"Boundaries of History," Ab Imperio Award 2020: Book presentation "Russia's Entangled Embrace: The Tsarist Empire and the Armenians, 1801-1914" by Stephen Riegg
Stephen Badalyan Riegg (Texas A&M University), laureate of Ab Imperio Award 2020 for the best book, spoke about his new monograph "Russia's Entangled Embrace: The Tsarist Empire and the Armenians, 1801-1914" Stephen Riegg presented his research at the seminar "Boundaries of History."
As it is clear from the title of the book, it addresses the issues of Russian-Armenian interactions during the "long 19th century." While it is a familiar story to the students of the Russian empire, Stephen Riegg tries to diversify and nuance both the agencies of this communication and their multiple experiences. Although the book targets wide audience and, in general, does seek to undermine the existing grand narrative, Riegg’s effort was to bring in historical complexity with the help of his analysis of previously unexamined sources from Russian federal archives. Riegg hence positions his book as a case study of Russian imperialist policy towards eastern Armenians.
Even though post-soviet historiography of the field did provide insightful perspective on these imperial interactions, its focus was primarily on the so-called Armenian question that overshadowed complex dynamics of the 19th century relations or simply recast it a story of the long alliance between Russians and Armenians. The book, in its turn, brings to light contingent scenarios of power and imperial repertoires that were deployed with regards to Armenian subjects. Through the examination of interaction between empire and politically fragmented nation, that predominantly manifested itself through diasporas, Riegg fathoms into the mechanisms of imperial self-understanding and rule.
This continuous dialogue, first of all, was full of inconsistencies. Some administrators preferred to rely on Armenians as their medium in Central Asia, while others deemed them barbaric and untrustworthy. However, until the 1870s the imperial arrangement was largely symbiotic, and the imperial power reposed trust in Armenians in its many pursuits in the region and even beyond its borders. While the reaction followed in 1870-80s, the regional tranquility was disturbed only in the 1890s-beginning of 1900s, as the empire sought to suppress real and imaginary hazards.
Moving away from simplistic narrative, the book brings up messy realities of the longue durée dynamics of the imperial configuration of rule. It shatters the image of precise and calculated nature of the imperial mechanism, while highlighting fluidity and complexity of mutual understanding.