I am a historian of the nineteenth and early twentieth century Ottoman Empire, Iran, and Kurdistan. I previously wrote a book about a fascinating Young Turk activist, Tunali Hilmi Bey, whose life story provides a telling account of an Ottoman intellectual's journey from empire to nation-state, and from being an advocate of a pluralist coexistence to an exclusionary Turkish nationalist.
My second book was about the making of the Middle East's first boundary: The Ottoman-Iranian boundary. The formation of this ancient, interacting boundary took almost four hundred years of conflict and negotiation. While I am still working on the long duree history of the transformations of that frontier and its related concepts, the book (Ottoman-Iranian Borderland: The Making of A Boundary) tells the story of its actual making, by international commissions, on the ground between the years 1843 and 1914. The book asked the question of how states make borders, and how the peoples of the borderlands whose geography of existence and rhythms of life were interrupted by such extraneous and usually violent interruptions react to such impositions.
At present I am working on another project, tentatively named Unmaking Kurdistan which might be changed to Constraining Kurdistan or something else. With this project I aim to explore the historical conditions that created the Question of Kurdistan, or what historical conditions account for how the Kurds became the largest ethnic group without its own nation? My book sets out to answer these questions on the basis of a wide variety of primary sources in Ottoman Turkish, Persian, English and French. Moreover, it explores how the Kurds lost the race to form a nation-state, despite the emergence of Kurdish nationalism during a pan-Kurdish revolt in 1880. How did a group that was already divided between the Ottoman Empire and Iran end up being further divided among the three inhospitable sovereign powers of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria? Why in the post-Great War period did the Allies create Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq and lay the foundation for the creation of Israel but abandon their post-war pledge to form a Kurdish state? Moreover, what role did the Kurds themselves play in making or unmaking a state of their own? How did they respond or fail to respond to the age of nationalism?
Constraining Kurdistan seeks to answer these questions through several intertwined stories. Anchored in the biography of its protagonist, Seyyid Abdulqadir of Nehri, my book explores efforts to establish or prevent the creation of Kurdistan as an independent state or autonomous entity starting in the mid 1870s. In particular, it focuses on the tumultuous period of 1880-1925, during which the creation of a Kurdish state emerged as a distinct possibility and then quickly unraveled. This is the story of a man, a place, and an idea.