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Whitman College

Curriculum Vitae


The tattoos worn by women Armenian Genocide survivors have been portrayed as marks of shame, as visual evidence of violation at the hands of the “savage” Turk. Survivor memoirs often refer to these tattoos as stains or physical disfigurement, but not without some ambivalence. Many accounts concede that tattoos also served to conceal Armenians among Arabs, Turks, and Kurds. This project investigates survivor memoirs and compares them with narratives documented immediately upon rescue by League of Nations and American Near East relief. Memoirs, especially those written by women, served the dual purpose testifying to the Armenian Genocide and mobilizing emerging modern humanitarianism framed in civilizational terms as rescuing Christians from savage Muslims during the Armenian Genocide (1915-1923). Memoirs and film worked to mobilize the international community and newly-formed League of Nations around the issue of “trafficked women,” which conjured memories of nineteenth century discourse on white slavery in the Ottoman Empire. Pairing archival documents, memoirs, and contemporary oral histories conducted with Islamized Armenians from Syria and Turkey from 2008-present, this study treats women’s bodies as “hidden texts” through which we can understand the gendered dimensions of the Armenian Genocide.

Elyse Semerdjian is Associate Professor of Islamic World/Middle Eastern History at Whitman College. She received her Ph.D. in History from Georgetown University. A specialist in the history of the Ottoman Empire and Syria, she authored “Off the Straight Path”: Illicit Sex, Law, and Community in Ottoman Aleppo (Syracuse University Press, 2008) as well as several articles on the topics of gender, social history, Muslim/non-Muslim relations, Armenian history, and law in the Ottoman Empire. Some recent publications include “Armenian Women, Legal Bargaining, and Gendered Politics of Conversion in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Aleppo,” Journal of Middle Eastern Women’s Studies, “Sexing the Hammam: Discourses on Gender and Sexuality in the Ottoman Bathhouse,” in Gender and Sexuality in Muslim Cultures, ed. Gul Ozyegin (London: Ashgate, 2015), and “Naked Anxiety: Bathhouses, Nudity, and Muslim/non-Muslim Relations in Eighteenth-Century Aleppo,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 45:4 (November 2013). She is currently writing a book entitled Remnants: Gender, Islamized Armenians, and Collective Memory of the Armenian Genocide.

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