"Poppies Are Democracy!" A Critical Geopolitics of Opium Eradication and Reintroduction in Turkey

By Evered, Kyle T. | The Geographical Review, July 2011 | Go to article overview

"Poppies Are Democracy!" A Critical Geopolitics of Opium Eradication and Reintroduction in Turkey


Evered, Kyle T., The Geographical Review


This article addresses experiences of opium poppy eradication and reintroduction in early-1970s Turkey from a critical geopolitics perspective and as informed by oral history interviews collected from now-retired poppy farmers. A subfield of political geography, critical geopolitics emerged in the early 19903 and drew upon key works from both critical theory and alternatives to realism in international relations research (Ashley 1984,1987; Campbell 1988; Walker 1987,1988). As such, seminal critical geopolitics scholarship engaged especially in critiques of state-centered, positivist traditions within and beyond political geography (O Tuathail 1989,1996; Dalby 1991; Dodds and Sidaway 1994). The subfield's common research themes thus far include studies of geopolitical discourse as reflected in: official narratives and ideas associated with institutions, policymakers, and the conduct of international and other politics; scholarly, journalistic, and other sources that seek to inform policymakers; and popular media and culture (for example, Dalby 1996; Sharp 2000; Dalby 2002; Gregory 2004; Smith 2004; Debrix 2007; Dittmer 2010). Moreover, as with Simon Dalby'& Environmental Security (2002). critical geopolitics offers one avenue for bringing together the otherwise "distinctly separate tracks" of scholarship once found in political ecology and political geography (Robbins 2003, 641).

Although considerable work within critical geopolitics has thus far addressed imbalances conveyed in official, academic, and popular media through a privileging of particular narratives and frames of analysis, the subfield can benefit from an unearthing and bringing to light of alternative geopolitical perspectives as found among otherwise marginalized populations. Indeed, this is one way of moving toward a more "progressive geopolitics." In outlining the steps toward this alternative beyond geopolitics as merely an examination--and reaffirmation--of "violent relations between states," Gerry Kearns observed, 'The first would be through a critique of existing theory and the other would be by redirecting our attention towards neglected practices, and critical geopolitics is now well established at least in the first of these respects'' (2008,1600-1601). Both incorporating "neglected" voices and reorienting our geopolitical focus accordingly, methodologies such as ethnography and oral history provide a means for identifying alternative voices and reimagining political options.

Employing the early-1970s case of the United States' first "war on drugs," in this article I examine the geopolitics of both the eradication and the reintroduction of opium poppies in Turkey. Although various histories dealt with U.S. antinarcotics policies involving Turkey and Turkish experiences with poppy eradication and re-introduction as matters either of Turkish-U.S. foreign affairs or of populism within Turkey (Zentner 1973; Wishart 1974; Spain 1975; Altindal 1979; Erhan 1996; Uslu 2003), local-scale connections emphasized in this study make it unique. In my research, I supplemented both archival and secondary sources with oral histories collected during a four-week period in the summer 2009 from forty retirees (twenty men and twenty women, with ages ranging from fifty five to eighty six years at the time of the interviews). Informants lived and worked as poppy farmers during the ban and in the years following its reversal. Their interviews and this study are part of a wider, multiyear research project devoted to the cultural and political ecologies and geopolitics of opium poppies in Turkey. As a geographical research method; oral history is of particular utility for reconstructing past societal and nature-society relationships, processes, and events and for analyzing the ways in which collective memories of particular experiences continue to be operative politically and otherwise (Perramond 2001; Robbins 2010; Evered 2011).

Through its incorporation of first person accounts, this study moves beyond exploring the U. …

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