Between gift and taboo : death and the negotiation of national identity and sovereignty in the Kurdish conflict in Turkey
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This dissertation explores politico-symbolic deployments of death in figurations of national identity and sovereignty in the Kurdish conflict in Turkey. Many Kurds have died in their successive rebellions over the last century. However, biological death has not necessarily excluded them from Kurdish culture and politics. Rather, through a symbolic economy of “gift” the Kurds resurrect their dead as martyrs – affective forces that powerfully shape public, political and daily life and promote Kurdish national identity as a sacred communion of the dead and the living. For its own part, the Turkish state has been endeavoring to eradicate this persistent power of the Kurdish dead by obstructing their appropriation and assimilation into the regenerative realms of Kurdish national-symbolic. While these struggles are still in effect, with the shift in Kurdish politics away from the original goal of national independence in 1999, the Kurdish dead emerged as a site of contention also among the Kurds. At least until 2005 the place of the dead in Kurdish politics also shifted with a new politics of memory that the leadership of Kurdish movement initiated to buttress the “peace process”. Based on two-year fieldwork in Diyarbakır, the informal capital of Kurds in Turkey, this study explores the Kurdish political imaginaries and subjectivities that are generated in and through these multiple struggles and contentions over the Kurdish dead, situating death as a central symbolic and semantic field constitutive to national identity and sovereignty. This study contributes to the ethnography of the Kurds, Turkey and the Middle East as well as theories of death, the body, nationalism, sovereignty and political subjectivity.