Gendered Bodies in a Time of Crisis: Sexuality, Reproduction, and Armenian Nationhood in the American Mission in Kharput, 1914–22

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 11:10 AM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Francesca Piana, Binghamton University, State University of New York
The aim of this contribution is to investigate how bodies, and the silences around these bodies, were constructed in medical missionary practice, as well as how these bodies became the embodiment of the Armenian nation. Over eight years, Dr. Ruth Azniv Parmelee, a young American missionary, provided medical relief to the women and children of the Armenian community of Kharput, situated in Central Anatolia. Parmelee had been appointed to this position on the basis of her medical degree, the recognized status of her missionary family, and her gender: as a woman she was supposed to work with Armenian women. The “encounter” between Parmelee’s professional, yet gendered, body and the bodies of her patients’ occurred at the intersection of Western and “native” medicine, religion, ethnicity, and personal status. While Parmelee criticized the ignorance of local midwifes, the latter could not understand how a woman who had never personally experienced pregnancy could be an obstetrician. However, the tone and content of these “encounters” seems to have dramatically changed as a result of the genocide. In coincidence with and after the extermination, forced marches, and rapes of Ottoman Armenian women, Parmelee’s work intensified in its urgency and in the number of patients that she treated. Interestingly, in her discourse as a medical missionary doctor as well as in the words used by the organization that she worked for, the Near East Relief, the bodies of Armenian women became clear signifiers of Armenian survival and nationhood. Through the use of archival sources, this contribution shows that faced with the uncertainty of the Armenian National project, rehabilitated bodies represented a first step towards social justice and resilience.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation