I Am a Teacher, a Women's Activist, and a Mother: Political Consciousness and Embodied Resistance in Antakya's Arab Alawite Community

Defne Sarsilmaz, Florida International University


Often pointed to as the region’s model secular state, Turkey provides an instructive case study in how nationalism, in the name of conjuring ‘unity’, often produces the opposite effect. Indeed, the production of nationalism can create fractures amongst, as well as politicize, certain segments of a population, such as minority groups and women. This dissertation examines the long-term and present-day impacts on nationalist unity of a largely understudied event, the annexation of the border-city of Antakya from Syria in 1939, and its implications on the Arab Alawite population. In doing so, it deconstructs the dominant Turkish narrative on the annexation, rewrites the narrative drawing on oral history from the ground, and it shows how nation-building is a masculinist project that relies on powerfully gendered language through studying the national archives. The heart of the project, however, remains the investigation of the political, social, and religious subjectivity of Arab Alawite women, with an emphasis on resistance to the structures and practices sustained by the state and patriarchy. The Arab Alawites, once numerically dominant in the Antakya region, are now an ethno-religious minority group within the Turkish/Sunni-dominated state structure. Although Antakya was the last territory to join Turkey in 1939, ever since that time many of its Alawites have resisted assimilation through covert, yet peaceful, methods. Through this research, I show that a multiplicity of forces have increased the politicization of the Antiochian Alawite community and broadened their demands upon the Turkish state. My research highlights Alawite women’s leadership as a key driver of this process, thanks to the large-scale out migration of Alawite men, the increased socio-economic independence of Alawite women, and the perception of more progressive gender ideals being held by the members of this Muslim sect, when compared to those of nearby Sunni Turkish women. This dissertation relies on a postcolonial and feminist geopolitical analysis of the Turkish nationalist project to examine how the Turkish state has historically viewed Antakya and the Arab Alawites and how, in return, the experience and collective social and political memory of Alawites was formed. By utilizing innovative methodologies, this research shows how Alawite women are resisting/rewriting/reconfiguring political and social structures through everyday actions that shift the discourse on minorities and women on local and national scales.

Subject Area

Sexuality|Geography|Middle Eastern Studies

Recommended Citation

Sarsilmaz, Defne, "I Am a Teacher, a Women's Activist, and a Mother: Political Consciousness and Embodied Resistance in Antakya's Arab Alawite Community" (2017). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI10932498.