Witnessing the Unbearable. Alma Johansson and the Massacres of the Armenians 1915

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapter


In 1915, Swedish missionary Alma Johansson witnessed the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire. She then worked at an Armenian orphanage. When the children became victims of the killings it was important for her to report the outrages to diplomats and to write about her experiences. Johansson also continued to work with Armenian refugees.
The chapter focuses on a civil female actor in a war zone. In her position as an external humanitarian actor she became a witness to genocide. Her role as a witness and her accounts of the Armenian genocide are thoroughly analyzed.
Still today, peace keeping forces and humanitarian professionals witness crimes against humanity and are then forced to take on wider tasks and develop other skills than what they are sent out for. Through comparisons in time a new openness for different scenarios and working on traumas can grow.
The testimonies of Johansson and other missionaries were published and constitute today unique documents of the events. Since there is an ongoing debate on the Armenian question, it is worthwhile to closer highlight also this kind of material. The Armenian genocide did never constitute a central theme in witness literature from the First World War. Neither did the female stories. The testimonies of Johansson therefore open up perspectives on stories seldom told.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWar and Peace in Transition
EditorsKarin Aggestam, Annika Björkdahl
PublisherNordic Academic Press
ISBN (Print)978-91-85509-22-5
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Sciences
  • History


  • civil actors
  • witness accounts
  • missionaries
  • Armenian genocide
  • women in war


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