Ottoman Minorities Workshop at Fresno State: a summary of events

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Bedross Der Matossian, Sergio La Porta, Laura Robson, Devin Naar, Janet Klein, and me at the Ottoman Minorities Workshop. 

3 February 2017: today a workshop on Religious and Ethnic Minorities in the Ottoman Empire brought together four scholars working in Armenian, Kurdish, Assyrian, Sephardic, and Arab Christian histories to Fresno State. The meeting was co-organized by the Islamic Studies lecture series, the Armenian Studies Program, and the History Department, and included speakers Janet Klein, Devin Naar, Bedross Der Matossian, Laura Robson, and myself. Fresno State’s press release can be viewed at this link.

We had a morning roundtable discussing the concept of the minority as it has been used in Ottoman and Middle Eastern historiography, about the problems inherent in conflating “minority” with non-Muslim or using it in historical cases where is was not meaningful, and about the politicization of the term within laws directed at the Middle East following the First World War. We discussed minoritization and how the imposition of the logic of minorities and majorities in late Ottoman contexts rendered the category useful for non-dominant groups in the Middle East. We also had a conversation with Fresno State students about the pragmatics of doing historical research in Ottoman and Middle Eastern archives.

In the afternoon, we had a private meeting to discuss further inquiry into the concept and ways to continue the conversation, both within our scholarly community and with with general public. We planned a series of publications  that this group will roll out to prompt further research on minorities. More news on that as it develops.

The day capped off with a Keynote Address by Laura Robson called “War, Peace and the Making of Minorities in the Post-Ottoman Middle East, 1919-1923.” Dr. Robson’s talk focused on the first refugee resettlement programs initiated by the League of Nations in the Arab Middle East after the First World War. She argued that the invocation of rhetoric over the protection of religious/ethnic minorities in the region created new hierarchies in the League’s provision regime and that the international organization invested itself in “unmixing populations” along the lines of this understanding of minorities as compact, moveable, and non-Muslim groups. A new politics of “minorities and majorities” emerged as a result, and we continue to see the legacy of this politics in international legal structures today.

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