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Diplomacy, Diplomats, and Forgotten Records

Panel IX-24, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
  • Buṭrus al-Bustānī (1819–83) is one of the most prominent figures of the Nahḍa: “the project of Arab cultural and political modernity” (El-Ariss, 2018, xv). A public intellectual and literary magnate, he is celebrated for advocating the formation of a secular civil society based on a shared cultural heritage. This paper examines his twenty-plus-year career as the first dragoman at the US Consulate in Ottoman Beirut and reads his contributions to Arab modernity in light of his privileged political and legal status as a protégé of a foreign power. This paper engages with scholarship on dragomans in the Ottoman Empire (Rothman, 2009; Laffan (diss), 2011; and Keskinkiliç and Ceylan, 2015), the American consular presence in the Middle East (Kark, 1994), and al-Bustānī’s profile as a translator of modernity (Issa, 2023). Al-Bustānī served American interests in Syria and Palestine from about 1850 to 1872. The Consular Dispatches from Beirut at the US National Archives reveal that in addition to being a translator and interpreter, he was a tour guide and legal consultant. He also served as a valuable informant on politics, culture, and commerce. It must be noted that from April 1857 to July 1858, he singlehandedly financed and managed consular operations in town. As a reliable employee of the US, al-Bustānī enjoyed “all the privileges of [American] citizenship without its burdens,” thanks to the Capitulations (imtiyāzāt; literally “privileges”), which conferred extraterritorial rights to foreign powers and their protégés (Hay to Hunter (15. Jan. 1872) USNA RG 59, T367, r. 7). The Nahḍa icon Buṭrus al-Bustānī benefited from American protection for most of his literary and intellectual career. This historical fact complicates our understanding of him as “an Ottoman Arab” (Hanssen and Safieddine 2019; Arsan 2021). A loyal subject of the Sultan and ardent supporter of High Porte policies, he was also a privileged intellectual with, what we in the twenty-first century call, diplomatic immunity. He could write and say (practically) whatever he wanted with impunity. It is hoped that future research considers more fully the political and economic benefits that many Nahḍa figures in the late Ottoman period garnered from their work at American and European consulates.
  • Captain William Henry Irvine Shakespear (1878-1915) is one of the lesser-known Britons to have lived in the Arabian Gulf. However, his regional knowledge and influence were considerable and had the potential to change the course of Arab-British relations, which they indeed did despite his short lifetime. This paper will attempt to show that his diplomatic endeavours deserve considerably more credit and recognition than they have hitherto been afforded. Born in Bombay, Shakespear graduated from Sandhurst in 1897, serving in the British and Indian Armies and learning Urdu, Pushtu, Farsi and Arabic to interpreter level. At only twenty-five, he was posted first as consul to Bandar Abbas and then to Kuwait, where, in 1910, he met 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud, better known as Ibn Sa'ud, the future king of Saudi Arabia, and built a strong personal relationship with him (Harrigan, 2008). Shakespear immersed himself in the local dialect and culture, becoming expert in riding, falconry and hunting with salukis. His humanitarian personality and diverse interests such as photography and botany conceivably helped him form friendships and negotiation skills. His extensive desert travel enabled him to provide unique and crucial intelligence to London; he tried to persuade Britain to support 'Abd Al-'Aziz, then Emir of Riyadh, correctly perceiving him as a future leader, but it was currently negotiating the Anglo-Ottoman treaty and rejected Shakespear’s counsel. The Turks held part of the Arabian coast and, while 'Abd al-'Aziz aimed to expel them, the British hoped they could advance British regional interests. However, when the Turks indicated their allegiance to Germany before World War I, London again approached Shakespear for advice (Dillon, 2019). In 1915, he began work with 'Abd Al-'Aziz on a draft treaty which would recognise him as the independent ruler of Najd (Harrigan, 2008). 'Abd Al-'Aziz was then engaged in hostilities with Ibn Rashid, his rival for Najd, and entered into battle with his army at Jarrad. Shakespear remained, despite 'Abd Al-'Aziz’s misgivings, and, prominent in his English uniform, was fatally shot by the enemy. Nevertheless, the Anglo-Saudi Treaty was signed on 26 December 1915 (Lowe, n.d.), mainly through his efforts. His success was, however, overshadowed by the subsequent exploits of T. E. Lawrence and others. Philby (1930) comments that Shakespear’s death is among “individual events which have changed the course of history,” and Plumbly (n.d.) adds that for those working on relations between Britain and Saudi Arabia, “he remains a hero.”
  • Since the mid-nineteenth century, Iran and Afghanistan have shared a stable border delineated by the Anglo-Persian Treaty of Paris of 1857. Beyond the border, they share far more. First and foremost, they share the Persian language as the language of the state. Second, both Afghanistan and Iran were among the first “independent” Muslim-majority states of the twentieth century and shared parallel trajectories of political centralization and economic development under the reigns of Amir Amanullah Khan (1892-1960) in Afghanistan and Reza Shah Pahlavi (1878-1944) in Iran. Finally, they shared geopolitical concerns of sovereignty in the modern era and fear of Anglo-Russian competition for influence. This begs the question: what was the nature of the foreign relations between these two modernizing Muslim states that shared so much in common? Despite obvious commonalities, very little has been written on the diplomatic history of Afghanistan and Iran. The lack of focus is not unique to one of the historiographies, either—both Afghan and Iranian diplomatic and political historiographies are primarily dominated by the Great Game and relations with European states and focuses on one-man histories of Amanullah Khan and Reza Shah. The existing historiography thus excludes the role of bureaucrats in the development of Afghanistan’s political and diplomatic spheres and any significant engagement with diplomatic and political relations between Afghanistan and Iran. Sayyid Mahdī Farrukh (1886-1973), was Iran’s first vazir-i mukhtar to Afghanistan between 1926 and 1928. While in Kabul, he compiled troves of information in Kursīʹnishīnān-i Kābul, a diplomatic memoir with a didactic purpose. He also lead the signing of the ʿAhdnāma-yi vadādiya va taʿmīnī, (Agreement of Commitment and Security), a political and economic agreement between Afghanistan and Iran, the concerned with securing peaceful and prosperous relations that respected sovereignty. first of its kind between the modern states. Through a deep analysis of the primary sources, Kursīʹnishīnān-i Kābul and theʿAhdnāma-yi vadādiya va taʿmīnī, between Afghanistan and Iran, it is possible to understand the nature of the interest of Afghanistan and Iran in establishing formal diplomatic relations was based on their status as “independent” Muslim and Persian-speaking states and their desire to uphold political cooperation and maintain peace between the two bordering states.
  • At the end of World War II, the Turkish government gave signals for transition to the democratic system after 22 years of single-party rule by establishing the opposition party and recognizing the freedom of the press. The new party founders collaborated with an outspoken journalist Sabiha Sertel, known for her opposition to the single party, speaker of democratic rights and freedom, and her pro-Moscow stance. While Turkey was taking steps on the democratic path, it repositioned alongside the victors of the war, the liberal-democratic states, to not be alone in the face of the Soviet Union, which emerged as a great power. Turkey seized ultra-nationalist magazines and arrested its leading figures to ease the tension with the Soviet Union during World War II. Tension escalated again in 1945 when the Soviet Union demanded that the Montreux Convention be revised. The new opposition party’s collaboration with leftists triggered a demonstration by Istanbul University students who raided Tan printing house on the 4th of December 1945. After destroying the newspaper and printing house, the demonstrators continued to destroy leftist bookstores on the same street as the Soviet Embassy and chanted against the Soviet Union. After this incident, new opposition party leaders immediately denied their relations with the leftist magazine. This presentation aspires to analyze whether the government instigated the Tan Raid to realign the newly emerged opposition party to the right center rather than the left, is used to give the message to Soviet Union’s post-World War II policies and find a place between democratic powers. Methodology: This study involves a literature review as well as archival resources. Besides primary sources, secondary resources are benefitted.
  • Opium poppy cultivation in Turkey posed a challenge in relations between the Turkey and the USA in the late 1960s. Turkey was one of the opium production centers in the world, and the US-decision makers, specifically President Richard Nixon, suspiciously argued that the main source of heroin, a refined version of opium poppy, entering the USA through France was Turkey. As a result of public pressure in the United States as a result of the rising number of heroin addicts in this decade, the Nixon administration put pressure on Turkey's Justice Party (JP) government to ban opium poppy cultivation in the second half of the 1960s. The JP government and its Prime Minister, Süleyman Demirel, rejected these accusations but promised to limit and control opium poppy cultivation in the country. As a populist party, the JP government was afraid of losing the support of farmers in the countryside, and, more importantly, they believed that the volume of opium poppy cultivation in Turkey was far from meeting the opium poppy supply for heroin in the USA. However, the military intervened in Turkish politics in 1971, and the technocratic Nihat Erim government completely banned opium poppy cultivation in response to US demands. However, after the 1973 elections, a coalition government was formed between Bülent Ecevit’s Republican People’s Party (RPP) and Necmettin Erbakan’s National Salvation Party. (NSP) This weird coalition between a leftist and an Islamist party lifted the ban on opium poppy cultivation in 1974, which was followed by a strong reaction and an embargo by the USA following the Cyprus intervention. This study aims to uncover the opium poppy crisis between two allies by analyzing the history of opium poppy and its cultivation in Turkey and the developments in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite the existence of studies on the opium poppy crisis between the USA and Turkey, a broader analysis of the developments not just before the crisis but also the policies of both countries after the crisis, including the positions of political actors, intelligence services, etc., has been lacking. Therefore, the main contribution of this study will be a contextual analysis of the crisis based mainly on the primary sources, especially the American archives and memoirs of the actors, and secondary sources such as the articles and books on this topic.