Middle East Section
Invited - Oral Presentation Session
What kinds of medical, ethical, and political complexities that humanitarian doctors face with when a state conflates medical humanitarianism with terrorism? This paper examines violent contestations over health sovereignty by focusing on the unprecedented politicization and criminalization of humanitarian healthcare in Turkey’s Kurdish region along the militarized Turkish/Syrian border.
In the course of the Syrian war, several Kurdish inhabited cities in Turkey became volatile zones of humanitarian healthcare for refugees and combatants of different factions. The flows of humanitarian assistance, especially to combatant groups, were uneven. The Turkish government facilitated or precluded humanitarian flows, attracting international criticism for allegedly harboring Islamic State health facilities, while persecuting physicians who treated Kurdish militants fighting against the Islamic State. As Turkey’s own Kurdish conflict also escalated in relation to these developments, back and forth accusations of blocking access to healthcare became a routine aspect of the tug of war between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants in the country’s ravaged Kurdish cities.
Against this background, the paper explores how convergences between local political struggles and transnational discourses of humanitarianism, terrorism, and neutrality enable and foreclose new configurations of physician subjectivity, medical ethics, and political agency. More broadly, the paper shows how the political constructs of humanitarianism and terrorism stand in a complicated relation to state sovereignty, illustrating both its limits and its immanent logics.