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Diese Rezension ist erschienen in:

Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies,

Dearborn, Michigan 1994 (Jg.7) S.197-199


Die Verweise auf die jeweils angesprochenen Stellen im Originaltext des Buches wurden von mir hinzugefügt. Hier beginnt der Text der Rezension:

Behrendt's study, Nationalism in Kurdistan: Prehistory, Genesis, and First Manifestations until 1925, covers a period ranging from the Arab conquests in the seventh century to 1925. It is based on published studies in English, French, German, Italian, and Turkish. In the selection of his material, the author understandably focused on titles relating directly to Kurds. Students with an interest in Kurdish history will find that Behrendt does not add much that is new to our knowledge, as many of his long paragraphs are heavily based on the well-known works of Martin van Bruinessen and Robert Olson.

Like other authors before him, Behrendt argues against the assumption of Kurdish nationalists that a Kurdish “nation” has existed from times immemorial, claiming that it was a recent creation of an elite. Negating nationalist interpretations on the role of a common religion, language, and origin, the author was compelled to define the object of his study differently. Thus, he proposes a social unit which he labels “Kurdish society.” Behrendt defines this society provisionally as

a mode of production and life, which determining the prevailing society in the world of the mountains, whether it was practiced by Kurdish-speaking Muslims, Turkish-speaking followers of Shamanism or Aramaic-speaking Eastern Christians (p. 41).

Given the importance this definition assigns to ecology, the question of spatial limitations arises. On the basis of historical aspects, Behrendt defines his area of research as the northern Zagros and eastern Taurus mountains.

The author is very explicit on the tentative character of his definition. In fact, it is more like a working hypothesis. Nevertheless, it has to be observed that the mode of production and life based on pastoral nomadism was not at all determining for the whole of the population in the area. While there can be little doubt that Armenian villages were subjected to Kurdish tribes due to the superior military force of the latter, it would be misleading to integrate them into the hypothetical construct of a “Kurdish society.” Even more so when this hypothesis is used to construct a historical background for Kurdish nationalism. Given the existence of an Armenian church organization, a written Armenian language, and the rise of Armenian political parties, one may doubt that Armenian peasants considered themselves as an indistinct part of a larger Kurdish-dominated entity. Also, Behrendt's hypothesis does not account for the remarkable economic and social interrelatedness of the mountainous pastoral economy with the urban markets of Arabia and the Aegean coast. The major Levantine cities harbored for centuries large Kurdish communities, which had their own quarters. In other words, more research on the genesis of Kurdish nationalism and the relations between Armenians and Kurds is needed.

Behrendt's hypothesis also contradicts his acceptance of the definition of the “millet-organization” as working as bulkheads between the Ottoman communities. This is a classical Orientalist perception which has been successfully challenged in recent scholarship. Another startling generalization is the author's contention that a mature Arab Nationalism “definitely” developed only after World War I.

This sometimes problematic utilization of secondary material becomes apparent in his discussion of the Armenian Question as well. Describing Armenians as often being the agents of European economic penetration, Behrendt repeats the well-known comprador-thesis of the Dependency Theory and World-System Approach authors. Switching from the field of economics to political history, Behrendt, basing his reasonings on Duguid, maintains that the massacres of Armenians were often the calculated results of Armenian guerilla attacks on Turks. His quite original comparison of the Armenian massacres with the acts of the Ku Klux Klan contradicts , however, the description of Sultan Abdülhamid's spy system. In fact, the absence of any coherent discussion of Hamidian politics leaves the reader with an incomplete idea of this period.

Discussing World War I, Behrendt understands the Armenian Genocide as a precondition for the Kurdification of the whole region. He follows Justin McCarthy on the number of 600,000 Armenian victims of the deportations and massacres, but unlike McCarthy, he assumes this number is fully sufficient for the application of the term “genocide.” Behrendt's contention that since the 1920s the discussion on the Genocide has not “moved on,” is as simplistic as his use of the term “genocide.” Genocide is not a quantitative but a qualitative category, and the issues connected with the definition of genocide have been the subject of numerous studies. Thus, considerable developments have in fact taken place. Behrendt's account circulates around a “social explanation” of the Armenian Genocide. He addresses social tensions in the area as a decisive factor. These tensions led to attacks on the deportation caravans. Together with insufficient protection and care, the attacks caused the Armenian losses. In short, Behrendt leaves out the massive evidence on direct government involvement in monitoring and executing the Genocide.

Researchers will appreciate Behrendt's careful scrutiny of a number of classical works. He has discovered numerous incorrect quotations which had contributed to historiographical distortions. In fact, it is for this necessary control of the published record that scholars will consult this book. Also, the author points to the need for a closer scrutiny of the Armenian Genocide in the context of Kurdish history and rejects denialist positions of Kurdish authors like Ismet Vanly.

Hilmar Kaiser
European University Institute
Firenze, Italy

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