In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Anthropology of Kurdistan

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Historical Overview
  • Kurdistan Diasporas

Anthropology Anthropology of Kurdistan
Chris Houston
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0174


Outside of the autonomous Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq, surrounding states and the United Nations do not recognize Kurdistan as an independent entity. In Iran, it is a heavily policed province. Turkey does not use the term or mark it on any official map. In the context of civil war in Syria, the future of the small, self-instituted Rojava Kurdish cantons is uncertain. For Kurdish nationalists, however, Kurdistan is the imagined homeland of the Kurds, spanning southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, and western Iran. What does Turkey’s claim that Kurdistan is a “non-place” indicate about its anthropological study? How does that study account for the fact that some Kurdish nationalists underplay Kurdistan’s ethnic heterogeneity, in particular the historical cohabitation of Armenians there? Each case reveals that both the production of knowledge about Kurdistan and its historiography is politicized, conditioned still by the foundational practices of nation-building and state formation in the Middle East after World War I. In the name of the Persian, Turkish, and Arab nations, the new regional states of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria have sought to control, assimilate, or annihilate different ethnic and religious minorities in the territory over which they exert control. The anthropology of Kurdistan thus confronts as one of its core themes the cultural revolutions spearheaded by these ethnic states, as well as the responses to those revolutions in the lives and practices of Kurdistan’s inhabitants. Equally importantly, the extent to which the political practices of those states have been supported or supplanted by imperialistic powers demonstrates how Western military aid or intervention have further reconstructed social and political relations in Kurdistan. The emergence of the Kurdistan Region in federal Iraq is a case in point. After the US-led invasion of Baath Iraq in 2003, Kurdish political parties have developed as virtual state entities, and for the first time in the modern period, Kurdistan is now an internationally recognized region. Together, these intertwined national and international processes explain why the anthropology of Kurdistan has been heavily concerned with (1) practices of state-formation, nationalism, and the social ramifications of authoritarian modernism; (2) ethnic exclusion, forced deportation, and serial regional violence; (3) trauma, memory, and life story narratives; (4) arts production and activism, including in literature, film, and music; (5) religious identities; and (6) gender politics. Recent anthropological work has also expanded to examine one historical consequence of these processes—the transnational activities of Kurdistan’s diasporas abroad. A second consequence might be added as a disclaimer; Kurdistan’s fragmented history has militated against scholars developing a broad expertise about it, including its many languages. This article therefore partially reflects the author’s more narrow familiarity with Turkey.


Befitting the fact that Kurdistan exists as much in the political imagination (both positively and negatively) as it does more recently as a political entity in a newly federated Iraq, no academic journal focuses on a place named “Kurdistan” per se, unlike specializations directed to less controversial designations such as Oceania, the Caribbean, or the Caucasus. Nevertheless, description and analysis of the history, social practices, and political situation of Kurdistan’s inhabitants can be found in a large number of print sources, including discipline-specific, country-focused, and nationality-oriented journals. The major journals of the disciplines of Ottoman studies, anthropology, political science, genocide studies, religious studies, and ethnicity/migration studies regularly publish articles on Kurdistan appropriate to their specialization. Multidisciplinary journals such as Iranian Studies and New Perspectives on Turkey more commonly print articles analyzing developments in the Iranian and Turkish provinces of Kurdistan, respectively. A growing number of nationality-oriented journals publish material concerning the history, culture, and political issues facing particular ethnic groups both in Kurdistan and their diasporas in the West, including Kurdish Studies, International Journal of Kurdish Studies, Journal of Armenian Studies, Turkish Studies, and Nûbihar Akademî.

  • International Journal of Kurdish Studies. 2015–.

    A new journal based in the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures, Dicle University, Diyarbakır, Turkey. It publishes scientific articles on Kurdish language and history in Kurdish, Turkish, and English.

  • Iranian Studies. 1967–.

    Publishes peer-reviewed articles examining Persian history, arts, and society, including articles on Iranian Kurdistan and its religious and ethnic minorities.

  • Journal of Armenian Studies. 1975–.

    Consists of scholarly and popular articles on Armenian history, religion, language, culture, and related subjects, including research on the Armenian genocide.

  • Kurdish Studies. 2013–.

    Aims to revitalize and reorient research, scholarship, and debates in the field of Kurdish studies in a multidisciplinary fashion. Peer-reviewed and international, it covers a wide range of topics including Kurdish history, politics, literature, and international relations.

  • New Perspectives on Turkey. 1987–.

    This peer-reviewed, multidisciplinary journal published twice a year includes original empirical and theoretical research focusing on the social history and political economy of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey.

  • Nûbihar Akademî. 2014–.

    Based in Istanbul, this is one of the only peer-reviewed academic journals in the field of Kurdology published in Kurdish. Articles appear in all dialects of Kurdish, using either the Kurdish-Arabic or Kurdish-Latin script (with some translated into English).

  • Turkish Studies. 2000–.

    Addresses matters regarding the modern era of the Turkish Republic, particularly in the fields of political science, international relations, history, economics, and sociology. It investigates developments in “Southeast Turkey,” the Turkish Republic’s official title for Kurdistan.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.