The idea for this issue arose out of a seminar we organised, together with Jean-François Pérouse, in 2005-2006 at the Institut Français d’Études Anatoliennes (IFEA) in Istanbul on the ‘Conditions of emergence of the Kurdish question within the Turkish academic field’1. We noticed that since the 1990s there had been a growing interest among Turkish scholari on the topic of Kurds and Kurdish questions. Until this very recent period, speaking about Kurds was a genuine taboo in Turkish universities; the experience of İsmail Beşikçi is representative of the imperviousness – and the harshness – of Turkish academia on this point. Then, it generally seemed that, in Turkey, academics only contributed to official ideology production by denying the existence of Kurds and Kurdish issues and that only non-academics dealt with it, surveyed it and spread information about it. Therefore the issue of knowledge appears to be very sensitive and tied to politics and ideologies. In this issue, we wanted to go back to the history of academic research on Kurds and to explore also contemporary studies. Why –and why now– has this issue attracted scholars’ interest? In what sorts of conditions can they work and speak? Within which paradigms do they work and conduct research, with which objectives and for which applications?
Our objective here is to propose a first ‘state of art’, with both epistemological and sociological perspectives. We will explore knowledge production about the Kurds – the conditions, stakes and actors involved in this knowledge production – and its transformation, if it occurs. Though we focus here on Turkey, our main field of research, we need to take into consideration the treatment of the question in Western countries as it influences, in diverse ways, the evolution of the Turkish field of research. We consider this present issue as a means of opening a debate and of offering a few first hypotheses and lines of research on this very wide question. Our issue includes articles dealing with production of knowledge about Kurds by different actors (the state, the Kurdish nationalists, the colonial powers) within different historical contexts. It also includes interviews with scholars who have worked on the question within different frameworks and contexts. We invited these scholars to consider the way they shaped their studies on Kurds, under which constraints and with which resources. They were also called upon to think about the possible transformations affecting in time and space what would be a field of Kurdish studies developing within and between different national frames. These interviews thus also contribute to give an evolving picture of the field both in European countries and in Turkey.
Several questions are to be examined here. The first and the main one is to define the object within our scope. How should we talk about Kurds? This question leads to a second one: how should we talk about studies dealing with Kurds and Kurdish regions? What does ‘Kurdish studies’ and ‘Kurdology’ mean? How were they, historically, constructed as such? Is it possible – and with which scientific and political consequences – to work on ‘Kurds’ without taking the issue of ethnicity into account? Indeed, the issue of ethnicity seems to be central since the object tends to be defined as an ethnic group; the works either stress or conceal the ethnicity and the conflict which can be considered, as least partly, to follow from it. What are the political and scientific stakes of such a categorisation? How do we avoid reification in such a polarised context? The question of the autonomy of a field of Kurdish studies is also central and related to the first questions. The autonomisation is twofold: autonomisation from both other fields of research – and here mainly Orientalist studies – and the wider social and political fields. Who are the main actors? Where and through which institutions is research produced?
In order to start answering these questions, we will examine, in the first part, the development of a field of ‘Kurdish studies’ around the building of a specific – though evolving – object, around specific issues and specific institutions. We will see that a large part of these institutions are non academic and diasporic, located outside Kurdistan and Turkey. But this de-territorialized field is connected to Turkey through the circulation of humans, prints, and ideas. The second part of this paper is devoted to the diachronic presentation of the field of ‘Kurdish Studies’ in Turkey. Can we speak, in such a context of ‘Kurdish Studies’? Has the field really emerged there? Have conditions of research and writing really changed?