup, and challenges the universal model of traumatic silence, which overshadows local conceptualizations of the self. In Turkey, the 1980 coup was a political, cultural and generational watershed that dismantled leftist organizations through incarcerations and tortures. For leftist movements and families, the 1980 coup is the biographical and political tragedy upon which a mnemonic community is built. They are still in a counter-hegemonic position compared to official historiography, but have built a “strong memory” codified through the figure of revolutionary martyrdom.

Within leftist families, silence and secrecy are common, even when past is told. On the one hand, silence is the consequence of the painful experiences lived by former militants; on the other hand, it cannot be reduced to the pre-cultural mechanism of unspeakable trauma. Domestic silence and secrecy should be understood in relation to the present and not to the past: they do not prevent emotional interactions but are a practical knowledge through which parents teach to second generations to perform a specific self in a still repressive public space. Moreover, silence over personal issues stands also in relation to a morality of “not saying”: it is part of a poetics of the self that is bound to the ethos of revolutionary fighter, whereby “telling is almost like crying”.

This talk also focuses on generational gap, and shows how second generations often re-read their parents’ silence according to global memory frames, interpreting it as a “traumatic” element. For new generations, the language of trauma is a familiar cultural idiom which also allows them to extend social solidarity and partly break their marginality in an over-politicized memory field.

Lorenzo D’Orsi received his PhD in cultural anthropology at the University of Milano Bicocca, and is currently postdoctoral visiting researcher at Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies. His research focuses on the intergenerational memory transmission of political violence, the social construction of trauma, and new social movements in Turkey. He is the winner of the Best Young Scholar Prize 2017 of SIEF (International Society for Ethnology and Folklore) for the article “Trauma and the politics of memory of the Uruguayan dictatorship”, published in the Latin American Perspectives (2015) and based on his graduate research in Uruguay. For his PhD research he has received the Prix International Fondation Auschwitz 2017.

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