Zeynep Türkyilmaz

Wednesday, 14 February 2018, 5.00 pm - 6.30 pm |
Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

An Archeology of Today: Tracing the Genealogies of Yezidi Victimhood

Zeynep Türkyilmaz
(EUME Fellow 2017/18)

Chair: Kader Konuk
(Universität Duisburg-Essen / Member of EUME)

On August 3rd, 2014, the Ezidis of Sinjar district in Nineveh Governorate of Iraq came under the genocidal assault of the Islamic State. While the Ezidis were caught off guard, with no help from the central and local state, security forces or even their neighbors, and without any means to defend themselves, their perpetuators’ actions were proven to be meticulous and premeditated. They brutally slaughtered Ezidi men, yet carefully separated Ezidi women and children to take with themselves as slaves who would be subjected to sexual abuse and forced conversion. The Islamic State not only defended its genocidal operation, which it claimed is firmly established in the shari'a, but also presented it as the harbinger of the Final War between Islam and the rest before the Judgment Day - Yawm al-Qiyamah. Notwithstanding the perpetuator’s self-professed intention for this to be a unique and eschatological intervention, and international recognition that the assault amounted to genocide, interestingly the community itself framed it as the last of the 73 Fermans. Ferman, which literally means imperial decree or edict, in this context referred to each episode of massacres the community has endured in its past. Particularly Ottoman fermans featured the survivors’ narratives, many of whom were descendants of families who had fled to Sinjar and its environs after one massacre or the other.

Informed and intrigued by these recent depictions of Ezidis’ history as a cycle of massacres, and reduction of Ezidi peoples to a perpetual state of passive victimhood, this presentation seeks to move away from such anachronistic and dichotomous narratives, and hopes to reconstruct the cosmos of the Ottoman Ezidis by adopting a strictly bottom-up approach. While the overall project of Türkyilmaz spans from 1700 till 2014, this presentation will limit itself to the long nineteenth century, which registered several massacres targeting Ezidis but also hopeful anticipation of Ottoman reforms, promises of equal and impartial citizenship and the community’s struggle for the recognition of its identity by a modernizing empire. Drawing on archival and ethnographic sources, this presentation will challenge portrayals of Ezidis only as meek, passive, converted and persecuted peoples; and propose to study them also as local rulers and powerbrokers between empires; armed and resilient, fighting back on their Sunni neighbors’ intrusions, sometimes initiating attacks, and always resisting the state’s attempts to infiltrate in matters relating to their identity as well as to socio-economic well-being, conscription, and taxation alike. In so doing, this presentation will not only examine the redefinition of communal coexistence at high-altitude and remote corners of the empire, the changing meaning and means of violence inflicted on Ezidis by the Ottoman state, officials and their neighbors, but also explore how Ezidi subjecthood has been reshaped by and in response to these experiences.

Zeynep Türkyilmaz received her Ph.D. from the Department of History at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2009. Her dissertation, "Anxieties of Conversion: Missionaries, State and Heterodox Communities in the Late Ottoman Empire", is based on intensive research conducted in Ottoman, British, and several American missionary archives. She was an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar Postdoctoral at UNC-Chapel Hill between 2009-2010 and Europe in the Middle East - The Middle East in Europe Postdoctoral Fellow at Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin between 2010-2011. She worked at the Dartmouth College as an assistant professor of history between 2011 and 2016. She is currently a EUME research fellow at Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin, working on her project tentatively titled "An Archeology of Today: Tracing the Genealogies of Ezidi Victimhood". Her research and teaching interests include state-formation, gender, nationalism, colonialism, religious communities with a focus on heterodoxy and missionary work in the Middle East from 1800 to the present.