Seda Altug

Wednesday, 29 November 2017, 5.00 pm - 6.30 pm |
Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

Governing Land and Property in Syria and the Colonial Legacies of Sectarianism

Seda Altug
(Bogazici University / EUME Fellow 2017/18)

Chair: Katharina Lange
(Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient)

The French mandate period (1920-46) was a formative era in modern Syria, shaping patterns of politics, economy and state-society relations that remain relevant today. In stark contrast to the fierce debates in local, national and colonial circles in 1920’s and 30’s about the land issue and its intimate links to agricultural productivity, as well as the maintenance of political order and the management of populations in French Syria, it has been the least-studied area in the history of the mandate.

This presentation aims to address this gap and intends to investigate the workings of colonial politics of difference and management of population through its management of land. “The land question” addresses a set of political, economic, judicial and social issues ranging from the ordering of the property regime in land through state practices such as legal statute, land registration and cadastral mapping to the promotion of the small peasantry and to land distribution. Viewed in this way, the land issue lies at the intersection of two main challenges for the colonial state: the management of labour and of indigenous politics. In this presentation, Altug will focus, in particular, on the governance of land and its relation to the politics of cultural (ethnic or religious) difference in French-Syria.

The field of ethno-religious difference, in the Syrian case, has been dominated by primordialist assumptions. However, ethnic and religious identifications are not fixed social categories; their significance is bound up with political, economic, social and even epistemological projects of difference-making. This talk intends to demonstrate the ways in which colonial developmentalism in northern Syria, Jazira, a frontier region mainly settled by Arab nomads, and non-Muslim and Kurdish refugees from Turkey, informed and were informed by the colonial politics of difference. 

Seda Altug is a lecturer at the Atatürk Institute for Modern Turkish History at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul. She received her PhD from Utrecht University, Netherlands. Her dissertation is entitled “Sectarianism in the Syrian Jazira: Community, Land and Violence in the Memories of World War I and the French Mandate (1915–1939)”. Her research interests cover state-society relations in French-Syria, land issues, empire, minorities, border and memory. She has recently started working on land and property regimes in the Ottoman East and Syria under the French mandate. She published various pieces on the minority regime and refugee issue in French-Syria, as well as on Armenian and Kurdish history in post-genocide Syria. She also wrote extensively on current affairs in Syria and the wider Middle East. In the academic year 2017/18, she is an Irmgard Coninx Prize EUME Fellow.