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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home  > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Beyond Tamil Nation: One World  > Manufacturing Consent > Conflict Resolution > International Relations >The Strength of an Idea > Nations & Nationalism  >   Fourth World - Nations without States  - Stateless Nations Finding the Kurds a Way: Kurdistan and the discourse of the nation-state


Finding the Kurds a Way: 
Kurdistan and the discourse of the nation-state

Courtesy: Kevin Kuswa
Advisor: Ronald Walter Greene, PhD
[see also
Kurds play precarious role in northern Iraq, 26 January 2003 ;
Towards Kurdistan - Some Pointers on the Road - Johan Galtung
Tamil Eelam, Kurds & Bhutan -  Nadesan Satyendra;
Kurdistan and Kurdistan Democratic Party ]

Abstract: This project assesses the Kurdish situation by employing a critical rhetorical perspective. Who constitutes the Kurds and how does Kurdish nationalism bubble to the surface? Although their sense of nationalism is strong, the Kurds do not possess sovereignty or independent territory. Combining the Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian, Turkish, and "other" Kurds (the diaspora) may provide an approximate ideal of the "Kurdish nation-state." But, it is at that point that the traditional discourse of the state fails to add any explanatory value to "nation." Tracing the location of Kurdishness in international relations and human rights rhetoric, it appears evident that statism has produced its own diasporic flaw. Consequently, the Kurdish dilemma offers a poignant example of the interplay between the rhetoric of the New World (Dis)order, national identity, cultural expression, and physical security...

...subjugated and dispossessed ethnicities such as the Kurds can be seen as exercisers of state-less power. Kurdish motives cannot be isolated within fixed boundaries or unchanging aspirations... [see also Tamils - a Trans State Nation]

"...Simply because the Kurds seem to resist assimilation, the CIA Report calls Kurdish nationalism 'an even more intractable problem than Palestinian nationalism,' and claims that 'Kurdistan is and doubtless will remain a non state nation'... U.S. policy-makers have excluded the Kurds by dismissing their legitimacy as an impossibility:  'Although autonomy may be a realizable aspiration, independence within a territory relinquished by three states is difficult to imagine. Kurdistan is best described, therefore, as a cultural geographic reality that happens coincidentally to be a political geographic impossibility. (Ethnic Conflict, 1995, p. 101)' When the US does recognize the Kurds, they are often portrayed as voiceless victims or as the ostensible justification for the presence of American troops. Is the Clinton administration admitting to Kurdish autonomy by punishing Iraq in order to 'save' the Kurds? Or, are US attacks on Iraq attempts to safeguard oil reserves, contain Saddam Hussein, and 'exercise' the military?...'"


"No one finds it easy to live uncomplainingly and fearlessly with the thesis that human reality is constantly being made and unmade, and that anything like a stable essence is constantly under threat." (Edward Said, 1995)

If the rhetoric flowing from (and through) the United Nations, transnational corporations, regional alliances, or Western governments seems to imply that we exist in a state of peaceful multipolarity, it is only because we cannot hear the voices that have been marginalized by those very institutions. A New World (Dis)order is evident everywhere in the language of contemporary conflict: displacement, insecurity, oppression, starvation, terrorism, warfare, and genocide. The creeping nature of these crises, manifest in the continual flight of populations around the globe, is proof of the state’s inability to secure order. The "state" half of the "nation-state" no longer dominates international relations. The state certainly has a role to play, but a less and less exclusive one as tensions arise within states instead of between them. Hal Kane (1985, p. 16) contends that war has become primarily a phenomenon afflicting groups inside states:

"The nature of war itself is changing. Warfare in Burundi, Cambodia, Georgia, Rwanda, Somalia, Tajikistan, and many other places is taking place within states rather than between them. According to the United Nations, of the eighty-two armed conflicts in the world between 1989 and 1992, only three were between countries. The rest were the result of internal tensions, often occurring against a background of poverty, inequality, and weak or rigid political systems."

A critical analysis of many recent armed conflicts, however, reveals more than the UN’s proclamation that tensions are internal rather than external. The nature of each dispute defies categorization, urging specific, detailed, and multifaceted methodology.

Beginning with the conundrum of the New World (Dis)Order, criticizing global trends or making generalizations about foreign policy is not the path to superior insight. Mapping the evolution of Cold War metaphors, for instance, may add a valuable rhetorical perspective, but even that approach assumes that continuity and cohesiveness operate in international relations. Robert Ivie (1987, p. 174) searches for a recurrent system of metaphorical concepts and concludes that the Cold War existed on a platform of "enemy-images." Ivie analyzes the "rhetorical inventions" that forced a choice between chauvinism and pacifism during the Cold War. He contends that the principle argument generating the conflict was a struggle for economic and political supremacy. To sustain such a bi-polar vision, each side had to depict the other as an "ultimate savage," "ruthless barbarian," or "dark foe." The result of these unsubstantiated metaphors, in George Kennan’s (1982, p. 197) words, was "an endless series of distortions and oversimplifications."

Seeking New Enemies

Writing during the later stages of the Soviet-American confrontation, Ivie remarks that a mechanism for rhetorical transcendence has yet to be found. His quest is for a mechanism of invention free of self-defeating metaphors (Ivie, 1987, p. 167):

"Although the time for rhetorical transcendence has arrived, the mechanism of invention has yet to be discovered largely because attention has been fixed on extending a set of self-defeating metaphorical concepts without sufficient awareness of their operational significance."

Awareness of the operational significance of metaphorical concepts, on the other hand, may be irrelevant if the concepts themselves are self-defeating. Transcendence implies not only awareness but also acceptance of a multitude of perspectives and a skepticism of images that are presented as "true." Even though a true answer does not exist, examining the rhetoric surrounding present international instability can pave new paths toward transgression. The central issue now is how the "grand enemy" has changed (to Saddam Hussein, terrorists, criminals, China, etc.) since the fall of the Soviet empire.

To extend Ivie’s analysis beyond the Cold War, it is incumbent to trace the evolution and transformation of one rhetorical enemy -- the Communist demon. In what ways has the West re-created and perpetuated the global fight for survival? Bormann, Cragan, and Shields (1996) offer an explanation through a defense of "Symbolic Convergence Theory." One aspect of the theory concerns the life-cycle of rhetorical visions. Beginning with "consciousness creating," and then experiencing "consciousness raising" and "consciousness sustaining," the vision finally declines. Essentially communication’s version of Gilpin’s hegemonic cycle; Bormann, Cragan, and Shields (1996, p. 25) attempt to adapt their pre-fabricated theory to the Cold War. Similar to Ivie’s notion of metaphor, the rhetorical vision theory categorizes international trends according to their relationship to the Soviet Union.

The major flaw of symbolic convergence is its myopic focus on the Cold War. Calling U.S.-Soviet rivalry a paradigm case for the rhetorical vision component of the theory; they argue that the Cold War’s demise occurred because of its weak vision. The enemy (communism) was too weak to sustain the Cold War over time. Despite the fact that Bormann and company are writing in 1996, years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of communism in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Rumania, and East Germany; they do not assess the contemporary environment. What are the alternative visions? How are replacement rhetorics to be conceived? Even though the rhetorical end of the Cold War has been "identified," does its decline signal the end of all rhetorical visions? The best answer the Symbolic Convergence Theory (Bormann, et al., 1996, p. 2) has to offer is a brief chronology:

"The life of the Cold War rhetorical vision spanned the years 1947 to 1990. The Cold War rhetorical vision imploded so suddenly that today it is difficult to reconstruct the meaning, emotion, and motive for action that it provided for two generations of Americans."

Maybe reconstruction is the wrong goal. Besides limiting its perspective to that of America, the Symbolic Convergence approach seems to provide a false sense of rhetorical continuity. Force, rupture, violence, warfare, and misery are all part of our present surroundings, yet most theories are more interested in categorizing periods of the Cold War. Rhetorical characteristics have not vanished simply because we cannot discern an overarching vision. The aftermath of the conflict demands analysis, even if the world itself, "never more than a regulative idea" or a "normative concept," has "crumbled" (Kamper and Wulf, 1989, p. 2).

The discourse that operates as part of, and alongside, these visions and metaphors is that of statism. The State, often masquerading as the nation-state, has personified the globe into actors: national bureaucracies with temperaments, institutions with legitimate interests, or governments with agency over populations and resources. Statist discourses are not new or unique, but they have dispersed themselves into the void left by the Cold War. Events that have occurred since the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe (Bosnia, the Gulf War, or Somalia), coupled with fears of weapons proliferation (conventional, chemical, biological, or nuclear) and terrorism (ethnic separatists, right-wing militia, Islamic fundamentalists, or narco-terrorists), demonstrate the contingency and fragility of any rhetorical vision. Merely a decade ago, the defeat of communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall brought proclamations of triumph -- liberal democracy had prevailed. Recently, however, the pendulum has swung away from the optimism of the late 1980’s and headed towards a paranoid fear of the Other--a clash of cultures between the Christian West and the "heathen" East (non-West).

The West’s concept of the nation-state is threatened, requiring an evaluation of "enemy" voices. The usefulness of metaphor and rhetorical vision did not cease with the collapse of communism. Voices and images that may have once taken the form of Vietcong, Cuban revolutionaries, KGB operatives, or "reds", are now heathen terrorists. Not only has the "end of history" (Fukuyama, 1989) arrived, but a "clash of civilizations is imminent" (Huntington, 1993). The world’s search for its own New Order has prompted a bifurcation between history’s demise and cultural warfare, an absurd dichotomy. Scholars have naively begun to ask, "Where is the New World Order: At the End of History or Clash of Civilizations?" (Tehranian, 1994). The question itself is the problem. The apocalyptic end and the final clash are both contingent on a static, occidental view of the nation-state. Benedict Anderson (1991, p. 42) contends that an "element of fatality" in human language is essential to the imagination and creation of national communities. Partha Chatterjee (1986, p. 1) claims that even Eastern conceptions of nationalism depend on "common norms" to measure the "state of development of a particular national culture." On the other hand, it is not enough to simply observe the common foundations of the nation-state. States continue to map, occupy, colonize, territorialize, and govern spaces at every level. Any useful critique, in addition to providing a genealogy of the state and its nodes of power, must illuminate the particulars--the details of the transition.

For some, the inherent contradictions and ambiguity of the current transition have shifted "the discourse from euphoric optimism to dark pessimism" (Tehranian, 1994, p. 2). Statism has simultaneously incorporated territorial control and identity displacement into its meanings. Despite its own sense of self-importance, in many instances the nation-state has lost the dominant hegemony it may have once held. Arguably, the "national imagination" (Anderson, 1991, p. 42) has never completely dominated the international arena -- even the World Wars and the Cold War left room for alternative nodes of power. Yet, these alternative nodes have only recently begun to challenge the identity of the nation-state (Gellner, 1994, p. 199). Multiple nuances are shattering the bi-polar constructs of economic and political conflict.

Constructing the Kurds as a Threat

The particular instances of civilizations clashing, the microphysics of the statist transformation, the itemization of threats to the state, and the continuation of multiple forms of warfare are all evident in an October 1995 Report on Ethnic Conflict sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Conference Report, published months after the renaming of the "Geographic Resources" division of the CIA to the "Conflict Issues" division, is more than supportive of the thesis that new threats have taken the place of the Soviets. The Report represents a prime example of the fear-induced rhetorics within statism. It delineates, region by region, the perceived connections between ethnic nationalism and turmoil. The overview of the Report (Ethnic Conflict, 1995, p. 1) warrants repeating at length:

"Since the end of the Cold War, ethnic conflicts have been of increasing importance--posing a threat to international order and demanding the attention of US policy-makers. The aim of this conference report is to highlight geographic concepts and factors that contribute to our understanding of these conflicts and to identify sources of potential ethnic strife."

Rather than progressing through the ethnic dangers in the same way the Report traverses the globe, it is sufficient to note that each geographic perspective has stability and democracy as its aims. Such stability, of course, pits ethnic nationalism against the security of the nation-state. The two authors of the "Middle East" section of the Report, Marvin Mikesell and Mildred Berman (Ethnic Conflict, 1995, p. 104), assume that ethnic rivalries are responsible for "inherent instability" in the region.

It is not surprising that the quintessential example of the bias inherent in the Report’s regional approach is the section on the "Problem of Kurdistan." Kurdistan recently became a "conflict issue" according to the CIA, rather than a "geographic resource" (Ethnic Conflict, 1995, p. 103). Warning that the "Middle East is and will continue to be an area of contention and danger," the Report contends that the Kurds represent part of that risk, because of their historical existence as a "shadow nation" or "nonstate nation." Mikesell writes for the CIA report, concluding that after World War I, the Kurds became a "shadow nation in northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and southeastern Turkey" (Ethnic Conflict, 1995, p. 101). The meanings of those labels pose problems, especially given the implicit link between autonomy and statehood. How can a shadow or nonstate experience autonomy? Should standards of autonomy be privileged over the survival of an ethnicity? Should any group be classified as a permanent shadow? These and other problematics reveal the non-sense behind the nonstate.

Simply because the Kurds seem to resist assimilation, the CIA Report calls Kurdish nationalism "an even more intractable problem than Palestinian nationalism," and claims that "Kurdistan is and doubtless will remain a nonstate nation" (Ethnic Conflict, 1995, p. 101). The Report does little to allude to another reality: the Kurdish attempt to survive. Despite Clinton’s attempt to provide comfort for the Kurds in Northern Iraq, the attempt was a thinly disguised election year ploy to distract voters and contain Saddam Hussein (Mousavizadeh, 1996; Rodan, 1996). Kurds throughout the region continue to experience the effects of their "inferior" status. Existence for the Kurdish people residing in the Middle East and central Asia, implies the razing of villages (Bohlen, 1995), brutal crackdowns on human rights (Hundley, 1994), and mass murders (Greenaway, 1995). In southeastern Turkey, where 2.5 million of the 5.5 million people living in the area are Kurds, government officials admit that "978 villages and 1,676 hamlets have been emptied" in an attempt to combat "terrorism" (Bohlen, 1995). At that point, who are the real terrorists and who are the victims? Some states have gone as far as "outlawing the Kurdish language and banning discussions of Kurdish autonomy" (Hitchens, 1995). U.S. policy-makers have excluded the Kurds by dismissing their legitimacy as an impossibility:

"Although autonomy may be a realizable aspiration, independence within a territory relinquished by three states is difficult to imagine. Kurdistan is best described, therefore, as a cultural geographic reality that happens coincidentally to be a political geographic impossibility. (Ethnic Conflict, 1995, p. 101)"

When the US does recognize the Kurds, they are often portrayed as voiceless victims or as the ostensible justification for the presence of American troops. Is the Clinton administration admitting to Kurdish autonomy by punishing Iraq in order to "save" the Kurds? Or, are US attacks on Iraq attempts to safeguard oil reserves, contain Saddam Hussein, and "exercise" the military?

The answer is evident given the continued suffering endured by the over 25 million Kurds in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran (Pope, 1995). The nation-state does not hold any promise or meaning for the Kurds; indeed, their only "state" is one of emergency. Especially in Turkey, where tens of millions of Kurds are prohibited from speaking their own language, referring to their own culture, singing their own songs, or publishing in their own language; the Kurds are literally a "nation-state of emergency." In light of a Human Rights Watch Report documenting the murder of over 18 thousand Kurds and the forced dislocation of 2 million more, the LA Timescalled Turkey’s democracy a "political fiction" ("Kurds in Turkey," 1995). In southeast Turkey, Kurds have been forcibly evacuated, burned, silenced, tortured, and jailed (Bohlen, 1995).

It may not be surprising that the Kurds are one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without "their own independent state" (Gunter, 1990, p. 1). But why have the Kurds been unable to consolidate themselves into a nation-state or an independent government? What do the responses of the neighboring countries and international community reveal about the adequacies of an exclusively statist discourse? The state’s power, at least for the Kurds, has diffused itself, leaving solely the many components of the nation (a diffuse concept itself). The "Kurdish Nation" may even exist in opposition to the states surrounding and enveloping it (Mousavizadeh, 1996). Consequently, the Kurdish dilemma offers a poignant example of the interplay between the rhetorics of the New World (Dis)order, national identity, cultural expression, and physical security.

Speaking "Kurdishness"

How can the Kurd discussion begin, especially without relying on the same ethnic classifications used to distinguish between "actual" citizens of Turkey (or Iraq) and the Kurds? What grouping is being employed in the words "Kurd" and "Kurdish?" In absence of a "rigid social definition of how people ought to identify in ethnic terms" (Alba, 1990, p. 296), the evaluation of any sharing of ethnicity "is made possible by the lability of ethnic identity." Lability, or mutability, connotes more of a sense of collective unsettlement than a sense of free choice. The "belonging" to an ethnicity and the emulating of an ever-changing set of cultural characteristics (which may not entail a conscious decision), allows the Kurds to shape and be shaped. The result is a complex set of social roles and values that define Kurdishness. Ethnicity is by no means a voluntary choice, but it entails a degree of self-recognition. Maurice Charland concurs and goes further, noting that people identify with "rhetorical narratives that ‘always already’ presume the constitution of subjects" (1987, p. 134).

How is Kurdishness constituted? Where and how does Kurdish nationalism bubble to the surface? The common answers to those questions almost always fall prey to the trap of essentialism. Asking what is Kurdish dives deeply into subjectivity. The autonomous Kurd, living in a place occupied by a particular nation-state, must also confront competing ideas of community. As Paul Gilroy notes, "the invocation of nationality and ethnicity corresponds to real political choices and to the wider field of political struggle" (1992, p. 187). If Kurdishness implies nothing else, it is a unique and illegal identity. The word itself originated in the seventh century AD when the Arabs applied the name "Kurds" to the residents of the mountains who had converted to Islam (Gunter, 1990). A common representation focuses on racial similarities (Minorsky, 1927), contending that "whatever their exact origin," the Kurds "constitute a mixture of various groupings, the result of earlier invasions and migrations." Other sources define the Kurds by their language (Teimourian, 1994), contending that the 25-28 million people "born into the Kurdish language" constitute the Kurdish ethnicity. Little did the Arabs know that the association of the Kurds with "mountain people" would give modern states a rhetorical tool of exclusion. Turkey, for example, as part of a coercive policy of assimilation, refuses to admit to the independent existence of the Kurds and refers to them as mountain Turks.

Despite Turkey’s wishes to the contrary, the Kurds do exist and their population is sizable. The Kurdish diaspora is truly a scattering of people (Teimourian, 1994), stretching across the globe and including more people than many of the nations represented in the United Nations. But what does the diaspora mean to the Kurds themselves?. How do Kurds group themselves? A recent study conducted by Dogu Ergil found that a distinct Kurdish identity exists among many of the people living in what is called the Middle East (Mater, 1995). Ergil interviewed more than 1,200 people in southern Turkey and discovered that a large percentage of the individuals not considered Turkish called themselves Kurds. However those categories are chosen, though, the Kurds defy typical definitions of a nation-state. Their sense of nationalism is strong but they do not possess sovereignty or independent territory. To speak of "true" Kurdistan requires hypothetically uniting the diaspora. Combining the Iraqi Kurds, the Syrian Kurds, the Iranian Kurds, the Turkish Kurds, and the Kurds populating countless other regions may provide an approximate ideal of the "Kurdish nation-state." Yet, it is at precisely that point that the traditional discourse of the state breaks down -- it adds no explanatory value to nation.

Of course, the ability to strive for statehood is an option for many Kurds, but the question is whether the option holds any promise for the future. Some Kurds may believe in a future state as their only hope, others may prefer to assimilate as peacefully as possible into the countries where they reside, others may opt for an existence of exile and adopt violent tactics, and still others may follow a combination of approaches. Indeed, Kurdishness itself is an intangible trait that cannot be readily unraveled, making choices for Kurds contingent on a multitude of factors.

Some Kurds have taken up their own cause through cultural studies and writing (Kreyenbroek and Allison, 1996). These perspectives demonstrate the insufficiency of any myopic world-view, even if that world-view happens to locate itself within Kurdishness. Kendal Nezanspeaks from such a position as Director of the Paris-based Institute of Kurdology (1996, p. 10). Declaring himself Kurdish, he has "devoted most of his life to Kurdish affairs" and is "a leading figure in the world of Kurdology." In a piece on the current position of the Kurds, he equates what it means to be Kurdish with a "collective identification," a sense of belonging. Nezan also contends that the "Kurds have long had a feeling of Kurdishness, of a distinctive Kurdish identity" (1996, p. 10). He goes on to suggest that "our ancestors, the Medes, already had a proto-Kurdish identity" in 700 BC. This historical identity is problematic because of its emphasis on a specific origin (what about cultures who cannot trace their identity to ancient civilizations?), but it does provide context for the way Kurds identify with Kurdishness. Defining identity in relation to historical claims to land, Nezan notes that "in the year 1150 AD, the Seljuk Sultan Sanjar was already so aware of the distinctive personality of the Kurdish people that he created a province of Kurdistan, or ‘land of the Kurds’" (1996, p. 10).

Two other academics who arguably speak from a Kurdish position grapple with similar concepts. Philip Kreyenbroek, founder of the Society for Iranian Oral Studies and Professor of Kurdish at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands; in conjunction with Christine Allison, holder of a doctorate in Kurdish Oral Literature and former resident of the safe haven in northern Iraq (1996); argue that the cultural component of Kurdish identity needs to be explored. Kreyenbroek and Allison approach the subject with urgency, stressing that "a large proportion of the Kurdish people have to fight, in one way or another, to survive as Kurds" (1996, p. 1). It is this struggle that must be waged from within and without the Kurdish identity. When authors speaking from within the Kurdish perspective make statements such as, "As this century is coming to an end, Kurdish culture is in a bad shape indeed," the contest must be widened to more criticism (Nezan, 1996, p. 10). Even more problematic, the Kurd who proclaimed that his culture is in bad shape also hinted that the Kurdish "illness" is not "fatal" because it can be "cured by medical science." The Kurds should not need to depend on medical science for a cure any more than they should need to depend on political science for territory.

One factor is certain: the rhetoric of (and surrounding) the Kurds will have to grapple with re-organizations in the discourse of statism. The state’s overwhelming desire to save its constituents can work in conjunction with Kurdish aspirations or it can prevent them. The relationships of power constituting Kurdishness are not without the possibility of escape, for "every power relationship implies, at least in potentia, a strategy of struggle, in which the two forces are not superimposed" (Foucault, 1983, p. 225). As Maksoud (1994) argues, the dangers of an "inevitable redrawing of the Middle Eastern map" should "not deter the Kurds from ensuring their autonomy as a community and their nationality as citizens."

The problem with this view is not that it silences the Kurds; on the contrary, Maksoud is writing in defense of the Kurdish voice. The problem is that he totalizes the Kurdish ethnicity, hinting that the Kurds must ensure their autonomy and nationality as a collective group. He forecloses the possibility of the Kurds working at cross purposes. He groups Kurds into a single entity that will be uniformly effected by a re-mapping of the Middle East. Freedom to re-map allows new forms of domination. As Foucault contends, "power is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free" (1983, p. 221). Many Kurds have been fighting for a free and independent state in Turkey even though the leader of the Kurdish resistance, Ocalan, has renounced his goal of Kurdish statehood.

What can a culture strive for if it has been ripped of its territory and forced to abide by the foreign laws of five hostile states? The only option, betrayed by the language of their aspirations, is to strive for their own country. Ironically, the unending drive for statehood also acts to reify and privilege the very system that has mercilessly marginalized anything remotely Kurdish. The new condition is not one that has left the authoritarian impulses of the state, it is one that has incorporated into itself a "nationalism" that is distinct from the nation-state. If certain groups of Kurds are separatists, guerrillas, or simply violent activists, it is to oppose the injustices confronting them on all sides. Noam Chomsky believes that the Kurds have been backed into a corner and given no other option. Stripped of all institutional outlets -- outlets that provide release and escape for other ethnicities -- the Kurds must fight for recognition, identity, and survival. Chomsky elaborates (1993, p. 59):

"The West is using the Iraqi Kurds, since that will extend Turkey’s power in the region, and the Iraqi Kurds are cooperating. In October 1992, there was a very ugly incident in which there was a kind of pincers movement between the Turkish army and the Iraqi Kurdish forces... These are people who are being crushed and destroyed from every direction. If they grasp at some straw for survival, it’s not surprising--even if grasping at that straw means helping to kill people like their cousins across the border. That’s the way conquerors work. They’ve always worked that way."

An essentialized view of the Kurds may ease a discussion of Kurdishness, but it can also perpetuate an entrapping totalization. Whether Kurds view themselves as supporters of Ocalan and the PKK (the Kurdistan Worker’s Party); Talabani and the PUK (the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan); Barzani and the KDP (the Democratic Party of Kurdistan); the Iranian, Syrian, Iraqi, Turkish, or Azerbaijani governments; the international community, the Arab or Islamic religions, tribal allegiances, or a combination of the above; mapping the Kurds still includes an organization of physical space.

The trap of essentialism, alluded to by Al-Azmeh (1993, pps. 18-20), is the problematic common to most Kurdish perspectives: Western foreign policy essentializes the Kurds as a threat, liberal concerns for human rights essentialize the Kurds as victims, and the Kurds themselves project their hopes in a way that essentializes the culture as unified and homogenous. Al-Azmeh also defines these essences as social entities "which, without mediation become political forces: such are Shi’ite insurrections, Sunni regimes, Kurdish rebellions, without further qualification" (1993, p. 19). Essentialism, though, entails more than grouping cultures into a single, indistinguishable mass. It also involves admitting to the inevitability of history. Essences travel through history intact because it is easier to reduce politics to an "infra-historical" level (Al-Azmeh, 1993, p. 19). Al-Azmeh’s analysis makes an important statement about history. When politics are reduced to transcendental essences, the forces that are responsible for history become "superordinate," or beyond its flow. The various essences of the Kurds (as victims, as threats, as objects) "are presented as pure facticities, bereft of conditions, as identities intrinsically and definitively constituted prior to and beyond acts of constitution" (Al-Azmeh, 1993, p. 20).

Despite the ubiquity of essentializing rhetoric about the Kurds, an analysis of the interaction between Kurdishness and statism remains necessary. Such analysis can help to expose essences built on what Azmeh calls the "supreme confidence of ignorance" (1993, p. 19). Although the Kurdish dilemma, on a theoretical plane, can help to shatter the myth of the omnipotent and benevolent state, the state’s perceived monopolization of power also holds a particular lure. The Kurds’ relationship to UN actions in Iraq (the US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein’s leadership) typifies the paradox of power. The United States, united with the states of the United Nations, has not been able to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In fact, comprehensive sanctions on Iraq have done more to impoverish the Kurds (making a mockery of the rhetorical justifications behind Operation Provide (Dis)Comfort), than they have to destabilize Hussein’s regime. The faintest hopes of statehood, no matter how illusory, have withered away (Lowry, 1994; Mousavizadeh, 1996). The consequences for the Kurds have not been atypical: surrounding states have moved inward, crushing "Free Kurdistan." Freedom for Kurdistan simply implies the privilege to be oppressed by multiple powers. To work toward a notion of the nation outside of the state, the discussion requires a re-articulation of postcolonialism to allow space for marginalized ethnicities such as the Kurds.

Re-mapping Kurdistan - Drawing From Rhetorical Criticism

The critical space providing rhetorical justification for the nation-state must be opened up to new perspectives. Statism and all of its manifestations should be seen as contributors to the global condition, not as solutions. Ronald Walter Greene contends that a "rhetorical perspective on argumentation" links the circulation of public argument to the "self-fashioning of audiences, communities, publics and identities," as well as offering a number of "trajectories for future research" (1995, p. 191). Among those trajectories is the way "argumentation contributes to a national imaginary" (Greene, 1995, p. 191; Greene, 1993). Likewise, spaces must exist to argue for (and imagine) a nation outside the state, particularly for the Kurds. A critical and transformative theory of rhetoric such as illuminated by Raymie McKerrow (1989), and practiced by Rebecca Bjork (1995, p. 232), "represents a first step toward constructive change." Bjork undertakes "an ideological evaluation of argument strategies" to open up "critical space"--space that is required to accommodate new voices and avoid racist and sexist discourse (1995, p. 213). On a more specific level, the essentializing that haunts the Kurds can be effectively challenged, in part, by critiquing the hegemonic rhetorics of statism.

In reference to hegemony, a necessary addition to critical rhetoric is the work occurring under the rubric of post colonialism. Scholars have used "postcolonialism" (Jan Mohamed, 1985, p. 61) and "postmodern nationalism" (Peller, 1992) to help describe the present condition, arguing that these theories are essential to any study of international relations. Their basic goals are to consider cultural identities without reference to "some distant or fantasized past," and to identify culture without essentializing--to recognize both "the historical construction of identity and the possibility that identity can be transformed in the future" (Peller, 1992, p. 1100). In addition they believe that colonialism, in its multiple forms, continues to influence the "ideological alibi of the territorial state" and should be exposed (Appadurai, 1993, p. 411). Admittedly, these perspectives offer more insight than simply labeling the present condition "postmodern," but they still constrain themselves temporally. When did colonialism end and what makes the status quo uniquely "postcolonial"?

A critical stance is certainly necessary, but one that reveals the differences and similarities in the power relationships involved in colonialism (Said, 1989). Mishra and Hodge (1994) go a step further by distinguishing between post, post-, and post[ ] colonialism. Favoring the option without the hyphen (postcolonialism), they contend that it is necessary to "problematize the key relationship between centre and periphery" and to "trace the creative process of cultural syncretism and its collapse of distinctions" (Mishra and Hodge, 1994, p. 289). Although the differances between the various spellings of postcolonial are somewhat artificial, Mishra and Hodge make the compelling argument that there is not "a homogenous category across all postcolonial societies or even within a single one." Raka Shome (1996) argues for a bridge between rhetoric and cultural studies, embracing the similarity between the "postcolonial rhetorical perspective" and the type of criticism practiced by McKerrow (1991, 1989). Shome believes that when "we engage in rhetorical understandings of texts" it is important to place the texts that we critique against the "backdrop of neocolonialism and racism" (1996, p. 52).

Even more specific to the plight of the Kurds, Shome contends that the postcolonial notion of "diasporic cultural identity" requires a rhetorical theory that can address the "experiences of disjunctured identities" in "hybrid borderlands" and "cultural spaces" (1996, p. 52). Postcolonial rhetorical intervention focuses on manifestations of European domination, problematizing racist and sexist relations between people and states (McClintock, 1992; Tiffin, 1988; Appadurai, 1990; Said, 1995). Shome observes that the advances of postcolonialism should be recognized by the field of rhetorical studies:

"Postcolonialism, which is a critical perspective that primarily seeks to expose the Eurocentrism and imperialism of Western discourses (both academic and public), has significantly influenced a wide range of fields...However, the field of rhetorical studies has not adequately recognized the critical importance of a postcolonial perspective. (1996, p. 41)"

Also cited by Shome, Maurice Charland (1987) makes a series of observations that fit well in the context of a newly emerging postcolonial rhetorical perspective. Borrowing from Michael McGee (1975, 1980, 1990) and Louis Althusser (1971), Charland expands on the theories of critical rhetoric.

Arguing for a notion of "constitutive rhetoric," Charland makes four important theoretical moves (1987, p. 133). In a piece on the people of Quebec, Charland examines the relationship between identity and rhetoric. His first move is to accept Kenneth Burke’s notion of identification (Burke, 1954, 1961); the idea that social identity occurs "prior to persuasion." He then posits that these identifications are rhetorical -- they are "discursive effects that induce human cooperation" (Charland, 1987, p. 133). Third, Charland connects those discursive effects to the constitution of political subjects--people identifying themselves with rhetorical narratives through a process of "interpellation." And, fourth, he decenters the constitution of identities by supporting McGee’s (1975) argument that the "very boundary of the term ‘people’ is rhetorically constructed...and can change" (Charland, 1987, p. 140).

The result of Charland’s moves toward a "constitutive rhetoric" is a reframing of the subject. Persuasion as rhetoric’s key term is problematic, "for it implies the existence of an agent who is free to be persuaded" (Burke, 1969, p. 50). This traditional view of persuasion diminishes the role of rhetoric by beginning with a subject--an autonomous individual or agent--that exists before the act of persuading (or being persuaded) takes place. Similar to the problem Habermas (1987, 1989; Foucault, 1976; Kelly, 1994) confronts when he attempts to theorize a world of communicative rationality, the persuasion model "refuses to consider the possibility that the very existence of social subjects (who would become audience members) is already a rhetorical effect" (Charland, 1987, p. 133). Persuasion is an important component of rhetoric, but it is not the key term and it does not occur in a free and objective context.

Indeed, much of what is known as rhetorical theory is guilty of limiting rhetoric to a mediating role. Speaking of rhetoric exclusively in terms of its imprint on pre-formed (or already constituted) subjects is flawed. It constrains rhetoricians (defining them as observers of reality), infuses the discipline with passivity, and fails to account for the "audiences" that rhetoric addresses (Grossberg, 1979). Lawrence Grossberg (1984) expands the scope of the critique by targeting rhetorical criticism. He argues that rhetorical criticism circumscribes its critiques within the realm of subjectivity. If the subject must have an independent reality for rhetoric to occur, than any critique employing language (which arguably includes all critiquing) must presuppose subjectivity. The presupposition of subjectivity motivates Grossbergto encourage a move beyond "the existence of transcendental subjects whom discourse would mediate" (1984, p. 18). In the same spirit, the aim of re-mapping Kurdishness is to align with a critical rhetoric that can reframe discursive hegemony without reinscribing a transcendental subject.

Discursive hegemony, in this sense, combines Foucault’s (1980, 1983) notion of the continuity of all "manifest discourse" with Gramsci’s notion of "ideological hegemony" (Boggs, 1984, p. 171). Because of their creation, perpetuation, and reinforcement of social control, dominant discourses take on omnipresent and fluid characteristics. As part of those discourses, cultural norms surface through rhetoric; the expressions of social groups establish boundaries, norms, and identities. Foucault observes the fluidity of power, especially through discursive strategies, but he "takes a curiously passive and sterile view...of how and why power is gained, used, and held onto" (Said, 1978, p. 710). 

To make Foucault’s theory less passive (a move called for by the hegemony of the nation-state), Gramsci provides a valuable perspective of historical change. Gramsci devotes most of his "historical analysis to transitional or residual ideological forces" (Boggs, 1984). Admitting that history is a complex interaction between uneven economies, societies, and ideologies, Gramsci addresses profit, ambition, and the love of power in a way that adds to Foucault’s critique of bi-polar relationships. The thoughts of these two intellectuals can be joined in a way similar to the unity between critical rhetoric and post colonialism. The combination of Foucault’s critique of subjugated knowledges and Gramsci’s analysis of cultural influences provides penetrating insight into the rhetoric of nationalism. Edward Said articulates this modified sense of power:

"What one misses in Foucault therefore is something resembling Gramsci’s analyses of hegemony, historical blocks, ensembles of relationships done from the perspective of an engaged political worker for whom the fascinated description of exercised power is never a substitute for trying to change power relationships within society. (1978, p. 711)"

In the previous paragraph, Said explains that even if power is a subtle form of bureaucratic control, it is still valuable to ascertain the changes stemming from who holds power and who dominates whom. In an additional attempt to "avoid the crude notion that power is unmediated domination" (might makes right), Said contends that "Foucault ignores the central dialectic of opposed forces that still underlies modern society" (1978, p. 711). Nevertheless, Gramsci’s notion of hegemony allows engaged people to exercise (as opposed to possess) power as a means of changing society’s unequal relationships. Placing nationalism and culture into a rubric best described by Foucault’s concept of power, Gramsci lays the groundwork for a critique of discursive hegemony. 

Consequently, subjugated and dispossessed ethnicities such as the Kurds can be seen as exercisers of state-less power. Kurdish motives cannot be isolated within fixed boundaries or unchanging aspirations. The Kurds should be seen as a group both within and without the discourse of the nation-state.

Many valuable moves have been made, from Gramsci’s notion of variable hegemony to McKerrow’s (1989, 1991) annunciation of rhetoric as a critical practice, but the process is far from over. McKerrow’s project revolves around Foucault’s (1982) notion of power more than it revolves around an attack on the Western "self," but it does further Charland’s "constitutive rhetoric" by emancipating rhetoric from its "subordinate role in the service of reason" (McKerrow, 1991). In McKerrow’s words, considering the interests of both the dominant and the dominated requires "an ideological discourse that expresses the will of the people at the same time it constitutes the people as a rhetorical force" (1989, p. 94). In Charland’s (1987, p. 148) words, the rhetorical tradition "must recognize that ultimately, the position one embodies as a subject is a rhetorical effect" in the broad sense of effectivity. In other words, rhetoric affects the subject, but it is simultaneously affected by the subject in an ever-changing dynamic. In relation to the Kurds, the hope is to allow a rhetoric for (and about) the Kurdish people outside and beyond the confines of statism. Whether Kurds identify themselves through a shared language or some more imperceptible trait, the notion of "constitutive rhetoric" must be seen as de-constituting the assumed legitimacy of the nation-state.

Critiquing the Map of the Kurds

Apologists and advocates of the nation-state continue to generate rhetorics that marginalize the Kurdish position. Either by treating the Kurds as a minority within a pre-existing government or by assuming that all Kurds are seeking statehood, countless scholars contribute to the Kurdish plight by ignoring the spaces they have staked out for themselves. Amos Perlmutter provides a perfect example of such rhetoric (1995). Among other untenable statements, Perlmutter claims that the United States should tolerate Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds because "it is difficult to distinguish physically among Turks and Kurds." This ignorance reflects a discrepancy in global awareness: the media and the international community are far more knowledgeable of, and concerned for, countries (nations possessing territory governed by a central authority); as opposed to cultures, ethnicities, or tribes.

The overt nature of official US posturing is evident in a recent speech delivered at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Strobe Talbott, US Deputy Secretary of State at the time, speaks of Turkey as the cavalry nation hunting down the Arab outlaws.

"Cooperation between the United States and Turkey on security matters is especially vital when it comes to dealing with outlaw states such as Iraq and Iran and outlaw organizations such as the PKK and Hamas that are determined to use terror to impose their own ideologies, undermine the search for peace, and threaten the territorial integrity of their neighbors."

The PKK is often seen by the US as representing all Kurds. Officially, the PKK is the Kurdish Worker’s Party operating as an underground political party in Turkey (Teimourian, 1994, p. 81). The PKK boasts membership throughout the diaspora but is primarily a political organization operating in Turkey. The Kurds, however, are not a homogenous political group if they are homogenous at all. The Kurds, represented by the PKK in Talbott’s speech, have "never had their own recognized state" (Hepburn, 1994). The people themselves are a "non-Turkic, non-Arabic people who speak their own language" (Hepburn, 1994) - -not a cultural force that poses a threat to the Western order. The historical denial of land to the Kurds undercuts Talbott’s assumption that the PKK has "chosen" the path of the outlaw. If anything, the choice was one of last resort -- the desperate struggle for recognition and survival. Outlaw status was chosen by the PKK and the Kurds only as much as it was forced upon them by a hegemonic nation-state system. Identity is simultaneously chosen and prescribed.

The choice is not solely something forced upon a stagnant ethnicity -- the essentialized Kurds. Every day individuals with differing ideas of what it means to be Kurdish confront similar "choices." Fifteen-year-old Mehmet, classified by the Turkish government as a Kurd, was given a choice along with his neighbors: "join the Turkish government in defending the village against Kurdish separatists, or leave" (Bohlen, 1995). 

The prior assumption that Kurds are separatists, combined with the ultimatum of complete displacement, gives Mehmet and the Kurds no way out. Kurds can either abandon their ethnicity and enlist in the Turkish military, or join the PKK and brand themselves as anti-democratic terrorists. Returning to Perlmutter, it is not difficult to discern the "choice-less" world for the Kurds. Perlmutter states his intention quite clearly, proclaiming that the Clinton administration is "pursuing a wise and pragmatic policy in the Near East." Near East in and of itself is problematic, for it typifies the Western perspective that Said critiques in Orientalism -- the "center" coming to the rescue of the "periphery" (1977, p.258). 

Said says that broad political categories, especially geographic ones, allow the West to project itself as superior. The East is always adjacent to the center, but never the center. Marginalizing the cultures and peoples of the region, Perlmutter positions the Near East as an object in need of Western expertise and assistance. The classification of entire regions into foreign policy "packages" (such as the "near" or "middle" East) makes it easier to accept essentialized perspective. Regional perspectives tend to dictate policy for a number of diverse interests (both sub- and supra-regional).

Given that the US is decidedly pro-Israel in the Middle East, for instance, American policies in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey are all designed to maintain strong relations with Israel. The problem is that the Israeli lens has the potential to obscure and overshadow other regional issues. If the Kurds are a thorn in Turkey’s side, and if Turkey and Israel have a growing alliance, than the US will not risk angering Israel to support the Kurds. The personification of countries, leading to a statist "cast of characters," allows the West to make simple and callous policies. Turkey’s interests, according to Perlmutter, must be consistent with the US-Israeli peace accord and with the goals of NATO. Using such upwardly progressing logic -- starting with a local crisis, moving upward to the state level, moving from there to the regional level, and eventually to the global or international level -- the discourse of statism begins to take on umbrella qualities. The local level is Kurdish rebellion, the statist level is Turkey, the regional level is the Middle East, and the global level is the West’s network of alliances. Almost as a meta-discourse, statism embraces a number of smaller, clearly delineated places.

The Kurdish place embraced by statism is essentializing and oppressive precisely because it is a place. The geopolitical forces of the region operate through a rhetoric of boundaries: territorial influences, regional balances of power, occupation of security zones, and borders as buffers. The spiral of state power, for Perlmutter, is an exercise in ethnic cartography. The Kurds, reduced to brown splotches on a map, represent the marginalized pieces of the nation-state puzzle. European occupation of the region, a primary component of colonialism, established the original contours of the map. Implying that ethnicity only became meaningful in the context of state control, Perlmutter’s map subordinates culture, religion, language, race and any other components of ethnicity to the nation-state. He "opens" a map, but covers it exclusively with personified states:

"Open the ethnic map of the Middle East and put it on the political map, and you'll note that the brown Kurdish colors extend from Anatolia in the west to Northern Iraq and Iran in the East, and Iran and Syria in the South. Four new states emerged incorporating ethnic Kurds - modern Turkey, the old states of Iraq and Syria, and the newly formed Iran. At the time, two of the states had been under colonial rule--Iraq under Britain, Syria under France."

Perlmutter’s reduction of an entire ethnic group to a color on the political map is indicative of the status afforded to the Kurds by the states they occupy. Was ethnicity somehow "freed" by the benevolent creation of borders at the end of World War I? Are the Kurds only relevant because they reside within six adjoining countries?

Curiously, the ethnic map does not require the intricacies of other maps: the brown is simply that -- brown. The absence of other descriptors in Perlmutter’s rhetoric demonstrates the essentialism dominating his perspective. The shade, tint, concentration, evolution, pattern, or design of the brown is insignificant. That oversight is more than an accident. Cultural sensitivity would make it too difficult to draw maps. Consequently, the maps that have been drawn are guides to the Middle East that have assumed realities distinct from the people that populate their territories. Maps show where countries are, not where they are not. Sovereignty, symbolized by two-dimensional borders, has untied its traditional moorings of self-determination and legitimacy to become a self-enforcing entity worthy of its own cartography.

Naturally, political scientists find it easy to define ethnicities by placing them within well-defined political boundaries (Said, 1994, p. 300). It is such a move that turns mapping into a tool of ethnic subjugation. Aziz Al-Azmeh indicts the frozen world of the political cartographer (1993, p. 76). He labels perspectives such as Perlmutter’s "essentialist" and guilty of a "static view of the Orient." The shakes and tremors defining the history of the Kurds must be freed from the simplifying and reductionist rhetoric of the state. State power acts as a meta-discourse, incorporating ethnic differences into its myriad of institutions. The result is that the Kurdish areas remain the same over time, the only differences are created by various statist overlays. The British and French overlay (colonialism) has been replaced by the overlay outlining the governments of Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. Suddenly, the brown splotches find themselves incorporated into a new scheme of political control. Although presented as the real map of the Middle East, the neo-realists do not have a monopoly on geography. Their map is only one of many. Among other claims, the realists assume that international politics is primarily a struggle between states, that states have agency and power, and that global history is gradual and predictable (Beer and Hariman, 1995, p. 493). Contrary to neo-realism, each nation and each division (whether drawn on racial, religious, socio-economic, gender, or ethnic grounds) occupies a myriad of global maps. Not only has Perlmutter failed in his attempt to draw the Kurds on the political map, he has also solidified the inferiority of Kurdishness.

Kurdish Spaces

The Kurds may possess the status of perpetual exiles, but they also constitute an identity and a community. Their very sense of community is strengthened by their common exclusion -- a back-door route to autonomy. The Kurds, as a distinct ethnicity, have been denied a place, giving them a space. Without territory, the Kurds are placed into a map-less space. The excluded, the other, that which is not, the subjugated margins -- these are entities that are defined by their own poverty. Within the statist map of the Middle East, Kurdishness has assumed a new origin. The penumbra enveloping the states of the Middle East promises the continuation of Kurdishness. The penumbra of rights overarching the Bill of Rights is often cited as the location of the "right to privacy" in the US Constitution. In the same way, the penumbra of governing entities overarching the Middle East could be seen as the "location" of Kurdishness. Listing the countries of the region would not explicitly include the Kurds, but their presence is implied by their exclusion. Whether the Kurds are seen as demonized threats or as celebrated resistance, they have a space within Sandel’s concept of a "dispersed self-government" (1996).

The rhetorics of territorialism are experiencing transition and transcendence. Although virtually unnoticed because of their subtlety, the rhetorics of spaces and their transfer are creeping through society. Despite the unidentifiable nature of the approaching changes, multiple messages demonstrate the transformation of places into "rates of exchange" (Baudrillard, 1994). McKenzie Wark explains why this transformation requires a different form of writing. Not only have origins been replaced with "virtual perceptions," communities have begun to occupy spaces that are "unanchored in locality" (1994, p. 1). For Wark this requires a turn to criticism to "identify the forces for social change scattered throughout the vectors" (1994, p. 79). Wark’s view allows Kurdish expression by implying that a virtual community can flourish outside the typical contours of statism. The break from the hegemony of the state poses a challenge to the term nation-state. The two nodes of power (the nation and the state) are no longer always alongside one another. States still operate, as do nations, but the political rhetoric stemming from the nation-state system has lost its sovereignty. The Kurds may represent a nation-ethnicity or nation-culture, but not a nation-state. Indeed, any descriptor after the "nation" assumes a single Kurdish essence, making the best descriptor simply "nation-," or "nationhyphen," or "hypheNation."

Where is hyphenationalism appearing? The nation-state has no hegemonic influence, except in cases where it has masked a combination of ethnic, religious, or economic forces. The Kurds, arguably a distinct ethnic group, typify the paradox and contradiction of nationalism posing as statism. The Kurdish sense of nationalism, if it can be pinpointed at all, exists in opposition to the governments surrounding the territory-less state of Kurdistan. The alternatives for the Kurds have been hidden behind (and co-opted by) the dominant rhetoric of the state and its previously impenetrable location. One way to arrive beyond and above the state is to embrace the intensifying transformation of locale, territory, region, and location. These rhetorics, also described as physical spaces, transcend particular rhetorics of distance. The "dynamism of space," according to Edward Hall (1966, p. 128), includes intimate, personal, social, and public distances. Admitting that these "spatial envelopes" are fairly arbitrary (why not conceive of six, or eight, or one?), Hall suggests that zones of distance are not "real" in the strict sense.

Differences in distance are bound by culture for Hall, particularly when "natives" interact with "foreigners" on a personal level. It is precisely that type of otherness that is changing -- the Other can no longer be seen as solely geographically different. The discursive hegemony of places has created and reinforced the notion that value, meaning, or power originates from discernible, tangible, almost geometrical points. From points stem lines, planes, and dimensions -- surfaces that are seen, felt, and occupied. Related directly to the dominion of Euclidean geometry and the physical laws of Nature (Newtonianism), the rhetoric of places depends on residence for its validity (Jones, 1993). Because the nation-state has typically situated itself relative to these places, the transformation of statism corresponds directly to the decline (in relative importance) of location.

"Virtual geography" is here (and there), and the state’s piece of the rock has become only one of the many images swirling in the flow of information (Wark, 1994, p. 1). Wark defines our terrain as the "place where we sleep, work, or hang-out." Those places are now being forced to share terrain with the flow and timing of images (Baudrillard, 1994, 1983). Governmental institutions are by no means evaporating, they are simply sharing their power with a multitude of sources, all competing for faster exchanges instead of greater territories

Virilio describes the effects of "instantaneous broadcast" as "an expression of the deterioration of the unity of the neighborhood" (1991, p. 92). Virilio’s neighborhood is really the global village--a montage of diverse nations and other collectivities that exist both inside and outside the nation-state. The Kurds provide an outstanding example of Virilio’s spatial neighborhood or experiential montage. Teimorian (1994) argues that "the key to this surge in Kurdish national solidarity in modern times is the radio." Teimorian does not elaborate on how the Kurds should approach the radio or where the electronic age is headed in the future. 

What is more important for him is the idea that the Kurds have found a way to express themselves despite the desires and policies of regional states. Given the sheer size of the Kurdish population and their growing roots in Europe, Teimorian believes that the Kurdish presence in electronic spaces will continue to flourish. 

Kreyenbroek and Allison write that "the role of the media will inevitably play a large part in determining the future shape of the civilization of the Kurds" (1996, p. 5). Referring to the large number of clandestine radio stations on "rebel-held mountains," Teimorian contends that "the very idea of broadcasting in a language that is banned in most countries has a lure of its own" (1994).

The lure, an attractive one, is the broadcasting of Kurdish television and music. Not only does the electronic age influence the Kurds by igniting "the imagination of young...by the news of others’ resistance against outsiders," it also exhorts the Kurds "to greater feats of patriotism" by stressing their common plight (Teimourian, 1994). Channels of public communication are "especially important for the ‘stateless nations’ of the world, whose languages are threatened with extinction" (Hassanpour, 1996, p. 78). Amir Hassanpour (1996) relates his project to the Kurds when he claims that the Kurdish language "has become critically dependent on broadcasting for its continued vitality because radio and television are the most powerful conduits for transmitting national culture." Hassanpour’s argument is that the spaces of electronic communication have become the rallying point for the dissemination of Kurdish rhetoric (1996, p. 78):

"The centralist states which came to power in the wake of World War I in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria have used the mass media to implement policies of linguicide and ethnocide in Kurdistan. The Kurds, however, were able to resist the state by developing their own media... (I)ntellectuals and political activists in the twentieth century view the modern media not only as areas of resistance but also as institutions of nation-building in a rapidly changing world."

"Nation-building" as an effect of the media lends credibility to the "hyphenation" argument. The nation-state is inapplicable because the media is being used to resist the state and build the nation at the same time.

This is not to suggest that electronic equality and an increase in the spread of information (the "media-zation" of the landscape) are always empowering or emancipatory. Analogous to and interlocking with power relations, the effects of the electronic media do not depend on specific agents of action. The flow of data is viscous, not stagnant; and exercised, not possessed. 

In fact, the regional states enveloping the Kurds had hoped "that the coming of radio and television to every Kurdish home would help kill the language for good," and help "assimilate the Kurds" (Teimourian, 1994). 

Power manifests itself on a local level, however, and the Kurds have been able to circumvent surrounding states by using the media to create a collective imagination and stir patriotism. The Kurdish space also asserts itself in areas where the state tries to silence the Kurdish language by broadcasting in the official language (usually Arabic or Turkish). In those cases, Teimorian (1994) asserts, Kurdish "resentment of the state remains as fierce" as it was when they could still "speak and hear their ancestral tongue." "Resentment against the state" does not necessarily translate into Kurdish autonomy; in fact, resistance is often countered by the many networks of the state in more oppressive ways. On the other hand, if state control of broadcasting can restrict the Kurdish language but not result in assimilation, it follows that the Kurdish identity is more resilient than expected.

Even though the Kurds have maintained their resistance to the state, how are they positioning themselves through the media? Is their position solely one of opposition? Do they know where they are headed? The answers to those questions can help emphasize the significance of hyphenationalism and clarify the transformations occurring in the rhetorics of place. 

Arjun Appadurai argues that the "technological explosion" has created "communities with no sense" of where they are (1990, p. 2). Consequently, the global village of the "new media order" (Attali, 1991; Aveni, 1989) includes nations, states, and other flows of power, but not the exclusively communitarian implications of the nation-state. The national State has diminished in importance because its vision of community ignores the "dissolution of territory" (Appadurai, 1990, p. 2) and the "intensivity" of exchange (Virilio, 1993, p. 93). If anything, the state (in its exclusivity) has withered away, leaving the nation and its hyphen (-) (Appadurai, 1990, p. 5). Hyphenation has not assumed discursive hegemony (even if it could), but it does incorporate a myriad of previously silenced voices into the emerging rhetorics of place and space.


Breaking through dominant rhetorics to locate new ones that do not ignore or contain Kurdishness is an invaluable project. The project can never be completed or closed, but even incomplete advances can provide insights for similar trajectories. Employing a perspective that borrows from postcolonialism and critical rhetoric can, in Neil Postman’s words, "fly into unexpected contexts" (1985, p. 18). Other ethnic groups trapped within the boundaries of statism, other instances of bi-polar power relationships in international relations, and other moves from places to spaces would all benefit from analysis that embraces critical rhetoric and postcolonialism.

An attempt to maintain spaces for subjugated voices and to constitute identity through critiquing does allow for a re-thinking of the Kurds. Yet, an attempt to speak of Kurdishness outside the confines of international realism and the discursive hegemony of statism is not the resting place of this endeavor. Those critics who venture into the tumultuous swirl of foreign affairs’ inseparable dyads (globalization/disintegration, interdependence/isolationism, culturalism/colonization, and autonomy/persecution) will find themselves surrounded by the discourse of statism. They will require multiple implements to negotiate the swirl, particularly a notion of criticism that allows a re-mapping of the state’s discursive hegemony. Exposing the state’s discursive hegemony can help critical rhetoric incorporate an analysis of international relations without reinscribing the nation-state as the object or field of study.

It is not a new move to deprivilege, decenter, or devolve the exclusive nature of statist discourse; not is it a new move to retrace history in the hope of exposing previously marginalized voices. What is a new move is the assertion of hyphenation. In reference to the state, hyphenation strikes a balance between a radical relativism unarmed against daily instances of world disorder and a passive observation of pre-existing and power-wielding political institutions. 

The elevation of nationalism through critical rhetoric avoids viewing power as a bi-polar quality, avoids assumptions of pre-existing subjectivity, and avoids approval of the illegitimate marriage between the nation and state. 

On the other hand, statist discourses and associated mechanisms of the dominant class will not whither away. The intangible nature of power means that there can be no great denial. One system or framework of hierarchies will be followed by another. Reforms are often neutralized by the legitimacy they lend to the larger structure. This is not to describe an impenetrable institution or an infallible conspiracy; rather, it is to defend a critical perspective that broadens the potential opportunities for expression. Whether the spaces of such expression are new or merely re-exposed, the idea is to think Kurdishness differently--to think otherwise about the Kurds.

Appadurai explains what he means by "thinking beyond the nation" by urging us to "identify the current crisis of the nation" and to challenge the "ideological alibi of the territorial state" (1993, p. 411). In support of Appadurai, Elise Boulding (1994) posits that "old statist solutions are clearly not working." Her critique continues with the declaration that "it is time for a new look at the role of people’s associations." 

Groups of people are solidifying their identities outside of the state, and "the twenty-first century will see new configurations of nongovernmental, intergovernmental, and UN structures" (Boulding, 1994, p. 2). 

New configurations and their correspondence with statism require a turn to critical rhetoric. The stakes involve the Kurds, but also countless other voices that have been mapped out of their own identities. To recognize the complexity of the present landscape, we must re-examine the notion of constitutive rhetoric. As Greene frames the issue, we must ask how "individuals actively participate in the reproduction of their nationality as a defining force in their everyday lives" (1995, p. 191). In the case of the Kurds, they have participated in the reproduction of their nationality by maintaining a distinct Kurdish identity despite the "de-constituting" rhetoric of international realism.

As a discursive practice, realism contributes to the Kurdish identity in a marginalizing way. Privileging the "characters of nation-states," realism establishes the "Reason of State, with its emphasis on sovereignty and with its monopoly of violence...(as) ‘the’ theory of international relations and foreign policy" (Beer and Hariman, 1995, p. 493). The Kurdish situation cannot be separated from the discursive transformation of the nation-state. In 1895, Haji Qadir, the Kurdish poet, uttered the line, "the state is founded on sword and pen" (Hassanpour, 1996, p. 49). The sword and the pen may both still be necessary, yet what they must "find" is not a state, but a way for the Kurds.


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