New Texts Out Now: Kurdish Studies journal

24 02 2014

Jadaliyya series on “New texts out”: Kurdish Studies, 5 feb 2014.

J: What made you start the journal Kurdish Studies, and who are the scholars involved in its editorial work?

Kurdish Studies (KS): The scholarly field of Kurdish studies has developed significantly over the last few decades, and has become an important field of study. This development expresses itself in the number of active researchers as well as articles and books published in the field of Kurdish Studies, but also in the various disciplines they cover: migration and diaspora studies, history, social sciences, political sciences, cultural studies, anthropology, linguistics, and so on. There has thus been a growing momentum in this field in tandem with the increasing interest in the plight of the Kurds and with the increasing mobilization and geo-political importance of the Kurds in the Middle East.

For the further development of the field of Kurdish studies and in order to tap into as well as represent this momentum or synergy, we believed that the time was ripe for the field to have its own journal. A critical mass had thus been reached in the field in terms of academic output and quality, as well as the general interest in the field, which was not there ten or fifteen years ago. All of this convinced us to take this step.

Another important aspect of our decision to launch the journal was the existence of the Kurdish Studies Network (KSN) since 2009. As an online network, the KSN has successfully managed to bring together the global Kurdish scholarly community and provided its members with a stimulating online environment for exchange of knowledge, expertise, and support. With now close to a thousand members, ranging from undergraduates, to postgraduates, to the biggest names in the field, as well as journalists, policy makers, and analysts, the KSN has functioned as a virtual institute of Kurdish studies. The intensity of information exchange and the level of debate in the network is another indication that Kurdish studies has come into its own as a distinct field of studies. With this in mind, a few members of the KSN went on to establish the journal.

J: What particular topics, issues, and areas does the journal address?

KS: We are an area-studies journal, which means we are interdisciplinary in focus, with an interest in heterogeneous fields of research: the social and political sciences, cultural studies, the humanities, and so forth. We have set the scope very widely and do not want to delimit the boundaries of the field very strictly. Research from all academic disciplines is welcome, as long as this work reaches out to readers of other disciplinary backgrounds. However, we expect most contributions will be from the social sciences and humanities. As Martin van Bruinessen highlights in his editorial in the first issue, we invite “contributions on Kurdistan and the Kurds, including the religious and ethnic minorities in Kurdistan, relations of the Kurds with neighbouring peoples and states, Kurdish enclaves elsewhere in the Middle East, and the modern Kurdish diaspora.”

In the inaugural issue, the diversity of the field was well-represented. Martin van Bruinessen, the editor-in-chief of Kurdish Studies, launches the issue with an editorial that emphasises the increasing growth of the field. In her cutting edge article, Derya Bayir sheds light on Turkey’s historically problematic relationship with ethnic and religious minorities by examining the Turkish Constitutional Court’s anti-democratic interpretation of the Kurdish right to self-determination. The second article, by Andrea Fischer-Tahir, is a fresh and highly insightful contribution to Kurdish media studies: it investigates the strategies of representation deployed by Kurdish newspapers of a quantitative study on genocidal persecution published by a Kurdistan government ministry. The third article, by Choman Hardi, concentrates on a highly important and yet understudied topic, namely that of the growing women’s movement in Iraqi Kurdistan at a time when that part of Kurdistan is going through intensive societal, political, and economic transformation. Finally, Ofra Bengio and Bruce Maddy-Weitzman deploy an interesting and much-needed comparative analysis of the political and cultural activities of the Kurdish and Berber diasporas.

The first issue of Kurdish Studies also contains several reviews by top scholars of the field of recently published books on the Kurds.

J: How does Kurdish Studies connect to and/or depart from other journals in Middle Eastern and/or Kurdish Studies?

KS: There is at the moment no other academic peer-reviewed journal in Kurdish Studies published in English today. This fact, by itself, sets Kurdish Studies apart from all other journals. That said, a few other features of Kurdish Studies further distinguish it from other journals in Middle Eastern studies. For example, all the article abstracts are translated into the two main dialects of Kurdish, which we believe is a small but important service to academics and students in the region. The wide coverage and strength of the editorial board in particular, but the support and backing of the Kurdish studies scholarly community in general, is another distinguishing asset. Kurdish Studies can be said to be a direct outcome/product of the Kurdish Studies Network, in the sense that the very contacts established there and the exchanges made through this network accumulated the energy and trust for some of its members to take the step to establish the journal. Kurdish Studies can therefore be said to have a direct and organic link to the very community it aims to represent.

J: Who do you hope will follow the journal, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?

KS: We expect academics and students, as well as diplomats, policy makers, journalists, and civil society activists dealing with the Kurds, Kurdistan, and Middle Eastern affairs generally will find it interesting and useful. We hope to be a channel for representing cutting edge scholarly knowledge produced in this field, as well as being the primary platform for the academic dialogue and exchange underway.

It is our ambition to aim for the highest possible quality and standard. We want to establish ourselves as a serious academic journal, which means that we have a double-blinded review process, with a minimum of three expert reviewers/referees. We also hope contribute to setting the research agenda and provide a focus on issues and themes that we believe have received insufficient attention in Kurdish studies. For example, we welcome the fact that almost all the articles in the first issue of the journal were written by women scholars, with one article specifically concentrating on the women’s movement in Iraqi Kurdistan.

J: How do you see the potential for Kurdish Studies to affect contemporary engagements with Kurdish studies within the larger field of Middle East studies?

KS: In this regard, we aim to set the tone and establish the journal as a trusted source of authority in the field. This, we believe, comes with independence and a strict practice of academic rigor.

Excerpt from Kurdish Studies, Volume 1, Issue 1

Martin van Bruinessen, “Editorial”

Kurdish studies have, in the past few decades, come to be established as a respectable field of academic investigation and publication, after long having been as marginal in academia as the Kurds themselves were in the politics of the Middle East. The received wisdom, in many Western academic institutions, was that it was essential to retain access to the “field” and that permits to carry out field research in such pro-Western and relatively accessible countries as Turkey and Iran would continue to be granted as long as scholars stayed away from sensitive issues—and the Kurds were definitely one of the most sensitive of those issues. Turkey and Iran, Iraq and Syria perceived their Kurdish citizens as a major security issue, and scholarly interest in the Kurds aroused suspicions of imperialist meddling in Arab, Persian, or Turkish affairs.

The imperialist heritage of Kurdish studies cannot be denied; we owe many of the best early studies of Kurdish language, culture, and society to Christian missionaries of various denominations and Russian, British, and French consuls and intelligence officers. This is hardly unique to Kurdish studies, however; the same is true of Turkish, Arabic, and Iranian studies and of Orientalist knowledge in general. The articles “Kurdistan” and “Kurds” in the first edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam, which present an excellent overview of the state of the art in the 1920s, were written by the great scholar Vladimir Minorsky, who had been a Russian consul in Tabriz and a member of the international commission that demarcated the Ottoman-Persian border. These articles retain their value as a highly informative introduction to the history of the Kurds and their land. Half a century later, the articles were updated for the second edition of the Encyclopaedia by Father Thomas Bois, the last representative of the missionary scholars of the Kurds.

Bois had earlier written, under the pseudonym of Lucien Rambout, one of the first overviews of Kurdish uprisings and repression in the modern nation states of Turkey, Iran, and Iraq (Les Kurdes et le droit, 1947). This was a new genre of writing on the Kurds, which came to dominate the literature during the second half of the twentieth century, consisting mostly of popular works written by journalists and travellers, self-styled strategic analysts and human rights activists. More recently, sociologists and political scientists have produced more theoretically informed studies of Kurdish political movements and state policies towards the Kurds. Studies of the Kurdish movement have continued to make up a major portion of Kurdish studies.

The development of academic specializations depends on the availability of institutional support in the form of funding, specialized teaching and research institutes, libraries, and journals. Whereas numerous universities have distinct institutes or departments for Turkish, Iranian, or Arabic and Islamic studies, institutions specialized in Kurdish studies are few and far between—the Oriental section of the Soviet (now: Russian) Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris were for a long time the only academic institutions with small Kurdish departments. The establishment of a Kurdish Academy of Sciences (Korî Zanyarî Kurd, later reduced to Kurdish Branch of the Iraqi Academy of Sciences) in Baghdad after the March 1970 agreement, and the more recent establishment of a Mustafa Barzani Chair in Washington, DC and a Jalal Talabani-funded department in Exeter show the dependence of academic institutionalization on political factors. Private initiatives, such as the Kurdish Institute of Paris and the Kurdish Libraries of Brooklyn and Stockholm, each with their own publications, have been equally important as institutional support for the development of Kurdish studies. These institutions would not have been possible without the emergence of a well-connected Kurdish diaspora and, in the French and Swedish case, benevolence towards and sympathy with the Kurds among segments of the political elite.

Most of the scholars who wrote dissertations and scholarly articles on Kurdish subjects in the course of the past few decades, however, were not affiliated with one of the specialized departments of Kurdish studies but were educated, or worked, in departments of sociology, anthropology, politics, law, economics, history, linguistics, literature, cultural studies, geography, archaeology, or migration studies. This corresponds with a general shift in academia away from area studies towards education and research in one of those disciplinary frames, and with the increased emphasis on theoretically informed research. One positive aspect of this shift has been the increasing sophistication of at least some recent work on the Kurds; another, the absence of the old political fears of all things Kurdish in departments that are not focusing specifically on the Middle East. The downside, however, has been that most graduate students have had to do their studies without the benefit of regional expertise in their supervisors and their immediate academic surroundings.

Since its establishment, the Kurdish Studies Network (KSN), founded by Welat Zeydanlıoğlu in 2009, has made a great contribution to compensating for this lack of Kurdish expertise in the working environment of most of our colleagues. It has functioned as a virtual institute of Kurdish studies, providing its members with a stimulating environment, a repository of readily available factual knowledge, alerts on new publications and online resources, and a forum for discussion of a broad range of issues related to Kurdish studies. The number of actively participating members is the best indication that, around the world, in numerous universities and a wide range of disciplines, there is now a considerable community of scholars who share an interest in Kurdish studies. The peer-reviewed journal Kurdish Studies, which sees the light with this issue, is a logical next step in the institutionalization of the field of studies and the network, and will offer a more “established” platform for academic communication.

The editors do not want to delimit the subject of Kurdish studies very strictly. The journal invites contributions on Kurdistan and the Kurds, including the religious and ethnic minorities in Kurdistan, relations of the Kurds with neighboring peoples and states, Kurdish enclaves elsewhere in the Middle East, and the modern Kurdish diaspora. Contributions from all academic disciplines are welcome, provided they do not exclusively address narrow specialist issues but reach out to readers of other disciplinary backgrounds. A clear conceptual or theoretical framework is desirable, but the primary aim of the journal is to enable exchange between colleagues of different parts of the world and different academic specializations who share a general interest in the Kurds and Kurdistan. It is our hope that the journal will be especially useful to the younger generation of scholars, who will be the ones to further raise the intellectual level of Kurdish studies.

Singapore, 22 September, 2013

[The full editorial can also be accessed and downloaded here.]

[Excerpted from Kurdish Studies, Issue 1, Volume 1, by permission of the editors. Copyright © 2013 Kurdish Studies. For more information, or to subscribe to the journal, click here.]