Book Project

Transborder Ethnic Groups and Political Violence

Empirical Puzzle

The importance of transborder ethnic ties is demonstrated by Turkmen groups living in Syria and Iraq, Uyghurs in China, and Turks in Turkey who share the same ethnicity. As the powerful ethnic kin of Turkmen and Uyghurs, the Turkish government has been expected to be the protector of these groups. However, successive Turkish governments have not always worried about the status of their weak brethren in these countries, although the nature of their ties to these groups have not changed over time. Furthermore, Turkey's foreign policy towards Turkmen in Syria and Iraq have not resembled those towards Uyghurs in China. In other words, Turkey's foreign policy towards Turkish minorities living in other countries varies across time and space.

Turkmen groups in Iraq have always been supported by Turkey at varying levels, whereas Turkmen in Syria have been neglected by the Turkish public and government until the Syrian civil war in 2011. Similarly, in 1992, the Turkish prime minister had announced that Turkey supports the independence of East Turkestan (Xinjiang), whereas his successors have kept a low-profile about the status of Uyghurs in China. What can explain the variation in Turkey's policy towards these groups and their governments? How does this variation affect the status of minority groups and the relationship between involved states?

​Summary of the Argument

Transborder ethnic ties constitute an alignment between an ethnic minority group and its external ethnic kin in another country. This alignment works like an interstate alliance against the government of the ethnic minority’s country. By using a game-theoretical model, I analyze how the reliability of this alignment affects the treatment of the minority group and the minority group’s strategy towards its government. I also analyze if an external kin’s support to a minority group causes a militarized interstate dispute between the external kin and host government. Based on perfect deterrence theory, I argue that the credibility and capability of players’ threats determine the outcome of such a tripartite strategic interaction. A reliable external kin encourages the minority group for resistance and decreases the likelihood of government repression. Uncertainty about the credibility of external kin’s threat increases the likelihood of both domestic and international conflict.

Preliminary Findings

I test the equilibrium predictions of my model, as well as specific relational hypotheses, with a newly developed dataset covering 20 minority groups and 5 powerful ethnic kin. My findings show that an external ethnic kin can protect a disadvantaged minority group from repression with a credible and capable threat of use of force. External ethnic kin can also use economic and diplomatic tools to coerce the target government although they are more effective when backed up with a capable military threat.