New Book Out: Ethnic Boundaries in Turkish Politics – The Secular Kurdish Movement and Islam

8 06 2018

Sarigil, Zeki

NYU Press, 2018

ISBN: 9781479882168

One of the fault lines of Turkish politics traditionally has been the divide between religious and secular movements. However, as Zeki Sarigil argues, the secular Kurdish movement in Turkey has increasingly become aligned with Islam. As a result, Islam has become part of the movement’s political discourse, strategies and actions.
Ethnic Boundaries in Turkish Politics traces the evolving relations between the leftist, secular Kurdish movement and Islam, from an apathetic and/or antagonistic attitude in the 1970s and 1980s to an increasingly Islam-friendly approach in the 1990s to an attitude of accommodation and the rise of Kurdish-Islamic synthesis in the early 2000s. Based on 104 interviews in several provinces in Turkey (primarily Ankara, Diyarbakir, Istanbul, and Tunceli) between 2011 and 2015 as well as ethnographic data, public opinion surveys and statements from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Kurdish leaders, Sarigil shows how the secular Kurdish movement increasingly has been endorsing Islam and Islamic actors. The reasons for this Islamic opening are global, national, and local; Sarigil demonstrates that a group of strategic and ideological factors have encouraged and/or forced Kurdish leaders to redraw symbolic and social boundaries of the movement. Namely, with the end of the Cold War support for Marxist ideas collapsed, creating increasingly more favorable responses towards religion. In addition, the movement’s need to expand its social basis and popularity; electoral politics; and legitimacy struggles against rival political actors were other major factors, which triggered the Kurdish movement’s boundary expansion (i.e. its Islamic opening). The study also shows that the Kurdish boundary making was not without any tension or contestation. The boundary expansion by Kurdish ethnopolitical elites triggered both internal and external boundary contestations.
The movement’s embrace of Islam on a more widespread level has major ramifications for politics in Turkey and in the region. Ethnic Boundaries in Turkish Politics has important insight into the PKK, modern Turkish and Islamic societies and highlights the increasing role of Islam in global politics.

Call for Papers: Iranian-Kurdish Cultural Production – Past, Present, Future

6 06 2018

This workshop aims to open scholarly discussion on Iran’s Kurdish cultural heritage and its relation to contemporary Kurdish cultural creation. It also aims to analyse the current state of Iranian-Kurdish cultural production, its transformation, challenges and prospects. Iran is a colourful mosaic of cultures, languages and people, yet its pluralistic nature has not been fully represented in studies of the country. It is in the context of opening up this rich and varied heritage that this workshop seeks to examine and analyse the past and present Kurdish cultural production. While certain aspects of Kurdish culture, such as its music, are well appreciated and celebrated in Iran, other vibrant activities in literature, the visual arts and cinema are much less known. The twenty-first century has witnessed an unprecedented acceleration in the development of Kurdish cultural production despite various impediments. This includes a flourishing cinema, an emerging children’s literature, the establishment of literature and theatre festivals, the collection and publication of Kurdish folklore, and translation of world literature into Kurdish. We hope to open avenues of research into these vital areas that have hardly been explored before.

Potential themes of the workshop include but are not limited to:

–      Gorani literature, past and present

–      Kurdish literature in different dialects and languages

–      Circulation and perception of Kurdish cultural production in Iran

–      Dialogue between Kurdish and Persian arts (literature, cinema, etc.)

–      Kurdish music in Iran

–      Kurdish cinema and television productions in Iran

–      Collection, publication and circulation of Kurdish folklore in Iran

–      Festivals (literature, theatre, etc.)

–      Diaspora and Kurdish cultural production

–      Studies of individual artists and works

The workshop has been made possible by generous support of Iran Heritage Foundation. Accommodation, lunch, refreshment, and up to £100 towards travel expenses will be provided for the participants of the workshop. Please email paper abstracts of no more than 300 words with your CV to Dr Farangis Ghaderi (

The deadline for submission is June 10, 2018.

Venue: Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter

Date: 17-18 September 2018

Funded by Iran Heritage Foundation and Centre for Kurdish Studies, University of Exeter


New Book Out: Iraqi Kurdistan, the PKK and International Relations – Theory and Ethnic Conflict

6 06 2018

Černy, Hannes

Routledge, 2017

ISBN: 9781138676176

Due to its primacy in explaining issues of war and peace in the international arena, the discipline of International Relations (IR) looms large in analyses of and responses to ethnic conflict in academia, politics and popular media – in particular with respect to contemporary conflicts in the Middle East.

Grounded in constitutive theory, this book challenges how ethnic/ethno-nationalist conflict is represented in explanatory IR by deconstructing its most prominent state-centric models, frameworks and analytical concepts. As much a critique of contemporary scholarship on Kurdish ethno-nationalism as a detailed analysis of the most prominent Kurdish ethno-nationalist actors, the book provides the first in-depth investigation into the relations between the PKK and the main Iraqi Kurdish political parties from the 1980s to the present. It situates this inquiry within the wider context of the ambiguous political status of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, its relations with Turkey, and the role Kurdish parties and insurgencies play in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Appreciating these complex dynamics and how they are portrayed in Western scholarship is essential for understanding current developments in the Iraqi and Syrian theatres of war, and for making sense of discussions about a potential independent Kurdish state to emerge in Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan provides a comprehensive and critical discussion of the state-centric and essentialising epistemologies, ontologies, and methodologies of the three main paradigms of explanatory IR, as well as their analytical models and frameworks on ethnic identity and conflict in the Middle East and beyond. It will therefore be a valuable resource for anyone studying ethnicity and nationalism, International Relations or Middle East Politics.

For details click here.

New Book Out: Narratives of the History of the Ottoman-Kurdish Bedirhani Family in Imperial and Post-Imperial Contexts – Continuities and Changes

4 06 2018

Henning, Barbara

University of Bamberg Press, 2018

ISBN: 978-3-86309-551-2

This dissertation is concerned with the Ottoman-Kurdish Bedirhani family and its history in Ottoman imperial and post-imperial times. Tracing various members of the extended Bedirhani family over the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it looks at the family’s history as a case-study to inquire about dynamics of post-imperial identity formation over a crucial period of time: A particular focus lies on the Bedirhani family’s history immediately before and after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire – that is, at a decisive moment in the formation of the current geopolitical structure of the Middle East, marked by the rise of nationalisms and nationalist historiographies. The work inquires about the strategies family members used to negotiate the shift from empire to post-imperial contexts. To get a better understanding of how family members coped with and tried to make sense of this transition, it looks at the stories they told about themselves and their family’s history and also investigates the network structures they operated in. It is argued that with the end of the Ottoman Empire, imperial structures of solidarity and frameworks of identification did not just vanish overnight, to be replaced by nationalist identities and loyalties. Rather, identity formation is understood as a long-term process with many options aside from Kurdish nationalism and post-Ottoman identity is read as a multi-layered phenomenon.

Looking at individual trajectories of Bedirhani family members between imperial and post-imperial contexts, different strategies and coping mechanisms can be observed. Departing from similar starting points in terms of resources like social standing, education, networks and economic wealth at their disposal, members of the Bedirhani family ended up in very different places after the First World War and the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. As a counterbalance to existing research on the Bedirhani family, which has focused on a few politically very active family members, this study points to alternative trajectories of family members who did not engage with Kurdish nationalist politics. Their lesser known but equally interesting life stories serve a double purpose in the analysis: On the one hand, their stories sketch out opportunity structures, potentials and ‘roads not taken’ of relevance for all family members. On the other hand, they shed light on the manifold modifications the stories of their more prominent relatives underwent to fit the larger narrative of Kurdish nationalist historiography in the 20th century.

For details click here.

New Book Out: Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Turkey – The New PKK

4 06 2018

Plakoudas, Spyridon

Palgrave Macmillan, 2018

ISBN 978-3-319-75659-2

This book seeks to answer the “why” and “how” questions about the insurgency of the PKK, a militant left-wing group of Turkey’s Kurds, in Turkey. The PKK has been inter-locked in an intermittent war against Turkey since 1984 in the name of Kurdish nationalism. The author combines  insights of Strategy and IR – from strategy and tactics in irregular warfare to peace negotiations between state authorities and insurgents, with data from qualitative research, to achieve two inter-related objectives: first, assess the current state of affairs and predict the future course of the conflict and, secondly, draw general conclusions on how protracted conflicts can end and how.

For details click here.

New Issue of Kurdish Studies Out

1 06 2018

Kurdish Studies, Volume 6, Issue 1, May 2018 

Special Issue: Women and War in Kurdistan (open access)

Edited by Nazand Begikhani, Wendy Hamelink, Nerina Weiss

Martin van Bruinessen


Theorising women and war in Kurdistan: A feminist and critical perspective
Nazand Begikhani, Wendelmoet Hamelink, Nerina Weiss

The representation of post-conflict gender violence in Iraqi Kurdish novelistic discourse in Bahdinan
Lolav M. Hassan Alhamid

Reading and feeling gender in perpetrator graffiti and photography in Turkey
Beja Protner

Saving the survivors: Yezidi women, Islamic State and the German Admissions Programme
Thomas McGee

Building brand Kurdistan: Helly Luv, the gender of nationhood, and the War on Terror
Nick Glastonbury

Mother-activism before the European Court of Human Rights: Gender sensitivity towards Kurdish mothers and wives in enforced disappearance cases
Maja Davidovic

Book Reviews

Khanna Omarkhali, The Yezidi Religious Textual Tradition: From Oral to Written. Categories, Transmission, Scripturalisation and Canonisation of the Yezidi Oral Religious Texts, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2017.

— Reviewed by Martin van Bruinessen

Parvin Mahmoudveysi, Denise Bailey, Ludwig Paul, and Geoffrey Haig, The Gorani Language of Gawraǰū, a Village of West Iran: Texts, Grammar, and Lexicon, 2012, Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2012.


Mahmoudveysi, Parvin, and Denise Bailey. The Gorani Language of Zarda, a Village of West Iran: Texts, Grammar, and Lexicon, Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2013.

— Reviewed by Michiel Leezenberg

David Gaunt, Naures Atto, and Soner O. Barthoma, Let Them Not Return: Sayfo – The Genocide against the Assyrian, Syriac and Chaldean Christians in the Ottoman Empire, New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2017.

— Reviewed by Heleen Murre-van den Berg

Ahmed Fawaz, Opportunity, Identity, and Resources in Ethnic Mobilization: The Iraqi Kurds and the Abkhaz of Georgia, Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2017.

— Reviewed by Jacob A. Crusinberry

Michael M. Gunter (ed.), Kurdish Issues: Essays in Honor of Robert Olson, Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishing, 2016.

— Reviewed by Michiel Leezenberg

New Book Out: Alevism as an Ethno-Religious Identity – Contested Boundaries

29 04 2018

Jenkins, Celia; Aydin, Suavi; Cetin, Umit (eds)

Routledge, 2018

ISBN: 9781138096318

Until recently the importance of religion in the modern world has often been underestimated in Western societies, whereas its significance is absolutely crucial in the Middle East. Religion is critical to a sense of belonging for communities and nations, and can be a force for unity or division. This is the case for the Alevis, an ethnic and religious community that constitutes approximately 20% of the Turkish population – its second largest religious group. In the current crisis in the Middle East, the heightened religious tensions between Sunnis, Shias and Alawites raise questions about who the Alevis are and where they stand in this conflict. With an ambiguous relationship to Islam, historically Alevis have been treated as a ‘suspect community’ in Turkey and recently, whilst distinct from Alawites, have sympathised with the Assad regime’s secular orientation. The chapters in this book analyse different aspects of Alevi identity in relation to religion, politics, culture, education and national identity, drawing on specialist research in the field. The approach is interdisciplinary and contributes to wider debates concerning ethnicity, religion, migration and trans/national identity within and across ethno-religious boundaries.

For details click here.