History Department, University of Exeter
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From an independent Kurdistan to when fascism almost came to Australia, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Sèvres Centennial: Prospects for an Independent Kurdistan
This August marks the centenary of the Treaty of Sèvres, signed between the Allied powers and the Ottoman Empire in 1920. The Treaty was never ratified, being replaced by the Lausanne Agreement in 1923. Historians have considered it stillborn – ‘the world of illusions’ in Churchill’s words. For Kurds and Turks, however, it lives on in memory, if from different perspectives. For Kurds, the Treaty was the first ever international recognition for their political rights, envisaged in Articles 62, 63 and 64. For Turks, however, it represented an attempt at the elimination of the empire and the partition of Turkey by foreign powers.
For over a century, the Kurdish quest for statehood, and the Kurdish question – described by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as a ‘bomb’ for the entire region – has remained a major challenge for Middle Eastern stability and security. The root causes date back, at least, to the dismembering of the Ottoman Empire with the purpose of establishing a new nation-state system, which excluded any Kurdish entity. Since the post-Ottoman order failed to create a stable and peaceful region, it was famously termed as a ‘peace to end all peace’ by David Fromkin, sowing the seeds of subsequent conflicts in the region. Essentially, Anglo-French diplomacy was at the heart of the Middle East’s instability and tensions in the immediate post-war period, with their strategic and economic disputes over Syria, Mosul, Kurdistan and Turkey being the main obstacles to achieving a reasonable political arrangement for its inhabitants. The two powers’ imperial interests dominated the peace conference and ran contrary to applying the Wilsonian concept of self-determination in the Middle East. Kurdistan’s future was fundamentally affected by this, preventing any settlement of the Kurdish question in the post-war period, and leading to the first systematic division of Ottoman Kurdistan between Turkey, Iraq and Syria. [continue reading]
The Word for World Is Forest: Ecology, Colonialism, and the Protest Movement
The period between 1968 and 1974 were magnificently productive for Le Guin, yielding the novels and stories that solidified her reputation in the SFF world and which have inspired writers, critics, and scholars alike for the past half-century. Between her most famous novels, she dropped the literary firebomb of a novella, The Word for World Is Forest. Originally tucked away in Again, Dangerous Visions (1972), the second volume of Harlan Ellison’s story collections that helped shape the American New Wave, the novella was recognized with a Hugo for Best Novella, nominated for the Locus and Nebula in the same category, and upon publication in a solo volume in 1976 was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Next to The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, Le Guin’s novella Word for World is among her most beloved by critics. It’s often presented as a key example of the growing ecological commitment of SFF authors in the 1970s as the environmentalist movement got into full swing. The novella is a blunt condemnation of colonialism that emphasizes how a regime of resource extraction wreaks havoc on indigenous cultures, not only physically and mentally, but culturally as well, causing a once-peaceful culture to adopt violence as a means of resistance. [continue reading]
Mahatma Gandhi refused to support general strikes in Bombay. A British newspaper editor took him on
The First World War raised costs of living and depressed wages all at once, thus reducing the buying power of Bombay’s inhabitants, who then numbered over 1.5 million. This catapulted labour movements throughout Bombay, although collective action had been evident in previous decades. Booms in cotton and grain prices made millowners and landlords even wealthier, so land and property prices went up along with booming rents.
This instigated strikes among bus and tram workers, postmen, service men and women, and industrial workers of all kinds. The 1919 textile strike had a major impact, showing the labor movement how much power it had to stop capital in its tracks. Under his editorship, the newspaper connected disparate episodes of agitation across the city to a common narrative and structure of exploitation by capital and the colonial state. Horniman himself even spoke at rallies and meetings, making him a more popular figure in wartime Bombay than even Mohandas Gandhi, who was still perfecting his strategies. [continue reading]
Aboriginal Australians ‘still suffering effects of colonial past’
The death of George Floyd in the US has also hit home in Australia. It has brought anger about mass incarceration and police brutality back to the fore in this country. In the past three decades, more than 400 Aboriginal people have died in custody, either being held in prisons or under the arrest of the police – despite findings and recommendations from a national inquiry in 1991. Many have died under suspicious circumstances, some due to negligence or lack of medical assistance. No-one was convicted for any of those deaths. And like in the US, there have been calls to shift resources away from policing and prisons and towards empowering indigenous people to make the decisions that affect their community. [continue reading]
When Fascism Almost Came to Australia
In 1931, dozens of meetings convened in packed town halls across the Mallee country, a region spanning Victoria’s Northwest and New South Wales’ Southwest. Most meeting attendees had never met a communist. Nevertheless, to euphoric applause, they passed motions demanding that “ALL COMMUNIST ACTIVITY MUST CEASE.” In the dust of such a night, a group of “concerned citizens” captured an unemployed supporter of leftist NSW Labor premier Jack Lang. They held him down and burned “RED” into his forehead with acid.
While exceptional in brutality, this was a result of a broader movement. Across the country, secret right-wing paramilitary armies had been recruiting large numbers, waiting for the moment they could make good on their oaths, to “shoot the bloody red bastards on sight from the capital.” Given a mass audience by the Great Depression, these militias grew in the soil of right-wing populism and were promoted by Australia’s ruling class to overthrow noncompliant Australian Labor Party (ALP) governments and suppress working-class organizing. [continue reading]
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