Anthropology of Kurdistan

Chris Houston

in Anthropology

ISBN: 9780199766567
Published online April 2017 | | DOI:
Anthropology of Kurdistan

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Outside of the autonomous Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq, surrounding states and the United Nations do not recognize Kurdistan as an independent entity. In Iran, it is a heavily policed province. Turkey does not use the term or mark it on any official map. In the context of civil war in Syria, the future of the small, self-instituted Rojava Kurdish cantons is uncertain. For Kurdish nationalists, however, Kurdistan is the imagined homeland of the Kurds, spanning southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, and western Iran. What does Turkey’s claim that Kurdistan is a “non-place” indicate about its anthropological study? How does that study account for the fact that some Kurdish nationalists underplay Kurdistan’s ethnic heterogeneity, in particular the historical cohabitation of Armenians there? Each case reveals that both the production of knowledge about Kurdistan and its historiography is politicized, conditioned still by the foundational practices of nation-building and state formation in the Middle East after World War I. In the name of the Persian, Turkish, and Arab nations, the new regional states of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria have sought to control, assimilate, or annihilate different ethnic and religious minorities in the territory over which they exert control. The anthropology of Kurdistan thus confronts as one of its core themes the cultural revolutions spearheaded by these ethnic states, as well as the responses to those revolutions in the lives and practices of Kurdistan’s inhabitants. Equally importantly, the extent to which the political practices of those states have been supported or supplanted by imperialistic powers demonstrates how Western military aid or intervention have further reconstructed social and political relations in Kurdistan. The emergence of the Kurdistan Region in federal Iraq is a case in point. After the US-led invasion of Baath Iraq in 2003, Kurdish political parties have developed as virtual state entities, and for the first time in the modern period, Kurdistan is now an internationally recognized region. Together, these intertwined national and international processes explain why the anthropology of Kurdistan has been heavily concerned with (1) practices of state-formation, nationalism, and the social ramifications of authoritarian modernism; (2) ethnic exclusion, forced deportation, and serial regional violence; (3) trauma, memory, and life story narratives; (4) arts production and activism, including in literature, film, and music; (5) religious identities; and (6) gender politics. Recent anthropological work has also expanded to examine one historical consequence of these processes—the transnational activities of Kurdistan’s diasporas abroad. A second consequence might be added as a disclaimer; Kurdistan’s fragmented history has militated against scholars developing a broad expertise about it, including its many languages. This article therefore partially reflects the author’s more narrow familiarity with Turkey.

Article.  10057 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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