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Civilian Victimization and the Politics of Information in the Kurdish Conflict in Turkey

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 February 2016

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During the 1990s, thousands of Kurdish settlements in Eastern Turkey were forcibly evacuated, resulting in the displacement of more than one million Kurdish villagers. This article examines why some villages survived while the populations of others were forcibly displaced. It also addresses the broader question of why particular groups of civilians become more vulnerable to coercion in the course of armed conflict, and how their vulnerability is shaped by the extent and quality of information that states possess about population groups, particularly minorities deemed dangerous to the regime. The author argues that state practices to categorize the identity of minority groups and to collect information about their behavior and allegiances are integral to the dynamics of violence. Such practices make certain categories of citizens more vulnerable to victimization and often introduce biases into the information gathered. Focusing on Turkey's population census, elections, and the use of informants embedded in communities, the author examines information-gathering practices from the national to the local level. The author uses original data on displacement, Kurdish insurgent violence, and election results, as well as interviews with displaced persons and progovernment militia members, tochallenge the view that civilian victimization in counterinsurgency wars stems primarily from states' inability to distinguish civilians from insurgents.

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Research Article
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Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 2016 

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