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

Buyuksarac G.

ANTHROPOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, vol.90, pp.17-53, 2017 (SSCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 90
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Doi Number: 10.1353/anq.2017.0001
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.17-53
  • Istanbul University Affiliated: Yes


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.