Students Travel to Iraq For Kurdish Studies

Jenna Dovydaitis

By Doreen Horschig, doctoral candidate of Security Studies.

Two students affiliated with UCF’s Kurdish Political Studies Program (KPSP) conducted research in Kurdistan over this summer. Tutku Ayhan, a doctoral candidate in Security Studies program at the School of Politics, Security, and International Affairs at UCF and Jenna Dovydaitis, a senior of the UCF Burnett Honors College, majoring in political science and biology, traveled to the Kurdistan region of Iraq to conduct research into their doctoral and undergraduate theses, respectively.

Ayhan, a doctoral candidate of Security Studies, is writing a dissertation titled “Gender and Politics in Post-Yezidi Community” that explores the transformation of gender relations among Yezidis, a religious minority in northern Iraq, after genocidal attacks and the mass displacement that took place in the summer of 2014. The field visit to the province of Duhok in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) follows her first visit in May 2018. She conducted in-depth interviews with displaced Yazidis of Sinjar, Yazidis of Duhok, religious and political leaders, non-government organization workers and activists.

Tutku Ayhan

Ayhan’s preliminary research suggests a counter intuitive finding, among other things. In the aftermath of the attacks, there is a potential for increasing gender equality, as Yazidi women may find space to exert their agency and gain new rights. Ayhan continues her fieldwork among Yezidi diaspora in Germany in Fall 2019. Her multi-site fieldwork will examine how adaptation in the wake of genocidal attacks differ between Yazidis living in Kurdistan and diasporas in countries like Germany.

Jenna Dovydaitis, an undergraduate student and Dr. Najmaldin Karim Fellow in Kurdish Political Studies in Spring 2019, conducted interviews in the cities of Erbil, Soran, and Halabja, also in the KRG. She is writing her undergraduate thesis under the supervision of Dr. Güneş Murat Tezcür. The work, titled “The Lasting Legacy of Chemical Weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan,” focuses on the medical and political consequences of the chemical warfare during the Anfal campaign, a genocidal campaign waged by the Saddam regime against the Kurds of Iraq. The interview participants for Dovydaitis’ thesis include Kurdish politicians, activists, medical professionals and NGO employees.

The experience of traveling abroad for fieldwork was transformative for both research projects and the student’s personal understanding.

Upon reflection, Ayhan said: “My experience has been nothing but inspiring and instructive. Although my research topic is emotionally challenging, each time I sat down with people who shared their stories with me, I was deeply moved by their resilience. I was also amazed to see how multi-ethnic and multi-religious the region is.”

Dovydaitis remarked: “While in Kurdistan, the generosity and hospitality of the Kurdish people was striking to me. During the two weeks of my trip, I was welcomed into the homes of countless Kurds, who were all more than willing to discuss the events and consequences of Anfal on Kurdish society.”

KPSP is honored to support such important research project by UCF students and is looking forward to their final theses.

 The Dr. Najmaldin Karim Fellowship supports educational and professional development related to a UCF undergraduate research project related to Kurdish politics. The application for the 2020 Dr. Najmaldin Karim Fellowship is now open. All applications should be submitted to by October 31, 2019. For more information, please visit KPSP’s website.










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