Thursday 25 May 2023, 5pm
Eccles Room, Pembroke College
This presentation examines sonic memories of the Armenian Genocide, drawing on survivors’ earwitness testimonies (testimonies describing auditory and sonic experiences of the Genocide). While visual evidence predominates in studies of genocide, I make the claim that sonic memory - as a site of historical, cultural, and affective knowledge - can deepen our understanding of the historical aspects of genocide, as well as its social, psychological, and emotional dimensions. In relation to contested histories, attending to sonic memories can also be a form of what I have called ‘counterlistening’: listening against official narratives and, in the case of the Armenian Genocide, against the narrative of genocide denial that continues to be maintained by the Turkish state. I suggest that the voices of Armenian Genocide victims—concealed and denied for over a century by Turkey—can nevertheless be excavated and listened to via the sonic memories of genocide survivors. In engaging with sonic memories, I draw on oral testimonies collected by Verjiné Svazlian, an Armenian ethnographer who walked from village to village in Soviet Armenia for a period of decades, collecting, recording, and transcribing some 700 survivors’ testimonies when it was not safe to do so. I contends with Svazlian's original acts of counterlistening and how it makes possible a more shared or public form of listening today. More broadly, I consider how sound and listening formed a part of the injuries as well as the violent tactics of the Armenian Genocide; and I ask how listening to genocide can reshape our understanding of genocide and its effects.
Gascia Ouzounian is a sonic theorist who examines sound in relation to space, architecture, urbanism, and violence. She is associate professor of music at the University of Oxford, where she leads the European Research Council-funded project Sonorous Cities: Towards a Sonic Urbanism (soncities.org). Ouzounian is the author of Stereophonica: Sound and Space in Science, Technology, and the Arts (MIT Press, 2021), and she has contributed articles to leading journals of music, visual art, and architecture. Recent projects include Scoring the City, which takes inspiration from experimental music notation to develop new modes of ‘urban scoring’; and Acoustic Cities: London & Beirut, for which she invited ten artists to create works responding to the sonic, social, and spatial conditions of those cities.
This seminar is part of the Silence and Visuality Seminars on Armenian Art & History – an interdisciplinary series presenting current research by emerging and established scholars, and conversations with distinguished contemporary artists. Seminar Conveners are Dr Suzan Meryem Rosita Kalaycı, Director of the Oxford Network for Armenian Genocide Research, and Dr Vazken Khatchig Davidian, Associate Member of Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. This series of talks is hosted by the Oxford Network for Armenian Genocide Research and supported by TORCH funding
Following this seminar, you are invited to join Gascia Ouzounian along with students, colleagues, and visiting artists connected to EMPRES, the Faculty of Music’s electronic music practice and research collective, at Modern Art Oxford for MAO Late X EMPRES (6.30-10 PM on Thursday 25 May). Line-up and tickets will be available through the Modern Art Oxford website.
Oxford Network for Armenian Genocide Research, TORCH Networks