By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
Anthropologist Deniz Duruiz, a specialist on the politics of the Kurdish minority in Turkey, spoke at the University of Prince Edward Island on March 13, the week before the university shut down.
Now a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Duruiz earned her PhD in anthropology from New York’s Columbia University in 2019.
She studies seasonal agricultural labour practices in western Turkey, performed by over one million migrant workers from the Kurdish region of the country and by Syrian refugees.
She is currently working on a book on Kurdish and Syrian migrant farm workers in Turkey. The book explores how a migrant labour practice categorized as “informal labour” is in fact heavily regulated by racialized class structures, family and kinship used as mechanisms of labour discipline and social control, regional economic isolation, and the normalization of securitization in the lives of the marginalized.
She uses labour as an ethnographic lens to observe the multiplicity of practices through which migrants build, or re-build, their lives.
About 30 to 35 million Kurds today live across the borders of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran; they constitute 18 per cent of Turkey’s population.
After World War I, the Kurdish people were left stateless. As a result, the new Turkish government systematically tried to eliminate Kurdish cultural influences from the nation.
The label “terrorist” is relatively new in the history of racialization of Kurds. It marks the state’s response to no longer being able to deny the existence of the Kurds, as a result of the thirty-five-year-long armed resistance of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The unstable relationship between the Kurds and the Turkish government continued throughout the 20th century, intensifying in the 1990s. The PKK’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was captured in 1999 in Nairobi and is currently in prison in Turkey.
Following a temporary 2015 ceasefire, Turkish military forces invaded multiple cities in Kurdistan, killing around 1,000 people, reducing buildings to rubble, and vandalizing homes, Duruiz remarked.
That tension further intensified in July 2016 after an attempted coup on the government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quashed.
“The dominant Turkish ethnicity is predicated upon the Kurd’s being a colonized and racialized other, whose potential for equal citizenship disturbs not only the status quo of the Turkish state order but the entire social order,” she explained.
The Syrian Civil War next door has also worsened relations. In October 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered U.S. forces to withdraw from northern Syria, an area predominantly occupied by Kurdish forces, leaving them vulnerable to attacks from the Turkish military.
Turkey is now attempting to ‘”control the lifestyle in those areas,” in Erdogan’s words, and attacking Kurdish-controlled northern Syria.
The study of the Kurdish question is just beginning, Duruiz said. In the 1990s it was almost impossible to conduct ethnographic work in Kurdistan because researchers were jailed.
“I think we are the first generation of anthropologists who are educated in the United States, and who can translate this knowledge into an understandable, digestible form,” Duruiz told her listeners.