Dengbêjs on borderlands: Borders and the state as seen through the eyes of Kurdish singer-poets

Hanifi Baris*, Wendelmoet Hamelink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


This article investigates how the Kurdish home, borders and the state are depicted in one of the most important Kurdish cultural expressions in Turkey until 1980: the dengbêj art. The recital songs of the dengbêjs form a fascinating source to investigate how Kurds experienced life on the margins of the (nation-)state. We argue that the songs demonstrate that many Kurds perceived the political geography of the state they officially belonged to as foreign and not as a legitimate part of Kurdish socio-political reality. The Kurdish political geography created in the songs exists in small-scale local structures and alliances, and there is mostly no reference to a common Kurdish cause. Borders are presented as foreign interference in the Kurdish landscape. In the conclusion we suggest that Kurdish fragmented political structure should be understood as a deliberate means to avoid being incorporated in a state structure. This speaks against a (self-)Orientalist interpretation of Kurdish history that defines a lack of Kurdish unity as primitive.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)34-60
Number of pages27
JournalKurdish Studies Journal
Issue number1
Early online date5 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Verbal art
  • self-orientalism
  • modernity
  • nationalism
  • politics


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