The Ottoman-Russian wars of the eighteenth century reshaped the map of Eurasia and the Middle East, but they also birthed a novel concept--the prisoner of war. For centuries, hundreds of thousands of captives, civilians and soldiers alike, crossed the legal and social boundaries of these empires, destined for either ransom or enslavement.
Book Talk: From Slaves to Prisoners of War: The Ottoman Empire, Russia, and International Law
With Will Smiley, University of New Hampshire; Karin Loevy, NYU; Yanni Kotsonis, NYU.
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But in the eighteenth century, the Ottoman state and its Russian rival, through conflict and diplomacy, worked out a new system of regional international law.
Ransom was abolished; soldiers became prisoners of war; and some slaves gained new paths to release, while others were left entirely unprotected. These rules delineated sovereignty, redefined individuals' relationships to states, and prioritized political identity over economic value. In the process, the Ottomans marked out a parallel, non-Western path toward elements of modern international law. Yet this was not a story of European imposition or imitation-the Ottomans acted for their own reasons, maintaining their commitment to Islamic law. For a time even European empires played by these rules, until they were subsumed into the codified global law of war in the late nineteenth century. This story offers new perspectives on the histories of the Ottoman and Russian Empires, of slavery, and of international law.
Will Smiley is a historian of the Middle East and of international and Islamic law, with a particular interest in the Ottoman Empire. He is Assistant Professor of Classics, Humanities, and Italian Studies at the University of New Hampshire.
He received his PhD from the University of Cambridge and his JD from Yale Law School, and previously held fellowships in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, and in Legal History at New York University.
Karin Loevy is the manager of the JSD Program at NYU School of Law. Her new book project, Visions of Territory: Negotiating the Future of the Middle East (1915-1923) is a history of international law in the pre-mandate Middle East.
Yanni Kotsonis is founding director of the Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia at New York University (NYU) and associate professor of history and Russian and Slavic studies.
Kotsonis has been a member of the NYU faculty since 1994. He was previously assistant professor of Russian and European history. Before coming to NYU, Kotsonis was a lecturer in comparative history at the University of Essex in England from 1992 to 1994, and a researcher and instructor in the History Department and Harriman Institute for Advanced Study of the Soviet Union at Columbia University from 1987 to 1991.