War, Orphanages, and Print Media: Gendering and Nationalizing Orphan Boys in the Late Ottoman Konya during the First World War (1914-1918)

By Tugce Kayaal
Submitted to Session P4892 (Children, Youth, and Media in Middle Eastern Conflict Zones, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
Ottoman Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper analyzes the genderization and nationalization of orphan boys on the Ottoman provincial home front during the First World War by comparing the representation of war orphans in print media and their daily lives in the government-sponsored orphanages in Konya. This paper does so to answer two questions. First, “how did the state-sponsored orphanages and print media of the time function in gendering and nationalizing orphan boys?” Second, “how did the treatment of the orphan boys by orphanage administrators contradict the ideals for raising and educating these children, as represented in print media, and in what ways did children respond to their traumatic experiences inside the orphanage?” Between 1914 and 1918, displaced and orphaned children coming from different ethnoreligious backgrounds constituted a large proportion of the local population in the strategically significant geographical setting of the Ottoman provincial home front. Among these, orphans who had been driven out of their hometowns in the Balkans as the Ottoman state lost its territories to Bulgaria in 1913 and those who had survived the Armenian Genocide in 1915 were moved to Konya. The Ottoman intellectuals advocated the reorganization of Ottoman society according to the state’s wartime needs along the ideals of Turkish nationalism through print media. War orphans became the main targets of this elite project as citizens in potentia, who could pose a threat to social stability if they were not provided with the right form of guidance. Although orphan boys were described with heroic and masculine features in the wartime newspapers, the sexual abuse and violence children received inside the orphanages violated this ideal image. I argue that certain controversies existed between the representation of orphanhood in the wartime local media and the real-life experiences of war orphans. Although the elites attempted to cultivate ideal citizens out of orphan boys by appropriating the meanings of gender and national belonging for orphans through newspaper accounts, the traumatic experiences of children on the home front contradicted these ideals. This paper analyzes this dichotomy through the Ottoman police records, which include testimonies from orphan boys who were sexually harassed and physically abused by the administrators of Konya’s local orphanage, together with local newspapers published during wartime, thereby shedding light on the impacts of war on the experiences of orphan boys and the ways in which these experiences failed the elites’ attempts to construct ideal boyhood as a part of their nationalist project.