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Abstract

Studying Armenians in the Republic of Turkey ethnographically offers a singular lens into the seemingly intractable secular problem of religious minority political participation and the viability of minority religious traditions, especially in the contemporary Middle East. This dissertation articulates a mode of embodied, affective, urban minority belonging available to a minority subject cultivated in a minority tradition. Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork among the Armenians of Istanbul at Armenian Apostolic churches, newspapers, and the Hrant Dink Foundation, I explore the institutional, material, and representational bases for collective minority action in Turkey today. I suggest that what I call “modern secular representation” has come to dominate the political imagination, and interrogate other possible groundings for collective action. ,After a genealogical and historical tracing of the legacy of the millet system of the Ottoman Empire and its continued influence on Armenians in Turkey (Chapter One), the dissertation moves to an ethnographic exploration of vakıfs, a form of charitable endowment or foundation and the Armenian language newspapers of Turkey. Using the Miaphysite Christology and other aspects of the theology of the Armenian Apostolic Church, I articulate a mode of “presence-making” that is central to collective Armenian minority action, and which differs from the political modes of “modern secular representation.” In the final chapters, the dissertation continues to rely on Armenian theological categories, offering a textured and sensorial account of Armenian hymn singing and choir practices. Through this engagement with the Armenian theological tradition, I demonstrate how a thoroughly embedded “liturgical subject” cultivated within the Armenian liturgical and theological tradition engages with the city of Istanbul as an alternative mode of belonging and collective action.

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