The Kurdish Cultural Movement in Mandatory Syria and Lebanon: An Unfinished Project of “National Renaissance,” 1932–46by Jordi Tejel Gorgas

Iranian Studies

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Year
2014
DOI
10.1080/00210862.2014.934154
Subject
Social Sciences (all) / Medicine (all) / Arts and Humanities (all)

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The Kurdish Cultural Movement in

Mandatory Syria and Lebanon: An

Unfinished Project of “National

Renaissance,” 1932–46

Jordi Tejel Gorgas

Published online: 05 Aug 2014.

To cite this article: Jordi Tejel Gorgas (2014) The Kurdish Cultural Movement in Mandatory Syria and

Lebanon: An Unfinished Project of “National Renaissance,” 1932–46, Iranian Studies, 47:5, 839-855,

DOI: 10.1080/00210862.2014.934154

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00210862.2014.934154

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Jordi Tejel Gorgas

The Kurdish Cultural Movement in Mandatory Syria and Lebanon: An

Unfinished Project of “National Renaissance,” 1932–46

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries diverse, and sometimes competing, movements of cultural renaissance emerged in the Middle East. Within this context, the

Kurdish cultural renaissance in the Kurmanji dialect appeared relatively late and moreover its fruits were curtailed by two major events: the First World War and the establishment of the Turkish republic. From 1923 onwards, the task of animating the Kurdish cultural renaissance fell on the Kurds exiled first in mandatory Syria and Lebanon and then in Europe. In exile, Kurdish intellectuals benefited from some advantageous conditions such as freedom of speech and organization. Yet

Kurdish intellectual endeavors in the Levant were to face political, social and economic challenges. Using French records and Kurdish newspapers, this article explores both the opportunities and the constraints for the consolidation of the

Kurdish cultural renaissance under colonial rule. In doing so, the article intends to enrich the debate on the formation of nationalisms in the interwar era on the one hand, and the relationship between colonial powers and minorities in the Middle

East, on the other.

Introduction

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries diverse, and sometimes competing, movements of cultural renaissance, among which was the Kurdish one, emerged in the

Middle East.1 Formed alongside the elites from other ethnic groups (Turks, Armenians and Arabs) active in the unionist clubs of Istanbul, the trail-blazing Kurdish elites progressively embraced the nationalist ideal, partly in reaction to other nationJordi Tejel Gorgas is a Research Professor of International History at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. His recent books include Le mouvement kurde en exil. Continuités et discontinuités du nationalisme kurde sous le mandat français en Syrie et au Liban, 1925–1946 (Peter Lang, 2007), Syria’s Kurds: History, Politics and Society (Routledge, 2009), and Writing the

Modern History of Iraq. Historiographical and Political Challenges (co-edited with Peter Sluglett, Riccardo

Bocco and Hamit Bozarslan) (World Scientific, 2012). 1For a comprehensive overview of competing movements of cultural renaissance in the late Ottoman period, see F.M. Göçek, “Decline of the Ottoman Empire and the Emergence of Greek, Armenian,

Turkish, and Arab Nationalisms,” in Social Constructions of Nationalism in the Middle East, ed. Fatma

Müge Göçek (New York, 2002), 15–83.

Iranian Studies, 2014

Vol. 47, No. 5, 839–855, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00210862.2014.934154 © 2014 The International Society for Iranian Studies

D ow nl oa de d by [M cM as ter

U niv ers ity ] a t 0 9:4 0 1 7 O cto be r 2 01 4 alisms, first Armenian and later Turkish.2 Within this context, the Kurdish cultural renaissance in the Kurmanji dialect appeared relatively late and moreover its fruits were curtailed by two major events: the First World War and the establishment of the Turkish republic in 1923.

On the one hand, some of the most active members of the first Kurdish clubs were mobilized under the Ottoman flag in the Western Front, entailing a de facto standstill of Kurdish activities in Istanbul. On the other hand, in the aftermath of the Turkish

War of Independence, the newly appointed authorities in Ankara condemned to either prison or death the most prominent actors of the Kurdish movement. While some were executed, most of them were able to escape and sought refuge abroad.

From that moment on, the task of animating the Kurdish cultural renaissance fell on the Kurds exiled in mandatory Syria and Lebanon.3

In exile, Kurdish intellectuals benefited from some advantageous conditions such as freedom of speech and organization. Yet Kurdish intellectual endeavors in the Levant were to face political, social and economic challenges throughout the Mandate period (1922–46). Drawing on French records and Kurdish newspapers, this article explores both the opportunities and the constraints for the consolidation of the Kurdish cultural renaissance under colonial rule. In so doing, it seeks to enrich the debate on the formation of nationalisms in the interwar era on the one hand, and the relationship between colonial powers and minorities in the Middle East, on the other.