Middle East Studies

Hamit Bozarslan

Director of Studies, Center for Turkish, Ottoman, Balkan and Central Asian Studies, Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) – France

Middle East: a Forty-Years War?

Many historians would probably agree that neither the Peloponnesian War (431-404) nor the Thirty-Years War (1618-1648) really took place. However, during these long decays, various conflicts, different in their causes, dynamics and transformative effects took place in one integrated space, and interacted with each other to the extent of being defined as one single conflict.

In our presentation, we will formulate the hypothesis that since the major events of 1979 (Camp David Agreement II, invasion of Afghanistan by the Red Army, Islamist uprising in Mecca, Iranian Revolution, official accession of Saddam Hussain to the presidency of his country), the “Great Middle East” experiences different forms of war and violence which each has its own historicity, but together produce articulated effects capable of changing the shape of an entire world. The military transhumance of non-state actors, blurring of distinctions between the state and non-state actors, transformation of frontiers into the zones of production of a massive, state and-non-state violence… do not only fragilize  the “Westphalian Leviathan” in the region, but also transforms it into a Behemoth; the states which are henceforth characterized by their paramilitary structures, share their space of sovereignty with other armed actors. In some Middle Eastern spaces, the destruction of the state also goes hand-in-hand with the destruction of the society itself.

We don’t know whether the future historians will name the post-1979 period in the Middle East as a “Forty-Years War” or not. We know, however, that during these decades, Middle Eastern time and space have been extensively militarized. While trust in time, i.e., the capacity of reading the past reflexively, and projecting oneself in the future positively, has been eroded, space has become synonymous of constrained mobilities of confinements. These processes have also reconfigured the Kurdish issue, and determined the fate of the cross-border Kurdish population.

Hamit Bozarslan (PhD in history 1992, and in political sciences 1994) teaches at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris. He has published extensively on the Kurdish issue, Turkey and Middle East. His current research is focused on the formation of the modern anti-democratic systems in Iran, Russia and Turkey, as well the state of violence in the Middle East.