Recent Conference Explores Political Discourse within the Contemporary Middle East
The Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) continues to host scholars from around the world thereby contributing to the accessibility of cutting-edge scholarship on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The center recently hosted a virtual conference for scholars to discuss their research on political institutions and practices of resistance to state hegemony in the Middle East, especially in Turkey and in Iran. The rise of authoritarianism in Turkey over the past two decades and its persistence in Iran during the same time period have shaped social and political life in both countries. As a result, forms of resistance to state policy and to authoritarian populism has become central to local political culture and political discourse. The recent conference entitled “Politics and Practices of Resistance in the Middle East” provided a forum for scholars to discuss these trends within the contemporary and recent historical context.
The first panel was dedicated to religious and environmental discourses within contemporary Turkey and Iran. Dr. Dilşa Deniz, a lecturer in the Anthropology Department at the University of California, San Diego whose research focuses on Alevism and contemporary Kurdish identity, presented an overview of religious and cultural aspects of Alevi identity which have been subsumed into broader discourses about Turkish-ness and belonging within contemporary Turkey. Seyed Masoud Noori, a law professor and currently a resident at New York University School of Law, presented on interpretations of the Islamic community within the legal and political framework of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In response to these in-depth presentations on their respective topics, Professor Kevan Harris of the Sociology Department at the University of California, Los Angeles offered some thoughts and feedback in which his expertise on political development and social change allowed both scholars to elaborate on the broader implications of their work in relation to scholarly trends and contemporary research on the region.
The second panel was even more bounded by thematic and geographical contours in that the scholars hosted by CNES discussed contemporary political upheavals and resistance in the specific context of the southeastern (and predominantly Kurdish) regions of Turkey. This region has been referred to as Kurdistan since Ottoman times but the term has taken on more specific political implications in light of the ongoing state violence perpetrated against Kurdish villages and cities such as Diyarbakir. The first panelist, Dr. Haydar Darici is a lecturer at the School of International Service at the American University in Washington DC. In his research, Darici analyzes political youth movements which actively resist the Turkish State and its militarized police force. His presentation for the Politics and Practices of Resistance conference shed light on the discursive practices and the performative aspects of Kurdish youth activism in recent years. Serra Hakyemez, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, presented her research on the Turkish State’s discursive construction of the category of Kurdish terrorism in Diyarbakir. She discussed how the policies of the state and the practices of its military and police force have contributed to an escalation of tensions in the region and a reinforcement of political and cultural norms in Turkish society. UCLA’s own Melissa Bilal, who is Distinguished Research Fellow at UCLA Center for Near East Studies and Lecturer in the Department of Ethnomusicology, discussed the two scholars’ presentations and gave some concluding remarks on the conference.
Published: Friday, January 8, 2021