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a tale of two conferences Arrow vol 11 no 2 contents
About borderlands VOLUME 11 NUMBER 2, 2012


İsmail Beşikçi as a Discomforting Intellectual

Bariş Ünlü
Ankara University

The Turkish sociologist İsmail Beşikçi is one of the most prominent and exceptional intellectuals of the twentieth century. Although being ethnically Turkish, he is the first and foremost social scientist who studied the Kurdish Question of modern Turkey. During the 1960s, when the Turkish state, popular media, and universities denied systematically even the existence of Kurdish identities, cultures, and languages, Beşikçi spoke out about their existence. Since then, he has been persistently speaking truths about the Kurdish reality to Turkish authorities and defending the collective as well as individual rights of Kurds. For Beşikçi, the Kurdish Question is an ethnic question. Kurds have been oppressed, massacred, and subjected to forced migrations from their homelands, all because of their resistance to various efforts of forced assimilation. The Turkish Kurds did not accept becoming Turks (meaning, to accept being a 'Turk', to speak Turkish fluently and conversely, not to speak Kurdish—plus being proud of all these things). In regards to the Kurdish Question, most Turkish intellectuals and social scientists have sided with the Turkish state and have supported its official ideology, which has been built upon official lies and fictional history. The impact of Kemalist ideology on the Turkish literate is so deeply rooted that even the ‘Turkish left generally sides with the state during various critical moments’. They have generally considered the Kurdish uprisings to represent a reflection of feudal remains, reactionary-Islamist ideas, or deceitful traps of imperialist world powers trying to divide the Turkish Republic.  In this kind of environment where the official ideology has been protected by laws, armed forces, and the intellectual establishment, Beşikçi made public some simple and fundamental ontological truths concerning the existence of the Kurds and of Kurdish identities rooted in a customary and communal tradition. Against the enclosure of this basic information and the axiomatic truths articulated by the state, he made these issues into more common knowledge through his writings, teachings, and public speeches. Not surprisingly, the state and the political and intellectual establishment made him pay a tremendous cost for his life’s work. Over the course of his lifetime, he was not only fired from various university posts, but has spent more than seventeen years in prison. This article analyzes Beşikçi’s intellectual formation in the context of Turkish social sciences and political thought and of Turkish state policies towards the Kurds.

The full article is available as a PDF document: click here.

© borderlands ejournal 2012



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ISSN 1447-0810