Orcun Can Okan

  • Fellowship year:2019-2020
  • University: Columbia University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Middle East
  • Dissertation Title: Coping with Transitions: The Connected Construction of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq (1918-28)
  • My dissertation examines the establishment of Republican Turkey and the League of Nations Mandates in present-day Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq in the decade following World War I. I approach the construction of these new political regimes within the common framework of transitions to "post-Ottoman' regimes. The chapters in my dissertation examine how post-Ottoman states and their subjects tried to cope with these transitions. Combining methods of diplomatic history with social and cultural history, I investigate cross-border disputes over retirement pensions, maintenance support/alimony, and land and property. My analyses of these disputes explore broader questions of nationality and the significance of reference to Ottoman official records for governance purposes in post-Ottoman domains. I challenge the mistaken yet prevalent assumption that Turkey and countries in the Arab East followed completely separate historical trajectories once the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Emphasis on connections between transitions to post-Ottoman regimes is important because it allows for the incorporation of new insights into transformations of state-society relations in the Middle East after World War I. Beyond region, my research contributes to developing a more nuanced understanding of the broader post-World War I context when Eurasian empires were dismembered in a world organized around the nation-state. By situating the French and British mandate regimes on new grounds of comparison, my work also offers fresh perspectives on the multiple meanings of empire and the mechanisms on which it relied to function in different contexts over time.