Announcement: The Best Article Award in Kurdish Studies

Gunes Murat Tezcur Discussion

This award, sponsored by Kurdish Political Studies Program at the University of Central Florida, recognizes the best article in Kurdish Studies by a rising scholar during the previous calendar year. In this year’s competition, social science and humanities articles published in English language peer-reviewed journals in 2020 were considered. The winning article is  awarded $500. The selection committee was composed of Ceren Belge (Concordia University), Ozlem Goner (City University of New York), and Güneş Murat Tezcür (University of Central Florida).


The committee has unanimously found the following article worthy of the award. 

Fırat Bozçalı (2020). Probabilistic borderwork: Oil smuggling, nonillegality, and techno‐legal politics in the Kurdish borderlands of Turkey. American Ethnologist, 47(1), 72-85.

The armed conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdish insurgents has been a central focus of scholarship. While the conflict waxes and wanes, Kurdish civilians in contested zones navigate multiple layers of judicial control and administrative surveillance in pursuit of a living. In his article, Bozçalı brings a refreshing perspective about how ordinary people engage in cross-border economic activities while aiming to avoid charges of smuggling. Based on 20 months of ethnographic fieldwork in judicial and commercial settings, Bozçalı demonstrates how the state’s attempts to curtail oil smuggling via the adoption of new technologies are effectively challenged by Kurdish traders and lawyers. The latter utilize uncertainty inherent to chemical tests and exploit the ambiguity between scientific and legal knowledge production  to counter charges of smuggling. While these activities do not involve an alternative political sovereignty claim, they involve mundane forms of resistance and disrupt the state’s ability to control its borders. Bozçalı’s article is a splendid example of how an immersive approach could reveal counterintuitive empirical findings, generate new theoretical insights, and demonstrate the ability of Kurdish Studies to enrich broader scholarly debates about the scope and limits of the state power in borderlands. 

Honorable Mention

The committee has also unanimously found the following article worthy of an honorable mention. 

Zozan Pehlivan. (2020). El Niño and the nomads: Global climate, local environment, and the crisis of pastoralism in late Ottoman Kurdistan. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 63(3), 316-356.

In this fascinating article, Zozan Pehlivan traces the climatic changes in late 19th century Ottoman Kurdistan, first linking these to the global El Nino Southern Oscillation, then tracing how the ensuing drought, extreme cold, and lack of forage affected the livelihoods of local pastoralists, whose conflicts with peasants increased. Thoroughly original, and scrupulously researched, the article promises to open new avenues of research in the intersection of environmental and Kurdish studies, and inspire new approaches to the study of communal conflict in this critical period and beyond.