What is it about?

This essay examines a collection of displaced Armenian relics from the perspective of their shifting meanings and multiple uses as ritual objects, offerings, gifts, and commodities. Charting the parallel displacements of objects and people during the Polish-Ottoman wars of 1672–1699, I argue that the mutability of the relics shaped the refugees’ attempts to deal with the conflicting social obligations and economic pressures of exile.

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Why is it important?

Despite the historians’ growing interest in material culture, collections of sacred objects have largely been overlooked by scholars of religious history and art history alike. While the former tend to reduce church artifacts to their religious function, the latter focus mostly on individual items of singular artistic import. Drawing on the church inventories and trial records of the Armenian communities in Poland-Lithuania, this essay offers a wider analytical framework with which to approach the problems of migration, displacement, and collective possessions in the early modern world.

Perspectives

When I started working on this story more than two years ago, I could not even imagine how tragically pressing the issue of refugees would become in Ukraine and Eastern Europe in just a few years. Nor could I ever wish for my work to get such unfortunate relevance. As the Russian troops have invaded Ukraine in late February 2022, millions of Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes, seeking refuge in western Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, and other European countries. Just as the Armenian refugees of the 1672 Polish-Ottoman war, the displaced people of Ukraine have massively flocked to the city of Lviv which again serves as a safe haven and major transition hub for all those fleeing the war. I just hope this article loses its relevance as soon as possible, in Ukraine and everywhere else in the world.

Bogdan Pavlish
Northwestern University

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This page is a summary of: Relics in Exile: A Collection of Armenian Sacred Objects between Poland-Lithuania and the Ottoman Empire, 1672–1699, Journal of Early Modern History, March 2022, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/15700658-bja10043.
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