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Evaluation – Embattled Dreamlands: The Politics of Contesting Armenian, Kurdish and Turkish Reminiscence

Embattled Dreamlands: The Politics of Contesting Armenian, Kurdish and Turkish Memory
By David Leupold
Routledge, 2020

What makes for a robust society? For Ibn Khaldun, the good fourteenth-century Maghrebi sociologist, the reply was assabiyah: solidarity. But the kinship-based tribal foundations of Khaldun’s story of civilisation additionally held an inherent downside; the solidarity dissipated over time. Then got here alongside a completely extra supercharged idea: the nation. With its metanarrative of group oneness since time immemorial this appeared to be an altogether extra sturdy and resilient formulation for the robust society. But right here once more there was an inbuilt downside. Nationwide leaders, whether or not self-proclaimed, or by dint of fashionable acclamation, would possibly search to embrace a fair better multitude inside their group of destiny, as depending on no matter cultural, linguistic and/or ethno-religious attributes they allegedly held in frequent. However until they already have been in prior possession of a territorial area, and with the army functionality to defend it, their robust society was at all times in peril of imploding within the face of different nationwide voices with their very own putative claims that this similar territory was ancestrally theirs. Maybe it was higher, in any case, to return to the drafting board so as to reassert some pre-existing, religiously sanctioned framework for oneness, the ummah, as an example, the one downside right here being that complete swathes of the inhabitants won’t settle for its injunctions or be excluded from it, by dint of their very own. In fact, one would possibly try to reinvent the formulation, stripped of its non secular essence, and name one’s supra-national entity, Ottoman. And if all these varied makes an attempt at cohering individuals collectively inside a spatial dimension spectacularly fell aside, one would possibly take a crude surgical instrument to the elements of the physique which didn’t suit your solidaristic idea, or held out for one thing else, and try and excise or get rid of them altogether.

This solely skeletal summary of the challenges of socio-political formation and/or ethno-genesis within the passage from Ottomania to post-Ottomania gives a roundabout approach of introducing David Leupold’s Embattled Dreamlands. As its full title suggests the main target of the e-book is in regards to the previous century and extra, of efforts by three competing ‘nationwide’ teams, Turks, Armenians and Kurds, to think about and from that embody a area, to which we would neutrally assign the title jap Anatolia, as both jap Turkey, western Armenia or northern Kurdistan. Even then, there would appear to be a Caucasian cross-border spill over because the examine additionally relates in vital half to a as soon as Russian, then Soviet and eventually unbiased (jap) Armenia in addition to a contested a part of Azerbaijan, commonly known as Nagorno-Karabakh, although falling in need of the newest 2020 conflict. In different phrases, this, politically-speaking is a really sophisticated panorama overshadowed, above all, by an historic ‘reminiscence’ of 1 searing trauma, and which, regardless of the efforts of some events to it, to overlook or elide, refuses to go away. That occasion, the Armenian genocide of 1915-16, wittingly or unwittingly not solely holds all its modern descendants in its grip however has, as within the occasion of Nagorno-Karabakh, the ability of all malevolent ghosts to return with a vengeance. As well as, as a result of a lot of the accessible narratives of 1915 and its aftermath are so canonically nationwide, to not say vastly partisan, typically crudely one-dimensional, or brimming over with both accusation or self-exculpation of their presentation of the ‘we’ as at all times victims, by no means perpetrators, the probabilities of navigating a path in the direction of sanity and long-term co-habitation would appear as distant as discovering the stays of the ark on Mount Ararat.

Complicated communities

With all this in thoughts it’s a nice pleasure to report that Embattled Dreamlands is just not solely a splendidly illuminating and vastly absorbing examine, but in addition a remarkably neutral and clear-sighted one. It isn’t that Leupold eschews the fraught complexity of the three-way relationship. If something, he goes the opposite approach in teasing out – as is unquestionably acceptable – its cat’s-cradle qualities. There are Kurds who’re stridently secular and politically internationalist, Kurds who derive their identification from the world of shaikhs and aghas, Kurdish audio system whose major touchstone is their Yezidi religion, Kurds dwelling within the Van area however whose tribal origins are firmly rooted within the Caucasus, together with the current day republic of Armenia. But there are huge numbers of Armenians – in addition to a smaller variety of Yezidis – on this republic who nonetheless look longingly throughout the border to their ancestral houses in and across the Van area in current day Turkey, now typically inhabited by the refugee descendants of the aforesaid Caucasus Kurds. The 2-way expulsions and compelled flights of the Nice Battle, thereby provides one other layer to the usual narrative of one-(or-two)-on-one genocide. Certainly, the fashionable day descendants of the Vanetsi – in distinction to official Yerevan commemorations of the actual fact – emphasise the 1915 defence of Van, which enabled the Armenian inhabitants there to try to interrupt out to Russian traces. Defiance and resistance (as Israel nicely is aware of) are at all times a extra uplifting story within the face of mass homicide than going like sheep to the slaughter. But, even right here Leupold provides additional cross-generational issues, within the Kurdish case particularly, a better receptivity amongst youthful generations to not simply cross-relate Turkey’s oppression of the Armenians with their very own however even to have interaction with that absolute taboo topic: Kurdish complicity in Armenian destruction.

The sheer weight of knowledge, a number of, competing narratives to not say cacophony of voices would possibly lead one to really feel overwhelmed. But, Leupold’s presentation has quite an reverse, invigorating impact. This profitable final result owes significantly to a rigorous organisation of his materials enabling a compartmentalisation of varied themes into manageable blocks whereas on the similar time constructing them right into a coherent complete. Certainly, the disciplinary vary of his endeavor is spectacular; half historical past, half modern politics, a substantial ingredient of reminiscence research – very a lot within the footsteps of Maurice Halbwachs – plus a extra intently developed core of social anthropology, based on fieldwork interviews that Leupold carried out over many months on either side of the Armeno-Turkish border. The actual deal with the Van area makes this, too, a keenly incisive examine of the reminiscence politics of refugee communities, even at a number of generations’ faraway from their respective catastrophes. This area is to a major extent inhabited both by Kurds descended from throughout the worldwide border, or extra just lately displaced from throughout the area, as a consequence of Ankara’s punitive counter-insurgency in opposition to the PKK, in contrast with Vanetsi Armenian descendants of the genocide, who lengthy of their desires for his or her collective return house. What Leupold thus most successfully explores is the discrepancies between the official, nationalist, rigorously packaged variations of ‘what occurred up to now’ as justification for political – together with ongoing – irredentist claims of the current, as set in opposition to the solely extra nuanced, layered, private and household reminiscences and recollections which would appear to deduce to a quite completely different set of revendications.

Nationalism as straightjacket and eraser of ‘the opposite’

Implicitly, all this factors to 1 persistent, nagging query: why does the mounted, primordially nationalist and therefore exclusivist narrative at all times should be hegemonic? Or put one other approach, why are human beings, on this, as so many different elements of the world, trapped in what Mark Mazower in his e-book Salonica, City of Ghosts has described as “rigidly patrolled nationwide cages” (p.23), the place sacro egoismo guidelines and acknowledgement of, not to mention dialogue with, ‘the opposite’ is in such brief provide? Chapter 3 of Embattled Dreamlands is notably penetrating as to how the nationwide metanarrative suffocates, silences and consciously forgets something which confuses, contradicts or disrupts its personal story of mythic story-telling, public commemoration and monumentalisation to the better glory of the unified ‘us’. The institutional erasure of place names within the pursuits of a reinvented panorama, obliteration of ‘the opposite’ from historical past textbooks, plus the demolition of monuments, cemeteries and any scrap of fabric proof which could recommend another group of individuals have been traditionally current in what was and is indubitably ‘ours’, essentially follows.

Considerably, Leupold doesn’t solely level a finger right here at Turkey. On an albeit smaller scale, Armenia’s report can also be abysmal to not say caught in an embattled self-image which helped precipitate the 2 post-Soviet wars with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Against this, modern Kurdish politics, unencumbered, a minimum of in Turkey, by any speedy chance of attaining statehood, suggests a extra reflective high quality together with acknowledgement that the Kurdish area may be the sum of many elements as based on numerous ethnic origins. Scratch just a little deeper, as Leupold does in his multilingual interviews, and the speak is much less of nationalism, extra of humanism, or on a regional degree, Anatolianism (p.213). Certainly, at one intriguing level Leupold even factors to a recognition in some Kurdish households that their current ancestry consists of the Armenian and Syriac grandmothers and great-grandmothers who have been kidnapped, violated after which inducted into their households (p.236).

Various potentialities

That is the very stuff of an oral testimony sure to sabotage the mono-directional ‘unity’ narrative of fiercely homogenising polities. And it’s clear that it’s on this grassroots, kitchen-table, household and locality-centred counter-culture the place Leupold’s deeper sympathies lie. There’s a lengthy historical past of intercommunal reciprocity on this as soon as richly pluralistic a part of the world, not least by means of intermediaries such because the kirve, orgodfather determine. Notions of a colour-blind, Sufi-informed quest for a non secular unity – tevhid – are equally suggestive of subterranean currents which converse of shared cultural affinities between Anatolian peoples (p.213-4). Certainly, the inference might be equally pursued, by means of music and delicacies.

There are, to make sure, some lacunae on this examine. Whereas not one which purports to embrace all people with an emotional stake within the area – all the numerous diasporic Armenian and Syriac communities, as an example – even so there are some shocking omissions. The absence of any reference to the substantial, politically vital however in 1915 obliterated Syriac, extra particularly Nestorian tribal group in Hakkari is essentially the most notable, provided that Leupold does take note of the extra just lately persecuted and displaced Kurds from this space. And whereas the numerous different ethno-religious teams on either side of the Caucasus border are acknowledged, maybe inadvertently Leupold does quite see the massive image by means of the lens of the three most politically dominant and competing forces quite than because the multicultural mosaic which many early twentieth century Western commentators resembling Cecil J. Edmonds described. Even then, the fieldwork ingredient of the examine virtually absents the Turks. Ankara’s reminiscence politics is essentially right here – and well-dissected – casting because it does an enormous, and normally removed from benign shadow throughout its jap hinterland. However the grassroots voices we hear are primarily from the opposite two communities. One would possibly add that Leupold is just not notably nicely served by Routledge of their failure to signpost the maps he does have and the shortage of 1 particular to the Van area which, particularly for the non-specialist reader, ought to have been necessary.

These quibbles apart, Embattled Dreamlands, primarily based as it’s on Leupold’s doctoral analysis, has one thing of a breakthrough high quality about it. Not solely does it problem, by means of rigorous, multi-layered evaluation, blinkered state constructions and monopolisations of nationwide reminiscence and with them the poisonous justifications for megaphone if not precise wars, it dares to supply a glimpse of another route of journey. After the breakdown of Yugoslavia and far of the post-Soviet rimlands, the paroxysm of Syria, the seeming impossibility of a shared Israel-Palestine, on the one hand, the worldwide rise of sectarian identities and populist nationalism, on the opposite, anyone who would possibly infer that bridge-building and people-reconciliation isn’t just an excellent factor however virtually achievable is more likely to be handled by hardened IR observers with one thing akin to suppressed derision. But, by peeling away on the official state variations which essentially divide, to an underlying bedrock of shared expertise and cultural crossover, Leupold implicitly argues for a completely extra inclusive, post-nationalist framework for peoples’ solidarity, even one we would take into account as a foundation for renewed convivencia. In a world the place sheer existence is so anthropogenically threated, Leupold’s work speaks to greater than merely the scarred panorama of jap Anatolia, it speaks to how we should rethink and thus heal intra-human relationships, tout ensemble, if we, as a species, are to outlive.


Edmonds, C. J. (1957)  Kurds, Turks and Arabs: Politics, Journey and Analysis in Northeastern Iraq, 1919-1925. Oxford: Oxford College Press.

Mazower, M. (2004) Salonika: Metropolis of  Ghosts, Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950. London: Harper Perennial.

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