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Scholarship and Introspection in the Time of War

À propos du savoir académique en temps de guerre
Boris Adjemian and Vazken Khatchig Davidian
p. 255-257

Author's notes

This text was initially written in December 2020.

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1The outbreak of war on 27 September 2020 in Artsakh/Karabagh led many scholars – especially those among us at the crossroads of Armenian, Turkish, Ottoman, Caucasian and Middle Eastern studies – towards reflection upon the legitimacy, goals, practices and ethics of scholarly research in a context of full-scale war, naked hatred and unveiled threats of annihilation. The unleashing of extreme violence that raged uninterrupted for 44 continuous days caused much distress. The war also brought home to us the necessity of introspection: we found ourselves experiencing first-hand the strains put upon notions of scholarly or professional distance, objectivity, dispassionate analysis of the stakes and deconstruction of discourses.

2That such questions arise in all wars fuelled by antagonistic nationalisms is neither new nor profound. Perhaps we too might have been able to carry on as before more easily had there not existed a total asymmetry between the opposing forces, nor for the subjection of the peoples of Artsakh/Karabagh and Armenia to the coordinated aggression of two neighbouring countries ruled by cynical authoritarian regimes. Had that not been the case, we as scholars might have merely advocated decentred analyses that kept commonly-held unquestioned notions at a distance, and refrained from judgements, anachronisms, teleology and culturalism. We too might have exerted a critical reflexivity on our own scholarly approaches, if what occurred had not displayed hate, untruths, cluster bombs, incendiary white phosphorus, brutal exactions on civilians and prisoners-of-war, summary executions, torture, mutilations, beheadings, and a litany of horrors that were amply documented and broadcast ad nauseum on social and (to a lesser extent by) mainstream media.

3But the violence of the War has made it more difficult, even unjustifiable, for us scholars to behave as if nothing extraordinary happened, and carry on as if it was “intellectual business as usual”. Throughout, and since, the hostilities, the concept of genocide has been very much on our minds. Such is the case even when we are not explicitly talking about genocide, and referring to it less as a category of analysis or a legally defined crime, than as a haunting spectrum. Many of us have frowned upon the irresponsible and throwaway use of the word, aware of its symbolic power and the knowledge that it is an easy prey for politically motivated abuse. But this time it is not only about the concept. Invasive images of 1915 re-emerged everywhere and in everyone’s mind with terrifying facility – embodied in the mass exodus of refugees, the sinister appearance of specially-enrolled Syrian mercenaries, ghost butchers of the old Teşkîlât-ı Mahsûsa, or the lynching hordes of hundreds of young men, gesturing racist Grey Wolf salutes, hunting Armenians on French and German streets. The word “genocide”, shoved to the forefront and appearing over and over again in public discourse, fed into private distress and unspeakable fear and concern. How can scholarship make sense when, all of a sudden, concepts seem empty, historicization and critical deconstruction derisory and incongruous, contextualisation meaningless? Do professional solidarities between scholars still mean something when existential fears come up against indifference? How do we respond to the silence of non-involved academics that resembles the cynical laissez-faire and fake neutrality of dominant powers and international organisations? Is there a future for a de-essentialized and de-nationalised scholarship in an area and a field that can become so easily overwhelmed by nationalisms and essentialisms?

4The preceding themed section of the present volume has focused upon the building of real or imagined homelands in a formerly multicultural and multinational space – within the present-day borders of the Republic of Turkey – where coexistence was once possible. Exploring room for coexistence perfectly embodies the raison d’être of this journal: as a plaidoyer for transdisciplinary as well as transnational analyses; a middle ground for common works between scholars, from a wide range of countries and horizons, regardless of national or other background. After all, since its inception in 2013, it has been the primary objective of Études arméniennes contemporaines to build bridges across the humanities and among scholars from various horizons (including Turks, Armenians, and others). The realities of war crimes and hatred experienced in recent months make it necessary that specialists of our academic field address the issues cited above. The journal seeks to encourage much-needed collective reflection. It is our responsibility to do so.

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Bibliographical reference

Boris Adjemian and Vazken Khatchig Davidian, Scholarship and Introspection in the Time of War Études arméniennes contemporaines, 13 | 2021, 255-257.

Electronic reference

Boris Adjemian and Vazken Khatchig Davidian, Scholarship and Introspection in the Time of War Études arméniennes contemporaines [Online], 13 | 2021, Online since 01 September 2021, connection on 18 July 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Boris Adjemian

Journal’s editor

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Vazken Khatchig Davidian

Journal’s editor

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