Panel 4e. Kurdish Liberation II

Chair: Dr Zeynep Kaya, LSE

Mapping Political Identity of the Counterhegemonic Kurdish Society: Social Constructivist Approach
Omer Tekdemir & Mehmet Asutay, Durham University

The paper focuses on the effect of the Kurdish internal socio-political agents, as defined under discourse of ‘many Kurds’, on the construction of the mainstream hegemonic Kurdi(sh), identity – which is formed on socialist, secular and nationalist values in the modern context as opposed to traditional norms of Kurdish realities – through their capacity to use the opportunity spaces in public sphere. This paper also analyses the involvement of the external dynamics, particularly EU, on the processes of political transformation of Kurdish national movement and social construction of a new Kurdish political identity resulting into ‘EU-ising of Kurdishness’, while still the external hegemonic struggle is continuing against Turkish state. Besides the country’s EU accession practices provide an opportunity to promote peace and stability within the inner democratisation of the Kurdish national movement alongside with a conflict resolution and peace building process. However, the cycle of violence, during the period of 1960s to 2012, simultaneously triggered a re-construction of a new political identity. However, the opportunity space with the democratisation of politics in Turkey provided opportunity spaces for the re-appearing of the Kurdish internal sub-groups, which are mapped in this study by using various criteria. The emergence of new identitional groups has contributed to the pluralist structure of Kurdish society and has expanded the social and political borders of the existing Kurdishness that offered by dominate Kurdish political actor. The emergence of such particular Kurdish stakeholders to take part in the Kurdish struggle in various ways and levels created such a power relations, in a Foucauldian sense, that grants opportunity, for those holding a distinctive identity in the Kurdish society, to expand the hegemonic Kurdish identity, hence to find space in the identity scope. As a resulted, the meaning of Kurdishness has been finding various interpretations by three internal endemic groups, such as a Kurdi secular-socialist identity; Kurdi Islami-traditionalist identity and Kurdish pragmatist-opportunist identity. Hence, this paper examines the dynamics leading to such dynamism in the construction of Kurdish identity as an ongoing proves. Key Words: Identity, Social Constructivism, Kurdishness, Hegemony, Sub-agents

Declaring Independence: A Would-be Liberation for Iraqi Kurdistan?
Dimitri Deschamps, EHESS-CETOBaC / Ifpo-Erbil

Since its official recognition by the 2005 Iraqi constitution, the Region of Kurdistan has been granted such an important degree of autonomy that it is now often referred to as a “quasi-state”. While the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has recently established its effective control over Kirkuk – the proclaimed capital of a future state – after the withdrawal of the Iraqi federal army last June, it has become a famous claim amongst the Kurdish population that time has finally come for independence. Rhetorically, the opportunity looks attractive and is therefore used by political actors to galvanize supporters. However, Kurdish leaders have been aware that important issues challenge this project and they privately recognize that it should be delayed. Indeed, the Kurdish region has not yet been able to secure independent oil exportation on the long term and the recent fall in crude prices undermines the prospects of a prosperous economy relying mostly on hydrocarbons’ exploitation. In fact, the KRG is still economically very dependent on its 17% share of the federal budget. In 2014 for instance, it was not able to cover its civil servants’ salaries as long as Bagdad stopped its monthly payments. In addition, the Kurdish economy greatly relies on foreign dynamism, in the shape of investors, workers and consumers, and a separation from the rest of Iraq could jeopardize their presence. In this context, the status quo seems more advantageous for the Kurdish region’s political leadership than a hazardous declaration of independence, as this paper aims to highlight.

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Revising Kurdish liberation: from independence to constitutional recognition
Elsa Tulin SEN, Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, School of Social Science and Public Policy, King’s College London

My paper deals with a radical shift in the strategy for Kurdish national liberation within Turkey. The goal of the contemporary Kurdish movement is no longer the achievement of a separate, independent state but rather the amendment of the Turkish constitution in order to officially recognise Kurdish identity. The struggle for constitutional reform considerably gained momentum in 2011 against the backdrop of regional upheavals. As the Arab world descended into violence, the Kurds moved away from their previous militant tactics and instead used democratic channels to robustly campaign in the name of the new Kurdish liberation. At its heart the Kurdish national movement in Turkey has been a struggle for the liberation of Kurds. Although the Kurds constitute the largest ethnic minority in this country, their political and cultural identity has not been constitutionally recognised. A legacy of Ataturk, the Turkish constitution categorically denies the existence of the Kurds as a distinct people and nation. Within this context, the Kurds have long deemed as their only option the creation of an independent Kurdish state that would break away from Turkey; for the last three decades it seemed that the only path to liberation was through an armed campaign. Based on empirical evidence collected through extensive fieldwork and in-depth interviews with Kurdish activists in Turkey in the past year, this paper demonstrates how their political agenda, behaviour and aspirations for liberation have altered in the context of regional transformations as part of a broader concern with human rights and political freedoms.

Turkey, the West and the Kurds
Kubilay Yado Arin, Duke University

The social, economic, and political situations of Kurdistan and other areas in which Kurds live have also changed drastically during the last decades. The Kurds are now almost totally autonomous in Northern Iraq, building state institutions in Rojava and democratic autonomy in Northwest Kurdistan. The integration of Iraqi Kurdistan into the world economy has brought an economic boom to the region, which has also brought along social change. This is also witnessed in Turkey, which entered liberalism in the 1980s and is now an important economic player in the region. Politically, until the 1980s, Kurds were dominated and contentious players; however, they are now becoming key players in the area. The Kurdistan Regional Government, and its interactions with regional powers is a particular research interest which focuses upon Iraq’s ‘disputed internal boundary’, and particularly in the applying of federal models and the complications brought by resource competition. I am interested in renewing the approach to liberation in the current context marked by political upheaval of the Kurds in some areas of Kurdistan, the continued repression in others, accompanied by new forms of contestation, by the politics of recognition, and the domination and resistance. These different processes call for an analysis of the transformation or reproduction of national liberation and mobilization and for a renewed approach to practices of domination and resistance in Kurdistan. Taking into account the evolution of Kurdish society and the current political environment studies of Kurds and Kurdistan also constitute a laboratory for developing new theoretical insights.

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