Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Middle Eastern Studies


Ozlem Goner

Subject Categories

Islamic World and Near East History | Political History


Kurdish Nationalism, Nationalism, Arabization, State Formation, Syria, Kurdistan


Since the fall of the Ottoman empire, Kurdish nationalism has developed as an ideology within a regional state system where Kurds lack national representation or recognition. This ideology has manifested itself into a fractured movement where the contemporary state borders that separate the Kurdish population at large have proven to be both a limiting and a creative factor. This thesis examines the history of Kurdish nationalism in Syria with a focus on both the local context as defined by Syria’s borders in addition to the broader region, for the politics of Kurds in Syria have clearly been shaped by interactions with the Syrian state as well as the regional Kurdish nationalist movement and interstate dynamics. In order to carry this out, this paper employs a methodological framework largely informed by the work of Hamit Bozarslan.

This theoretical underpinning conceptualizes Kurdish nationalist actors as existing within a broader ‘minority sphere’ where they interact with each other, various ‘state spheres,’ and the Kurdish population at large. While manifestations of Kurdish nationalism are informed by interactions with processes of state formation in their local contexts, nationalist actors are also shaped by ‘crossborder’ communication with the broader Kurdish minority sphere. The degree to which this crossborder dynamic is available to Kurdish nationalist actors largely depends on regional interstate relations; in periods of status quo borders are strong and penetration is difficult, whereas in periods of interstate conflict borders become porous and states will engage with adjacent Kurdish actors in an effort to undermine rivals.

Using this framework, this paper examines the secondary literature and primary sources relating to the history of the Kurdish movement within Syria, with a focus on three main events and their aftereffects: the 1962 al-Hasakah census, the entrance of the PKK into Syria from Turkey, and the 2004 al-Qamishli uprising. These endeavors further highlight the importance of interstate conflict in strengthening crossborder Kurdish nationalism, but additionally point to how the temporary opening of room for Kurdish nationalist actors to operate creates new dynamics within the local Kurdish minority sphere which the state struggles to address after a status quo reemerges.