The current Syria crisis as well as refugee crisis, the current turmoil in Turkey, and the wars in the Balkans and Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s, have a common denominator in the burden of a shared past. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1908-22 marked the culmination of a fragmentation process that had begun a century before, the consequences of which continue to reverberate today. From the ruins of the empire that encompassed the entire Eastern Mediterranean area, some fifteen nation states have emerged which from their very outset confronted the challenge of religious, ethnic, and other forms of social pluralism that remained but could not match the new, often nationalist forms of modern self-perception.
However, beneath the surface of inter-communal enmities, ethnic cleansings and even genocides, many local forms of coexistence and contact have persisted, communal cohabitation that eludes modern interpretations of societal bonds and fissures, and show us the outline of a pluralism that might tentatively tell us something about the future. Is it in fact possible to talk about an Ottoman social legacy in the post-Ottoman era, and if so, will it serve as a common framework for countering the prevalent discourses of violence and fragmentation? What can (re-)current intercommunal dynamics tell and teach us about newly emerging pluralist forms of co-existence? How do old and new forms of pluralism relate?
This research program aims to create a platform of research and engagement that takes the continuity of pluralism in the geographical area that once was the Ottoman Empire – today’s Turkey, Levant and Balkans primarily – as its focal point of academic interest. Through interactively studying the empirical manifestations of continuity of pluralism in the past, present and future, we hope to provide powerful alternative perspectives on how these societies work socially throughout time. One way of turning the prism back and focusing our research is on interaction at so-called ‘contact interfaces’ or as we call them ‘social spaces’, originally perceived as cities (Eldem; 1999), and by us more broadly perceived as organic pluralist alternatives to the prescriptive modern nation state: shrines, cities, schools, religious institutions, etc.