Empires, Nations, Bodies: New Approaches to the Armenian Genocide

AHA Session 210
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Melanie Tanielian, University of Michigan
Eric D. Weitz, City College of New York

Session Abstract

Over the last decade scholarship on the Armenian Genocide has broadened and diversified, moving beyond a quest to find ‘proof’ that the fate of the Ottoman Armenians constituted genocide to a more nuanced consideration of causes, experiences and aftermaths. At the same time there has been shift from viewing the Genocide and its aftermaths as confined to the field of ‘Armenian history’ to an exploration of the potential of the Armenian case to illuminate wider questions in modern history – from emerging transnational histories of the First World War to histories of imperial collapse and the rise of nation states in the European borderlands to questions of the remembrance and representation of mass violence.

 Our panel engages with an emerging but still small body of research addressing responses to Armenian displacement during and in the aftermath of the Genocide, situating the Armenian case within the growing field of the history of humanitarianism and international history. Keith Watenpaugh has already argued that the post-genocide relief of Armenian refugees in the Middle East represents ‘a critical moment in the definition of international humanitarianism.’ Our panel builds on this perspective by shifting the geographical focus from the Middle East and addressing to different sites of Armenian displacement and relief, adopting an explicitly transnational approach. Addressing interventions on behalf of the Armenians in both the Russian and Ottoman Empires and their successor states the panel integrates two historiographies which are usually addressed in isolation.

 The first paper addresses the neglected history of Russian imperial humanitarian responses to displaced Armenians on the Caucasus front, the second medical relief work amongst refugees in Kharput, Central Anatolia, by the American missionary Ruth Parmalee. The third addresses the longer term consequences of displacement, focusing on the League of Nations’ ‘Nansen’ schemes to resettle Armenians in the Soviet Republic of Armenia.

 As a whole, this panel will provide a forum for dialogue between senior and mid-career scholars, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students based at the UK and in the USA and will be of particular relevance to scholars of genocide and mass violence, the First World War its aftermaths as well as to hisorians of displacement and humanitarianism. The three papers, based on ongoing and original work in a range of international archives, speak directly to the theme of the conference, ‘linking levels of experience’. They highlight the interplay between the practices and ‘population policies’ of states and empires, international organisations and humanitarian agencies and smaller-scale activities of individual relief workers. Together the papers examine the nature of these interventions and the ways in which they were shaped by discourses of nationalism, imperialism and religion as well by strategic wartime concerns and shifting geopolitical circumstances. They also however address the reception of these various interventions, considering their impact on communities and individuals and the local responses that they engendered.

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