Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
My dissertation questions the relationship between the Russian empire and the Armenian diaspora that populated Russia’s territorial fringes and navigated the tsarist state’s metropolitan centers. I argue that Russia harnessed the stateless and dispersed Armenian diaspora to build its empire in the Caucasus and beyond. Russia relied on the stature of the two most influential institutions of that diaspora, the merchantry and the clergy, to project diplomatic power from Constantinople to Copenhagen; to benefit economically from the transimperial trade networks of Armenian merchants in Russia, Persia, and Turkey; and to draw political advantage from the Armenian Church’s extensive authority within that nation. Moving away from traditional dichotomies of power and resistance, this dissertation examines how Russia relied on foreign-subject Armenian peasants and elites to colonize the South Caucasus, thereby rendering Armenians both agents and recipients of European imperialism. Religion represented a defining link in the Russo-Armenian encounter and therefore shapes the narrative of my project. Driven by a shared ecumenical identity as adherents of Orthodox Christianity, Armenians embraced Russian patronage in the early nineteenth century to escape social and political marginalization in the Persian and Ottoman empires. After the tsarist state wrested the headquarters of the Armenian Church from Persia in 1828, it maneuvered to ensure the election of an Armenian ecclesiastical leader most conducive to Russia’s geopolitical objective of maintaining influence over Armenians abroad. Tsarist diplomats amplified the clout of the Armenian Church in European capitals and Russian generals relied on Armenian priests to gather intelligence in Turkey during wartime, but the government shuttered Armenian parish schools and imprisoned clergy when it detected links between the church and a rising nationalist movement. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, a multifaceted Armenian nationalist sentiment that sought varied goals penetrated Armenian students, aristocrats, and clerics. Yet my research shows that even during this challenge to tsarist authority, Russian statesmen and Armenian clergy continued to pursue parallel aims.