Emancipation from Captivity: Stockholm Syndrome and the Kurds

In 1973, in Stockholm, Sweden, a bank was seized in a siege that lasted six days. This episode presented a paradoxical portrait of human psychology. The hostages, inexplicably, developed a strange bond with their captors. This phenomenon is known today as “Stockholm Syndrome” (Graham, 2017). But what happens when we consider this psychological puzzle at […]

Emancipation from Captivity: Stockholm Syndrome and the Kurds
Emancipation from Captivity: Stockholm Syndrome and the Kurds
  • Yayınlanma21 June 2023 12:07

In 1973, in Stockholm, Sweden, a bank was seized in a siege that lasted six days. This episode presented a paradoxical portrait of human psychology. The hostages, inexplicably, developed a strange bond with their captors. This phenomenon is known today as “Stockholm Syndrome” (Graham, 2017). But what happens when we consider this psychological puzzle at the societal level? Can society also remain hostage to the sympathies of its oppressors? In this article, I will discuss the impact of Stockholm Syndrome on individuals and society.

Stockholm Syndrome, named after that historic event in Stockholm, is a psychological reaction rooted in a paradox. Victims, rather than feeling hostility towards their captors or oppressors, develop a strong emotional connection with them. How does a victim present such an unusual response?

In 2007, De Fabrique and his team identified four primary reasons behind such behavior: First, people believe they are in danger and that the captor will harm them. Second, when the captor shows the slightest kindness, the hostage, no matter how scared, see it as a sign of hope. Third, hostages are isolated from the views of others and only see events from the captor’s perspective. The fourth reason is that when people feel they can’t escape, they feel compelled to do what the captor wants.

Evolutionary psychology also sees victims’ behavior as a survival strategy. This is a response to intense fear and the overwhelming feeling of helplessness (Namnyak et al., 2008). When our ancestors were captured by stronger tribes or predators, did submission and alliance often mean the difference between life and death? This ‘adaptive’ pressure might explain why some hostages or victims of oppression inexplicably lean towards empathizing with their captors.

This syndrome is used globally to describe events ranging from kidnappings to abusive relationships, religious cults, and totalitarian regimes. In this context, we can describe societal movements against oppressive systems. This concept has been suggested by political scientists and sociologists as a metaphor for understanding societal movements.

Dr. Dee Graham used the concept of Stockholm Syndrome to understand the relationship between men and women in patriarchal societies. According to him, women, against the harshness of men, exhibit a societal version of Stockholm Syndrome. Graham coined this as “Societal Stockholm Syndrome” (Graham, 1994).

The relationship between the Kurdish people and their rulers can be described in this context. For example, under Saddam Hussein’s oppressive Baath regime in Iraq, many Kurds allied themselves with the government. Some joined the Baath Party or the Iraqi military, and some took part in the government and enacted Arabization policies, all signs of an alliance with an oppressive power.

Another example is that although the Turkish state suppresses Kurdish culture and identity, a portion of the Kurdish population is striving to integrate with Turkish social and political structures and identify themselves with the Turkish identity. The existence of “Turkified Kurds” who abandon their language and identity to survive and assimilate into the dominant Turkish society aligns with the principles of Societal Stockholm Syndrome.

Another example to mention in this context is the village guard system in Kurdistan, where many Kurds are armed by the Turkish state to fight against another group of Kurds. In this scenario, a group of Kurds are fighting against their own people alongside their oppressors. Of course, the reasons for this are political, social, and economic, and it is a multifaceted issue.

However, from the perspective of Stockholm Syndrome; the combination of fear, survival strategy, and desire to belong to the dominant society becomes the cause of these betrayals and movements. No matter how this perspective allows us to understand how oppression, fear, and systematic violence can lead to an attachment to oppressors, and explain why some societies endure oppressive conditions and resist efforts toward change or liberation, we must be careful when applying these concepts. They provide a valuable understanding, but they can’t elucidate every instance of submission. In the case of the Kurds, for instance, it doesn’t mean that the entire Kurdish population exhibits symptoms of Societal Stockholm Syndrome. The struggle for rights, autonomy, and recognition is a significant aspect of Kurdish history.

In conclusion, the concept of Stockholm Syndrome not only offers a striking lens to perceive individual psychological behaviors but also on a societal level to understand complicated social movements. It portrays a picture of how oppression and fear can both individually and collectively lead to unexpected responses, such as sympathy and affinity towards oppressors. This syndrome serves as a stark reminder of the lengths the human spirit may go to preserve a sense of security, even if it’s only an illusion. Despite acknowledging these phenomena, we should also promote societies that resist these manipulations.

References:

De Fabrique, N., Van Hasselt, V. B., Vecchi, G. M., Romano, S. J., & Regini, C. (2007). Understanding Stockholm Syndrome: An Evolutionary Psychological Perspective. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 76, 10-15.
Namnyak, M., Tufton, N., Szekely, R., Toal, M., Worboys, S., & Sampson, E. L. (2008). ‘Stockholm Syndrome’: Psychiatric Diagnosis or Urban Myth? Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 117(1), 4-11.
Graham, D. L. R., Rawlings, E. I., & Rigsby, R. K. (1994). Loving to Survive: Sexual Terror, Men’s Violence, and Women’s Lives. New York: NYU Press.