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The current study considered the downsides of national identification for minority groups in intergroup conflicts in assimilationist societies. This study examined how, in the Turkish national context, the national and ethnic identifications of ethnic Turks (N = 103) and ethnic Kurds (N = 58) predict construals (i.e., conflict frames, attributions of responsibility, and severity of harm) of Turkish-Kurdish conflict. The results indicated that, across groups, a shared national identification was associated with similar conflict construals in line with the official Turkish narrative, whereas ethnic identification was associated with opposing conflict construals that might help maintain the conflict. However, the conflict narrative related to national identification might produce a shared understanding of the conflict (i.e., more intergroup harmony) at the cost of neglecting the minority group's grievances in the conflict and legitimizing the status-quo, thus hindering efforts to enhance the minority group's disadvantaged status.
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Most countries have adopted policies to address the multi-ethnic realities within their borders. These policies however vary widely in scope. While some governments have recognized minority groups and granted them special rights, others have implemented assimilationist policies that require minorities to forgo their ethnic identities and embrace majority group's culture and way of life (Mylonas, 2010; Verkuyten, 2006). Prior social psychological research has discussed the negative implications of such assimilationist policies for the psychological well-being of minority groups (for a review see Hornsey & Hogg, 2000). For example, imposing a superordinate identity creates conflict between ethnic and national identification among minority groups and gives rise to distinctiveness threat (Brewer, 1991). These policies may be counterproductive to assimilationist goals as they may strengthen ethnic identification and weaken national identification among minority groups. Beyond these social identity implications, assimilationist policies often give rise to open conflicts between majority and minority groups (Gurr, 2000). Yet, we know little about the consequences of a shared national identification for majority and minority groups' perspectives of intergroup conflicts in such assimilationist contexts.
Typically, groups in conflict hold disparate views of the conflict in which they are involved. For instance, each group blames the out-group for the conflict, perceives itself as the victim, and delegitimizes the out-group's narrative of conflict (e.g., Bar-Tal, 2007). These views are often harmful as they perpetuate further conflict and hinder efforts toward peace. Promoting a superordinate identification can be helpful in attenuating these perceptions (e.g., Čehajić, Brown & Castano, 2008; Licata, Klein, Saade, Azzi & Branscombe, 2012; Noor, Brown & Prentice, 2008). A shared national identification promotes positive intergroup attitudes (Gaertner & Dovidio, 2000) and fosters intergroup harmony (see Vollhardt, Migacheva & Tropp, 2008). However, intergroup harmony and conflict reduction do not always translate into positive outcomes for minority group members. For example, in the area of intergroup contact, Dixon and colleagues observed that intergroup contact enhances intergroup harmony, but it also reduces minority group members' support for social change, thus maintaining an unjust status quo (e.g., Dixon, Durrheim & Tredoux, 2007; Dixon, Durrheim, Tredoux, Tropp, Clack, and Eaton, 2010a). In part, this is facilitated by a common in-group identity that is fostered through intergroup contact (see Dixon, Tropp, Durrheim, and Tredoux, 2010b). Recent research on majority-minority relations shows that a shared in-group identification improves intergroup attitudes, but it also deflects attention from intergroup inequalities (e.g., Dovidio, Gaertner & Saguy, 2007; Saguy, Tausch, Dovidio, and Pratto, 2009b). In contrast, ethnic identification promotes activism on behalf of one's own group, and protects the psychological well-being of minority group members facing discrimination (Cronin, Levin, Branscombe, van Laar & Tropp, 2012).
Taken together, these findings imply that while a shared national identification might reduce perceived conflict and improve intergroup attitudes, it may also undermine minority group's goals and perceived interests in the conflict. These tendencies may become particularly pronounced in assimilationist societies, where a shared national identification emphasizes unity and harmony by promoting majority groups' values and suppressing minority groups' identities (Hornsey & Hogg, 2000). While reducing conflict on one level, the strength of national identification might promote endorsement of conflict narratives that further maintain the majority group's dominance and neglect the minority groups' grievances and conflict demands.
The goal of the present study is to examine these neglected downsides of a shared national identification for minority groups in intergroup conflicts in assimilationist societies. Placed in the context of the prolonged Turkish-Kurdish conflict in Turkey, this study contrasts how national and ethnic identities among minority and majority group members relate to construals of intergroup conflict. Here, conflict construals refer to people's perceptions and interpretations of the conflict. Specifically, this study focuses on three elements of construals: conflict frames, attributions of responsibility, and severity of harm. In what follows, I will first introduce the context of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. Then, I will draw hypotheses about the implications of national versus ethnic identification of Turks' and Kurds' construals of the conflict.
The context of Turkish-Kurdish conflict in Turkey
Tensions between the Kurdish minority (14%–20% of the population in Turkey: see CIA World Factbook, 2009) and the Turkish state can be traced to the beginnings of the Turkish Republic. The Turkish state did not recognize the existence of a separate Kurdish ethnic minority in Turkey and suppressed collective and public expressions of Kurdish identity (e.g., banning the use of Kurdish language, and replacing Kurdish names of towns and children with Turkish names; Barkey, 2000). Kurds were permitted to hold a variety of positions in the Turkish government as long as they identified themselves as Turks, and a large number of Kurds were assimilated in the Turkish society (Rubin, 2003). These assimilationist policies led to a restricted political movement by Kurdish activists to gain minority rights (Saatçı, 2002). In 1984, the insurgent organization Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (Kurdistan's Workers Party; abbreviated as PKK) launched a violent campaign in Southeast Turkey. Since 1984, about 70,000 people have been killed either in attacks by the PKK or as a result of the Turkish army's military campaigns against the PKK (Göçek, 2011). With pressure from the European Union, Turkey has passed a series of laws concerning the recognition and expression of Kurdish identity (Somer, 2004). Despite the changing face of the conflict over the recent years, the conflict and violence continue.
Considering the apparent role that national and ethnic identities play in this discord, the context of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict provides a unique opportunity to investigate the implications of the national and ethnic identifications for the intergroup conflict. The two ethnic groups, Turks and Kurds, share a superordinate category: they are all citizens of the Turkish Republic. Turkish citizenship is based on national identity and constitutes a model of citizenship in which everybody born in Turkey has in principle the same rights (Baban, 2005). Yet citizenship is constructed based on the majority group's norms, values, and language (e.g., the Turkish constitution defines a Turkish citizen as a ‘Turk’–a term that refers interchangeably to a person's ethnicity and nationality). Assimilationist policies aiming at the Turkification of all people within Turkey's borders have been long-lasting (Kadioglu, 2007; Köker, 2010). Over the past decade, legal reforms have granted some cultural rights to citizens of Kurdish origin. Since 2009 the government has launched the so-called Kurdish ‘opening’, which aims to grant Kurds more rights (e.g., granting access to Kurdish language television and rights to make political speeches in Kurdish; International Crisis Group, 2011). However, this process was undermined by failure to carry out the promised reforms (Amnesty International, 2012), the disqualification of the democratically elected Kurdish representatives from the parliament (Göçek, 2011), and the increased number of arrests of Kurdish activists (Casier, Jongerden & Walker, 2011). These events have led to suspicion regarding the government's promised reforms (Casier et al., 2011).
Implications of national and ethnic identification for Turks' and Kurds' construals of conflict
Often groups in conflict have different understandings of the nature of the conflict in which they are involved. As Horowitz (1991) asserts, ‘There is the conflict itself, and there is the meta-conflict – the conflict about the nature of the conflict’ (p. 2). The meta-conflict is apparent in parties' distinct framing of the conflict. The frame ‘is a central organizing idea or story line that provides meaning to an unfolding strip of events’ (Gamson & Modigliani, 1987, p. 143). The frame identifies the essence of the controversy, thus guiding people's reactions to conflict and strategies to address it. Conflict frames are important because they reveal the ideological nature of conflict construals.
The Kurdish issue in Turkey has been framed in three ways (Çelik & Blum, 2007): (1) as a conflict between the Turkish state and an ethnic minority (i.e., minority rights frame), (2) as a conflict between the Turkish state and an insurgent group (the PKK; i.e., terrorism frame), and (3) as ethnic tensions between Turks and Kurds (i.e., ethnic tensions frame). Each frame serves a different function. The terrorism frame undermines the minority's grievances and legitimizes the government's policies toward the Kurdish minority; the minority rights frame emphasizes group disparities and calls for action to enhance the minority group's status. In contrast, the ethnic tensions frame acknowledges the existence of an ethnic conflict in Turkey without implying which group holds the moral high ground. At the collective level, Kurds and most international actors define the problem as a majority group (Turks) denying the rights of a minority group (Cornell, 2001). Conversely, the Turkish government claims that its citizens of Kurdish origin enjoy full citizen rights, thereby denying that Turkey has a minority problem (Kirişçi & Winrow, 1997).
I predicted that across majority and minority groups the strength of national identification should be related to the higher endorsement of frames that serve to legitimize the majority group's actions and position. Thus, national identification should be related to a lower endorsement of the minority rights frame (H1a), but to a higher endorsement of the terrorism frame (H1b). The ethnic tensions frame does not have a legitimizing function for either group, therefore I did not expect national identification to be related to the ethnic tensions frame.
With regard to ethnic identification, I predicted that, among Turks, higher ethnic identification should be related to lower endorsement of the minority rights frame, but to higher endorsement of the terrorism frame (H2a). However, among Kurds, ethnic identification should be related to a higher endorsement of the minority rights frame, but to a lower endorsement of the terrorism frame (H2b). In line with prior research showing that in realistic conflicts in-group identification is related to more out-group hostility and heightened perceived conflict (see Brewer, 1999), for both groups, I predicted that higher ethnic identification should be related to more endorsement of ethnic tensions frame (H2c).
Attributions of responsibility
A number of studies (e.g., Bilali, Tropp & Dasgupta, 2012; Doosje & Branscombe, 2003; Doosje, Zebel, Scheermeijer & Mathyi, 2007; Licata et al., 2012) have provided evidence of intergroup attribution bias for in-group's harm doing. These findings suggest that group members tend to deny or minimize the in-group's responsibility for harm doing, while placing responsibility on the out-group and on external factors. Attributions of responsibility for the conflict are important, as they might either exacerbate or impede conflict: Placing responsibility on out-groups serves to perpetuate cycles of violence, whereas acknowledgement of in-group's responsibility might facilitate reconciliation (Čehajić, Brown & González, 2009; Čehajić et al., 2008).
Çelik and Blum (2007) identified four primary parties in the current context of conflict: the Turkish state, the PKK, Turkish citizens, and Kurdish citizens of Turkey. They identified international actors (e.g., neighboring countries, the U.S. and European Union) as third parties in the conflict. Third parties are relevant to the extent that they are perceived as favoring either ethnic group. For instance, the official Turkish narrative holds that the PKK has been supported by foreign states aiming to weaken Turkey (Cornell, 2001; Öke, 2005).
National identification should be related to attribution patterns that are in line with the assimilationist project and maintain majority group's dominance. Assimilation aims to produce unity by suppressing ethnicity and undermining inter-ethnic boundaries. Hence, in the Turkish context I expected that national identification should be related to less responsibility placed on the state, the Turkish citizens, and the Kurdish citizens, but to more responsibility placed on the PKK and third parties, which are perceived to challenge the Turkish state ideologies (H3). In contrast, the strength of ethnic identification should be related to less responsibility attributed to actors aligned with the ethnic in-group (Turks and the state are aligned with the Turkish ethnic group, whereas Kurds and the PKK are aligned with the Kurdish ethnic group) and more responsibility attributed to actors aligned with the ethnic out-group (H4).
Perceived proximity between the PKK and Kurds
The degree to which subgroups (e.g., extremists vs. general population) are perceived to be similar or different from each other might depend on the level of ethnic and national identification. For instance, a perceived strong link between the PKK and Kurds undermines the state-sanctioned narrative, which defines the conflict as a terrorism issue and claims harmony among its citizens of different ethnicities. Hence, distancing the PKK from its Kurdish citizens should serve a legitimizing function for national assimilation. However, through an ethnic identity lens, the PKK is a Kurdish-based group. Therefore, the perceived proximity between the PKK and Kurds should vary with the strength of national and ethnic identification. Stronger ethnic identification should be linked to perceiving the PKK as more representative of the Kurdish ethnic group, whereas stronger national identification should be linked to perceiving the PKK as less representative of the Kurds in Turkey (H5).
Severity of harm
Group members not only view the out-group as responsible for the violence, they also tend to minimize the harm their in-group has inflicted on others (Branscombe & Miron, 2004) and emphasize the harm inflicted on them by the opposing group (Pratto & Glasford, 2008). In an attempt to portray the in-group as the victim, group members often compete over who has suffered the most – a phenomenon termed ‘competitive victimhood’ (Nadler & Saguy, 2004; Noor et al., 2008). Portraying oneself as a victim of an out-group's aggression has benefits, as it serves to establish the in-group's high moral standing and its legitimacy in doing harmful things to out-group members (Bar-Tal, 2007; Wohl & Branscombe, 2008).
Considering that both Turks and Kurds are part of the national in-group, national identification should not be related to the perceived amount of harm inflicted on Turks versus Kurds. By contrast, higher ethnic identification should be related to less perceived harm inflicted on the ethnic out-group, but to more perceived harm inflicted on the ethnic in-group (H6).
Summary of hypotheses
To sum up, I predicted that across groups national identification would be related to a lower endorsement of the minority rights frame (H1a), but to a higher endorsement of the terrorism frame (H1b). National identification should also be associated with less responsibility being placed on the state, the Turks, and the Kurds, but with more responsibility being placed on the PKK and foreign parties (H3). In addition it should be related to perceiving the PKK as less representative of Kurds (H5).
In contrast, ethnic identification was expected to relate to a higher endorsement of the ethnic tensions frame (H2c), more responsibility attributed to targets associated with the ethnic out-group, but less responsibility attributed to targets associated with the ethnic in-group (H4). In addition, higher ethnic identification should be related to perceiving Kurds as more representative of the PKK (H5), as well as to more harm perceived to be inflicted on the ethnic in-group, but less harm perceived to be inflicted on the ethnic out-group (H6). Among Turks, ethnic identification should relate to a higher endorsement of the terrorism frame, but to lower endorsement of the minority rights frame (H2a). Among Kurds, ethnic identification should be related to a lower endorsement of the terrorism frame, but to a higher endorsement of the minority rights frame (H2b).
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The present research shed light on the neglected pitfalls of national identification for minority groups in a societal context characterized by assimilationist policies and violent conflict. This study focused on conflict construals because of their central role in fueling conflict (e.g., Salomon, 2004), and also because of their role in either fostering or impeding collective action (see Bilali & Ross, 2012). In the context of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict in Turkey, the results indicated that national identification across minority and majority groups was associated with conflict perspectives in line with the Turkish official narrative. Specifically, beyond the effects of ethnic identification, national identification was related to a lower endorsement of the minority rights frame, less responsibility placed on the state and on the Turks, more responsibility placed on the PKK, and lower perceptions of the PKK as representative of Kurds. Among ethnic Turks, national identification predicted less perceived harm inflicted on Kurds, whereas among Kurds, it predicted more harm inflicted on Turks. Thus, the conflict perspective related to national identification was skewed toward the Turks' version of the story.
In contrast, the strength of ethnic identification was related to opposing construals of conflict: more perceived ethnic tensions, more responsibility placed on out-group actors, less harm inflicted on the out-group, higher severity of harm inflicted on the in-group (only among Turks), as well as higher perceptions of the PKK as representative of Kurds. In addition, among Kurds, ethnic identification predicted a stronger endorsement of the minority rights frame, whereas among ethnic Turks, it predicted a lower endorsement of this frame.
Overall, these results suggest that while ethnic identification is associated with outcomes (e.g., viewing the out-group responsible) linked to overt manifestations of conflict, national identification is related to endorsement of a shared understanding of conflict in line with the official state narrative of unity and intergroup harmony. Thus, in assimilationist contexts, national identification might promote a homogenizing narrative of conflict that might reduce overt tensions and ameliorate intergroup attitudes. This however has negative implications for minority groups: The endorsement of the Turkish official narrative among Kurds opposes ethnic group's perceived interests by neglecting their grievances and demands for more group rights. In contrast, among Turks, national identification might serve to preserve the status quo and further advance majority group's dominance. Future research should more specifically examine the impact of different conflict construals on support for policies that either enhance or undermine minority group's demands in the conflict.
In contrast to the present findings, prior literature has pointed to the positive consequences of a shared national identification, while emphasizing the negative consequences of subgroup identification for conflict and its resolution, even in outcomes similar to those used in this study such as attributions of responsibility (Licata et al., 2012) and competitive victimhood (Noor et al., 2008). There are two main differences between the current study and this literature. First, while prior work has focused on societies, which to varied degrees have accommodated minority groups within their borders, the current study examined national identification in a context where assimilationist policies have been long lasting. Second, this study went beyond ingroup/outgroup distinctions to identifying multiple targets of responsibility and examining conflict frames. This approach was key to observing the implications of national identification, which could not have been detected by using simple ingroup/outgroup distinctions and without assessing conflict frames. Future research should further examine the conditions under which a shared national identification has negative implications, both in assimilationist societies and other contexts.
The present findings are in line with recent research (see Saguy, Pratto, Dovidio & Nadler, 2009a) showing that majority groups prefer societal ideologies that draw attention away from intergroup disparities by emphasizing a common identity at the expense of subgroup identities (i.e., assimilationist ideologies), whereas minority groups prefer ideologies that enhance their status and maintain dual identities. The majority group's tendency to focus on commonality and ‘sameness’ was evident in the Turks’ attributions of responsibility: Among Turks, attributions of responsibility to the general population (i.e., Turks and Kurds) loaded onto the same factor. Furthermore, Turks perceived equal harm inflicted on both groups, and were less likely to view PKK as representative of Kurds. Conversely, by aligning ordinary (Kurdish) people's responsibility with PKK's responsibility, Kurds endorse a view of the in-group as an active agent in the conflict, and justify PKK's existence as a reaction to Kurds' grievances in Turkey. This perspective counteracts Turkish state narrative that views the PKK as an agent of foreign powers, rather than representing the grievances of Kurds.
The present research has several limitations. An important limitation is the selectivity and the small size of the Kurdish sample. The Kurdish sample in this study includes only Kurds willing to report their ethnicity. In Turkey, public expressions of Kurdish ethnic identity have been discouraged and punished, leading citizens of Kurdish origin to refrain from publicly reporting their ethnicity. Many assimilated Kurds do not identify themselves as Kurds – they speak only Turkish and identify themselves as Turks (van Bruinessen, 2000). In the present study, among respondents who did not report their ethnicity, 17 participants reported Kurdish as one of the languages spoken in their household, indicating an ethnic Kurdish origin (see also KONDA, 2006)2 These participants however were excluded from the analyses as it was impossible to determine whether they refrained from reporting their ethnicity due to fear or because they did not identify as Kurds.
National identification among Kurds was very low making it difficult to extrapolate the findings beyond the restricted range of national identification among minority group members in this sample. The degree to which the restricted range of national identification in this sample reflects the range of national identification among Kurds in Turkey more generally is not clear. In assimilationist contexts, minority group members can choose to (1) assimilate and dis-identify with their ethnic group, (2) hold on to their ethnic identity but dis-identify with the national group, or (3) maintain both ethnic and national identities (i.e., dual identities). Clearly, the Kurdish sample in this study includes only those Kurds who identify with the ethnic group, but dis-identify with the national group. The assimilated Kurds were purposely omitted from the study, whereas maintaining dual identities might not be psychologically attainable in a context of historical repression of public expressions of minority identity as in Turkey.
Consistent with other research in assimilationist contexts (e.g., Staerklé, Sidanius, Green & Molina, 2010), national identification among majority group members overlapped with ethnic identification. Although in this study I assessed the effects of national identification after statistically partialing out ethnic identification, conceptually the two forms of identification in the majority groups are intertwined (e.g., the label ‘Turk’ refers to both ethnicity and nationality). This poses an empirical challenge in the study of ethnic and national identification in majority groups in assimilationist contexts.
In addition, the single item conflict frame measures used in this study raise reliability concerns. Particularly, the operationalization of the terrorism frame, defined as a conflict between the PKK and the state, might not effectively capture the terrorism aspect, especially among those Kurds who do not view the PKK as a terrorist group. This measure might have different meanings for Turks and Kurds. Although Turks were more inclined than Kurds to view the conflict as a fight between the PKK and the state, both groups endorsed this frame more strongly than other frames. An explicit framing that defines the issue as terrorism for both groups might have yielded results more consistent with the hypotheses.
In concluding, the present research suggests that a shared national identification might be related to reduced conflict but at the cost of preserving the status quo and sacrificing minority group's rights. National identification in assimilationist contexts not only poses a psychological threat to minority groups as suggested by prior literature, but also has negative implications for minority group's standing in society. Thus, resistance to a shared national identification and higher subgroup identification in addition to benefitting minority group members cope with the negative psychological effects of being associated with a subordinate group (e.g., Cronin et al., 2012) might also have collective benefits in helping to keep up minority group's struggle to gain more rights and a higher societal standing. Considering the parallels in identification processes across a variety of settings, it is likely that similar effects would be observed in other settings that endorse an assimilationist approach. Therefore, it is important that future research examine the impact of a superordinate identification on conflict construals in assimilationist settings in other national contexts, as well as in contexts beyond the national level (e.g., in organizational and other contexts that endorse assimilationist policies).