Congrès Mondial des Études sur le Moyen-Orient et l'Afrique du Nord

Barcelone du 19 au 24 Juillet 2010


Late Ottoman/Post-Ottoman Heterodox Communities (299) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of Erfurt (Germany)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Birgit Schaebler and Necati Alkan

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Since the late 19th century, changing political configurations of the Middle East initiated new concepts of religious diversity and political communities. These ideas interfered with the construction of identity of heterodox religious communities, their interaction with the state and the formation of historical memories. Of particular interest is the conflictive relationship with Western missionaries as well as the concurrent exposure to official Sunni propaganda during the late Ottoman Empire. The legacy of this dichotomy is crucial for our understanding of the evolution of heterodox groups in the socio-political sphere of the mandate system. This panel analyses the bipolar approach toward those groups, how they were perceived as ‘heretics’, and what administrative policies applied to them. Furthermore, the panellists look at indigenous responses by the heterodox communities and how they reacted to proselytizing, educating, and ‘civilizing’ efforts of Western missionaries.

Chair:Prof. Birgit Schaebler, University of Erfurt

Paper presenter: Necati Alkan (University of Erfurt, Germany), “Appropriate objects of christian benevolence?’ Protestant Missionaries, the Nusayris and the Ottomans”
This paper elaborates on the intricate connections between Protestant Missionaries, the Nusayris and the Ottoman state in the 19th century.
Knowledge of the Nusayris and similar groups began with Western travellers and orientalists, including American Protestant missionaries, from the early 19th century. These people studied heterodox groups for learned purposes but also to find ways how to exploit them against the Ottomans politically and to bring them into the fold of Christianity. The fear of infiltration of the Muslim subjects, whether mainstream or deviant, by foreigners, pressed the Ottoman government to endorse a more orthodox form of the official Hanefi-Sunni school. We will look into the Ottoman attitude toward the Nusayris and examine topics such as assimilation, resistance, integration and conversion. How did Protestant missionaries integrate the Nusayris into their millenarian belief in a new social order? And how did the Nusayris respond to the civilizing efforts of the Christian Missionaries and the Ottoman state?

Paper presenter: Edip Gölbaşı (Boğaziçi University/ Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey), “The State-Yezidi Encounters in the Late Ottoman Empire: Ottoman Official Perception of a ‘Heterodox’ Community and the Policy of Converting the Yezidis to Islam”
This paper aims to analyze the state-Yezidi community encounters in the late Ottoman period within the context of Ottoman administrative and religious authorities’ perception and representation of the Yezidis, and the systematic efforts of the Hamidian regime to convert them to Islam. The Yezidis, as a religiously heterodox community, were regarded by Ottoman state elites as “heretics,” who had supposedly “deviated” from Islam and begun to worship the devil. They have also never been recognized as a protected non-Muslim population, as the community emphasized their distinct, “genuine” religious identity. In addition, the Yezidis, as a tribal and provincial population group, were seen as “uncivilized,” “savage” community, who were believed to be “tamed” and “brought into the cycle of obedience.” Directly related to this official perception and discourse, the Hamidian rulers attempted to reformulate the Yezidi religious and social identity through a systematic conversionary policy so as to make the community loyal Muslim subjects. The first aim of this paper is oriented to present the representation of the Yezidis in the Ottoman official discourse by questioning how administrative and religious authorities officially considered and approached the Yezidis. Attempting to tell a story of the forceful conversion policies in the 1890s, the other objective of this paper is to indicate the strategies and instruments deployed by the Ottoman authorities in order to “correct the beliefs” of the Yezidis, ranging from “advice and persuasion” to oppression and violence, from Islamic propaganda and education by building mosques and schools in the Yezidi villages to distribution of rewards to Yezidi leaders. In brief, based on a detailed research in the Ottoman archives, this paper will focus on all these discourses, representations, and policies that the Ottoman state designed for the Yezidi tribes during the late nineteenth century.

Paper presenter: Sebastian Maisel (Grand Valley State University, USA), “Yezidis in the Kurd Dagh: A heterodox group between conversion and recognition”
This paper reviews analytical concepts of identity building among an ethnic and religious minority group in the area around Aleppo until the end of the French mandate. It is argued that endogamous groups maintain and periodically adjust protective ritual and doctrinal measurements to various outside influences. It is thus necessary to study the contextual historical framework of foreign missionary activities in the area in order to understand the evolution of a unique Yezidi religious tradition. Sources evaluated for this study include interviews with Yezidis from different social and religious groups, educational levels, and regional background. In addition to oral narratives, official French mandate, Syrian, and Yezidi documents were analyzed to supplement the empirical data. The paper concludes with an outlook on the community’s fate until the Syrian independence, drawing parallels to the current exodus and to developments of other Yezidi communities in adjunct areas and the Diaspora.

Paper presenter: Laila Prager (University of Leipzig, Germany), “Alawi ziyara tradition and its inter-religious dimensions: Sacred places and their contested meanings in contemporary Hatay (Turkey)”
This paper concentrates on the Hatay-region in Turkey that is well known for its multi-ethnic setting and the tolerance that the various religious groups in the area demonstrate vis-à-vis each other. Up to the present, however, social science research never produced any data dealing with the practical implications of these inter-religious relations. This paper will focus on such practical manifestations by analyzing how Alawi, Sunni, and Christian religious groups interact with each other by appropriating the same sacred places, although the latter actually originate from the Alawi religious tradition only. In the paper she describes the various forms of interactions and analyzes the way in which this inter-religious ''dialogue'' bears on the Alawi self reflection on their status as a religious group.

Paper presenter: Dmitry Sevruk (University of Halle, Germany), “The social and religious development of the Syrian Murshidiyya-Community after the phase of its foundation (from about 1930 until today)”
His research deals with the Murshidiyya, a modern religious community, which appeared in Western Syria in the 20th century as a result of the split-off from the Alawi/Nusayri community. Its development is associated with the names of Mujib Murshid (1930-1952) and his brother Saji (1932-1998). They have essentially reconsidered and simplified the theological and liturgical components of the Nusayri faith, what seems to have been influenced partly by the Shiite cult of suffering and probably Protestant Christian influences, but at the same time they have kept and sometimes even emphasized some heterodox ideas such as metempsychosis or Gnostic anthropology with its distinction between body, soul and spirit. From 1946 to 1971 the community was often announced illegal and victimized. Only after the Alawi Hafez al-
Assad became president of Syria, he allowed the Murshidis the free practice of their doctrine, in spite of strong antagonism between the community and traditional Alawis.