“ Set aside from the pen and cut off from the foot”: Imagining the Ottoman Empire and Kurdistan.
Journal: Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
before discussing Kurdish constructions of the Ottoman interlude in more detail, it will be useful at this point to take a slight detour and sketch out briefl y some of the ways that the Ottoman prehistory of Kurds has been represented.
That is to say, how do various recent narratives about Kurds construct the origins of Kurdish commonality?In his study of the debates conducted by Kurdish intellectuals in the Istanbul newspaper Özgür gündem in the years 1994–97, Konrad Hirschler analyzes one recent attempt at composition of a Kurdish prehistory.18 He argues that the longest continuing controversy in the newspaper centered on the pre-Islamic period,
involving in particular narratives of Kurdish “ethnogenesis, homeland, resistance and national character.”19 The reconstruction of Kurdish ethnogenesis (or the “when” of Kurds) involved
the claiming of a direct ethnic link to ancient peoples better attested in the Near Eastern literature and posited as the original inhabitants of the Kurdish regions. Meaningful in the context of Turkish nationalism’s denial of Kurdish difference—that is, in the light of the offi cial claim that Kurds are of Turkish origin, hence members of the same race and therefore candidates for assimilation—the ancestral people of the Kurds are identifi ed as the Aryans and/or the (Aryan) Medes. Alongside this genealogical link, homeland narratives (the “where” of Kurds) sketch out a stable geographical reference for the Kurdish region, identifi ed as eastern and southeastern Anatolia but also sometimes as Mesopotamia. Present-day Kurds are direct descendants of the region’s indigenous people before the invasion and occupation of the homeland by outsiders, including most importantly Persians, Arabs, and Turks. Resistance narratives posit a consistent opposition to these attempts and experiences of foreign rule, minimizing their infl uences on indigenous traditions and ensuring therefore the uncontaminated continuity of Kurdish national character. The narrativizing of national character closes the circle of Kurdish history, with the Kurds—or their direct ancestors, the Aryans—constructed as producers of Near Eastern civilization, including the domesticating of horses, farming of wheat, building of settlements and temples, introduction of mathematical and geometric principles, and the invention of the telescope.20 Civilization builders are contrasted with harbingers of barbarism, represented as uncivilized outsiders to the Mesopotamian region and its people.