Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas

Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien Regensburg
herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Ausgabe: 65 (2017), H. 2, S. 335-336

Verfasst von: Zaur Gasimov


James H. Meyer: Turks Across Empires. Marketing Muslim Identity in the Russian-Ottoman Borderlands, 1856–1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. XII, 211 S., 11 Abb. = Oxford Studies in Modern European History. ISBN: 978-0-19-872514-5.

An airplane incident in November 2015 temporarily damaged the relations between Ankara and Moscow. The interaction between Turkey and Russia suddenly attracted the attention of the broader international scholarship. Back in the imperial past, both states shared a common border in the Black Sea region, in the Caucasus and beyond. In a number of other regions, Moscow’s and Ankara’s geopolitical and geocultural interests collided just as those of the Ottoman Istanbul and Tsarist St. Petersburg did. The confrontation and Russian-Ottoman wars of the eighteenth and nineteenth century first of all meant interaction that turned into quite close cooperation between Bolsheviks and Kemalists in the 1920s. The cooperation between these two pivotal countries in Eurasia has for decades been in the focus of research among scholars of the Cold War, of Russian, Turkish and Oriental Studies. Most publications, however, suffered from a distinct asymmetry of sources, usually caused by the one-sided linguistic training of the historians. This aspect along with an complicated access to Russian Archives during the last years make research on a area-studies-crossing topic such as the relations and interaction between Russia and Turkey quite difficult. While Turkey has remained a subject of investigation among students of Oriental Studies and Turkology, Russian history and politics are in the focus of scholars of East European and Russian Studies. Unfortunately, the numerous entanglements between these societies lie outside of traditional area studies boundaries. There is a tiny group of researchers who is able to overcome the cleavage and do master a (comparative) analysis of the entanglements between Tsardom and Ottoman Empire. Along with the older generation of historians such as Tadeusz Swietochowski and some others, Audrey Alstadt, Michael Reynolds and James H. Meyer belong to the cohort of the researchers capable to read and analyze not only Russian but also Turkish sources.

The path-breaking monograph under review is authored by James H. Meyer, Associate Professor of Islamic world history at Montana State University. The book was published in 2014 by Oxford University Press and sheds light on the intellectual interaction between different Turkic activists throughout the Russian and Ottoman Empire after the end of the Crimean War and until the outbreak of the First World War. At the very beginning of the narrative, Meyer depicts the settings in both empires during the second half of the nineteenth century by describing the subjecthood regimes in both states. The so-called trans-imperial Muslims – Crimean and Kazan Tatars as well as Azeris – are in the center of Meyer’s portraying of the intensive interplay between Tsardom and Ottomans. The subjecthood and the possession of a passport of one or of both empires are analyzed as a chance and possibility to wander across the borders, to emigrate, immigrate and re-emigrate again and again. Along with the mass emigration of the Turkic subjects of the Tsardom towards the Ottoman Empire throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from Central Russia, Crimea and later from the Caucasus, there were numerous intellectuals who directly contributed to the circulation of ideas across the borders, such as Yusuf Akçura, İsmail Gasprinskii, Ahmet Ağaoğlu and Ali Hüseyinzade. Meyer shows how these Russian-born intellectuals launched intellectual projects by founding journals and publishing booklets and political manifestos both in Istanbul and in Baku, on the Crimea and in Kazan. By doing so they contributed to the knowledge transfer between the Muslim and Turkic communities of both empires and even beyond. The interaction between Russia and (post)Ottoman Turkey had a distinct European dimension. Yusuf Akçura, İsmail Gasprinskii, Ahmet Ağaoğlu and Ali Hüseyinzade studied and spent several years in Europe, mostly in Paris. They were fluent in Russian and French. Along with some Ottoman-born intellectuals, this group of “trans-imperial Muslims” co-shaped the intellectual movement of Pan-Turkism.

Meyer has read critically the previous research on the history of Pan-Turkism (Zenkovsky, Landau) as well as the earlier biographies of the above-mentioned intellectuals (Georgeon, Shissler a.o.). There has been written a number of works on Akçura, Gasprinskii and Ağaoğlu. Meyer’s innovation consists of a critical reading of these intellectuals’ own writings throughout the decades of their sojourns throughout the Turkic worlds. He includes into his research the writings of Russian-born intellectuals published in the Ufa-, Bakhchesaray-, Baku- as well as Istanbul-based periodicals. The inclusion of the correspondence between Akçura, Gasprinskii and Ağaoğlu, and other Azeri and Tatar activists with each other is of paramount importance. At the end of the monograph, the reader gets acquainted with the contacts of the Turkic exiles and Ottoman-born intellectuals such as Halide Edip and Ziya Gökalp.

Meyer demonstrates brilliantly the shifts in articulation of cultural and political identities as well as change of the specific vocabulary in the written texts of the Turkic intellectuals. They adapted their own articles by using a set of religious and civilizational categories depending on the audience they aimed to reach. The author investigates the writings in the Russian Turkic cities at the turn of the century when the protagonists of the Muslim Enlightenment interacted with the Tsarist authorities using special codes in order to avoid accusation of being a Pan-Turkist or Pan-Islamist. Their argumentation changed after they moves to late Ottoman Istanbul and again under the rule of the Committee of Unity and Progress, once more during the early Republican period. Turkic intellectuals like Akçura and Ağaoğlu are depicted by Meyer as very educated and multilingual wanderers between cultures. Both in Russia and in Turkey, they thought primarily of their own small communities. They admitted and appropriated the languages of empires in order to articulate these interests in a proper way.

The monograph of Meyer is a nice example of a study on borderland and cross-cultural interplay between Russia and Turkey.

Zaur Gasimov, Istanbul

Zitierweise: Zaur Gasimov über: James H. Meyer: Turks Across Empires. Marketing Muslim Identity in the Russian-Ottoman Borderlands, 1856–1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. XII, 211 S., 11 Abb. = Oxford Studies in Modern European History. ISBN: 978-0-19-872514-5, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/Rez/Gasimov_Meyer_Turks_Across_Empires.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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