Ottoman Children and the First World War

Episode 440

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Children are often imagined as victims of war or passive bystanders. But in this episode, Nazan Maksudyan is back on the program to talk about how the First World War looked through the eyes of Ottoman children and their lives as historical actors during and after the conflict. We explore the experience of child workers and the many situations faced by children throughout the war, and we also explore the themes of survival and resilience as expressed in the experience of children, especially Ottoman Armenians. We also discuss the challenges of writing amid a tumultuous period for Turkey and an experience of exile. 

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Contributor Bios

Nazan Maksudyan is professor of history at the Freie Universität Berlin and a research associate at the Centre Marc Bloch. Her research focuses on the history of children and youth, with special interest in gender, sexuality, education, humanitarianism, and non-Muslims.
Chris Gratien is Assistant Professor of History at University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on global environmental history and the Middle East. He is currently preparing a monograph about the environmental history of the Cilicia region of the former Ottoman Empire from the 1850s until the 1950s.


Episode No. 440
Release Date: 9 December 2019
Recording Location: Freie Universität Berlin
Music: Zé Trigueiros; Dr. J.K. Sutherland - Huseini Ashiran Dance and Tacsim; Maria Papagika - Smyrneiko Minore; kara güneş - İstanbul
Audio editing by Chris Gratien
Bibliography and images courtesy of Nazan Maksudyan

Armenian orphan girls from the Birds’ Nest Orphanage swimming, Jbeil/Byblos (1928) (Source: Maria Jacobsen Collection, courtesy of Houshamadyan)

The passport of Yusuf Efendi, the son of Mehmed (deceased) and Rabia, born in 317 (1899), Muslim. The document gives information on his physical characteristics as well (tall, hazel eyes, dark skin). In the first page of the document, it reads “General Directorate of Darüleytams, Special passport for students sent to Germany for training” (Darüleytam Müdüriyet-i Umumiyesi, Almanya’ya tahsil için izam olunan talebeye mahsus cüzdan). (Source: BOA, MF.EYT, 2/117, 29/Ş/1334, (01.07.1916)
Ottoman Orphan Apprentices in Berlin (1917). The reporter argued that the boys came “from various ethnic groups” (Völkerstämme) and that “one can see both the white faces of the Armenians and Jews, Anatolian types and also Arabs and negroes among them.” (Source: “Türkische Jugend in Berlin,” Berliner Tageblatt 216, 6 May 1917.)
Scouts of the Dörtyol Kelekian Orphanage during a visit by Catholicos Sahag II (ca. 1920)  (Source: AGBU Nubar Library, Paris)
Armenian orphans happily playing together, Maraş (ca. 1919-1920)  (Source: Courtesy of Mennonite Church USA Archives: “Mrs. Timm’s Children, Marash,” Box 5OV. Cleo A. and Nellie Miller Mann Papers, 1920-2000. HM1-695.)
Armenian orphans on a joyful city tour in the French Quarter, Beirut (1927) (Source: Maria Jacobsen Collection, courtesy of Houshamadyan)   


Artwork by Gülsün Karamustafa, The Monument and the Child (2011). SALT Research, Artist Archive / Gülsün Karamustafa, KARW485.

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