Armenian Doctors and the Medicalization of the Nation after the Genocide

By Hratch Kestenian
Submitted to Session P5218 (Disease, Famine, and Guilt: Environmental Legacies of World War I, 2018 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
Armenian Studies; Gender/Women's Studies; Health; History of Medicine; Middle East/Near East Studies; Nationalism;
LCD Projector without Audio;
During the First World War, Ottoman-Armenian medical professionals played a strategic role in saving lives. Armenian nurses and doctors attended soldiers, but most importantly helped deportees in surviving the genocide. Both war and genocide created the environmental crises threatening the policies and projects of the Ottoman Empire. The historiography of the region and period has described the Armenian doctors, nurses and pharmacists as passive and depressed actors. In my opinion, they were the opposite. Their profession gave them power and allowed them to negotiate and compromise with officials. This power provided the Armenian medical personnel with agency in deciding their future, the future of their compatriots and overcoming the genocidal procedures. After the war, these doctors remained powerful and exercised their power on a more national level. Through their function, as official experts and practitioners of social technology, they achieved prestige and respect within society.
In this paper, I will argue that through the professionalization of medicine the Armenian community became highly medicalized during the post-war period. During this period, and until the advent of the Turkish Republic, Armenian medical journals such as, Hay Puzhag (Armenian Healer), and Tarman (Remedy) played prominent roles in describing the socio-medical problems of the community. These journals propagated a new discourse of domesticity and created medical authority. As such, doctors viewed themselves as healers of both individual and national bodies. They penetrated the productive and reproductive spheres of society, and tried to shape the behavior of the common people through medicine. With this new authoritative language, they instructed women in general and mothers in particular in their own medical projects in order to revive the nation. According to this discourse, Armenian women were given a specific role in saving the nation from degeneration. While rape victims were encouraged to be reintegrated back to the community, other women lost their independence over their bodies. Therefore, doctors not only medicalized concepts such as abortion, procreation, cleanliness, and hygiene, but also politicized them for the sake of rebuilding the nation.