The politics of genocide recognition: Kurdish nation-building and commemoration in the post-Saddam Era

Bahar Baser, Mari Toivanen

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    This article explores the genocide recognition politics (GRP) with a specific focus on Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign (1988) against the Kurdish population in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). In the context of a pending referendum on independence in the KRI, this study investigates the evolution of GRP in relation to secession, nation-building and commemoration as well as the social, political and economic drivers in the process. In addition, the study zeroes in on the internationalization of genocide recognition claims via diaspora lobbying and the KRG’s bureaux of representation in Europe. The results are based on extensive fieldwork conducted with KRG representatives, diaspora entrepreneurs and other stakeholders between 2012 and 2016 in Europe and Iraqi Kurdistan. The KRG’s genocide recognition claims are not explicitly associated with secession, but instead are employed to legitimize local rule by referencing collective trauma and shared victimhood. In this way, Anfal – as the ‘chosen trauma’ – has become a component of (local) nation-building mechanisms. Nevertheless, recognition claims can become instrumentalized for succession so long as the political circumstances in the region become favourable to Kurdish independence. In the diaspora context, the GRP serve to establish a link to homeland through commemoration practices, but they also provide greater space for lobbying and transnational advocacy networking.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)404-426
    Number of pages23
    JournalJournal of Genocide Research
    Issue number3
    Early online date25 Jun 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


    • Genocide recognition
    • diaspora
    • politics
    • Kurdish Regional Government
    • anfal


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