Mediating Power Differences: What This Study On Kurdish-Turkish Relations Tells Us About Reconciling Conflict at Work | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

February 17, 2021by Anupriya Kukreja
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Summary of:

Coskan, C.C. (2020). The role of ethnic, national, and superordinate identities and perceptions of power in understanding Kurds’ attitudes about reconciliation in “Turkish-Kurdish conflict.” European Association of Social Psychology, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.12739.22569

Background & Theory

This research looks deeper into the concept of asymmetrical conflict, where there are unequal power differences between groups. The groups studied here are Kurds and Turks, where the former have been discriminated against by the majoritarian Turkish government and have had a long-term conflict. The goal of the authors was to understand how different representations of reconciliation and power emerge, not only in times of “peace” but more importantly in times of escalated conflicts and fluid power dynamics.

They differentiate between an understanding of rights-based reconciliation, versus dialogue-based reconciliation. The former alludes to minority groups acclaiming “material” rights such as autonomy or independence, land rights, and equal representation, and the latter refers to “soft” rights such as being recognized as equals, getting along well, and the like.

Research Question(s)

The authors have answered the following question:

    1. How do perceptions of power in a number of recent political developments and feelings of empowerment about these developments relate to the expectations and representations of reconciliation?

Their general expectation was to see a positive relationship between minority identifications and specifically rights-based reconciliation through both situational and generic Kurdish power. They also expected to see a positive relationship between majority group-related identifications and dialogue-based reconciliation.

Methods

The authors took a mixed-methods approach. For the qualitative part, they conducted in-depth interviews with 16 Kurds in Turkey (İstanbul) and in Kurdistan (Van) in September 2019. They asked participants about their ethnonational identities, their understanding of power in the in-group based on how they define the in-group, and their current and future thoughts on reconciliation.

Then they also administered a quantitative questionnaire in six cities, with 205 Kurdish participants. The measures were around ethnic, national, and superordinate identifications, situational and generic power in Kurds, and preferences in forms of reconciliation.

Results

For the qualitative study, the researchers found two main themes: representations of power and boundaries of power. The former encompassed participants’ abstract constructions of Kurdish power and they were associable to the social-psychological conceptualization of “social representations”. The latter looks at the elements that drew participants’ understanding of the extent/limits of Kurdish power as well as intergroup boundaries in terms of belongings, rights, identifications, and realizations. For more than half of the participants, “unforgiveness” was emphasized as an expression of boundaries of power. Positionality about forgiveness seemed to highlight unforgiveness also as an aspect of Kurdish power.

In the quantitative study, participants’ Kurdish and Kurdistani identification was higher than their Turkey citizen and “Türkiyeli” identifications. The researchers concluded that higher Kurdish and Kurdistani identifications were correlated with a higher wish for rights-based reconciliation. Higher identification with Turkey citizenship and “Türkiyeli” correlated only with lower rights-based reconciliation and higher dialogue-based reconciliation.

How This Translates for the Workplace

  • Reflect on the Power Dynamics: In trying to build peace, it is important to be able to accurately identify where there is conflict. If there is no obvious conflict, but underlying issues, then inquiring about unequal power dynamics is a good place to start. Power can be unequal between managers and teams, various departments, or gender and regional identities, based on the culture of the company or values of the top leadership. Reflect on these differences and see how people identify with which identities the most to understand boundaries surrounding power.
  • Mediate Power Differences the Right Way: Once these dynamics are understood, focus on actual policies and outcomes to transform in order to bridge these gaps. When doing so, try to go beyond the obvious route of merely having a dialogue or inclusion workshops, but work on deeper parameters, or “rights-based reconciliation” as studied in this paper. If your company’s values include inclusion, do an audit of the tangible results of these values. For example, having inclusion workshops won’t do much if your organization still has a gender pay gap that is unaddressed. Rights-based reconciliation is about on-ground indicators of inclusion, whereas dialogue is about the talk. Make sure your values translate on the ground and are not superficial. We at PPS offer training for workplaces in diversity, inclusion, as well as services in conflict resolution. We can help you build a foundation of peace at your organization that translates into tangible indicators. Contact us to get in touch and make your organization more equitable!

Anupriya Kukreja

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