Contested Infrastructures: Batman Refinery, Oil Pipelines, and Kurdish Economies of Oil Theft in Batman, Turkey

By Firat Bozcali
Submitted to Session P4940 (Authority in Concrete: State, Space, and Infrastructures in Turkey, 2017 Annual Meeting
Kurdish Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Following the discovery of oil fields in Raman mountain, Batman oil refinery was established in 1955, near Kurdish-populated ?luh village of Siirt Province. A complex network of oil pipelines was also built to connect the refinery to the oil fields but also to the air fields. With the establishment of oil industry, ?luh continued to attract a stream of population, ranging from petroleum engineers to refinery and pipeline technicians and workers. In 1990, Batman province was established. During the 1990s, Batman’s population dramatically increased, from a few hundred thousands to over a million, due to the village evacuations and forced displacement of Kurdish population in the wake of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. The forcibly displaced population created shanty-town neighborhoods in the outskirts of the Batman city center, these neighborhoods covered the surface of the complex network of oil pipelines connecting oil refinery to oil fields as well as air fields. With worsening socio-economic conditions, an increasing number of Batman residents engaged in oil theft from the oil pipelines and justified the oil bunkering by denying and countering the Turkish state’s ownership claim of natural resources, prominently oil and natural gas, in Turkey’s Kurdistan.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the summers of 2009, 2010, and 2011, I examine the socio-technical as well as political-moral dimensions of oil bunkering in Batman. A recent set of studies have examined the unexpected political and economic opportunities that the state-led infrastructures created for disenfranchised groups. As these studies have mostly centered on urban infrastructures, that range from water pipes to power lines, a little attention has been paid to rural infrastructures. This paper counterbalances this lack of attention by unpacking the socio-technical, economic, and political-moral agencies that the oil refinery and oil pipeline networks, which were designed and constructed as rural infrastructures, enabled in the context of rapid, unexpected, and unplanned urbanization. Through its focus on the local sets of political and moral justifications of oil theft among Kurdish oil traders, smugglers, and thieves, the paper also goes beyond the institution and elite-based analyses that prevail in the studies of the Kurdish politics in Turkey.