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Border(land)s of the Ottoman Empire

Panel IX-20, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
The concept of “spatial turn” has gained currency among scholars who studied space, environment, and their entangled relationship with people. Along with this comes the need for a new approach to conceptualizing border(land)s so that difference is emphasized, mediated, and brought a more productive tension. Studying the borderland can show how that tension might be released without a crisis. This panel brings together fresh views on the borderland itself, within the context of the Ottoman Empire. While our panel still addresses the experience of the physical space and demarcations between entities, it seeks primarily to move towards a more inclusive concept of borderland that functions as a framework in which ideological, religious, ethnic, social, economic, political, and linguistic differences are both divided and united at the same time, a nexus of various agents and parties, a context where convergences and divergences are observed. The diversity of the Ottoman Empire is ripe with a plethora of these “borderlands,” and each presenter’s research embodies the concept of borderland and its meaning in the Ottoman world. One of the panelists works on the Ottoman-Polish borderlands in the Early Modern Era. Their work highlights the role that the local political organization and transborder dynamics played during the Russian imperial expansions starting in the 1760s. Another panelist considers linguistic and religious borders through Armeno-Turkish literary texts produced in the 17th and 19th centuries. Through a comparative analysis of Akabi Hikayesi and “The Jewish Bride,” they point to the tensions created from the religious border existing within a single ethnic community, as well as between two different confessional communities, and show how a borderlands tongue can enable different types of border crossings. The next panelist studies 17th and 18th century fatwas on festivals and celebrations both Muslims and non-Muslims participate in. These fatwas illustrate the mental borderland between the mufti and the subjects of the fatwa but at the same time point to the border crossings that occurred and the new borderlands that were created. The final panelist studies 15th century religio-epic narratives of Muslim women, Destan-ı Kız (Epic of the Girl) and Destan-ı Hatun (Epic of the Woman), and explores the construction of Muslim womanhood in the borderlands of Anatolia where Turkic settlement and conversions were taking place. Their paper compares the construction of Muslim womanhood in the borderlands and the center of the empire while tracing the larger changing borders of Muslim womanhood.
  • Dr. Ali Yaycioglu -- Discussant, Chair
  • Merve Tekgürler -- Presenter
  • Elmira Louie -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Zehra Ilhan -- Presenter
  • Mr. Hüseyin Göcen -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Elmira Louie
    What tongue does the borderlands speak? Gloria Anzaldúa famously theorized her Chicana blend of Mexican Spanish and U.S. English as a “forked tongue” and a “bastard language,” one that not only crossed the cultural, linguistic, and geographical border of US-Mexico but that resided in the border space itself, much like herself and her pluralistic identity. The Ottoman Empire was a motley of borderlands where multiple forked tongues existed depending on the region and historical moment. I argue that Armeno-Turkish is a borderlands language. More than just a forked tongue, Armeno-Turkish draws on two distinct languages – the script of Armenian and the syntax and vocabulary of Turkish – to both ease the use of the Turkish language while increasing the language’s readability and accessibility, particularly for Ottoman Armenians. This paper asserts that the linguistic border between Armenian and Turkish subjects is surpassed with the borderlands tongue of Armeno-Turkish. I further claim that this borderlands language, while overcoming one type of border, highlights another: religion. To that end, I take the Armeno-Turkish novel Akabi Hikayesi and narrative poem “The Jewish Bride” as literary exemplars of the ways in which a hybrid language necessarily facilitates cross border exchange. The central premise in both texts is an interfaith marriage that causes outcry from each respective community and leads to tragedy. In Akabi Hikayesi, this dilemma is between Apostolic and Catholic Armenians whereas “The Jewish Bride” revolves around a Jewish and Greek Orthodox relationship. By reading the borderlands in these texts, the tensions created by religious borders between a single ethnic community as well as those in neighboring communities is drawn out. My paper asserts that this tension is the result of existing boundaries changing and opening up space for the borderland motley to exist. I further claim that the borderland makes impossible border crossings a possibility. The protagonists’ interfaith relationships not only attempt to cross religious bounds but form a generative “third space” that belongs to neither of the two sides but exists within its own right, much like Armeno-Turkish itself. I claim that this alternate to dichotomous divisions within these literary works is the borderland. My paper ultimately reclaims these texts by not attempting to mold them into “Turkish” or “Armenian” literature but rather demonstrating the rich insights and new perspectives one can gain by embracing the plurality rather than attempting to simplify it.
  • Merve Tekgürler
    The long 18th century, particularly the period between the 1760s and 1821, marks a moment of transition in the borderlands between the Ottoman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. North of the Danube river and bordered by the Black Sea, these territories encompass the contemporary states of Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and parts of Russia. Russian and Habsburg imperial expansions into the region, including the Partitions of Poland-Lithuania (1772-1795), Annexation of Crimea (1783), and Habsburg incursions into the Romanian Principalities shifted the balance of power. The start of the Greek Revolution in 1821 and its impact on the Phanariot governance signaled the end of the previous political order. This paper seeks to understand how this tumultuous period was experienced locally in the borderlands and in the Ottoman Empire through the borderland. In other words, following Peter Sahlins’ seminal work, this paper conceptualizes the Danubian borderlands as the crucible where the post-1821 Ottoman order was forged. Moreover, in conversation with Christine Philliou’s operationalization of the term governance, this paper focuses on how the relationships in the borderlands between the Ottoman governors, Polish palatines, Phanariot voivodas, Crimean khans and their local networks of Tatars, Cossacks, Ottomans, Poles, Jews, and many other denizens contributed to the making of the order. This paper argues that the resilience of the Ottoman state at the cusp of the 19th century depended in part on the experiences of the Ottoman administration in this borderland. Ottoman bureaucrats benefited from the local news and information networks which they in turn further sustained and expanded. Through these networks, they gathered information about the world outside of the Empire, particularly on the ever-intensifying Russian threat. They developed practices to communicate news reliability, confirm their verifiability, and built trust along the borderland-Istanbul axis. Moreover, tools and technologies that shaped imperial knowledge production, such as the newspaper, entered the Ottoman state institutions through the borderland. Unlike Sahlins’ Pyrenees, Ottoman-Polish borderlands do not exist on contemporary maps or national imaginations. Instead, the same geography is today claimed by the Russian state. Studying these borderlands during the 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine, offers additional insights not only into the conflict but also into an Eastern European spatial imagination that was once upon a time not delineated along national claims. This paper speaks of a past that leads one to imagine a future for the region that embodies ethnic and religious diversity and new forms of coexistence.
  • This paper approaches early modern Ottoman communal celebrations and festivals as a borderland, which brings together different genders and confessional groups that were not meant to cross their gender or confessional boundaries in the public sphere. I argue that in this borderland of communal celebrations the rules which maintain communal and gender boundaries and, thus, undergird the “empire of difference” do not hold sway. We witness in this borderland an alternative model for a diverse society that is based on desegregation. It is precisely this serious challenge posed by communal celebrations and festivals to the “empire of difference” that brings them under scrutiny in the legal opinions of jurisconsults. Using these sources, first, I shed light on the description of these celebrations in the fatwas and the muftis’ evaluation of these events; second, I provide a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between the mufti and the actors of the celebrations, and third, I scrutinize the creation of a shared space between separated gender and religious groups. These fatwas are in Turkish and come from the collections of Suverü'l-Fetâvâ (1627) from Skopje, Fetâvâ-yı Akkirmanî (1630-31) from Akkerman (modern-day Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi in Ukraine), Mufîdetü’l-En’am (1665) from western Anatolia, Fetâvâ (1679) from İzmir, Fetâvâ (1715) and Bahrü’l-Fetâvâ (1750) from Erzurum, and “Recueil” (1793) from Euboea. I have selected these collections to get a broad view of the concept of borderland from different corners of the empire. As the panel intends to consider the idea of borderland in new lights and attempts to bring together different approaches to it from multiple perspectives, my paper contributes to this end by bringing forth the contested domain of celebration in the early modern Ottoman empire as a means to access this ephemeral and temporary borderland, a framework in which ideological, religious, and communal differences are both divided and united at the same time, a nexus of various agents and parties. The fatwas show that the approach of the participants of these meetings and the mufti toward these occasions differ significantly, and a mental diversification can be observed. Whereas muftis represent a consistently divisive and hostile attitude towards these meetings, subjects in the fatwas demonstrate an alternative and converging approach to the union of separate communities and genders. Therefore, the idea of festivals and celebrations as borderlands can introduce a fresh look at the vertical and horizontal connections among various parties in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Ottoman Empire.
  • Zehra Ilhan
    This research explores the construction of Muslim womanhood in the Anatolian borderland, and it compares this discourse on Muslim womanhood with the later seventeenth-century texts that instruct Muslim women on how to practice their religion. By focusing on two anonymous epic religious narratives of women, Destan-ı Kız (Epic of the Girl) and Destan-ı Hatun (Epic of the Woman), written down in fifteenth-century Anatolia, this paper delineates that Muslim women were praised in religious narratives with their own faith and practices of Islam. In these narratives, Muslim women were the direct subjects of religion and eulogized for their faith and devotion. As opposed to the post-fifteenth-century religious texts that were produced under the influence of the central Ottoman state and its disciplinary concerns, these texts do not concern women’s submission to their husbands to prove their piety. The socio-economic and political life of the late medieval borderland of Anatolia, where Islamization, settlement of the Turkic people, and conversions had been happening, was central to the production and dissemination of these texts and this kind of idealized pious womanhood. This paper argues that how Muslim womanhood discursively constructed in the borderlands of Anatolia was strikingly different from the Muslim womanhood that was discursively constructed in the seventeenth-century texts that were produced by Ottoman scholars under the influences of the Ottoman centralized state. Although Ottoman historians have produced rich literature on the transformation of Ottoman Islam and Confessionalization/Sunnitization, the very gendered nature of these developments and their impact on Muslim women’s religiosity are understudied. By using gender as an analytical tool and focusing mainly on pre-sixteenth-century epic religious stories of Muslim women and comparing them with seventeenth-century religious texts, this research addresses the gendered aspect of the transformation of Ottoman Islam and its impact on the construction of Muslim womanhood. This research contributes to the Ottoman historical literature by showing that Muslim women’s idealized religiosity that was shaped in the borderlands underwent transformations that were impacted by the influence of the institutionalization of Islam and Confessionalization/Sunnitization.