Kurdish Studies

ISSN: 2051-4883 | e-ISSN: 2051-4891
Email: editor@kurdishstudies.net

Dengbêjs on borderlands: Borders and the state as seen through the eyes of Kurdish singer-poets

Wendelmoet Hamelink
Leiden University
Keywords: Will Kymlicka, History, Territory, National Minorities, Immigration.


This article investigates how the Kurdish home, borders and the state are depicted in one of the most important Kurdish cultural expressions in Turkey until 1980: the dengbêj art. The recital songs of the dengbêjs form a fascinating source to investigate how Kurds experienced life on the margins of the (nation-)state. We argue that the songs demonstrate that many Kurds perceived the political geography of the state they officially belonged to as foreign and not as a legitimate part of Kurdish socio-political reality. The Kurdish political geography created in the songs exists in small-scale local structures and alliances, and there is mostly no reference to a common Kurdish cause. Borders are presented as foreign interference in the Kurdish landscape. In the conclusion we suggest that Kurdish fragmented political structure should be understood as a deliberate means to avoid being incorporated in a state structure. This speaks against a (self-)Orientalist interpretation of Kurdish history that defines a lack of Kurdish unity as primitive.

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