Alma and the Armenians - a Swedish missionary woman and the civil society in conflict

Project: Research

Layman's description

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 traumatic memories. The purpose is to study a female actor in a war zone through analysing the unique testimonies of Johansson.

In 1915, Swedish missionary Alma Johansson witnessed the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire. She worked in an Armenian orphanage, but was not able to save “her” children from the persecutions. They were locked into a house which was set on fire. Alma was devastated and travelled throughout a war-torn Turkey in order to give her report. Her accounts were soon published together with other testimonies. After some years she published her story as a book.

In many ways Johansson was a pioneer humanitarian professional, as she worked with helping exposed civilians. In this position she became a witness to a genocide. Still today, external actors witness crimes against humanity. Through comparisons in time, a new sensibility for different working on traumas can grow. The example of Johansson also contradicts the ideas of globalisation and humanitarian interventions as modern phenomena.

The testimonies of Johansson and other missionaries constitute unique documents. There is an ongoing debate on the Armenian genocide. The missionary material opens up perspectives on various bystanders and civil actors. Witness literature as a genre will also be discussed, especially the lack of the Armenian theme and female stories.

At the centre is a woman acting in violent surroundings. In a period and region where women’s freedom was limited, Johansson took action on several levels, both globally and locally. She challenged the ruling gender norms, but was also limited by them.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date2008/01/012015/12/31

Participants