Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Diane E. King


In this dissertation, I explore the interplay between youthful agency and state imposition. Specifically, drawing on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Istanbul, Turkey and Chicago, Illinois, I investigate how young adults who have migrated within one state and to another are navigating the states and bureaucratic systems in which they live. My interlocutors hail from a state that is quintessentially twentieth century, by which I mean the state was established as a nation-state, promoted as existing for members of a particular ethno-linguistic identity, with a charismatic leader who inspired a cult of personality. This narrative of the state has reverberated down the generations and is central to the socio-political environment in which my interlocutors have lived their lives. I argue that ethno-nationalist states and the education systems they establish to train their citizenry do not necessarily produce loyal, docile subjects that conform to the state’s narrative of ideal citizens. Rather, as my case shows, the university environment can foster the development of activists who assert who they are in ethno-linguistic terms that challenge state narratives. My interlocutors are challenging the dominant ethno-nationalist narratives of a state that seeks to erase and silence them, as well as narratives of asylum seeking that rely on tropes of victimhood that do not reflect their lived experiences. In challenging these narratives, my interlocutors make emphatic assertions of their ethno-linguistic identity and strive for increased visibility.

As Kurds in Turkey, my interlocutors have been subject to narratives perpetuated by the ethno-nationally assertive Turkish state and agents of the state, such as the military and the education system, that they do not have a history, they do not exist as a distinct ethno-linguistic group, and they are terrorists. It is these narratives my interlocutors are challenging. In both Istanbul and Chicago, they are engaged in making emphatic assertions of their Kurdishness. In Istanbul, this has included challenging dominant state narratives in university classrooms and through activities such as spray-painting Kurdish language graffiti in central locations in the city. In Chicago, this has included protesting in front of the Turkish Consulate and submitting narratives of the various forms of violence they endured at the hands of the Turkish state as part of their political asylum applications to the United States government. In migrating to the United States and applying for political asylum, my interlocutors continue to assert their Kurdish identities, pose challenges to the Turkish state, and demand visibility for themselves, and Kurds more broadly.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Funding for this research was supported by the National Security Education Program’s Boren Fellowship in 2016.