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The Kurdish Movement and the Ambiguities of the Politics of Nationality

The Kurdish Movement and the Ambiguities of the Politics of Nationality

Date(s) - 03/03/2022
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

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Global Middle East Seminar Series


Thu, March 3, 2022

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM EST

This lecture explores the manifold histories of modern Kurdish identity and the struggle for self-determination

About this event

The notion that the trajectory of Kurdish political activism inevitably leads to separatism is widely held amongst political elites in Ankara, Tehran, Baghdad, and Damascus. Indeed, in certain ways, they share this view with the most ardent of Kurdish nationalists who see the creation of a sovereign Kurdish nation-state as the only possible definitive solution to the Middle East’s “Kurdish question”.

This binary, as one might expect, is an obfuscation of a far more complex reality. For instance, individuals of Kurdish origin have played important roles in formally “anti-nationalist” movements and parties ranging from the Iraqi Communist Party to the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, individuals who might have claimed a Kurdish ethnic origin have at times played not insignificant roles in the development and articulation of Arab, Turkish, and Persian nationalisms.

In fact, even within the Kurdish movement, the “Kurdish question” has always been conceived of more broadly than simply the issue of Kurdish statehood. At its most fundamental level, it revolves around the questions of whether the Kurds constitute a nation and, if they do, what are the political implications that flow from that realization. Nevertheless, separatist nationalism, whether regional or pan-Kurdish, has only ever been one strand of a broader form of nationality politics; political mobilization predicated on Kurdish nationhood. In recent times, such differences are most starkly illustrated in the different political orientation amongst the Kurdish movements in Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. While the Iraqi Kurdish movement has tended towards a separatist nationalist ideological orientation, in both Turkey and Syria, the Kurdish movement has explicitly rejected the nation-state (or quasi-nation-state) as a paradigm for the resolution of the Kurdish question.

Far from being a new development, these kinds of ambiguities have existed since the very inception of the Kurdish movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is this early phase of Kurdish political activism and the debates between separatist nationalists and those who expressed different forms of nationality politics as well as how such debates prefigured those in later eras that will be explored in this presentation.


Dr Djene Rhys Bajalan is an Assistant Professor of History at Missouri State University in Springfield. He has written extensively on the origins of the Kurdish question and is the author of Jön Kürtler: Birinci Dünya Savaşı’ndan Önce Kürt Hareketi 1898-1914 [The Young Kurds: The Kurdish Movement before the First World War, 1898 to 1914] (2010). He is also an editor at the journal Kurdish Studies and is a co-host on the This is Revolution Podcast.


Dr Eskandar Sadeghi, Lecturer in Contemporary Politics and Modern History of the Middle East.

Dr Tara Povey, Lecturer in Postcolonial and Global History.


Statement by the Organisers

This event is held in solidarity with the Goldsmiths’ College Union and colleagues working on the Middle East and Global South who have been slated for redundancy by the Senior Management Team at Goldsmiths, University of London. As testament to our commitment to the student and broader intellectual community at the college we have decided to independently convene the Global Middle East seminar series, which would normally be held with the support of Goldsmiths’ Centre for Postcolonial Studies. The series engages a range of scholars working on the Middle East and North Africa, whose work is not only crucial for understanding the modern history and contemporary politics of the region, but also outlines pathways for liberation and resistance to the depredations of imperialism, settler colonialism, and autocratic regimes, notable for their repression of anti-colonial and popular movements, and the imposition of austerity and neoliberal restructuring at home. The seminar series is committed to real and substantive liberation against and above the corporate virtue signalling and performative politics around “decolonizing the curriculum”, often pursued with alacrity by management as part of a larger branding exercise. The seminar series is welcome to all, and we thank you for your solidarity going forward.


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Meeting ID: 816 7451 6865

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