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Experiencing Justice and Imagining State: Engaging the Law to Challenge the Rule of Exception in Tunceli1

Marie Le Ray


This article explores the uses of law in a restrictive and changing political environment. It focuses on the specific case of Dersim/Tunceli – a theatre of the PKK/Turkish army warfare in the 1990s – following the arrest of the PKK leader in 1999 and the lifting of emergency rule in July 2002. The paper analyzes how cause-lawyers resort to law in a period in which the state’s local ruling and control devices are transforming and in which the ‘rule of law’ has to be reinstated. While acknowledging the crucial role of the courts in shaping people’s perception of ‘the state’ as all-encompassing, the article underlines how people also come to learn ‘the state’ as multi-layered and incoherent by facing obstacles to legal action and circumventing them in this changing and uncertain period. It then discusses justice as a site of contention and argues that increasing levels of legal activism is directly contributing to the redefinition of the rule of law and, beyond that, of the conceptual borders of ‘the state’ itself.          

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