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“Provincial Cosmopolitanism” in Late Ottoman Anatolia: An Armenian Shoemaker's Memoir

  • Nora Lessersohn (a1)

This paper examines the nature of late Ottoman provincial intercommunal interactions and affiliations as they appear in the memoir of Hovhannes Cherishian (1886–1967), a shoemaker from late Ottoman Marash (present-day Kahramanmaraş, in southeastern Turkey). The paper is situated within the larger discourse of “untold histories” that historians have begun to address in revising the deeply ingrained post-Ottoman nationalist historiographies that dominate both academic and popular discourses. Conventional historiographies have represented former late Ottoman subject communities (e.g., Greek, Jewish, Armenian) as insulated and homogenous proto-nation-states. In the revisionist historiography, the late Ottoman Armenian voice, especially the provincial one, has been noticeably absent. Here I utilize Cherishian's memoir to examine the life and thoughts of one late Ottoman Armenian provincial subject. I focus especially on his treatment of intercommunal interactions in Anatolia and present-day Syria between 1897 and 1922. His accounts of these often extended intercommunal interactions, affiliations, and networks are characterized by intercommunal and interpersonal openness, sympathy, intimacy, and pleasure, even as he presents them side-by-side with descriptions of deportation and death at the hands of the late Ottoman state. I develop the idea of what I call “provincial cosmopolitanism” to conceptualize and represent the disposition, affinity, and process of identity formation that enabled Cherishian to create and operate these interpersonal relationships and networks that propelled his life, a historical condition to which we are not currently privy in most historiographical accounts of the late Ottoman period.

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Aron Rodrigue and Sarah Abrevaya Stein , eds., A Jewish Voice from Ottoman Salonica: The Ladino Memoir of Sa'adi Besalel a-Levi (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012)

Abigail Jacobson , “Negotiating Ottomanism in Times of War: Jerusalem during World War I through the Eyes of a Local Muslim Resident,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 40 (2008): 6988

Gender, Nationalism, Exclusion: The Reintegration Process of Female Survivors of the Armenian Genocide,” Nations and Nationalism 15, 1 (2009): 6080

Karen Barkey , Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Dana Sajdi , The Barber of Damascus: Nouveau Literacy in the Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Levant (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2013).

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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