Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Gary Wilder

Committee Members

Mandana E. Limbert

Melissa Checker

Julie Livingston

Subject Categories

Nature and Society Relations | Near and Middle Eastern Studies | Science and Technology Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Turkey, oil, territory, nature, Kurdish Question, geopolitics


Building on the recent turn to the material and earthly aspects of resources and political power in environmental anthropology and political geography, this work historically and ethnographically examines the kinds of territorial politics that oil’s materiality, geological qualities, and infrastructures have generated in Turkey. Despite being surrounded by oil-rich neighbors in the Middle East, Turkey’s domestic oil reserves supply only 7 percent of the country’s oil, all of which has been drilled in the Kurdish provinces of Batman, Diyarbakır, and Adıyaman in Turkey’s southeast, where the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) has been fighting the Turkish state since 1984 for cultural and political rights for the Kurdish people, who have been subjected to mass killing, oppression, and assimilation since the 19th century. In addition to being entangled with the militarized and uneven geographies of Turkey’s Kurdistan, hydrocarbons have been also at the center of the Turkish government’s plans to secure energy independence in the near future through offshore exploration near Turkey-occupied Cyprus as well as its nostalgia for the lost oil-rich territories of the Ottoman Empire. Oil in Turkey is placed at the nexus of territorial politics that extend from internal colonialism and armed conflict to expansionist foreign politics in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean. What kinds of territorializations and counter-territorializations have the material and earthly politics of oil mediated, generated, or unsettled in Turkey? To address this question, this work examines petroleum geology and geologists’ accounts of oil exploration; relations between state officials, geologists and engineers, and Kurdish villagers in oilfields; conspiracy theories and epistemic uncertainties generated around oil; and public debates over geopolitical disputes regarding Iraq, Cyprus, and the Kurdish Question. The research incorporates participant observation, oral histories and memoirs, technological and legal reports, newspaper archives, and interviews collected during 14 months of fieldwork in Turkey. Drawing on this data, chapters explore the intersection of oil and earth on the one hand and processes of territorialization and counter-territorialization on the other, as manifested in resource nationalism, uneven development, foreign policy, and warfare in Turkey. The dissertation concludes that oil has been central to the emergence and sedimentation of Turkey as a territorially bounded nation-state and to the unsettling of such territorial arrangements through the emergence of unexpected relations between earth, people, and politics.

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