This well-written, pithy study is an essential corrective reading for anyone who erroneously believes the long-running Kurdish struggle in Turkey is just between the state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Not to be confused with the more powerful Hizbullah in Lebanon, Kurdish Hizbullah in Turkey "emerged [in 1979] with the objective of overthrowing the regime in Turkey — which it considered non-Islamic and thus illegitimate — and establishing a Sharia-based Islamic state in its place" (p. vii). Ironically, however, Turkish Hizbullah proved a de facto, if perhaps unwitting, violent state ally "that murdered its Kurdish opponents and rivals by horrific methods" (p. vii) when violence between the state and the PKK peaked from 1992 to1996.
Hizbullah seemingly disintegrated after the state killed its leader, Huseyin Velioglu, and captured its archives in a shootout at Beykoz, Istanbul, on January 17, 2000. "Tens of thousands of people" (p. 138) were imprisoned for participating in its activities. However, Hizbullah reemerged in part as a supposed charity movement called the Mustazaflar Association from 2003 to 2012, while in 2012 Hizbullah established the legal Huda-Par party (Free Cause). Through extensive interviews with leaders, members and supporters of Hizbullah during 2013-14 and his own deep knowledge of Islam, Mehmet Kurt traces the development of this powerful Islamist movement. The present volume is based on his doctoral dissertation in the Department of Sociology at Selcuk University in Turkey.
"Hizbullah's raison d'etre was to initiate an Islamic revolution" (p. 27). According to Kurt, the Egyptian Sunni Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) movement founded much earlier (1928) and the Shiite-inspired Iranian Revolution of 1979 were the two main influences on Hizbullah. The author begins by remembering, "being amazed at how easily these Hizbullahci [a member or follower of Hizbullah] youngsters could find reasons to beat someone up" (p. 2) and how "life outside the school at the time was similarly marked by fighting between Hizbullah and the PKK" (p. 2).
Although officially only hundreds died in this violence, Kurt declares, "according to my informants . . . the accurate number should rather be in the thousands" (p. 31). Furthermore, "throwing acid on women from their neighbourhood or strangling them because they dressed incorrectly or were thought to engage in ‘prostitution'" (p. 27) added to the violence. In addition, "Hizbullah executed hundreds of its own members during this period" (p. 36) in violence between rival groups, in part centered on Islamic bookstores such as Ilim and Menzel. After Operation Beykoz, which ended the violence, "mass graves, torture chambers, and Islamist cells were discovered in Konya, Adana, Diyarbakir, and many other places" (p. 38).
Although Hizbullah claimed its actions were in self-defense and denied working with the state, "for most people in the area Hizbullah's connection with the Turkish state is beyond question although the extremely clandestine nature of that relationship makes it difficult to prove" (p. 37). Hizbullah counters that "because most people in the [Kurdish] region know us, they do not give credit to the slanders in the media . . . [and] black propaganda" (p. 155) that arise from the state's selective use of Hizbullah's captured archives.
"Considering that Kurdish society is historically known to be religious and conservative, it is not surprising that Hizbullah found support among the Kurds" (p. 142). "Today, with its more than 100,000 followers, Hizbullah is a social movement and should be investigated beyond a single focus on violence using the perspectives of sociology of religion and politics, anthropology of the state, social memory studies, discourse analysis, and visual anthropology" (p. 5). The author offers an organizational chart of four overlapping circles to illustrate the "levels of Hizbullah affiliation" (p. 53): 1) the illegal core of Hizbullah and leading cadres; 2) Hizbullah-affiliated organizations and associations; 3) the Hizbullah base and social movement; and 4) various Islamist groups and individuals.
Chapter one discusses the conflicts that emerged between Hizbullah and other groups . . . [and] how the conflicting parties describe themselves and each other" (p. 78). Chapter two outlines "major themes that emerge from my research data and situate the data within a theoretical framework" (p. 57), termed Grounded Theory. This conceptualization "suggests that instead of starting fieldwork from theoretical postulations, a theoretical abstraction may be performed by comparing the data produced in fieldwork and the categories that emerge from such comparison" (p. 7). Chapter three surveys the construction of social memory in the stories and novels of Hizbullah, while a useful summary of the book appears in the final chapter, the Conclusion.
Although all four circles of Hizbullah's affiliations "are populated by ethnic Kurds, . . . it is very difficult to talk about the existence of a strong ethnicity-based discourse within any of these circles" (p. 56). Hizbullah's "relation with ethnicity is fairly measured" (p. 106). Indeed, what primarily characterizes Hizbullah's affiliations "is their shared opposition to the PKK, [which] is seen as anti-Islamic, insincere, and sometimes even heathen (kafir) or apostate (murtet)" (p. 56). "Seen from this perspective, it is clear that declaring PKK members and sympathisers murtet legitimises acts of violence against them. This was Hizbullah's justification for the hundreds of people they killed in the 1990s" (p. 127). Nevertheless, while Hizbullah does not give primary importance to ethnicity in reference to identity, it is de facto engaged in and connected with the Kurdish issue." (p. 106). Thus, "Hizbullah's approach to ethnic identity may be described as a case of religious nationalism. ... Ethnic identity is acceptable as long as it does not contradict an Islamist worldview" (p. 148).
Despite the Hizbullah-associated Huda-Par's mediocre showing in recent parliamentary elections — especially in comparison to the secular Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) associated with the PKK — the author thinks the former still "has the potential to garner more support" (p. 145), a problematic assertion given the continuing strength of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's long-ruling, Islamic-associated Justice and Development Party (AKP). As for renewed violence between Hizbullah and the PKK, the author points to recent, growing election tensions as well as friction over Kobane in 2014. Their relations also remain "vulnerable to external provocation and interference" (p. 146).
Regarding Hizbullah's attitude toward some current hot-button issues in the West, "feminism is contrary to the nature of women. It is a movement that has been created by international imperialism and especially Zionism in order to alienate women from their essential nature and turn them into [a] commodity" (p. 158). Furthermore, "homosexuality is a perversion and a disease, which is against human nature, [and] corrupts society and family life" (p. 158). On the other hand, "it is one's natural right to have one's education in one's mother tongue" (p. 160).
As to certain relevant states, "unfortunately, the governments in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries are not legitimate governments founded on the initiative of their peoples" (p. 151). "We consider Israel a Zionist, occupying, illegal, and tyrannical terrorist regime. They must leave the occupied Islamic lands without making any conditions" (p. 157). The United States and the European countries are the reason "that the Islamic world is experiencing problems today. ... They ... have been setting Muslims against each other by creating artificial problems and chaos and exploiting the people's resources and suppressing their will by means of puppet governments" (p. 157).
Given the Gulenist role in the failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, it would have been useful for the author to examine relations between Hizbullah and the Gulen movement more than merely declaring, "they [the Gulenists] were not willing to cooperate with any other Islamic organization. They tried to neutralize any group who did not serve them or whom they judged to be problematic for themselves, by conspiracies and defamation, and defeat them by using the power of the state" (p. 159). Similarly, although Kurt mentions the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) several times and even states that some Hizbullah splinter groups "joined the fight in Syria alongside organisations such as the Al-Nursa Front, ISIS, and others" (p. 83), a more detailed analysis of ISIS's relationship with Hizbullah would have been enlightening. Possibly Kurt will deal with these important matters in his next book.
An opening glossary of the numerous Islamic terms employed throughout the text would have made them more readily accessible to the reader than their initial definition buried in the endnotes and thus difficult to access. Although the author writes very well in English, he still has a number of run-on sentences, and the narrative is repetitious in places. The book concludes with an appendix containing the text of written interviews with Hizbullah officials, endnotes, a bibliography and an index Overall, Kurt's book will complement Cuma Cicek, The Kurds of Turkey: National, Religious and Economic Identities (2017) and be most useful reading for scholars, government and security officials, and interested lay readers.