In this presentation, Elyse Semerdjian will outline the earliest Armenian pilgrimages to the killing fields of Dayr al-Zur in the Syrian Desert. It is there that Armenians interacted with the remains of Armenians murdered during the Armenian Genocide (1915-1918) in acts of remembrance. Semerdjian will discuss the origins of the now-destroyed Armenian Genocide Memorial in Dayr al-Zur and the ritual and collection habits of pilgrims that enact what she calls bone memory. Using archival documents alongside recorded testimony of survivors preserved in the Shoah Foundation archives, she will present the genesis of these memory practices that largely halted during the Syrian War.
Elyse Semerdjian is Professor of Islamic World/Middle Eastern History and Chair of the History Department at Whitman College. She teaches a broad range of courses at Whitman on the subject of gender, sexuality, social history, culture, and politics of the Middle East. 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), Remnants: Embodied Archives of the Armenian Genocide (forthcoming with Stanford University Press, 2023), and has published several articles on gender, law, violence, and Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. She was awarded a fellowship at Cornell University Society for the Humanities in 2016-2017 to support research for her forthcoming book Remnants. She recently received a German Research Grant with the “Religion and Urbanity” Research Group at University of Erfurt, Germany to write an inclusive pre- and post-war urban history of Aleppo's Muslim and non-Muslim inhabitants.