Dillon Foster

More Friends Than the Mountains? A Conjunctural Regional Comparison of Autonomy in Kurdistan 

In 2012 Kurds in Syria announced the formation of a radical self-administered “ecological democratic confederalist” society along the Syrian-Turkish border in a region known as Rojava. The autonomous government in Rojava stands in sharp contrast to the political situation in neighboring Bakur, a Kurdish-majority region in southeastern Turkey where, for nearly four decades, the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) has waged a guerilla war against the Turkish state in the name of autonomy. This thesis situates the divergent political outcomes of the autonomy movements in Rojava and Bakur within the socio-ecological context of their occupying nationstates. Following the historical relationship between the development of the nation-state model and environmental exploitation, as emphasized by Kurdish revolutionary leader Abdullah Öcalan, I trace the ways in which land transformation served as a structural process of state formation in Syria and Turkey. Utilizing Antonio Gramsci’s theory of historical conjuncture and Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-system perspective, I show how the geohistorical process of state formation in Rojava and Bakur created diverging political conditions shaping and constraining the contours of Kurdish movements. Despite a rich history, the complexities of the Kurdish autonomy movement have gone largely unnoticed in contemporary antisystemic discourse reflecting a broader trend of undertheorizing non/anti-state social movements that seek to build alternative forms of governance and production. Therefore, the goal of this thesis is two-fold. First, the articulation of the need for an analytical framework useful in studying anti-state movements from a world-system perspective. Second, I work to reveal how long-term geohistorical processes of land transformation shape the contemporary strategies of social movements seeking autonomy from the nation-state system.


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