IU conference to explore history behind Sunni-Shia conflict

Five hundred years have passed since the Ottomans defeated the Safavids of Persia in the Battle of Chaldiran, but the clash of the two empires continues to offer lessons for understanding Islamic history and identity, including the ongoing disagreements between Sunni and Shia branches.

That’s the premise behind a scholarly conference taking place this Friday and Saturday at Indiana University Bloomington, titled “Beyond the Sunni-Shiite Conflict: A Workshop on the Ottomans and the Safavids in the Early Modern Era.”

A monument marks the site of the Battle of Chaldiran.

A monument marks the site of the Battle of Chaldiran. (Public domain image: Wikimedia Commons).

Organizers are Kaya Şahin, assistant professor of history at IU Bloomington, and Erdem Çipa, assistant professor of history at the University of Michigan. The conference, which is free and open to the public, will take place in the Social Science Research Commons in Woodburn Hall 200.

“Despite the intensity of their relationship, the Ottomans and the Safavids are typically studied in isolation,” the organizers say, “and the various dimensions of their rivalry have been assigned relatively marginal importance within the context of the larger histories of these two empires. We believe it is time to revisit the Ottoman-Safavid interface in order to problematize several issues through individual presentations and discussion sessions.”

The Sunni Ottoman empire gained the upper hand over the Shia Safavid Empire with the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514. But the empires continued to fight for over a century, with their frontier shifting across a region that extends from the Caucasus to present-day Iraq.

Şahin will explain, in a presentation titled “Ottoman-Safavid Frontiers, Real and Imagined,” that the zone of conflict was both a physical space presenting logistical challenges, and a mental construct posing political and cultural issues.

The conference will include presentations by scholars from Indiana University as well as seven other universities in the U.S. and Canada. IU speakers, in addition to Şahin, include Paul Losensky, associate professor of Central Eurasian studies and comparative literature; and Ron Sela, associate professor of Central Eurasian studies and international studies.

For more information, see the conference website.

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