Kerem Can Ussakli Dissertation Defense

Kerem Can Ussakli
Mon August 28th 2023, 8:00 - 10:00am
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Department of Anthropology
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Trust, Sovereignty, and Social Lives of Displacement in Iraq

How do victims and survivors of violence establish mutually agreeable forms of order and survival when state authority breaks down? This dissertation examines the motivations and moral grammars of internally-displaced Iraqi Arabs who enter into informal sponsorship agreements with Iraqi Kurds in order to secure protection, residency, jobs and resources for themselves, families and acquaintances in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq [KRI]. It challenges the well-established narrative that civil wars are tales of severing intimate neighborliness. Instead, this dissertation shows that these sponsorship agreements keep displaced Iraqi Arabs away from the realm of a Kurdish interior life, while continuing a mutual ethics of obligation and trust between ethnic communities. It argues that by reframing colonial and state power, Iraqis entering such sponsorship agreements produce a less explored mode of sovereignty, where the founding sovereign act is not exclusion of bare life, but the conditional incorporation of the ethnic other into social life.

Drawing on more than two years of ethnographic fieldwork and archival research in the Sulaymaniyah Governorate of the Kurdistan Region and the adjacent disputed territories, the dissertation weaves together stories of overlapping narratives of displacement in peri-urban neighbourhoods, narratives of everyday encounters with authorities in checkpoints, theological ruminations of Kurdish tribal leaders around compassion and engaged humanitarianism, the bitter nihilism and disengagement of young Kurdish men, deeply exhausting travails of fugitive displaced Iraqis falsely accused of terrorism, and the remarkable agency exercised by displaced women in keeping their families together, among others. At a monumental time when social hierarchies are deeply in flux, it provides a lively portrait of how the fragmentation of authority is experienced, imagined, and narrated by Iraqis.

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