Kurdistan on the Global Stage: Kinship, Land, and Community in Iraq

Kurdistan on the Global Stage: Kinship, Land, and Community in Iraq

Kurdistan on the Global Stage: Kinship, Land, and Community in Iraq

Kurdistan on the Global Stage: Kinship, Land, and Community in Iraq


Anthropologist Diane E. King has written about everyday life in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which covers much of the area long known as Iraqi Kurdistan. Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Ba'thist Iraqi government by the United States and its allies in 2003, Kurdistan became a recognized part of the federal Iraqi system. The Region is now integrated through technology, media, and migration to the rest of the world.

Focusing on household life in Kurdistan's towns and villages, King explores the ways that residents connect socially, particularly through patron-client relationships and as people belonging to gendered categories. She emphasizes that patrilineages (male ancestral lines) seem well adapted to the Middle Eastern modern stage and viceversa. The idea of patrilineal descent influences the meaning of refuge-seeking and migration as well as how identity and place are understood, how women and men interact, and how "politicking" is conducted.

In the new Kurdistan, old values may be maintained, reformulated, or questioned. King offers a sensitive interpretation of the challenges resulting from the intersection of tradition with modernity. Honor killings still occur when males believe their female relatives have dishonored their families, and female genital cutting endures. Yet, this is a region where modern technology has spread and seemingly everyone has a mobile phone. Households may have a startling combination of illiterate older women and educated young women. New ideas about citizenship coexist with older forms of patronage.

King is one of the very few scholars who conducted research in Iraq under extremely difficult conditions during the Saddam Hussein regime. How she was able to work in the midst of danger and in the wake of genocide is woven throughout the stories she tells. Kurdistan on the Global Stage serves as a lesson in field research as well as a valuable ethnography.


Kurdistan Parliament passed Domestic Violence Law; making Female
Genital Mutilation criminal offense, prohibiting forced marriages, child

—Barham Salih via Twitter, 2011

In 1991, hundreds of thousands of people fled up the soggy, freezing mountainsides of Kurdistan, the Kurdish homeland that spans Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, to escape attacks by the Iraqi military. The attacks were ordered by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, one of the world’s most brutal dictators, in response to an uprising by three main categories of Kurdish fighters: the chete (çete) tribal mercenaries who had been on the government’s payroll, and long-standing government adversaries the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party, Partî Dêmokratî Kurdistan) and PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Yeketî Niştîmanî Kurdistan), whose fighters are called peshmerga (pêşmerge) “those who face death.” Enraged that the three Kurdish groups had united to challenge him, and hoping to use the fog of the waning Gulf War with the United States as a cover, the Iraqi leader sent his well-equipped army charging toward the Kurdish-populated area of Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan. Desperate people streamed into the mountains toward Turkey and Iran. With little food and spending nights outside without adequate shelter, young, old, and vulnerable people began to die. At the Turkish border, many tried to cross and a few succeeded, but Turkish soldiers beat most people back. Although those particular attacks by Iraq were contextualized as a by-product of the Gulf War between the United States and Iraq, they followed many years of conflict in which Kurds had fought for autonomy and the central Iraqi government had done its best to crush them, using chemical weapons, mass deportations and executions, and all manner of terror.

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