Comparative Studies in Society and History

Research Article

A Climate for Abduction, a Climate for Redemption: The Politics of Inclusion during and after the Armenian Genocide

Lerna Ekmekcioglu 

History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


This article explores a forcible, wartime transfer of women and minors from one ethnic group to another, and its partial reversal after the war. I analyze the historical conditions that enabled the original transfer, and then the circumstances that shaped the reverse transfer. The setting is Istanbul during and immediately after World War I, and the protagonists are various influential agents connected to the Ottoman Turkish state and to the Armenian Patriarchate. The absence and subsequent involvement of European Great Powers determines the broader, shifting context. The narrative follows the bodies of women and children, who were the subjects of the protagonists' discourses and the objects of their policies. This is the first in-depth study to connect these two processes involved: the wartime integration of Armenian women and children into Muslim settings, and postwar Armenian attempts to rescue, reintegrate, and redistribute them. I explain why and how the Armenian vorpahavak (gathering of orphans and widows) worked as it did, and situate it comparatively with similar events. I highlight its uniqueness, and the theoretical possibilities that it offers toward understanding why and how women, children, and reproduction matter to collectivities in crisis.



  I am grateful to Hourig Attarian, Melissa Bilal, Leslie Peirce, Elizabeth Frierson, Molly Nolan, Fatma Müge Göçek, Ronald G. Suny, Gerard Libaridian, Laura Levine, Shane Minkin, Nora Nercessian, Vartan Matiossian, Marc Mamigonian, and my colleagues at MIT for reading or listening to parts of this work at different stages. I thank Vahé Tachjian for sharing primary sources, CSSH Managing Editor David Akin for his meticulous work and patience, and the anonymous CSSH reviewers for their valuable feedback. All translations from Turkish and Armenian are my own.