Imperial Russia’s Humanitarianism and the Armenian Refugees, 1914–17

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:30 AM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Asya Darbinyan, Clark University
While Russian and Ottoman imperial troops fought on the Caucasus front of World War I, hundreds of thousands of Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire were targeted by Turkish authorities as a potential “strategic threat.” Justifying their actions as a military necessity, Ottomans massacred the Armenians or deported them to the deserts of Mesopotamia. Those who did not fall victim became refugees on the Russian-Ottoman frontline. In my paper, I explore the situation of Armenian refugees on the Caucasus front of the Great War, and trace the actions taken on behalf of them by Russian authorities. 

Who was considered a ‘refugee’ in 1915? What rights and privileges were refugees accorded in the Russia Empire? And what motivated the Russian authorities, both civil and military, to engage with the problem of Armenian refugees? Russia’s main goal at that point was to win the war. Thus, in certain instances war politics or imperial interests of the state trumped humanitarian concerns. Was the Russian relief work for Armenian refugees humanitarianism or was it part of a larger imperial or colonization project? Or did these agendas overlap? Besides, to what extent were policies of Russian authorities towards Armenians general rather than specific policies? 

Drawing upon materials in military and historical archives in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as in the Armenian National Archives in Yerevan, I address these questions in my paper to elucidate the complexity of Russian humanitarianism during the Great War, and shed new light on the meaning and nature of humanitarianism in the beginning of the 20th century. Exploring these sources from Russian archives for the first time, my paper contributes to this understudied aspect of Genocide and Refugee Studies, and World History in general.

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