Contested Kurdishness: Construction of Kurdishness in Tunceli
Even though the town is named as “Kurdish” by the Turkish state, the Turkish population, and the official rhetoric of the PKK (Worker’s Party of the Kurdistan), and despite the existence of a certain self-acclamation of the identity among the population, Kurdishness, imploded by a variety of meanings –ethnic, religious, civilizational, oppositional- is still a contested identity in the town. Constituting the stateless other of the Turkish nation-state, Kurdish identity, pathologized by the Turkish state, and consequently mobilized by the “Kurds”, has been the major oppositional identity against the state. By analyzing different processes through which subjects come to identify with Kurdishness, I show that Kurdishness in this context is claimed not as an ethic identity, but as the other of the Turkish state, the encounters with which are marked by violence and pain in people’s experiences, or at the level of collective memory. Through analyzing different meanings of Kurdishness (according to which subjects acclaim and/or reject it), I aim to challenge theories and analyses which essentialize the categorical identities such as sex, race, and ethnicity. Even theories which take ethnic identities as flexible and constructed do not challenge the naming of the identity as “ethnic” in the first place. My case illustrates that subjects challenge these categories in their everyday lives through giving different meanings to their identities based on various power and struggle relations. Analyzing the multiple and contesting meanings of Kurdishness, I question the violent categorical naming process which presume an essential identity for the actors prior to the relations of power and struggle, and illustrate the contingent foundations of the very subjectivity of actors.
Keywords: Identity, Kurdishness, Ethnicity, Memory, State
Graduate Student, Sociology, University of Massachusetts