Contested Kurdishness: Construction of Kurdishness in Tunceli

To add a paper, Login.

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
Stream: Ethnicity, Difference, Identity
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Ozlem Goner

Graduate Student, Sociology, University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA, USA

My theoretical work has led me to focus on the multiple relations of power and struggle in everyday life that elicit and give content to various identities. My theoretical project consists of bringing together the structuration and agency dimensions of identity formation with a specific focus on the construction of ethnic and racial identities in everyday life. This project requires a more dynamic and relational conceptualization of power and the agent than current formulations. To this end, I am developing an “analytics approach to power” which goes beyond essentialist definitions and models common to contemporary social theory - none of which can account for the more complex power and struggle relations in the empirical world. My approach suggests a heterogeneous and relational constellation of power operating at different levels: global, nation-state, local and individual. For my dissertation I want to explore the construction of Kurdish identity in contemporary Turkey by looking at three different periods of state-community relations: the repressive phase of the military coup and the military regime in which Kurdishness was regarded as a “pathology” by the military generals; the consequent strengthening of the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party) which leads to the period of the war between the PKK and Turkey; and the period after the end of this intense military conflict in which the European Union has been an important actor in defining the rights and obligations of the Kurdish community. Focusing on the construction of Kurdish identity as an oppositional identity and different processes through which individual and local actors come to identify with Kurdishness, I aim to challenge contemporary race theories - including critical race theory - which place the subjectivity of the racial/ethnic group prior to the relations of power and struggle.

Ref: H08P0564