Powerful Silences: Becoming a Survivor Through the Construction of Story.


  • Arlene Voski Avakian University of Massachusetts




Survivors’ accounts of traumatic events function on many levels for both the teller and the hearer. By giving voice to what has been silenced, testimonies to the lived experience of trauma challenge dominant perspectives on the meaning and significance of both historical and contemporary events. The construction of these stories and their telling may also provide a means of countering the devastating psychological effects of the trauma. This paper will explore one story about the Turkish genocide of Armenians in 1915 as told to me by my grandmother, Elmas Tutuian. Remarkably consistent over the years of its telling, Tutuian’s story omits as much as it tells. Examining this narrative from both a psychological and a textual perspective, I suggest that by choosing to be silent about parts of her experience, Tutuian constructed herself as a survivor rather than a victim. In choosing to tell her narrative to me, she also shaped my sense of resistance to oppression. The article references works analyzing survivors’ accounts of trauma from a literary, psychological, sociological, theological, and historical perspective.