Event Highlight | The Transnational Impact of the Syrian Mahjar

Inaugurating the 2020-21 CMES speaker series, Dr. Stacy Farenthold virtually visited UC Santa Barbara in October to discuss her award-winning book Between the Ottomans and Entente: The First World War in the Syrian and Lebanese Diaspora, 1908-1925. The lecture focused on the transnational nodes and micro historical accounts of Syrian migration to the western hemisphere during the early twentieth century. Farenthold opened by describing how the mahjar (diaspora) participated or defied the seminal events and intellectual environment of the 1908 Young Turk Revolution in Latin America to underscore the broad reach of these revolutionary ideas and its diverse iterations across geographic regions. By drawing attention to the diverse locations and experiences of the Syrian mahjar, Farenthold underscored how these migrants shaped Ottoman governance and post-Ottoman futures in the homeland and abroad.

The mahjar impacted the political and intellectual formations of what would become Syria and Lebanon in and between metropolitan areas from New York City to Sao Paolo and Boston to Buenos Aires. Farenthold convincingly argued how the mobility of these migrants, far from being marginal or ephemeral influences, were integral to the tangible changes in the places they lived. Over a period of close to two decades, these diasporic communities mobilized for a wide range of political causes and futures and even supported humanitarian causes, such as relief efforts during the Great War. In these endeavors, they navigated different legal regimes and negotiated their positions when their political allegiances and identities were called into question. These investigations provide valuable insight into analysis across categories of the post-war order including activism, migration, mobility, associational life, gender, labor, military and diplomatic relations from the transition from the Ottoman to mandate period.

Between the Ottomans and Entente is an important contribution to the scholarship on Middle East migrations and builds on the work of scholars who examine Syrian-western hemispheric connections during the early twentieth century such as Akram Khater, Sarah Gualtieri, and Camila Pastor. Yet, Farenthold’s intervention is not only about migration but how this mobility and movement also fundamentally influenced the social, economic, and political configurations of the Middle East during the last years of Ottoman rule and into the postwar years. In this regard, Between the Ottomans and Entente also enriches the scholarship of the Young Turk period and joins the work of Michelle Campos, Bedross Der Matossian, Michael Provence and others in thinking through the meaning of Ottoman citizenship and its postwar afterlives.

By Amy Fallas (PhD Candidate, History, UC Santa Barbara)

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