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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 January 2011


This article analyzes the exercise of state authority in Kurdish areas in the early Turkish Republic and discusses the state's ineffectiveness in dominating these areas. It argues that the mere existence of a highly ambitious social-engineering project, increased state presence in the region, and military power does not mean high levels of state capacity. Based on primary documents, this article discusses the problems of autonomy, coherence, and implementation that the Turkish state encountered in its nation-building project. It shows how the state's ideological rigidities and its shortage of resources and dedicated personnel undermined its capacity to control and shape the Kurdish areas. While the state attempted to regulate citizens’ private lives in Kurdish areas, the local society also tried to mold state employees in accordance with its own interests. A blurred boundary between the state and society was one of the unintended consequences of increased state presence in everyday life.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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Author's note: I thank Reşat Kasaba, Joel Migdal, Mary Callahan, Ellis Goldberg, and especially Jason Scheideman for their help and guidance on this project. I am also grateful to the four anonymous IJMES reviewers and to editors Beth Baron and Sara Pursley for their valuable comments on the earlier draft of this article. Support for this research came from Princeton University's Near Eastern Studies Postdoctoral Program.

1 The school also recruited many girls who were orphaned during the Dersim rebellion.

2 Avar, Sıdıka, Dağ Çiçeklerim: Anılar, 4th ed. (Ankara: Öğretmen Dünyası Yayınları, 2004), 168–72Google Scholar.

3 Kirişci, Kemal and Winrow, Gareth M., The Kurdish Question and Turkey: An Example of a Trans-state Ethnic Conflict (London: Frank Cass, 1997), 100Google Scholar.

4 See, for example, Çağaptay, Soner, Islam, Secularism, and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is a Turk? (London: Routledge, 2006)Google Scholar; Yeğen, Mesut, “The Turkish State Discourse and the Exclusion of Kurdish Identity,” in Turkey: Identity, Democracy, Politics, ed. Kedourie, Sylvia (London: Frank Cass, 1996)Google Scholar; and Yıldız, Ahmet, Ne Mutlu Türküm Diyebilene (Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2001)Google Scholar.

5 On forced resettlement, see Kirişci, Kemal, “Disaggregating Turkish Citizenship and Immigration Practices,” Middle Eastern Studies 36 (2000): 122CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For detailed descriptions of linguistic policies, see Sadoğlu, Hüseyin, Türkiye'de Ulusculuk ve Dil Politikaları (Istanbul: Bilgi Üniversitesi Yayınları, 2003)Google Scholar; and Çolak, Yılmaz, “Language Policy and Official Ideology in Early Republican Turkey,” Middle Eastern Studies 40 (2004): 6791CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 See, for instance, Bozarslan, Hamit, “Les Revoltés Kurdes en Turquie Kémaliste (Quelques Aspects),” Guerres Mondiales 151 (1988): 121–36Google Scholar; Olson, Robert, The Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism and the Sheikh Said Rebellion, 1880–1925 (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1989)Google Scholar; and Watts, Nicole, “Relocating Dersim: Turkish State-Building and Kurdish Resistance, 1931–1938,” New Perspectives on Turkey 23 (2000): 530CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Bayrak, Mehmet, ed., Açık-Gizli/Resmi-Gayriresmi Kürdoloji Belgeleri (Ankara: Özge Yayınları, 1994)Google Scholar; idem, Kürdoloji Belgeleri II (Ankara: Özge Yayınları, 2004)Google Scholar; and Pervan, Muazzez and Akekmekçi, Tuba, eds., “Doğu Sorunu” Necmeddin Sahir Sılan Raporları (Istanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 2010)Google Scholar.

8 Kirişci and Winrow, The Kurdish Question and Turkey, 105.

9 Van Bruinessen, Martin, “The Kurds in Turkey,” MERIP Reports 121 (1984): 8Google Scholar.

10 Migdal, Joel S., Strong Societies and Weak States: State–Society Relations and State Capabilities in the Third World (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988), 9Google Scholar.

11 For more on the “state in society” approach, see Migdal, Joel S., State in Society: Studying How States and Societies Transform and Constitute One Another (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a collection of ethnographic case studies that explores how local interactions between state officials and citizens influence state formation, see Joseph, Gilbert M. and Nugent, Daniel, eds., Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico (Durham, N.C. and London: Duke University Press, 1994)Google Scholar.

12 If the state achieves integrated domination, it acts in a coherent fashion and imposes its rule over the society broadly. “In cases of integrated domination, the state, whether as an authoritative legal system or a coercive mechanism of the ruling class, is at the center of the process of creating and maintaining social control. Its various components are integrated and coordinated enough to play the central role at all levels in the existing hegemonic domination.” Migdal, Joel S., “The State in Society: An Approach to Struggles for Domination,” in State Power and Social Forces: Domination and Transformation in the Third World, ed. Migdal, Joel S., Kohli, Atul, and Shue, Vivienne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 27CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 The numbers were compiled from Kuruluşlarının Yıldönümü Halkevleri (1932–1951–1963) (Istanbul: Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi Istanbul İl Gençlik Kolu Yayını, 1963).

14 The idea of “areas of dissidence” is similar to what Scott, James C. refers to as “nonstate space,” “shatter zones,” or “zones of refuge” in his latest book, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009)Google ScholarPubMed. I borrowed this term from the academic literature on Morocco, which divides the country into bilād al-makhzan (government land) and bilād al-siba (land of dissidence). See Gellner, Ernest and Micaud, Charles, eds., Arabs and Berbers: From Tribe to Nation in North Africa (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1972)Google Scholar.

15 Van Bruinessen, Martin, Agha, Shaikh, and State: The Social and Political Structures of Kurdistan (London: Zed Books, 1992), 11Google Scholar.

16 Yeğen, Mesut, “Turkish Nationalism and the Kurdish Question,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 30 (2007): 123CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

17 Başbakanlık Cumhuriyet Arşivi (Prime Ministry's Republican Archives, Turkey) (hereafter BCA) 490.01-1003.874.1, p. 23.

18 BCA 490.01-1015.916.4, p. 2.

19 For population figures, see Dündar, Fuat, Türkiye Nüfus Sayımlarında Azınlıklar (Istanbul: Doz Yayınları, 1999), 101–16Google Scholar.

20 See Çolak, “Language Policy,” 67–91.

21 Quoted in Çağaptay, Islam, Secularism, and Nationalism, 61.

22 Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Zabıt Ceridesi, 06.14.1934 (Ankara: Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Matbaası, 1934), 140–41.

23 BCA 490.01-997.852.1, p. 228.

24 BCA 490.01-985.817.3, p. 7.

25 BCA 490.01-17.88.1, pp. 4–6.

26 BCA 490.01-1003.874.1, p. 22.

27 For more on the General Inspectorates and policies of resettlement, see Çağaptay, Islam, Secularism, and Nationalism.

28 See, for instance, McDowall, David, A Modern History of the Kurds (London: I. B. Tauris, 1997)Google Scholar; Natali, Denise, The Kurds and the State: Evolving National Identity in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2005)Google Scholar; and Hassanpour, Amir, Nationalism and Language in Kurdistan, 1918–1985 (San Francisco, Calif.: Mellen Research University Press, 1992)Google Scholar.

29 For the best examples of instrumentalist approaches to nation building, see Laitin, David, Language Repertoires and State Construction in Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tilly, Charles, “States and Nationalism in Europe 1492–1992,” Theory and Society 23 (1994): 131–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hechter, Michael, Containing Nationalism (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000)Google Scholar; and Hobsbawm, Eric, The Age of Empire 1875–1914 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987)Google Scholar.

30 BCA 490.01-1015.916.4, p. 3.

31 Unfortunately the document does not detail how such inspection was done. For more see BCA 490.01-1005.880.3, p. 40.

32 BCA 490.01-984.814.2, pp. 9 and 13.

33 For some examples see BCA 490.01-1001.866.2, pp. 123–25 and BCA 490.01-985.817.3.

34 According to the 1935 population census, only 1.5 percent of those whose mother tongue was Kurdish lived in areas with a population of more than 10,000 people. See Dündar, Türkiye Nüfus Sayımlarında Azınlıklar, 104.

35 BCA 490.01-571.2274.1, p. 85.

36 According to the population census of 1965, 1,415,895 people out of a total of 2,817,313 Kurdish speakers declared that they did not speak Turkish. See Dündar, Türkiye Nüfus Sayımlarında Azınlıklar, 113.

37 BCA 490.01-997.852.1, pp. 12 and 14. Also see Koca, Hüseyin, Yakın Tarihten Günümüze Hükümetlerin Doğu-Güneydoğu Anadolu Politikaları (Konya, Turkey: Mikro Yayınları, 1998), 361–62, 420Google Scholar.

38 This report can be found in Akçura, Belma, Devletin Kürt Filmi: 1925–2007 Kürt Raporları (Ankara: Ayraç Kitabevi Yayınları, 2008), 4249Google Scholar.

39 Scott, James C., Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998), 72Google Scholar.

40 This report can be found in Bayrak, ık-Gizli/Resmi-Gayriresmi Kürdoloji Belgeleri, 233–70.

41 BCA 490.01-985.817.3, p. 2.

42 BCA 490.01-571.2274.1, p. 84.

43 Ibid., p. 38.

44 BCA 490.01-985.817.3, p. 5 and 490.01-998.856.1, p. 48.

45 BCA 490.01-1005.880.3, p. 40 and 490.01-1001.866.2, p. 83.

46 BCA 490.01-998.856.1, p. 57.

47 For an example, see BCA 490.01-841.326.2.

48 BCA 490.01-1001.866.2, p. 124.

49 For further discussion of state missionaries in Turkey during the early republican period, see Aslan, Senem, “Citizen, Speak Turkish! A Nation in the Making,” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 13 (2007): 245–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

50 Zürcher, Erik J., Turkey: A Modern History (London: I. B. Tauris, 1993), 189Google Scholar.

51 BCA 490.01-998.856.1, p. 90.

52 Ibid., 92.

53 BCA 490.01-841.326.2, p. 93.

54 Bayrak, Açık-Gizli/Resmi-Gayriresmi Kürdoloji Belgeleri, 253.

55 BCA 490.01-571.2274.1, pp. 48–49.

56 BCA 490.01-571.2274.1, p. 11.

57 Ibid., pp. 11–12.

58 Ibid., pp. 5, 11.

59 BCA 490.01-1001.866.2, p. 8.

60 Bayrak, Açık-Gizli/Resmi-Gayriresmi Kürdoloji Belgeleri, 252, 266–67.

61 BCA 490.01-997.852.1, p. 16.

62 BCA 490.01-996.850.1.

63 Avar, Dağ Çiçeklerim, 39, 65, 266.

64 Ibid., 105.

65 BCA 490.01-997.852.1, p. 12.

66 BCA 490.01-1001.866.2, pp. 8–10.

67 BCA 490.01-998.856.1, p. 51.

68 BCA 490.01-1206.229.1, p. 106.

69 BCA 490.01-997.852.1, p. 12.

70 BCA 490.01-997.852.1, pp. 12 and 14. Also see Koca, Yakın Tarihten Günümüze, 361–62, 420.

71 Quoted in Bayrak, Açık-Gizli/Resmi-Gayriresmi Kürdoloji Belgeleri, 251.

72 Koca, Yakın Tarihten Günümüze, 459.

73 BCA 030.10-69.454.36, p. 1.

74 BCA 490.01-996.850.1, pp. 60–62.

75 Yeğen, “The Turkish State Discourse,” 223.

76 BCA 490.01-998.856.1, pp. 51 and 87.

77 BCA 490.01-1004.875.1, p. 8.

78 BCA 490.01-997.852.1, p. 14.

79 BCA 490.01-841.326.2, p. 93; BCA 490.01-1005.880.3, p. 29; and BCA 490.01-844.340.2, p. 69.

80 BCA 490.01-844.340.2, p. 60.

81 BCA 490.01-832.284.1, p. 55.

82 Hansen, Thomas B. and Stepputat, Finn, “Introduction: States of Imagination,” in States of Imagination: Ethnographic Explorations of the Postcolonial State, ed. Hansen, Thomas B. and Stepputat, Finn (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001), 16CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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