About Me

Policy Analysis:

My work interprets current events in the light of my own research program and strives to offer non-conventional answers to broad audiences. I show how violence and electoral outcomes on one side, and violence and political movements on the other are connected in conflict settings. These pieces also explore properties of violence and reveal government incentives to employ it. 

Two Routes to an Impasse: Understanding Turkey’s Kurdish Policy, Brookings Institution (Policy Series, 2016).

This report tackles Turkey’s Kurdish problem with an emphasis on government policies. The AKP governments have followed an instrumentalist approach to Kurdish issue, relegating it to electoral priorities and foreign policy choices. Meanwhile, Kurdish political actors often times spoke from a maximalist position, where they allowed the PKK to determine their policy priorities including self-rule and Mr.Öcalan’s freedom. It is the mismatch between these positions, we argue, that created a deadlock in the Kurdish issue. The Syrian civil war turned the deadlock into an open confrontation by hardening these positions and presenting each side with an opportunity to pursue their goals.  The report unpacks the instrumentalist approach at domestic and international levels.

Our analysis at the domestic level suggests that AKP governments viewed the Kurdish issue as a problem to be dealt with in order to stay in power and secure electoral success. Accordingly, we witnessed a variety of tactics employed over time depending on AKP’s electoral needs. The government injected hard cash to the region in 2007, negotiated with Mr. Öcalan in 2013, and put Kurdish cities on round the clock lockdown in 2016.  At the international level, the report highlights the fact that the Kurdish issue became subservient to AKP’s foreign policy interests in Syria. The Turkish government made a deliberate choice to support Sunni, Arab and extremist groups at the expense of Syrian Kurds. In doing so, it sent a strong message to Kurdish constituencies at home that it would remain indifferent to the plight of Kurds on the other side of the border.

Politics of Confinement: Curfews and Civilian Control in Turkish Counterinsurgency”, Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) 22 Contemporary Turkish Politics (2016, pp. 63-66).

In response to the renewed conflict in Kurdish areas, the AKP government launched a massive campaign of curfews in city centers. The duration of the curfews ranged from several days to several weeks with the longest one in the Cizre district of Sirnak, lasting nine months, the first 79 days of which civilians were confined 24 hours a day. Curfews were population control measures. They targeted civilians by suspending individual rights and freedoms and resulted in hundreds of deaths, displaced thousands, and destroyed whole towns. 

The curious timing and distribution of curfews raises critical questions. Our data on 113 districts in the southeast corner of Turkey – previously known as OHAL Bolgesi, State of Emergency Zone – show that neither the distribution of insurgent attacks nor of self-rule announcements by movement activists seems to explain which cities were put on lockdown. Most intriguingly, can counterinsurgency campaigns be used by a government to secure an electoral victory? A preliminary analysis from Turkey’s 2015 snap election suggests that this is a realistic possibility. The Turkish government imposed curfews to suppress the turnout in Kurdish party’s strongholds, while ignoring insurgent violence in vote-rich districts. We conclude that the selective use of repression eventually brought electoral success to the incumbent in southeast Anatolia.

How Violence Helped Both Erdogan and his Kurdish Opponents in Turkey’s Elections”, Washington Post (Monkey Cage) (June 3, 2016).

In Turkey’s June 2015 Election, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority in the Turkish Grand National Assembly, and the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) won seats as an independent political party for the first time. This victory initially generated enormous hope for change in Turkish politics. Instead, the AKP refused to form a coalition government with other political parties, forcing a snap election in November, which the AKP won decisively. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) relaunched its insurgency in between the two elections.

Many Turkey analysts claimed that the resurgence of insurgent violence propelled the AKP to victory. After all, between the June and November elections, the AKP increased its vote share by 9 percent while support for the HDP eroded across the country. But, as our new research demonstrates, this isn’t exactly right. The HDP did not directly lose support as a consequence of the violence. Meanwhile, the incumbent AKP enjoyed the growing support of civilians who didn’t want to see violence return to their home towns. Put differently, while civilians’ exposure to sustained violence benefited the ethnic party at the ballot box, the unrealized threats of violence by the PKK consolidated incumbent loyalties.

Political Violence as a Movement Dynamic”, Mobilizing Ideas on the theme Civil Wars and Contentious Politics (March 2016).

In this essay, I examine the impact of political violence on movements. My discussion provides a general sketch of several processes at work and deals with movements that challenge political hierarchies in developing country settings. I will argue that integrating violence into social movement theory offers a truly dynamic account. Violence fulfills this mission in two ways. First, as an extreme form of interaction, it links movement to its opponents in consequential ways. Second, violence allows us to think about movement as a family of organizations. Movements develop complex relations with insurgencies and political parties to alter power deficits in a society.

A New Episode in Turkish Civil War”, Washington Post (Monkey Cage) (August 21, 2015).

Between July 21 and August 12, a total of 90 PKK attacks led to 30 security and 11 civilian deaths. The renewed fighting in Turkey came as a surprise to many who believed that there had been a change of heart on both sides of the conflict in recent years. What should we now expect in light of this shocking new violence? In our new book, “Zones of Rebellion,” we examine the patterns of violence in the long-running war between the PKK and the Turkish state and demonstrate that there are resilient sub-national patterns in the distribution of insurgent and state control. In short, violence in the Turkish civil war has strong historical lineages. Both the state and the insurgency have a clear set of policies that they repeatedly drew upon in the three decades of conflict that engulfed Turkey’s southeast.  

We are unlikely to observe any change in this final episode of war: Control remains fixed, and combatants’ military tactics closely reflect their control over territory and people. Though rebels could not achieve any territorial control over the course of the war, their hit-and-run tactics prolonged a low intensity conflict indefinitely. We have identified three zones where insurgents enjoyed varying capabilities. We named the heartland of insurgency Zone 1, a territory that includes border districts and those adjacent to them. These districts were previously under emergency rule that allowed security forces and governors in southeast Anatolia to adopt population control measures such as village evacuations, search and detentions, and censorship. In the past three decades, like today, the PKK primarily has operated in these 30 districts, mostly targeting security forces. 

In other zones, the PKK has been unable to replicate such success. We classify the remaining 74 districts in the now defunct emergency zone as Zone 2, and here the PKK is weaker. Its tactics are limited to laying out roadblocks and attacking economic targets. Since 1990, attacks in this zone have been fairly stable, constituting one-third of all PKK activity. Outside the emergency zone where large cities such as Istanbul, Adana and Izmir are located (our Zone 3), the PKK relied on indiscriminate violence and sabotage in its heyday. Today, indiscriminate violence is costly, as it may damage the organization’s legitimacy. In sum, there has been strong continuity in the geographical distribution of insurgent control.