From Humanitarian Relief to Soviet Development”? The Rise and Fall of the Nansen” Resettlement Schemes

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:50 AM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Jo Laycock, Sheffield Hallam University
 Over the course of the First World War around 300,000 Armenian refugees had fled to the South Caucasus (Transcaucasia). By 1921 the region had fallen under Soviet rule, but a large scale Armenian refugee crisis continued both within the region and on an international scale. The task of managing Armenian displacement prompted complex, and ostensibly unlikely, co-operation between the USSR and international organizations. By 1924 Soviet authorities and the League of Nations were developing joint plans to resettle Armenian refugees from Greece, the Middle East and Europe on newly irrigated farmland in Soviet Armenia. Drawing on research conducted in the national archives of Georgia and Armenia and the archives of League of Nations High Commission for Refugees, this paper examines the emergence of these resettlement plans and the reasons for their eventual failure.

Paying attention to the evolution, development and consequences of these resettlement schemes highlights the need for a more nuanced approach to the place of the Soviet Union in histories of inter-war humanitarianism and the international management of displacement. This paper examines the extent to which these co-operative efforts represented a shift from existing short term approaches to solve the ‘Armenian problem’ through the provision of aid. Although the ultimate aims of the League and the USSR differed radically, they shared a willingness to instrumentalise the refugee population as a means to bring about economic and agricultural development. These approaches, I suggest, were shaped by shared legacies of imperialism and the emergence of a new, specifically modern relationship between states and populations. This paper therefore highlights both the connections and differences between Soviet practices in the South Caucasus and the transnational inter-war discourses and practices of humanitarianism.