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The State of Kurdish Studies

Session X-09, sponsored by Organized under the auspices of the Ahmed Foundation for Kurdish Studies, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
Despite a certain amount of uncertainty and continuity in the Kurdish question, much has changed in the past decade. While the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 has brought about grave changes to the Kurdish question, the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011 has given further impetus to Kurdish geopolitics in the Middle East. As such, the Kurds and their "question" are no longer dismissed or forgotten by regional or global actors. Furthermore, not so long ago, 10-15 years ago, there were not many scholars, Kurds or non-Kurds, studying Kurdish politics. Today there is a growing academic interest in the Kurds which has produced a large enough pool of scholars who study Kurdish politics from several different perspectives. In this panel, recognizing that these developments call for a renewed conversation, we aim to discuss "the state of Kurdish Studies". With a focus on the dramatic changes that the Kurdish question has undergone over the past decade, we seek to explore several central questions regarding the future of Kurdish Studies as an emerging subfield. More specifically, what challenges and opportunities lie ahead for Kurdish Studies? What are the current practices of knowledge production regarding the Kurds and Kurdistan? As the many ideological elements of the Kurdish question have found their way into the scholarly milieu, how do we, as scholars of Kurdish Studies, approach the highly politicized nature of the field? Taking into account the evolution of Kurdish society and the current political environment, what are some new theoretical and methodological avenues upon which further research can be grounded? While shedding light on these questions, our goal is to start a productive debate in the field and contribute to the establishment of a more solid dialogue among Kurdish Studies scholars from various disciplinary backgrounds.
Disciplines
Political Science
Participants
Presentations
  • While Kurdish Studies is not new to North American academia, it has long been pushed to the margins of Middle Eastern Studies and its various subfields, including Turkish, Ottoman, Arab and Persian Studies. Following the dramatic changes that the Kurds and their question have undergone over the past decade, especially in Iraq and Syria, we have only recently seen the first attempts towards the institutionalization of Kurdish Studies in the U.S. An interdisciplinary Conference on Kurdish Politics and Societies was convened in April 2018 at Yale University, and the second one, Serbest Kurdish Studies Conference, was organized by the Buffett Institute for Global Studies at Northwestern University in June 2018, followed by the second Serbest Kurdish Studies Conference in June 2019. While both conferences provided a welcome opportunity for scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds to exchange ideas and advance the field, they also highlighted the ongoing challenges that scholars of Kurdish Studies face in the U.S. The challenges that this paper seeks to focus on is two-fold. First, there is need for an in-depth reflection within the field of Middle Eastern Studies in the U.S. on how to move beyond the ideological biases which give a priori precedence to Arab/Turkish/Persian formations, marginalizing the study of stateless groups and their experiences such as the Kurds. Second, despite becoming increasingly important for the U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, Kurds are not deemed too critical for American security interests in the region due to the overwhelmingly state-centric nature of U.S. foreign policy establishment. This leads to a lack of funding and institutionalized support for Kurdish Studies as an academic field, rendering the Kurds and Kurdistan marginal in scholarly knowledge production setting. This paper seeks to address these challenges with the goal of starting a productive debate among the scholars of Kurdish Studies regarding how we can build Kurdish Studies as an independent academic field of inquiry in North America.
  • Few would dispute that the Middle East has underwent dramatic social and political changes in the past decade. One important aspect of this changing Middle East is the weakening or failure of state authority accompanied by the rise of non-state armed groups. As a result, the Kurds and their "question" have increasingly become part of the larger changes and power contestation among regional and global actors. These changes on the ground have also produced a growing academic interest in the Kurds and their struggle for recognition. Scholars from diverse disciplines have tackled Kurdish question from a number of competing and at times conflicting perspectives. The division of the large Kurdish population between four key Middle Eastern states, coupled with the competing ideologies embraced by the main Kurdish groups in the Kurdish Middle East, have greatly influenced the fledgling Kurdish studies as a sub-discipline. In this paper, I aim to outline the challenges and opportunities that the emerging Kurdish studies is likely to face in the coming years.
  • This paper examines the intersection of the fields of Kurdish Studies and Diaspora Studies by assessing our scholarly knowledge today. What distinguishes Diaspora Studies from other work related to migratory processes is that the field emphasizes political mobilization processes after migration, communal belonging, migratory memories and linkages to homeland regions. Instead of embracing a state-centric emphasis on assimilation and integration, Diaspora scholars predominantly rely on interdisciplinary approaches to their research. Similarly, Kurdish Studies scholars thrive within an environment of interdisciplinarity. As a newer field of study, it emerged out of various other disciplines that focused on the Middle East, in particular Iranology departments. In addition to constraints related to traditional boundaries, Kurdish Studies struggled with a number of weaknesses. For decades, Kurdish Studies scholars have been classified as narrow and highly politicized. Yet in recent years, Kurdish Studies scholars have embraced increasingly diverse research agendas and diversified their theoretical approaches. This paper highlights how Kurdish Studies and Diaspora Studies scholars have benefitted from increasingly intersectional approaches to their work. In addition, the author examines remaining knowledge gaps that continue to exist in both fields, providing outstanding opportunities for emerging scholars in Kurdish Diaspora Studies.