Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Radio Free Kurdistan: A National Soundscape in the Shadow of Soviet Empire

In 1955, a Kurdish radio program began broadcasting in Yerevan, the capital of Soviet Armenia. While the broadcasts were intended to shore up Kurdish peasants' support for the Communist Party in Armenia, its broadcast footprint extended far across the Turkish border. The broadcasts quickly became popular across Turkey's Kurdish regions, due to the Turkish government's violent policies prohibiting the use of the Kurdish language. Radio sets and cassette recordings of the radio broadcasts began to circulate within and across villages, towns, and cities across Turkish Kurdistan, and Kurdish musicians smuggled cassette recordings of themselves across the closed land border between Turkey and Armenia in the hope that they might be broadcast on the air. The Turkish government, however, concerned that this emergent Kurdish soundscape might stoke already-existing unrest among its marginalized Kurdish populations, seized radios and cassettes, and scrambled the airwaves to interfere with the broadcast signal. This project examines the social and political life of sonic media in transnational Kurdistan. Through twelve months of ethnographic and archival research, it explores the formation of listening Kurdish publics in Turkey amid Cold War struggles for geopolitical hegemony. My dissertation traces the relationship between sound and politics in this (post)socialist context. It investigates the transnational circulation of Kurdish-language sonic media during the Cold War, advancing scholarship on the relationship between sound, technology and politics, and it pushes against the taken-for-granted contours of the Middle East, raising questions about what is at stake in the epistemic and political work of region formations. In so doing, it problematizes the theoretical, epistemological, and methodological value of "area studies" in understanding the lived realities of those who inhabit the interstices of region formations like the Middle East and the Caucasus.