Workshop hosted by the Rural Sociology Group, Wageningen University and Research, September 1, 2023
In Turkey occupations and demonstrations by landless workers and peasants demanding for land reform have taken place on a large scale since the middle of the 20th century. Peasant and landless workers’ politicization and mobilization led to a re-configuration of municipal politics as it transformed into a space where landed elites’ political and economic dominance was contested. The massive rural-to-urban migration which witnessed millions of rural dwellers relocating to urban centres, triggered another issue of contention: the occupation of urban-peripheral land for housing and the staking by former villagers of their right to the city. In more recent years, this contestation over land has overlapped with the rise of environmental activism. In the Aegean, Marmara, and Black Sea regions, protests have been staged against gold mining and its associated ecological degradation and pollution. While in east and southeast Anatolia, Kurdistan (Bakur) protests took place against the construction of dams that resulted in forced displacement and the destruction of heritage and nature. In Istanbul, the destruction of nature (Gezi Park) and plans for the Istanbul Canal Project stirred protests. And in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, the construction of villas along the banks of the Tigris and the Hevsel Gardens has provoked fierce opposition. These different protests are staged by various actors, from rural communities to transnational activists, with various ideological commitments, having different concerns. Yet, they are all met with repression by an increasingly authoritarian rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
These patterns of contention over and about land across Turkey are further complicated by the ongoing political and armed conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdish political movements in the country’s southeast. Although, the conflict is not simply reducible to a struggle over land, the war of recent decades has upended patterns of land ownership, access and use, the mass depopulation of millions of Kurdish rural dwellers since the 1990s, the targeted destruction of the Kurdish lived environment since the 1990s through forest burnings, the use of chemical weapons, and interference with water supplies, culminating in the construction of dams in the region. The PKK’s ideology of Democratic Confederalism foregrounds environmental struggle: Unusually for a national liberation movement it emphasizes ecological concerns and holds that they need to be immediately addressed during the campaign against the state rather than relegated to some future date. In the country’s recent elections, the pro-Kurdish HDP/Green-Left remained a rallying point for those aspiring to a pluriform democracy. Therefore, practices of insurgency, contentious politics, resistance, and environmental politics are fundamentally intertwined.
The workshop Contentious Politics: Land, Nature, and Infrastructure addresses a number of theoretical debates and questions related to land in Kurdish studies. It invites submissions (papers/presentations) related to three specific themes:
Continuity and change in Kurdish Contentious Politics related to Land; In the wake of the Armenian and Syriac genocides, the establishment of colonial boundaries, the institutional strengthening of the Turkish state and the weakening of feudal land domination, land and its uses in Kurdistan has undergone massive transformation in the last century. This section of the workshop looks at the particularities of contestation over land in the Kurdish case; its symbolic importance, its ownership, the wealth it produces and how these struggles overlap (or indeed do not overlap) with other regional and international cases.
Land as a point of intersection with issues of Class, Gender, and Ethnicity; Kurdistan is populated by multiple peoples and communities with contending claims of historical legitimacy and often in competition with one another. It has been horizontally and vertically fractured between the former beneficiaries of feudalism and state favoritism, and those who actually work the land. And of course, the gendered division of labour and exploitation of women prevails in the land related issues, particularly in relation to the millions of displaced families since the 1990s.
Practices of Contestation over Land: contestation has taken many different shapes in Kurdistan, ranging from feudal uprisings, national liberation insurgency, campaigns of radical municipalism, electoral contestation at local and national levels, religious and communal mobilization, and mass civil society mobilization. They have differed in ideological content, their relationship (co-operative, dependent or independent) with Turkish political actors, as well as their commitment or lack thereof to pan-Kurdish political objectives. They have also varied in relation in how they have tried to leverage international pressure by framing their protests as part of broader transnational climate activism.
Please contact Workshop organizers, Joost Jongerden (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Francis O’Connor (email@example.com) with expressions of interest.