Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for the Anthropology of Europe
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Human rights
Secondary Theme: The Political
In the early 2000s, Turkey was touted a reliable NATO member, a budding market economy, a predominantly Muslim society with a functioning secular state, and a maturing liberal democracy with aspirations to become the next European Union (EU) member state. During this time, anthropological and ethnographic research on reconfigurations of polity, economy, society and culture in Turkey grew exponentially. Today, Turkey is in conflict with all of its neighbors and long-term partners in the West, whilst authoritarianism, neonationalism, and neoliberal destruction of economy, environment and cultural heritage are on the rise. This session is part of a double panel that aims at taking stock of latest ethnographic knowledge regarding Turkey. Soon after the opening of EU membership negotiations in 2005, Turkish President (then Prime Minister) Erdoğan began transitioning his country’s political infrastructures from a Western-style parliamentary democracy to a presidential authoritarianism in the style of Putin’s Russia in 2007. Dubbed as “New Turkey”, this process is marked by contradictory forces of wholesale privatization of national economy, state services, and governmental functions, and of recentralization of political power at the top, which culminated in the disputed April 2017 referendum that granted President Erdoğan unprecedented presidential powers. Far from building respect for the rule of law, civil liberties, and minority rights–to which Turkey’s EU membership process served as both a catalyst and an anchor–successive Erdoğan governments, their elites and experts have been instrumental in materializing authoritarianism alla Turca, whilst the institutions of liberal democracy are dismantled. Erdoğan-era policies triggered social unrest at massive scale, some of which were unprecedented in the history of modern Turkey. Collective expressions of popular dissent over the last decade culminated in numerous labor strikes, protests against anti-abortion measures, the Gezi revolts, the Academics For Peace petition contesting state violence in Kurdish regions of the country, and other small- or mid-size, local- or regional-level demonstrations with demands for environmental, economic and social justice. This bottom-up resistance was met with state violence, criminalization of dissent, and rising levels of incarceration by unconstitutional and/or extra-legal measures that were adopted against minorities and dissidents in the name of fighting “terror”, which smell to high heaven since the botched coup attempt of 15 July 2016 and the subsequent declaration of the state of emergency in the country. Today, Erdoğan’s “New Turkey” wages crossborder military interventions, promotes various forms of neo-conservatism and neonationalism in society, and expends land and resources with urgency and callous disregard of the people and their democratic needs. Papers in this session investigate the state’s violence-producing, repressive and punitive powers and collective forms of resistance and/or consent to them. Collectively, they probe emergent forms of political subjectivities differentiated by class, generation, gender, ethnicity, religious/confessional and locational identifications and positions vis-à-vis the structures of powers in contemporary Turkey. Amidst Turkey’s present-day crises, this session is a timely intervention to take stock of cutting-edge ethnographic knowledge on the reconfigurations of culture, power, subjectivity, and social movements in that part of the world with ramifications beyond.