Women in colourful dress, dancing
Women at a Kurdish wedding

Our research

CKS research developed with the merging of staff and students’ interests and by considering both the current state of Kurdish Studies worldwide and the socio-political changes in the areas studied. Kurdish Studies has been growing in the UK around the centre but also in other European countries, the United States of America and the Middle East (in particular Turkey and the Kurdistan region of Iraq).

The social, economic, and political situations of Kurdistan and other areas in which Kurds live have also changed drastically during the last decades. The Kurds are now almost totally autonomous in Northern Iraq, building state institutions and economy. The integration of Kurdistan into the world economy has brought an economic boom to the region, which has also brought along social change. This is also witnessed in Turkey, which entered liberalism in the 1980s and is now an important economic player in the region. Politically, until the 1980s, Kurds were dominated and contentious players; however, they are now becoming key players in the area.

These changes call for renewed research, taking into account the evolution of Kurdish society and the current political environment. Studies of Kurds and Kurdistan also constitute a laboratory for developing new theoretical insights. This is what the Centre proposes to do through partnerships with scholars and institutions around the world. Staff and student research focuses on the following:

Ethnicity, domination and resistance

Kurdish studies have paid high attention to the process of (national) identity construction, and the study of ethnic and national mobilisations. This is still a strong area of interest of many of our PhD students and members of staff. The Centre is interested in renewing the approach to ethnicity in the current context marked by political integration of the Kurds in some areas of Kurdistan, the continued repression in others, accompanied by new forms of contestation, by the politics of recognition, and the commodification of ethnicity everywhere   (whether in the form of cultural products, ethnic businesses, media, tourism or heritage). These two different processes call for an analysis of the transformation or reproduction of ethnic construction and mobilisation and for a renewed approach to practices of domination and resistance in Kurdistan. It also calls for attention to be paid to the non-Kurdish population in Kurdistan and their interaction with Kurds and/or state institutions.

Memory and Heritage

Memorialisation and the production of ‘heritage’ are closely linked to state-building in the states where Kurds live and thus play an important role in the development of new Kurdish identities. As subaltern groups, many Kurdish memories could be called ‘counter-memories’ of the nation-states, often at odds with ‘official discourses’. There is also a strong impulse to chronicle the memories of past traumas lest they be forgotten; and, within spaces where the Kurds have autonomy, there is vigorous debate on how far it is appropriate to memorialise trauma at public level and how far one should go to reconcile mutually opposing Kurdish memories. These issues are at the heart of the CKS research on memory and heritage.

The Yezidis

Current research interests include an initiative to build a Yezidi ethnographic museum in the Aparan region of Armenia, and planning a collaborative project involving various partners in Europe and in Turkey that will generate new and much needed data on the position of the Kurdish language in Turkey. The project also intends to establish a digital archive, based in Exeter but accessible worldwide, for Kurdish materials, especially linguistic and folkloric data, in cooperation with existing archives in Europe, and, we hope, in Kurdistan.

Oral literature

Oral literature and discourse is a major focus of our research. We have hosted workshops and conference panels on sacred oral literature and on the implications of this orality for minority religious identities; the latter have also been the focus of a number of research initiatives we are developing in partnership with other universities including Goettingen and Leiden. The library resources are strong in this field.

Conflict Studies

Many PhD students study the political mobilisations and transformations in Kurdistan from political science or international relations perspectives. The Centre has developed strong expertise in ethnic conflict and conflict resolution, also covering issues of nationalism, sectarianism and federalism.
The Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and its interactions with regional powers is a particular interest of Professor Gareth Stansfield whose research focuses upon Iraq’s ‘disputed internal boundary’, and particularly in the applying of federal models and the complications brought by resource competition. Professor Stansfield is currently working in collaboration with Professor Stefan Wolf (University of Birmingham) on a major ESRC grant project entitled 'Understanding and Managing Intra-State Territorial Contestation: Iraq's Disputed Territories in Comparative Perspective.