THE KURDS

Last
of the
Beritan

In eastern Turkey in 2008, sheep raised by Beritan shepherds were brought to the city by Beritan truckers and sold by Beritan merchants at the market, with the tribal network serving as a means for economic vertical integration. Urban migrants do not simply sever their “traditional” ties and join mass society as isolated individuals. In the case of the Beritan, ties back to the tribe were not automatic or static but reasserted and reshaped through the interactions and economic collaboration of rural and urban members, with the sheep market serving as a particularly clear interface between the two worlds. The fact of working with sheep was itself significant: rural and urban members of the tribe alike expressed the sentiment that being Beritan was not just about bloodlines but also about a connection to livestock, a point of pride that gave them a certain intangible superiority over sedentary farmers and the perceived urban masses.

The adults I interviewed were almost all first-generation urban immigrants, and most grew up living as transhumance pastoralists. Even aside from those directly active in the tribe’s main economic network, many urban members’ work not incidentally involved sheep products of some sort. Interviews with several of these individuals showed that they were conscious of and quick to point to a continued connection to the pastoral livelihood that is an intrinsic part of Beritan tribal identity, whether they were now butchers working with mutton or textile manufacturers working with wool, whether or not they obtained raw materials from or otherwise worked with their kin. Individuals I spoke to in Gaziantep interpreted and shaped the very different lives they lived in the city in such a way that they could still claim membership and authenticity as Beritan.