Category: Turkey

Introducing RESPOND’s Working Paper Series – Global Migration: Consequences and Responses

This Working Paper Series features the work of RESPOND researchers and is open to all scholars working on related topics.

The first set of papers analyze the socio-economic, political, legal and institutional context of migration governance in Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, the UK and the European Union as a whole. The papers are an incredible resource for scholars applying a comparative legal framework or for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of migration policy in Europe.

Click this link to access the papers.

To submit a paper for consideration for inclusion in the series, send an e-mail to: or

RESPOND in Turkey: Reflections on Migrant Framing, Fieldwork and Hope

Discursive Frames of Aliens in Turkey: “Migrants”, “Guests”, and “Foreigners”

By Ayhan Kaya (Istanbul Bilgi University, European Institute).

Photograph of the Balat district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

The current state of Syrians residing in Turkey is mainly constrained by the ways in which the Turkish state actors have so far framed them. What I see is that growing societal tensions at local level in different parts of Turkey, be it big metropolitan cities like Istanbul, or the neigbouring cities in the Syrian border like Şanlıurfa, partly originate from the state of temporariness, which was instituted and reinforced by the religious rhetoric of Ansar spirit. In this short intervention, I want to discuss how the outsiders have been framed by the official texts and state actors in Turkey in relation to their ethno-cultural and religious identities.

The reception of Syrian refugees in Turkey is mainly based on a discourse of tolerance and benevolence driven from path-dependent ethno-cultural and religious premises dating back to the Ottoman Empire of the late 19th century as well as to the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1920s. The vocabulary, which has been used to identify the Syrian refugees, represents a kind of continuity with regards to the naming of “migrants”, “guests”, and “foreigners” since the early days of the Republic. For instance, the Law on Settlement (İskân Kanunu in Turkish, 1934) is one of the foundational legal texts defining the ways in which the Turkish state has identified the newcomers. The Law on Settlement was adopted in regards with the arrival of ethnic Turks in the early years of Republic. The Settlement Law (Law No. 2510 of 1934), provides that only migrants of Turkish culture, with an objective of settling in Turkey, can obtain immigrant status (Art. 3), and that those of non-Turkish origin will not be accepted as immigrants in Turkey (Art. 4). This Law has been reformed in 2006 but its main understanding of who can be an immigrant has not been substantially altered.

Moreover, it continued to be the main legislative text dealing with immigration, and it determines who can enter, settle and/or apply for refugee status in Turkey. However, it also provides the individuals of Turkish descent and culture with the opportunity to be accepted as “immigrants” and refugees in Turkey (İçduygu, 2015b). For instance, Uzbeks, Turkomans, Bulgarian-Muslims and Uighurs migrating to Turkey from different parts of the world are named as “migrants” (göçmen in Turkish) in the official documents as well as in everyday life as they are ethnically of Turkish descent. In this regard, there are two other terms which need to be elaborated further: “guest” (misafir) and “foreigner” (yabancı).

Photograph of the Avcılar district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

In the official literature, the term “guest” has been hitherto used to refer to the refugees with Muslim origin but without Turkish ethnic origin coming from outside the European continent. Kurdish refugees in 2000s and Syrian refugees in 2010s were named as “guests” since Turkey officially does not accept refugees coming from outside its western boundaries. Bosniac and Kosovar refugees seeking refuge in Turkey in 1990s set up an exception as they were coming from the western borders of Turkey, and had the right to apply for asylum in Turkey according to the geographical limitation clause Turkey decided to keep together with Congo, Madagascar, Monaco in the 1967 Additional Protocol of Geneva Convention on protection of refugees removing the geographical limitations.

The term “foreigner” is often used in the official texts as well as in public to refer to those who are not neither Turkish nor Muslim. These groups are not also able to be incorporated into the prescribed national identity, which is mainly based on what I call the holy trinity of Sunni-Muslim-Turkish elements. Accordingly, not only the non-Muslims coming from abroad but also autochthonous groups such as Greeks and Armenians are named as “foreigners”, or “local foreigners” in legal texts.

To this extent, a more recent metaphor to qualify the role that the Turkish state and the pious Muslim-Turks should play for Syrians in Turkey has been the Ansar spirit (Arabic for helpers). As a metaphor, Ansar refers to the people of Medina, who supported the Prophet Mohammad and the accompanying Muslims (muhajirun, or migrants) who migrated there from Mecca, which was under the control of the pagans. The metaphor of Ansar originally points at a temporary situation as the Muslims later returned to Mecca after their forces recaptured the city from the pagans. Hence, the Turkish government has used a kind of Islamic symbolism to legitimize its acts on the resolution of the Syrian refugee crisis. The government leaders have consistently compared Turkey’s role in assisting the Syrian refugees to that of the Ansar, referring to the Medinans who helped Muhammad and his entourage. Framing the Syrian refugees within the discourse of Ansar and Muhajirun has elevated public and private efforts to accommodate Syrian refugees from a humanitarian responsibility to a religious and charity based duty.

Then the PM Ahmet Davutoğlu, in his speech in Gaziantep, one of the most popular destinations for the Syrian refugees in the Syrian border, publicly stated that the inhabitants of Gaziantep are a city of Ansar: “Gazi[antep] is an Ansar city now. God, bless you all.”[1] Similarly, President Erdoğan used the same discourse in his speeches in 2014 and afterwards: “In our culture, in our civilization, guest means honour, and blessing. You [Syrian guests] have granted us the honour of being Ansar, but also brought us joy and blessing. As for today, we have more than 1,5 million Syrian and Iraqi guests.”[2]

The discourse of Ansar has continued until recently, Deputy PM, Numan Kurtulmuş, referred to the same rhetoric when he introduced the right to work granted to the Syrian refugees under temporary protection: “The reason why the Syrian refugees are now settled in our country is hospitality and Ansar spirit that our nation has so far adhered to. There are other countries that cannot do anything when encountered with a few hundred thousands of refugees. But contrary to what the rich and prosperous countries could not do for the refugees, our country did its best for the refugees as a generous host, friend, brother and neighbour.”[3]

The main common denominator of the ruling political elite is that the Syrian refugees are being portrayed and framed by means of an act of benevolence. Hence, the assistance of the state to the refugees is accomplished based on charity, rather than universally recognized rights that are supposed to be granted to refugees fleeing their homelands. But the problem is that Turkey is far from naming the Syrian refugees as “refugees”. Therefore, the state actors tend to cope with the issue not through universal law, but through the laws of religious charity and benevolence. Such as religious-based discourse with regards to the reception of Syrian refugees in Turkey was also embraced by the bureaucrats working in the migration sector.

[1] Akşam, 28 December 2014, accessed on 7 June 2017.

[2] Hurriyet, 8 October 2014, accessed on 7 June 2017.

[3] Ajans Haber, 11 January 2016,, accessed on 8 June 2017.

Photograph of the Balat district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

Passages of Hope…Notes from the field

By Aslı Aydın (Istanbul Bilgi University)

BİLGİ Team conducted the micro level interviews in the European continent of Istanbul from the end of July to the mid-August 2018. In the fieldwork, under the supervision of Professor Ayhan Kaya, we conducted 20 interviews from different regions in Arabic with the assistance of a native Arabic speaker Ahmed Fahmy, a student from Lund University, Sweden.

Photograph of the Avcılar district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

We contacted our Syrian interlocutors through some civil society organizations. The Refugee Center of Şişli Municipality, Mavi Kalem Social Aid and Solidarity Association, SGDD-ASAM, Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migration, and Qnushyo Syrian Culture Center in İstanbul, which is the Advice Hub of the RESPOND Project, have been very helpful in finding our interlocutors. We are grateful for their support. They were all very supportive throughout the process.

Photograph of the Avcılar district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

The interviews were mostly conducted in the headquarters of these civil society organizations where our interlocutors were already very familiar with and felt very comfortable. We also visited some of the interlocutors at their homes and had the chance to meet their families. In every home we were welcomed and in every visit we were served Syrian Coffee. The interviews lasted approximately one or one and a half hour each. I conducted the interviews together with Ahmed, our Arabic translator. I must admit that the men we interviewed were very shy unlike the women, and they mostly avoided eye contact.

Photograph of the Balat district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

We had the opportunity to meet many refugees with different stories. We are so thankful to them for letting us in their everyday life and for sharing their experiences with us. There were hard moments sometimes, especially when they were telling us about their experiences of crossing the border. This was one of the most sensitive moments in their journeys. Some of them crossed the border easily, some of them faced difficulties, and some could make it to Turkey with their families, but some others could not.

Photograph of the Balat district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

It was observed that the interlocutors whom we contacted through Şişli Municipality were more vulnerable in contrast to the others whom we contacted through the NGOs. Şişli is in the very centre of the city, run by mayor from the liberal-minded social democratic Republican People’s Party. Refugees who are involved in social and cultural activities tended to be more comfortable with the questions and feel self-confident during the interviews. Although they also had traumatic experiences, they all try to cope with the difficulties of adopting a new life in İstanbul – a city that offers a lot, but also takes a lot, from everyone. The fieldwork experiences have reminded us of once again, how crucial it is to have hope, no matter what you have experienced.

Fieldnotes from a Border Province, Şanlıurfa, Turkey

By Zeynep Şahin Mencütek (Swedish Research Institute, Istanbul).

Conducting fieldwork is a way of collecting data, verifying hypotheses, answering key questions and filling in gaps. It is also a key to gaining different visions about the themes and arguments, which have been proposed in the designation stage of the social research. Beyond fulfilling these research tasks, I find fieldwork to be a personally very enriching experience as a political scientist. My last field work in Şanlıurfa, Turkey this summer validated my ideas about the benefits of field research. I was in this province to conduct micro and meso level interviews within the context of RESPOND. After busy, tiring and stressful days in the field, I ended up with more questions than answers, the collection of life stories, unfinished sentences, but deep meaningful looks and heart touching scenes. So, this field research –similar to my earlier experiences- became a merger of emotional experiences with the scholarly endeavour. More than what I learned from semi-structured interviews, to be honest, I was enlightened by the experience itself and ordinary daily conversations.

Şanlıurfa is a province sharing the longest border with Syria and has three official border gates, namely Akçakale, Mürşitpınar, and Ceylanpınar in different towns of the province. It has become quite an important site for the settling of Syrian refugees in Turkey since 2011. Although it is a relatively less visible and less studied province in the context of refugee research in Turkey (compared to Gaziantep), it hosts more Syrian refugees than Gaziantep. As of August 2018, Şanlıurfa hosts 470,296 Syrians according to official statistics of Turkey’s Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM), while the province’s population is 1,985,753, making Syrians 23.6% of the total population. Only other two border provinces, Kilis and Hatay host a higher per capita concentration of Syrian refugees than Şanlıurfa does, 95,5% and 28,06% respectively, while this concentration is 3,75 in İstanbul which hosts 564,189 Syrians, the highest number among Turkish provinces.[i] Şanlıurfa also has three refugee camps (officially called temporary shelter/accommodation centers), which host 67,682 Syrians, the highest number among the other nine provinces having similar camps.[ii] Until 2011, Şanlıurfa could be characterized as a province of internal emigration, but the Syrian civil war substantially changed the character and demography of the city. Not only having a border city but also having a high number of Arabic and Kurdish speaking locals made the city an attractive place for Syrians to arrive and settle town, even though the province has very limited job opportunities, and mainly has an agriculture-based economy.

My fieldwork occurred between July 10th and August 2nd in Şanlıurfa’s most crowded three towns, namely Eyyübiye, and Haliliye which are at the city center, as well as Siverek which is 95 kilometers away from the city center.[iii] I also paid a short visit to another town, Ceylanpınar, which is a border town having both a border gate and a crowded camp (hosting around 22,000 refugees). In Ceylanpınar and Siverek, I also found an opportunity to interview Syrian refugees living in rural areas which provided insights about rural-urban comparison.

In the month-long fieldwork, I was able to conduct 34 interviews with meso-level actors and 24 interviews with Syrian refugees. Semi-structured interviews took place from 20 minutes to 2 hours, conducted in Turkish, English, Arabic and Kurdish. I was lucky to work with a very handy translator and cultural mediator, Ali Akbaba who definitely eased my work in the city center. I was not that lucky in terms of weather, which was around 50C and which made going around quite difficult. I have a full range of observations about the response of Şanlıurfa to the Syrian mass migration, which I would like to share, but it is not possible considering the limits of this blog entry. It may be useful to share a few of them in line with the thematic focus of the RESPOND to give you a sense of the refugee situation in the province, leaving broader discussions to the reports and publications.

Turkey-Syria border, border wall, photo taken in Ceylanpınar by the author on 22 July 2018.

In terms of border controls, both micro and meso level actors in the province reported that it was very easy to cross the Turkey-Syria border with or without passports until 2015. Very few interlocutors stated that they encountered difficulty or any type of violence during their crossing to Turkey, except in cases in which they face armed militias on their journey inside Syria. Particularly, my interviews with locals in Ceylanpınar, and a site-visit to the border gate and border fences provided a better understanding of how the “open border” policy worked in practice and how close Turkish and Syrian towns are. Also, interviews demonstrated how the situation on the other side of the border was desperate and urged Syrians to flee. In the words of a local, “even dogs, cats and birds fled from Rasulayn (Syrian border town) to here due to the bombings, they got very afraid, we also heard all these bombardments for three years, our windows broke down, at least ten local people from our town died due to the shelling.”[iv]

Border monitoring tower of Turkish soldiers, photo taken in Ceylanpınar by the author on 22 July 2018.

Since 2015, it seems that not only fighting on the border cooled down, but also the Turkish state gave up its open door policy.  There have been more controls on the part of the state and new measures, but according to the interlocutors, it is not impossible to cross if smugglers are well paid and risks are taken. I made a visit to a town to see one of these new measures, a “security wall” which is modular and four-meters high. I was told that “a few holes under the wall were already opened and villagers help those who wish to cross these holes.”[v] As a local man wisely put it, “a smuggler is a person who becomes a smuggler if there is an opportunity to do so.” It seems there are still some opportunities for smugglers. Nevertheless, border crossings are very limited compared to “the mass crossings of hundreds of thousands on daily basis” in the first four years of the war. [vi]

A Syrian couple with two kids from Kobani were given the old school of the village to settle down by the muhtar. They are not supposed to pay rent which gives them financial relief. Photo taken in Karakoyun village at Siverek by the author on 15 July 2018.

Another dimension of border controls is returns. During my interviews and site visits, voluntary return does not seem as pertinent even though many Syrians expressed their willingness if conditions in Syria become safe and liveable, while locals have been very much looking for the urging of Syrians’ return by Turkish state authorities. An answer of a local authority (muhtar) to my question about integration was: “integration? Do you mean their long-term stay here?  The only solution is the quick return of all Syrians.”[vii] I came across some exceptions to the current practices about voluntary return. During my visit to the village of Siverek, Karakoyun, I learned that 200 families fled to this village from Kobani at the end of 2014, but almost all of them except two families returned their home in Syria within two years.   My interviews with the remaining two families who settled in the old school building made it clear that these families did not return as they do not have financial resources over there and plan to go back if they accumulate money to buy a house in Kobani.  Moreover, I heard about the forced return of dozens of male Syrians, including detention for the purpose of return, which happens if there is an alleged accusation regarding a person’s links with any terrorist organizations. Such returns are organized with the cooperation  of the DGMM and the Security Forces and take place in a short time period, such as in a week.

A female local villager and a Syrian refugee. Local villagers provided food and other material aid to the Syrian refugee family since 2014. A friendship and integration are observable in the relations among them. Photo taken in Karakoyun village at Siverek by the author on 15 July 2018.

RESPOND’s other thematic focus is on reception. In the case of Şanlıurfa, the main providers of the first material needs of Syrians (such as house equipment) used to be local communities, including neighbours, previously arrived family members and relatives from same ethnicity or tribes. Local community-based humanitarianism is very much observable in the province. There has been also growing institutional humanitarianism with the arrival or establishment of a plethora of INGOs, NGOs, faith-based local NGOs, as well as community organizations established by Syrians. Although interviewed representatives from these organizations reported delivering assistance, very few refugees said that they received kind or cash aid from such organizations, while many reported getting aid from neighbours.  The most beneficial institutional social assistance is the debit card that is provided monthly by the Turkish Red Crescent with the funding of UN’s Emergency Social Safety Net program as well as cash assistance to school children. Informal work and these debit cards seem to be the main livelihood source for many of them. Registration and accessing to ID cards has often been an easy process for Syrians.

News about the humanitarian assistance provided by Şanlıurfa İnsani Yardım Platformu (Humanitarian Aid Platforms), which is an umbrella organization of 84 local NGOs. Photo taken in Şanlıurfa city center by the author on 29 July 2018.

Refugee camps are also a vital part of reception policies. I have visited a tent camp in Ceylanpınar. As opposed to international and Turkish authorities’ description of camps as “five-star camps”[viii] or being an example for “how to build a perfect refugee camp,”[ix] what I visited is barely satisfactory. It is a tent camp with an extremely poor infrastructure, particularly a bad road and common bathrooms, a small tent school without any garden or playground, but a high level of surveillance in and outside of the camp. Although these conditions may be thought of as acceptable in the first two years, it is not acceptable in the seventh year of refugee hosting. It may be the case that infrastructure was fine when it was established but it definitely, needs renovation. I was told that there are around 18,000-22,000  refugees living there, in summer time the numbers decrease because camp residents undertake seasonal agricultural labor with their families.

Entrance of Ceylanpınar tent camp. Photo taken in Ceylanpınar by the author on 23 July 2018.

Another thematic emphasis of RESPOND is on protection. This theme is increasingly on the agenda in Şanlıurfa. This is not only because the province has a large refugee population, but also many international NGOs opened their branches or extended their programs there. They and national NGOs have a strong protection dimension and almost all have case management programs providing individual mental health and socio-psychological support as well as community centers providing community empowerment. Moreover, the Turkish Red Crescent and Provincial Director of Family and Social Policies Ministry whom I also met, have been quite active in collaborating with INGOs as he considers that “all these INGOs operate in fields which fall under the ministry’s service area and it is important to know what they are doing on the ground.”[x]  Prevention of child labor and education of children are two safe areas where INGOs and provincial state authorities sought ways to collaborate effectively.

Two cell-phone store owned by Syrian refugees in a neighbourhood where Syrians live in high numbers at the city center of Şanlıurfa. Photo taken by the author on 28 August 2018.

Integration is also another policy field which RESPOND is trying to understand in local, national and regional levels. Şanlıurfa is a promising micro context to explore integration experiences, actors and factors involving the refugee integration process. The common language (either Arabic or Kurdish), kinship, religious belonging (to Islam), and conservative worldview appear as important facilitators of integration of Syrians into Şanlıurfa. Almost no one I interviewed reported difficulties about accessing health services. Unlike in other cities, such as İzmir and İstanbul, language does not appear as a barrier to get proper health services. Education services, particularly primary and secondary level education, are accessible to many Syrian children through temporary education centers. I visited three of them in different locations (in the city center, a camp and Siverek). Also, I was told that Syrian students who learned Turkish pursue education with their Turkish peers. According to the Provincial Vice Director of the Ministry of Education, in two years, all temporary education centers, including those in the camps will finish their mission and all Syrian students will be able to pursue education with their Turkish peers. While health care and education are not challenges for Syrians, it is not the case for access to the labour market. The city has a high unemployment rate, and this was exacerbated by the arrival of Syrians. Nevertheless, many interviewed Syrians reported that they have been working in informal jobs in various sectors. Construction and agriculture are the two sectors, which hire the highest numbers of Syrians, but these are the sectors in which exploitation and insecurity are the most common.  Many Syrians opened small stores and some medium-size companies in the province, signalling capital in-flow. Also, the province has high numbers of Syrian teachers, lawyers, dentists and doctors. Many are able to work in temporary and informal jobs. Local authorities take a flexible approach towards these types of entrepreneurs considering that “without cash assistance and working opportunities, there may be more tensions between locals and Syrians in the province.”[xi]  Interviews with Syrians from different class backgrounds demonstrated that class positively influences the relationships with locals and eliminates challenges about housing and access to sustainable livelihoods.  While locals’ social acceptance of Syrians seems positive, their concerns about them focus on crowdedness in the province, sharing parks with them, the rise of polygamy due to Syrian women marrying local men and the make-up that Syrian women wear. However, it is possible to smell increasing reluctance of locals to live with Syrians.

During RESPOND’s kick-off meeting in Turkey, Prof. Ayhan Kaya raised the question of hope in the picture of refugee integration, and I am adding there is also resistance and empowerment. I am sharing some scenes which I observed to give you food for thought for hope, resistance and empowerment which touched my heart:

– I met a young Syrian girl who lived with her parents and seven siblings (including a disabled brother) in a very small and extremely hot house. She has just completed her first year in the Nursing Department of the Harran University. She has taken a fellowship which she shared with her sister who is also the second year student in the Computer Engineering Department of a university in another Turkish city.

– I met a Syrian middle-aged painting teacher and a Syrian dentist. Both are seeking ways to form an association and build ties with unions for protecting the rights of Syrian teachers and dentists.

-I met two very young men who opened a telecommunication company which hired 15 Syrian young engineers. They were planning to open a new branch in İstanbul. They have just been granted Turkish citizenship, which is expected to ease the bureaucratic hurdles they must deal with.

-I met a famous photographer from Rakka.  Despite all the challenges and difficulties he faced, he has been continuously searching for how he may open a photo exhibition.  Fortunately, the Swedish Research Institute Istanbul will give him an area in which to exhibit this fall.

Inside of a refugee tent, Photo taken in Ceylanpınar by the author on 23 July 2018.

-I met a very lovely family in the refugee camp with two children. They transformed their 20-30m2 size tent into their home and a store. As you can see in the picture, the wife decorated the roof of the tent with her beautiful drawings; she made a small kitchen and garden with some greenery, and the husband made a very small but orderly bicycle repair shop in the front side of tent where he earns a little money.

Many more scenes are coming to mind, with some hope in them. In general, I felt the desperation of just asking questions but not contributing to the lives of refugees directly.  I was very much afraid to create an expectation which I cannot fulfil, but also I again observed how strong and resistant human beings are under very challenging conditions.

[i] Distribution of Syrians in the Scope of Temporary Protection by Province, Accessed 18 August 2018.

[ii] Distribution of Syrians in the Scope of Temporary Protection by Temporary Shelter Centers, Accessed 18 August 2018.

[iii] Şanlıurfa İlçelerinin Nüfusu, Accessed 18 August 2018

[iv] Daily conversation with two local women in Ceylanpınar, 22 august 2018.

[v] Interview with a local representative in Ceylanpınar, 23 August 2018.

[vi] Interview with a local representative in Ceylanpınar, 23 August 2018. Interview with a journalist who served in the reception at the Suruc, Akçakale border Gates in the 2014, Şanlıurfa, 25 August 2018.

[vii] Interview with muhtar in Eyyubiye, Şanlıurfa, 18 August 2018.

[viii] Erol Cebeci and Sally Judson, “Syrian Refugees in Turkey”, 4 April 2014,

[ix] “How to build a perfect refugee camp” New York Times, Accessed 19 August 2018. Accessed 19 August 2018

[x] Interview with the provincial director of the Family and Social Policies Ministry, in Şanlıurfa, 26 August 2018.

[xi] Interview with the muhtar of the neighborhood where Syrians live in high numbers and opened many small stores, 18 August 2018.

Spotlight on RESPOND-er: Justyna Szalanska

By Justyna Szlanska.

My journey to RESPOND began in 2014, when I attended a conference, ‘From a Cradle of Civilization to a Globalizing Transit Region’ organized by the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul. With a group of academics and researchers from different disciplines like ethnology, psychology, archeology, political sciences, law and linguistics we discussed Turkey in the context of being a transit region witnessing an exchange of people, art and ideas. In fact, this process should be considered as including migration, since the latter is not only about the movement of people, but also about all of the things that people cannot live without.  Somehow, big politics frequently narrows migration to literal, dictionary understandings and creates and imposes this image of the process for the public. As a result, we face a production and reproduction of migration discourses, which often diverge from the real picture of the process.

My PhD research and my work for RESPOND are closely interlinked because both focus on political discourses in which migration is a key topic. Since I have a background in two areas: Political Sciences and Turkish studies, I would like to use the knowledge from both of them in my PhD dissertation. Therefore, in my PhD research, I focus on the interdependencies of two categories, namely, national identity and the foreign policy of Turkey. Since my aim is to show how national identity can be discursively created, I study the political discourse in Turkey by using the method of Discourse Analysis. The subject of my studies is Turkey’s foreign policy during Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule.

In order to illustrate the process of a discursive construction of identity, I am following the assumption that identity is a socially constructed phenomenon, and as such, it cannot exist independently from communities. The latter assumption is convergent with the theory of imagined communities of Benedict Anderson (Anderson 1991). Although the latter applies to nations, in fact identity and nation have much in common, especially in the case of national identity. For Foucault, identities and social beliefs are constituted in a discourse, as language is closely linked with power in society. As such, discourse is also an expression of social power, since it aims at imposing a specific meaning, signifiers, on language. (Foucault 1989).

The construction of identity is a two-fold process – first – the national Self and different and threatening Others are created, then there is a process of gradation of difference and Otherness (Hansen 2006, 37). In my dissertation I am applying Hansen’s theory of three different ways of identity construction: spatial, temporal and ethical (Hansen 2006, 46:51). Spatially constructed identity is an identity constituted relationally, which involves construction of boundaries and, hence, delineation of space. Spatial identity not only delineates different states – Russia, Syria, Iraq, but also creates different regions (Middle East, Near East, Eurasia). Spatial identity sometimes refers to people as well – since they are linked within a specific territory or space – for example, refugees, migrants, Westerners, Muslims. Temporal identity is closely related to various processes – progress, development, transformation, continuity, change, repetition. The Other is often described as ‘backward’, ‘tribal’, ‘savage’, ‘barbarian’, ‘primitive’, or ‘less developed’ and is distinguished by using specific expressions opposite to the Self. The Other doesn’t have to be external, but can be derived from the country’s or nation’s historical past.  In Turkey, the internal temporal Other are governments before AKP, in Poland, the internal Other is Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska) governments.

The ethical identity dimension is based on the assumption that foreign policy discourses always involve a construction of responsibility. Although the responsibility more often targets the national audience, hence governments like to emphasize their policies are pursued in the name of the national interest, in case of countries which are referred to as ‘powers’ or with ambitions to become an international or a regional power, an ‘international responsibility’ is raised. The latter is related to ethics and morality and is articulated as a responsibility of the Self towards the Other. The best example of ethical identity is the U.S. responsibility to promote democracy in the world. As for Turkey, ethical identity was firstly discursively created as responsibility towards the Muslim population in the world (their exemplary manifestations were: expression of support for people in the Gaza Strip during the Israeli operation of Leak Lead of 2008/2009, increasing development aid, the majority of which is focused on Muslim less developed countries; or support for the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar).  This was later transformed into the ‘ethical foreign policy’ (ilkesel dış politikası) concept of the then Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

As I mentioned earlier, refugees or immigrants can play a very significant role in creating an identity through political discourse. During recent election campaigns in many European countries, like Poland, Hungary or Austria, it was seen that playing a “migrant card” had a real influence on the election results and contributed to the populist U-turn in these countries. Considering Turkey, the hosting of approximately 3 million of Syrian refugees was used in two different ways: the ruling Justice and Development Party tried to win votes by appealing to the Muslim brotherhood and mercy, whereas opposition parties presented them directly or indirectly as a burden to the country’s economy. Hence, it proved that the language used by the leading politicians to describe refugees is chosen deliberately and with a specific political purpose. Having in mind the huge peril of the misusage of language towards a specific group of people, which was most witnessed during World War II, I find the RESPOND project to be a chance for an objective study of the phenomenon of the last refugee movement and for raising awareness about the possibility of a non-biased stance towards it.

Justyna’s Biography

Currently, I am a PhD Candidate in the Department of Journalism and Political Sciences at the University of Warsaw, Poland.  I write my PhD dissertation on the interdependencies of Turkey’s national identity influence and foreign policy. I did M.A. Diploma in International Relations and B.A. Diploma in Turkish Studies at the University of Warsaw. In 2011, I was a Research Trainee at BILGESAM, a Turkish think tank. My research interests focus on identity issues in Turkey and Europe, nationalism and populism relations and, last but not least, discourses towards migration and refugees. In 2014 I was awarded a TUBITAK Scholarship for Foreign Researchers. From November 2014 until May 2015, I was a Research Fellow at the Center of International and European Research at Kadir Has University (Turkey). Since December 2017, I have been a researcher at the Swedish Research Institute of Istanbul, also cooperating with the Centre of Migration Research at the University of Warsaw in relation to the RESPOND project.