Activists in Office

Kurdish Politics and Protest in Turkey

Nicole F. Watts

  • Published: 2010
  • Subject Listing: Middle East Studies; Politics; History
  • Bibliographic information: 208 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Studies in Modernity and National Identity
  • Contents

Thousands of Kurdish politician-activists have been prosecuted and imprisoned, and hundreds have been murdered for espousing Kurdish political and cultural rights over the past twenty years. The risks are high, yet Pro-Kurdish political parties have made significant gains, as resources afforded by the political system have allowed them to challenge state rhetoric and policies to exercise power at the municipal level, which has helped legitimize and advance the pro-Kurdish movement. Activists in Office examines how these parties, while sharing many of the goals expressed by armed Kurdish groups, are using the legal political system to promote their highly contentious Kurdish national agenda in the face of a violent, repressive state.

Nicole F. Watts sheds light not only on the particular situation of Kurds in Turkey, but also on the challenges, risks, and potential benefits for comparable movements operating in less-than-fully democratic contexts. The book is a result of more than ten years of research conducted in Turkey and in Europe, and it draws on a wide array of sources, including Turkish electoral data, memoirs, court records, and interviews.
Nicole F. Watts is associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University.

"This is the only book of its kind that studies Kurdish politics in Turkey from a perspective that does not solely or overwhelmingly privilege the ongoing armed conflict. Watts does an excellent job of examining the place of Kurds and Kurdish political parties in Turkey and shows that far from being simple challengers, Kurds have been an integral and constitutive element of Turkish politics."
-Resat Kasaba, Henry M. Jackson Professor of International Studies, University of Washington

"This is an important and thoroughly researched account of the role of Kurdish identity and politics in the Turkish governmental system, where Kurdish parties are regularly closed down and politicians arrested. The book demonstrates quite clearly that the incorporation of a movement into the system doesn't necessarily lead to its moderation, but that democratic participation initiates sometimes unpredictable and contradictory, but important trajectories of transformation. This is a must-read book for understanding Kurdish politics in Turkey."
-Jenny White, author of Islamist Mobilization in Turkey

Preface and Acknowledgments

Introduction: Other Routes of Resistance

1. Early Routes: Conditions of Kurdish Electoral Mobilization
2. New Collective Challengers: The Institutional Trajectory of Turkey's First Pro-Kurdish Party
3. Resources of the System
4. Characteristics of Coercion: Obstructing Access to Resources
5. Producing Competing Truths
6. Creating a New Kurdish Subject
Conclusions: Assessing a Challenger's Impact


"An original and well-informed book that makes a most welcome contribution to the literature on Kurdish politics in particular and nationalism and democratic politics more generally. . . . an innovative, sharp, and valuable study."
-Michael A. Reynolds, Political Science Quarterly, Spring 2012

"Most of the recently published books on the Kurdish problem in Turkey focus on the armed struggle and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Watts, however, offers a much-appreciated alternative approach."
-Michael M. Gunter, Insight Turkey, Vol. 14(2) 2012

"Watts' book is embedded in a solid theoretical paradigm that shed light on the four major Kurdish nationalist movements in Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Turkey since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Summing up: Highly recommended."
-Choice, August 2011