The Young Scholars on Turkey (YSOT) Program presents
A Presentation by Kutbettin Kilic, Indiana University
Moderated by Kadir Ustun, Co-Director of YSOT Program
By Natalie Lopez
On Thursday, October 28, 2010, SETA Foundation at Washington DC hosted Kutbettin Kilic of Indiana University. The event was moderated by Kadir Ustun, Co-Director of Young Scholars on Turkey (YSOT) Program. Kutbettin Kilic addressed the various dimensions of public support for Kurdish political movements in Turkey, Iran and Iraq.
Kilic’s concern is to understand the relationship between ethno-religious identity and political behavior in Turkey, Iran and Iraq. In his talk, Kilic emphasized the importance of distinguishing between political allegiances and ethnic backgrounds. A certain ethnic background does not guarantee a specific political alignment.
Kilic argued that the public support for Kurdish political movements in these three countries varied depending on the religious affiliation of a given group. For instance, Alevi Kurds of Turkey lend their support to Kurdish political movements more than the Sunni groups because they have less in common with the majority religious affiliation (Sunni). In other words, Sunni Kurds may have more in common with Sunni Turks than Alevi Kurds.According to Kilic, there are two critical phases in constructing ethnic identities: “strategic action by political elites” and “strategic action on the ground”. The first one refers to the process of identity construction initiated by the elites to “hold or acquire power”. The second is that the ordinary people construct and hold onto an ethnic identity through everyday practices. As a result, the two conceptions of the Kurdish political identity diverge from one another.This is crucial, according to Kilic, because it is often assumed in the literature that there is always congruity between what elites and ordinary people conceive of a particular ethnic identity. Based on this understanding, it is assumed that by looking at ethnic identity, one can predict political support for the ethnic movements. Kilic goes on to state that cases under consideration in his research disprove this commonly accepted view.