Circumcis(cript)ions: Sovereignty, Kinship and Memory in the Frontier

A lecture by Serap Ruken Sengul (UCLA)

Thursday, May 17, 2018
12:15 PM
352 Haines Hall

This talk explores gendered formations of sovereignty, identity and memory in the Eastern provinces of Late Ottoman Empire that have become the contested region of Turkish Kurdistan over the past century of Turkish nation-state making. I do this by tracing genealogically the transformed ritual, discursive and affective geographies of one mechanism of statutory co-parenthood, kirve –as the region saw its native Armenians targeted by a genocidal destruction campaign and its rebellious Kurds militantly suppressed since the late 19th century processes of state centralization. A syncretic frontier tradition grounded in the contiguity and osmosis among Christian, Muslim and heterodox traditions, the mechanism of kirve was conclusive for maintaining a patriarchal modus vivendi of ethno-religiously mixed habitation in the Imperial Eastern Frontier. Starting with the mid-nineteenth century, kirve was systematically co-opted by state agents as a kin-based technology of incorporating Muslim Kurds into the body of Turkish-citizenry-in-the-making through ritual sponsorship of Islamic male circumcision. Concomitantly, the meaning of (un)circumcision was repeatedly resemanticized in the Eastern frontier; first, as an ethno-religiously antagonist marker of Armenian alterity, and, then, as a mark of Turkish national manhood, and systematically manipulated for physical destruction or symbolic castration of non-Muslim-Turkish male bodies across histories of the destruction of Ottoman Armenians and the ongoing Kurdish conflict. While breaking open the interplay of sovereignty, kinship and violence in the phallic marking and unmaking of male bodies in its immediate historical-ethnographic focus, my discussion also underlines the circumscriptions of state-centric and sectarian readings the broader Middle East today as well as liberal discourses of past cosmopolitanisms in the region.


Serap Ruken Sengul is currently a Distinguished Research Fellow at the UCLA Center For Near Eastern Studies. She earned her doctorate in Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, and completed her postdoctoral studies at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Sengul’s research focuses on gender and sexual formations of sovereignty, nationalism, kinship, violence, memory and displacement in the Kurdish borderlands of Turkey, Iraq and Syria.


Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies, Anthropology, Culture, Power, and Social Change (CPSC) interest group