By: Nilay Özok Gündoğan

A few weeks ago, a commercial London-based publisher owned by a Turkish academic of migration studies sold the only peer-reviewed academic journal of Kurdish studies to a predatory publisher.[1] Kurdish Studies was established about ten years ago, and until quite recently, it was published as a peer-reviewed journal with İbrahim Sirkeci’s Transnational Press. In a public statement, the journal editors recounted their distressing experience after Transnational Press sold the journal to an obscure, seemingly predatory press named Intellectual Edge Research Publishing (IERP). Later, a banner was inserted on the journal’s website stating that “the journal, KURDISH STUDIES has been fully acquired and transferred to a new publisher: Oxbridge Publishing House, UK.” In the statement, the editors mentioned that even though İbrahim Sirkeci assured them that nothing would change with the publication policy and the journal’s content, they quickly figured this was not the case. To their dismay, they noticed that the new publisher had inserted new articles into the journal’s website without the knowledge and approval of the editorial team. These articles were not peer-reviewed. Their attempts to reach İbrahim Sirkeci bore no fruit, and the non-peer-reviewed articles appeared on the journal’s website in the latest issue of the journal.

That a Turkish academic owned and sold the only peer-reviewed academic journal of Kurdish studies in the Euro-American academia to a predatory journal is a black comedy.[2] Kurdish Studies have long remained on the margins of the institutional academic context, not only in the Middle East but also in Europe and the United States. As I mentioned in a previous Jadaliyya piece, Kurdish Studies is a field that is trying to open itself some room in Middle Eastern Studies which had long been dominated by Arab, Turkish, and Persian studies and scholars and their respective methodological nationalisms and colonial perspectives. Statelessness meant lacking governmental and private financial, institutional, and scholarly support. But against all odds, scholars of Kurdish studies always tried to maintain their presence in the world of academic journals –despite the latter’s lack of interest. There were previous experiences of scholarly publications on Kurdish studies in the United States and Europe. In the 1980s, the International Journal of Kurdish Studies was published by the Kurdish Heritage Foundation of America.[3] Later in the 1990s, the Journal of Kurdish Studies was published by prominent scholars in the field who were primarily based in Europe. The Kurdish Institute in Paris has been an important institutional milieu for academic publishing in Kurdish Studies. Two important journals, Studia Kurdica and Etudes Kurdes, were published by the Center.

However, all these publications were short-lived and, reflecting the long-lived ghettoization of Kurdish studies, they lacked widespread circulation in the Euro-American academia. In the last decade or so, Kurdish studies expanded as a field. Both in terms of the number of scholars working within the field, and the publications that came out, Kurdish studies witnessed a renaissance. From the 1980s through the 2000s, the field consisted mainly of a handful of mostly European and Europe-based scholars. Their scholarship contributed greatly to the institutionalization of Kurdish studies in academia. Yet, the thematic, epistemological, and institutional marginality of Kurdish studies continued for the most part.

This has recently been changing. Scholars from the Euro-American world have had a growing interest in Kurdish studies. At the same time, the field consists of increasing numbers of Kurdish scholars from all parts of Kurdistan, more women, and first-generation Kurdish scholars. Building on the work of the earlier scholars, the new generation works hard to push the study of Kurds and Kurdistan beyond its long-lived ghettoized position in Middle Eastern Studies and produce high-quality, interdisciplinary, and theoretically and conceptually sophisticated scholarship.

While the field is expanding in this way, new questions, conflicts, and fault lines have emerged. As Kurds became more visible in academia, the questions of “who speaks on behalf of the Kurds” and “from what epistemological position” have gained new urgency. Kurdish scholars became increasingly wary of the colonial discourses and subjective positions being reproduced within the field by their “allies,” i.e., scholars who think and write from a politically sympathetic place.[4] The question of how to decolonize the field of Kurdish studies appeared as an ever-urgent scholarly agenda for Kurdish scholars. The ethics and politics of alliance—how to support an oppressed group within the academia without reproducing established power hierarchies, oppressive discourses, and positions of privilege—is a key question that Kurdish studies scholars have been keen on exploring in panels, workshops, and publications.

The situation that the journal Kurdish Studies faced in the hands of a commercial press needs to be considered against this background. Selling the one and only peer-reviewed journal in this marginalized field to a predatory press has grave implications beyond the usual problems associated with commercializing academic publications in the hands of non-academic publishers. As a scholarly field of a stateless group, Kurdish studies have long been an orphan in western academia. It has thrived only because of the genuine efforts and labor of scholars who felt sympathetic toward the Kurdish cause. The problem of lack of institutional and financial support looms large in the field. Letting a profit-driven press keep the only academic journal carrying the name “Kurdish Studies” in its title is a gross injustice to the field, to the editorial board, to the readers, and to the Kurdish scholars, current and future. The flagship journal of a field which has long been dominated by nation-state nationalisms has to be based within a university press.

[1] Predatory publishers are those that publish articles by charging authors fees and without following a peer-review process. These are “entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.” Grudniewicz, Agnes, David Moher, Kelly D. Cobey, Gregory L. Bryson, Samantha Cukier, Kristiann Allen, Clare Ardern et al. “Predatory journals: no definition, no defence.” Nature 576, no. 7786 (2019): 211.

[2] Here Turkishness is not an empty signifier of ethnic identity. That would be essentialism. Rather it is used to highlight the historically constructed hierarchical categories of Turkishness and Kurdishness in a relational manner. To wit: an academic journal of a dominated group became the subject of such a commercial exchange without due respect to the academic and political implications and significance of the journal to this group. This case should be situated in the context of historically constructed ethno-national structures of privilege and exclusion. The essential thing about privileges is that they are rendered invisible at best and appear as entitlement, rightfulness, and deservedness to the privileged when challenged. To the oppressed, they are pain, injustice, missed opportunities, and resentment. Regardless, it is all asymmetrical positionalities in a matrix of domination and privilege. The relationality of Kurdishness and Turkishness in this case manifests in the claimed entitlement for a singlehanded decision to sell the journal.

[4] Members of the dominated group might also reproduce colonial discourses, relations, and practices in academia. In the recent discussions on how to decolonize Kurdish studies, the question of the Kurdish scholars’ role in reproducing the colonial positionalities is fiercely debated. For example, discussions at the three workshops convened within the scope of the Decolonizing Kurdish Studies Initiative.