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Elise Boghossian is the founder of EliseCare, a non-governmental organization of international solidarity that specializes on the treatment of pain. Its main goal is to provide emergency medical aid to the civilian population living in conflict zones.
Taming the Pain: French Acupuncturist’s Quest to Anaesthetize

As head of the France-based Shennong & Avicenne association she founded in 2002, Doctor Elise Boghossian relentlessly works in war zones to alleviate the suffering of civilians. Fighting on several fronts at once, the 37-year-old acupuncturist most recently endeavored to help victims of ISIL in Northern Iraq.

Genocide in her past

Elise’s grandfather Boghos was a native of Sivas in Eastern Anatolia. Deported to Adana during the Armenian Genocide, he watched his brother die in his arms and lost trace of his other brother, who was kidnapped. Elise’s father, born in Turkey, immigrated to Lebanon in 1962. He then went to France, where Elise was born. “I grew up with the grim stories of Genocide, haunted by my family’s nightmares and the injustice they experienced in 1915, by the drama of survivors forcefully separated from their loved ones, just like my orphaned grandmother,” says Elise. “As a child, I dreamt of bringing all those dead people back.”

Once she received an undergraduate education Elise purposefully distanced herself from the world where she grew up. The road took her to Asia, where she studied neuroscience. She mastered acupuncture and pain treatment in Vietnam and worked with drug addicts in Hanoi. She then obtained a doctoral degree of Chinese medicine in gynecology from the University of Nankin and researched the role that Chinese medicine plays in treatment of infertility.

Armed with courage and needles

Following her call for field medicine, in 2002 Elise founded the Shennong & Avicenne association with a group of former students. The organization was named after Shennong, a mythical sage ruler of prehistoric China, and Avicenna, a famous Persian physician and scientist from the medieval times.

Ever since Elise has made it her mission to intervene in conflict zones, armed with her courage and the needle box she uses to alleviate the pain of civilian victims.

In 2002 she began helping victims of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, where she still visits regularly to this say. She then worked at the Syrian refugees camp of Zaatari in Jordan and in 2014 moved on to Iraqi Kurdistan, where millions of destitute people fleeing the advance of jihadists take refuge in landfills, abandoned cellars and parks with their families.

Elise purchased a bus that she transformed into a mobile clinic to alleviate the refugees’ suffering from dreadful living conditions. The project was supported by numerous donations, allowing Elise to recruit and train a diverse team of 14 doctors – Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Yezidis, many former refuges themselves. Thanks to Elise, they have regained their dignity and found hope for the future.

In order to cope with the growing influx of refugees, the overcrowding of camps and the particular vulnerability of women and children, Elise set up a second mobile clinic especially dedicated to them. On June 12, 2015, she took it from France to Iraq, her “women bus” setting a precedent and an example for others.

The young mother of three has done miracles to alleviate pain and suffering in a region where painkillers are virtually nonexistent. Once a month, she leaves her family and her office in Paris behind to provide care for burn, graft and amputation victims. For several weeks at a time, she helps to ease their unbearable pain and save their lives. For the particularly fragile female population, she creates a space of trust and peace in which women receive the most appropriate pediatric, gynecological, neonatal and postpartum care.

A boomerang of kindness

What drives this young woman to leave her family and work behind and return to Iraq every month? Elise’s united and open-minded Armenian family supports her in the challenging task of combing her personal life with her profession, though she still finds it difficult to explain her work to her sons. “I do not want them to say, one day, that their mother abandons them to take care of other children,” she says. Since the start of her missions Elise has been keeping a diary. The need to write down her impressions gradually evolved into a writing project. Her book, released in November 2015 and titled “In the Kingdom of Hope, There Is No Winter” was hugely successful. “I wrote this book for my children, so they would understand what I am doing,” she explains.

While she tried to escape it at first, Elise’s family’s experience with the Armenian Genocide and its recent centennial now further fuel her passion. For Elise, turmoil has returned to the Middle East like a boomerang from 1915. As a granddaughter of survivors, she focused her efforts on helping Yezidi and Christian girls and women, the majority of whom are victims of torture and sexual abuse. “After snatching the women’s children to make little soldiers and subjecting the mothers to the worst kind of abuse, their captors do not kill them. They keep them alive by sadism, deliberately aiming to destroy them from within, to annihilate their social fabric and the generations that would follow,” Elise says. “They would prefer a thousand times to die than to live through what they endure.” Liberated from the clutch of their captors in exchange for a ransom, many of the women not killed by male relatives to “cleanse the honor” still commit suicide. Yet Elise remains hopeful. She provides them with care by working closely with psychologists who specialize in major trauma.

It is difficult to assess the exact number of people saved by Elise, but it is certainly a high one. In the past nine months, the young doctor has taken her mobile clinic to 30 sites in Iraqi Kurdistan, caring for an average of 400 people per day. Last year, she and her team treated some 40,000 cases. But while Elise undertakes her quest to help victims of jihadist barbarism in faraway lands, she also pays attention to the struggles in her own backyard. Another Shennong & Avicenne bus currently circulates around camps in Calais and Dunkerque in northern France, presently home to some 4,000 refugees and migrants.

Elise gives in neither to triumphalism nor to despair. “I have a duty to assist the deprived,” she says, “to reach out to others as they reached out to us.” She may look sensitive, even fragile, but she stands on her own, beautiful and determined.