The Speculative Underground: Oil Conspiracies, Revisionist Politics, and Geological Uncertainty in Turkey

Authors: Zeynep Oguz*,
Topics: Energy, Environment, Middle East
Keywords: oil, speculation, geology, Turkey
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 11:50 AM / 1:05 PM
Room: Tower Court A, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Second Floor Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Despite being surrounded by oil-rich neighbors in the Middle East, Turkey is not an oil-rich state. Turkey’s domestic oil reserves supply only 7 percent of its oil. Despite its elusive presence, however, oil has been central to territorial claims and hopes over Turkey’s political future in the world since Turkey’s foundation following World War I in 1923. According to a prevalent urban myth in Turkey, for example, the Treaty of Lausanne—the document internationally recognizing Turkey in 1923—will expire in 2023, rendering the Turkey’s borders obsolete. Proponents of this theory claim that the treaty includes secret clauses that have prevented Turkey from having full sovereignty over its resources and thereby extracting its supposedly abundant oil reserves. Using the term “phantomatic” to describe the absent presence of oil in Turkey, this paper traces the speculative life of oil conspiracies from ordinary households and the halls of high-profile energy conferences in Istanbul, to the abandoned oil wells scattered along the Kurdish-populated southeastern Anatolia. It argues that oil conspiracies become the medium through which the year 2023 is reconfigured as a temporal device of historical revisionism, simultaneously fueling spectacular, irredentist, and populist politics of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey. Drawing from ethnographic research among petroleum geologists, it further argues that the uncertainties in oil exploration and the indeterminacy that forces of the earth entail open existing territorial orders into question, fueling spectacular-populist politics and irredentist aspirations in Turkey today.

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