Kurds in Turkey: the everyday violence of their forced displacement. Roughly fifteen years ago, more than one million Kurds were forcibly displaced from their villages in Southeast Turkey, mostly by Turkish security troops, who were engaged in a violent struggle with the PKK, an armed organization that strives for Kurdish self-rule. Large numbers of displaced Kurds migrated to cities in West and South Turkey, where a life in poverty awaited them. Miriam Geerse examined what this internal forced migration meant to Kurdish families from different regions of Southeast Turkey, who migrated to Istanbul. She clarifies how different forms of violence were processed in stories, in interaction with other people and with external circumstances. She also analyzes the ways in which this ‘community of people who shared the same stories’ functioned. The forced migrants’ Istanbul lives were not all about displacement: they had similar desires and aspirations as most other people in Turkey. However, forces related to but other than war and forced displacement, instilled in many migrants a pressing need and desire to keep hammering home the price and pain of displacement. In Istanbul, the Kurds were confronted with a dominant narrative about the PKK as a barbarous organization which posed a major threat to the Turkish people. At best, the Kurdish migrants ‘did not exist’ (as Kurds or as forcibly displaced people), at worst they were regarded ‘terrorists’ who undermined all that most Turks believed in. The migrants’ own memories were implicitly and explicitly ‘censored’. The migrants narrated their experiences ‘against’ the dominant narrative: most of their stories about the circumstances of and reasons for migration fitted an emerging Kurdish counter-narrative about the position and struggle of Kurds in Turkish society. Not all Kurdish stories were regarded equally worthy of telling. Stories which were not congruent with the political message of the dominant Kurdish narrative, stories which seemed to unsettle idealized gender relations, and stories which perturbed family and community relations, often remained untold. I refer to this phenomenon as ‘the internal censorship of memories’. For their initial survival and when faced with difficult situations, the migrants relied on social capital, that is, it was the value of their social relationships which enabled them to rebuild a life in the city. These relationships were mostly with relatives, fellow villagers and other Kurds, who shared the same experiences and/or who told similar stories about the recent past. The migrants’ social capital proved to have different outcomes for different members of the same networks, it could not compensate the shortcomings of ‘the system’ – the health care system, for example – and it was shaped and reshaped in an adverse political context. The research underlines that social capital is neither inherently positive, nor a ‘cultural essence’ which can be studied more or less independently from the economic and political context in which it is mobilize. In tracing the ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ of forced displacement, and in laying bare their interconnections, this dissertation provides ‘ammunition’ to politicians, academics and NGO workers who argue for a balanced view on the recent history of Turkey, its longer-term impact on Turkish society and on Turkey’s Kurds. To improve the position of Kurds and lower the level of violence in Turkish society, it is imperative to make an effort to see the repression of Kurds from the perspective of Kurds who personally experienced this repression, and who try to live meaningful lives in a context marked by political and other forms of violence.
keywords  population displacement, forced migration, Kurds, Turkey, narratives, political violence, structural violence, social capital, gender

 

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