Honorable Mention for the 2023 Nikki Keddie Book Award, sponsored by the Middle East Studies Association (MESA).
A powerful examination of soulful journeys made to recover memory and recuperate stolen pasts in the face of unspeakable histories.
Survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 took refuge across the globe. Traumatized by unspeakable brutalities, the idea of returning to their homeland was unthinkable. But decades later, some children and grandchildren felt compelled to travel back, having heard stories of family wholeness in beloved homes and of cherished ancestral towns and villages once in Ottoman Armenia, today in the Republic of Turkey. Hoping to satisfy spiritual yearnings, this new generation called themselves pilgrims—and their journeys, pilgrimages.
Carel Bertram joined scores of these pilgrims on over a dozen pilgrimages, and amassed accounts from hundreds more who made these journeys. In telling their stories, A House in the Homeland documents how pilgrims encountered the ancestral house, village, or town as both real and metaphorical centerpieces of family history. Bertram recounts the moving, restorative connections pilgrims made, and illuminates how the ancestral house, as a spiritual place, offers an opening to a wellspring of humanity in sites that might otherwise be defined solely by tragic loss.
As an exploration of the powerful links between memory and place, house and homeland, rupture and continuity, these Armenian stories reflect the resilience of diaspora in the face of the savage reaches of trauma, separation, and exile in ways that each of us, whatever our history, can recognize.
About the author
Carel Bertram is Professor Emerita, Department of Humanities, Faculty in Middle East and Islamic Studies, at San Francisco State University. She is the author of Imagining the Turkish House: Collective Visions of Home (2008).
"Original and engrossing, A House in the Homeland relates individual experiences that resonate with universal themes of family, trauma, and home. Carel Bertram's gifts of empathy and storytelling make for a book that is at once heartbreaking and inspiring. Essential for anyone interested in place, memory, and mass violence."
—Heghnar Watenpaugh, author of The Missing Pages
"Carel Bertram's engrossing and well-researched story of Armenian pilgrimages is of universal importance, resonating with all of us searching for our own personal history and our place within it. This book is not just important to Armenians, but valuable to anyone interested in understanding where their family comes from."
—Esther Safran Foer, author of I Want You to Know We're Still Here
"Deeply knowledgeable about memory, trauma, pilgrimage, and the sacred, Carel Bertram offers both scholarly expertise and an eloquent, moving narrative. A House in the Homeland illuminates the mutually transformative links between the lost pre-Genocide homes and current homelands of Armenian pilgrims. A truly wonderful book."
—Khachig Tölölyan, founding editor of Diaspora
"A House in the Homeland speaks to a pressing concern for many Armenians: How to sustain memory of an event that is difficult to trace on its landscape, and which is officially denied by its perpetrator. Bertram has shown that the gap between historical fact and material evidence can be spanned by memorialization and pilgrimage, by witness and dialogue, and for her interlocutors, by keeping their ancestors alive through their family memory-stories."
—Aram G. Sarkisian, Material Religion
"A House in the Homeland is a remarkable book that offers a unique insight into the thoughts, feelings and deeds of the Armenian genocide survivors and their descendants – the people who have lived their lives in the shade of tragic events that more than a century ago changed the course of Armenian history. Bertram tells a passionate story that engages a reader emotionally as well as intellectually. Skillfully written, her work is highly informative but, at the same time, leaves a reader wanting more – more precious stories of human courage, perseverance, search for meaning and the power of memory."
—Konrad Siekierski, Memory Studies
"This moving ethnographic study documents Armenian Americans' pilgrimages to eastern Turkey to visit the sites where their ancestors experienced the traumas of the 1915 genocide by Turkish authorities and the related attempts to erase Armenian identity from Turkish society....Including histories, songs, poetry, literature, and personal memories—many originally in Armenian, Kurdish, and Turkish—this enthralling book shares these travelers' stories as they explore their 'Armenian-ness'.... Highly recommended."
—V. Clement, CHOICE