Print Capital, Corporate Identity, and the Democratization of Discourse in Early Modern Armenian History

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 11:30 AM
Harvard Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Peter S. Cowe , University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
The Armenian polity in the 16th century presents a dichotomy between the underdeveloped agricultural population in Anatolia and Southern Caucasia and a merchant middle class dispersion across Eurasia integrated into the world economy. Stateless and largely acentric, these two spheres were loosely connected by an independent church. This paper examines four contrasting initiatives to create an enhanced collective structure for Armenians over this period, two conservative approaches emanating from the first sphere counterbalanced by two modernizing projects from the second, highlighting the era as one of powerful yet uneven transition for Armenian society and neatly identifying the engines for change as those more fully representative at the micro level of the pattern of global developments. The first is the anachronistic attempt by the aristocracy to regain the homeland by appeal to the pope and European powers to intervene through the outmoded concept of Crusade. The other three recognize the need to engage the dispersed community in dialogue through the modern medium of the press, thereby creating an incipient form of civil society in which capital, technology, and the middle class prevail over land tenure and lineage. The first represents a campaign by the church to reinforce the status accorded it by Islamic jurisprudence in the Ottoman and Safavid empires envisaging Armenians as a non-state confession under hierarchical jurisdiction. The other two projects articulate almost simultaneously in the second half of the 18th century two models of nationalism categorically and temporally distinguished in Anthony Smith's Eastern and Western typology, one emphasizing shared history, language, and culture with European Catholic affinities, while the other elaborates a program of common legal and institutional frameworks affiliated with Anglo-Saxon Protestant milieus. As a result, the print medium both 'globalizes' the debate and hastens the evolution of a fuller nationalist program in the 19th century.
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