Current Institutional Affiliation
Interdisciplinary Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Washington

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2017
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Interdisciplinary Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Washington
"Without a Purpose Misfortune Will Befall Our Land:" Discourses of Nation and Purpose in Late Ottoman Kurdistan

During the past two years, violence committed by the Islamic State against Yezidis, Syriac Christians and Kurds has brought these communities to international attention. The precarity facing these groups, as marginalized societies in the Post-Ottoman nation-states of the Middle East, stems in part from the inability of their late 19th and early 20th century nationalist movements to achieve their goals of autonomy or independence. In the final decades of the Ottoman Empire (1876-1923), Syriac Christian, Kurdish and Yezidi leaders sought to define and guide their nations by drawing upon overlapping and competing discourses of religion, ethnicity, language and heritage. This sentiment is reflected in the writings of Syriac Orthodox intellectual Naum Faiq (1868-1930), who in 1920 exhorted to his beleaguered community to bind together, lest "without a purpose, misfortune will befall our land." This project explores the local elements that shaped the discourses of Kurdish, Syriac Christian and Yezidi identity and nationalism between 1876 and 1923. By focusing on three main areas – education and print culture, municipal leadership councils, and religious institutions – I will place these competing discourses in dialogue with locally-oriented institutions and processes. Rather than engaging nascent conceptualizations of nation, I argue that Syriac Christian, Kurdish, and Yezidi nationalist movements and the discourses surrounding them were directly shaped by these institutions, which ultimately fostered a greater saliency of religious, rather than ethnic definitions of community. Drawing on Ottoman, Kurdish, Arabic, Syriac and Neo-Aramaic sources, my research will contribute to both new historical paradigms to conceptualize the Ottoman periphery and to religious studies by demonstrating the ways religious rhetoric was deployed for delineating nationhood during this period of transformation and will for the first time place these voices in dialogue within a single project.