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From Empire to Republic: Open Wounds, Survival, and Revolt

Panel X-22, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
  • From the early 1880s till the end of the Ottoman Empire, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church) sent dozens of missionaries to the Middle East in order to proselyte and establish the Church in the region as part of its millenarian aspirations to prepare for the second coming of Jesus Christ through preaching its “Restored Gospel” and commence the gathering of Israel. During this almost 40-year period hundreds of Ottoman-Armenians converted to Mormonism with congregations in Aintab, Aleppo, Zara, and Maraş. Joseph W Booth, native of Alpine, Utah, was the longest serving LDS missionary in the Ottoman Empire having served three missions spanning 17 years preaching among and leading the LDS Armenian congregations. Booth kept a daily journal throughout his missions and just before his death in Aleppo in 1928 wrote this pithy summary of Mormon Missionary efforts in the Middle East, “Our past and present status may be briefly told by counting up to ten; thus: One lady missionary, two workers in the field today, three cities have served as our headquarters, four elders have died in the field, five nationalities have been baptized, six languages are needed to teach them, seven apostles have been here, eight cities now claim one or more of our members, and nine out of ten are in poverty.” Based upon LDS Church and Ottoman Archival documents, LDS missionary journals and writings, and the family histories of the LDS Armenian population, this presentation discusses the struggles faced by the LDS Armenian community, particularly in terms of providing for its basic necessities during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the community’s attempts to ameliorate these dire circumstances. Deeply impoverished due to awful economic circumstances within the broader Ottoman Empire, but also exacerbated by persecution from the Ottoman government and local Armenians, the LDS Armenian community and its Missionary leaders attempted various schemes, such as carpet weaving, textile manufacture, agriculture, and several abortive attempts to establish a “Mormon Colony” in the Holy Land. This presentation investigates these attempts at self-sufficiency and communalism within the context of growing Western Imperialism in the Middle East and how this intersected with the millenarian aspirations of the Mormon missionaries and their Protestant competitors.
  • This paper takes the April 24 round up of Armenian intellectuals which inaugurated the 1915 Genocide as its focal point, and examines the period preceding and following their murders through the lens of L’Aurore, a Zionist newspaper published in Istanbul. By reading the 1915 Genocide through the lens of L’Aurore, which was published in Istanbul from 1909 until 1918, this paper makes two important contributions to existing scholarship on the Ottoman Genocide. First, L’Aurore was a Zionist publication that ascribed neither to Armenian or Turkish nationalist identities, nor to Christian or Muslim religious identities, which expands the scope of this study beyond the categories of perpetrator and victim that dominate studies of genocide. As a Jewish publication, L’Aurore’s rhetoric had to accommodate the mythology of Ottoman tolerance towards Jews that Julia Philips Cohen and Marc Baer have explored in detail. This paper juxtaposes L’Aurore’s patriotic affect with its silence in the face of violence to uncover a new part of the process through which state violence was occluded, excused, and justified in the Ottoman public sphere. Second, this paper’s temporal framing confronts the continuity of liberal discourse from 1908 to 1918, throughout the process of the genocide. With the Young Turk revolution and accompanying liberal citizenship reforms of 1908, the state tied the fate of all subjects, including Jews and Armenians, to the fate of the state by promising protections under the liberal rhetoric of brotherhood and inclusion studied by Michelle Campos. I show that although L’Aurore’s triangulation of kinship morphed over time, its rhetoric of brotherhood, inclusion, and protection continued throughout the alleged shift away from liberalism in the Balkan Wars and World War I. I argue that while demographic changes, nationalist movements, and wartime exigencies thoroughly studied in this period exacerbated state violence, liberalism should be considered as a condition of possibility that produced the totalizing scope of genocide, which itself laid the groundwork for the establishment of homogenizing nation-states in the region. This paper is part of a larger project to grapple with the fact that the Ottoman administration that was most committed to liberal citizenship was also the one that orchestrated and implemented the 1915 Genocide. Far from a failed momentary aspiration, Ottoman liberalism was an ongoing movement that, in promoting brotherhood and universal inclusion, ultimately demanded loyalty from all and ultimately punished the allegedly disloyal with genocidal violence.
  • The aftermath of the Great War created opportunities for various groups to raise their claims the nationhood across the post-Ottoman territories. This presentation focuses on the Ararat Rebellion (1927-1930) during which we encounter an unlikely collaboration between the Kurdish and Armenians seeking nationhood. Based on the premise that it was the confusing and conflictual climate of post-world war I enabled Turkish statehood and nationhood, a series of rebellions by the Kurds can be accounted for based on the ideological climate created by the Wilsonian principles. However, given the legacy of the Kurdish participation in the Armenian Genocide during the war, it is interesting to understand how and why Kurds and Armenians strategically or tactically, yet actively participated in the creation of the organization Xoybun that produced the leadership and resources for the Ararat rebellion less than two decades later. Framed by the state-formation and political opportunity structures theories of the Contentious Politics perspective, and using the newspaper accounts, memoirs, Greek and Xoybun archives, this presentation argues that since the Turkish nationhood was the product of a) post-war confusions among the allies, b) genocide and expulsion of Greeks and Armenians, c) pacification of the Kurds, d) inheriting centralized state structures of the Ottoman Empire, other political groups based on nationalities were collaborating to challenge this settlement. Given the historical contingency, such challenges reveal how certainty and inevitability were not "natural" consequences of the post-Great War order. These political conflicts at the time, such as the Ararat Rebellion, and the way political violence contributed to the consolidation of the statehood in Turkey, it can be concluded that the repressive and violent repression of this rebellion has been consequential for the 21st century modern Turkey and its state-society dynamics. This presentation focuses on the organization and operations of Xoybun as to reveal the existential fears of statehood and discontents of the society in Turkey.
  • This presentation aims at critically analyzing historical writings by Kurdish and Turkish nationalists during the 1930s who shared a common Ottoman background. Turkism and Kurdism as cultural movements had taken shape in the late-Ottoman era and particularly since the Young Turk Revolution (1908). However, it was the end of the Ottoman Empire that prompted the Turkish and Kurdish nationalists to imagine a national identity free from the strains of Ottoman nationalism. Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) used an Islamic rhetoric during the War of Independence (1919-1923) and emphasized the Islamic fraternity of Turks and Kurds. After the foundation of the Turkish Republic; however, he expected Kurds to adopt a secular and Turkish civic identity. Feeling betrayed, Kurdish nationalists organized two major rebellions against Kemalist Turkey: the Sheikh Said (1925) and Ararat (1927-1930) Rebellions . While those rebellions failed, they seriously challenged the young Kemalist Republic. The struggle between the two rival nationalisms would continue during the 1930s. Historiography was a major component of the struggle. Ataturk was personally involved in a history-writing project which presented Turks as the primary makers of world history. Known as the Turkish History Thesis, this new historiographical vision emphasized pre-Islamic Turkish history rather than the Islamic-Ottoman one. A similar but rival attempt to re-write history from nationalist perspective was led by exiled Kurdish nationalists of Turkey in Syria and Lebanon under the French mandate during the 1930s. After briefly introducing the late-Ottoman precedents of both Turkist and Kurdist attempts to view the past through the ethnic terms, this presentation will compare and contrast the two rival historiographical projects during the 1930s. I will put them in perspective by clarifying the political events as well as racial and linguistic debates that shaped Turkish and Kurdish historiographical arguments. For my presentation, I make use of primary sources including textbooks, magazine articles, conference proceedings, and memoirs from the time period in Kurmanji Kurdish, Turkish, as well as French languages.
  • Karakol, the principal underground group established by Nationalist Turks in Istanbul, which was under the British occupation, conducted intelligence collection and aided the covert transfer of weapons from military warehouses to Mustafa Kemal’s forces, as well as the movement of discharged military officers and personnel from Istanbul to Anatolia. Karakol was established in October 1918. It emerged as a secret security and resistance group from among the members of the dissolved Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). Karakol eventually turned into a secret organization that supported the War of Independence that started in Anatolia. Its branches worked independently and were organized according to a seven-person cell system. The names of members were unknown; each was identified by a number. The names of Executive Committee members were confidential, and the relationships of the Executive Committee with government departments, public authorities, foreigners, the press, political parties, and other individuals were run by five delegates. This paper will show the connection between the Special Organization (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa) and the Karakol and how the leaders and the members of the CUP have organized the resistance in Istanbul and in Anatolia. Karakol played an important role in the appointment of Mustafa Kemal as the Inspector (chief) of the Ninth Army Troops Inspectorate to reorganize the remaining Ottoman military units and to improve security in Anatolia. Despite ongoing concerns about the former CUP members in Istanbul, Karakol’s connections helped Mustafa Kemal secure assignment without interference by the occupying powers. Turkish nationalists smuggled weapons and members of Special Organization into Anatolia to initiate local resistance, operating under the names of Kuvay-ı Milliye (National Forces) and Müdafaa-i Hukuk (Defense of Law). In the majority of unoccupied towns in Anatolia, the former offices of the CUP changed their names to Müdafaa-i Hukuk. After Mustafa Kemal’s arrival in Anatolia, the various national resistance movements quickly turned into a centralized structure. This paper will focus on the role of the CUP in organizing the Nationalist movement under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal.