Announcement: The Best Article Award in Kurdish Studies

Gunes Murat Tezcur's picture

 

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 2021 were considered. The winning articles share the prize of $800. The selection committee was composed of Michiel Leezenberg (University of Amsterdam), Zozan Pehlivan (University of Minnesota), and Güneş Murat Tezcür (University of Central Florida).

The committee has decided to split the award between two articles:

Özgür Sevgi Göral (2021).Waiting for the disappeared: waiting as a form of resilience and the limits of legal space in Turkey. Social Anthropology, 29(3), 800-815.

Classical accounts of the counterinsurgency campaign pursued by the Turkish state in Kurdish lands discuss how the law became an instrument of domination to discipline, punish, and subdue political dissent. Göral’s argument offers an alternative reading of the role of law in shaping the encounters between Kurdish citizens who lost their loved ones to enforced disappearances. Focusing on a legal case about the high-ranking military officer accused of executing 21 individuals in the early 1990s, she reveals how novel forms of political subjectivities and activism have emerged among the relatives of the disappeared. Her study is based on rich fieldwork involving dozens of in-depth interviews and participant observation in court settings magnifies the voices of these individuals whose long encounters with the state bureaucracy inform their political resilience and resistance. While the trial ended as expectedly (i.e., all defendants acquitted), the very practice of using Turkey’s court system has exposed the fabricated nature of the state narratives, reinforced a sense of belonging among the activists, and validated their lasting loyalty to their family members victimized by the state. By transcending the binary framework between the state and insurgency that often characterizes the study of the “Kurdish question” in Turkey, Göral gives the struggles of ordinary people directly affected by the conflict the attention they deserve.

 

Nicola Degli Esposti (2021). The 2017 independence referendum and the political economy of Kurdish nationalism in Iraq. Third World Quarterly, 42(10), 2317-2333.

The referendum organized by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in September 2017  was the latest bid for sovereignty that remains central to Kurdish political aspirations. Yet it ended in failure and the loss of a significant amount of territory for the KRG. Taking a different approach than the burgeoning literature on the subject, Degli Esposti critically argues that the decision to hold the referendum was not a strategic miscalculation but an attempt to deflect popular unrest. By focusing on the long-neglected political economy of the KRG, Degli Esposti cogently identifies how a non-transparent, unaccountable, and corrupt fiscal system fostered new hierarchies and dependencies that were increasingly sustained by repression. The rise of the self-styled Islamic State, the conflict with the central government of Iraq in Baghdad regarding the budget reallocation, and the global decline in oil prices by 2014 exacerbated social tensions and generated direct threats to the political elite. In this context, the decision to hold the referendum aimed to stoke nationalist sentiments and sustain the political status quo. Degli Esposti’s article brings analytical clarity to this crucial aspect of the referendum and will stimulate much needed discussion about the relationship between Kurdish elites and ordinary people in a time of continuing uncertainty and precariousness in Kurdish lands. 

 

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

Vladimir Hamed-Troyansky (2021). Becoming Armenian: religious conversions in the late imperial South Caucasus. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 63(1), 242-272.

In this rich and elegantly written article, Vladimir Hamed-Troyansky studies voluntary conversions to Armenian Christianity during the late nineteenth century South Caucasus under the rule of the Russian Tsar. These converts included Muslims, Yezidis, Assyrians, and Jews who sought to improve their social standing and material wellbeing in a sociopolitical environment embodying entrenched hierarchies. While the conversions were a slow-moving process subject to approval by the Russian authorities who wielded their power capriciously, they were also emblematic of a social order with relatively fluid identities across the borderlands. This order would be swept away with the outbreaks of intercommunal violence and the rise of ethno-nationalism by the early 20th century. By focusing on a neglected historical dynamic indicating the transmutability of religious identities, Hamed-Troyansky’s article brings a fresh perspective to Kurdish Studies and fosters greater intellectual synergy with other fields of inquiry.