Rockefeller Archive Center

Rockefeller Archive Center Research Reports are created by recipients of research travel stipends and by many others who have conducted research at the RAC. The reports demonstrate the breadth of the RAC's archival holdings, particularly in the study of philanthropy and its effects. Read more about the history of philanthropy at Also, see the RAC Bibliography of Scholarship, a comprehensive online database of publications citing RAC archival collections.
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America's Sacred Duty: Near East Relief and the Armenian Crisis, 1915-1930

January 1, 2009

Throughout World War I and its aftermath, hundreds of thousands of refugees across Europe and Asia Minor were the recipients of humanitarian aid. But in the United States one ethnic group in particular, the Armenians, captured Americans' imaginations and prompted the nation to action. Americans worried that Armenians were targeted for extinction, so U.S. cultural and political elites took up this humanitarian cause in the name of their "Christian" citizenship. This was more than relief work in the name of modern goodwill -- it was a rescue mission undertaken with solemn vows of the American Christian's duty to protect the poor, starving Armenians. As one fundraising plea put it, "It's a big job and a holy one" to save the Armenians from the Turks. The battle lines were quickly drawn as a "degenerate" and Muslim civilization versus "progressive" and Christian civilization with the Armenians caught in the middle. This movement to save the Armenians did not operate at the edges of American society. As President Woodrow Wilson's ambassador to Germany and advisor claimed, it was the "sacred duty of Christian civilization to save Armenia."

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