The Margins of Empire: Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone

The Margins of Empire: Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone

The Margins of Empire: Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone

The Margins of Empire: Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone

Synopsis

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Ottoman state identified multiple threats in its eastern regions. In an attempt to control remote Kurdish populations, Ottoman authorities organized them into a tribal militia and gave them the task of subduing a perceived Armenian threat. Following the story of this militia, Klein explores the contradictory logic of how states incorporate groups they ultimately aim to suppress and how groups who seek autonomy from the state often attempt to do so through state channels.

In the end, Armenian revolutionaries were not suppressed and Kurdish leaders, whose authority the state sought to diminish, were empowered. The tribal militia left a lasting impact on the region and on state-society and Kurdish-Turkish relations. Putting a human face on Ottoman-Kurdish histories while also addressing issues of state-building, local power dynamics, violence, and dispossession, this book engages vividly in the study of the paradoxes inherent in modern statecraft.

Excerpt

Early in the spring of 1891, while heavy snows still blanketed their mountainous homeland, a group of influential Kurdish chieftains departed on a lengthy journey to the capital of the Ottoman Empire, whose borderlands they inhabited. It would be the longest voyage they had ever undertaken, through which they would blaze a trail for others. Used to a level of respect and deference accorded to them by their tribesmen and clients, the pomp and ceremony with which they were received in Istanbul was, however, a new experience. Dressed in special robes adorned with gold brocade befitting an audience with the sultan and caliph of the empire, these chiefs made their formal act of submission to His Imperial Majesty. In return they received decorations and the highest of distinctions during ceremonies that were at once solemn and festive, which were held in their honor. Having prepared for this moment for weeks, it was the crown jewel in their long journey. They would stay in the capital for another two months, basking in the glory of their newly accorded honors, and would return to their distant homelands changed men.

Those who monitored these events, however, were very concerned. The British military attaché to the Ottoman Empire remarked that there was “general consensus of opinion native and foreign that a very large organisation with little or no modern discipline and with very shadowy government control is not likely to give good results and might lead to unpleasant incidents.” Soon, protests flowed from the pens of Ottomans and foreign observers alike over the activities and indeed the existence of these special Kurdish tribal cavalry units—the Hamidiye, named after . . .

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