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RECENT SOCIO-CULTURAL CHANGES IN TURKEY

(November, 1996.)

 

Prof. Emre Kongar*

 

 

The historical roots of the contemporary Turkish socio-cultural structure can easily be traced back to the Islamic, feudal Ottoman Empire, as well as to the secular values of the west as reflected by the contemporary nation-state of the Turkish Republic. (Kongar,1986)

Though the two entities (namely, Islamic Ottoman and Secular Western value systems) seem quite antithetical to each other, the Anatolian soil has achieved a happy(!) synthesis out of these two different, even antagonistic cultures.

The structural body under which this socio-cultural synthesis has been achieved was the Turkish Republic, a nation-state of the twentieth century built out of the remnants of a collapsed and occupied Empire.

The main factor which helped Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who has achieved this transformation from a feudal empire, to a contemporary nation-state in a miraculously short time, was the enemy occupation of the land and the successful process of war of liberation which followed.

Special Characteristics of the Islamic Ottoman Heritage

The structural characteristics of the Ottoman heritage can be summarized as follows:

1) Anatolian Islam has had developed its own special characteristics both in Sunni and Alevi sects not only through living side by side with each other, but also, by living together with the Greek orthodox, Armenian orthodox and catholic levantins.

2) The absolute power of the Sultan-Caliph has had already been

shared by the parliament even before the Empire demised.

3) The seeds of nationalism have had already been introduced to the society through literature and politics.

The Role of War of Independence

Invasion of Anatolia, after the World War I, by the Western powers and by the Greeks helped a great deal to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in his grandiose project of “building a new society” along the following lines:

1) Through fighting a war of liberation against the “invaders”, he has found a concrete ground on which the ideology of an “independent nation-state” can be flourished.

2) He has had ample time (namely four years) during the War, to reorganize the society politically and ideologically, through military and political means.

3) The submissive behavior of the Sultan-Caliph and his government with regard to the invasion, has had given him the opportunity to denounce them, politically and morally.

The Era of Tuteliary Democracy and Transformation to the Multi-Party System since 1950: The Seeds of Today’s Changes

Social and cultural transformation from the feudal empire to the nation-state continued under the rule of “one-party tuteliary democracy” (Frey,1965) about a quarter of a century during which the “modern” values were tried to be injected to the society.

In 1950, another “modern” political institution, namely the multi-party system was introduced to the society, and the government was changed through free general elections.

This change of the government was another turning point in the history of social change in Turkey, through giving start to two main essential socio-cultural and economic processes which are shaping Turkey of the twenty-first century: A great immigration to urban areas which surmounts of all possible urban services and commencement of Imam schools through which a new generation is being educated along the lines of religion.

Those two processes which have been shaping the society slowly but surely since then, have had a concomitant growth with the development of capitalism and economic progress.

Thus an uneducated eye cannot easily differentiate those two unrelated even antagonistic paths of concurrent changes from each other since 1950, one toward a rational industrial society with economic growth and development, and the other toward a chaotic society with the only ready made value system of religion.

Some Indicators and Some Tendencies in so-called “Urbanisation”

The surge from rural to urban areas can be seen quite clearly from the following table:

Year Percent of Urban Pop.Percent of Rural Pop.
192724.275.8
195025.075.0
196031.968.1
199059.041.0

Immigration to cities in Turkey is the most important and most devastating social force nowadays since it causes illegal occupation and illegal use of the urban sites as a result of an unbelievable amount of speculative profit over the land, and thus making the cities unlivable and unbearable.

Such population, pouring into the urban areas, have change their social status from “villagers” to “looters” without any values at all.

Because they have already left the rural value system behind and have had no time to absorb the urban or industrial values.

The school system has already collapsed and other means of social control like media or civil organizations are ineffective.

Education about Religion or Religious Education

Opening of the imam schools as a part of “vocational education” has reached to a point that now Turkey has District Governors, Public Attorneys and judges who have graduated from the imam schools.

The “education about religion” or “religious vocational schools” has now become an alternative to general education .

In 1994 the graduates from the general public secondary schools are 651.000, whereas the graduates from the religious secondary schools are 63.000. The proportion is about 10% and increasing. (State Institute of Statistics, 1996)

Income Distribution

The latest figures for income distribution has just announced by the State Institute for Statistics:

First 20%4.9%
Second 20%8.6%
Third 20%12.6%
Fourth 20%19.0%
Fifth 20%54.9%

According to the calculations made on US dollar base, the per capita yearly income in the poorest group is around $500, whereas the same is around $6.000 in the richest.

Another fact about the saving accounts in the banking system also seems interesting: 1.3% of the depositors own 54% of the bank accounts.(Donat,1996).

The Media

Turkey is witnessing a media boom in terms of TV channels. There are around ten national channels, in addition to almost all international channels.

Thus “the revolution of the rising expectations” or the “values of the consumer society” is the most prevailing “social force” in the society.

 

Politics

The Turkish election system allowed only the parties which receive more than ten percent nationally to be represented in the Parliament

Thus the marginal groups do not have any chance to be represented in the Parliament. Actually only five out of twelve parties which entered the elections could have had the chance to be represented in the Parliament

The results of the 1995 election were as follows:

Welfare Party 21.4% 158 seats
Motherland Party 19.6% 132 seats
True Path Party 19.2% 135 seats
Democratic Leftist Party 14.6% 76 seats
Republican People’s Party 10.7% 49 seats

The Nationalist Party received only 8.2% and the Kurdish Party only 4.2%.

At present there are eight groups in the Parliament, generated out of those five parties which have received more than ten percent of the votes in the early elections in December 1995.

The distribution of the seats in the parliament as of October 16, 1996, is as follows, and changing:

Welfare Party 160 seats
Motherland Party 129 seats
True Path Party 120 seats
Democratic Leftist Party 73 seats
Republican People’s Party 49 seats
Great Union Party 7 seats
Great Turkey Party 1 seat
Independents 11 seats

The present government which is a coalition between Welfare Party and the True Path Party is the second government after the elections, formed after the unsuccessful coalition between Motherland Party with the True Path Party.

The most tragic reality of the Turkish politics is the split between the parties with the same electorate, as a result of the military intervention in 1980.

There are two parties in the central right and there are two parties in the central left.

The main theme in the Turkish politics is the corruption, bribery etc. while the inflation rate is around 100%.

Since the present coalition brought the Islamic Party into power, another main issue in politics and in public opinion is whether there is a structural threat to the secular, democratic Republic or not.

Another main issue in the society is the separatist terrorist activities of PKK.

There is an undeclared war going on in the southeastern region of Turkey.

Some Behavioral Trends

According to a recent study, the proportion of the voters who would want a religious state (namely Sheriat) is 26.7% against 58.1% who do not want. (Tüses,1996).

42.9% of the voters want Turkey should be like Western countries, whereas only 5% prefer Islam countries as a model. (23.2% none, 28.3% no idea)

54.8% want to be a part of the European Union, 15.9% don’t.

43.3% of the population don’t want to classify themselves along the leftist-rightist terminology. 41.2% think themselves as rightists and 15.5% leftists.

Perception of the Most Important Problem of Turkey

The following table shows us that there is a change in the perception of the most important problem of the country in time.

Problem 1993 1996
Cost of living, inflation 36.9 46.7
Terrorism 45.0 16.7
Unemployment 10.4 12.0
Democracy and human rights 1.1 2.2

 

Tarnishing Image of Politicians

46% of the voters think that no party can ever possibly solve the most important problem of the country.

In a different study, when the voters were asked about their trust to the institutions, politicians appeared to be at the bottom of the list.(Piar,1995)

In Tüses study, which I have been reporting, the voters tend to classify politicians as the second largest group who earns “a lot of money but don’t deserve it”.

42.1% think that the capitalists are earning a lot of money, without deserving it, while 40.4% think that the politicians are also earning a lot of money without deserving it.

Two Dangerous Polarisations in Socio-cultural Structure

The two main determining factors of the recent socio-cultural behavior in Turkey are the two polarisations along the lines of nationalism and religion: One being Kurdish vs. Turkish nationalism, and the other being Islam vs. secularizm.

In both cases the former groups seem to be more militant and aggressive in their stances than the latters while the latters are closing the gap quite rapidly since they are being successfully agitated by their rivals.

*Emre Kongar, former undersecretary for culture, Professor of Sociology, Yıldız Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey.



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