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The Kurds in Modern Turkey: Identity, Solidarity, Resistance, Citizenship

posted on 2017-04-19, 04:12 authored by William Gourlay
The status of the Kurds, Turkey’s largest ethnic minority, has been a question of enduring significance in the country’s political life. Debates over and issues arising from the Kurds’ attempts to assert their collective identity as a distinct ethnic group have resulted in considerable political and social upheaval since the Republic of Turkey ‘s establishment. This thesis interrogates how Kurds in Diyarbakır and Istanbul conceptualise, demonstrate and defend their distinct ethnic identity, and the extent to which they are willing and able to reconcile this with membership of the Turkish body politic. It analyses ethnic identity and citizenship as phenomena that are shaped and moulded by societal and political events. The study generates new understandings of identity and citizenship amongst the Kurdish populations of these cities. Specifically, the thesis examines the roles that language, religion, the tradition of Newroz (Kurdish New Year), Kurds’ relation to landscape, and their cross-border solidarity play as constituent parts of Kurdish identity. It further investigates Kurds’ participation in and reaction to Turkey’s socio-political arena, noting the development of a tradition of “everyday resistance” to perceived Turkish hegemony as an element of ethnic identity. Within these parameters, it enquires of Kurds’ conceptualisation of citizenship and their place as citizens in Turkey. This thesis argues that through the aforementioned practices, rituals and relationships, Kurds in Turkey continue to uphold, defend and celebrate their ethnic identity as a means of asserting distinctiveness and defining a political space in the face of what they interpret as Turkish hegemony and oppression – a stance that does not signify a rejection of the Turkish political system, but a desire for legitimacy and equality within it. Based on two periods of fieldwork during 2014 and 2015 in Diyarbakır and Istanbul, this study adopts an ethnographic research methodology, incorporating 33 semi-structured interviews, and observations of everyday life, political events and urban landscapes, in order to produce new understandings on the lived experiences of Kurds within the Republic of Turkey’s political system.


Principal supervisor

Pete Lentini

Additional supervisor 1

Benjamin MacQueen

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Social Sciences (Monash Australia)


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts

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