Axel Rudi: "'Without the Leader There is No Life': Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurdish Movement, and the Resurgence of Sacred Kingship"

Departmental Seminar Series features Alex Rudi, Lecturer, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen.

The seminar is followed by informal gathering, at which refreshments are served. All are welcome!

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Photo: Universitetet i Bergen


With Turkey’s recent incursion into Northern Syria, it seems that the last bastion of the Kurdish Movement’s attempt to unbuild the state is faltering. However, what this project entailed and what was forwarded as the state’s substitute, still remains unclear. Drawing on fieldwork in Turkish Kurdistan in 2015, the paper will engage with this debate and argue thatthe Kurdish movement’s project, in some respects, signaled the resurgence Sacred Kingshipas a modality of governance. The paper contends that the leader of the movement, AbdullahÖcalan, has become a form of sacred king, and that, as a corollary, the Kurdish movement founded its authority and legitimacy on radically different cosmological principles than the Turkish/Liberal state. Rather than considering the Kurdish movement as a liberal/anarchist/conservative or nationalist movement, I argue that it could be fortuitously be considered as a royalist movement - the practices of women’s rights, democracy, and ecologynotwithstanding. In making this argument, the paper aims to assist in moving the discussion of revolution and resistance into a different theoretical realm than the one predominated bysociology and political science, and at the same time evade the ‘theoretical tropology’ stillcommonly associated with the anthropological study of the Middle East. The conclusion explores what consequences the argument may have for the study of kingship. If kingship is relevant to the study of modern, revolutionary resistance movements, what does this in turn, entail for the concept of kingship itself?

Research Profile 

Axel Rudi holds an M.A. in Social Science from the University of Chicago and a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Bergen, where he teaches. He has worked in Turkish Kurdistan, in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Germany, and is interested in the Kurdish Movement's transnational connections. Specifically, he is interested in how ideologies of freedom emerge from violent and warring contexts, and how they are set out in practice.

Published Jan. 8, 2020 6:49 PM - Last modified Sep. 17, 2020 12:30 PM