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Faculty Spotlight: Expert on Turkey's Kurdish Movement Concludes First Year at the U of M

June 14, 2018

With a joint appointment in Anthropology and the Institute for Global Studies, professor Serra Hakyemez brings her expertise surrounding the Kurdish Movement in Turkey to her classes—Human Rights Beyond States and Anthropology of the Middle East. Originally from Turkey, Hakyemez has enjoyed the intersection of teaching with lively classroom discussions at the U of M, seeing students connecting with contemporary discourse surrounding the Middle East and observing how these discussions “opened up the space to what it means to experience things and represent something based on personal experience.”

In addition to teaching, Serra Hakyemez has stayed busy, continuing work on her upcoming book about the conversation between “terrorism” and the State, specifically within Turkey’s Kurdish movement.

The Kurdish population in Turkey, and elsewhere within the Kurdish Middle East, have clashed with the state for decades over their freedom, from the desired formation of a sovereign Kurdistan to Kurdish political autonomy. These clashes have taken various forms, from the guerilla tactics of the relative past to political activism today, moving “from the mountains to urban centers.”

“The conflict itself has been changing over time,” Hakyemez explains. However, despite brief peace talks in 2013 the two parties continue to clash, with no resolution yet realized.

Professor Hakyemez defines the “rhythm of the conflict” between these two parties in her research, drawing from her fieldwork completed in the political capital of Kurdistan, Diyarbakir, and comprised of ethnographies of Turkish courts during trials of detained Kurds as well as interviews with 50 former detainees and 50 defense lawyers, prosecutors, and judges. Hakyemez’s research focuses on what exactly it means to “juridicalize the politics around the Kurdish conflict” and highlights how the judiciary position of Turkey changes as the conflict evolves. Hakyemez studies how the “politics of terrorism” move into Turkish courtrooms and what shape it takes.

“My research looks at ways in which Kurds re-politicized this juridical sphere through forging a political community made of detainees that come from all walks of life.” Hakyemez continues, “My book looks at people coming from all kinds of ‘life worlds.’ How can they find a common language to defend themselves against the charges of terrorism, and what kinds of politics does that language entail?”

When asked about the future of this ancient conflict, Hakyemez immediately laughs and replies, “Should I be an optimist or a pessimist, or both?” She continues, “One thing that is certain is that with the current government, this conflict cannot end.”

Indeed, Professor Serra Hakyemez has hit the ground running here at the University of Minnesota. Her multidisciplinary research and discussion-rich classes have enabled a contemporary conversation to unfold about conflicts and discourse on both the personal and state levels.