“The Kurdish Question”: Challenges to social theory and geographical thought

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Middle East Specialty Group, Political Geography Specialty Group
Organizers: John Kendall, Bengi Akbulut, Azat Gundogan
Chairs: John Kendall

Call for Papers

Please submit a title and abstract of no more than 250 words to John Kendall (kenda104@umn.edu) by Oct. 18th. We will respond to all submissions by October 22nd.


“The Kurdish Question”: Challenges to social theory and geographical thought

American Association of Geographers Conference, 2018
New Orleans, USA, 10-14 April 2018


Bengi Akbulut (Concordia University)
Azat Z. Gundogan (Florida State University)
John Kendall (University of Minnesota)
Kaner Atakan Türker (Clark University)


In 1930, Celadet Bedirxan first posed “the Kurdish Question,” a phrase he used to signify a complex, pluralistic amalgamation of struggles led by the Kurds, extending back over the course of more than three centuries. Bedirxan wrote with sincerity and compassion, bearing in his words a responsibility to the collective suffering and injustice in which he was living. That same year, Bedirxan helped orchestrate the Ararat rebellion, a large-scale uprising against the nascent Turkish state.

The history of Bedirxan and the Ararat rebellion help highlight Kurdistan as, among other things, a distinct and persistent geographical problem. The rebellion was in no small part a refusal to obey the authority of lines drawn on maps by foreign powers after World War I. The Kurds who rebelled stood in the way of the common efforts of the British, French, and Turks to deny Kurds any form of spatial representation. Moreover, many of the organizers, including Bedirxan, led the rebellion from exile, a point which serves as testament to the resilience of geographical imaginations despite the formation of colonial spaces which seek to dislocate and destroy them. Yet, while keeping the thought of Kurdistan at home in the collective memory of the Kurds, the Ararat rebellion, like so many Kurdish uprisings before and after, fell short of its aspiration for self-determination. The century since has left Kurdistan scarred and unsettled, an enduring survival of so many splits and sutures, but also so much novel creativity and agency. Nevertheless, the Kurdish Question remains unanswered, and violence against the Kurds continues across the four countries—Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey—which still dissimulate Kurdistan's boundaries.

But the silence of this violence, the absence of an answer, is becoming harder and harder to ignore. Several recent events have brought the Kurds much further to the fore of international attention: Turkey's revamped oppression of its Kurdish citizenry, the emergence of a de facto autonomous region in Northern Syria amid strife and civil war, the independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the ongoing human rights violations against the Kurds in Iran. Partly as a result, Kurdistan compels more academic scholarship now than ever.

Social theory and geographical thought, however, have been slow to respond. Many analyses of the Kurdish region rely on tired and ill-fitted theoretical frameworks, and often fail to address the Kurdish Question in its geographical specificity and its multitudinous dimensions. Within a context where notions of identity, autonomy, economy, boundary and others are being re-imagined and re-enacted, we have a responsibility, indeed an obligation, to attend to Kurdistan as not merely an object of knowledge, but as a place and process radically imposing itself onto our ontological, epistemological, and methodological perspectives. Equally, as researchers critically invested in geographical thought and social theory, we seek to establish new channels of understanding with the interdisciplinary field of Kurdish Studies. The inquiry which grounds this call for papers is hence double-sided:
1.) How does the Kurdish Question challenge and disrupt prevailing trends in social theory and geographical thought?
2.) How might geographical thought better collaborate with Kurdish Studies in order to extend the Kurdish Question into untrammeled terrain and new, emancipatory futures?

We are organizing this session as a part of the Annual AAG Meeting (April 10-14, 2018, New Orleans) in order to open space within the discipline for confronting the contemporary challenges that Kurdistan and the Kurdish Question pose. We are also aware that interest in geographical thought and social theory widely exceeds the disciplinary boundaries of geography, and thus we warmly welcome folks from outside of the discipline to contribute and help us work through these questions.

Possible topics include but are by no means limited to rethinking:
· Statelessness, territory, and borders in the context of Kurdish experience
· Autonomy, self-determination, and sovereignty
· Place and place-making with respect to Kurdistan
· feminist theory and queer theory through jineology,
· Statelessness and its impact on Kurdish dialects
· Rural-urban transition in the context of Kurdish migration
· Geographies of Kurdish labor
· Historical relations of Kurds and Kurdistan to colonial powers
· Geographical imaginations in art and politics
· Intersections between peace, conflict, and Kurdish resistance
· Diaspora and migration in the context of Kurdish experience
· The Kurdish subject and its challenges to studying citizenship


Type Details Minutes
Presenter Nicola Degli Esposti*, London School of Economics, Competing Kurdistans: Nation-building versus society-building in contemporary Kurdish politics 20
Presenter Orkide Izci*, Universita' di Padova, Home as a concept of belonging(s): Narratives of Kurdish Women in Diaspora(s) 20
Presenter Juan Castillo*, Universidad Nacional Autonoma De Mexico, The Desecuritization of the Kurdistan Regional Government and its Redefined Role in the Security Dynamics of Middle East 20
Presenter Hazal Dolek*, , Unmaking and Remaking Everyday Life in Diyarbakir: Remembering, Affect and Rumor 20
Presenter Kumru Toktamis*, , Violent Re-entrenchments: The tensions within the Power Bloc as revealed in Imrali Minutes. 20

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