This panel probes how family history opens new ways of understanding major themes in Late Ottoman history such as dispossession, mobility and migration, war and political change. The four papers comprising this panel suggest family history as a means to address broader questions about the relationship between everyday life, political economy, crisis, and institutional change. In particular, the papers explore how family relationships and identities mediated control over resources, facilitated mobility, acted as a survival resource, and reflected broader social and political transformations at the end of Empire. The geographical scope of the panel stretches from Istanbul, Sofia to Damascus, from the Levant (Beirut) to East Mediterranean between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. How can we read ethnic, racial, and class distinctions from the perspective of family history in late Ottoman Empire? How did family relationships, networks, and ties mediate the political economy of war, social crisis, and political change across the Empire? Through a multifaceted analysis of these questions, the panel will bring together entangled and connected histories through the lens of family history.
The first paper explores the seizure and transfer of property of well-off Armenian families during WWI through the personal histories of three families in Ottoman Aintab, the Yacoubians, Danielians, and Nazaretians, which shed light on how thousands of Armenian families lost their wealth.
The second paper on wealthy Levantine families and their family companies in the mid-nineteenth century Beirut substantiates the connection of Greek business families in a critical moment of globalization and shows how the Greek identity was critical to Levantine families’ forging commercial exchanges in France, Britain, Greece, and as far away as Brazil.
The third paper examines the struggle of women to survive the First World War following the loss of their home and male relatives, showing, through the history of the Orga family, how family and kinship ties and resources were essential to women’s efforts to survive through wartime conditions of inflation, shortages, loss of property, and mass death and disease.
The final paper on the intimate lives of an extended Arab-Ottoman family living through the last few turbulent decades of the Ottoman Empire examines how global events were understood, experienced, and, in some cases, performed through the lives of men and women living in Istanbul, but who have connections across the empire, from Sofia to Damascus.
Drawing upon primary sources from Armenian, Ottoman-Turkish, British, and French archives, as well as memoirs, personal papers, local newspapers, periodicals, testimonials, and oral accounts, this paper focuses on affluent Armenian families and the fate of their wealth in Ottoman Aintab in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. From 1895 until 1915, Muslims and Armenians of Aintab, who had previously coexisted in relative harmony, turned against one another, with the former committing inconceivable acts against the latter. In this study, the lens through which intercommunal and state-minority relations are viewed is primarily an economic one, but in the broad sense of that term, with political economy entailing law, commerce, property relations, and socioeconomic tensions. Economic rivalries were over- laden on ethno-religious hierarchies in the late nineteenth century in Aintab. The seizure and transfer of property of well-off Armenian families undergirded popular support for the deportation and ultimate elimination of their fellow citizens. These families had constituted the middle and upper middle class of the Aintab population, and they had predominated in manufacturing, agricultural production, and interregional trade. Thus, their expulsion was a moment for opportunity, for the bandits who robbed Armenians of their personal belongings on the road and especially for Aintab’s Muslim elites, who seized the assets and properties the Armenians left behind. What would happen to the properties of leading wealthy Armenian families left behind, and how would they be managed? What mechanisms of the process of confiscation were used? Who benefited from this process? Did the Committee of Union Progress, then Ottoman ruling government, distribute property of prominent Armenian families to Aintab gentry and its inhabitants in exchange for their support? If so, which institutions were involved? What kinds of laws, rules, and regulations did state authorities enact for the confiscation of property of these families? These will be the guiding questions in this paper. They cut across a number of research areas in Ottoman and Middle Eastern history, some of which have been more thoroughly explored than others. To answer these questions, this paper examines the personal histories of three families in Aintab, the Yacoubians, Danielians, and Nazaretians, which shed light on how thousands of Armenian families lost their wealth.
The end of the Ottoman Empire has been the subject of many monographs, which have privileged the political, military, and diplomatic history of the period to illuminate the last 50 years of the Age of Empire in the Balkans and the Middle East. Relying on personal narratives of the end of the empire placed in the context of Ottoman state archives and newspaper accounts from across the empire, this paper examines the intimate lives of an extended family living through the last few turbulent decades of the Ottoman Empire. Focusing on the emotional and experiential levels, the paper will examine how global events were understood, experienced, and, in some cases, performed through the lives of men and women living in Istanbul, but who have connections stretching from Sofia to Damascus. The paper argues that shifting identarian categories, the foreclosure of imagined futures, and the emergence of new possibilities collided to produce a short period in time that highlights to a historian the process and experience of global trans-imperial on the quotidian level. Focusing on family history, and the history of individuals as they dealt with their shifting realities in real-time, allows for a different kind of history that not only privileges the experience-based over the event-based telling of history, but highlights historical processes otherwise rendered invisible to the traditional political or social historian. Examining the last few decades on the “street level” shows how concepts such as race, ethnicity, and class operated in a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional, and multi-racial empire operating in an increasingly competitive trans-imperial environment, while going through a process of increasing administrative centralization, increasingly public political participation, and a violent process of cultural homogenization. The paper investigates how these forms of ethnic, racial, and class distinctions were felt and experienced during a period of global upheaval and internal turmoil stretching between 1895 and 1922.
Through the lens of the history and experiences of the Orga family in Istanbul during the First World War, this paper probes everyday survival strategies employed by women to survive the hardships of World War I in the Ottoman Empire. Focusing heavily on the actions and strategies of his mother and grandmother, İrfan Orga’s memoir, Portrait of a Turkish Family, is one of the most eloquent accounts of daily life during World War I in Istanbul. Orga’s novel, Dark Journey, incorporates similar themes in a fictionalized account that puts female survival and suffering at the center of the story of the Ottoman First World War. Drawing upon these works, as well as Ottoman archival sources, parliamentary minutes, press materials and other life writings, this paper offers an initial look at a basic yet overlooked question: how did women survive the war? This paper draws out examples of specific everyday strategies for survival and examines the emotional and psychological effects of how womens’ efforts to survive the loss of their homes and their men transformed their personalities and indelibly changed their lives and the lives of their children and beyond. In doing so, this paper offers an initial look at how a focus on women’s survival strategies–specifically as narrated by Orga–can provide a new window into the perils of militarization and war and the extension of their effects across time through family experiences and relationships, and the way these family histories are shaped by later experiences and the dynamics of memory.
My proposed paper concerns wealthy Levantine families and their family companies in the mid-nineteenth century. The Levantine families at the heart of this paper were based in Beirut, but migrated from Istanbul to Northern Lebanon and onto locales across the Mediterranean and beyond. For this paper, I will interrogate migration and kinship connections in business that go beyond the immediate family. Instead, I focus on and theorize the connection of Greek business families in a critical moment of globalization, vertical integration, and capital accumulation in the Levant and around the globe.
Drawing on the family papers of the Sursuq and Bustrus families, housed in the Phoenix Center at USEK in Kaslik, Lebanon, I specifically ask: How did Beirut-based families’ Greek identity inform business connections and practices across the globe and vice versa? Relatedly, how can scholars theorize these familial connections in the mid-nineteenth century while taking their business acumen and goal of large-scale capital accumulation seriously? That is, how do the Levantine families’ commercial connection challenge the family/company dichotomy? Further, how can they help to shift scholars away from the superficiality or pre-capitalist assumptions Fahad Bishara correctly shows is implied by ‘networks’, ‘trust,’ or ‘family’ (Sea of Debt, 9)?
I have specifically found that the Greek identity was critical to Levantine families’ forging commercial exchanges in France, Britain, Greece, and as far away as Brazil. Family identity and sense of shared geography was, indeed, also shaped by these commercial interactions. Indeed, one of the first known connections between the Levantine Greek Orthodox business families and Greek businesses abroad was the Greek firm located in London, Lascaridi and Co. After purchasing the Greek and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, it served the Levant, Istanbul, and the Black Sea region. A major factor in the Greek companies’ success in transportation was a shared Greek language and evolving community. Proximity permitted quick communication, but participation in a world that was linguistically inaccessible to most Europeans was integral to the companies’ success.