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

Authors: Zeynep Oguz*, Northwestern University
Topics: Political Geography, Resources, Middle East
Keywords: oil, Turkey, speculation, conspiracy, geology
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 36
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 limited domestic oil production covers only 7 percent of its demand today. Yet, many people in Turkey think that there is so much more oil under the ground than what they are being told, and sinister powers are obstructing oil’s extraction. According to a prevalent urban myth in Turkey, the Treaty of Lausanne—the document internationally recognizing Turkey in 1923—will expire in 2023, rendering 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. In this paper, I examine the spectral politics of the absent presence of oil in Turkey, by tracing oil conspiracies through moments of expiration, expansion, and excess in the halls of high-profile energy conferences in Istanbul, petroleum geologists’ offices, and the political life of abandoned oil wells scattered along the Kurdish-populated southeastern Anatolia. Oil conspiracies and speculations 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. Further, the uncertainties in oil exploration and the indeterminacy that the forces, materiality, and temporalities of the earth entail, open existing territorial and temporal orders into question. In doing so, they are appropriated by spectacular, populist, and authoritarian politics and militarized irredentist aspirations.

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