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Contested Borderlands, Contested Subjecthoods: Space, Materiality, and Language

Session VI-11, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 4:00 pm

Panel Description
This panel explores the spatial, material, and linguistic border-making practices and subjecthoods of three ethnolinguistic minority communities in the Middle East while scrutinizing the bordering attempts of respective local and national authorities. Three panelists specializing in Ottoman Armenians, Modern Turkish Sephardim, and Egyptian Amazigh problematize issues related to the varying membership, identity, and citizenship systems of mobile subjects. On the one hand, the papers in this panel converge on the themes of space and materiality; how they are utilized by governments as tools to regulate and manage people. On the other hand, the analyses trace the ways in which minorities navigate and contest these systems of rule and categorisation patterns. Panelists trace the social lives of documents such as photographs, denaturalization records, birth certificates, while showing gendered and racialized ways in which these material objects appear. Through ethnographic and archival lenses, this panel investigates multiple governmental enforcements and reproductions of bureaucratic, linguistic and spatial borders. The first paper examines the obstacles the Ottoman government put against Armenian circular mobility between 1896-1908. It investigates how the production, distribution and archiving of photographs and denaturalization records contributed to engineering a new kind of emigration database to keep Armenians from reclaiming their subjecthood or returning to the empire. The second paper traces shifting rules for the gendered mobility of Siwans in Egypt’s Western Desert. It examines local alongside national patterns for the regulation of movement, that categorise individuals by gender, nationality, and ethnicity, as well as temporal and generational dimensions. Last but not least, the third paper focalizes the cultural and linguistic border-making practices through Sephardi Citizenship Law in Spain, and shows how Sephardim of Turkey navigates those cultural borders. Overall, the panelists investigate documenting technologies, spatial control, and law to analyze how states govern their borders while defining and controlling their populations.
  • My paper will be on Ottoman state regulations towards Armenian circular mobility between the Ottoman Empire and the United States between 1896-1908. By 1896 the government of Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) encouraged Armenians to emigrate but required them to denaturalize and sign documents attesting that they would never return. As part of this process, Armenians – who had become undesirable subjects – were required to submit two identity photographs. My paper examines how the production, distribution and archiving of photographs and denaturalization records contributed to engineering a new kind of emigration database to keep Armenians from reclaiming their subjecthood or returning to the empire. Creating an emigration database and requiring Armenian migrants to denaturalize, I argue, were complementary techniques of bureaucratization and border-building. My paper analyzes denaturalization and the still understudied ways in which the government eliminated its Armenian population – that is, not only through pogroms but also through bureaucratic channels. When Armenian migrants submitted their paperwork to the Ottoman state and were denationalized, their Ottoman identity cards were taken from them and invalidated, and their names were erased from the population registers. They no longer existed in the Ottoman Empire as subjects, but as criminals who should be kept outside of the Ottoman realm. I aim to show that expatriation was not some stop-gap fiscal measure to limit the number of Armenians who were protected by the American government. Rather than being related to the Ottoman fears of extraterritoriality and consular protection, denationalization was a wholesale policy targeting one particular ethnoreligious community. The Hamidian government denied Armenians subjecthood because it saw them as problem subjects who had been disloyal to the empire. My paper, therefore, contributes to Ottoman nationality studies by drawing on attempts to decenter the field from European states who seek capitulatory privileges and their non-Muslim protégés (Can and Low, 2020) by exploring state responses to Armenian emigration as a population management project. Through this paper, I aim to highlight continuities between Hamidian practices of denaturalization as a border-building attempt and what I term the “social death” of Ottoman Armenians, and the forced nationalist homogenization, assimilation, deportation, and ethnic cleansing carried out by the Committee of Union and Progress between 1913-1918.
  • Diyarbekirli Kurdîzade Ahmed Ramiz (1878-1940) was an author of many books, a publisher (nâşir or tab‘), and an entrepreneur. He was the licensee (Sahib-i İmtiyaz) and responsible manager (Müdir-i Mesul) of the Kurdish newspaper, Kirmanç [Kurmanc], from April 5, 1910 (23 Mart 1326) and the responsible manager of the Turkish-Kurdish newspaper, Aşiret, whose licensee was Ahmed Süreyya Bedirkhan (1883-1938), from November 13, 1910 (23 Eylül 1326). He was also the owner of a bookstore, Kütübhane-i İctihad, in Beyazıd. Additionally, he was a very active Kurdish intellectual among the Kurdish population in Istanbul. His name can be seen in the list of the founders of the Society for the Spread of Kurdish Education (Kürd Neşr-i Maarif Cemiyeti) and the Society for the Strengthening of Kurdistan (Kürdistan Azm-i Kavi Cemiyeti). Diyarbekirli Kurdîzade Ahmed Ramiz had a close relationship with many intellectuals and publishers from different backgrounds and ideologies during the reign of Sultan Abdüllhamid II (1876-1909) and the government of the Committee of Union and Progress (İttihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti), including, for example, Abdullah Cevdet (1869-1932), Bediüzzaman Saidi Kurdî (1878-1960), Mevlanzade Rifat Bey (1869-1930), Dağıstanlı Hüseyin Kâmî Bey (Dehrî) (1878-1912), İsmail Hakkı (Amasya Mebusu), and Doktor Şerefaddin Mağmumî (1860-1931). Unfortunately, Kurdîzade Ahmed Ramiz has not been a subject of extensive study. As we can see he was a prominent figure before and during the Second Constitutional Era. I will explore the life and publications of Kurdîzade Ahmed Ramiz. Additionally, I will focus on Ahmed Ramiz’s role as the main figure within a network of intellectuals and publishers from different standpoints, and how they supported and worked together against the government in the first quarter of the twentieth century
  • In 2015, the Spanish government enacted a law that offers citizenship to Jews worldwide, provided they are able to document their Sephardic ancestry in Spain. Even though presented as Spain’s atonement for the horrors of the Inquisition, Spanish citizenship is paradoxically contingent on passing two exams: one on contemporary Castilian Spanish, and another on Spanish “culture”. This paper centers on how language plays into modern Spanish national identity and citizenship in its capacity to include and exclude. The legal and political discourses on Sephardim’s belonging to Spain focalizes on the community’s 500-year maintenance of their vernacular Ladino in the diaspora. “Primordial Spanish enriched with loans from host languages” as the 2015 law refers to it, Ladino contains medieval Castilian linguistic features and has been transmitted across generations since the expulsion in 1492. The way in which 2015 law presents Ladino as key evidence of Sephardim’s belonging to Spain underlies ideas about linguistic-cultural lineage, further hinting at the reasoning behind the exclusion of other groups expelled from Spain in 15th century within the scope of this law, notably Muslims. This paper ethnographically centers on Sephardic Jews and people with Sephardi lineage in Turkey. The history of Sephardim of Turkey goes back to the 1492 expulsions in Inquisitorial Iberia, after which some Sephardim settled in Ottoman lands. Making Ottoman lands home for over five centuries, a significant portion of Jews of Turkey appealed to Spain’s historical apology offering citizenship to the children of Sepharad. However, the offer was valid for a limited period of time, deadline being October 2019, and was conditional on the applicants’ documentation of their Sephardic ancestry. I ask: What kind of material objects and documents serve as to prove one’s lineage of five centuries, and what are the politics of this “document fetish”? This paper centers on how evincing genealogy and other highly contested provisions on Sephardi citizenship in Spain converges on one premise: to define, and delimit modern Spain’s linguistic and cultural boundaries, to which Muslim groups who were historically expelled from Spain did not seem to fit.
  • How do norms of gender segregation interact with an expanding surveillance project? Is Siwan men's control over 'their women' a way of preserving an internal domain that outsiders may not access, or do their actions in effect undergird and expand the explicitly masculinist expansion of surveillance? In this talk, I provide an overview of the location of the Siwa oasis at Egypt's territorial and national margins. I then discuss how I am approaching the concept of gendered mobilities; that is, how men and women are differently positioned vis-a-vis state projects and how their differential positions can simultaneously restrict and expand the reach of local authorities into Siwi economies and daily life.