SSRC Fellow Michael Dennis

Attitudes in Transition: War, Displacement and the Roots of Political Violence in Chechen Refugee Communities

Current Position: Assistant Instructor, Government Department, University of Texas at Austin

Download Dissertation [.pdf, 1mb]

What drives refugees displaced by war to hold attitudes supporting violence to achieve political ends? The conventional wisdom suggests that refugee camps are breeding grounds for the emergence of political violence. Yet, the literature on refugees and political violence offers little empirical evidence of such a connection or systematic investigation of the root causes of attitudes toward political violence among refugees. My research addresses the following questions: 1) What are the sources of politically violent attitudes? 2) Can these sources be traced to specific aspects of the refugee camps themselves? 3) Can they be traced to certain experiential events or demographic factors? 4) Are attitudes towards political violence related to actors’ political goals? I spent over two years conducting fieldwork in Chechen refugee communities in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Poland, and Belgium. I conducted 310 structured interviews with a range of Chechen refugees. My initial findings suggest that Chechens who desire maximal goals, like the establishment of a Caucasus Muslim Emirate, are more likely to accept all forms of political violence, regardless of whether such events target military personnel or civilians. My next empirical chapter will explore how the various “camp effects” (locations and living conditions) influence attitudes supporting political violence.

Current interests and projects:
Article in progress - “Understanding Non-Participant Support Among Displaced Chechens,” which will explore the relationship between political goals, regime type preferences, and gender and attitudes supporting militant activity. Journal of Conflict Resolution.

Article in progress - “Security First,” which examines the main determinants of extreme political goals among displaced Chechens and how these translate into wide-spread support for militant activity. International Security or Security Studies.