Political and economic origins of the Kurdish moral economy

During the transformation of the Kurdish political economy in the late nineteenth century, social, political, and economic structures were also forced to change within the wider Empire with the modernisation of the central administration and the project of capitalisation. In response to such changes, the response of the Kurds was shaped in an evolutionary manner that could be formulated as a transformation in resistance, where a dual transformation took place between the core and the edge that defined the double movement nature of the developments. Within such a changing environment, the transformation of the Kurdish political economy can be read from different perspectives. On the one hand, the position adopted by the Kurds can be seen as a resistance to the active market manipulation and intervention by the Ottoman state as it attempted to force the region to adapt and integrate into an international market system through various actions, such as the 1858 land law, détribalisation, deterritorialisation, the commercialisation of land and labour, the redistribution of economic surpluses, and economic dependency on the centre (Pamuk, 2000). On the other hand, the slow progress in the

Kurdish moral economy 59 transformation of Kurdish society can be viewed because of the internal dynamics of that society. The traditional character of the Kurds and their leadership led them to preserve the existing structures against what they perceived as the harmful influences of liberal economic principles, as the society was not prepared, ready, or did not need such external-oriented transformation. However, eventually, this meant that the leadership and the society had missed the opportunity offered in the nineteenth century to modernise in line with the rest of the Empire and Europe, and they failed, therefore, to have a bourgeois revolution.

In retaliation, this does not mean that changes were not taking place in the Kurdish political economy, after missing the opportunity of the nineteenth century's new order. After the Abdulhamid and Young Turk governments sought to control the Kurdish tribes through the centralisation policy, later, the Kemalist modern Turkey started to give economic power to the aghas!sheikhs and the upper strata of society by providing ownership of the land. Such actions destroyed the meaning of land as common property according to the tribal value system at the beginning of the twentieth century (Keyder, 1981). Consequently, following their acceptance of the centralisation project of the state, the aghas/sheikhs not only gained lower levels of taxation for their territory but also began to act like landowners through the use of a sharecropping system among the tribes, some even directing this from a distance as they moved to urban areas (Sonmez, 1992; Besikci, 1969; van Bruinessen, 1992). As a result of this shift, the leadership began to lose touch with the masses becoming distant from the problems and demands of their own people and destroying the traditional social network and ties between Kurdish leaders and their subjects.

Relations that were once social had now become much more purely economic in nature. However, despite these changes in relations, the Kurdish leadership did not produce conditions that were conducive for the development of a well-established merchant class that might play a key role in commercialising agricultural products and achieve its own great transformation. The political elites - who didn’t rebel against the authority - used their economic advantage only for themselves and their own household. They did not use land revenue to invest in production or to develop capitalist enterprises, so such driving forces as the bourgeoisie, urban middle class, and factory labourers who could transform society from one stage to another through internationalisation, industrialisation, and modernisation were not encouraged by the Kurdish leadership. In the end. they became agents between the centre and periphery, rather than leaders of the Kurdish region. They failed to move towards a market economy or push for the development of a modern nation-state and so hindered the transformation of Kurdish society into a modern political economy over the entire society.

At grassroots level, cultural values worked against a modern transformation in Kurdish society. The house (mal) was the social and economic unit in Kurdish society. It was composed of extended family members, including married sons and their families, and the unit assumed a crucial role in the economy. The majority of houses worked on their own land for their own household economy, rather than for crops or animal products to be used by others outside of it. The notion of money was not an important one for the family, and the idea of, for example, producing cottage cheese (thoraq) for the purpose of creating a surplus to be exchanged for money was not a priority. The total cost of production, which depended upon the inputs of land, labour, and capital, was not seen in terms of its economic or monetary value as such but bound up with existing social relations and religious values. This view of production and economic behaviour created an obstacle to the adaptation to a market economy.

Before the centralisation policies of the Empire and the changes to land ownership discussed before, agriculturalism was a dominant economic activity articulated through various forms of social and political units. Kinship ties were also essential to economic relations, predominantly in exchange, and were regulated in the context of cultural and religious norms which guided individual behaviour (Glavanis and Glavanis, 1990; Dubetsky, 1976). For instance, each house had a socio-economic connection through informal activities, involving such things as solidarity, collaboration, mutual support, cooperation, giving of gifts at births, weddings, and deaths. Rights such as the inheritance of agricultural land and endogamous (dodmam) marriage were notable cultural values that also served to maintain economic relations.8 Any economic move towards the commercialisation of crops in the Kurdish regions was not sustained by social relations. Social conventions were deeply rooted in the existing economic mechanisms where, to give one example, the use of the village fountain was a matter of kinship cooperation provided at communal expense rather than calculated as an individual cost.

Furthermore, society’s economic relations operated through the female-dominated household economy and the locally organised bazaars (market). The economy was embedded in social relations which regulated economic transaction without the need for self-regulating market economy principles. The institution of the bazaar could be located within traditional, cultural, and kinship settings (King, 2013; Jongerden and Verheij, 2012). It genuinely could be classed as a tribal mode of production that shaped in a non-wage and non-capitalist form. However, from a modern point of view, it bore a number of distinctive deficiencies, such as the absence of formal (legal) rules, for example, contract law, a lack of standardisation of prices and quality, no clearly defined division of labour and skills, no large-scale entrepreneurs providing capital, and no framework provided by the liberal state. It was a distinctive system without self-regulating market principles, and one based on trust, friendship, affinity, validity, and cultural values that sustained traditional reciprocity and relations of redistribution protecting it from the impact of the market economy.

This long-established non-economic institutional structure was encouraged by political and economic relations. However, economic relations were not considered separate from social relations, and, in terms of the Polanyian approach, these social relations were not conducive to liberal principles. We argue that the Kurdish tribal and traditional system is best analysed from a Polanyian moralist approach within an institutionalist theoretical perspective; that is the internal leadership and local/traditional instimtions of Kurdish society were unable to accommodate mar-ketisation and modern institutions. However, this raises the question of how the

Kurds have survived until now among the major powers and international market economy if their traditional tribal system was so inimical to such an environment.

In the Kurdish anarchic social order, there was no notion of a state. This has led to doubts about the benefits of modernity and its institutions as they may constitute a danger to the essential elements of the •mountain society’, particularly the feeling of freedom to range over a wide territory and the sense of solidarity and kinship. During the nineteenth century, the Kurdish people shared traditional local norms and values within reciprocal relationships and for them, individual behaviour, especially in the market, was aimed at neither monetary goals nor profit. The motivation of the tribesmen was shaped by the socio-religious concept mostly defined in terms of spiritual, traditional tribal (eshir) kinship, where altruism played an important role in influencing social norms, experience, and knowledge with regard to economic relations.

Economic behaviour in the form of the market, exchange, and other economic activities existed, but individual behaviour was not determined in the utilitarian sense of maximising utility in the form of money, wealth, or profit. Instead, behaviour was influenced by social status based on reputation and religiously derived obligations, constituting embeddedness. It was against the background of this peculiar Kurdish social and economic formation, and its contrast with a modern central government and international self-regulating market economy, that the Kurdish social structure, cultural anthropology, and non-economic institutions became the main reasons for the resistance of society to undergo a modern transformation in a social protectionist response.

 
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