World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Studying Kurdistan (188) - Panel

· Date: WED, 21 / 9 - 11 am

· Language: English

· Description:

Chair: Jordi Tejel (PhD., University of Fribourg, Switzerland)

Paper presenter: Yaniv Voller (Research student, London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London), “De-facto Statehood and the Pursuit of International Legitimacy: the Case of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq”
The de-facto state is a confusing actor: de-facto states behave like ‘normal’ states, aspire to become states, and function better than normal states in many areas. But they lack recognition by the international society of states and its representative organisation: the United Nations. They are, in fact, illegitimate actors, gaining their status by challenging one of most sacred norms of international society: territorial integrity. Consequently, the de-facto states are constantly occupied by the search for international legitimacy. This desperate journey has a far-reaching impact on their behaviour. And since in contemporary international society legitimacy relies on domestic behaviour as much as it does on international behaviour, the pursuit of legitimacy has a far-reaching impact on the behaviour of de-facto states. Their position drives the de-facto states to be more receptive to legitimating norms, such as democracy, free-market economy, and civil-rights. Many of the de-facto states have not only been more successful than other recognised states in embracing such norms, but have also turned this (even limited) into a central theme in their interaction with international society. The KRG is a fascinating case-study of de-facto statehood. Gaining its de-facto independence in 1991 has changed the course of history of the Kurdish nationalist movement in Iraq. From a secessionist guerrilla movement it has now turned into a state in all but name, leading an independent economy, juridical system, and even foreign policy. This reality has allowed the nationalist movement to reinvent itself? Its claim for legitimacy in now based not only on human-rights violations and historical rights. In the past two decades legitimacy has shifted as well to the ability of the Kurds to sustain a (de-facto) state which is freer, more liberal, and socially developed than many of their neighbours. Whether this is true or not does not change the fact that this has become central to Kurdish identity. This transformation has also influenced the relations between the KRG and the Kurdish diaspora. From serving as a lobby for the Kurdish cause, the establishment of the KRG has allowed diaspora activists to become a transnational civil society, conveying to the KRG ideas that have been absorbed by decades of living in the West about appropriate statehood. Scholars of Kurdish history and society have missed this transformation and its importance. And many scholars of de-facto statehood have missed the KRG as a case study. This paper seeks to fill these gaps.

Paper presenter: Luca Bellusci (Freelancer, Italian Center of Turkish Studies), “Iraqi Kurdistan: the Possible Raise of a New State on Ethnic Identity”
The Middle East has always been the scene of ethnic and religious clashes. After the First World War, and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the region has undergone a radical transformation through the creation of new borders and the installation of governments with poor organisational skills and control. In this context, after the Treaty of Lausanne, the populations of Kurdish ethnicity were relocated into areas belonging to new state entities which soon developed a corresponding national identity thanks to the contribution and influence of Western countries like France and England. This has caused a rupture of the fragile ethnic balance in the region. The Kurdish society has always been characterised by a tribal and nomadic system, with less contact and influence from the outsiders, much like the feudal system. Consequently it has never had the need to develop a modern system of government, failing to achieve a relative national identity connotation. The U.S. intervention in Iraq during the second Gulf War has redefined the balance between the various ethnic groups in the region, giving the Kurds a key geopolitical role. Iraqi Kurdistan, in particular, since 2003, begun a process of evolution towards the creation of a strong national identity, even though bounded by the Iraqi government’s federal system. The paper attempts a definition of the role of Iraqi Kurdistan and of the increasing importance of this area; it also calls for the realistic chance of Iraqi Kurdistan to become an independent state that is directly affecting the relations of relevant regional players such as Turkey, Syria and Iran. Finally, it also aims to describe the opportunities and capabilities of the Kurdish communities in these three countries, which for the first time are working jointly to restore a balance of power on an ethnic basis, contrary to what the Western countries were unable to achieve during the creation of modern states in the Middle East.

Paper presenter: Michael Eppel (Senior Lecturer, University of Haifa), “The Politics of the Kurdish Nationalism and the Reconstruction of Iraq”
The Kurdish national movement and its political forces in Iraq are involved in the project of the reconstruction of Iraq. By pushing toward federalist regime in Iraq and by preserving their political influence they hope to perpetuate the condition that will enable them to continue their national projects: Kurdish nation building and building of their autonomy, which constitute ''state in state''. In the midst of these projects and process the Kurdish national movement and its leadership have to face domestic socio-political transformations which affect the domestic Kurdistani political conditions. The presentation will focus on the obstacles, dilemmas, options of the Kurds in the process of reconstruction of Iraq and in the same time in their national projects. The future development of the Kurdish national movement and the Kurdish autonomy will be influenced by the political situation in Iraq and the ability of the Kurds to manoeuvre vis a vis other forces by the development of relations between Turkey and the Kurds in Turkey and by the ability of the Kurdish national forces to adjust themselves to change of the socio-political conditions in Kurdistan.

Paper presenter: Guldeniz Kibris (PhD Candidate, Leiden University), "The West's 'East' in Turkey: The Perception of the Kurds by the 'Locals' in Edremit"
In 2008, in a small coastal town on Aegean called Altionova, Kurdish people were attacked by the locals. This is not a special case, because now in 2009, under the light of the discussions of 'Kurdish initiative,' the Kurds in Turkey have been started to be excluded from the society in various ways although the state has been trying to'include' them. In some ways, these reactions of the people are considered as a part of a cry against the recent terrorist attacks in the Southeastern part of Turkey. Are the reasons for the exclusion of the Kurds that simple? This paper tries to reveal the answer by dealing with the roots of the exclusion through in-depth interviews with the locals. Through these interviews, it aims to understand the mutual relationship between the state-imposed nationalism and popular perceptions of it. In fact any examination of Turkish nation-building process assumes that it is a central project forcefully injected to the periphery on a top-down fashion. Furthermore, this conventional assumption sees this project as a failure as it had encountered severe problems in its reception by the people and suffers from popular legitimacy. This assumption is incomplete because it fails to incorporate popular dynamics into effect and misses the complicated nature of Turkish nation-building project. In fact, the elitist-mythical imagery of the nation, constructed during the single party period, has still been continued only with some cosmetic modifications. The crucial point here is that the regime has never perceived the nation-building project as irreconcilable with the peripheral understanding of the nation. Thus, this study discovers the peripheral origins and unofficial/informal/popular elements of the Turkish nation-building project through the perception of the Kurds by the 'Turks.' Through an exploration of the oral history of the coastal Aegean, a place which did not historically have Kurdish population, the way that that the nation-state and Turkish national identity had been forged in the minds of the locals is revealed. With in-depth interviews with locals of Edremit, a town on the Aegean coast, how history and memories of war influenced the locals' imagination of nationhood in a reactionary way towards the Kurds is explained. This town is significant because in the last ten years it has received an increasing Kurdish migrant population. The paper, at the end, aims to take a further step in the study of nationalism not as an elite-produced phenomenon, but also a popular product as in-depth interviews manifest.