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LUCIS What's New Lecture

Middle Eastern Civil Wars and the Early End of the Cold War Order

Thursday 25 April 2019
Free to visit, drinks after
What's New?! Spring Lecture Series
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

The Turkish military coup of 1980, which brutally ended a decade-long stream of civil strife between the political left- and right-wing groups, was approved by the West as a necessary corrective action that re-stabilized NATO’s standing in the Middle East and at the frontier of the Soviet Union. The previous year’s Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan were major concerns in the Cold War struggle. A decade later in 1989, the Cold War ended when communist regimes of Eastern Europe opened to the Western liberal and capitalist system and the Soviet Union collapsed. In developing a new research project, I argue that the global order of the Cold War—in its various regional configurations—came to an early end in the Middle East a decade before around the year 1979.

Although the global and regional impact of the Iranian Revolution is well appreciated in cultural terms, as I will argue, it was part of a region-wide and decade-long wave of civil wars that changed the face of the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean. Beginning from the late 1960s, contentious politics in the Middle East developed their own momentum that went beyond the previous decolonization and independence struggles. Civil wars in Yemen, Jordan, Cyprus, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan created new dynamics that first challenged and later practically ended the bipolar world order of the Cold War in the region. All the consecutive regimes, which were established in the early 1980s after a final wave of civil strives, terrorist attacks, party purges, military coups, and post-revolutionary infightings proved to be very robust conservative authoritarian systems, repositioned themselves either for or against the United States out of a regime security need, despite their multiple differences in political and ideological terms. By looking at the odd case of the NATO member Turkey and its—at least in international history—forgotten civil war of the 1970s, we can not only challenge assumptions of “Turkish exceptionalism” but also develop a new understanding of the connected and comparative history of the Cold War in the Middle East. 

About Alp Yenen

Alp Yenen is a university lecturer in modern Turkish history and culture at the Leiden Institute of Area Studies. Previously he was university lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies at the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Basel. In December 2016, he completed his PhD from the University of Basel with his dissertation titled “The Young Turk Aftermath: Making Sense of Transnational Contentious Politics at the End of the Ottoman Empire, 1918-1922”. He holds a MA degree in Middle Eastern Studies, Political Science, and Economic Geography from the University of Munich. Currently he is developing a project on the international history of the Turkish civil war in 1970s and the end of the Cold War order in the Middle East. He is interested in the comparative and connected history of contentious politics in the modern Middle East.  

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