Denying the Kurdish Question: the personal narratives of lay Turks and Kurds

Emel Uzun Avci

For 30 years or more the Kurdish question has been the most urgent agenda for Turkey. The Kurdish question is one of the hot topics of the academic area, studied within various disciplines through different perspectives. However; such a big issue that has such impact on both personal and collective encounters in daily life is not addressed at the ordinary and everyday level.

Politics is not only practiced by politicians in parliament and the elite in state institutions; its effects are felt, and also influence, both the public and private spheres. In this study, I claim that Turkish nationalism is already a “superior story” produced by the state, army and individuals, but not a static entity, in that it only includes the same types of practices that aim to contribute to the big narrative. Personal stories about ethnic identity, based on the perceptions and daily encounters of individuals, are the other side of the process in the production of nationalism, and these stories require specific scholarly attention.

Denial of the Kurdish question is a state narrative and an administrative strategy in Turkey, produced by the founders of the Republic and disseminated through the state apparatus. However, we know very little about how denial operates within lay accounts of the Kurdish question. Such denial became clear in my fieldwork as a determinant narrative form. In the data collecting period, conducting research on the Kurdish question was seen as unnecessary and ill-intended by most of my Turkish respondents. The general political definition of the Kurdish question by these Turkish respondents – essentially a “denial of the Kurdish question” – implied that there is no need for research into this issue and denied the existence of a conflict between Kurds and Turks in Turkey. 

My research explored and evaluated the differences, similarities, ruptures and relationalities that emerge through the personal accounts of Kurdish and Turkish individuals about the Kurdish question and about each other. As an ethnically Turkish researcher these were all challenging issues. Even considering only the lack of stability I experienced throughout the fieldwork with regard to my both insider and outsider positions suggests tones and subtexts that saturate the daily encounters and personal narratives of lay Kurds and Turks.

Learning about the narrative forms that lay people produce in their accounts on the Kurdish question is necessary to understand the character of the question at an everyday micro-level. Outright denial appears to be a foundational strategy employed by lay Kurds and Turks in different forms, through numerous arguments, and from different motivations, as evidenced in their personal accounts. This study investigates the arguments, forms, and functions of this denial in the personal accounts of lay Turks and Kurds in Turkey.

Further information about the study can be found in ‘Denial of the Kurdish question in the personal narratives of lay people’, Ethnicities.

Emel Uzun Avci received her Doctorate in Sociology from the University of Edinburgh in 2016. Her thesis – ‘Personal narratives of nationalism in Turkey – can be read’ here.  Emel is currently working as research assistant and lecturer in Hacettepe University, Faculty of Communication. Her research interests are everyday nationalism, ethnicity and narrative.