Panel 5F

Kurdish Identity, Mobilisation and State-Building

11.30 – 13.30
Chair: Bahar Baser, Coventry University

Politics of Genocide Recognition: Kurdish Regional Government, Kurdish Diaspora and the Case of Anfal

Bahar Baser, Coventry University (co-author: Dr. Mari Toivanen, University of Turku)

This article explores the genocide recognition politics (GRP) with a specific focus on Saddam Hussein’s Anfal Campaigns (1986-1989) against the Kurdish population in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. In the context of a pending referendum on independence in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, this study first investigates the formulation of GRP by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in relation to earned sovereignty claims as well as the social, political and economic drivers in this process. In conjunction to this, the study pays attention to the internationalisation of genocide recognition claims via diaspora lobbying in Europe. The results are based on extensive fieldwork conducted with policy makers, diaspora entrepreneurs and other stakeholders between 2012 and 2016 in Europe and Iraqi Kurdistan. The formulation of genocide recognition claims by the KRG is not directly associated with secession, but the genocide recognition initiatives evoke shared history and common national belonging, and constitute a part of (local) nation-state building mechanisms. Yet, this sentiment can be instrumentalised, provided the political circumstances in the region become favourable to Kurdish independence. In diaspora, the GRP serve to establish a link to homeland through commemoration practices, which also function as a component in intergenerational identity construction.

Local Expressions of Kurdish Alterity, Nationalism and Ethnic Identity: Reading the Kurdish Political Movement through Local Media in Southeast Turkey

Ece Algan, Loughborough University London

Following the collapse of the ceasefire with the militants of PKK—the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party—in July 2015, which reignited the four decade long ethnic conflict, numerous Kurdish newspapers, radio and TV stations were closed, pro-Kurdish news websites were banned, and dozens of Kurdish journalists and broadcasters were arrested on charges of “terror” and “espionage” in Turkey. Even though the failed coup attempt in July 2016 has exacerbated the crackdown on Kurdish journalists and media outlets, local media in the region has continued to produce content that speaks to the everyday struggles and aspirations of the Kurdish people in the region and remained instrumental for the Kurdish political movement.  Against the backdrop of the larger socio-political context of the Kurdish conflict and drawing on my fieldwork among Kurdish journalists and broadcasters in Southeast Turkey for over a decade, this paper explores their strategies of creating and maintaining local channels and programming that cater toward Kurds in a conflict situation, and what these strategies and programming reveal about the shifting nature of the Kurdish political movement, and its claims to national identity and ethnicity in Turkey, especially since the 2000s. Through expert interviews with media professionals and analyzing the local programming, this paper will also examine the ways in which Kurds in Turkey communicate the everyday realities of their alterity via these local radio and television channels despite restrictions on free speech and the government’s continuous efforts to punish media professionals who are suspected of disseminating Kurdish nationalist and separatist agendas.

The Kurds of Syria: From Popular Committees to Fighting Units

Giuseppe Acconcia, Bocconi University

By adopting Social Movement Theories (SMT) as a basic framework to analyse the 2011 uprisings in the MENA region, this paper will examine the role of alternative networks and other forms of political conflict in reference to the Syrian Kurdistan case. The initial demonstrations in Northern Syria between 2011 and 2012 sparked the formation of new means of popular mobilization, and triggered the mass participation in alternative networks that aimed at recruiting ordinary citizens to provide social services, security and self-defence. Drawing upon interviews with participants in the People’s Protection Units and Women’s Protection Units (YPG-YPJ) [Yekîneyên Parastina Gel-Yekîneyên Parastina Jin]?, carried out during my period of stay in Syria in 2015, insights on the workings and attempts of institutionalization of the Popular Committees and Women Committees (Mala Gel and Mala Jin) will be provided. In this paper will be argued that, in the context of war in Northern Syria, between 2013 and 2016, with the emergence of a very diverse range of jihadist groups, including ISIS, the participants within those Popular Committees felt the need to be involved in direct action, including the armed struggle, in order to protect their neighborhoods and substitute the constant absence of security personnel. Thus, in Syria those social movements evolved into paramilitary organizations that are very different compared to other grassroots mobilizations in the region.