Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Relations

First Advisor's Name

Mohiaddin Masbahi

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Rebecca Mae Salokar

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Co-Committee Chair

Third Advisor's Name

Felix Martin

Fourth Advisor's Name

Charles G. MacDonald

Fifth Advisor's Name

Benjamin Smith


Kurdish Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria

Date of Defense



Why and under what conditions have the Kurds become agents of change in the Middle East in terms of democratization? Why did the Kurds’ role as democratic agents become particularly visible in the 1990s? How does the Kurdish movement’s turn to democratic discourse affect the political systems of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria? What are the implications of the Kurds’ adoption of “democratic discourse” for the transnational aspect of the Kurdish movement?

Since the early 1990s, Kurdish national movements in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria have undergone important political and ideological transformations. As a result of the Kurds’ growing role in shaping the debates on human rights and democratization in these four countries, the Kurdish national movement has acquired a dual character: an ethno-cultural struggle for the recognition of Kurdish identity, and a democratization movement that seeks to redefine the concepts of governance and citizenship in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The process transformation has affected relations between the Kurdish movements and their respective central governments in significant ways.

On the basis of face-to-face interviews and archival research conducted in Turkey, Iraq and parts of Europe, the present work challenges the current narrative of Kurdish nationalism, which is predominantly drawn from a statist interpretation of Kurdish nationalist goals, and argues instead that the Kurdish question is no longer a problem of statelessness but a problem of democracy in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

The main contributions of this work are three fold. First, the research unfolds the reasons behind the growing emphasis of the Kurdish movement on the concepts of democracy, human rights, and political participation, which started in the early 1990s. Second, the findings challenge the existing scholarship that explains Kurdish nationalism as a problem of statelessness and shifts the focus to the transformative potentials of the Kurdish national movement in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria through a comparative lens. Third, this work explores the complex transnational coordination and negotiations between the Kurdish movements across borders and explains the regional repercussions of this process.





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