Looking Back on LSE’s 2023 Kurdish Studies Conference

By The Kurdish Center for Studies

Back on April 24th and 25th of 2023, the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Middle East Centre held what became the largest Kurdish studies conference ever assembled. The inaugural event was held with the support of LSE’s Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity (AFSEE) program based at the International Inequalities Institute, the University of Sheffield, and the book publisher I.B Tauris/Bloomsbury – who publishes a Kurdish Studies series of edited volumes.

In justifying the need for such a series, I.B Taurus outlined how: “The salience of Kurdish political, social, economic and cultural developments for the Middle East and for wider geopolitics is being increasingly reflected in the upsurge of research.” As such, for the past five years, the Middle East Centre’s Kurdish Studies Series has published eight monographs and held 18 public events. However, this latest conference was by far its largest yet.

The aforementioned Kurdish Studies Series was originally launched by the LSE Middle East Centre, at the initiative of Dr. Zeynep Kaya, lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sheffield, and Robert Lowe, deputy director for the LSE Middle East Centre, both of whom helped organize the conference. Lowe spoke of the value of the latest Kurdish Studies Conference prior to its debut, stating:

“We are now delighted to be able to celebrate the huge expansion of scholarship in the field by holding a Kurdish Studies Conference… we’ll have over a hundred speakers presenting fresh research on politics, society, and culture and also engaging with a large audience of academics, students, policymakers, activists, and the Kurdish community.”

Dr. Spyros A. Sofos, a Visiting Senior Fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre, also addressed the importance of the conference, remarking how:

“Kurdish Studies is a field that has been developing over quite a long period, but it has now come of age. It has become a very dynamic field, that has contributed on its own in debates on decolonizing knowledge. And at the same time, it has been combining emphases on the local, the national, and the transnational in ways that is extremely useful.”

Since the discipline of Kurdish studies is so broad, the conference requested research related to: history, political movements, social dynamics, gender, political representation, displacement, governance, nationalism, political economy, international relations, security, religion, the diaspora, or literature.

The results of that request showed in the conference’s program. With 27 different thematic panels of 90 minutes each, offering 109 presentations by speakers in the area of Kurdish studies, the interdisciplinary event covered a wide array of topics. In fact, an examination of the 27 panels offered allows one to peer into the areas of research that are currently being investigated in Kurdish Studies.

The titles of the panels were the following: (1) Affective Politics of Kurdish Everyday Life, Political Mobilization, and Conflict in the Middle East, (2) Gendered Migrations, Displacements and Masculinity in Kurdistan, (3) Social-psychological Approaches to Studying the Turkish-Kurdish Conflict: The Role of Multiple Identities in Conflict, Peace and Reconciliation, (4) Kurds in Iran: Protests, Islam and Intersectionality, (5) Kurdish Refugees in the Diaspora: Integration, Self-governance and Space, (6) Kurmanji and Zazaki Identity and Linguistics, (7) The KRI in Regional and Global Context, (8) Urban Development, Heritage and Politics in Turkey, (9) Democracy, Citizenship, Justice and Education in Rojava,

(10) Kurdish Women and Politics of Gender in the Diaspora, (11) Activism and Identification through Art, Ethnography and Music, (12) Canon and Decolonial Critique in Kurdish Studies, (13) Kurds in-between Multiple Political Spaces and Discourses, (14) Ideology, Governance and Reconciliation in Conflict, (15) The Question of Kurdistan, Colonialism and Historiography, (16) Constructions of Kurdishness at the Global Level, (17) Judiciary and Governance in the KRI, (18) Kurdish Women at the Centre of Political Life,

(19) Kurdish Socioeconomics and Marginalization in Iran, (20) Space and Institutions in Rojava, (21) Neoliberalism, Security and Social Movements in the KRI, (22) Transformations and Continuities in Kurdish Identity, (23) Ottoman Kurdistan, (24) Aspects of Yezidi and Soviet Kurdish Studies, (25) Trans Aesthetics and Activism, Marriage and Women’s Resistance, (26) Justice, Indigeneity and Displacement in Turkey, (27) Liberation, Activism, and Memorialisation.

Martin van Bruinessen

The keynote speaker of the conference was Dr. Martin van Bruinessen, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Studies of Modern Muslim Societies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. As an anthropologist he has spent decades conducting extensive fieldwork throughout Greater Kurdistan, which began during his first field research amongst the Kurds in the mid-1970s. His extensive and often-cited English works have been translated into Kurdish, Turkish, Persian, and Arabic and deal with many layers of Kurdish society: political, cultural, and historical.

Prof. van Bruinessen began his speech entitled ‘The History and Development of Kurdish Studies’, by asking the audience, “Who owns or defines what is Kurdish studies? Who is excluded or included from it?” He then gave his definition of the discipline before reviewing the timeline and development of the research area, while considering the evolving political landscape. This began with an overview of how the first attempts at institutionalizing Kurdish Studies in European academia emerged as a result of the First World War and the British and French mandates in Iraq and Syria when there was a demand for hands-on knowledge of the Kurds.

Prof. van Bruinessen then offered some of his own personal reflections of how he came to the area of Kurdish Studies, as a young man who was unsure of his future and travelling through Iraq. Additionally, he commented on how positive it was to see over 200 attendees at the Conference, stating that it was by far the largest ever Kurdish Studies conference held to date. He also expressed his delight at the number of Kurdish scholars in attendance and women, both welcome changes from past decades, when the field was heavily dominated by Western men.

Recently, Prof. van Bruinessen was asked for his reflections and assessment of the conference, and had the following observations:

“The first thing that struck and surprised me was the huge number of participants and papers. The organizers told me they were themselves also surprised by the number of submissions they received, as well as the quality. Most of the presenters were scholars at the beginning of their careers, PhD students and postdocs; there were relatively few established scholars.

It was exciting that the conference was so big, but also a bit disappointing: you could at best listen to 25 percent of the papers, because there were four parallel sessions. I missed several papers that I really wanted to hear because I wanted to be in another session at the same time. A smaller and more focused conference next time may be more rewarding.

But I think that for junior scholars the experience of being part of such a large crowd who dedicate their lives to Kurdish Studies must have been stimulating and encouraging. A confirmation that Kurdish Studies is now a respectable and respected field of academic research.

At the same time, it is probably true that most of these young people will not find a permanent job in academia, let alone in Kurdish studies. Being a young scholar is a precarious position, and many of them may end up in other lines of work. But those who are really committed will find ways to survive even without formal appointment to an academic position.”

Keynote speaker Prof. Martin van Bruinessen (left) with Dr. Thoreau Redcrow (right), Co-Director of The Kurdish Center for Studies.

Attendee Reflections

Participants of the two-day conference “hailed it as a resounding success”, calling it a valuable forum and an opportunity to learn from and engage with experts in the field of study.

Dr. Thoreau Redcrow, Co-Director of The Kurdish Center for Studies, spoke of what he gained from attending the conference, remarking:

“The conference was an incredible opportunity to get a glimpse of what trends are emerging within the field of Kurdish Studies. So much can be gained by seeing the different methodological approaches that researchers utilize in capturing their observed realities and the two days of speeches created an explosion of new creative possibilities.

There are a range of phrases that stuck with me from the conference, which I still recall: ‘prison architecture’ and ‘alien space’ with reference to Turkey’s destruction and gentrification of Sur, ‘arenas of Statelessness’ in Rojava, the ‘necropolitical violence’ that the Kurdish resistance movement is fighting against, ‘Dubaification’ as a pejorative verb to refer to gratuitous economic development in Bashur, ‘socio spatial artifacts’ and their place on the ‘horizons of history’ as perceived by children living through Rojava’s Revolution, and the ‘hegemonic whisper’ of those rebelling to fulfill their childhood dreams, etc.

This conference also brought together people from all around the world. One minute, I could be listening to a Mexican academic speak about the parallels between Kurdish guerrillas and the Zapatistas, and the next I could hear Polish academics address Kurdistan’s role on the frontline of addressing our approaching ecological catastrophe. The networking in-between panels and in the evenings was also instrumental. I think many seeds were planted in the soil of Kurdish Studies over those two days, which will bear fruit for the next decade to come.”

Dr. Shilan Fuad Hussain, a UK-based Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow, who presented on ‘Kurdish Women in the KRI’, saw parallels with the Kurdistan women’s movement, stating:

“As someone who has attended many such conferences in the past, it was inspiring to see so many Kurdish women scholars present at this one. A true reflection of the changing ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadi’ dynamics within broader society and Kurdish studies at large. And not only presenters, but a great deal of the research presented also dealt with gender dynamics in Kurdistan, which was a positive development. Beyond that issue, I also enjoyed meeting many new faces as it is clear that a new generation of younger Kurdish Studies academics are emerging, ready to shake up the field with fresh ideas.”

Katia Zagoritou, a PhD candidate from Greece, who presented on the ‘hybrid form’ of Rojava’s governing model, pointed out the value in post-presentation discussions, mentioning:

“Participating at the inaugural Kurdish Studies Conference held at the London School of Economics this April was undoubtedly a unique opportunity to discover fresh research on a plethora of subjects related to the field of Kurdish Studies, as well as to connect with brilliant scholars in the field. Discussions following the presentations were fruitful and, in many cases, opened up new avenues of thought and understanding. The participation of a great number of Kurdish academics has been particularly auspicious for the future of the field.”

Pedro Campos, a PhD political science student from Brazil, who presented on ‘political violence and decolonial construction’ of Rojava’s self-defense institutions, appreciated the international nature of the conference, recalling:

“I found the Kurdish conference organized by the LSE to be a great place to meet other researchers and their work. The organization is to be congratulated for being able to bring together so many works by both renowned researchers and those who are starting their contributions. Being from Latin America, it was very exciting to be able to exchange with researchers from different parts of the world, certainly an event that contributed to important works becoming better known, but which will also make future partnerships possible.”

Full List of the Research Presented

Because a written public record is important for such a historic conference and each individual deserves to be mentioned, the following is the full list of the presentations given at the 2023 LSE Kurdish Studies Conference. Note: All names and the order are listed to match the program, without academic titles such as “Dr”.

Keynote Lecture: The History and Development of Kurdish Studies — Martin van Bruinessen

Kurdish revolutionary affect and politics of friendship in the 1990s — Delal Aydin

Feeling debt: Affect and intimacy in Kurdish queer/trans worlds — Emrah Karakus

Deployment of the “Berxwedan” (resistance) narrative: Experiences of loss and recovery in Rojava — Thomas McGee

Gendered return mobilities to conflicted regions: The Kurdish case — Janroj Yilmaz Keles & Muslih Irwani

Gendered labour migrations in KRI — Eleonore Kofman, Muslih Irwani, & Jiyar Aghapouri

Prolonged displacement and gender in Diyarbakir — Necla Acik & Zeynep Ceren Eren

Masculinity and violence — Twana Hassan

Backlash against the women’s rights movement — Choman Hardi

The role of Turkish and Kurdish identities, allyship, and conflict narratives in supporting pro-Kurdish policies among Turks and Kurds — Özden Melis Uluğ

Village guards as “in between” in the Turkish-Kurdish conflict: Re-examining identity and position in intergroup conflict — Yasemin Gülsüm Acar

Reflecting on the role of Kurdish, Muslim, and Turkiyeli identities for reconciliation and peace — Gülseli Baysu

Dangerous knowledge and proxy-reasons: therapeutic attempts of a former PKK fighter — Nerina Weiss

The hashtag Mahsa_Amin or Zhina_Amini: A social media ethnography on the ontological relationship between Kurdish identity and Iranian identity during the 2022 Iranian protests — Jiyar Aghapouri

The Muslim Peshmerga and the IRGC: How the Iranian Islamist regime won and lost its Kurdish allies — Siarhei Bohdan

Komala: a popular left-wing organization — Marouf Cabi

A comparative study of the response of the Islamic Republic of Iran to religious political groups in Iranian Kurdistan — Mehdi Dehnavi & Zarifeh Ahmadi

Intersectionality and multitasking: The struggle of Kurdish women in Iranian Kurdistan (Rojhelat) — Rahim Hajiagha

Toward a multi-scalar understanding of integration: Kurdish refugees between state, diaspora and geopolitics — Fiona Adamson & Veysi Dag

Self-governing from below: Kurdish refugees on the margins of European societies — Veysi Dag

Criminalisation, self-defence and special warfare — Iida Käyhkö

Inscriptions of Kurdish politics into spaces of exile and radical internationalist politics in Greece — Beja Protner

Speaking Kurdish: A space of one’s own in language — Alex Pillen

Bi-/multilingual identity and linguistic behaviour of Kurdish heritage speakers — Alex Bellem & Mehmet Yonat

Linguistic characteristics of the Zazaki Mutki dialect — Pinar Yildiz

The role of external actors in the making and breaking of states: Germany and the consolidation of statehood of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq between 1991 and 2020 — Silvia Nicola

China’s soft power in Iraqi Kurdistan — Sardar Aziz

“Selling” the Kurdish plight in Iraq to the U.S. of the 1980s and 90s: The messaging of the Kurdish National Congress of North America — Lily Hindy

Uproot, detach and pacify: On the Turkish state’s infrastructural politics in northern Kurdistan — Kamuran Akin

Mastering the past, becoming a tourist: Heritage-making as a means of counterinsurgency in the post-conflict era — Ronay Bakan

Turkey’s military urbanism and neo-colonial architecture in Kurdish Cities — Diren Taş

Resurrecting the ruins: A Kurdish haunting of Suriçi’s landscape — Aalekh Dhaliwal

(Re)thinking class conflict for Kurdish politics from ‘Neoliberalizing Amed’ — Esra Karadas Ekinci

Is the future of democracy hybrid? Lessons from Mexico and Kurdistan about how to reconcile direct and representative democracy — Hanifi Baris

Reconfiguration of citizenship beyond state boundaries — Atefeh Ramsari

Rethinking justice in Rojava — Hasret Cetinkaya

Politics of education choice in North-East Syria — Benoîte Martin

Formative experiences of Kurdish women activists setting up small-scale activist projects in Kurdistan and the Diaspora — Wendelmoet Hamelink

Transnational decolonial encounters: The Kurdish women’s movement and western feminism in Europe — Eleanora Gea Piccardi

Negotiating alternative social spaces – Kurdish gender roles within families and activism in diaspora — Hayal Hanoglu & Karol Kaczorowski

Kurdish women’s ordinary life and trajectories of subjectivity, a case study in the triangle of Istanbul, Berlin and Paris — Dilan Salik

Art as an ethnographic event: The art of Ismail Khayat — Autumn Cockrell-Abdullah

Walking, Kurdish movies and crisis in collective identification — Hemen Heidari

Documenting the lost practices of Kurdish felt and felt-making in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains — Renas Babakir

What is the role of Kurdish music in the transnational space and the post-national discourse? — Mediha Inan

Reporting on Kurdistan. A critical examination of Western post-2014 fieldwork in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria — Dastan Jasim

Ethnicization and sectarianization in the Kurdistan region of Iraq — Michiel Leezenberg

The intellectual and prophecy in the colony and diasporas — Bilal Ata Aktas

Imagined or imaginary Kurdistan: What do we know about the political stance of Kurdish youth living in Kurdistan? — Baris Oktem

Ethical and methodological challenges of an emergent scholarship in Kurdish Studies — Mashuq Kurt

Displaced bodies: Syrians in Kurdistan and Kurds in Syria — Yunus Abakay

Three new datasets on the transformation of the Turkey-PKK conflict since 1984 — Amy Austin Holmes & Diween Hawezy

Sub-state diplomacy at work – The KRG and the Syrian conflict — Tamas Dudlak

The Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Turkish official discourse — Azad Deewanee

Governance without territorial control: The experiences of the PKK in 1970s Turkey — Francis O’Connor & Joost Jongerden

The discourse of death in PKK’s ideology: A journey to fathom political violence and fascination for death — Emdjed Kurdnidjad

Deliberation in the contexts of ethnic conflict: Kurdish peace process example — Musa Akgül & Çiğdem Görgün Akgül

The perceived image of the other: British in Kurdish literary discourse in post-World War I and Post-2003 — Karzan Kareem Ameen

Kurdish nationalist historiography: Narrative, identity and belonging — Mohammed Kareem

The question of Kurdistan: Integral colonisation after imperial domination — Naif Bezwan

The Kurdish quest for independence since the First World War: The struggle for identity, autonomy, and a sovereign state — Francis Owtram

Reproduction strategies among stateless migrants: the Syrian Kurds in Sweden — Nubin Ciziri

International football through a Kurdish perspective: The local versus the global — Tiago Duarte Dias

Black skins white languages: Artmaking by Kurdish migrant women artists — Özlem Belçim Galip

Social construction of homeland and diasporic national identity among the Kurdish diaspora in the West with a particular focus on the youth — Soheila Shahriari

The politics of judiciary in Iraq: An opportunity or a challenge for post-referendum Kurdistan — Majida Ismael

The impact of the judiciary on development and democratisation in the KRI — Banaz Taha

The interrelationship between state building and good governance: The case of KRI — Dara Salam

Management of religion and governance in Iraqi Kurdistan — Kamaran Palani

Transformation of gender regimes through entrepreneurship among Kurdish women in post-ISIS Kurdistan — Kaziwa Salih

Kurdish women in the KRI: Surveying gains and setbacks — Shilan Fuad Hussain

The Kurdish female fighter as an exoticized neo-Orientalist trope — Nazy Raouf

On the everyday life of women in illicit economies of Iranian Kurdistan — Peyman Zinati

An ethnography on Gazete Sujin: Women-centered journalism of Kurdish women — Zubeyde Karagoz

Landscapes of il/legality: Contraband mobility in the Kurdish mountains of the Iran Iraq border — Moslem Ghomashlouyan

Have cross border activities been beneficial for Kurdish movements? — Hemn Seyedi

Kurds and their rights: A key to Iran’s socioeconomic advancement — Tahirih Danesh

The marginalization process of the Kurmanji-speaking Kurds from the core of Kurdish politics in Iran — Mostafa Khalili

The Kurdish archives in Iran: Significance and challenges — Rafiqfuad Yarahmadi

Space, place, gender, struggle: Sociospatial pedagogy as data Collection in Collaboration with the University of Rojava — Charlotte Grace

Searching for theoretical-methodological approaches to the study of democratic confederalism in Rojava — Erika Aguilar

Autonomous administration of North and East Syria/Rojava: State-like entity in the making or hybrid form of governance beyond the one-nation state? — Katia Zagoritou

Political violence and decolonial construction process: An analysis of the relationship between self-defense and the building of new institutions in Rojava — Pedro Campos & Marcial Suarez

Neoliberalism in Iraqi Kurdistan: Nationalism, dissent, and new forms of political engagement — Müjge Küçükkeleş

Path dependence from proxy agent to de facto state: A history of ‘strategic exploitation’ of the Kurds as a context of the Iraqi Kurdistan security policy — Piotr Sosnowski

Why do social movements not arise? Civic dis/engagement and youth migration in Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI) — Hewa Khedir

What do the Kurds want now? Spotlighting the gap in public and private perceptions in the Southeast and Istanbul — Aslam Kakar

Prefiguring post national identities through learning and knowledge making process: Insights from the Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK), Turkey — Birgul Kutan

Songs and the performance of Kurdish Identity — Ana Cristina Henriquez Marques & Vienna Salam

Kurds of Central Anatolia as an alternative Kurdishness — Haci Cevik

Glocal securitization of the Kurdish identity and desecuritization of the Kurdish question in Turkey — Ibrahim Has

Road to rebellion: A prehistory of Sheikh Ubeidullah rebellion — Sabri Ates

The Sheikh Ubeydullah debate and the origins of Kurdish nationalism — Djene Rhys Bajalan

Shaikh Mahmud and the Kurdish revolt — Richard Wilding

Four-legged capitalism: Kurdistan’s economy in the nineteenth century — Zozan Pehlivan

Soviet Kurdish studies and policies towards the Kurds: The problem of agents and agency —  Angelika Pobedonostseva-Kaya

The new elite within Yezidi Siberian diaspora: Breaking of religious boundaries and new political consciousness — Henriette Raddatz

The next step on the way to orthodoxy: The International Yezidi Theological Academy in Georgia and its activities — Artur Rodziewicz

Towards Kurdish Trans aesthetics: Art, materiality, and Queer politics — Heja Aksünger

Kurdish Queer/Trans interventions: Rethinking Queer politics and activism in Turkey — Rukan Atçeken

Marriages and the politicization of Kurdish culture in Turkey in the context of the civil war — Derya Kiliç

Kurdish women’s democratic experiment in Rojava — Mustafa Kemal Topal

Transitional justice trajectories in Turkey’s Kurdish conflict — Nisan Alici

Tribal conflict resolution among Kurds of Turkey – The current state, the need, and the future — Jan Byczkowski

The radical democracy model of the Kurdish political movement in Turkey: Mesopotamian indigeneity with honeycomb analogy — Aynur Unal

Entangled atmospheres of affect: The ambivalence of displacement, resettlement and the Kurdish question in Hasankeyf, Turkey — Cansu Sonmez

The national liberation movement of the Kurds, the other of the international system — Sahar Bagheri

Imagining freedom beyond state-seeking: On Kurdish transformative mobilization — Rosa Burc

Multidirectional travel of the concept of “Genocide” in the Kurdish victimomémoriel grammar across time and space — Adnan Celik

The applicability of small state theories on Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan — Máté Szalai

Unstable climate in unstable land: Kurdish activists facing ecological catastrophe — Dobrosława Wiktor-Mach & Marcin Skupiński

Lastly, the following were panel chairs who did not present (so are not listed above), but deserve mention: Zeynep Kaya, Robert Lowe, Spyros Sofos, Veli Yadirgi, Isabel Käser, Arda Bilgen, Matthew Whiting, Ahmed Tabaqchali, Polly Withers, and William Park.

For those wishing to read more about any one of these presentations, see the full list of → abstracts

For the University affiliation of each presenter and the composition of each panel, see the full conference → program


  • The Kurdish Center for Studies

    The Kurdish Center for Studies (KCS) is the general term given for articles which are collaborations by the Co-Directors, contributors, or staff from the KCS—where listing each of the specific authors is unnecessary. The KCS Editorial Board reviews and approves such pieces before publication.

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