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Topic/Issue: The ‘Chosen Trauma’ Theory as a Tool for Trans-Generational Trauma Justification of Perpetrators

May 21, 2014


This research paper focuses on mass traumas of ethnic groups and their transfer to new generations as a usual outcome of unhealed historical trauma in the cycles of violence. As a historian by my academic background I have deeply studied the historical events of the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire. When I read the works of Vamik Volkan as part of my SCAR MS Program, I noted that the historical events interpreted by him were rather voluntary and prejudiced. I also noted that according to Volkan’s research all the nations (Serbs, Russians, Greeks, and even Arabs) subdues by the Turkic states had ‘chosen trauma’ while no single Turkic nation (Tatars, Osmanli Turks, Seljuk Turks, etc.) had such ‘chosen trauma’. However, the Turkic nations that lived in conflict with the subdued traumatized nations could not be isolated and not involved in the circles of violence and therefore should have been traumatized as well, at a minimum as perpetrators.

The research paper utilizes the analysis framework of Volkan as well as the theory of conflict analysis and resolution, particularly the theory of trauma and its healing, and applies them to the objective facts of history. To that end, the paper analyzes the psychosocial mass trauma of:

1)    Christian ethnic groups (Greeks, Serbs, Armenians, Bulgarians, and Romanians) experienced in the former Ottoman Empire and its transformation through generations in the search for historical justice as the main tool for healing and reconciliation, as well as conversion of these unhealed mass traumas into another mass trauma (transferring some of the Christian ethnic groups from the victimization cycle to the aggression cycle) due to absence of healing and reconciliation process.

2)    Turks as reflection of the understanding of the violent role (as perpetrator) of their ancestors in the history of millions of Christian nations and ethnic groups on the territory of the former Ottoman Empire, mass feeling of guiltiness and shame and victimization in an attempt to overcome aggressor’s trauma.


Literature Review

‘Chosen trauma’ is the concept first introduced by political psychiatrist Vamik Volkan that refers to “the shared mental representation of the large group’s massive trauma experienced by its ancestors at the hands of enemy group, and the images of heroes, victims, or both connected with it”.[i] Volkan has several works on this topic, some of which have been co-authored by Itzkowitz.

The definition of the ‘chosen trauma’ in Volkan’s different works is not entirely consistent. Thus, in some works the ‘chosen trauma’ is defined as conscious choice of leaders for manipulation of large group aggression. For example Volkan wrote, “Milosevic apparently came out of this experience a transformed person, clad in the “armor” of Serbian nationalism; he would later declare in a speech that Serbs in Kosovo are not a minority since “Kosovo is Serbia and will always be Serbia.”.”[ii]

In other works Volkan describes the ‘chosen trauma’ as unconscious choice of the traumatized large group. “Although some have taken exception to the term “chosen” trauma since a group does not consciously choose to be victimized or suffer humiliation, I believe that, like an individual, a large group can be said to make unconscious “choices.”  Thus the term “chosen trauma” accurately reflects a large group’s unconscious “choice” to add a past generation’s mental representation of a shared event to its own identity.  While large groups may have experienced any number of traumas in their history, only certain ones remain alive over many years – indeed, often over a period of centuries.  The chosen trauma makes thousands and millions of people designated – “chosen” – to be linked together through their shared mental representation of that trauma.  A chosen trauma reflects the traumatized past generation’s incapacity for or difficulty with mourning losses connected to the shared traumatic event as well as its failure to reverse the injury to the group’s self-esteem (“narcissistic injury”) and humiliation inflicted by another large group, usually a geographical neighbor.”[iii]

In his works Volkan shows the ‘chosen trauma’ as a decisive marker for identity group to keep people together. “During this transgenerational transmission, the mental representation of the event emerges as a significant large-group marker; the group draws the shared mythologized mental representation of the traumatic event into its very identity. The chosen trauma functions primarily to link the members of the large group together as if it were an invisible spider’s web.”[iv]

Carolyn Yoder reflects on ‘chosen trauma’ in the framework of ‘enemy/aggressor and survivor/victim’ cycles noting that “the sense of victimhood may be from historic events, such as a chosen trauma, or from a recent crisis as when the pride and identity of a previously secure group is punctured by a provocative threat or surprise attack”. [v] R. Baker noted: “In people’s experience, what happened centuries ago has echoes in what happened last week”.[vi]

Judith Herman discusses trauma from the perspective of both perpetrators and sufferers and notes that “relieving a trauma may offer an opportunity for mastery, but most survivors do not consciously seek or welcome the opportunity. Rather, they dread and fear it”.[vii] She explains this by the emotional distress that is caused by the reliving of the traumatic event.


This paper primarily relies on library research. It is largely based on the works of Vamik Volkan and some supplementary sources (see the list of sources), and identifies inconsistencies and contradictions in Volkan’s work.

The processes clichéd by Vamik Volkan as ‘chosen trauma’ can be properly explained based on the model by Olga Botcharova called ‘enemy/aggressor and survivor/victim cycles”[viii], where unhealed trauma can push a victim from the survivor/victim cycle into enemy/aggressor cycle by using symbolization of trauma and exaggerated or normal entitlement. Botcharova’s model[ix] explains how ethnic groups with large group trauma may transfer from survivor/victim cycle to enemy/aggressor cycle because of fantasies of revenge and need for justice (#10 of victim cycle) that may lead them to see the self-group as victims and increase group identity (#1 in aggressor cycle). The latter occurs when a traumatized large group based on common perception of traumatizing events picks fragmentary memory, which symbolized the whole trauma. Whenever large group enters the second phase (#2) of the aggressor cycle having unmet needs for safety and justice, shame humiliation and fear, the symbolized fragment of previous trauma surfaces again to ‘explain’ the new situation on the background of the experienced last trauma. During the third phase (#3) of development of good vs. evil narratives and the fourth phase (#4) of dehumanization of enemy, the traumatized group looks for common symbols and revives the common perception of the traumatizing events already existing in first phase of aggressor cycle.

The research paper also relies on the new model developed by the founding director of STAR, Carolyn Yoder, who combined Botcharova’s and Hart’s models. “Yoder adapted and expanded the diagrams used by Barry Hart and psychologist Olga Botcharova – who had worked together in the war-torn Balkans – into a three-part model of trauma healing. This model, including an easy-to-remember snail diagram (see below), remains central to the STAR curriculum”.[x]

When I look at this model it is clear to me that resolution of conflict cannot be without a healing process and a ‘victim’ large group will float from victim cycle to aggressor cycle and vice versa until the cycles are interrupted by the healing process through enhanced resiliency of the group. The ‘chosen trauma’ cliché cannot help to understand real source of a conflict and trauma but may create stereotypical approach to the traumatized large groups based on their entitlement essence. However entitlement, including exaggerated entitlement, is an unconscious outcome of trauma.

In the research paper I also utilize the historical-comparative and psycho-comparative methods of analysis. “Like traumatized people, we need to understand the past in order to reclaim the present and the future. Therefore, an understanding of psychological trauma begins with rediscovering history.”[xi] Particularly, I analyze the denial as the main policy for perpetrators, such as Turkey, and reflection of trauma from the perception of identity that belongs to the perpetrator (on ‘chosen trauma’ case of Vamik Volkan as a scientist biased with his Turkish origin) and the creation of political and social myths on these issues by perpetrators as a general strategy to avoid liability and historical justice. The latter is the main tool for reconciliation.


The analysis in this section starts by objective presentation of historical events described in Volkan’s work and identification of inconsistencies. It then moves to analyzing the physiological and political motivations that have led Volkan to derive his theory of ‘chosen trauma’.

Historical analysis: Christian countries that gained their independence in the 19th and 20th centuries from Turkey were in cycles of violence and trauma, which continued many centuries since the beginning of Turkish conquest. These traumas were never healed, almost all generations of these countries witnessed and experienced aggression and violence against them during several wars and conflicts; and hence one cycle of violence followed another continuously.

After occupation of Albania, Armenia, the Byzantine Empire, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, West Georgia and a number of other countries by Turks since the 11th century, the ‘devshirme system’[xii] (abduction of children by Turkish militaries when Christian parents loosed their kids forever) for Christians was established. This was followed by the transfer of Christian villages under the rule of Muslim nomadic tribes who had unrestricted ‘rights’; for example in some territories under the death threat Christians’ first bride-night right belonged to the chief of nomadic tribe, Christians had no right to ride or to have a weapon even for self-defense in the forest or mountains, etc. In addition, there were special taxes for Christian population. All of these led to the continuing feelings of humiliation, fear, and stress and eventually to formation of large group trauma among the Christian nations in the Ottoman Empire.[xiii] “Within a century or so, Anatolia was Turkified”[xiv]. This sentence of Vamik Volkan concentrates all the horror of the brutal processes of converting Christians into Muslim religion during that time. Thousands of Christian girls were abducted during their childhood (mainly 12-13 years old) for marriage after the 16th century with ‘Janichars’ soldiers who in turn had been abducted Christian boys converted to Islam by Turkish military authorities.

The trauma was further deepened after the massacres of Christian population in Turkey and its vassals’ territories. Pogroms and massacres made by irregular ottoman forces like ‘bashibozuks’[xv] or ‘hamidie’[xvi] became a regular method of governing through terrorizing Christian population during the rule of Ottomans, when entire Christian regions either became Muslim or were massacred. These actions led the remnants of Christian population to the resistance who with an unhealed large group trauma continuously moved from the victimization to the aggression cycles. Thousands of uprisings took place on the territory concurred by the Ottoman Empire, like Scanderbeg rebellion in 1443-68[xvii] or Vladislav Tsepesh (Impaler) Dracula[xviii] war against Turks in 1456-77, Bulgarian uprising in 1850,[xix] Armenian uprising in 1865-65[xx], Greek uprisings and gorilla wars that never stopped during the Ottoman rule.[xxi] These traumas became historical traumas for these peoples, an accumulated emotional and psychological injury over the lifetime and across generations proceeding from large group trauma.[xxii]

In his works Volkan accuses subdued nations and ethnic groups of the Ottoman Empire (and other Turkic speaking states like Tatars Golden Horde[xxiii]) for having “chosen traumas” that propagates violence against Turks who, in his view, are ‘innocent’, and for reflecting this propagated, artificial traumatic hatred against other ethnic groups who collaborate with Turks. Thus Volkan absolutely disregards such non-conscious posttraumatic defensive mechanisms as projection[xxiv], displacement, rationalization or undoing[xxv] etc. that can be the main cause for unconscious and subconscious actions of societies with unhealed trauma. His biased approach is aimed at justifying the innocence of his ethnos, which is part of his identity (he was born in Northern Cyprus and has Turkish identity) clearly comes out in his explanation of history and his theory of ‘chosen trauma’ where his “we” against “others” is more than apparent. He noted, “I simply want to illustrate here how a political ideology of excessive entitlement becomes fuel for various infernos. One of the most recent Greek-Turkish conflicts which was fueled by the influence of the Megali Idea in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, this time on the island of Cyprus, is one with which I am most familiar.”[xxvi] In his article he completely disregards Turkish pan-Turkic ideology that fueled this conflict when Turkish minority of about 18 percent of population of Cyprus provoked military invasion of Turkey and occupation of more than 40 percent of Cyprus with killing and suffering of thousands of civilians. However, Volkan never spoke about that side of the problem. He mentioned that Greeks do not want solution of the Cyprus conflict through unification, however he never presented the other party of the conflict for whom unification with Northern Cyprus (offered to Greeks) was nothing else than promotion of Turkey’s policy of legalization of demographic and military occupation of Northern Cyprus where Turkish population has significantly increased because of Turkey’s policy to resettle Anatolian Turkish villagers from Central Turkey to Cyprus.

Based on the extrapolation methods, lets imagine that Mexico militarily would invade the US, would occupy 40 % of its territory, resettle there millions of Mexicans and would offer creating a common government of Mexicans and Americans through unification. It is clear that everybody understands that this would mean losing of political and demographic independence for the USA and it would be an apparent injustice from the point of view of the people who were attacked militarily and lost their relatives, houses etc. Injustice is a cause for a future conflict; therefore this kind of ‘resolution’ of conflict makes it latent and more dangerous than the existing negative peace. Going back to the case of Cyprus, it should be noted that Turkey has been unjust by occupying another country’s territory, killing its citizens, implementing ethnic cleansing in the occupied territory, and by resettling it with the citizens of another country. A very similar case currently is in Ukraine.

It is not by accident that the European court demanded from Turkey to pay Greek citizens of Cyprus who lost almost everything after invasion of the Turkish military forces.[xxvii] The invasion of Turkish armed forces was a big trauma, which for aborigine population of Cyprus was repetition of the old trans-generational large group trauma experienced by Greeks during Turkish domination on this island from 1571 to 1878 (then Cyprus became part of the British Empire thus escaping Turkish discrimination policy against Greeks and all other Christians).

Volkan tried to present the manipulative-artificial essence of historical trauma symbolization when he spoke about derivative of ‘chosen trauma’ ‘chosen victory’. He described Sallahuddin (Saladin) as mamluk leader who was not of Arab but of Kurdish origin and therefore he could not be an instant symbol for Arabic ‘chosen victory’, which for him is proof of the manipulative-artificial essence of the chosen trauma.[xxviii] However, there are a lot of examples in the history when leaders’ ethnic origin plays no role in their policy; on the contrary they wanted more to prove their belonging to the title ethnic group by their huge endeavors to assist to the interests of their countries, even more than their ethnically ‘clean’ (whose origin cannot be the object of the doubts of the society) opponents tried to do. For example, Rurikovich dynasty in Russia had Scandinavian (Viking’s) origin but their representatives, such as Ivan IV the Terrible, led Livonian war against Scandinavians. Similarly, during the reign of Armenian (Macedonian)[xxix] dynasty the Byzantine Empire for a long time was in war with Armenia and in 1045 conquered it. Moreover, Armenian kings since 200 BC to 400 AD never were of Armenian origin but nobody among the Armenians doubted in their service to Armenian statehood because of their origin. Persian kings were of Persian, Turkmen, Pashtu, Tajik origin but their external and internal policy always was devoted to the interests of Iran. Former president of Turkey, Turgut Ozal, was of Kurdish origin but he was also the renowned initiator of war against Kurdish independence movement. Heidar Aliev and his son Ilham Aliev dynasty in Azerbaijan are of Kurdish origin but they successfully promote external and internal interest of Azerbaijan in the world.

Thus, the theory of ‘chosen trauma’/’chosen victory’ is about large group trauma where Volkan tries to accuse peoples having large group trauma on manipulatively having exaggerated entitlements by their leaders, which lead to aggression against ‘others’.[xxx]

The theory of the ‘chosen trauma’ is mainly based on the history of relations of Turkey with its subdued nations and ethnic groups. To justify his theory, Volkan uses voluntary interpretation of the tragic events in the former Ottoman Empire/Byzantine Empire and other countries trying to ‘unite’ the history of the two empires using the fact that they existed and developed on the same territory successively.

Psychological analysis:

The denial strategy is obvious in Vamik Volkan’s attempts to present the origination of the nationalist movements in the Christian communities in the Ottoman Empire from the development of so called ‘chosen trauma’ while completely overlooking mass trauma caused by the ‘devshirme’ system, discrimination and forcible conversion to Islam of many millions of Christians, organizing and leading of brutal ethno-genesis of the Ottoman-Turks on the territory of former Byzantine Empire toward assimilation and elimination of Christian nations throughout many centuries.

It is interesting how Volkan describes one of his objects of research that in Volkans opinion manipulate chosen trauma. “I do not have sufficient data to make a sophisticated attempt at understanding Milosevic’s inner world or to know whether this transformation occurred suddenly. The information that is available, however, does offer some insight into Milosevic, the second son born to an Orthodox priest during the Nazi occupation of 1941. A loner, aloof, humorless, and self-centered, he comes from a severely dysfunctional family. When he was seven, his favorite uncle killed himself with a bullet to the head. When he was twenty-one his father did the same. When he was in his early thirties, his mother hung herself in the family sitting room (Vulliamy 1994). Those who know him describe him as alternately angry and depressed. He married his teenage sweetheart, but is not known to have many other lasting and trusting relationships. When Milosevic became President of Serbia in 1992, a saying in Belgrade went something like this:…[xxxi] This description makes it clear that Milosevic was a deeply traumatized person with serious psychological disorder who reflected his individual tragedy on large group trauma by manipulating symbolized fragments of their history for justification of his aggression. Therefore, Volkan should accept that Meloshevitch’s reflection and influence on large group trauma motivated unconsciously and subconsciously by his personal trauma.

It is apparent that unconscious choice of large group cannot be manipulated when memories are transferred through transgenerational transmission of the trauma by millions of people to their kids and relatives. Therefore writings of some priests or other representatives and even leaders of the group may be reflection of trauma transmission but not manipulation.

For Greeks, Serbs, Russians, Arabs and other nations that are classified by Volkan as having ‘chosen trauma’ this type of symbolization of traumatic event never becomes part of their identity. For example Greek identity renown even from ancient times and never associates with traumatic events therefore It cannot be significant marker for this large-group. Meanwhile, symbolization of the trauma in Greeks’ history we can see even in ancient Iliad where trauma symbolized through Troyian horse. This story became the symbolic representation of tragic victory of Greeks against Troy and reflects perpetrator’s trauma for atrocities have done by Greeks during the war. But it is not ‘chosen trauma’ or ‘chosen glory’ but symbolization of war large group transgenerational trauma, which transmitted not only to Greeks but ancient Romans, Lydians, Armenians and through them to the new nations like Americans, Italians, Spanish people etc.

Many Armenian women and men came from Turkey. They almost never wanted tell us about the massacres and Armenian genocide. Because “in the aftermath of traumatic events, as survivors review and judge their own conduct, feelings of guilt and inferiority are practically universal.”[xxxii] However many Armenian families witnessed their nightmares virtually every night with screaming phrases, such as “do not kill me please” or “she is only four years old, please do not touch her”, etc. Renowned psychiatrist A. Kardiner and H. Spigel mentioned that traumatic nightmares could return unchanged for many years repeatedly. They clarified the preservative dream as one of the most characteristic and at the same time one of the most enigmatic phenomena we encounter in the disease.[xxxiii]

For example almost in every Armenian family the nightmares were the ‘normal’ behavior of grandparents from Turkey. Children always shared their impressions with each other and during years of growth and identity formation (specifically formation of ethnic constituent) while witnessing the trauma of their grandparents and parents, this trauma[xxxiv] became part of their own ego. Moreover, under their impressions and perceptions from childhood, the trauma also became an undivided part of their superego. Thus during my early socialization in Armenia I realized that the trauma is transferable[xxxv] to us through our grandparents’ and parents’ subconscious and unconscious suffering. Though they never spoke about the genocide because of the unexplainable sense of shame[xxxvi] they felt about those events, we lived in the environment of genocide survival every day and night, we heard the tales of awful agony from their nightmare cries. In addition, some brutal criminals (not all criminals but those who were ruthless) among Armenian people were called Turks; similarly adults at times explained aggressiveness of some children as a consequence of their origin. We have also encountered old women whose grandchildren were aggressive and discovered that these children were grandchildren of raped women during the genocide who had transferred their post-traumatic disorder to their children and the children did the same unconscious transfer to their children through violence and aggression due to their anxiety, nervousness and schizophrenic symptoms. Their brutal actions often were described by people as Turkish style actions. Based on all of these encounters demonization of Turks and dehumanized[xxxvii] them in perceptions of Christians. This type of unhealed trauma became determinant of many conflicts of traumatized large groups including traumatized perpetrators large groups.

Perpetrators strategy of denial: During historical and psychological analysis I tried to understand why a renowned psychiatrist, such as Volkan, would promote the concept of ‘chosen trauma’, which will not assist to the reconciliation. I considered why Volkan did not realize that his proposed concept may be a cliché. Given that he is political psychiatrist and biased with his ethnic origin, Volkan perhaps tries to create a tool for denial to political accusations to Turkey, the policy of which was one of the main sources of transgenerational large group trauma in the region. This can be assumed from Volkan’s attempt to disregard and deny that Islamization of Albanians and Bosnians is the outcome of brutal, violent and genocidal policy of Turkish government made for assimilation of Christian population.[xxxviii]

What is Denial? It can be explained as rejection to accede with outer reality since it can be extremely dangerous or disputing against an anxiety-provoking incitement by declaring that it doesn’t exist. Denial is also a tool for solution of emotional conflict and decrease of anxiety by refuting to perceive or consciously admit the more hostile aspects of external reality. It is one of the best instruments, often used to portray circumstances in which persons are incapable to be authentic or accept an obvious truth. Denial is an absolute exclusion to accept or acknowledge that something has occurred.

“Advances in the field occur only when they are supported by political movement powerful enough to legitimate an alliance between investigators and patients and to counteract the ordinary social processes of silencing and denial. In the absence of strong political movements for human rights, the active process of bearing witness inevitably gives way to the active process of forgetting. Repression, dissociation, and denial are phenomena of social as well as individual consciousness.”[xxxix]

Denial aims to defend ego from effects that an individual is unable to deal with. Denial may save an individual or a group that belongs to that individual’s identity from anxiety, problems or even pain. Intellectual, sophisticated denial necessitates a considerable investment of energy, knowledge and skills. Because of denial, other defense mechanisms are also used to keep the abovementioned undesirable feelings from consciousness of individual as well as of other human beings that can be the cause of anxiety.

In many cases noted by Volkan there was evidence that the interpretation of facts is not reliable to some degree, yet Volkan continues to deny viewing the facts from the perspective of the other side since it is too painful and politically not right for his Turkish identity to accept it.Volkan’s denial involves lack of facts or comprehensive discussion of the reality in his theoretical explanations of history concerning to the political responsibility of Turkey or any other Turkic state. In some cases, like in the case of accepting unconsciousness of large group[xl], Volkan admits that “some” of the critique against his theory is true, but he minimizes the importance of critique by maintaining his main theory in the frame of Turkish interests.

For denial social structure of scientific society is very convenient. Any scientist-denier may in the future admit the reality and the seriousness of the facts of history, but he can still deny his own responsibility and instead blame for example historians that presented him facts not ‘completely’.


Discussion of the Results

When I read about the theory of ‘chosen trauma’ it seemed me that something is wrong in this theory because trauma cannot be created artificially only by propaganda and therefore if it is not existent in mass consciousness of people and in their perception of reality, it cannot be manipulated. Development of this type of narratives, where victimization is an important constituent part, by itself cannot be largely spread false perception of reality among people because the lie will be discovered one day by opportunistic or oppositional movements in ethnic group or in large group society. Development of pseudohistorical episodic false consciousness (advocated by Vamik Volkan in his theory of ‘chosen trauma’), is possible in political life when the contradictions of the reality to the every day life or historical evidence are not apparent and are deep hidden from public of an ethnic group.

Crucifixion of Lasar and Kosovo battle are real and renowned historical events based on many historical sources. Moreover pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism were the official ideology of the Ottoman Empire and hatred and inflicted atrocities against Christians are documented and evidenced in thousands of historical documents. Volkan’s presentation of the symbolization of these atrocities in one episode (Kosovo battle) by victims as ‘chosen’ aka politically developed trauma for manipulation of the ethnic group is not consistent due to well known historical facts about the brutal character of Turkish Empire and its violent actions driven by the ideology of ‘Caliphate’ and anti-Christian ideology.

“When a large group interacts with other groups, particularly neighbors, it must protect its identity at all cost, especially when in crises.”[xli] This expression used by Vamik Volkan, who is of Turkish origin, deeply and subconsciously presents his understanding of the reality and the underlying reasons for the theory he presented on large group traumas and particularly on chosen trauma.

It is clear for everyone that criminal actions against humanity are a source of large trauma for people who suffered from it. In the Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, “genocide means the following act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: …. (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”[xlii] Then the usage of ‘devshirme’ system by Turkish government was huge source for causing mass trauma to Christian population of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore different Christian groups symbolized their large group trauma in common perceivable important historical fragments of their trauma but this does not mean that these fragments are artificially developed by elites for manipulation of consciousness or development of false consciousness of people in ethnic group. Symbolization of atrocities is a subconscious tool for transfer of large group trauma in the victim-aggressor cycle for justification of need for prevention of such traumatizing episodes in the future. This led to transmission of intrusive memories[xliii] in the large group from one generation to other. Yes, elites use these symbols of trauma for justification of entitlement but they are part of traumatized society with their transferred unhealed trauma embedded on symbolized trauma or sometimes originated from their personal trauma and then converted though association/identification in their sub-consciousness to the ‘symbolized large group trauma’ as I call it. The exaggerated entitlement is the outcome of the self-schema where perception of absence of justice was formed without aggression (due to unhealed trauma). In this self-schema superego and ego cannot cope with Id because of trauma.

The same psychological trauma model and subconscious and unconscious aggression is applicable for leaders of a traumatized large group and their society. Their aggression is reflection of their self-schema shaped by large group trauma and its symbolization.


  1. The theory of ‘chosen trauma’ presents deep subconscious and unconscious psychological processes driven by large group and individual traumas as conscious manipulative actions of nationalistic elites for politically motivated justification of exaggerated entitlements and aggression toward neighboring or ‘other’ group. This inconsistency at a minimum is not constructive since nations and ethnic groups involved in conflicts are accused through a cliché (chosen trauma) instead of assisting them to break the cycles of victimization/aggression towards resilience, trauma healing and reconciliation of conflicts.
  2. For justification of his theory Vamik Volkan used biased pro-Turkish narratives of history.
  3. Psychological portraits of Miloshevich or Sadam Husein involved in manipulation of the so called ‘chosen trauma’ are inconsistent with the ability of these leaders to consciously promote politically driven ‘chosen trauma’. The activities of such psychologically imbalanced leaders are mainly driven by subconscious and unconscious individual traumatic events projected into large group trauma.
  4. Volkan’s presentation of the chosen trauma as an artificially driven plot of nationalistic leaders is misperception of a situation where both large group trauma and absence of process of its healing exist. The model of victim/aggressor cycles of Goncharova, Yoder and Harts clearly explains the constantly repeating process in traumatic situations and possibility of healing.
  5. For a perpetrator denial is a phase of trying to overcome his trauma. However this leads to new escalation and repetition of cycles of violence and trauma.
  6. The healing of mass trauma is important to prevent origination of another conflict and trauma as a result of revenge in the repetition of cycles of conflict violence.


Sources used for the Research Paper

1)       Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, (12/09/1948), in Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly,

2)       Description of massive trauma and violence by Robben and Suarez-Orozco

3)       Herman, Judith Lewis (1997). Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York: Basic Books.

4)       Robben, Antonius C.G.M. and Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco, Eds. (2000). Cultures Under Siege, Collective Violence and Trauma. UK: Cambridge University Press.

5)       Volkan D. V., (2007), Bosnia-Herzegovina:Chosen Trauma And Its Transgenerational Transmission,

6)       Volkan D. V., December 2005, Large-Group Identity And Chosen Trauma, Issue #6, Psychoanalysis Downunder,

7)       Volkan D. V., 2007, Chosen Trauma, The Political Ideology Of Entitlement And Violence,,-the-Political-Ideology-of-Entitlement-and-Violence.php

8)       Yoder, Carolyn (2005). The Little Book of Trauma Healing. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.

9)       John M. Grohol,15 Common Defense Mechanisms,

10)    Volkan V.D. and Itzkowitz N., Modern Greek and Turkish identities and the psychodynamics of Greek-Turkish relations, in Cultures under Siege, (2000), Ed. Robben A.C.G.M. and Suarez-Orozco M.M., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.

11)    Andrew Jenner, May 24th, 2013, Trauma awareness is key factor in peacebuilding,


[i] Volkan D. V., 2007, Chosen Trauma, The Political Ideology Of Entitlement And Violence,,-the-Political-Ideology-of-Entitlement-and-Violence.php

[ii] Volkan D. V., 2007, Chosen Trauma, The Political Ideology Of Entitlement And Violence,,-the-Political-Ideology-of-Entitlement-and-Violence.php

[iii] Volkan D. V., December 2005, Large-Group Identity And Chosen Trauma, Issue #6, Psychoanalysis Downunder,

[iv] Volkan D. V., 2007, Chosen Trauma, The Political Ideology Of Entitlement And Violence,,-the-Political-Ideology-of-Entitlement-and-Violence.php

[v] Yoder, Carolyn (2005). The Little Book of Trauma Healing. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, pp.39-40

[vi] Baker R., (June 18, 1997), Forgiveness in Conflict Resolution: Reality and Utility, The Northern Ireland Experience, (Paper presented at the Woodstock Theological Center Colloquium at Georgetown University), p. 54, See in Yoder, Carolyn (2005). The Little Book of Trauma Healing. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, p. 39.

[vii]Herman, J. L., (1997), (1997) Trauma and recovery, The aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror, Basic Books, N.Y., New York, p.42.

[viii] See Olga Botcharova’s Enemy/Aggressor and Survivor/Victim model in Yoder C., p. 38.

[ix] See model in Yoder C., p. 38.

[x] Andrew Jenner, May 24th, 2013, Trauma awareness is key factor in peacebuilding,

[xi] Herman, J. L., (1997), (1997) Trauma and recovery, The aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror, Basic Books, N.Y., New York, p. 2

[xii] “Institution of oppression practiced by the Turks was called Devshirme, or the practice of recruiting the best and brightest children, usually males, from Christian families, and forcing them to convert to Islam. These children were trained in the Sultan’s civil service, or they become part of an elite fighting force known as the Janissaries. From very inception of this institution the Christian population grievously resented the abduction of their children.”

[xiii] Yoder C., (2005), The little book of Trauma Healing, When Violence Strikes and Community Security Is threatened, Good Books, Intercourse, PA, ISBN 978-1-56148-507-9, pp. 28-29.

[xiv] Volkan V.D. and Itzkowitz N., Modern Greek and Turkish identities and the psychodynamics of Greek-Turkish relations, in Cultures under Siege, (2000), Ed. Robben A.C.G.M. and Suarez-Orozco M.M., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., p. 228

[xv] Bashibosuk irregulars

[xvi] Hamidiye irregulars

[xvii] Skanderbeg,

[xviii] Vladislav III Tsepesh Dracula,


[xx] Zeitun Rebelion,

[xxi] “The klephts were descendants of Greeks who fled into the mountains to avoid the Turks in the fifteenth century and who remained active as brigands into the nineteenth century”. Marshall Cavendish, 2009. World and Its Peoples, p. 1478, ISBN 0-7614-7902-3.

[xxii]Yoder C., p.13.

[xxiii] Volkan D. V., 2007, Chosen Trauma, The Political Ideology Of Entitlement And Violence,,-the-Political-Ideology-of-Entitlement-and-Violence.php

[xxiv] John M. Grohol,15 Common Defense Mechanisms,

[xxv] John M. Grohol,15 Common Defense Mechanisms,

[xxvi] Volkan D. V., 2007, Chosen Trauma, The Political Ideology Of Entitlement And Violence,,-the-Political-Ideology-of-Entitlement-and-Violence.php

[xxvii]“The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered the Turkish government on Monday to pay 90 million euros ($124 million) in compensation to Cyprus over human rights abuses committed during and after Turkey’s invasion of the island in 1974». European court orders Turkey to compensate Cyprus for 1974 invasion. Reuters, Strasbourg, May 12 2014, 12:13pm,

[xxviii] Volkan D. V., December 2005, Large-Group Identity And Chosen Trauma, Issue #6, Psychoanalysis Downunder,

[xxix] Macedonian dynasty,

[xxx]Volkan D. V., 2007, Chosen Trauma, The Political Ideology Of Entitlement And Violence,,-the-Political-Ideology-of-Entitlement-and-Violence.php

[xxxi] Volkan D. V., 2007, Chosen Trauma, The Political Ideology Of Entitlement And Violence,,-the-Political-Ideology-of-Entitlement-and-Violence.php

[xxxii] Herman, J. L., (1997) Trauma and recovery, The aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror, Basic Books, N.Y., New York, p. 20

[xxxiii] A. Kardiner and H. Spigel, (1947), War, Stress, and Neurotic Illness (Rev. Ed. The traumatic Neuroses of War), N.Y., Ney York, Hoeber, p. 201

[xxxiv] Yoder C., pp. 12-13.

[xxxv] Yoder C., p. 13.

[xxxvi] Herman, J. L., p. 94.

[xxxvii] For us at they were beasts with human face that can kill you at any moment.

[xxxviii]Volkan D. V., December 2005, Large-Group Identity And Chosen Trauma, Issue #6, Psychoanalysis Downunder,

[xxxix] Herman, J, L., p. 9

[xl]Volkan D. V., December 2005, Large-Group Identity And Chosen Trauma, Issue #6, Psychoanalysis Downunder,

[xli] Volkan V.D. and Itzkowitz N., Modern Greek and Turkish identities and the psychodynamics of Greek-Turkish relations, in Cultures under Siege, (2000), Ed. Robben A.C.G.M. and Suarez-Orozco M.M., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., p. 227

[xlii] Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, (12/09/1948), in Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly, Article 2 ,

[xliii] Yoder C., p. 21.


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