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  Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at Download by:  [The University of Manchester Library] Date:  05 April 2016, At: 07:57 Middle Eastern Studies ISSN: 0026-3206 (Print) 1743-7881 (Online) Journal homepage: Between Conformism and Separatism: A KurdishStudents’ Association in Istanbul, 1912 to 1914 Djene Rhys Bajalan To cite this article:  Djene Rhys Bajalan (2013) Between Conformism and Separatism: A KurdishStudents’ Association in Istanbul, 1912 to 1914, Middle Eastern Studies, 49:5, 805-823, DOI:10.1080/00263206.2013.811655 To link to this article: Published online: 02 Sep 2013.Submit your article to this journal Article views: 210View related articles Citing articles: 1 View citing articles  Between Conformism and Separatism: AKurdish Students’ Association inIstanbul, 1912 to 1914 DJENERHYSBAJALAN* I want to ask and understand from the Kurdish Youth [the following]: What dothey want to be? Or what do they not want to be? An element in the OttomanEmpire? An element but what type of element, a putrid and purifying elementor a renewing and renewed, a living and life giving element? (Dr AbdullahCevdet,  Roj  ^ e Kurd  , 1913) 1 The ‘Kurdish Students’ “Hope” Society’ ( K  € urd Telebe ‘H  ^ ev ^ ı’ Cemiyeti   – hereafter H  ^ ev ^ ı ) was one of a number of Kurdish associations established in Istanbul in theyears immediately following the 1908 Young Turk Revolution. In July 1908 a mili-tary revolt in the Balkans, spearheaded by the Committee of Union and Progress(  _ Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti   – CUP), set in motion a chain of events which wouldlead to the re-establishment of constitutional rule in the Ottoman Empire after a hia-tus of over 30 years. After three decades in which the censors of Sultan Abd € ulhamidII (r.1876–1909) had placed stifling restrictions on intellectual life within the empire,the liberalization that followed the fall of the autocracy witnessed an explosion of political activism. This was manifested by a proliferation of civil society organiza-tions ( Cemiyetler ), representing a whole host of social and political interests. Asmight have been expected, given the multi-national and multi-confessional nature of the Ottoman population, this also included ‘nationalist’ associations claiming tospeak on behalf of various ethno-national constituencies within the empire. 2 Suchdevelopments also impacted on the empire’s Kurdish element and, in particular, thenascent Kurdish intelligentsia, with Istanbul serving as a major centre for Kurdishactivities.The years between 1908 and Ottoman entry into the First World War in October1914 saw a number of Kurdish associations established in the Ottoman capital.  H  ^ ev ^ ı ’spredecessors include the ‘Kurdish Mutual Aid and Progress Society’ ( K  € urd Teav € un veTerakki Cemiyeti   –KMPS), established in 1908 and the ‘Kurdish Society for the Prop-agation of Education’ ( K  € urd Ne ¸ sr-i Maarif Cemiyeti   – KSPE) established two years *St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom. Email: [email protected]  2013 Taylor & Francis Middle Eastern Studies , 2013 Vol. 49, No. 5, 805–823,    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   T   h  e   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   M  a  n  c   h  e  s   t  e  r   L   i   b  r  a  r  y   ]  a   t   0   7  :   5   7   0   5   A  p  r   i   l   2   0   1   6  later. Both these organizations were dominated by established Kurdish notables andintellectuals.  H  ^ ev ^ ı , by contrast, was a novel development in an age-conscious societyin which deference to one’s elders was expected. The group’s foundation marked thearrival of the ‘Kurdish youth’ as an organized force in politics. In examining  H  ^ ev ^ ı ,this article has two basic objectives: to uncover the reasons which propelled thisyouth-led mobilization and to conceptualize the nature of the ‘nationalism’ espousedby the group. 3 I hope to show that, at a time when their elders were becoming increas-ingly fragmented between pro- and anti-Ottoman factions,  H  ^ ev ^ ı ’s young memberswere in the process of charting out their own distinct brand of ‘Kurdism’. In short, H  ^ ev ^ ıciler  were outlining a ‘third way’ in Kurdish politics between co-option and con-formism, on one hand, and rebellion and separatism, on the other.As noted above,  H  ^ ev ^ ı  was not the first Kurdish association. Over the course of thenineteenth century and early twentieth century new conceptions of community hadbeen gradually gaining currency amongst various sections of Kurdish society. Thistrend was manifested in the emergence of a variety of political discourses united intheir mobilization of the notion that the Kurds constituted a ‘nation’ for politicalends: Kurdism.As early as 1881, Sheikh Ubeydullah, a prominent religious notable, had, in hisdiscussions with western observers, utilized the ‘principle of nationality’ to legitimizehis revolt against the Ottoman and Qajar governments. 4 Similarly, Hac ^ ı Qadir ^ e Koy ^ ı(1817–97), a product of the madrassas of southern Kurdistan, authored poetry withan ardently modernist and nationalistic message, imploring Kurds to take pride intheir language, seek education and modern science and, above all, throw off the for-eign yoke. 5 For instance, in his poem ‘The Land of Cezire and Bohtan’ ( Xak  ^ e Ciz ^ ır  ^ uBohtan ), he praised other nationalities, including Christian nations, which had estab-lished independent states:Bulgarians and Serbs and Greeks, also Armenians and Montenegrins,All five do not number as many as the Baban, 6 Each one is independent, all and each are states,Possessors of army and banners, general and field staffs . . . 7 The implications were clear – the Kurds also had to possess a state. However, it wasamongst the nascent Kurdish intellectual classes, products of the Ottoman Empire’smodernized education system, that these new understandings of the Kurdishnessreceived their detailed articulations.As the role of the professional and intellectual classes has often been seen as cen-tral in the construction of ‘nationalist’ ideology, 8 it is necessary at this point to makea brief digression into the nature and characteristics of the Kurdish intelligentsia dur-ing this period. It is first of all pertinent to note that this new class of Kurdish intel-lectuals overlapped significantly with the ‘traditional’ Kurdish notable classes. Thecentralization of Ottoman provincial administration in the first half of the nineteenthcentury had resulted in the abolition of the system of autonomous emirates whichhad governed much of Ottoman Kurdistan in previous centuries. 9 However, ratherthan dispossessing the Kurdish emirs entirely, the Ottoman government integratedthem into the modernized Ottoman bureaucracy and allowed their descendants to beeducated in the modernized Ottoman education system. The result was that many806  D.R. Bajalan    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   T   h  e   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   M  a  n  c   h  e  s   t  e  r   L   i   b  r  a  r  y   ]  a   t   0   7  :   5   7   0   5   A  p  r   i   l   2   0   1   6  early Kurdish intellectuals hailed from the ruling houses of the emirates, most nota-bly the Bedirhans of Cezire-Bohtan and the Babans of Suleimania. As Ottoman stateeducation was expanded other Kurds also joined the ranks of the intelligentsia,although these too tended to hail from notable backgrounds, such as theCemilpa ¸ saz ^ ades and the Pirin ¸ ciz ^ ades, both influential families in the city of Diyarbakir. 10 One of the first significant expressions of Kurdish ethnic consciousness amongstthe Kurdish intellectual classes was the publication of the first Kurdish newspaper, K  € urdistan  (Kurdistan) which ran between 1898 and 1902. The newspaper wasfounded and edited by the brothers Mikdad Midhat and Abdurrahman Bedirhan,both exemplars of these new notable intellectual elite. Both men had received a west-ern-style education and began their careers in the Ottoman civil service, while at thesame time possessing a lineage which tied them to the former ruling house of theCezire-Bohtan emirate. 11 The paper, printed in Egypt and later Europe, on one levelwas an organ of the constitutionalist opposition which had developed in response tothe autocracy of Abd € ulhamid II – the so-called Young Turks. 12 Abdurrahman inparticular was heavily involved in the movement and was invited to attend the 1902opposition congress in Paris. 13 K  € urdistan ’s political message, directed primarily at aKurdish audience, was one of highlighting the need for inter-ethnic cooperation,extolling the merits of the Ottoman Constitution of 1876 and demanding that thegovernment pay more attention to the development of the Kurdish regions of theempire. In addition, it possessed an ‘enlightenment’ mission which regarded the fun-damental social ill afflicting the Kurds as being ignorance. As Mikdad put it, he hadfounded the paper ‘in order to encourage Kurds towards scientific and artistic educa-tion and in accordance to the seductive words of the age’. 14 After the 1908 Revolution, this growing sense of ethnic awareness was translatedinto an organized movement. On 15 September 1908, a group of leading Kurdishnotables and intellectuals gathered at the Cashers Club in the Sultan Ahmed districtof Istanbul to announce the formation of the KMPS. 15 The organization’s member-ship read like a ‘who’s who’ of Kurdish society and included the son of Sheikh Ubey-dullah, Seyyid Abd € ulkadir Efendi, Field Marshall Ismailpa ¸ saz ^ ade Ahmed Pasha,Emin Ali Bedirhan and Babanz ^ ade  _ Ismail Hakkı. Indeed, Dr Mehmed  ¸ S € ukr € uSekban, the son of a low-ranking Ottoman officer, complained that he had lost theelection for a position on the organization’s administrative committee because he didnot come from an important family. 16 Although the organization claimed to represent the Kurds, it did not regard itself as being at odds with the objectives of the revolution. Its aims, which included defus-ing information about the constitution, increasing connections between the Kurdsand the Caliphate, promoting education and industry as well as encouraging har-mony between the Kurds and their non-Muslim neighbours, remained well withinthe realm of Ottomanism. 17 Halil Hayali went so far as to write an ode in Kurdish tothe CUP, praising it and the new constitutional regime:With the effort of the Society of Union (CUP), with the military’s help, theConstitution emerged and all troubles we were wrestling with disappeared. Esti-mable deputies are gathering and parliament is discussing the state of the coun-try. May God guide and assist them, and blind traitors. 18 A Kurdish Students’ Association in Istanbul   807    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   T   h  e   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   M  a  n  c   h  e  s   t  e  r   L   i   b  r  a  r  y   ]  a   t   0   7  :   5   7   0   5   A  p  r   i   l   2   0   1   6  For the KMPS the ‘Kurdish question’, in so far as it existed, was one of education,economic development and chronic inter-tribal conflict. However, significantly, theseissues were viewed from an Ottomanist rather than Kurdish perspective. Forinstance, Babanz ^ ade  _ Ismail Hakkı, in an article extolling the merits of Kurdish-language education, justified himself on the grounds that if Kurdish children couldstudy in their mother tongue, their ‘education would be more complete’ and, in thisway, they would be able to become a ‘more valuable member of the Ottomanfamily’. 19 The KMPS, ultimately, was shut down in the aftermath of the failed April 1909‘counter-revolution’, which saw the introduction of martial law and new regulationsrestricting civil liberties, including a law restricting the activities of ‘nationalist’ socie-ties. 20 Nevertheless, the closure of this organization did not end Kurdish activism. In1910 some former members of the KMPS, several Kurdish deputies as well as otherveteran Kurdish activists such as Abdullah Cevdet, Mikdad Midhat Bedirhan andAbdurrahman Bedirhan, who had returned to Istanbul only after 1909, established anew Kurdish organization, the KSPE. The objectives of the KSPE were a continua-tion of   K  € urdistan  and the KMPS’s concern with the lack of education in Kurdishsociety. The group’s manifesto stated that its main objective was to spread educationand industry to Kurds ‘who, out of all the sons of  the [Ottoman] fatherland, hadbeen most deprived of the blessings of education’. 21 As a first step the organizationsought and received permission to open a school. 22 The school, named the  K  € urd Me ¸ srutiyet Mektebi   (The Kurdish Constitutional School), was opened opposite themausoleum of Mahmud II in the Sultan Ahmed district of Istanbul. Again, the proj-ect had a strong Ottomanist and pro-constitutionalist character. A report publishedin the CUP mouthpiece  Tanin  (Echo), for example, stated that at a ceremony schoolleaders had spoken positively about the significance of the constitutional order andoffered prayers for the health and long life of the Sultan-Caliph. 23 At least initially,the government seems to have supported the KSPE, giving the school permission tooperate as well as providing 1,900  kuru ¸ s  subsidy, thanks, it seems, to Minister of Public Instruction, Babanz ^ ade  _ Ismail Hakkı Bey. 24 However, in the end, it appearsthat the organization was a victim of the increasingly tense political atmosphere inIstanbul. According to S € ureyya Bedirhan this was due to the CUP’s paranoia about‘national’ societies which subsequently led it to resort to underhand methods andlegal obstructions to force the organization to dissolve itself. 25 The positive disposition of these two organizations towards the Ottoman politywas indicative of the high level of integration of many Kurdish notables and intellec-tuals in Ottoman political structures. Two individuals, in particular, are significantin this regard, Seyyid Abd € ulkadir Efendi and Babanz ^ ade  _ Ismail Hakkı Bey. The for-mer, who was elected president of the KMPS, was appointed by the new regime tothe upper chamber of the Ottoman parliament. The latter, who was a frequent con-tributor to the KMPS’s journal, was a regular columnist in  Tanin  and had beenelected to the Ottoman parliament – on a CUP ticket – as the member for Baghdad. 26 Both men remained influential figures in Ottoman politics and supporters of the con-stitutionalist regime throughout the Ottoman antebellum. For instance, in 1909Abd € ulkadir Efendi travelled to Van where he held a meeting with local tribal leadersin order to explain the virtues of the new constitutionalist regime and promote under-standing between Armenian and Kurdish elements. 27 Babanz ^ ade  _ Ismail Hakkı Bey’s808  D.R. Bajalan    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   T   h  e   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   M  a  n  c   h  e  s   t  e  r   L   i   b  r  a  r  y   ]  a   t   0   7  :   5   7   0   5   A  p  r   i   l   2   0   1   6