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Kurdish nationalism: What are its origins?

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There is a general perception among some academics and Kurdish nationalists that Kurdish nationalism is ancient and inherent as demonstrated by centuries of history. These primordialists reference a distinct Kurdish culture and language and literature as the foundations for an ancient Kurdish national identity. An opposing camp of modernists asserts that the concept of nationalism is a product of industrialization and modernity. The issue of the origins of nationalism has advanced little beyond the primordial–modernist debate. An alternative approach to the emergence of nationalism is presented by the works of Anthony Smith. This approach, labelled ‘soft’ primordialism, acknowledges primordial and modernist elements of nationalism. Herein lies the issue: Where does nationalism come from? Is it inherited or constructed? This article will revisit the classical debate between the two dominant theories on nationalism and assess their applicability to the Kurdish case. It argues that neither the primordial nor the modernist approach alone can account for the origins of Kurdish nationalism. Instead, the article argues nations – as the Kurdish case will reveal, contain both primordial and modern characteristics.
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Keywords: Kurdish history; Kurdish literature; Kurdish nationalism; modernism; nationalism; primordialism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The University of Western Ontario

Publication date: June 1, 2013

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  • The International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies is a new peer-reviewed, tri- annual, academic publication devoted to the study of modern Iraq. In recognition of Iraq's increasingly important position on the world stage, the time is right for a new journal dedicated to scholarly engagement with the country.
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