Zeynep Turkyilmaz Dissertations

Zeynep Türkyilmaz
(EUME Fellow 2017/18)

Chair: Kader Konuk
(Universität Duisburg-Essen / Member of EUME)

On August 3rd, 2014, the Ezidis of Sinjar district in Nineveh Governorate of Iraq came under the genocidal assault of the Islamic State. While the Ezidis were caught off guard, with no help from the central and local state, security forces or even their neighbors, and without any means to defend themselves, their perpetuators’ actions were proven to be meticulous and premeditated. They brutally slaughtered Ezidi men, yet carefully separated Ezidi women and children to take with themselves as slaves who would be subjected to sexual abuse and forced conversion. The Islamic State not only defended its genocidal operation, which it claimed is firmly established in the shari'a, but also presented it as the harbinger of the Final War between Islam and the rest before the Judgment Day - Yawm al-Qiyamah. Notwithstanding the perpetuator’s self-professed intention for this to be a unique and eschatological intervention, and international recognition that the assault amounted to genocide, interestingly the community itself framed it as the last of the 73 Fermans. Ferman, which literally means imperial decree or edict, in this context referred to each episode of massacres the community has endured in its past. Particularly Ottoman fermans featured the survivors’ narratives, many of whom were descendants of families who had fled to Sinjar and its environs after one massacre or the other.

Informed and intrigued by these recent depictions of Ezidis’ history as a cycle of massacres, and reduction of Ezidi peoples to a perpetual state of passive victimhood, this presentation seeks to move away from such anachronistic and dichotomous narratives, and hopes to reconstruct the cosmos of the Ottoman Ezidis by adopting a strictly bottom-up approach. While the overall project of Türkyilmaz spans from 1700 till 2014, this presentation will limit itself to the long nineteenth century, which registered several massacres targeting Ezidis but also hopeful anticipation of Ottoman reforms, promises of equal and impartial citizenship and the community’s struggle for the recognition of its identity by a modernizing empire. Drawing on archival and ethnographic sources, this presentation will challenge portrayals of Ezidis only as meek, passive, converted and persecuted peoples; and propose to study them also as local rulers and powerbrokers between empires; armed and resilient, fighting back on their Sunni neighbors’ intrusions, sometimes initiating attacks, and always resisting the state’s attempts to infiltrate in matters relating to their identity as well as to socio-economic well-being, conscription, and taxation alike. In so doing, this presentation will not only examine the redefinition of communal coexistence at high-altitude and remote corners of the empire, the changing meaning and means of violence inflicted on Ezidis by the Ottoman state, officials and their neighbors, but also explore how Ezidi subjecthood has been reshaped by and in response to these experiences.

Zeynep Türkyilmaz received her Ph.D. from the Department of History at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2009. Her dissertation, "Anxieties of Conversion: Missionaries, State and Heterodox Communities in the Late Ottoman Empire", is based on intensive research conducted in Ottoman, British, and several American missionary archives. She was an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar Postdoctoral at UNC-Chapel Hill between 2009-2010 and Europe in the Middle East - The Middle East in Europe Postdoctoral Fellow at Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin between 2010-2011. She worked at the Dartmouth College as an assistant professor of history between 2011 and 2016. She is currently a EUME research fellow at Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin, working on her project tentatively titled "An Archeology of Today: Tracing the Genealogies of Ezidi Victimhood". Her research and teaching interests include state-formation, gender, nationalism, colonialism, religious communities with a focus on heterodoxy and missionary work in the Middle East from 1800 to the present.

Zeynep Türkyılmaz



  • Ph.D. Department of History, University of California at Los Angeles, 2009. Dissertation Title: Anxieties of Conversion:  Missionaries, State and Heterodox communities in the late Ottoman Empire.
  • M.A. Political Science and International Relations, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, Turkey, 2001.  Thesis Title: "Turkification of non-Turkish Groups through Education in the Eastern Province of Tunceli, (1925-1950).
  • B.A. Political Science and International Relations, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, Turkey, 1998. 

Awards and Fellowships

  • Women Mobilizing Memory Project Fellow, Center for the Study of Social Difference, Columbia University, 2014- Present
  • NEH Summer Seminar Fellow, “The Late Ottoman and Russian Empires: Citizenship, Belonging and Difference,” George Washington University June 9-27, 2014.
  • Junior Faculty Fellowship, Dartmouth College, 2014-2015
  • Europe in the Middle East/ The Middle East in Europe Seminar Postdoctoral Fellow 2010-2011
  • UNC-Chapel Hill Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar Postdoctoral Fellow 2009-2010
  • UCLA, Hans Rogger International Student Dissertation Year Fellowship, 2008-2009
  • UCLA International Institute Graduate Fieldwork Fellow, 2008-2009
  • UCLA, History Department, Summer Research Grant, 2008
  • Laura Kinsey Distinguished History Teaching Assistant Award, 2008
  • Teaching Fellow, UCLA, 2007-2008
  • CEES Summer Dissertation Research Grant, 2007
  • Teaching Fellow, UCLA, 2006-2007.
  • Departmental Summer Travel Grant Award, UCLA, 2002-2005.
  • Graduate Fellowship, UCLA, 2001-2006.
  • Graduate Fellowship, Boğaziçi University, Turkey, 1998-2001.

Work History

  • Program Coordinator, ANAMED- Koc University, Present
  • Assistant Professor, Department of History, Dartmouth College, 2011-2016
  • Teaching Fellow, Department of History, UCLA, Fall 2006-Spring 2008
  • Teaching Assistant, Department of History, UCLA, Fall 2002-Spring 2004
  • Teaching Assistant, Political Science and International Relations, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, 1998-2001

Paper Presentations and Invited Lectures

  • “İmparatorluktan Ulus Devlete Ezdilerin ‘Din-ü Devletle’ İmtihanı,” Ezidilerin 73. Fermanı, Şengal Soykırımı Konferansı,  İstanbul, October 2016.  
  • Uncertain conversions precarious citizens: Making of Nusayri-Alawi identity in the late Ottoman Empire,Workshop on Imagining and regulating ethnic and religious diversity in Turkey –Macro-configurations and micro-dynamics, Max-Planck Institute for the Study of religious and Ethnic Diversity, Gottingen, July 2016.
  • “‘Civilize Rebels’ Daughters, Absorb them within Turkishness’: Residential Schooling and Republican Solution to the Dersim Question (1937-1957)”, Workshop on School-time, Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of educational Globalization, McGill University, Montreal, May 2016.
  • A Story of Struggle for Survival: Crypto-Christians of Pontos From Resistance to Expulsion, Conference on the Displacement and Extinction of the Pontic Greeks, 1915-1923, Humboldt University, Berlin, February 2016. 
  • “Osmanlı’dan Cumhuriyet’e Din, Devlet ve Vatandaşlık Kıskacında ‘Aleviliğin’ İnşası,” İstanbul Düşünce Evi, November 2015.
  • Dağ Çicekleri’nden, Türklük Tohumlarına: Dersim’in Islahında Annelik ve Kız Çocukları (1935-1957), Tarih Vakfi (History Foundation), November 2015.
  • Seven Heads and an Ottoman Pasha: Forced Islamization of Êzîdîs in the late Ottoman

Empire, “Êzîdîs Violent History and Current Experience, ” Institute for Social     Anthropology at Vienna, June 2015

  •  From Kurdified mothers to the Mountain flowers: Republic’s Gendered Solution to the Dersim Question (1937-1957), International Conference on Genocide and Massacres of the Middle Eastern Nations, Kurdology Center at University of Sulaimani, April  2015.
  • İmparatorluktan Cumhuriyete ‘Makbul’ İnanç ve ‘Heterodoksi’’nin İnşaası, Ataturk Institute, Bogazici University, February 2015.
  •   Re-making of the Nusayri Identity in the Late Ottoman Empire,” Research Center for   Anatolian Civilizations, Koc University, January 2015.
  • The Islamic State and the Yazidi Genocide, a panel discussion with Prof. James Gelvin, Center for Near Eastern Studies, UCLA, January 2015.
  • Crypto-Christian Miners in the Ottoman Trebizond (1700-1918), The Black Sea Project:  The Economic and Social Development of the Port-Cities of the Southern Black Sea Coast, 18th –20th century, 3rd Conference, Istanbul, October 2014.
  •  “Gendering Genocide, Education and Memory: Mothers of Dersim and Teachers for Tunceli,” Women Creating Change, Mobilizing Memory for Action, Columbia University, Workshop III, Istanbul, September 2014.
  • “On Turkey,” guest lecturer for Great Decisions 2014, ILEAD, April 2014
  • “Bir Öteki Olma Hali: Trabzon’un Gizli Hristiyanları - Kurumlu, Maçkalı ve İstavriler (1857-1923),” Tarih Vakfi (History Foundation), Ankara, December 2013.
  • Researching and Conceptualizing Religious Conversion: Reflections on Ottoman History and Historiography, Conference on Islamized Armenians, Hrant Dink Foundation, Istanbul, November 2013
  • “What is Happening in Turkey? Gezi Protests and the Future, a panel discussion with Prof. Noam Chomsky and Prof. Asli Igsiz, ” MIT, October 2013
  • “Three Mothers, One Nation”:  Maternal Colonialism, and the Female Nation-builders of the Turkish Republic,” Changing Feminist Paradigms Conference, Istanbul, June 2013.
  • “Dersim Question and Intellectual Responsibility after 80 years,” Kurdish Studies and the Responsibility of Intellectuals Workshop, Columbia University, May 2013.
  • ‘Zahirde İslam, Bâtında Hristiyan’: Osmanlı İmparatorluğu’nda Gizli Hristiyanlık,  Tarih Vakfi (History  Foundation), Istanbul, March 2013
  • "Is there any room for apology? Republic's Dersim Question: Education, Policies and Maternal Colonialism," Middle East Studies Association Conference, November 2012.
  • “Hiding in the Mines: Crypto-Christian Miners of Ottoman Trebizond (1700-1918)” International Committee for Pre-Ottoman and Ottoman Studies, Crete, Greece, 27 June-1 July 2012.
  • Mutiny and Reorder or "Cleansing the Capital"? The 31 March Incidents and the Hareket Ordusu in Istanbul, Middle East Studies Association Conference, December 2011
  • “Fellahs, Hüdais and Alawis: Making of a Communal  Identity in the Late Ottoman Empire”, Second Interdisciplinary Workshop  on Religious Conversion : The Politics of Conversion.- Historical Perspectives, Sociological and Anthropological Insights, Oct. 2011, Grad Center, CUNY
  • “From Fellah to Alawi: Re-making of a Communal Identity in the Late Ottoman Empire” Europe in the Middle East –Middle East in Europe-Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Berlin, April 2011.
  • “March 1909 Riots in Istanbul: Reform, Reaction, and Islam in the City”, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, February 2011
  •  “Neither Muslim Nor Christian:  Crypto-Christians of Trabzon  (1856-1924)”, Middle East Studies Association Conference, November 2010
  • “From the whirlpool of 'slavery' to the struggle for 'equality': Nusayris in the late Ottoman Empire," UNC- Chapel Hill, Andrew Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar, March 2010
  • “Politics of Education and Conversion: American Protestant Missions in the Near East (1856-1932)”, Middle East Studies Association Conference, November 2009
  • “White Women’s Burden: Educating the “Mountain Flowers” of Dersim,  Hrant Dink Memorial Workshop II - Gender, Ethnicity and the Nation-State: Anatolia and Its Neighboring Regions, May 2009.
  • “Ambiguous Conversions: State, Missionaries and Kizilbas Communities in the Late Ottoman Empire” Middle East Studies Association Conference, November 2008
  • “Crypto-Christians of Trebizond: Hidden Creeds- Dual Lives in the Face of Apostasy and Re-Christianization” (1857-1919). Presented at Europe in the Middle East, Middle East in Europe Summer Academy titled ‘Living together: Plurality and Cosmopolitanism in the Ottoman Empire and Beyond Istanbul, September 21 - 28, 2008.
  •  “Talking Turkey: The Conditions of Woman in Turkey: The State, Nationalism
and Religion” Lecture delivered at Women & Society Center, Marist College, NY, April 2007
  • “31 March: An Anti-Constitutional Conspiracy or A Cry Against Despotism”, Middle East Studies Association Conference, November 2006.
  • "Missionaries among the Kizilbas Communities 1850-1915” JUSUR Conference, Limits of Tolerance, April 2004.
  • “An Uneasy Encounter: Protestant and Ottoman Missionaries among the Alevis”, Workshop: Beyond the Clash of Civilizations: Missionaries, Conversion, and Tolerance in the Ottoman Empire Workshop Rice University April 2004.
  • “Disciplining Dersim: A Reevaluation of 1937-38” Middle East Studies Association Conference, November 2003.
  • "The Dersim Question: From Unrest to Discipline" California Middle East Social and Cultural Historical Association (CALMESCHA), October 2003.
  • “The Republican Civilizing Mission: The Case of Mountain Flowers in Dersim/Tunceli (1937-1950),” Middle East Studies Association Conference, November 2002.


  • “Din Değiştirme Araştırma ve Kavramsallaştırmaları: Osmanlı ve Cumhuriyet Tarihi ve Tarihyazımı Üzerine Düşünceler,” Müslümanlaş(tırıl)mış Ermeniler Konferans Tebliğleri Kasım 2013, Hrant Dink Vakfı, 2015, 35-44.
  • “Dersim’den Tunceli’ye bir Kolonizasyon Projesi: Sıdıka Avar ve Dağ Çiçekleri, Kürt Tarihi, Kasım 2015
  •  “Maternal Colonialism and Turkish Woman’s Burden: Educating the “Mountain Flowers” of Dersim,”Journal of Women’s History, Changing Gender Paradigms Special Issue, (Fall 2016)
  • “'Seeing Through Her Eyes: Women’s Narratives of Dersim Genocide, Proceedings of Women Mobilizing History Workshop, under review.

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