Volume 90, #1

Winter 2017

Inhabiting the Margins: Middle Eastern Minorities Revisited

Introduced and Edited by Güldem Baykal Büyüksaraç & Jonathan Glasser

phone: 202-994-3215  e-mail: ifer@gwu.edu


Volume 90, #1 • Winter 2017



Inhabiting the Margins: Middle Eastern Minorities Revisited


INTRODUCTION by Güldem Baykal Büyüksaraç & Jonathan Glasser


Trans-border Minority Activism and Kin-state Politics: The Case of
Iraqi Turkmen and Turkish Interventionism

Güldem Baykal Büyüksaraç, Istanbul University

ABSTRACT—A growing literature acknowledges the necessity of studying minority politics as a dynamic process taking place within a complex web of relations that cut across state boundaries. In an effort to contribute to this approach, I examine the possibilities and limits of minority agency through the case of Iraqi Turkmen, accentuating the relational character of minority movements. Thinking with Rogers Brubaker (1996), I historicize the Turkmen’s relationship to Iraq, the state in which they reside as a marginalized “national minority,” and to Turkey, which Turkmen usually view as their mother country. I thereby problematize the putative kinship ties between the Iraqi Turkmen and ethnic Turks in Turkey in the context of “kin-state” politics, as the latter implies a political stance that represents a state as a protector and sponsor of “ethnic co-nationals” abroad. I focus on the complicated and increasingly conflictual relations of Turkey and the Turkmen, who are caught up in a double bind between engaging in Iraqi politics independently of the Turkish government and enjoying its support at the risk of losing their voices. Combining historical methods with ethnographic research, I ask how ethnic elites make practical sense of their minority status. In doing so, I discuss the political dynamics and consequences of self-essentialism in the Turkmen case, where minority activism has been conditioned by Turkish interventionism and Turkish nationalism, as much as by the exclusionary politics of Iraqi governments. While “national minority” could be empowering as an officially imposed and internationally sanctioned category with certain civic and political rights attached to it, for the Turkmen elites it has mainly implied disempowerment. This has at times swayed the Turkmen toward Turkish irredentism. However, as demonstrated in the article, the desire for Turkish tutelage is giving way to a more pragmatic understanding of kin-state politics. [Keywords: Iraqi Turkmen, minority politics, minority activism, (self-)essentialism, kin-state, Turkish irredentism].


Seeing and Unseeing Like a State: House Demolitions, Healthcare, and the Politics of Invisibility in Southern Israel

Na’amah Razon, University of California, San Francisco

ABSTRACT—A 2005 amendment to Israel’s Public Land Law and the 1994 National Health Insurance Law (NHIL) are two policies that highlight the complex relationship between the Israeli state and the Negev/Naqab Bedouins. While the Land Law sanctioned house demolitions and the erasure of Bedouin villages, the NHIL granted Bedouins access to healthcare and increased their visibility within the medical system. In this article, I draw on these contradictory policies of inclusion and exclusion to argue that the treatment of Negev/Naqab Bedouins as equal citizens within Israel is contingent on state officials’ seeing only particular aspects of this community. Crucially, this means that state officials actively make invisible the unequal and exclusionary politics that marginalize Bedouin citizens. While the case of the Bedouins in Israel is a specific one, I suggest that attending to how state officials make particular individuals, communities, and histories invisible clarifies how states, both in Israel and beyond, maintain the state’s ideology of equality despite a hierarchy of privilege. It is through the production of invisibility that neglect and exclusion come to be justified and obscured, and that themes of inclusion and democracy can be highlighted. Therefore an analysis of the making of invisibility allows for an examination of the active production of the state and of citizenship, and provides a more complex understanding of the role of visibility in state practices. [Keywords: Bedouin, Naqab/Negev, Israel, state, visibility]


Peripheral Nationhood: Negotiating Israeliness from the Margins of the State

Cathrine Moe Thorleifsson, University of Oslo

ABSTRACT—Like many development towns that were established in the aftermath of Israel’s founding, Kiryat Shemona is situated on the demographic and geographic margins of the state: it sits on the border with Lebanon, and is in the Galilee region that has historically been a major center of Israel’s Palestinian population. Particularly in moments of cross-border violence, Kiryat Shemona becomes a central margin, a place that is crucial to imagining the Israeli nation. For this reason, its inhabitants are imagined by others and often by themselves as steadfast and strong—qualities said to be at the center of Israeliness. At the same time, like other development towns, Kiryat Shemona’s residents are mainly Mizrahim who were pushed to populate these marginal regions, and who constitute a majority of the Israeli Jewish population but also in many respects constitute an underclass vis-à-vis the historically Ashkenazi elite. Mizrahim, in such development towns, are thus marginal to the center of power, and vulnerable to the insecurity and poverty associated with these towns. While inhabiting precarious borderlands, they are crucial to the imagining of a bounded Jewish Israeli nation that must defend itself. This paper demonstrates how Mizrahim strived to move themselves symbolically from the margins of exclusion to the centre of inclusion by calling upon the nation and cosmopolitan connections. In everyday life, mizrahim marked ethicised boundaries against differentiated others, thus reinforcing the ethnoreligious logic of Israeli nationalism that historically pushed them to the margins of the state. [Keywords: Nationalism, peripheral nationhood, prejudice, borders, belonging, Mizrahim, Israel]


Margins of the Archive: Torture, Heroism, and the Ordinary in
Prison No. 5, Turkey

Serra Hakyemez, Brandeis University

ABSTRACT—This article focuses on the court documents produced during the 1980 military court trials of Kurds charged with crimes against the Turkish state. Tracing the unauthorized movement of documents to a group of human rights advocates, Kurdish activists, and defense lawyers, it asks how an archive of criminal proceedings transformed into an alternative one bearing political aspirations of various kinds. Instead of reading the archive as a textual artifact whose hermeneutic interpretation is under the strict control of the sovereign, this piece approaches it within a framework of action and scrutinizes how the textual form and symbolic meaning of an archive was altered as Kurds defended themselves before the court, inscribed their own stories on the documents in prison, and circulated them outside for archiving. I argue that despite the kind of semantic violence inflicted by the 1980 coup d’état, the material remainders of that period disclose that Kurds stitched together their world by construing a language of struggle that promises another form of social existence in the here and now. Thus, the archive-in-making is an archive of not only state violence, but also of revolutionary struggle and aspirations for the ordinary. This article views such archiving practices as a form of making that is conducive to new entanglements of life, violence, and law. [Keywords: Archive, law, state violence, sovereignty, resistance, trauma, ordinary, margins, Kurdish movement, Turkey]


Musical Jews: Listening for Hierarchy in Colonial Algeria and Beyond

Jonathan Glasser, College of William and Mary

ABSTRACT—Jewish specialization in musical performance in modern North Africa is sometimes treated as evidence of Jews’ integration into the Maghribi social fabric. At the same time, read through the classic ethnomusicological literature, such specialization follows a widespread pattern in which marginal minorities fill the socially problematic role of professional musician. These dueling interpretations mirror a broader scholarly debate about the nature of Muslim–Jewish relations in the Maghrib, as well as about the nature of relationship across difference more generally. This article attempts to widen these ethnomusicological, North Africanist, and broader anthropological debates by revisiting Louis Dumont’s writing on hierarchy and value. Through a close reading of a 19th-century text about Algerian musicians that seems to emphasize Jewish marginality, I argue that Dumontian hierarchy enriches our understanding of Jewish musical specialization by pointing out forms of social ambiguity that emerge from complex configurations of inequality. In the process, this case study allows us to reconsider the ethnomusicological understanding of professional musicianship and the North Africanist literature on Muslim-Jewish relations while also providing tools for scholars of ethnicity and religion beyond the Maghrib. [Keywords: Ethnicity, hierarchy, Jewish-Muslim relations, Louis Dumont, music, Algeria, genre]