Legitimate Means of Dying: Contentious Politics of Martyrdom in the Turkish Civil War (1968–1982)

Alp Yenen


Until today, commitment to the ‘martyrs’ of the Turkish civil war of the 1970s continues to be a crucial part of Turkey’s political culture. This paper will offer a historical-comparative sociology of state conventions and non-state contentions in defining political cultures of martyrdom during the Turkish civil war of 1970s. First, by outlining the historical semantics and political sociology of the state’s culture of martyrdom, I will argue that the state came to claim a monopoly over legitimate means of dying in the name of the state-nation-religion triad and explain how official martyrdom manifested itself during the civil war. In the second part, this paper will discuss cultures of martyrdom in processes of social mobilisation, collective identification and moral legitimisation in contentious politics, and how the radical-revolutionary left and the ultra-nationalist far-right in Turkey constructed their own cultures of martyrdom. Non-state claims to political martyrdom from the left and right emulated the state’s martyrdom discourse without rejecting its legitimacy. By (de-) legitimising lethal political violence, cultures of martyrdom establish lasting solidarities across people, times and spaces—and in seclusion against ‘others’.


DOI: https://doi.org/10.6094/behemoth.2019.12.1.1004