Open Speakers Series Lecture by Meyda Yeğenoğlu: "Entanglement of Humanitarianism with Colonialism and Orientalism"

IASR/NSR Speakers Series, Fall 2019

Entanglement of Humanitarianism with Colonialism and Orientalism (rescheduled from 29.10.)
Professor Meyda Yeğenoğlu, IASR, Tampere University


This lecture examines numerous texts written during the period of Armenian genocide and
its aftermath by officials, politicians, ambassadors, relief workers, missionaries
and voluntary workers to unpack how the newly emerging quasi-scientific,
evidence-based and technocratic discourse of humanitarianism function as one of
the hegemonic narratives in the epistemic field of Armenian genocide. They
impose a certain way of speaking about the victim, sufferer, orphan and race,
religion, civilization, Christianity and Islam. The enhanced political,
diplomatic, missionary and philanthropic interests were instrumental in
transforming the Armenian issue into a knowable entity/object, predominantly treated
as an issue of minorities living outside the borders of Europe. Representation of
Armenia as the origin and cradle of civilization functioned as a prism through
which issues that pertain to the Ottoman Empire, Islam and the problems Christian
minorities experience under Muslim rule were raised. The humanitarian discourse
and practices of the period have created new forms of knowledge that were
radically different from the religiously motivated vernacular of the missionaries.
It was no longer sentimental, but technocratic, documentary via photographs and
eye-witness accounts. This quasi-scientific, ethnographic and institutionalized
narratives established a particular form of representation and common tropes
that cut across all these texts in addressing the issue of minority rights,
civilization, progress, customs and ways of life of different racial, religious
and cultural groups. The lecture aims to unpack the ideologies and categories
that operate in the narratives of humanitarianism as expressed in the
apparitions of universal humanitarian ideals, and show how these texts are
tinted and conditioned by European imperial concerns and Orientalist



Institute for Advanced Social Research, IASR

Further information

Marjukka Virkajärvi, marjukka.virkajarvi@tuni.fi, 050 318 6697