Djene Bajalan Interview Notes


Dr. Djene Rhys Bajalan is a historian of the Middle East specializing the rise of nationalism and the evolution of the Kurdish question. He completed his undergraduate degree in history and politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, holds an MSc in Nationalism and Ethnicity from the London School of Economics, an MA in History from Istanbul Bilgi University and a DPhil in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford.

He is the author of “Jön Kürtler: Birinci Dünya Savasi’ndan Önce Kürt Hareketi 1898-1914” (The Young Kurds: The Kurdish movement before the First World War)(Avesta, 2010) and co-editor of “Studies in Kurdish History: Empire, Ethnic and Islam” (Routledge, 2015).

In addition to extensive research experience in both the British and Ottoman archives, Dr. Bajalan has taught both Middle Eastern and World history in a variety of different institutions, including at the University of Oxford, Istanbul Bilgi University, and the American University of Iraq – Sulaimani. Dr. Bajalan also serves on the editorial board of the journal Kurdish Studies and publications, such as Turkeyscope, Jacobin, OpenDemocracy and Jadaliyya have featured his commentary on present-day Middle Eastern affairs.



  • DPhil, Oriental Studies, 2015, University of Oxford
  • MA, History, 2009, Istanbul Bilgi University
  • MS, Nationalism and Ethnicity, 2006, London School of Economics – University of London
  • BA, History and Politics, 2004, School of Oriental and African Studies – University of London


  • HST 104: World History since 1600 C.E.
  • HST 370: Middle Eastern History, 600-1800 C.E.
  • HST 370: Middle Eastern History from 1800 C.E.
  • HST 701: Historiography and Historical Methods.

Research and professional interests

Dr. Bajalan specializes in issues pertaining to nationalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and, in particular, its role in the break up of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of World War I. To date, his research has focused primarily on the region’s Kurdish community and, more specifically, the development of Kurdish political activism within the Ottoman Empire in the years leading up to the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

Selected publications:

  • “On the frontiers of empire: Culture and power in early modern ‘Iranian’ Kurdistan”, Kurdish Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, (2017): 1-10.
  • “Princes, Pashas and Patriots: The Kurdish Intelligentsia, the Ottoman Empire and the National Question”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 43, No. 2, (2016): 140-157.
  • “Between Conformism and Separatism: A Kurdish Students’ Association in Istanbul 1912 to 1914”, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 49, No. 5 (2013): 805-823.

Additional resources

Djene Rhys Bajalan is an associate professor in the department of history at Missouri State University. He is also a cohost of the podcast This Is Revolution.

Djene Rhys Bajalan is an associate professor of history at Missouri State University and the co-host of the This is Revolution podcast.

The Kurdish Movement and the End of the Ottoman Empire, 1880–1923


  • Apr 2021

The Cambridge History of the Kurds is an authoritative and comprehensive volume exploring the social, political and economic features, forces and evolution amongst the Kurds, and in the region known as Kurdistan, from the fifteenth to the twenty-first century. Written in a clear and accessible style by leading scholars in the field, the chapters su…


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Kurdish Responses to Imperial Decline: The Kurdish Movement and the End of Ottoman Rule in the Balkans (1876 to 1914)


  • Jun 2019

Focusing on the period between 1878 and 1913, this paper seeks to add to the growing literature highlighting the complexities of identity in the late Ottoman period through an examination of the attitudes of Kurdish political activists towards the specific question of the dissolution of Ottoman rule on the Balkan Peninsula. More precisely, it will…


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The First World War, the End of the Ottoman Empire, and Question of Kurdish Statehood: A ‘Missed’ Opportunity?


  • Jan 2019

Historians who have examined the ‘failure’ of the Kurds to obtain statehood in the immediate aftermath of the First World War have, understandable, closely examined the lobbying efforts engaged in by the Kurdish elites in Istanbul, specifically those activists associated with the Society for the Betterment of Kurdistan (est. 1918). These efforts cu…


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On the frontiers of empire: Culture and power in early modern “Iranian” Kurdistan


  • May 2017

This article will provide a broad (although by no means comprehensive) overview of the development of modern scholarly historical writing pertaining the Middle East’s Kurdish community prior to the end of the First World War. It seeks to highlight some of the important pioneering scholars who shaped the field during its twentieth century as well as…


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Princes, Pashas and Patriots: The Kurdish Intelligentsia, the Ottoman Empire and the National Question (1908–1914)


  • Jan 2016

This article surveys the attitude of the Ottoman-Kurdish intelligentsia and the nascent Kurdish movement towards the issue of nationality in the period between the 1908 Constitutional Revolution and the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. The existing academic literature has tended to regard the Kurdish movement in this period as being primarily cul…


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Jordi Tejel Gorgas: “La Question kurde: Passé et présent.”


  • Nov 2015

This article reviews Jordi Tejel Gorgas’ “La Question kurde: Passé et présent.”


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Social Relations in Ottoman Diyarbekir, 1870–1915, edited by Joost Jongerden and Jelle Verheij


  • Jun 2014


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Between Conformism and Separatism: A Kurdish Students’ Association in Istanbul, 1912 to 1914


  • Sep 2013

This article is an examination of the ‘Kurdish Students’ Hope Society’ – a youth-led Kurdish organization founded in the Ottoman imperial capital, Istanbul, in 1912. The article contends that the foundation of this organization should not be seen simply as a reaction to the gradual ethnic polarization and ‘Turkification’ of Ottoman politics that oc…


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Şeref Xan’s Sharafnama: Kurdish Ethno-Politics in the Early Modern World, Its Meaning and Its Legacy


  • Nov 2012

This paper critically analyzes the Sharafnama, a history of the Kurds, written by the late sixteenth century ruler of Bitlis, Şeref Xan. Given the politically sensitive nature of the Middle East’s “Kurdish Question,” the Sharafnama has become an extremely important resource through which Kurdish nationalists have sought to construct a coherent “nat…

Originally for the United Kingdom, Djene Rhys Bajalan is a historian of the Middle East at Missouri State University in Springfield. He is an editor at the journal Kurdish Studies, a contributor to the This is Revolution Podcast, and a member of the editorial board for Sublation Press. His work has been featured in several publications including JacobinOpenDemocracy, and Jadaliyya.

Overall, if I can do anything meaningful on the issue(s) of Israel-Palestine it would at least be to help people understand the basics. Terminology still seems like a good place to begin, if not remain for this episode. Some terms that immediately come to mind, sadly, are: Jew, Arab, Nationality, Nation-State, Multiculturalism, Bi-Nationalism, Multinationalism, Nationalism, Islamism, Arabism, Zionism, Pan-Islamism, Pan-Arabism, Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing, Settler-Colonialism, Colonialism vs. Colonization, Enlightenment/Haskalah/Nahda, Modernity, Palestine, Eretz Yisrael, the Yishuv (old/new), etc.

If we still have time or want to make more time to talk about other things, I think it’s really important to examine how property relations were before the Ottomans modernized/privatized land, what Ottoman administration was like in its late period, how commercial relations with Europe were developing, how land titles were recorded, and who some of the important people/groups were in this history beyond Zionists and Palestinian Arabs. Also, how and why nationalism was developing not only in Europe but also in the Middle-East and elsewhere. 

Some pseudo-script

Welcome welcome blah diddy blah…

For the holiday season this year I’ve invited Djene onto the show to discuss this year’s most inflammatory holiday topic: Israel-Palestine

This is something I had only planned to have a video on if I could bring someone on who I trust and when it comes to the Middle-East – especially concerning Israel and Palestine – I have to admit that I trust almost no one on this and I really mean almost no one. Noam Chomsky doesn’t even get a pass for me. Djene Bajalan is someone who I do trust on these topics.

I am most familiar with Djene’s work as a media figure speaking on the topics of Nationalism and various other topics related to Kurdish issues. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that those are the topics he specializes in as an academic. Unlike me, he’s graduated from numerous schools:

DPhil, Oriental Studies, 2015, University of Oxford

MA, History, 2009, Istanbul Bilgi University

MS, Nationalism and Ethnicity, 2006, London School of Economics – University of London

BA, History and Politics, 2004, School of Oriental and African Studies – University of London

And now I believe he continues to teach history professionally at Missouri State… I believe. I’ll provide some links in the show description to his writings and other works, but for now let’s give the man a chance to say hello and correct any misinformation I’ve spread so far…

So before getting to the topic itself, I’m curious about how you wound up focusing on nationalism for your research. For myself, studying nationalism has been the consequence of many factors: I’m a Jew, I’m an anarchist, I’m interested in social psychology and modern history, and throughout my life in the United States the very sense of national feeling or national consciousness has felt mysterious to me. So what are some of the things in your life that are to blame for this?

Alright so the reason I reached out to you for this is because I saw a post you made about Zionism and Israel where you said, “I think it is probably better to talk about “Israeli nationalism” as opposed to Zionism. Zionism seems to obfuscate the core of the issue for both Zionists and anti-Zionists.” This is something that I agree with and I also think that there is a lot to unpack there to make sense of it. The way that I’d like to do that is by going over some of the important terms circulating in the Israel-Palestine discourse and get some clarity on what they mean, not just denotatively, but connotatively where applicable. If we have some time after that I know there is a lot more that we can talk about, but I’ve just been so frustrated with the way that terminology has been mangled that I don’t have any confidence in the ability for people to think through this situation without beginning from elementary knowledge…

What are your thoughts about that? Are you as triggered as I am by all the gibberish?

Ok, so let’s get into it. Let’s start with an introduction to the people who we are all talking about and go from there. What does it mean to be Arab, Jewish, Palestinian? What is it about these terms that the American mind seems so unprepared to use correctly?

Now that we can recognize some of the basic components of Arab, Jewish, and Palestinian identity, let’s talk a bit about some of the projects that each have worked on. Of course, what I mean is the project of nationalism. What exactly is a nationality? When did this concept really take off and how did it become such a standard for how people think things like sovereignty, self-determination, statehood, etc.?

What sorts of nationalism are there and how have modern states dealt with them? For instance, civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism are often contrasted with each other, but then there’s the pans: pan-Arabism, pan-Africanism, pan-European, even pan-American. And if you want, how do all of those compare with notions of cosmopolitanism?

Alright, now that we can work from some shared definitions we can get to your statement about Zionism vs. Israeli Nationalism. In the broadest sense, what is Zionism? And in the specific case of contemporary ideological support for Israel, what is it that makes Israeli Nationalism its own brand that is more-or-less distinct from Zionism in general?

Ok, so let’s talk about non-Zionism and anti-Zionism now because for as confusing as Zionism is without dismissal or opposition, it’s even more confusing when its antitheses are presented, especially when it comes to the question of antisemitism …which maybe we’ll try to define, but that might be even harder to do than anything else thus far.

If Djene wants to talk more at this point, we can move on to shit I don’t think needs to be prompted so much. If not, we’ll wrap up in my usual awkward way.