Dangerous Gifts: Imperialism, Security, and Civil Wars in the Levant, 1798-1864 with Ozan Ozavci and Aimee Genell

Ozan Ozavci will discuss his recent book “Dangerous Gifts: Imperialism, Security, and Civil Wars in the Levant, 1798-1864” with Aimee Genell.

From Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 to the foreign interventions in the ongoing civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Libya today, global empires or the so-called Great Powers have long assumed the responsibility to bring security in the Middle East. The past two centuries have witnessed their numerous military occupations to ‘liberate’, ‘secure’ and ‘educate’ local populations. They staged first ‘humanitarian’ interventions in history and established hitherto unseen international and local security institutions.

Consulting fresh primary sources collected from some thirty archives in the Middle East, Russia, the United States, and Western Europe, Dangerous Gifts revisits the late eighteenth and nineteenth century origins of these imperial security practices. It explicates how it all began. Why did Great Power interventions in the Ottoman Levant tend to result in further turmoil and civil wars? Why has the region been embroiled in a paradox-an ever-increasing demand despite the increasing supply of security-ever since? It embeds this highly pertinent genealogical history into an innovative and captivating narrative around the Eastern Question, emancipating the latter from the monopoly of Great Power politics, and foregrounding the experience of the Levantine actors. It explores the gradual yet still forceful opening up of the latter’s economies to global free trade, the asymmetrical implementation of international law in their perspective, and the secondary importance attached to their threat perceptions in a world where political and economic decisions were ultimately made through the filter of global imperial interests.


Institute for Middle Eastern Studies
The George Washington University


22 September 2022
2:15 – 3:45


Online Webinar


  • Colonialism/Colonial History
  • International Relations of the Middle East

Ozan Ozavci is Assistant Professor of Transimperial History. His research focuses on Euro-Middle Eastern/North African relations from the late eighteenth century until the 1950s. In his new monograph Dangerous Gifts: Imperialism, Security, and Civil Wars in the Levant, 1798-1864 (Oxford University Press, 2021), he analyses the genealogy of western armed interventionism in the Ottoman Levant in the long nineteenth century. Dr. Ozavci is currently writing his third monograph provisionally titled The Invention of the Eastern Question: International Law, Capitulations, and Security in the Embassies of Sir Robert Liston (under contract with Bloomsbury). In his previous research, Dr. Ozavci investigated the idea of liberty in the Middle East and the Caucasus, which resulted in the publication of his first book Intellectual Origins of the Republic (Brill, 2015). Dr. Ozavci is also co-leading the Lausanne Project and the Security History Network. He is a fellow at the Utrecht Centre for Global Challenges and a core member of the Contesting Governance Platform.

Aimee Genell is Assistant Professor of Islamic World History at the University of West Georgia. She is a historian of the late Ottoman Empire and its relations with Europe. Her work incorporates Digital Humanities to bring new perspectives to the history of international relations and international law. Her monograph, Empire by Law: The Ottoman Origins of the Mandates System in the Middle East (Columbia University Press, forthcoming), traces the Ottoman roots of the post-imperial political order through an analysis of the inter-imperial contest over autonomous Egypt, arguing against a dominant historical narrative that views 1919 as the decisive break in the Middle East. She is also working on a new research project on Istanbul under Allied military occupation (1918-1923). Through an examination of the Istanbul press and opposition to the nationalist movement in Ankara led by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), this study shows that a number of intellectuals and politicians who would go on to build the new national order were firmly committed to preserving the Ottoman Empire well into the Armistice era (mütareke dönemi).

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