Kurdish Studies Network Fills Void for Kurdish Experts

2 11 2012

“The Kurds and Kurdistan: History, Politics, Culture” - International Conference organized by the Centre for Kurdish Studies at the University of Exeter, 2 – 3 April 2009By Wladimir van Wilgenburg – 31 of October 2012

Rudaw.net 

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The Kurdish Studies Network (KSN) was established in 2009 at the Kurdish Studies Conference in Exeter and now has 650 members.

Its mailing list includes activists, journalists and researchers, as well as the biggest names in the field of Kurdish studies. It serves as a global communication network for experts on Kurds and Kurdistan.

The network is currently in the early stages of establishing an academic journal that has been missing from the field.

Welat Zeydanlıoğlu, the founder and coordinator of the KSN, described how the network filled an important void. “It came about because there was no real communication and connection between scholars and researchers who study the Kurds, the Kurdish question, Kurdish society and the peoples of Kurdistan,” he said.

Zeydanlıoğlu said that he felt isolated when working in this field for his Ph.D. “This obviously is closely related to the fact that the Kurds are a stateless people and lack institutions and the financial clout to sponsor research in this area,” he told Rudaw. “It is very common in the academic world to have networks, but this did not exist for researchers active in Kurdish studies.”

Through the network, students get advice on where to apply for universities, research methodologies, career moves and contacts. The mailing list has become a focal point for a new generation of researchers. According to Zeydanlıoğlu, this is because no institution can do this job at the moment.

For this reason, the network “could be important for the Kurdistan Region, since it provides interaction between scholars and universities,” Zeydanlıoğlu said.

The online mailing list functions without a budget, with the website acting as a meeting point where information can be found about Kurdish studies.

“The second World Kurdish Congress in Erbil was the first time some of us actually got to meet face to face,” Zeydanlıoğlu told Rudaw.

He added that it was at the conference that the decision to establish a journal for Kurdish studies was made. “At the moment, no journal of Kurdish studies exists that meets international academic requirements and standards, while other fields can have several journals,” Zeydanlıoğlu said.

“Now is the right time to publish a high-quality peer-reviewed scholarly journal of Kurdish studies, both in digital and print form,” he added, but noted that publishing a journal would require a budget.

Joost Jongerden, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, told Rudaw that the network serves an important function as a forum to exchange information. “For me, the most important thing at the moment is that I can see through the list what is currently playing a role in the field of Kurdish studies and what kind of research is being done.”

Ibrahim Sirkeci, director of the Regent’s Centre for Transnational Studies in London, toldRudaw that the network is very useful for those who study the Kurds.

“When I started studying the Kurds and Kurdish society in the mid-1990s, there were very few people and very few works published in the field. One could easily list everybody’s work in less than half a page,” Sirkeci explained. “The KSN is probably Kurdish Studies 2.0, where the game has truly changed. That there are over 650 members is remarkable. The KSN is a useful platform which started with good intentions. It is largely an academic forum accommodating individual academics from all ranks.”

He added, “Nearly everybody I know involved in Kurdish studies seems to subscribe. It offers a venue for sharing what is happening in research on Kurds and about Kurds. People share their recent publications. Researchers and students seek help on certain subjects but also on practical issues such as field research contacts. This is a very valuable service to the academic community indeed.”

Dr. Hakan Ozoglu, an associate professor of history at the University of Central Florida in the U.S., told Rudaw that the network is important for scholars of Kurdish studies to inform each other about conferences and documents. “This network puts everybody in touch,” he said.

He added that a place is needed where “anyone who can advance Kurdish studies as a legitimate academic subject can find sources and connect people. This includes those people who go against the grain. It is quite important to me that an academically inspired network contains various and even contradicting voices.”

However, Dr. Ozoglu fears it will turn into a political platform. “Then, I would be the first to move away. I see this purely as an academic platform, and if you spread nationalist rhetoric in here, conflicts will be created. I understand many of the sentiments of my colleagues and I have the utmost respect for them. However, political activism is a slippery slope in an academic setting. The border has to be adjusted very carefully.”

“Otherwise, the KSN members would dance to their own tune which is what many of us criticize dominant powers of doing,” he added.

Erlend Paasche, a doctoral researcher from Norway specializing in Kurdish migration, toldRudaw that the network is a “treasure trove of information and literature.”

“Although it’s chatty at worst, it occasionally features some great conceptual discussions, most recently on nationalism,” Paasche said. “Kurdish studies is a highly politicized field and the network provides an academic forum where cool-headed arguments are the norm.”

Paasche added that the KSN has the added benefit of facilitating collaboration between Kurds and non-Kurds, which is “essential now that a new elite of young Kurdish scholars is on the rise.”

Wendy Hamelink, a Ph.D. candidate at Leiden University in the Netherlands, has been a member of KSN since the beginning. She told Rudaw that the network is helpful for her research about Kurdish dengbejs (singers; bards) in Turkey.

“It is of course important for me to keep informed about other people’s work on this issue. Through the network, I got to know people working on Kurdish musicology and oral tradition, and we regularly keep in touch in this way,” Hamelink said. “I also often see things pass by about related issues, such as Kurdish media, politics and diaspora. These are topics indirectly informing my work.”

Furthermore, Hamelink mentions that the network is important for finding information. “For example, I recently asked if people could advise me on books or articles concerning the caravan routes crossing Kurdistan in the 19th and 20th centuries. I had no clue about this issue, but others had some valuable remarks, although unfortunately there is not much work done on this topic, which is also interesting to know.”

According to Hamelink, the network is useful to keep informed about new books and articles, conferences and meet ups, political and social developments in Kurdistan, call for papers and job opportunities, and to build Kurdish studies as a discipline “together.”

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