The best books to understand the relationship between Turkey and Kurds

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been interested in political and social events around me, and being from Turkey, it was inevitable not to be surrounded by the news of the conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK that has been going on for decades. However, perhaps due to being a member of the non-Muslim minority community of Turkey myself, I have always been interested in the ‘non-mainstream’ explanations of a state-ethnic group conflict. This interest in alternative explanations led me to study an MSc in Nationalism Studies and to a PhD in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, with the focus of my thesis being Kurdishness in Turkey. 

I wrote...

Customized Forms of Kurdishness in Turkey: State Rhetoric, Locality, and Language Use

By Ceren Sengül,

Book cover of Customized Forms of Kurdishness in Turkey: State Rhetoric, Locality, and Language Use

What is my book about?

The discussions on Kurds of Turkey mostly refer to them as if they are one homogeneous group. Yet, Kurds have been scattered all across Turkey; they speak different languages; they have also been subject to different policies of the Turkish state in different periods. By focusing on these three different elements, this book offers a detailed account on the diversity of experiences of Kurdishness.

Based on her fieldwork in five different field sites in Turkey, Dr. Şengül illustrates, through the narratives of her respondents, how Kurdishness is exhibited in personalised forms across different contexts in Turkey. By arguing that there is not one single way of exhibiting Kurdishness, this book defines Kurdishness as the daily (re-)negotiation of state rhetoric and everyday practices individuals experience.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Formation of Kurdishness in Turkey: Political Violence, Fear and Pain

Ceren Sengül Why did I love this book?

This book is a brilliant example of how to properly conduct an anthropological ethnography amongst Kurds and to use the ethnographic data whilst presenting your argument.

I read and reviewed this book when it was first published in 2014, one year after I had finished my own ethnographic fieldwork across different cities in Turkey and Northern Kurdistan for my PhD research that I eventually turned it into the book I advertise here.

I could not help but feel impressed and influenced by the meticulous attention to detail in the ethnographic work.

This detailed work, combined with the tragic personal narratives of the interviewees, makes this an intriguing book to get a glimpse into what being a Kurd means in current Turkey. 

By Ramazan Aras,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Formation of Kurdishness in Turkey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Formation of Kurdishness in Turkey examines political violence, the politics of fear and the Kurdish experience of pain through an analysis of life stories, personal narratives and testimonies of Kurdish subjects in contemporary Turkey. It traces the physical and psychological impacts of the war between the state security forces and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) guerrillas in the last three decades, in Kurdish populated areas in the south-eastern part of Turkey.

Focusing on the instrumentalization of violence, the ensuing and manufactured culture of fear, gendered experiences of state violence, pain, incarceration, and corporeal punishment, Ramazan Aras argues that these…

Book cover of Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is a Turk?

Ceren Sengül Why did I love this book?

I read this book while I was writing my PhD thesis, and it has had a tremendous impact in shaping the historical chapter of my thesis, i.e. how the Kemalist Turkey of the interwar period viewed its citizens and how ‘the ideal Turk’ was constructed.

I have also cited many of the historical archives that were presented in this book.

If there are scholars and people who have an interest in Turkey with no earlier background in Turkey, this book is a brilliant introduction to understand why Kemalism, the founding ideology of the Turkish Republic, has an obsession with Kurds but also with other non-Turkish citizens. 

By Soner Cagaptay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is commonly believed that during the interwar period, Kemalist secularism successfully eliminated religion from the public sphere in Turkey, leaving Turkish national identity devoid of religious content. However, through its examination of the impact of the Ottoman millet system on Turkish and Balkan nationalisms, this book presents a different view point. Cagaptay demonstrates that the legacy of the Ottomon millet system which divided the Ottoman population into religious compartments called millets, shaped Turkey's understanding of nationalism in the interwar period. Providing a compelling examination of why and how religion shapes national identity in Turkey and the Balkans the book…

Book cover of The Kurdish Nationalist Movements in Turkey, 1980 to 2011: Oppression, Resistance, War, Education in the Mother Tongue and Relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government

Ceren Sengül Why did I love this book?

This book is a very good source to understand the more recent history of the Turkish state and Kurds, up until 2011 when the book was published. 2011 is also the year when I first started my PhD, so this was actually one of the first books I read when I started my PhD, and I also reviewed this book.

The more monumental events in the recent history of Turkey such as the Ergenekon trials are explained here through their relations to the Kurdish nationalist movements.

Soner Çağaptay’s book that I have recommended above and this book can be read back to back to get an up-to-date understanding of why the relations between the Turkish state and Kurds are the way they are. 

Book cover of Angry Nation: Turkey since 1989

Ceren Sengül Why did I love this book?

Another chronological resume of events in the more recent history of Turkey (since the end of the Cold War), this book is essential reading for anyone who is interested in Turkey.

What made me first interested in this book was its title, Angry Nation, which I thought was very apt to describe the Turkish nation.

Even though this book is about the contemporary history of Turkey in general, its sections on the Kurdish war in the 1990s and war and peace in Kurdistan discuss the state’s actions towards Kurds.

After all, the history of contemporary Turkey would not be complete without talking about its Kurdish and other non-Turkish citizens. 

By Kerem Oktem,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Angry Nation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since its re-emergence as nation-state in 1923, Turkey has often looked like an odd appendix to the West situated in the borderlands of Europe and the Middle East, economically backward, inward looking, marred by political violence, yet a staunch NATO ally, it has been eyed with suspicion by both 'East' and 'West'. The momentous changes in the regional and world order after 1989 have catapulted the country back to the world stage. Ever since, Turkey has turned into a major power broker and has developed into one the largest economies in the world. In the process, however, the country has…

Book cover of Kurdish Ethno-Nationalism versus Nation-Building States: Collected Articles

Ceren Sengül Why did I love this book?

It is safe to say that this book was like a holy book to me when I was doing my MSc and during my early PhD years.

Martin van Bruinessen is a scholar that everyone who has an interest in Kurdish studies should be familiar with, and this book, which is a collection of his earlier articles, is a good introduction to get acquainted with Kurds and their history.

Even though the articles in this book date back to the 1980s and to the 1990s, it is a classic book for those who want to familiarise themselves with Kurds.

The articles here are not only about Kurds of Turkey but also those of Iran and Iraq. 

By Martin van Bruinessen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kurdish Ethno-Nationalism versus Nation-Building States as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of articles by Martin van Bruinessen on Kurds, Kurdish history and identity from the perspective of nationalism and nation-building in the Middle East.

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A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

Book cover of A Diary in the Age of Water

Nina Munteanu Author Of Darwin's Paradox

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

This climate fiction novel follows four generations of women and their battles against a global giant that controls and manipulates Earth’s water. Told mostly through a diary and drawing on scientific observation and personal reflection, Lynna’s story unfolds incrementally, like climate change itself. Her gritty memoir describes a near-future Toronto in the grips of severe water scarcity.

Single mother and limnologist Lynna witnesses disturbing events as she works for the powerful international utility CanadaCorp. Fearing for the welfare of her rebellious teenage daughter, Lynna sets in motion a series of events that tumble out of her control with calamitous consequence. The novel explores identity, relationship, and our concept of what is “normal”—as a nation and an individual—in a world that is rapidly and incomprehensibly changing.

A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

What is this book about?

Centuries from now, in a post-climate change dying boreal forest of what used to be northern Canada, Kyo, a young acolyte called to service in the Exodus, discovers a diary that may provide her with the answers to her yearning for Earth’s past—to the Age of Water, when the “Water Twins” destroyed humanity in hatred—events that have plagued her nightly in dreams. Looking for answers to this holocaust—and disturbed by her macabre longing for connection to the Water Twins—Kyo is led to the diary of a limnologist from the time just prior to the destruction. This gritty memoir describes a…

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