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New Perspectives on Violence and Resistance in Turkey

Panel X-11, sponsored byProgram on Turkey at Stanford University, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
Kurds constitute about 20 percent of Turkey, the largest Kurdish population in the Middle East region. The history of the Kurds in Turkey is marked by state violence against them and decades of conflict between the Turkish military and Kurdish fighters. This panel will bring together authors of recently published work of new historical, sociological, and anthropological perspectives on the experiences of Kurds in Turkey. Moving away from top-down, state-centered analysis to microanalysis of Kurds and Kurdistan as historical and ethnic categories. Participants will look beyond the politics of state actors to examine the formal and informal ways in which Kurdish citizens negotiate their power and place in Turkey and the diaspora. It will focus on the formation of categories as the “other” in the Ottoman Empire, the racial hierarchies that inform Turkey’s labor regime and Kurdish farm workers' experiences, the Turkish communal violence against the Kurds in the west of the country, and the struggles of the Kurdish diaspora women in the context of the EU immigration regulations, patriarchy, and ethnic politics. The panel will provide crucial perspectives for any endeavor that aims to create peace and reconciliation in the country.
  • Dr. Janet Klein -- Presenter
  • Dr. Ayca Alemdaroglu -- Organizer, Chair
  • Deniz Duruiz -- Presenter
  • Dr. Nisa Goksel -- Presenter
  • Sefika Kumral -- Presenter
  • Baris Unlu -- Presenter
  • The lives of politically active Kurdish women take shape at the intersection of migration and exile, and this paper explores how the conditions of displacement and ongoing war in Turkey’s Kurdistan region affect Kurdish women’s struggles in Europe as migrants and political subjects. Based on interviews and participant observations in Germany and France, I will examine the political subjectivities and activities of Kurdish women from a transnational perspective by considering the question of how they strive to sustain their political ties and agency despite the daily difficulties of migrant/exile life. War, displacement, and statelessness have forced the Kurdish community to maintain its political struggle beyond the territorial states located in the Middle East, while governments in both Europe and the Middle East see the dispersed Kurdish body politic as a major “threat” to the territorial sovereignty of their states. In this context, Kurds have formed a movement across borders against the transnational regimes of war and violence that have constituted the very foundations of their displacement and de-territorialization. Like the Kurdish movement as a whole, Kurdish women face a political and existential struggle of a transnational character, encompassing the sites where Kurds live beyond the Middle East. Therefore, I will approach the political activities of Kurdish women in diaspora and their identities as “liminal” in that it lies between their past and present political experiences, and between their revolutionary ideals and their family life in the tenuous terrain of migration/exile.
  • Sefika Kumral
    Kurdish civilians in Western towns and cities of Turkey have increasingly become targets of lynch mobs and riots in the 21st century. The chapter discusses why and how ordinary people are involved and experience violence as perpetrators and victims within the broader theoretical approaches/discussions of ethnic violence including (1)economic deprivation/competition, (2) state capacity/weakness, and (3) authoritarianism/democratization. Through a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis of violence and interview data, the chapter argues that the key process that produced the anti-Kurdish communal violence targeting Kurdish civilians in Western parts of Turkey in the early 2000s was the democratic mobilization and political visibility of the Kurdish civilian population. The chapter also discusses the intersection of economic and political resentment and the indirect role of security fear in relation to armed conflict in the eruption of anti-Kurdish communal violence.
  • Dr. Janet Klein
    While non-Muslim and non-Turkish groups are frequently referred to as minorities in the Ottoman context, this designation is ahistorical until the last decades of the Ottoman period. The process through which Armenians, Kurds, and others became minoritized only began in the second half of the 19th century for Armenians, and even later for the Kurds, although the ways in which both groups were constructed as minorities was interconnected. The consequences of the Armenians’ minoritization were extraordinarily violent and culminated in the Armenian Genocide. For the Kurds, who were tenuously included in the Muslims-as-majority construct that was also being articulated in the 19th century, the process was a bit more complicated. As Turkishness joined Muslimness as the majority identity Kurds were minoritized. The minoritization process resulted in the construction of first Armenians, then Kurds, as groups whose loyalty was suspect and whose citizenship was never equal to that of Turkish Muslims. Both groups came to be subjected to securitization practices, which continue to this day.
  • Deniz Duruiz
    The racialization of Kurds is prevalent in everyday life, not only in the cities of western Turkey but also in rural contexts, where labor relations and hierarchies between Turks and Kurds create significant social tensions. This chapter focuses on race and racialization as they are experienced by Kurdish farmworkers, and examines how racialization draws on the emotional, affective, and embodied social registers. Turkish farmers and supervisors re-signify the class antagonism with their Kurdish workers through the racial/cultural affects of aversion, disgust, anxiety, horror, and resentment. As I illustrate, the racialization of Kurds is also tied to the fantasmatic image of the “terrorist”. However, Kurds are not mere victims in these processes, they also participate in these racializing logics and react in ways that do not necessarily challenge the racial hierarchies pervasive in society. In that sense, racialization is not only a process of exclusion but also a process of embodied self-making. This chapter explores how Kurdish migrant farm workers become racialized, gendered, and classed subjects by sometimes identifying with, at other times differentiating themselves from the figures of “the Syrian” and “the Gypsy”.
  • Baris Unlu
    Drawing on (but not entirely limited to) the conceptual tools of Critical Race Theory, I aim to present a model by which we might examine the relations between the historical constitution and contemporary functioning of Turkishness; the socio-genesis of the Turkish nation and state and the psycho-genesis of the Turkish individual; the thoughts and feelings of Turks; and the structural privileges and unconsciousness strategies of Turkishness. What I mean by Turkishness is not a bond of citizenship, a cultural identity, or a form of ideological belonging, as in Turkish nationalism. Rather, Turkishness points to certain structures of thought, feeling, ways of acting, strategies, and performances that, for all their differences across lines of class, gender, or ideological belonging, also display a number of important shared characteristics that transcend such lines of differentiation. Setting out from Bourdieu’s definition of habitus as “history turned into nature”, I will discuss the Turkishness Contract in terms of how it transformed history into the habitus of Turkishness. Just as the Turkishness Contract constructed the habitus of Turkishness, it also left its imprint on everyday relations between Turks and non-Turks, a phenomenon I analyze through Erving Goffman’s concept of “interaction order”. In other words, the Turkishness Contract has also shaped the epistemic, emotive, and behavioral patterns of extra-contractual non-Turks who have to interact with Turks in public spaces every single day. Yet, non-Turks have to deal not only with Turkish individuals, but also with Turkish institutions (schools, universities, mosques, army, companies, courts, national assembly, political parties, etc.) in which, just to name a few, they receive education and compulsory military training, pray, look for a job, bring a lawsuit, do politics, and struggle for their rights. Therefore, understanding the logic of the Turkishness Contract might also be helpful to understand the Kurdish Issue better in its various dimensions.