Role of Existing Identities and Networks in Anti-Dam Movements Built in Conflict Settings: The Case of Dersim in Turkey

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 16:30
Oral Presentation
Ayse SARGIN, University of Essex, United Kingdom
In line with the liberalization of energy markets, the 2000s witnessed the vigorous promotion of hydroelectric dams and plants by the Turkish state across the rivers of Turkey. The 2000s has also been a period of heightened struggle for recognition by the historically marginalized and discriminated Alevis and Kurds - the largest religious and ethnic minorities of Turkey respectively. This novel policy of hydropower production undertaken by private companies and regulated by the state prompted a number of grassroots resistance movements by predominantly rural communities diverse in terms of ethnic, religious and political identities. One such site of resistance is Dersim (officially renamed as Tunceli in 1935, followed by the bloody suppression of a local Alevi Kurdish uprising against the newly established republic in 1938). There is a strong tradition of leftist thought and political action in Dersim, dating back to the 1970s. While Alevism was not the focus of political struggle back then, with the emergence of identity politics and the rise of political Islam in Turkey in the 1990s, there has been a revival of Alevism as a cultural and religious identity. Dersim is currently a major center of democratic opposition to the Turkish state, and the area also hosts a number of active Marxist-Leninist and Maoist armed groups. In view of the long-contested relationship between the Dersimis and the Turkish state, this paper explores the role of existing social and political identities and networks in Dersim in the building of the current movement against dams, both discursively and materially, and in what ways, the anti-dam resistance (re)shapes the relationship between the Dersimis and the state. The research is based on a fieldwork with an ethnographic approach, involving semi-structured interviews with the participants of the anti-dam resistance, as well as the study of texts produced by the movement.