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Project

Understanding and Managing Intra-State Territorial Contestation: Iraq's Disputed Territories in Comparative Perspective.

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Our impact

Following the US-led occupation of Iraq in 2003, research by Professor Gareth Stansfield into conflict management, political mobilisation, and the rebuilding of the Iraqi state has informed UK government and international policy.

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Our research

Centre for Kurdish Studies (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 about an economic shift in 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:

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.

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

Historically the Kurdish region has been an area of religious variety and the site of genocide and ethnic cleansing of minorities; communal memory reflects this. Of those who remain, the best-known cases are the Yezidi (Êzidi) people of Sinjar and their Christian and Shabak neighbours, who were victims of genocide at the hands of ISIS in 2014. CKS has developed a strong profile of research on such groups, working with the communities themselves, participating in wider dissemination of knowledge and engaging in heritage protection and preservation.

Oral literature and folklore are a major focus of our research, not only in connection with minority communities. Folklore has become politically symbolic in the Kurdish homelands and is often an arena of contestation of State power. It has also provided a complex and nuanced vocabulary of ideas and images which continue to inspire Kurdish writers and artists. As with other areas of culture, many elements of Kurdish folklore are endangered in the present unstable situation; yet public interest and ability to view and listen to folkloric practice via social media is unprecedented. We are in contact with some of the institutions doing the work of cultural preservation (e.g. The Kurdistan Heritage Institute, the Kurdistan studies Institute, Sanandaj, Iran); we hope to broaden and deepen these ties.

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.

PhD thesis

You can search for previous submitted PhD thesis from our centre by following this link the Open Research Exeter page within the library catalogue. There are over 80 doctoral texts and other academic submissions which show the key word 'Kurdish.'