- Displacement and Dispossession in the Modern Middle East
In this volume, Dawn Chatty has sought to provide a survey of forced displacement and dispossession in the Middle East that would be suitable for classroom use, as well as of interest to a general audience interested in the human consequences of conflict in the region. She has succeeded. The book is informative, well-written, and highly readable. It draws upon and synthesizes a great deal of existing historical, socio-economic, and political scholarship. It also makes its subjects "real" by incorporating interviews and other ethnographic material on the affected peoples and communities.
The first chapter provides a theoretical orientation to the topic of forced migration, highlighting key terms and concepts. The next two chapters examine dispossession and displacement during the later years of the Ottoman Empire, with particular attention paid to Circassian, Chechen, and other populations expelled from the Caucasus and Balkans, as well as the massacre and expulsion of the Armenians and other Christians. Next, the book turns to the examination of Palestinian displacement and diaspora. The case of the Kurds and their unfulfilled dream of statehood are discussed. Finally (and by way of conclusion), the book discusses the social dynamics of displacement and dispossession, exploring the many ways in which social cohesion is maintained and expressed, whether through the imagination of the past, the recreation of place and space, language, the preservation of cultural heritage, and other mechanisms.
Overall, the accounts offered are fair and balanced, even when dealing with controversial and contested histories. Conceptual and theoretical material is introduced in a way that is helpful, but does not take away from a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of each case. Although it is not illustrated (which might have been useful given the topic and intended student audience), the volume does contain charts, tables, and maps where appropriate.
One aspect that might raise some questions is case selection. While the Kurds have certainly experienced dispossession and forced displacement, much of their story is focused more on nationalist struggle, revolt, marginalization, and the denial of self-determination. On the other hand, there is no discussion of the forced displacement of Jews from Arab countries following the establishment of the state of Israel, the forced displacement of Yemenis from Saudi Arabia during the 1990-1991 Gulf war, the displacement and dispossession of some Bedouin populations, internal displacement in Lebanon during the civil war. Nor is there discussion of the massive movement of displaced persons and refugees as a consequence of US-led intervention in Iraq. The reason for this appears to be, in part, the Ottoman/ post-Ottoman theme that runs through most of the volume. However, a chapter on other modern displacements in the region would have been welcome, especially given substantial student interest in these.
Despite this, however, this is clearly a [End Page 172] thoughtful volume, and one from which students (and their instructors) will benefit. It would be of value as a primary or supplementary text, a source of course readings, or research resource for students of the Middle East, as well as those studying refugees, conflict, and related issues.
Rex Brynen is Professor of Political Science at McGill University.