A Historiographical Gap? Ethnopolitics and the Question of Mass Violence in the 20th Century Middle East
Because few of the many bloodbaths that occurred in the twentieth century Middle East qualify as genocides under the UN’s legal definition, the emerging field of genocide studies has largely excluded the Middle East as a subject of analysis. Nevertheless, there is real value in thinking about the mass violence that has unfolded there across the twentieth century as a collective phenomenon, one that crosses national borders and has come to characterize the political landscape of the region as a whole. This talk explores how a historiographical focus on mass violence – encompassing the concepts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, forced migration, appropriation of resources, mass imprisonment, and forcible denationalization – can help explain the emergence of a dystopian politics of identity across the Eastern Mediterranean in the modern era and illuminate the contemporary breakdown of the state from Syria to Iraq to Israel.
Laura Robson is a professor of modern Middle Eastern history at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. She is the author and editor of several books, including States of Separation: Transfer, Partition, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (University of California Press, 2017), which explores the history of forced migration, population exchange, and refugee resettlement in Iraq, Syria, and Palestine during the interwar period, and the edited volume Partitions: A Transnational History of 20th Century Territorial Separatism (co-edited with Arie Dubnov; Stanford University Press, 2019), which examines the emergence and consequences of the political “solution” of partition in the twentieth century world. Her latest book, The Politics of Mass Violence in the Middle East, is scheduled to appear with Oxford University Press in summer 2020.
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