Year of Publication

2021

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department/School/Program

Anthropology

First Advisor

Dr. Diane E. King

Abstract

This project contributes to anthropologies of the state, (diasporic return) migration, belonging, home, and conflict, including genocide and war. It intervenes in the anthropology of home by focusing on both the social and physical aspects of home, its pain, joys, and ironies, and it speaks to the anthropology of genocide by showing how a population a century removed from a genocide uses it to interpret their experience. This dissertation also deals with state constructions of ideal citizen formation--one of obligation and devotion to the socially constructed ancestral homeland, where descendants who share an ethnic identity have a role to play to strengthen the state, as well as the perceived obligation of ancestral states to diasporic populations. I refer to states who use “pull” dynamics, such as repatriation campaigns, as “beckoning states.”

This dissertation is about a conflict between state discourses of repatriation and collective memory of the Armenian genocide in the socially and physically constructed homeland, the Republic of Armenia, and individual memories of a nostalgically constructed home in Syria from which Syrian Armenian women were forced to flee during the Syrian conflict. My primary argument is that state constructions of home and belonging which rely on collective memory of the Armenian genocide, collide with Syrian Armenian women’s individual memories of an experiential home crafted in Syria over the course of five generations since the Armenian genocide. Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, approximately 20,000 Syrian citizens of ethnic Armenian descent fled to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, enticed by the host state with promises of citizenship. Interested potential citizens must provide “proof” of Armenian ethnicity. Despite its small population size, compared to other countries to which Syrian refuge-seekers have fled, Armenia has become one of the highest receiving countries of Syrian refuge-seekers per capita. However, long-term integration of refuge-seekers by the host Armenian community raises compelling issues about exclusion and inclusion. Roughly one hundred years after the Armenian genocide, Syrian Armenian women fleeing Syria traveled similar paths through historic Western Armenia (now eastern and southeastern Turkey) as their ancestors once had during the genocide, albeit in reverse (Syria through Turkey to Armenia in 2012-2016; Western Armenia/present-day Turkey to Syria in 1915-1922). Decisions to select certain legal statuses are moralized by some members of the host community-- “good” Syrian Armenians are those who stay and socially, and more importantly economically, contribute to the socially constructed homeland, the Republic of Armenia. “Good” Syrian Armenians become citizens. “Bad” Syrian Armenians are moralized as those who leave after a short period in Armenia and are perceived as taking advantage of Armenia’s benefits for refugees. A secondary home was constructed over five generations of descendants of Armenian genocide survivors who had fled to Syria. The term “ironic home” refers to the fact that Syria was simultaneously a site of refuge for genocide survivors and immense trauma, where many Armenians were forcibly displaced and killed.

The Armenian state’s instrumentalization of memories of the 1915 Armenian genocide to create new ethnic Armenian citizens through calls for repatriation and nation-building conflicts with many interlocutors’ nostalgia for Syria. State narratives specifically targeted Syrian Armenian migrant women in Armenia, depicting them as potential citizens and contributing members of society through an emphasis on their economic contributions to the state. The theme of preferential citizens-to-be is further encapsulated by what has been referred to by one interlocutor as the Syrian Armenian “brand.” This refers to state efforts and humanitarian marketing referencing Syrian Armenian migrants in Armenia. While not an official legal category used to refer to refuge-seekers in Armenia, the Syrian Armenian “brand” nonetheless helps to explain why certain barriers to socioeconomic integration exist for Syrian Armenian migrant women in Armenia. Gender dynamics, specifically gendered participation in the paid labor force, have changed significantly among ethnic Armenian women from Syria after migration to Armenia. Middle to upper class ethnic Armenian women in Syria were generally able to rely on their spouse’s salary to provide for the family, as well as for entertainment purposes and did not have to work. Some women ran their own businesses in Syria or occupied high-status jobs, such as doctors and pharmacists. In Armenia, however, Syrian Armenian women are compelled to work to help support their families. Many Syrian Armenian migrant women were shocked and disappointed that it was challenging to find work in Armenia. They were looking forward to promises of security, which they were mostly granted in Armenia. In Syria, there was the threat of disruptions to physical security, but there was a sense of socioeconomic protection. In Armenia, most women I interviewed felt that they were physically safer but were more insecure financially and did not have a strong social network outside of the Syrian Armenian community in Yerevan. This dissertation is about collective and individual memories, nostalgia, manipulative statecraft, and various actors--migrant women, state and non-state employees, Syria and Armenia. My research focuses on paradoxes, layers (history, actors, data), and the messiness of states and NGOs as it relates to the integration of migrant women within a host community/socially constructed homeland.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2021.218

Funding Information

This study was supported by the Fulbright Association (Student Research Award for Armenia), 2018-2019, the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (2019), the Donald P. Cliggett International Travel Research Fund through the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky (2019), and the Susan Abbott Jamieson Award through the University of Kentucky (2017).

Available for download on Wednesday, June 15, 2022

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