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“What’s In a Name?”: Lexicons of Exclusion and (Post-)Ottoman Communities

Panel VIII-15, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
The papers constituting this panel consider the transition of four Ottoman communities –Armenian, Greek, Kurdish, and queer– into post-imperial entities as we seek to offer a joint investigation into the most nuclear –and perhaps the most potent– way of circumscribing, minoritizing, and vilifying a community: the lexicological. Through our analysis of the construction, evolution, and dissemination of names and terminologies –both official and unofficial– as they helped shape the ethnic, religious and sexual “others” of the late and post-Ottoman Empire, we seek the beginnings of a comparative conceptual framework in thinking about processes of exclusion, minoritization, and racialization in the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish Republic. How were late Ottoman lexicons of exclusion first formed? What is the relationship between discursive, sociocultural, and physical violence, seen through a comparative imperial and post-imperial framework? Finally, how did non-majority groups themselves respond to such efforts towards their lexicological encirclement? Our entrenched interest throughout the panel remains in the ways in which late- and post-Ottoman Armenians, Greeks, Kurds, and queers recognized and resisted the relentless efforts to name and define them — to pin them down, to dictate where they do or don’t belong, and to set the meaning and worth of their existence. The paper on Ottoman Armenians focuses on how the government of Abdulhamid II came up with specific labels and regulations which reinforced the state discourse that Armenian migration posed a unique threat to the security and integrity of the empire. The paper on Greek Ottomans examines how Rum satirists reproduced the ways in which their Turkish compatriots –and the Ottoman state– spoke to and about them (and the Rum’s own lexicon in satirizing Turks and the Empire) in the immediate aftermath of the Young Turk Revolution. The paper on the Kurds explores the late Ottoman and early republican Turkish elites' racialization of the Kizilbash Kurdish inhabitants of Dersim, from so-called “Muslim sons of Muslims” in 1890s to becoming “Turkish sons of Turks” by 1930s. The paper traces the historical evolution of this racialization process from the perspectives of both the state actors and the inhabitants of the region. The paper on queerness examines the specific linguistic and lexicological strategies writers used to depict trans existence in Ottoman-Turkish through a reading of three censured late Ottoman literary texts, all of which include transgender and genderqueer protagonists, use (proto)queer lexicon, and play with the idea of sexuality and textuality.
  • Dr. Erdag Göknar -- Discussant, Chair
  • Cevat Dargin -- Presenter
  • Ms. Hazal Ozdemir -- Presenter
  • Ms. Ipek Sahinler -- Presenter
  • Kutay Onayli -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Kutay Onayli
    This paper offers a re-thinking of the promises, challenges, and the Greek Ottoman perception of the Second Constitutional Period based on a close reading of serialized Rum political satire published in the immediate aftermath of the Young Turk Revolution. Offering continuous, highly-charged commentary –often in verse– on imperial politics and interethnic relations, this vast corpus of Istanbul-based popular literature held subscriber networks stretching across the Ottoman Empire –and well beyond, from Sudan to Paris to California,– but has received almost no critical reading to date. Presenting here a section of my dissertation on late Greek Ottoman popular literature, I discuss the early work, in generational and communal context, of Greek Ottoman satirical poets Konstantinos Makridis, Hristos Deligiavouris, and Brothers Misailidis; and of an avant-garde of Rum political cartoonists who were in their late teens and early twenties when the Young Turk Revolution struck in July 1908. I center the work these Greek Ottoman writers and visual artists produced in late 1908 and early 1909 with a focus on how they reproduced and lampooned the ways –and the specific vocabularies– in which their Turkish compatriots, and the Ottoman state, spoke to and about them. How did the Rum perceive their own perception by the imperial state, and by their Turkish-speaking neighbors, as the sun set over the Hamidian era? What longstanding experiences of sociocultural discrimination and verbal denigration were Rum writers and artists already voicing before the Committee of Union Progress became fully ascendant, and began their Turkifying agenda into state policy? How do the visions and lexicons of interethnic coexistence presented in early constitutional-era Rum popular writing and art complicate long-held scholarly notions of non-Muslim “enthusiasm” or “hopes” or "expectations" for a constitutional revolution? Analyzing also the Greek Ottoman lexicons in describing and satirizing Turks as well as the Empire itself, this paper considers whether the reciprocal vocabularies of alienation and denigration between the two communities (and the Ottoman state) as revealed in such popular literature belies a process comparable to one of racialization, well in progress as early as 1908.
  • Ms. Hazal Ozdemir
    In 1896 the government of Abdülhamid II (1876-1909) encouraged Armenians who were bound to the United States to emigrate under the condition that they renounce their Ottoman subjecthood (terk-i tabiiyet), and vow never to return. The government wanted to restrict the circular mobility of Armenians and turned what began as a form of temporary sojourn for males in the late 1880s – many of whom were motivated to return after they accumulated money to look after their property or take care of their families – into a permanent form. To exit the empire, Armenians had to submit two identity photographs. These visuals were duplicated into twelve and distributed to the Internal and Foreign Affairs, Police Ministries, and Ottoman ports of entry to register the undesirable subjects. In addition to the photographs, a lot of things were on the move at the turn of the twentieth century: Migrants, endless correspondences on nationality and denaturalization - but also fear, suspicion, threat, and what the Hamidian government saw as fesad (sedition). Via closely policing their mobility, withholding their basic rights as subjects, and labeling them/their mobility as treacherous, disloyal, and suspicious, the late Ottoman Empire discriminated against its Armenian population. The government did not even trust ordinary Armenians who declared that they would be in America for a short time for purposes such as trade, visit, education, and marriage, and it aimed to shape the Armenian transatlantic movement completely. Armenian transatlantic migration was seen as a form of fesad by the government, which linked the cautionary bureaucratic measures on Armenians’ return with the belief that Armenians would bring their “seditious ideas,” from the US if they return. In this paper, I focus on the flow of people, visual and written materials, and suspicion between the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, ports, Istanbul, and North America. Which language did the Hamidian bureaucratic apparatus use to label Armenian mobility? According to the government, where did the fesad originate from/travel to/have to be banned from at the beginning of the twentieth century? How did the government act with suspicion and threat, and what techniques did it employ to make Armenians legible? Since the concept of fesad is entrenched in Ottoman Turkish and denigrated diverse communities as revolutionaries, bandits, and migrants in the Ottoman Empire, I seek to understand what kind of uncontainable radicalism Armenian transatlantic mobility involved.
  • Cevat Dargin
    This paper explores the late Ottoman and republican Turkish state elites' racialization of the Kizilbash Kurdish inhabitants of the Dersim region as being “Muslim sons of Muslims” in 1890s to becoming “Turkish sons of Turks” by 1930s. In their internal writings, state elites never doubted the Kurdishness of Dersimis, even after they came to believe that they had successfully Turkified them. Publicly, however, they argued that Dersim Kurds were indeed the purest Turks; that their Kizilbash belief system, which the state elite had until then perceived as deviant and threatening, reflected primordial Turkish shamanism; and that Dersim’s inaccessible geography had preserved ancient Turkish characteristics in Dersim’s Kizilbash. By the 1940s, the “Turkishness” of Dersim Kurds was so established that government officials considered calling them Kurds in public tantamount to a curse. The paper traces the historical evolution of this racialization process from the perspectives of both the state actors and the inhabitants of the region through archival sources, memoirs, travelogues, oral traditions, and ethnographic studies in multiple languages. It argues that racialization through epistemic violence served to legitimize the state's implementation of necropolitics and genocidal violence to colonize Dersim in the late 1930s.
  • Ms. Ipek Sahinler
    Seldom do we see scholarly works that juxtapose translation studies, transgender studies, and Ottoman-Turkish literature. In other words, the specific linguistic strategies writers used to depict trans existence in Ottoman-Turkish remains an overlooked area within the broader discipline of Ottoman-Turkish literature. This paper is about trans(lating) lexicons of queerness in early modern Turkish. Concomitantly, I look at three censured pieces produced by three canonical male writers: Ahmed Mithat Efendi’s Dürdane Hanım (Mrs. Durdane, 1882), Ömer Seyfettin’s Eleğimsağma (Rainbow, 1917), and Osman Cemal Kaygılı’s Bir Garibe-I Hilkat (A Freak of Nature, 1923). The commonality between these works is that they include transgender and genderqueer protagonists, use (proto)queer lexicon that is not bound by pre-defined sexual identity categories, and they ultimately play with the idea of sexuality and textuality. To this end, my paper has three main goals: first, to investigate how the words “transgender” and “queer” were expressed grammatically and lexically in late Ottoman-Turkish. Second, to understand how technologies of marginalization operated on a linguistic level alongside the canonization of Turkish literature at the turn of the century. Third, to juxtapose two seemingly irrelevant disciplines—namely transgender studies and Ottoman-Turkish literature—in order to foster a nouvelle and interdisciplinary scholarly debate about how queer thinking can help us understand Ottoman-Turkish literature today.