Seda Altuğ: Conflict over Land and Citizenship in Syria under the French Mandate (1921- 1946)

This study aims to investigate the governing of ethno-religious difference through exploring the management of the land issue in Syria under the French mandate and its aftereffects in the postcolonial period. “The land question” addresses a set of political, economic, ideological, judicial and cultural issues. Viewed in this way, the land issue is a question not only of economic history, but also of social history, implicating a redefinition in the relationship between land and the individual/community/nation. The practices and discourses surrounding the land issue are also formative in the making of modern state power and citizenship practices as well as in claims of sovereignty at all levels. The nature of the struggle over the use, revenue and distribution of land where the colonial agency is claimed to have played a marginal role leads to the second theme of this project: sectarianism, namely the governance of cultural (ethnic or religious) difference that often, but not always provided the political and social underpinnings of the contest over land. The field of ethno-religious difference, in the Syrian case, is one where the role of the colonial power is overrated and is primarily dominated by political and intellectual history accounts. One of the intentions of this project, then is to draw out how ideas about cultural difference (i.e. ethnic and religious identifications) have been bound up with political, economic, social and even epistemological projects of difference-making. This study, in particular, focuses on the socio-economic project of difference-making. It holds a multi-sited archival research and delves into the debates on land dispute and settlement in three frontier regions with politically contested new settlements and mixed land tenure systems in French-Syria.

Seda Altuğ is a lecturer at the Atatürk Institute for Modern Turkish History at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul. She received her PhD from Utrecht University, Netherlands. Her dissertation is entitled “Sectarianism in the Syrian Jazira: Community, Land and Violence in the Memories of World War I and the French Mandate (1915–1939)”. Her research interests cover statesociety relations in French-Syria, sectarianism, land question, empire, border and memory. She has recently started working on land and property regimes in the late Ottoman East and Syria under the French mandate. She was a EUME Fellow during the academic years of 2017/18 and 2018/19.


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