“Roses remind me of Aleppo”: Memories, Strategies, and Aspirations of Ethnic Armenian Women from Syria in Yerevan, Armenia

Speaker:  Anahid Matossian, M.S., Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky

Date & Time: 11:00-13:00, 31 of July, 2019

Location: Eurasia International University, 4th floor, Room 419, Yerevan, Armenia

Language: English with Armenian consecutive interpretation

Since the start of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, thousands of Syrians have been displaced all over the world. Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, has become a significant destination for approximately 14,000 Syrian citizens of Armenian descent (categorized as refugees, asylum seekers, and persons in refugee-like situations) who have been seeking refuge from armed conflict and protracted cultural, economic, and political turmoil in Syria. The Armenian state regards itself as a rightful home for ethnic Armenians, and vigorously seeks to attract Armenians from other locations to come “home.” The decisions of ethnic Armenians from Syria to seek refuge and legal status (mostly Armenian citizenship) in Armenia raise compelling questions about the role of the Armenian state in setting parameters of cultural and political belonging, and how the state conceptualizes and communicates an ethno-religious destination of “home.” This is evidenced by the mere terminology UNHCR employs to describe the Syrian Armenian population in Armenia as being in a “refugee-like” situation, indicating that many Syrian Armenians dislike the “refugee label” because it does not accurately describe their situation (since many have acquired Armenian citizenship even before coming to Armenia). Syrian Armenian women (SAW) in particular have undergone unique transitions, from largely being housewives in Syria to engaging in charity service and volunteer organizations in Yerevan and establishing small businesses, ranging from tour agencies to cake baking to selling traditional embroidery. Accordingly, my main research question is: in what ways is the home-making of displaced women impacted by impelled migration, settlement, changing gender dynamics, and by a somewhat tenuously shared ethno-religious identity with the host state? Drawing upon 14.5 months of ethnographic fieldwork primarily in Yerevan, as well as smaller trips to Berlin and Istanbul, this talk will examine how Syrian refuge-seeking women, particularly Syrian Armenian women, have grappled with making a “home” in the perceived ancestral homeland, while maintaining ties to Syrian communities in their respective country of birth and integration in the host state, also viewed as an ethnic homeland, Armenia. I argue that gendered dynamics of forced migration and resettlement, such as through practices that I call “home-making,” are not always positively impacted by a shared ethno-religious identity with the host state. Furthermore, “home-making” is a complex process not only for Syrian Armenian women, but also for NGO and government staff and partners as well as members of the local population.

The speaker, Anahid Matossian, is an Armenian American Ph.D. Candidate in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. This past year, she was a recipient of a U.S. Fulbright Student Research Award (2018-2019), spending 9 months in Yerevan with UNHCR as her host institution, and is currently finishing dissertation fieldwork in Yerevan with help from the University of Kentucky Cliggett Award and the Graduate/Postdoctoral Fellowship from the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC).

Funding for this grant opportunity is paid in part by private donations. This lecture is sponsored by the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC) and hosted by the Eurasia International University in Yerevan.

ARISC does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, physical or mental disability, medical condition, ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, or status as a covered veteran with respect to membership, rights, privileges, programs or activities of ARISC.