Varieties of ‘Kurdishness’ in Turkey: state rhetoric, language, and regional comparison
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Kurds are the largest ethnic group in Turkey; they have been at the centre of conflict since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Scattered across Turkey, with their own language, distinct from the official language of the state, and historically subject to the state’s homogenisation policies, Kurds present an interesting case for scholars of ethnicity. How does this history affect the way ‘Kurdishness’ is manifested? While Kurds’ relationship with the Turkish state and increasingly their everyday lives been widely studied, the diversity of the Kurdish experience in Turkey is not well understood. Drawing on the literature on boundary theory pioneered by Frederick Barth (1969) and developed by Andreas Wimmer (2013) among others, this thesis explores manifestations of ‘Kurdishness’ in Turkey. To do this, this thesis is interested in the role that state rhetoric, region and language play. The research design sought to capture something of the diversity of Kurdish experience across Turkey, specifically in Western Turkey (Istanbul, which has the largest Kurdish population within Turkey, and Ayvalık, a small town with certain Kurdish districts) and Southeast Turkey (multi-ethnic Mardin, Diyarbakır, the ‘spiritual capital’ for Kurds, and Derik, a small town predominated by Kurds). The research utilised three methods: semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and document analysis. 33 semi-structured interviews were conducted with Kurdish respondents, both native- and non-native speakers of Kurdish. Participant observation was also undertaken. This data was collected between January and May 2013, with follow-up research conducted in June 2014. In addition, party documents, speeches and statements by party leaders, and selected laws from the early Republican period (1923-1938) and the AKP period (from 2002 to the present) were analysed. This research suggests that ‘Kurdishness’ in Turkey is manifested in different forms. Instead of taking ‘Kurdishness’ as a matter of degree, this thesis suggests that individuals exhibit ‘Kurdishness’ in a variety of forms. Context is key. The thesis first examines the role of state rhetoric in categorising Kurdishness during two ‘moments of transition’, the creation of the Kemalist Republic and the advent of the AKP in power. It is suggested that not only changes but also continuities in state rhetoric play a significant role in the construction of ‘Kurdishness’ in these two moments. There is regional dimension to the display of Kurdishness. Specifically the boundaries of what constitutes Kurdishness contrast markedly by region. This is reflected in my respondents’ experience of discrimination and prejudice in their interactions with non-Kurds. Finally, family and neighbourhood also play a key role in shaping different forms. Specifically, the use of language in these environments plays an important role in shaping different forms of ‘Kurdishness’.