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Members' research

We invite members of the society to discuss their research or to announce their latest publication through a short blog post.

Thomas Schmutz

Western Diplomacy in the Middle East

Thomas Schmutz studied History, Political Science and German Literature at the University of Zurich and Paris Diderot 7. He is a PhD candidate at the Center for the History of Violence in Newcastle, Australia, and at the University of Zurich. He is interested in transnational, diplomatic and military history, genocide studies and discourses on otherness. His doctoral thesis concentrates on the Western diplomacy in Asia before and during the First World War with regard to violence, intervention and reform. The research highlights entanglements between Europe and Asia by focusing on the relationship between Western diplomacy and Asian Christians. This approach challenges Eurocentric views on the global war and the time of high imperialism from a diplomatic perspective. Schmutz has published some of his findings on the Armenian Reform Question with Hans-Lukas Kieser and Mehmet Polatel in a co-authored article titled Reform or cataclysm? The agreement of 8 February 1914, (Journal of Genocide Research, 17/3 (2015).

The Armenian Reform Question as part of the Eastern Question shows perfectly that tensions and European rivalry almost led to a major war between the Great Powers on the eve of the First World War. The Sublime Porte lost almost all their European territories in the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) and expected another conflict with the Russian Empire over Eastern Anatolia. When the war broke out in summer 1914, the Ottoman elites decided to enter the war believing that the Central Powers would win the war and that, as an ally, Germany would not divide the Ottoman territories as the British or Russian empires were trying to do. Constantinople (Istanbul) thus played a crucial role as “diplomatic hub” between East and West. At the same time, the Ottoman elite started to target its own citizens and gradually increased the persecution of Ottoman Christians. The Young Turks had their own visions of a new empire and questioned the loyalty of Christians, Jews and Arabs. The question of a Jewish and Arab homeland became a permanent issue for the diplomats and political leaders within and on the border of the Ottoman world. The diplomatic considerations led to watershed changes in the Near and Middle East that shaped the political landscape of a whole century.

This project aims to integrate the Ottoman theaters of war into the narratives and scholarship of the Great War. When fighting in Western and Eastern Europe ground to a stalemate, European belligerents turned their attention to theaters of war in the Caucasus and Mesopotamia, where gains might be made at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. The battles in this theatre were fought over vast territories and wrestled for control of biblical cities. Warfare in these regions established an important realm of illusions, dreams and propaganda. Through all of this, the diplomats of all involved sides (belligerents, neutrals, local representatives) played a crucial role.

This research will highlight the role and capacities of (European) diplomats and diplomacy before and during the First World War. It shows for example the interaction between civil and military specialists and policy makers, the backchannel diplomacy within the war alliances and the limits of political ideologies.