Double Victimization: Armenian Women in the Armenian Genocide

By Alya Alkhajeh


The Armenian genocide was the systematic killing of thousands to millions of Armenian men and boys by the Ottoman-Turkish forces. Along with the forced deportation of Armenian women and children to the Ottoman-Turkish community between 1915-1917 (Akçam, 2012). Randall explains that prior to the genocide, the Armenian population operated under the Ottoman Empire’s rule; however, their own cultural practices were maintained, this was not an issue until 1915. He further proclaims that World War 1 opened doors for weakened ties within the Ottoman Empire (Randall, 2015). Hence, as a means of maintaining its power and solidarity, the Ottoman Empire needed to expand, and this goal was achieved at the expense of the Armenians (Randall, 2015). According to Kurt, the Ottoman-Turkish forces attacked Armenia in 1915 with a transformative agenda that occurred throughout two phases (2016). The first phase dealt with destructing the Armenian community and preventing its perpetuation, whereas the second phase focused on constructing new identities (Kurt, 2016). 

Scholars of gender studies refer to the Armenian genocide as “gendercide,” implying the significant extent to which Armenian women were mostly under the risk of violence (Herzog, 2009). Harrelson claims that the Turkish forces used sexual violence as a form of ethnic cleansing during the genocide (2009). They began by massacring Armenian men and boys and then deporting Armenian women and girls to the Turkish Empire (Harrelson, 2009). Through the deportation journey, Turkish elites inflicted various forms of sexual violence on Armenian women and girls (Derdarian, 2005). Derderian claims the violence was imposed to emasculate Armenian men and capture Armenian women for reproduction (2005). Armenian females suffered from genocidal rape, sexual enslavement, and forced assimilation, which were all strategies adopted by the Turkish elites to develop their nation (Derderian, 2005). Through sexual exploitation and forced conversions, Turkish elites weakened the Armenian identity and produced new Muslim-Turkish identities (Kurt, 2016). According to Kurt, this cultural and religious transformation process is called “Turkification” and “Islamization” (2016).

After years of struggle under Turkish rule, in 1917, the Armenian leadership attempted to reform their destroyed community (Derderian, 2005). Their goal was to gather all Armenian survivors that were forcibly deported to the Turkish community during the genocide and bring them back to Armenia (Derderian, 2005). Unfortunately, the atrocious war wiped out the majority of the Armenian population settling in Turkish homes during the war, where the Armenian elites managed to return only 10% of their survivors (Tachjian, 2014). Tachjian claims that the Armenian leadership predicted a smooth integration process of their survivors during the nation’s reformation; however, it proved to be a challenge because of the different lives women pursued post-genocide (2014). 

The Armenian elites believed that the surviving Armenian women had dishonored their community when deported to the Ottoman Empire and no longer represented the ideal Armenian women (Tachjian, 2014). As noted by Tachjian, feminist scholars argue that these women were brave for finding survival techniques and managing to secure life after the war (2014). In contrast, he claims that the Armenian nation felt disgraced and blamed the women for identifying with their rivals (2014). For that reason, women were denied entry at first and only began to return slowly when the Armenian leadership realized that they were essential to the nation’s rebirth since they were needed to reproduce nationalist Armenian citizens (Ekmekçioğlu, 2013).

The Turkish forces victimized Armenian women through genocidal rape, sexual enslavement, and forced assimilation. The Armenian leadership failed to acknowledge that their women were victims of Turk treachery and instead accused them of breaking Armenia’s cultural norms. The Armenian women had to face social ostracization due to consistent allegations of hindering the re-establishing process of their country. They were accused of losing the Armenian identity and no longer truly representing the ideal Armenian woman. As a result of these accusations, it was perceived that the Armenian nation could not develop as quickly as it desired. Therefore, this research paper investigates (i) the Armenian women’s victimization at the Turks’ hands and (ii) how this led to them being accused by the Armenians for slowing down the Armenian community’s reformation in 1917. 

Many wars took place in the 1900s, and the Armenian nation was the first to deteriorate under the Ottoman-Turkish rule between 1915-1917 (Winter, 2003). According to Winter (2003), an estimated 1 million people were killed during the Armenian genocide. Many authors, including Ronald Suny, examined the varied explanations for the occurrence of the Armenian genocide and concluded that the dominant narrative was the weakening of the Ottoman Empire at the height of the first World War (2015). Winter claims that the Russians attacked the Ottoman-Turks during World War 1 (WW1), and the Turkish forces attempted to regain power and control over their empire by regulating their population (2003). The Ottoman Empire was ethnically divided, and the Armenians accounted for approximately 2 million of the empire’s total population (Kurt, 2016). Winter states that the Turkish elites accused the Armenian population of being loyal to the Russians and suspected Armenian efforts to support the Russians in undermining the Ottoman Empire (2003). To preserve the Muslim-Turkish national identity, the Turkish elites aimed to homogenize their empire and exterminate groups threatening their nation’s solidarity, i.e., the Armenians (Winter, 2003). Suny notes that the Ottoman-Turks succeeded in their attack due to asymmetric power, and subsequently, Armenia experienced the darkest times in its history (2015).

Suny notes that pro-Turk scholars deny certain aspects of the genocide or reject its occurrence entirely, claiming it was more of a civil war than a genocide (2015). In his book “What is Genocide?” Martin Shaw highlighted Raphael’s definition of genocide and how it was recognized as a crime against humanity in international law because of Lemkin’s efforts (2015). Shaw stated that the term genocide refers to the mass killing of an entire ethnic group and the deportation of surviving individuals. He also emphasizes that genocide is typically carried out to transform an entire community and homogenize another (2015). Pro-Armenian scholars like Kurt argue that this pattern was apparent in the Armenian genocide. He notes that the Ottoman-Turks’ attack was intended to eradicate the Armenian population and homogenize the Muslim-Turkish community (2016). Kurt and many scholars like him claim that the Ottoman Empire’s homogenization was a two-way process called Islamization and Turkification, which referred to the transformation of the Armenian identity religiously and culturally during the genocide (2016). Kurt states that the Islamization procedure represented the forced Islamic conversions and took form through an Islamic judge or a conversion office, followed by a new Muslim name. Additionally, he notes that the Turkification process was conducted through Turkish cultural classes and forced marriages (2016). These two processes combined were necessary to ensure a legitimate conversion and preservation of the Turkish national identity (Kurt, 2016).  

“Gendercide” is derived from the term “genocide”; however, the prefix “gender” implies that the killings are targeted towards a specific gender, typically women and girls (2009). According to Herzog, the Armenian genocide can be identified as a gendercide due to Ottoman-Turkish forces targeting Armenian women and girls, and rape used a weapon of war against them (Herzog, 2009). Randall states that scholars of rape and sexual assault claim that rape has various definitions depending on the assaulter’s intentions. She mentions that some believe rape happens due to the perpetrator’s sexual attraction or the desire to fuel their ego by dominating the victim (2015). However, many scholars, including Katharine Derderian, claim that rape is an unlawful sexual act that can be used as a tool to terrorize, dehumanize, and humiliate an individual or community (2005). Gzoyan and Galustyan stated that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has extensively elaborated on rape as a technique of genocide (2021). It considers it equivalent to, if not even more potent than traditional weapons of war because it disrupts a given ethnic group’s solidarity, weakens its national identity, and violates the rights of victims involved (Gzoyan & Galustyan, 2021). As such, Harrelson notes that rape claims a unique position in international law, where it is legally recognized as a destructive weapon of war used to eradicate or perpetuate populations (2009). It has revolutionized the way genocides are conducted and is officially termed “genocidal rape” (Harrelson, 2009). Examples of conflict-related sexual violence like rape can be traced back to 420 b.c.e and can even be depicted in modern history (Burn, 2005). For instance, in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, 250,000 to 500,000 Tutsi women were raped by Hutu men (Burn, 2005). Burn claims that conflict-related sexual violence has been overlooked for many years. She believes that its recent recognition in international law has been life-changing for many surviving victims of rape and urges the remembrance of the lost lives to sexual violence (2005). 

Feminist scholars commonly agree that genocidal rape is a crime against humanity and a violation of women’s and girls’ rights (Turpin,1998). However, Turpin claims that in terms of prostitution and forced marriages, feminist scholars have conflicting views (1998). Some believe prostitution and forced marriage are highly exploitative, while others argue that they are survival strategies, adopted to secure a living in post-conflict periods (Turpin, 1998). Turpin notes that 46 million people were displaced in the 20th century beginning from the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905 up to the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The author claims that women and girls accounted for approximately 36 million of these displaced individuals. She further notes that due to the gendered dynamics of war, men die on the battlefield, and women remain without protection or security; hence recovering from the post-conflict trauma solely becomes a tough act (1998). In such scenarios, Phoenix argues that prostitution and forced marriage becomes a method of recovery from war to overcome poverty (1999). Apart from it being economically driven, Tachjian claims that military bases can enforce prostitution and forced marriages during conflict. He argues that women are coerced to join brothels and forcibly marry for political and social reasons (2014). Feminist scholars affirming this view argue that prostitution and forced marriages become opportunistic during conflicts since soldiers take advantage of the governmental instability during war and sexually abuse women without facing allegations for their criminal actions (Tachjian, 2014). While other feminists believe that women are brave for finding survival techniques to overcome the burdening consequences of war and choosing to integrate themselves into new communities to attain shelter and protection for themselves and their children (Tachjian, 2014).

This paper is a critical gendered analysis of the Armenian genocide. The analysis presented in this paper is based on evidence gathered from both primary and secondary sources. The paper includes mentions of several eyewitness accounts and diplomatic reports highlighting the injustice done towards Armenian women during the genocide. Furthermore, secondary evidence has also been used to strengthen the arguments. Literary sources were critical in providing evidence of victimization at the hands of both the Turks and Armenians. A possible limitation to the outcome of this paper would be the lack of sufficient information on the Armenian government’s position towards surviving women during the country’s reformation. This issue can only be address by accessing the Armenian archives since the government has not disclosed much information in this regard.

Genocidal Rape

Scholars like Herzog recognize the Armenian genocide as a gendercide because of how it was conducted (2009). Peroomian notes that the Turks were strategic with their attack and did not kill people arbitrarily. She claims that the initial stages of the genocide involved the attacks of men and boys first and then the assault of women and girls through different forms of violence, demonstrating the gendered aspect of the genocide (2009). In terms of violence against women and girls, genocidal rape was one of the most prominent features of the Armenian genocide since it was used as a tool for ethnic cleansing and cultural perpetuation (Herzog, 2009).  Derderian states that the Turk’s rape of Armenian women and girls took place on a large scale to where it was considered “genocidal rape.” She also notes that Ottoman-Turkish forces maintained the Armenian community’s inferiority by raping Armenian women and girls collectively and individually in their family’s and relatives’ presence (2005). Their rape was a means of dehumanizing, terrorizing, and humiliating the Armenian population (Derderian, 2005). According to Harrelson’s (2009) research, the US Ambassador to Turkey between 1913-1916, Henry Morgenthau, claimed that the Turkish leadership ensured that the Armenians were defenseless before attacking them. Morgenthau states that the Turkish forces unarmed the Armenian combatants, mutilated, and killed them. However, he claims that the war’s effects were far more detrimental to Armenian women than men because men endured shorter sufferings due to quick death. In contrast, he argues that women continued to suffer after the war as the rapes continued even during deportations to ensure compliance with the Turkish authority’s rules and commands (Harrelson, 2009).

Randall notes that the Ottoman Empire was weakening during WW1, and the Turkish authorities had to take immediate action to save their nation, where their response to the effects of the war took place at the expense of the Armenian people, specifically the women and girls (2015). According to Harrelson, rape proved to be the most efficient destructive weapon used by Turkish forces in the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians (2009). Morgenthau claims that the Turkish authority’s rapes were not intended to harm the Armenian women directly; instead, it was executed to help achieve the Turk’s primary goal of undermining Armenian men’s power and self-identity (Harrelson, 2009). Derderian states that based on Armenia’s patriarchal ideals, women and girls were considered men’s property; hence, it becomes the father, brother, and husband’s duty to protect their women and girls in all circumstances. She argues that the rape of Armenian women was a mechanism to emasculate and punish the Armenian men by disrupting their masculine duties in protecting their women during the conflict (2005). Therefore, the Armenian men were depicted as weak and powerless for not performing their basic responsibility as “men” (Derderian, 2005). The Turkish leadership perpetrated sexual violence against women and girls and ordered it to be conducted publicly to increase the terror and intimidation among the Armenian population, specifically the men (Herzog, 2009). An anonymous Armenian survivor notes that Armenian men quit fighting the Turkish army at a certain point during the genocide because the more they attacked, the greater the harm inflicted on the Armenian women by Turkish gendarmes (Derderian, 2005). Most prominently, Turkish gendarmes exacerbated the sexual assault on Armenian women, which weakened the women and hindered the ability of the Armenian men to protect their women against these assaults (Derderian, 2005). 

According to Ekmekçioğlu, the emasculation and killing of Armenian men were the destructive components of the Armenian genocide; the constructive aspects were the biological reproduction and identity formation achieved through the rape of Armenian women by the Turkish gendarmes (2015). The Turkish authority aimed to eradicate the Armenian community and hinder its development by preventing reproduction between Armenian males and females (Randall, 2015). Instead, they promoted Turkish identity by targeting Armenian women and subjecting them to genocidal rape (Randall, 2015). Ekmekçioğlu states that even before the genocide took place, there were strict rules prevalent in the Ottoman empire that barred Armenian men from marrying foreign women; however, no such restrictions were imposed on Armenian women. She states that these rules were established to preserve the Turkish national identity (2015). Based on patriarchal logic, children acquire citizenship through the paternal line, which means that Armenian women raped and impregnated by Turkish men carry Turkish children (Harrelson, 2009). According to Randall, these forced impregnations had long-lasting consequences on Armenian women since they were expected to give birth to Turkish children and integrate themselves entirely into the Turkish community to become Turkish national citizens and abandon their Armenian identity (2015). Herzog notes that the process of creating new Turkish identities was highly abusive to Armenian women, according to an anonymous Armenian survivor. She claims that the Turkish gendarmes filtered Armenian women based on attractiveness during deportations and were less likely to reproduce with unattractive ones (2009). The unappealing women had their ears, nose, breasts, hands, and feet chopped off and thrown away. In contrast, the attractive ones were sexually abused and captured for marriage and reproduction (Herzog, 2009).

Sexual Enslavement

Ümit claims that Armenian women and girls endured all sorts of pain during the genocide, from starvation, exhaustion, illness to sexual violence. He notes that sexual enslavement thrived during and after deportations in the Ottoman Empire for two reasons (2012). Like genocidal rape, prostitution was a tool of genocide used by Turkish forces during deportations to threaten and humiliate Armenian men (Ümit, 2012). Ümit claims that after achieving the emasculation goal, Turkish gendarmes perpetrated prostitution for sexual satisfaction; hence, Armenian women were transformed from a mechanism of intimidation to sexual objects for male desire (2012). Derderian states that before assimilating the Armenian women into Muslim-Turkish households, the Turkish gendarmes benefited from the government’s instability and initiated temporary public brothels and auctions during deportations and sold Armenian women as sex slaves for economic gains (2005). Oral and written accounts suggest that women and young girls were auctioned publicly in batches of 300-400 in the presence of hundreds of Turkish men, ranging from the authorities to the mass public (2005). Ümit claims that the Turkish gendarmes were strategic in their abuse (2012). They initially stripped the women and girls for bidders to better judge the worth of their sex slaves and then stole all their belongings, including clothes and jewelry, and sold them to the public (Ümit, 2012). A German eyewitness notes that along with older women, young girls ages 8-9 were coerced to engage in the slave market and were mostly desired by Turkish clients because they were previously untouched (Harrelson, 2009). Additionally, the girls suffered physically from sexual abuse and struggled to function properly; thus, the Turkish gendarmes believed they had become useless and killed them (Harrelson, 2009).

Although the Turks coerced Armenian women and girls into sexual enslavement during deportations, others willingly resorted to prostitution as a survival strategy to secure life and support their children after the war (Kurt, 2016). Ümit notes that the genocide generated an increasing number of widowed Armenian women because of the systematic killings; hence, these women had to depart from their traditional roles and become heads of households to attain shelter, work, and education for themselves and their children (2012). According to Derderian, the Turkish gendarmes abandoned some women during deportations while forcing others to settle in Muslim-Turkish households after deportations. The author mentions that newly settled women attained their basic necessities from their new husbands, and the other unmarried women became servants and maids in Turkish homes without pay (2005). However, the neglected women had to survive independently and, unfortunately, failed to find jobs in the Turkish community accepting Armenian refugees, and the only accessible option was prostitution (Derderian, 2005). These women sold their bodies to men because of the desperate need for financial aid; hence, Armenian women of this type referred to prostitution as “survival sex” (Derderian, 2005). Ümit states that out of every 140 prostitutes in the Ottoman-Turkish Empire, 100 were Armenian women. He notes that German and American eyewitnesses reported that Armenian prostitutes worked under harsh conditions and were paid significantly less than Turkish prostitutes (2012). Hence, many women failed to sustain a basic living standard and died due to their atrocious lives, while others managed to survive under impoverished circumstances (Ümit, 2012).  

Forced Assimilation

Kurt notes that forced assimilation and religious conversions were critical to eradicating the Armenian population and its identity during the genocide (2016). Ümit claims that the Turkish leadership perceived Armenian women and children as lacking political personality and power; hence they were the easiest to target and transform into Turkish nationals (2012). Kurt stated that Armenian women and children’s assimilation were a two-way process called Islamization and Turkification (2016). To achieve these processes, Gzoyan and Galustyan claim that the Turkish authority established four assimilation policies during the Armenian genocide to efficiently integrate Armenian women and children into Turkish Muslim homes and ensure they absorb the Turkish identity entirely. Firstly, the authors note that there were voluntary conversions where the deportees had the opportunity to convert to Islam and integrate themselves into Muslim homes by choice. They claim that many Armenian women took this option to escape the genocide and secure life (2021). Secondly, Turkish hosts were permitted to select the Armenian women they desire to join their household, and the attractive Armenian women captured during deportations fell under this category of assimilation (Gzoyan & Galustyan, 2021). Thirdly, the Turkish authority forcibly imposed the Turkish Islamic culture on Armenian women and children; this category was the most popular and most violent out of all four assimilation policies adopted by the Ottoman-Turks during the genocide (Gzoyan & Galustyan, 2021). Fourthly, since the genocide generated thousands of Armenian orphans, Turkish dictators created government-based orphanages for Armenian children to learn about the Turkish lifestyle to become nationalist Turkish citizens (Gzoyan & Galustyan, 2021). It is worth noting that although many Armenian women were forcibly integrated into Turkish homes, other women willingly converted to Islam and married Turkish men (Tachjian, 2014). Tachjian claims that the purpose behind these marriages was for women to secure life for themselves and their remaining family members in the post-war period (2014).  

According to Kurt, the Islamization and Turkification processes coincided with each other. He claims that the Turkish officials believed that Armenian women and children could not fully absorb the Turkish identity if not converted to Islam or joined Turkish households. Additionally, the author notes that Islamization dealt with transforming the Armenian identity religiously from Christianity to Islam, and Turkification was achieved through forced marriages between Turkish men and Armenian women (2016). According to Ümit, it all began during deportations where Armenian women and children under Turkish rule were transferred from their homeland to the Ottoman Empire. The author highlights the story of an anonymous 15-year-old Armenian Survivor who documented the entire deportation trip in a diary, which revealed that the Turkish forces systematically abused Armenian women during deportations (2012). The atrocities began by exhausting and starving all women and girls until their conditions worsened, then forcibly converting them to Islam and distributing them to different Turkish provinces (Ümit, 2012). Gzoyan and Galustyan claim that most deportees initially refused to abandon their Armenian identity and convert to Islam; however, the Turkish gendarmes threatened them with death if they expressed disapproval towards their demands. They also note that women ended up converting since they believed it was the only viable option for survival at the time (2021). Ekmekçioğlu notes that conversion for survival was risky and troubling for some Armenian women because they were severely punished and jailed if suspected of insincere and temporary conversions. Hence to ensure compliance, the author claims that Armenian women were married off to Turkish men to monitor them and confirm that they are not secretly practicing Christianity, according to Danish missionaries (2013).  

Gzoyan and Galustyan reveal an official document released by the Turkish authority in December of 1915 that highlighted Armenian women and children’s fate after deportations. According to the authors, the document shows that Armenian children’s Islamization and Turkification processes mainly took place through governmental-based orphanages and public places where they were educated on the Muslim-Turkish culture. They claim that children were kept in orphanages for adoption, but the unadopted children ages 6-8 were distributed in factories, small shops, and farms for work (2021). On the other hand, the Armenian women’s integration differed as they were forced to marry Turkish men and adapt to the local customs by living in Muslim-Turkish households (Gzoyan & Galustyan, 2021). The document covered the government’s commands but failed to mention information about women and children’s protection against any form of violence, denoting that any harm inflicted on them will less likely result in penalization (Gzoyan & Galustyan, 2021). According to an anonymous 15-year-old survivor, teenage girls her age and older women were harassed severely during deportation; however, they agreed to join Turkish households to escape the genocide and the possibility of dying, considering that they had lost their families and left without protection (Ümit, 2012). Ümit also claims that their assimilation into the Turkish community was not a kind gesture on behalf of the Turks. Instead, he claims that forced marriage was a tool of genocide and was used to eradicate the Armenian race and expand the Muslim-Turkish community since women were perceived as reproducers of identity and perpetrators of culture (2012). Derderian notes that initially, not all Turkish men accepted to marry Armenian women, but the government persuaded them by granting them complete authority over the women’s lives and belongings (2005). Ekmekçioğlu states that women had difficulty adapting to the Muslim-Turkish lifestyle but forced themselves to adjust in order to survive the post-war period (2013).

Armenian Nation’s Reformation

Ekmekçioğlu notes that 1917 marked the end of the Armenian genocide and the beginning of the country’s reformation. She claims that the Armenian leadership attempted to rebuild the nation through steps that proved to be highly discriminatory towards Armenian women and girls (2013). According to Tachjian, the first task was to collect all the Armenian survivors, i.e., women and children found in Turkish households, and then identify the group eligible to return to Armenia and those who are not (2014). The Armenian leadership predicted a smooth integration process; however, Tachjian claims that it was complex because many Armenian women were denied entry into the Armenian nation due to the lives they pursued after the genocide. He argues that the Armenian leadership looked down upon the women and referred to them as immoral and unfaithful because they believed that they abandoned the Armenian identity and no longer represented the ideal Armenian woman (2014). The Armenians developed this problematic perception of their women because of the rape, prostitution, and mixed marriages that they underwent throughout and after the genocide (Tachjian, 2014). Ekmekçioğlu argues that the Armenian authority failed to realize that their women were victims of mass genocide and were left without family or protection (2013). Because of their situation, women had to find survival strategies to secure life after the genocide. However, it was assumed that they violated the Armenian culture’s social norms through their survival techniques, and their fate will be dependent on that (Ekmekçioğlu, 2013).

The Armenian authority silenced women throughout the entire reformation process and instead imposed solutions they assumed to be appropriate to integrate survivors back to the nation efficiently (Tachjian, 2014). Tachjian highlights the two major approaches taken by the Armenian leadership and the mass public towards the surviving women and girls. He claims that the first group was entirely against the integration of women back into the nation (2014). They believed that their women violated their social norms by sexually engaging with men outside their ethnic group and pushed the nation towards neglecting these women because they had dishonored the Armenian community through their shameful behaviors (Tachjian, 2014). They insisted that these women remain out of the nation’s boundaries without shelter or protection as a punishment for their wrongdoings (Tachjian, 2014). Tachjian notes that many Armenians of this type published writings about these women, referring to them as “fallen women” or “bad-hearted women,” which meant that these women are morally dead due to the life they chose to live after the genocide (2014). Hence, they can no longer reproduce a new healthy nationalist Armenian generation and should not be returned to Armenia (Tachjian, 2014). According to Ekmekçioğlu, this group not only disregarded the women but their children too, labeling them as “foreigners” (2013). They disapproved of them returning because their presence in the Armenian nation with their foreign children was assumed to weaken the Armenian identity (Ekmekçioğlu, 2013). Tachjian states that women like Arpuni, an Armenian survivor, were presented with the opportunity to return, under the condition of which she had to leave her children with her new husband in the Ottoman Empire and return alone. However, she chose her new life to avoid the stigma attached to Armenian survivors back in Armenia. Thus, Arpuni and other women like her were seen as a threat to the Armenian community because they refused to return and identify with the state’s new Armenian nationalist identity after the country’s reformation (2014). 

On the other hand, Tachjian notes that the second group represented the minorities that felt empathetic towards Armenian women and considered them the most affected by the genocide than the rest of the Armenian population. Unlike the first group, the author claims that this group recognized that these women were victims of mass violence and created shelters to provide them with basic necessities to help them re-adapt to their community during its reformation (2014). However, Ekmekçioğlu claims that some Armenian women refused to return and chose to remain with their abductors to avoid the stigma and humiliation during their reintegration into the Armenian community. She argues that it took Armenian women immense time and effort to adjust to their new lifestyles in the post-war period; hence, some women preferred not to exhaust themselves by repeating this process (2013). This group respected women’s decisions but believed that they were better positioned to determine women’s fate because they perceived them as vulnerable and incapable of managing their lives efficiently on their own (Tachjian, 2014). While settling in the shelters, this group aimed to reconstruct women’s identities and transform them into nationalist Armenian citizens to become more desirable for Armenian men (Tachjian, 2014). The number of women that returned was insufficient, so this group attempted to comfort women and persuade them to return to expand the Armenian community as quickly as possible (Tachjian 2014).  


During the Armenian genocide, the Ottoman Turks victimized Armenian women through genocidal rape, sexual enslavement, and forced assimilation. According to Derderian, women suffered severely under Turkish rule until the re-establishment of the Armenian nation in 1917 (2005). Tachjian claims that Armenia’s reformation involved reintegrating displaced survivors into the nation. However, he notes that most Armenians refused to reintegrate the women into their community because of their new lives in the post-war period. The author also argues that the Armenian leadership blamed women for their oppression during the genocide and criticized the survival techniques they adopted to secure life after the war; thus, women were accused of hindering Armenia’s reformation because of their disgraceful acts (2014). According to Tachjian, feminist scholars argue that Armenian women were not responsible for their oppression as many Armenians believed it to be (2014). If they had not adhered to the Turkish leadership’s commands, they would not have made it alive after the genocide (Tachjian, 2014). The survival strategies they adopted did not interfere with their Armenian identity; instead, they helped them overcome the detrimental consequences of the genocide and obtain a decent living standard (Tachjian, 2014). They argue that prostitution and forced assimilation were the only options for survival. Women’s efforts and survival strategies enabled many Armenians access to shelter and protection; otherwise, the Armenian community would have vanished immediately after the war (Tachjian, 2014). They also criticized the Armenian nation’s approach towards surviving women, deeming it exploitative and gendered since it depicted women as reproductive machines for cultural perpetuation, neglecting their impoverished situation (Tachjian, 2014). Hence, if the Armenian society is unwilling to acknowledge that their women were victims of a disastrous catastrophe striving to survive, it is unfair to accuse them of hindering the country’s reformation (Tachjian, 2014). Ümit sheds light on Armenian survivors like Fahriye Yıldırım, who became a prostitute and initiated a business out of her career to help support herself and other women. He claims that Armenians silenced such women and disregarded their existence entirely because they had dishonored their nation (2012). However, feminist scholars consider them agents for managing to survive and urge greater recognition for their efforts and determination (Ümit, 2012).


Akçam, T. (2012). The Young Turks’ Crime against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt7rt86. Retrieved from

Burn, S. (2005). Women across cultures: A global perspective (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Derderian, K. (2005). Common fate, different experience: gender-specific aspects of the 

Armenian Genocide, 1915-1917. Holocaust and genocide studies, 19(1), 1–25. Retrieved from

Ekmekçioğlu, L. (2013). A climate for abduction, a climate for redemption: The politics of inclusion during and after the Armenian genocide. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 522-553. Retrieved from

Ekmekçioğlu, L. (2015). Scholarship on the Armenian Genocide as a gendered event and process. New Perspectives on Turkey, 53, 185-190. doi:10.1017/npt.2015.35 Retrieved from

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