In this seminar, based on two decades of ethnographic research in the border towns and villages of Mardin, Southeast Turkey, I will focus on the political and affective meanings of “return” from the perspective of the Syriac/Assyrian (Suryani) communities living in diaspora. My exploration dwells on the personal experiences of Syriacs who aspired and attempted to return their town and villages in the conflict ridden zone of Turkey during the temporary suspension of the conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) , times of 'violent peace' between 2000 and 2015. Focusing on the everyday struggles to return and repossess “home”, I pursue to reveal the changing meanings of citizenship and the property for the potential returnee. I argue that the possibility of home fluctuates between pass memories of loss, present conditions of violence and hope for a better life imagined for the future.  

Bio: 

Dr Zerrin Özlem Biner is a social anthropologist interested in conflict and post-conflict settings in the Middle East. Dr Biner’s research focuses on themes about state, citizenship, violence, materiality, memory, justice and reconciliation processes. For over a decade, Özlem has engaged ethnographically with the political, social and psychic effects of the protracted conflict in Southeastern Turkey through the perspective of Kurds, Arabs and Syriacs/ Assyrians, as well as diasporic communities residing in Sweden and Germany. More recently, Özlem has also been involved in developing a new ethnographic research project that focuses on the daily negotiations, aspirations and anxieties of Syrian refugees residing in the border cities of Turkey.

Among her recent publications, Ozlem is the author of States of Dispossession: Violence and Precarious Coexistence in Southeast Turkey (2020, UPENN), co-editor of Reverberations: Violence across Time and space (Forthcoming, November 2021 with Yael Navaro, Alice von Bieberstein and Seda Altug) and of a special section in the journal of Social Anthropology (with Ozge Biner) on Politics of Waiting.