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Erik-jan Zurcher

Academic Director / professor of Area Studies

Prof.dr. E.J. Zurcher
+31 71 527 2145

Erik-Jan Zürcher is primarily interested in the period of transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic of Turkey (roughly: 1880-1950) and in the role of the Young Turk generation/movement in this process. After a period in which he studied the political history of the period, he gradually became more interested in its social history as well. In his view the key to an understanding of the emergence of modern Turkey lies in linking the processes of forced migration, war, the imperial legacy and nation building.

More information about Erik-jan Zurcher

Fields of interest

I am primarily interested in the period of transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic of Turkey (roughly: 1880-1950) and in the role of the Young Turk generation/movement in this process. After a period in which I studied the political history of the period, I gradually became more interested in its social history as well. In my view the key to an understanding of the emergence of modern Turkey lies in linking the processes of forced migration, war, the imperial legacy and nation building. I define myself primarily as a historian, who is informed by social science theory and able to access Turkish primary sources.


I am ready to supervise MA and Research MA students with an interest in late Ottoman and Turkish Republican history. My special area of expertise is the transition from empire to nation state (1908-1950). In view of my approaching retirement I do not accept new Ph.D. students.


Erik-Jan Zürcher (1953) was awarded his MA in Middle East studies at Leiden University in 1977 and his Ph.D. at Leiden University in 1984. From 1977 to 1997 Zürcher worked in the Catholic University of Nijmegen (now: Radboud University), first as a lecturer of Turkish, later as a senior lecturer in History of the Middle East. From 1989 to 1999 he headed the Turkish department of the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. From 1993 to 1997 he held a private chair of  Turkish History in the University of Amsterdam. Since 1997 he has held the chair of Turkish Studies in the University of Leiden. In 2008-2012 he was general director of the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. From 2012 to 2015 he was affiliate professor at Stockholm University.   

His main research interest is the political and social history of the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish Republic. He made his mark with two studies on political contestation in the early republic, The Unionist Factor (Leiden: Brill, 1984) and Political Opposition in the Early Turkish Republic (Leiden: Brill, 1991). His Turkey. A modern history (first published in 1993 but substantially revised in 2004 and 2017) is widely used as textbook in universities in the U.S.A., the U.K, the Netherlands and Turkey. It has also been translated into nine languages. Zürcher has written or edited twelve books on the social and political history of the late Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Another research interest is the comparative history of military recruitment and employment, on which he has recently (2013) published a 685 p. volume called Fighting for a Living. The most recent book publication is Islam and Jihad in World War I (Leiden UP, 2015). All books have been published in Turkey in translation. The most important 50 publications are accessible online through https://www.academia.edu/.

Zürcher has been an invited guest lecturer or visiting professor at SUNY Binghamton, Louisville KY, OSU Columbus, Minneapolis, Oxford (St. Anthony's), London (SOAS and LSE), Durham, Manchester, Bamberg, Munich, Bochum, Naples, Paris (EHESS), Basle, Berne, Zürich, Louvain, Ghent,  UC Berkeley, Istanbul (Koç, Bilgi) Ankara (Bilkent) and Padua. In 2008 he gave the Hamilton Gibb memorial lecture at Harvard University.

In 2003-4 Zürcher was actively involved in consultations on Turkey's accession to the European Union, among other things by writing the expert opinion for the Dutch EU presidency on the question whether Islam would be an impediment toTurkish accession. In June 2005 he was awarded the Medal of High Distinction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey. In 2016 he returned this medal in protest against the persecution of academics and publishers in Turkey.  In 2006 – 2007 he was involved in the founding of a Dutch Institute of Higher education in Ankara (NIHA) and a Turkey Institute in The Hague. For the last fifteen years he has commented regularly on current affairs in Turkey to Dutch and international media and been involved in briefings for the Dutch government and business world.

In 2008 he was elected a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). He was a member of the National Unesco Commission of the Netherlands in  2011-2017, and has served on the jury of the Koç Prize for Turkish History (2014) and the Heineken Prize for History (since 2016).

In Leiden Zürcher has so far been principal advisor for twenty successfully defended Ph.D. theses and is currently advising on nine more. He has been external examiner at the EHESS (Paris), SOAS (London), University of Utah (Salt Lake City) and Bordeaux University.

He is currently a member of the editorial board of the following journals:

  • International Journal of Middle East Studies
  • Middle Eastern Studies
  • International Journal of Turkish Studies
  • Mülkiye
  • Türkiyat Mecmuası

Key publications (for a full list see published work)

Authored monographs 

The Unionist Factor. The Role of the Committee of Union and Progress in the Turkish National Movement (1905-1926), Leiden: Brill, 1984, 201 p. (Translated as: Millî Mücadelede İttihatçılık, Istanbul: Bağlam, 1987, 336 p.). (Second Turkish edition: 1995, Third edition: Istanbul: İletişim, 2003). 

Political Opposition in the Early Turkish Republic. The Progressive Republican Party (1924-1925), Leiden: Brill, 1991, 177 p. (Translated as: Terakkiperver Cumhuriyet Fırkası, Istanbul: Bağlam, 1992, 205 p.). 

Turkey: a Modern History, London: I.B. Tauris,  1993, 385 p.  (Translated as: Modernleşen Türkiye'nin Tarihi, Istanbul: İletisim, 1995, 523 p (25 editions 1997-2012). Second fully revised edition: Londen, 1997, 1998; Third fully revised and annotated edition: London, 2003). Also translated into Dutch, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, Indonesian, Arabic and Albanian. 

Savaş, devrim ve uluslaşma. Türkiye tarihinde geçiş dönemi (1908-1928), Istanbul Bilgi Universitesi, 2006, 331 pp. 

The Young Turk Legacy and Nation Building, London: I.B. Tauris, 2010, 358 pp.

Edited volumes 

Socialism and Nationalism in the Ottoman Empire 1876-1923, London: I.B. Tauris, 1994, 222 p. [With Mete Tunçay.] (Translated as:  Osmanlı Imparatorluğunda Sosyalizm ve Milliyetçilik (1876-1923), Istanbul: İletişim, 1995, 264 p.) 

Workers and Working Class in the Ottoman Empire 1840-1950, London: I.B. Tauris, 1995, 208 p. [With Donald Quataert.] (Translated as:  Osmanlıdan Cumhuriyet Türkiyesine Kadar İşçiler, Istanbul: İletişim, 1998, 242 p.) 

Arming the state: military conscription in the Middle East and Central Asia, London: I.B. Tauris, 1999, 168 p. (Translated as:  Devletin Silahlanması, Istanbul: Bilgi, 2003, 200 p.) 

Identity politics in Central Asia and the Muslim world: nationalism, ethnicity and labour in the 20th century , [With Willem van Schendel) London: I.B. Tauris, 2001, 235 p. (Translated as:  Orta Asya ve İslam dünyasında kimlik politikaları. 20. yüzyılda milliyetçilik, etnisite ve emek, Istanbul: İletişim, 2004, 296 p.) 

Men of order. Authoritarian modernization under Atatürk and Reza Shah, [with Touraj Atabaki] London: I.B. Tauris, 2004, 286 pp. (Translated as:  Otoriter Modernleşme. Atatürk ve Reza Şah Dönemleri, Istanbul: Bilgi, 2012). 

İmparatorluktan cumhuriyete Türkiye’de etnik çatışma, Istanbul: İletişim, 2005, 175 p. 

Turkey in the Twentieth Century. La Turquie au vingtième siècle, Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 2008, 688 p. [=  Philologiae at Historiae Turcicae Fundamenta II] 

Fighting for a Living. A Comparative History of Military Labour in Europe and Asia, 1500-2000, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, in print (June 2013).

Selected articles 

“Young Turk Memoirs as a Historical Source,”  Middle Eastern Studies 22/4 (1986), 561-570. 

“Welingelichte kringen ? De berichtgeving van de Nederlandse ambassade in Istanbul tijdens de eerste wereldoorlog,”   Sharqiyyât 1/1 (1988), 61-79. 

“The Ottoman Empire and the Turkish republic: an Attempt at a New Periodisation,”  Welt des Islams 32/2 (1992), 237-253. 

“Between Death and Desertion. The Experience of Ottoman Soldier in World War I,” Turcica 28 (1996) , 235-258. 

“The Ottoman conscription system in theory and practice, 1844-1918,”  International Review of Social History 43/3 (1998), 437-449. 

“The Vocabulary of Muslim Nationalism,”  International Journal of the Sociology of Language  137 (1999), 81-92. 

“Kosovo revisited. Sultan Reshad’s Macedonian journey in 1911,”  Middle Eastern Studies35/4 (1999), 26-39. 

“Two young Ottomanists discover Kemalist Turkey. The travel diaries of Robert Anhegger and Andreas Tietze,”  Journal of Turkish Studies, 26(1), 359-369. 

“The Young Turks – Children of the borderlands?,”  International Journal of Turkish Studies 9/1-2 (2003), 275-286. 

“How Europeans adopted Anatolia and discovered Turkey,”  European Review 13/3 (2005), 379-394. 

“From Empire to Republic – Problems of Transition, Continuity and Change” in Erik-Jan Zürcher (ed.),  Turkey in the Twentieth Century. La Turquie au vingtième siècle, Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 2008, 15-30. 

“The Late Ottoman Empire as a Laboratory of Social Engineering”,  Il Mestiere di Storico10/1 (2009), 7-18. 

“Atatürk as a Young Turk,”  New Perspectives on Turkey 41 (2009), 211-262.   

“The Importance of Being Secular: Islam in the Service of the National and Pre-National State,” in: C. Kerslake, K. Öktem en P. Robins (ed.),  Turkey’s Engagement with Modernity. Conflict and Change in the Twentieth Century, Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010, 55-68. 

“Renewal and silence. Postwar Unionist and Kemalist rhetoric on the Armenian genocide” in: R. Suny, F.M. Göçek and N. Naimark (ed.),  A Question of Genocide, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, 306-316.

Translations  from Turkish

‘Het Buurtcafé,  Hollands Maandblad 338 (1976), 25-28. [Translation of: Sait Faik Abasıyanık, Mahalle Kahvesi (Neighbourhood Café)] 

“Sait Faik: Turkse Miniaturen,” in  De Taal van de Islam. Opstellen over Arabische, Turklse en Afghaanse Literatuur, Nijmegen: MOI, 1981, 121-137 [Translation of four short stories by Sait fail Abasıyanık] 

Een Lange Zomer in Istanbul, Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1984, 179 p. [Translation of: Nedim Gürsel,  Uzun Sürmüş bir Yaz (A Long Summer)] 

De Huwelijksfirma, Weesp: Het Wereldvenster, 1985, 81 p. [Translation of Bekir Yıldız, Evlilik Şirketi (The Marriage Firm)] 

De Konijnen van de Commandant. Verhalen, Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1986, 175 p. [Translation of Nedim Gürsel,   Komutanın Tavşanları (The Commandant’s Rabbits)] 

“Achttien gedichten van Orhan Veli Kanık,”  Hollands Maandblad 466 (1986), 24-30. [Translation of 18 poems by Orhan Veli Kanık] 

“De Tunnel” in:  Denderende Verhalen. Per Trein door de Wereldliteratuur, Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1988, 145-154. [Translation of Nedim Gürsel, “Tünel” (The Tunnel)] 

Ik Luister naar Istanbul.Zes Moderne Turkse Dichters, Amsterdam: Meulenhoff/Poetry International, 1988, 75 p. [I’m Listening to Istanbul. Six Modern Turkish Poets – Translations] 

Niks Politie Asjeblief, Baarn: Ambo, 1988, 106 p. [ Translation of: Aras Ören,  Bitte Nix Polizei (Please, No Police)] 

De Eerste Vrouw, Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1989, 118 p. [Translation of: Nedim Gürsel, İlk Kadın (The First Woman)] “Ver van huis: gedichten van Roni Margulies,” in: Asghar Sayed-Gohrab en Johan ter Haar (ed.),  “De band met U, mijn vriend, verbreek ik niet”.Liber amicorum voor Kamil Banak, Leiden: TCIMO, 2003, 133-138. [Far From Home. Poetry by Roni Margulies] 

“Drie Gedichten van Roni Margulies” in:  Poetry International 2008. Poezie van Dichters uit de Hele Wereld, Amsterdam: De Arbeiderspers, 2008, 67-70. [Translation of Three Poems by Roni Margulies]

Teaching experience

- Turkish translation
- Persian grammar
- Persian translation
- Modern history of the Middle East
- Modern history of Turkey
- History of Central Asia
- Turkish media
- History and social science for M.E. students (MA)
- Military and politics in Turkey and the Ottoman Empire (MA)
- From empire to republic (MA)
- Turkey since World War II (MA)  


PhD supervision

1. Completed 

- Hülya Küçük, The Role of the Bektashis in Turkey’s National Struggle. (2001)
- Sytske Sötemann, Yahya Kemal Beyatlı.  Turkse poëzie in de vroege Twintigste Eeuw. (2004)
- Vangelis Kechriotis, The Greeks of Izmir at the end of the Empire a non-Muslim Ottoman Community between and Patriotism (2005)
- Sena Karasipahi, Strange Fruit: Muslim Intellectuals as Products of Kemalist Modernization in Turkey (2006)
- Umut Azak, Myths and Memories of Turkish secularism (1923-1966)(2007, with Martin van Bruinessen)
- Annemarieke Stremmelaar, Justice and Revenge in the Ottoman Rebellion of 1703 (2007)
- Özgür Mutlu Ulus, The Army and the Radical Left in Turkey (2007)
- Ismail Hakki Kadi, Natives and Interlopers: competition between Ottoman and Dutch merchants in the eighteenth century (2008 with Alexander de Groot)
- Pınar Yelsalı, Modernization and Gender regimes: Lives of the Wives of Turkish Political leaders (2009)
- Alex Lamprou, Between Central State and Local Society: The People’s Houses in Turkey (2009)
- Dogan Cetinkaya, Muslim Merchants and Working Class in Action: Nationalism, Social Mobilization and Boycott Movement in the Ottoman Empire 1908-1914 (2010)
- Dorothe Sommer, Unity is Strength. Masonic Lodges in Ottoman Syria with special Focus on Tripoli and al-Mina (8.1.2013)
- İsmail Çağlar, Good and Bad Islam, True and False Secularists (22 January 2013)


2. Current 

- Nuran Durak, Identity politics among immigrant groups from the Caucasus and Bosnia in Turkey (defence foreseen for 2014)
- Merlijn Olnon, Europeans in Ottoman Izmir in the late Seventeenth Century (defence foreseen for 2013 – with Alexander de Groot)
- Nikos Christofis, The Discourse on the Cyprus problem of the Political Left in Greece and Turkey (defence foreseen for 2014)
- Sevgi Adak, The Anti-Veiling Campaigns in Nineteen Thirties Turkey (defence foreseen for 2015)
- Nicole van Os, Women, War and Nationalism in the Late Ottoman Empire (defence foreseen for 2013 - with Willy Jansen (RUN)
- Selim Ahmetoglu, The Constitutional Revolution of 1908 and its Aftermath in Trabzon (defence foreseen for 2014)
- Emre Erol, The County of Foçateyn in the Decade of War 1912-22 (defence foreseen for 2014 – with Jan Lucassen, em. VU)
- Onur Ada, The Selective Westernization of the Kemalists (defence foreseen for 2016)
- Sinan Dinçer, From Janissaries to WageWorkers: Porters and Lightermen in Istanbul (1800-1930) (defence foreseen for 2014)
- Ceyda Yüksel, Gypsies in the Late Ottoman Empire and Early Turkish republic (defence foreseen for 2016 – with Leo Lucassen)


Grants and awards

- NWO programme “Recycling the Past” (1999)
- NWO programme “Sultanate of Letters” (2002)
- Funding from the private sector for founding of Turkey Institute The Hague (2007)  
- State funding for founding of Netherlands Institute for Higher Education in Ankara (NIHA – 2006)
- Medal of High Distinction (Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs) (?)
- Member, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2008)


Administration and service to the profession

In the period 1974-1977 

  • Member of University Council, Leiden University 
  • Student member of Subfaculty for Oriental Studies, Leiden University 
  • Student member, board of Middle East department, Leiden University 

In the period 1977-1997 

  • Student counselor, Middle East Institute (TCML), Nijmegen University 
  • Manager, Middle East Institute, Nijmegen University 
  • Chairman, Middle East Institute, Nijmegen University 
  • Member of faculty council, Arts Faculty, Nijmegen University 

In the period 1997-2012 

  • Member of the board of CNWS, Leiden University Research School for Asian, Amerindian and African Studies 
  • Vice-dean of the Arts Faculty, Leiden University 
  • Member of the Humanities Council, Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) 
  • Member of the Advisory board of the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) 
  • Chairman of advisory board, Turkije Instituut (The Hague) 
  • Chairman of advisory board, Dutch Higher Education Institute in Ankara (NIHA) 
  • Member of the Dutch national UNESCO committee 
  • Chairman of the Council for the Humanities, Royal Netherlands Academy (KNAW)


  1. 1ste Artikel Ataturk and the Start of the National Resistance Movement
  2. A miracle in Amsterdam
  3. Ataturk as a young turk
  4. Gelukkig is hij die zich Turk noemt Nationale identiteit en persoonlijkheidscultus in Turkije
  5. How Europeans adopted Anatolia and discovered Turkey
  6. In the name of the father the teacher and the hero the Atatürk personality cult in Turkey 
  7. Institution building in the Kemalist republic the role of the People’s Party
  8. Introduction Understanding changes in military recruitment and employment worldwide
  9. Islam in the service of the national and pre national state
  10. Kemalist Türkiye’de Modernleşmenin Sınırları
  11. Kosovo revisited Sultan Reshads Macedonian journey in 1911
  12. Odd man out or why there was no regime change in the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I
  13. Oratie
  14. Osmaanse Joden Joodse Turken
  15. Ottoman labour battalions in World War I
  16. Ottoman sources of Kemalist thought
  17. Renewal and silence. Postwar Unionist and Kemalist rhetoric on the Armenian genocide
  18. The 50th anniversary of the republic and official Kemalism in the seventies
  19. The historiography of the constitutional revolution
  20. The Ides of April A Fundamentalist uprising in Istanbul in 1909
  21. The Last Phase in the History of the Committee of Union and Progress
  22. The late Ottoman Empire as laboratory of demographic engineering
  23. The limits of modernization in Kemalist Turkey 1923-1945
  24. The Ottoman conscription system in theory and practice
  25. The Ottoman Empire and the Armistice of Moudros
  26. The Ottoman Empire and the Turkish republic an Attempt at a New Periodisation
  27. The Ottoman legacy of the Kemalist republic
  28. The Turkish Perception of Europe. Example and Enemy
  29. The Vocabulary of Muslim Nationalism
  30. The Young Turk mindset
  31. The Young Turks – Children of the borderlands
  32. Turkey in the first World Crisis
  33. Turkey new politics from a new elite
  34. Turning Points and Missed Opportunities in the Modern History of Turkey
  35. Welingelichte kringen De berichtgeving van de Nederlandse ambassade in Istanbul tijdens de eerste wereldoorlog
  36. Young Turk Memoirs as a Historical Source, Middle Eastern Studies
  37. Young Turks Ottoman Muslims and Turkish Nationalists Identity Politics 1908-1938

Academic Director / professor of Area Studies

  • Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen
  • Leiden Institute for Area Studies

Work address

Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 3
2311 BZ Leiden
Room number 0.09c



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