Dr. Matthew Ghazarian (Manoogian Research Fellow in the Center for Armenian Studies and the Department of History at the University of Michigan)

Ghost Rations

Ermeni Apostolik Kilisesi Patrikhanesi’nin Yardım Komisyonu mühürü

My research brings political ecology and political economy together to explain social and political change in the modern Middle East. It traces the development of the communal conflicts that tore apart the multi-ethnic, multi-confessional Ottoman Empire through a history of famine and responses to it. It focuses on 1839-94, a period that began with a Sultanic declaration of religious equality and ended with a dramatic wave of communal violence, the Hamidian Massacres (1894-97). Recent work has described how communal boundaries hardened thanks to Ottoman state, European colonial, and Protestant missionary activities. My project builds on this work’s discursive and intellectual explanations for ethno-religious divides, but I argue that in order to understand how new ideas about difference and belonging came into practice, we must account for the material conditions in which they spread. To accomplish this, I study famine, the most intense of material conditions. The first half of “Ghost Rations” focuses on the 1839-76 expansion of imperial institutions that worked to define and police communal boundaries. The second half analyzes three cases of famine between 1879 and 1894, when these reform-oriented institutions wielded outsized influence by distributing life-saving humanitarian aid. Their activities, however, also had the effect of distributing hardship and trauma unevenly along ethno-confessional lines. In my investigation of these famines, I show how new technologies like the telegraph and environmental forces like El Niño combined to distribute hunger and hardship in ways that pit communities against each other, setting the stage for future violence.