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Governing Armenia: The Politics of Development and the Making of Global Diaspora


This dissertation reconsiders the history of Armenian displacement from the standpoint of feminist and postcolonial theory. It investigates how colonial imaginaries of the Armenian nation were produced by trans-imperial entanglements between the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, and the North Atlantic since the early modern period in order to develop a postcolonial critique of neoliberal development in post-Soviet Armenia. Building on Edward Said’s framework of Orientalism, it argues that constructions of Armenians as representatives of the “West” in the “East” not only disarticulated Armenian claims to indigeneity in West Asia but also facilitated the global expansion of colonial logics of race and empire.

The four chapters of this thesis deploy a mixed methodology that combines empirical and archival research with analyses of textual and visual materials to rethink the concept of emancipation in West Asia. They draw on a range of sources from novels and memoirs, including "The Life and Adventures of Joseph Émïn" (1792), to diplomatic reports, newspaper articles, and naturalization cases that determined whether Armenians were to be categorized as “free white persons” in the United States. Furthermore, they discuss the silent film "Auction of Souls" (1919) alongside images and photographs of Armenian orphans by Near East Relief, the writings of Fridtjof Nansen and Karen Jeppe, among others, as well as images and illustrations in an Armenian-language Soviet women’s journal. Based on open-ended interviews and participant observation among diasporic reformers in post-Soviet Armenia’s non-governmental development sector, this thesis demonstrates that neoliberal development in post-Soviet Armenia actualizes colonial logics that preceded and exceded Soviet statecraft. By contrasting the early Soviet project of women’s emancipation with the inter-war mandate system in the Middle East, and colonial subjection by the English joint-stock corporation in South Asia, it develops an alternative account of globalization that offers a postcolonial approach to postsocialism and diaspora in West Asia. Drawing on critical race and political theory, it concludes that moving toward collective futures beyond the colonial gaze will require emancipation from the logic of development, or “developmentality,” as a rationality of government.

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