In Memoriam: Moshe Gammer (1950-2013)

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Moshe Gammer, historian of the Caucasus and Central Asia, and professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University, passed away on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 and was buried earlier today at the Segula Cemetery in Petach Tikva, Israel. He is survived by his wife, Ruth Frankl-Gammer, senior Middle Eastern Studies librarian at Tel Aviv University, and their daughter Billie.

Born in the USSR on September 24, 1950, Moshe immigrated to Israel in 1960. He studied for his B.A. and M.A. at Tel Aviv University. His B.A. thesis (1975), supervised by Dr. Baruch Gurevich and entitled “Shamil in Soviet Historiography,” engaged a subject that Moshe would revisit in depth during his Ph.D. studies, from 1983 to 1989, at the London School of Economics and Political Science (University of London). Indeed, his Doctoral Dissertation on “Shamil and the Muslim Resistance to the Russian Conquest of the North-Eastern Caucasus,” supervised by Prof. Elie Kedourie, was later reworked and published in a monumental volume.

Although a specialist on the Caucasus, Moshe’s publications addressed numerous thematic issues from a comparative perspective, including ethno-nationalism, communal identity, Sufism, colonialism, written and oral cultures, and many more. The conferences that he had organized covered Islam in Central Asia, culture in Daghestan, the history of Bukharan Jews, history-writing in post-Soviet Russia, and many others. Reviews of his research typically included laudatory praise: “admirable,” “pioneering and ground breaking”, “a tour de force,” “exceptionally well-researched,” “intelligent and balanced,” and “magisterial” were some of the most commonly repeated commendations.

Professor Ehud Toledano wrote kind words in Moshe’s memory, first on behalf of MEISAI (The Middle East and Islamic Studies Association of Israel) in a message that circulated on Israeli listservs in Hebrew, and later also on H-Turk. I quote here portions of Toledano’s communication:

* * *

Professor Gammer was a scholar of a rare kind, almost extinct in modern-day academia. His research interests were very broad, including – as he himself defined them on his Department webpage – “history of the Caucasian, Central Asia and the Islamic world in general, the modern Middle East, historiography and the relation between history and politics, Russia and the Islamic world, France and the Middle East.” With English, Russian, French, Arabic, Turkish, and Hebrew, Moshe widely read primary sources of various types, but would also distribute to a list of colleagues information about forums, conferences, journal and book CFPs, and the latest theoretical developments in several social science fields.

That said, his main contribution was no doubt to the history of Central Asia and the Caucasus during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Here, he was a traditionalist, a true student of the late LSE Professor Elie Kedourie, under whose supervision he wrote his dissertation about Shamil’s revolt. Among his many articles and books, he would probably like us to mention two:

Muslim Resistance to the Tsar: Shamil and the Conquest of Chechnia and Daghestan & The Lone Wolf and the Bear. Three Centuries of Chechen Defiance of Russian Rule.

Professor Gammer was a devoted and caring advisor to a number of talented graduate students, past and present. His international reputation as a leading expert on Central Asian and Caucasian history drew young, talented persons from Turkey and former Soviet Union countries, as well as from Israel, who came to study with him. Particularly towards them, he was always generous with his time and immense knowledge. Colleagues from across the globe doing history, literature, and culture of the Caucasus would attend the conferences he periodically organized, and their research was published in the proceedings that he carefully edited thereafter.

Moshe was a modest, shy, almost self-effacing scholar and gentleman, who never sought for himself campus jobs or honors. He will be sorely missed.

[Ehud R. Toledano, University Chair for Ottoman & Turkish Studies]

* * *

On a more personal note, I first met Moshe some twenty years ago, when I took his course on Islamic Central Asia at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Middle Eastern and African History. It was a formative experience for me that clearly influenced the trajectory of my career. I still have all my course notes and I sometimes glance at them to see what was imparted to me as an undergraduate student. [Among other materials, and with a rather depleted university library, we read from cover to cover (well, the few of us who had bothered) René Grousset’s The Empire of the Steppes, a book that no one, I think, would even dream of assigning today. I loved it, of course.]

When it was time for me to consider graduate school and studying Central Asian history was becoming more and more appealing, Moshe was one of two people (the other being the late Nehemia Levtzion) who had directed me to Indiana to study with Yuri Bregel, “the real master,” in Moshe’s words.

We kept in touch over the years, discussing the present and future of Central Asian studies in Israel, and most recently collaborated at an international workshop on ‘Central Asia in the World of Islam’ that convened at Tel Aviv University in late May, 2011. A message from him, sent to some of his colleagues in November (2012), informed us of his illness, but also of his slow but forthcoming recovery. I was therefore so shaken to receive an email yesterday from Ruthy, his wife, sent from Moshe’s computer, informing me of his passing.

Moshe was a caring person, a true scholar, a teacher and a colleague. He will be deeply missed.

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2 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Moshe Gammer (1950-2013)

  1. Pingback: The Sochi games – II | Arun with a View

  2. Pingback: Honoring Moshe Gammer 1950-2013 | The CESS Blog

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