After the exodus: Halil Ozsavli’s research asks how Armenians adapted to their environment in the early 1900s

Halil Ozsavli Imagine being forced to flee your hometown, leaving behind friends, family and other treasured keepsakes.

Then imagine thousands of your neighbors being forced to do the same.

That’s what happened in the early 1900s when droves of Armenians were forced to vacate the Anatolian provinces of the Ottoman Empire (now in the east of modern Turkey). Many were killed or died on the deportation routes, and a significant number of the survivors relocated to parts of Syria and Lebanon.

What happened to these Armenians after this mass exodus and how they adapted to their new environment are questions Halil Ozsavli is trying to answer.

A doctoral student at Hacettepe University and a scholar at Kilis 7 Aralık University in Turkey, Ozsavli joined University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Armenian Research Center (ARC) as a scholar-in-residence to study how Armenians created a new communal life in Lebanon, keeping their language, culture and traditions.

“They essentially had to find new lives,” said Ozsavli, an Arab who was raised in Turkey.

Ozsavli plans to include his findings in a dissertation, which will focus on Armenians living in Syria and Lebanon from 1914-1939.

The center provides an ideal research hub for Ozsavli, as it includes countless microfilms, periodicals and books that detail not only Armenian history, but also the history of the Arabic countries of the Middle East and Turkey.

“This is a great opportunity for me,” said Ozsavli, who plans to return to Turkey in July to defend his dissertation. “I would have never found these Armenian periodicals, microfilms and books in Turkey. You can find all types of resources here.”

Ozsavli commended ARC Director Ara Sanjian and Gerald Ottenbreit Jr. for their assstance throughout the research project.

“Professor Ara’s suggestions guided my research when I got lost among an endless sea of historical information,” he said. “Without Gerald’s assistance, I could not find particular books among the thousands of books in the center. He never hesitated to buy microfilms or a book, which I needed if the center did not have it already. And thanks to him, my wife and I could settle in Dearborn without having any problems when we arrived in this country.”

UM-Dearborn is the first American university with an Armenian Research Center. In an effort to preserve Armenian history and culture, staff there collect Armenian periodicals, establish exchange programs with Armenian libraries and schools, as well as forge domestic partnerships with prominent institutions.

“The Armenian Research Center is unique in that scholars have, in one location in a university setting, a rich reference library about the Armenians and their neighbors, with research assistance at hand, and a knowledgeable director who will mentor young scholars,” said Ottenbreit, the center’s longtime research assistant. “If a scholar needs something we do not own, we will obtain it, within reason, either through purchase or interlibrary loan. During Halil’s stay, we purchased several dozen microfilms from the National Archives and an additional half-dozen from Gale.”

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