New Book Out: Narratives of the History of the Ottoman-Kurdish Bedirhani Family in Imperial and Post-Imperial Contexts – Continuities and Changes

4 06 2018

Henning, Barbara

University of Bamberg Press, 2018

ISBN: 978-3-86309-551-2

This dissertation is concerned with the Ottoman-Kurdish Bedirhani family and its history in Ottoman imperial and post-imperial times. Tracing various members of the extended Bedirhani family over the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it looks at the family’s history as a case-study to inquire about dynamics of post-imperial identity formation over a crucial period of time: A particular focus lies on the Bedirhani family’s history immediately before and after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire – that is, at a decisive moment in the formation of the current geopolitical structure of the Middle East, marked by the rise of nationalisms and nationalist historiographies. The work inquires about the strategies family members used to negotiate the shift from empire to post-imperial contexts. To get a better understanding of how family members coped with and tried to make sense of this transition, it looks at the stories they told about themselves and their family’s history and also investigates the network structures they operated in. It is argued that with the end of the Ottoman Empire, imperial structures of solidarity and frameworks of identification did not just vanish overnight, to be replaced by nationalist identities and loyalties. Rather, identity formation is understood as a long-term process with many options aside from Kurdish nationalism and post-Ottoman identity is read as a multi-layered phenomenon.

Looking at individual trajectories of Bedirhani family members between imperial and post-imperial contexts, different strategies and coping mechanisms can be observed. Departing from similar starting points in terms of resources like social standing, education, networks and economic wealth at their disposal, members of the Bedirhani family ended up in very different places after the First World War and the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. As a counterbalance to existing research on the Bedirhani family, which has focused on a few politically very active family members, this study points to alternative trajectories of family members who did not engage with Kurdish nationalist politics. Their lesser known but equally interesting life stories serve a double purpose in the analysis: On the one hand, their stories sketch out opportunity structures, potentials and ‘roads not taken’ of relevance for all family members. On the other hand, they shed light on the manifold modifications the stories of their more prominent relatives underwent to fit the larger narrative of Kurdish nationalist historiography in the 20th century.

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