Workshop on Tribes and Imperial Policies / Comparative Perspectives and Russo-Kurdish Approaches – 5-6 June 2018

Tribes and Empires. The Russian-Kurdish Case in Comparative Perspective

International workshop


Paris, 5-6 June 2018

‘’Tribes’’ – both as a concept and a highly diverse reality – loomed large in the policies of the empires and imperial assemblages that shaped world politics in the last two centuries. Across Africa, the Middle East and Eurasia, they became a key element in imperial, notably colonial, strategies of domination. From the Maghreb to India, they were used for their ‘’martial’’ qualities, but also served the ‘’management of difference’’ so central to the imperial mind. Yet, imperial attention to the tribal question was in itself indicative of modern evolutionary conceptions, which ranked socio-political structures in time and space.

As part of new project on the place of the Kurds in Russian imperial strategies in Eurasia (hosted by the EHESS), this workshop aims at providing critical insights into the historiography of relations between empires and tribes (5 June), before exploring the specificities of the Russo-Kurdish nexus (6 June). Historically focused, this workshop will draw on scholarship from disciplines such as ethnology, anthropology, historical sociology and imperial history in order to understand the features of these relations. The very concept of tribe and its numerous derivatives (clans, confederacies, nomads, etc.) will be discussed from the point of view of concrete imperial strategies.

More specifically, in a time when Russia’s presence in the Middle East has been the focus of much international attention, the second day of this workshop will explore Russo-Kurdish relations as a test case for the relevance of tribal perspectives on imperial role. Through an examination of their evolution across two centuries, it will set out potential directions for further research. 

Organizers: Masha Cerovic, CERCEC, EHESS; Etienne Peyrat, Sciences-Po Lille; Adnan Çelik, CETOBAC, EHESS.
Financial Support: LabEx TEPSIS

Tuesday 5 June

Tribes and Imperial Policies: Comparative Perspectives

Venue: 105 boulevard Raspail, room 3

Chair: Willard Sunderland (University of Cincinnati)

14:00: Welcome

14:30 – 15:30

Peter Holquist (University of Pennsylvania)

“Russia Imperial Policies and Imperial Realities on the Ground: Patterns of Violence in Russian Occupation Policies, 1914-1918.”

David Sneath (Cambridge University)

“The Notion of the Tribe and Historical Representations of Inner Asia”


Robert Fletcher (University of Warwick)

“Beating Empire’s Bounds: the British and the Bedouin in the Interwar Middle East”

Yazid Ben Hounet (CNRS – EHESS / Centre Jacques Berque, Rabat)

“The French Empire and Algeria’s Tribes : Destruction, Reification, Fascination”

17 :00 – 18 :30 : roundtable / general discussion

Wednesday 6 June

The Russian-Kurdish Case

Venue: 54 boulevard Raspail, room AS1_08 (level -1)

9.30-12.30: The Kurds in Russian Imperial Strategies.

This panel will discuss the political aspects of Russian policies toward the Kurds through an exploration of their multiple spaces (Caucasus, Near and Middle East, Central Asia) and historical contexts. It is also meant as a forum to present and discuss the RUSKURD research project with all interested parties.

9.30 Masha Cerovic (EHESS)-Etienne Peyrat (Sciences Po Lille)

General introduction and presentation of the research project RUSKURD ‘’Russians and Kurds in the Middle East (late 19th-21st centuries) : The Tribal Factor in Imperial Strategies’’

11.30 Nodar Mossaki (Russian Academy of Sciences)

‘’Russia and Kurdish Tribes on the Turkish-Russian Border during the Crimean War’’

14.-17.30: The Russo-Kurdish Nexus in Intellectual and Cultural History.

This panel will focus on one of the key aspects of our ongoing project, the cultural and intellectual impact of Russo-Kurdish relations.


 Christine Robins (University of Exeter)

‘’Yezidi Cultural Identities between the Caucasus and the Middle East’’

Metin Yüksel (Hacettepe Üniversitesi)

‘’The Calil Family and Soviet-Kurdish Interactions’’

16:00 – 18:00

Adnan Çelik (EHESS-Institut Français d’Etudes Anatoliennes)

‘’Radio Erevan and Russian-Kurdish Relations’’

 Davut Yeşilmen (Universität Duisburg-Essen)

‘’Kurdish-Armenian Relations in Soviet Kurdish Novels’’

Concluding remarks

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