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Bahar Simsek: ‘Research does not need to be holistic’

How does audio-visual materials shape the identity of people when those people do not own their own land and are being oppressed? Bahar Simsek delved into the effect of film on the Kurdish identity. She will obtain her PhD on 4 May.

Bahar Simsek

A PhD in the field of media was not an obvious choice for Simsek. Initially, she studied mathematics but later decided to follow her interest in communication. ‘I was interested in film, mainly the ways in which they depict ethnical controversy in Turkey. I wanted to find out whether there exists something like Kurdish cinema and to figure out in what ways films might shape the Kurdish identity. In this way, I could also give a voice to my own position and experiences. Erik-Jan Zurcher (professor emeritus Turkish Studies, ed.) is a well-known name within my field. I was thus honoured that he wanted to supervise me.’

Fragmentation in reality and research

Quickly Simsek realised that she had chosen a difficult topic. ‘In the modern world it is near impossible to talk about cinema in the traditional sense of the word. In order to study the influence of films on the Kurdish identity, I also had to look at platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and even TikTok. You can see all sorts of different visions on the Kurdish identity in the videos that are shared there. In them, the right to be Kurdish is claimed, while those videos also play an important role in the contemporary pursuit of freedom and democracy. I wanted to showcase that variety, but at the same time it was impossible to include all of the images.’  

Eventually, Simsek proceeded on the basis of statements. She selected visual media which either depict a nostalgic image of Kurdish life, or which tried to find a way to depict Kurdish trauma, or escape from this dualism. For her analysis she used techniques from traditional film studies, but also from modern philosophy and current activism. In addition she interviewed several film directors. ‘That might be the most important thing that I have learned from this research: a result does not have to be complete and holistic. It is precisely the fragmentation that contains a depiction of fragmented reality.’ 

Online defence

On 4 May she will defend her PhD research. ‘It is a shame that even now I cannot come to Leiden. In part due to Covid I have never visited during my PhD trajectory. I regret that, but I am honoured that members of the examination committee from Leiden, Wageningen University, EHESS and Freie Universität Berlin are making the effort to participate.’ She is not yet nervous about the big names. ‘I am mainly proud that I succeeded in finishing this, although I hope that my baby will stay calm during the ceremony.’ 

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