Pamela Steiner, EdD, is a Senior Fellow at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health as part of her long involvement with Harvard University. In the last quarter-century, she has worked to improve rela-

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tionships among Armenians, Turks, and Azerbaijanis as well as between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. Dr. Steiner convened and facilitated a unique workshop for Germans regarding their personal and collective relationship to the Holocaust and their sense of being German. She practices psychotherapy, focusing mostly on working with traumatized individuals. Immediately relevant to her interview is her book with Hart Publishing, Collective Trauma and the Armenian Genocide: Armenian, Turkish and Azerbaijani Relations since 1839 (2021). Dr. Pamela Steiner (PS) was interviewed by Inna Rozentsvit (IR) with the assistance of Paul Elovitz.

IR: In general, why do you think genocide happens? Is there something specific about the Armenian Genocide’s history?

PS: Above all else, the genocidier must be without moral scruples regarding the people to be eliminated. He always justifies the crime, at least internally within the group carrying it out, as due to a threat. Whether it’s mostly imagined or reality-based, attributed to the survival of their people in terms of identity, property, and/or entitlements, such as to general superiority or superior position and territory, the genocidier asserts fear about what would happen to his country/people if the crime is not committed. Whatever the inner motivations to exterminate a people, the genocidier must have the material power to do so.

A substantial part of my Collective Trauma book explores the absorbing historical background of the Armenian Genocide. I see the motivation of the Ottoman Empire’s Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) Young Turk government, which carried out the Genocide, as fear and entitlement based. The fear was of the complete and final loss of the Ottoman Empire, which was already in great decline at the hands of poor Ottoman governance and the West’s entitled greed for what the Ottomans ruled. The Ottomans knew all that, but nonetheless, they attributed much of that threat to the Armenian people’s demands for equality before the law, as per the Ottoman constitution.

The Armenians were the largest and most important Christian minority in the Ottoman Empire. Most lived in their ancient homeland spanning eastern Turkey and adjoining Transcaucasia, as it was then known. Today it is the South Caucasus. The Armenian presence in their homeland long preceded the arrival of the Turkic people. Having been unable to receive promised equal treatment and with many becoming the victims of enormous massacres in the

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1890s and 1909, Armenians pressed to be granted territorial autonomy within eastern Turkey, which was part of the Empire. Moreover, as the prelude to the World War I rumble came closer, the Ottomans suspected that Armenians, as Orthodox Christians, had a close, supportive relationship with Orthodox Russia, the Ottoman’s neighbor and increasingly powerful perennial enemy.

IR: In the Armenian Genocide, how did the personalities and beliefs of the leaders impact their policies and history?

PS: As my book reports, the five primary leaders of the CUP government, who carried out the Genocide, were deeply committed to the preservation of the Empire at any cost. All of them had experienced trauma when they were young, meaning from age two to early adulthood, either before the war or just when it began. Each of these traumatic experiences, different though they were from one another, resulted in relation to events marking the Ottoman decline.

IR: Please explain a little more about your understanding of the clash of national identities (if any) that played a role in the Armenian Genocide.

PS: The idea of “national” identities really only emerged at the end of World War I. Before that, the clash was between different ethnicities/religions.

IR: A German scholar has found that all the leading Nazis had abusive childhoods. In researching the perpetrators of the WWI Armenian Genocide, did you find any evidence of abuse?

PS: I did not research the childhoods of the five men discussed above except for when their traumatic experiences related to the collectively traumatic politics of their time, including as it showed up (or not) in their childhoods. In other words, an in-depth personal-level study was outside my scope unless it related to or reflected the collective traumas outside the family.

IR: How did Armenians deal with the Genocide then and now? Hate? Rebellion? Internalization of trauma?

PS: At the time, most Armenians must have been interested in sheer survival. Some thousands had managed to emigrate in the 1890s due to the massacres, which notably included Glendale, CA, and Watertown, MA, the two largest centers of Armenians in the U.S. today, and elsewhere around the globe. Armenians who did not emigrate with whatever they could take and survived the Geno-

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cide lost absolutely everything. The Turks had betrayed them with broken promises at all levels; much Turkish wealth today is the result of that wholesale taking from Armenians: homes, businesses, money in banks, possessions, land, etc. That massive loss begins with some 1,000,000 killed in the Genocide. Thereafter, they suffered and still suffer the insult and pain of the Turkish government’s denial of carrying out the Genocide.

If one must generalize, today Armenians feel insulted and pained. Some are unable to heal without Turkish acknowledgment of genocide and an apology for it; some Armenians hope for reparations. From the mid-1970s to 1991, Armenian hate and pain were acted out in a campaign of violence by the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) in which some 45 were murdered, many of whom were Turkish diplomats. ASALA’s goal was “To compel the Turkish Government to acknowledge publicly its responsibility for the Armenian Genocide in 1915, pay reparations, and cede territory for an Armenian homeland.”

IR: What holds Armenian society together? Religion? Genocide? Ideals? How does it translate to the education of youth?

PS: My first thought is that genocide is at the core of Armenian identity. I have not specifically studied this, but I think that Armenians would agree that their religion, the Genocide, and ideals all play a role. In many families, youth are very specifically educated, which includes learning the Armenian language with its unique alphabet. Armenians annually commemorate April 24th, the official start date of the Genocide in 1915. Youth care about what happened to their great-great-grandparents.

IR: How did the failure of most of the world to recognize the Armenian Genocide impact the Armenian psyche?

PS: Let me quote from an article about the talk the Swiss historian of the Armenian Genocide Hans-Lukas Kieser recently gave:

To suffer under the passive impotence of Western democracies one orients to: that has been the Armenian experience since 1895 and World War I. No other people has had to go through such disappointments, repeatedly and archetypally, and yet has not given up. …In 1921, when Turkey and Russia divided the South Caucasus, they “made a mockery of Armenia as a miserable creature of the Paris peace treaties and the League of Nations.”  The League of Nations failed

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to protect Armenia and in the same year, Stalin annexed Karabakh to Azerbaijan. ….Having lost everything… they became a half-lame, wandering, closed circle of exiles. (Mirak-Weissbach, May 12, 2022)

IR: How was it related to the war in Karabakh? (Karabakh is a small autonomous mountain region between the modern countries of Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is recognized as being a part of Azerbaijan, although over 90% of its population are Christian ethnic Armenians, while Azerbaijan is a Muslim country.)

PS: Completely, as per my above answer. The Soviet Union gave Karabakh, although mostly inhabited by Armenians, to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is much bigger, richer, and stronger. Because of its power, oil, and economic clout, it is supported with weapons used against Armenians by Israel, which has not recognized the Armenian Genocide.

IR: As a clinician who did and does group work, what works the best in the healing process, as it relates to this group of people (Armenians in general, American Armenians, and other ethnic Armenians around the world)?

PS: People need to be safe and able to express and live by their identity. To answer solely as a clinician, I think I would sidestep the importance of the structure within which clinical work takes place. When the structure is rampant lawlessness, as with this genocide, the need for the acknowledgment of truth by the perpetrator and common sense legal justice is probably as important as psychological healing. But they overlap. Acknowledging the truth is as essential to healing as it is to justice. Within the clinical realm, it seems to me that both individual and group work is needed. Group work may be the key, as all that happened was in a collective space. However, I can mostly only speculate as to what works best as I am interested in collective healing, which has not taken place.

IR: Do Armenians express the signs of transgenerational trauma?

PS: Yes, I agree with your describing these as, in the case of post-Holocaust Jews: silence, overprotection, a wish not to remember, or sometimes normalizing what happened, among other things.

IR: Thanks for providing your insights on this inadequately studied subject.

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References:

  • Mirak-Weissbach, Muriel (May 12, 2022). Frankfurt remembrance: Reflections on the Lausanne Treaty. The Armenian Mirror-Spectator.

Authors:

Inna Rozentsvit

Inna Rozentsvit, MD, PhD, MBA, MSciEd, is a neurologist and neurorehabilitation specialist trained in psychoanalysis. She is a founder and neuropsychoeducator at the non-profit organization NeurorecoverySolutions, Inc., a programs director at the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, and editor-in-chief of the ORI Academic Press, MindMend Publishing Co., and MindConsiliums, the interdisciplinary journal.
She may be contacted at or www.innarozentsvit.com. 

Paul H Elovitz

Dr. Paul H. Elovitz, PhD, began organizing scholarly meetings when he started as a faculty member at Ramapo College and then as convener of the Institute for Psychohistory Saturday Workshops (1975-1982). In 1982 he founded the Psychohistory Forum to nurture psychohistorical research and continues to lead its Executive Council. In 1994 he created Clio’s Psyche (cliospsyche.org) to publish its scholarship, of which he is Editor-in-Chief. Prof. Elovitz is a historian, psychoanalytic researcher, and author of about 400 publications, covering presidential psychobiography, teaching, documenting the field of psychohistory, and much more. After taking his doctoral degree in history, he trained and practiced as a psychoanalyst, and in 2019 was made the first Research Psychoanalyst by the New Jersey Institute for Psychoanalysis. Elovitz is the author of The Making of Psychohistory, editor of The Many Roads of the Builders of Psychohistory, and edited or wrote eight other books. He is a founding member and past president of the International Psychohistorical Association (1978-) who serves on its leadership council and presents at all meetings. Prof. Elovitz is a founding faculty member at Ramapo College who previously taught at Temple, Rutgers, and Fairleigh Dickinson universities. He may be contacted at .

How to Cite This:

Rozentsvit, I., & Elovitz, P. (2023). Interview of Pam Steiner on the Armenian genocide. Clio’s Psyche, 29(2), 243-248.

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