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In the Aftermath of Empire: Memory, History, and Time in Adjara Georgia


My dissertation, The Aftermath of Empire: Memory, History, and Time in Adjara, Georgia analyzes the forms that historical memory takes in everyday cultural practices in Adjara, an autonomous region of the Republic of Georgia. Based on 13 months of ethnographic fieldwork, I focus on the legacy of this region’s history as a frontier province of the Ottoman Empire. I argue that, for a deeper understanding of Georgia and the larger Caucasus region, it is crucial to analyze Adjara and Georgia as inheritors to an Ottoman imperial past, and to content with how Georgian Muslims see themselves as stewards of this tradition, reinventing and reengaging it for the unfolding post-Soviet, post-Rose Revolution historico-political present.

Chapter One, “Absences, Gaps, and Desire: Batumi’s Imperial Frontier,” tells the hazy story of Ottoman Adjara, its port capital Batumi, and its place within the empire as a frontier land abutting the Russian and Persian Empires. I discuss Adjara’s place within the eastern Black Sea region centered around Trabzon, as a site of banditry and smuggling, exile and transience. I discuss the “reunification” of Ottoman Georgia with the rest of the Georgia under the Tsar in 1878, and related assimilation projects of Tbilisi-based Georgian intelligentsia. Finally, I write analyze Batumi today as “post-modern” dystopian resort city of fantasy, desire, and escape, but also an everyday urban center for Adjarian villagers. I end with the story of becoming fooled by my own desire for a field, and the entrapment and extortion I suffered as a result.

Chapter Two, “Accounting for Origins: Names, Narratives, and Ancestors,” analyzes family lines and narratives of origin as told in a village in Khulo, Adjara. I explore the evidentiary status of a select few of these narratives, elaborating on the dual system of naming that exists in Adjara: one family name that derives from an Ottoman-era ancestor and suffixed with the Turkish ‘—oghli’ meaning ‘sons of,’ and one Georgian family name, gvari, adopted by a section of a village, thus indicating geographic provenance rather than kin. I discuss the multi-layeredness of kinship, residence, and hospitality in cementing a sociality across historical ruptures through narratives of origins and ancestors.

Chapter Three, “Funerals, Traces, Transitions: Transhumance from Here to There,” analyzes the relationship between kinship, memory, and land in the village in Khulo, Adjara. I discuss seasonal labor movements in Adjara between city and mountains, as contrasted with the anchoring role of villages and, in particular, of gravesites. Gravesites act as anchors to land and belonging, as well as portals to the past, transforming the landscape into an archive of local memory. I end this chapter with an ethnographic account of a funeral, exploring the ways that death and burial concretize the relationship between inheritance, kinship, and land, establishing the power of the grave as a temporal anchor, a portal to other times.

In the final Chapter Four, “Time and the End: The Nexus of History and the Divine,” I give an account of a sermon on the end times in a Quran school in Khulo, Adjara. I ask how the discussion of knowledge of the divine in this sermon outlines a way of understanding the nexus of historical time and divine time in this particular site marked by historical rupture and co-existing temporalities. I explore how the use of linguistic markers of reported speech and evidentiary status during the sermon figures for the temporal relationship between historical time and divine time in Khulo. I discuss the contested translation of the Quran into Georgian, analyzing a misunderstanding that arises as emblematic of the multiply enfolded positionalities of Georgian Muslims that they attempt to commensurate in this post-Ottoman, post-Soviet time of a newly unfolding present.

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