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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
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.
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,
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