World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


PEACE IN TURKEY? - 1/4: Identity Politics and the State (071) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: TUE 20, 9.00-11.00 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Manchester University (UK)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Tim Jacoby

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description:
As it approaches 2023 and the centenary of the foundation of its republic, Turkey is at a crossroads. The 1980s and 90s were particularly difficult. Official figures reveal that, during the insurgency in the 13 predominantly Kurdish speaking provinces of southeast Anatolia administered under emergency legislation from 1984 to 2002, more than 5,000 soldiers were killed and another 11,000 injured. Civilian causalities were similar – 5,000 dead and 10,000 hurt. Amongst Turkey’s “terrorists”, 23,000 were dead, 3,000 captured and 6,000 detained at an (official) overall cost of almost $15 billion.

At the end of the millennium, things changed. The catastrophe of the 1999 earthquake, the prospect of accession to the European Union and the election of a popular and highly reformist government has wrought considerable changes to both Turkish society and the way in which Turkey is regarded overseas. A “golden” period of legislation between 2002 and 2004 saw the civilian government gain greater control of the military elite (responsible for four coups since the Second World War). Yet there are, at present, signs that Turkey is sliding back towards the high violence levels of previous years.

The proposed symposium will contextualize and analyze the various components that have contributed to these changes. It will be organised around four panels, each with four or five papers, a chair and a discussant. The overall objectives of the symposium will be threefold.
1. to understand the relationship between dissent, policy and political violence over the last 30 years
2. to explain the re-intensification of both insurgent activity and securitisation since 2005
3. to predict the future of Turkey as it approaches the centenary of the republic and to assess the medium to long term chances of “peace” (however defined).

To achieve these objectives, the panels will look at the Turkish state’s changing attitude to cultural and ethnic identity, the way that resistance has been articulated through civil and non-governmental action, the current government’s policy towards the Kurdish issue and the prospects of a successful peace-building programme emerging in the short to medium term. In all, these panels those offer a useful blend of theoretically informed analysis, generalized comment, specific policy-orientated studies and normative recommendation. Taken together, they offer a comprehensive treatment of Turkey’s different sources of conflict that is likely to attract considerable levels of interest amongst WOCMES’ delegates. Not least, because, having very widely advertised a call for papers, the symposium has also achieved an excellent blend of world-renown scholars, junior academics and outstanding doctoral candidates from the United States, Turkey and Europe.

The aim of this panel is to consider the Turkish state’s changing response to domestic dissent. Over the last 30 years, Ankara has been very heavily criticised for an apparent failure to investigate human rights abuses adequately and, in some cases, for its direct involvement in extra-judicial activity. Successive governments have, however, argued that they have introduced economic and political reforms that have met most of their critics’ demands. Since the rise to power of a reformist and religiously orientated government, these debates have become infused with issues of faith and identity. Today, it is far from clear who the state elite represents – or even how the “establishment” might be defined. The ongoing presence and/or construction of threats to the (“indivisibility of the Turkish”) state, combined with the highly comprehensive – but perhaps incomplete – constitutional change programme of the current government, has added greatly to this uncertainty. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the state’s relationship (however defined) with minority and faith-based identities.

Chair: Tim Jacoby (Manchester University)

Discussant: Menderes Çınar (Başkent University)

Paper presenter: Kim Shively (Kutztown University of Pennsylvania), “Conceptualizing Islam in Secular Turkey”
Based on 12 years of research in religiously conservative neighborhoods in Turkey, this paper will discuss how the debate about the role of Islam in Turkey arises, in part, from very different understandings of what “Islam” is. The Kemalist state has established policies designed to convey a characterization of Islam that fits with the Turkey’s principle of laicism. Yet this characterization of Islam is based on a Western, especially Protestant, concept of religion, where private individual faith is emphasized over social religious practice, such as donning the Islamic headscarf in public or participating in independent (non-state) religious education.

Paper presenter: Evangelos Liaras (Koç University), “Turkey's New Kurdish Opening: Religious vs. Secular Values”
Over the last several months, Turkish politics have been roiled by the Kurdish opening launched by the governing AKP (Justice and Development Party). Though admittedly vague in its content, this initiative constitutes the boldest effort ever made by a Turkish government to find a peaceful political resolution to the long-festering Kurdish question. Yet, fierce reaction from both the opposition and the government's own constituencies is threatening to turn the opening into another abject failure. Why did the conservative-democratic and reformist AKP do relatively little to address the Kurd's identity-related claims in previous years? And why is it facing so much opposition, among both pro-secular rival actors and its own ranks? Based on findings from a content analysis project of Turkish newspapers, we will argue that a major part of the answer to these questions lies within the mainstream beliefs of the Turkish majority actors with respect to ethnic and cultural diversity, nationalism, external actors and, of course, the Kurdish minority.

Paper presenter: Edel Hughes (University of Limerick), "Realizing Minority Rights in Turkey: A Case of Reform Fatigue?"
Kurdish issue', respect for fundamental minority rights, remains elusive in Turkey. This is true not only for Turkey's largest ethnic minority but also the significant Roma, Bosnian, ethnic Bulgarian, etc. populations, not to mention the numerous Muslim religious minorities who are excluded from protection by virtue of Article 39 of the Treaty of Lausanne, which refers only to 'non-Muslim' minorities. Proposals for reform have come from both within and outside Turkey. While the EU process has engendered significant reforms, pressure from Turkish civil society organisations has been crucial in their ratification. But with the EU accession process excruciatingly slow and suggestions that 'reform fatigue' has set in, this paper will examine the prospects for future improvements.

Paper presenter: Tuncay Kardaş (Assistant Professor, Sakarya University, Turkey), “Politics of Securitization in Turkey: Secularism and Islam”
Secularism in Turkey is a dominant identity of the secularist establishment (composed mostly of extrapolitical actors from the military, the judiciary, public prosecutors, the constitutional court and the upper echelons of civilian bureaucracy including university presidents) and it lays the groundwork for extra-political methods of action against Islamic identity. Islamic identity is upheld by the general public and by certain political parties that react to the state-imposed secularism. The resultant political and social confrontations between these identity orientations often hit the headlines and have clear implications for the present and future of the country. This paper argues that Turkey’s major identity predicaments spring not from its relations with a “Christian civilization” but from the ongoing confrontational positioning of secularism and Islam within the country itself. It shows Turkey’s salient social and political confrontations are mostly a by-product of state policies rather than unchanging cultural or natural givens. Put differently, domestic political conflicts emerge in large part from the extra-political method of securitization of secular and Islamic identities by the state, which generates a fertile ground for confrontational politics between the secular state elites and the Islam-sensitive socio-political actors.