Local Belongings, (Trans-)Imperial Networks, non-State Actors: Armenian Homeland Associations in the Late Ottoman Empire and Beyond

By Yasar Tolga Cora
Submitted to Session P4831 (Circulation and Migration: Armenian Migrants in the Ottoman Empire and Beyond, 2017 Annual Meeting
All Middle East; Anatolia; Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Through examining homeland associations of Armenian migrants, this paper aims to bring new perspectives on our understanding of the spatial dimension of the Armenian ethno-religious community (millet), by questioning the unchanging and stable character historians attribute to it in their analysis of the late Ottoman Empire. This paper argues that millet was not the only organization that held the members of the Armenian community together. Neither had it triumphed over other forms of social bonds between the members of the community, such as class, gender or sharing a place of origin.
The paper examines the sharing of origins from the same homeland as one of the most persistent forms of belonging that held members of local Armenian communities in Anatolia together, and considers its most tangible form, namely migrants’ home land associations which were established by Armenian migrants (bantoukhd) throughout the empire. By examining the networks of these associations from the second half of the nineteenth century to the post-Genocide period, the paper will show the ways in which bonds based on sharing local ties were interconnected with but different from the supra-local Armenian millet. The persistence of local ties and the links they have with the imperial, on the other hand, will also lead us to rethink the meta narratives of the modernization and centralization of the empire as a top-down Istanbul centered and European inspired projects. The homeland associations therefore show that the modernization of the empire was multilocal and multicentered to a great extent.

The paper uses surveys of Armenian Cultural Associations and local memory-books (houshamadyans) and Ottoman Turkish sources to examine around 100 of the Armenian migrants’ homeland associations which were established in Istanbul and other cities of the empire in the second half of nineteenth century onward. These associations formed transcultural networks as defined in migration studies, facilitated travel of economic, social and cultural capital, functioning between a mono-ethnic Armenian village in the sending community in the East and the multiethnic urban center, like Istanbul. The paper therefore will also contribute to the studies that examine the impact of transnational networks of migrants and immigrants, and highlight the agency of non-state actors in the societal change in the Middle East.