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Family, Empire, and Nation: Kurdish Bedirkhanis and the Politics of Origins in a Changing Era

Ahmet Serdar Aktürk


This article traces the evolving significance of a prominent princely Kurdish family’s claim of noble descent from the first half of the nineteenth century through the first half of the twentieth century. The Bedirkhan family, a branch of the wider Azizan family, were hereditary rulers of the Bohtan principality in Ottoman Kurdistan until 1847 and after that a part of the Ottoman imperial power elite. This Kurdish princely family traditionally claimed descent from Khalid ibn al-Walid, the famous Arab Muslim commander of the seventh century. This article scrutinizes the changing meanings of that claim against the backdrop of late Ottoman and post-Ottoman political and ideological developments such as Ottoman modernization and the rise of nationalism. The family’s long-standing references to their so-called progenitor Khalid ibn al-Walid and eventually their attempts to distance themselves from al-Walid in the 1930s and 1940s present an important case that illustrates identity shifts in the modern Middle East. Parallel to the main thesis, this article also demonstrates how the Bedirkhanis interpreted and reinterpreted two premodern texts that mentioned the family’s origins in response to the changing priorities of the time.

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Published by the University of Florida Press on behalf of the Association of Global South Studies.