TURKEY-Kurds of Modern Turkey: Migration, Neoliberalism and Exclusion in Turkish Society

By Erdem-Akçay, Ebru | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview
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TURKEY-Kurds of Modern Turkey: Migration, Neoliberalism and Exclusion in Turkish Society


Erdem-Akçay, Ebru, The Middle East Journal


TuRKEY Kurds of Modern Turkey: Migration, Neoliberalism and Exclusion in Turkish Society, by Cenk Saraçoglu. $92.

Reviewed by Ebru Erdem-Akçay

Kurds of Modern Turkey is neither focused on Kurds as an ethnic group nor on their armed or political struggle for cultural rights in Turkey. It studies how urban middleclass residents of Izmir (Izmirlis) recognize and exclude immigrants from Eastern Anatolia, whom they categorize as Kurds. In his quest to explore the anti-Kurdish sentiments among middle-class Izmirlis, Saraçoglu develops the concept of exclusive recognition. The book identifies the relations and processes in urban social life that facilitate the emergence of exclusive recognition and traces their history.

Exclusive recognition refers to the "particular way in which the middle-class Izmirlis construct the category of 'Kurd'(or ethnicise Kurdish migrants) based on their social relationships with the Kurds who migrated to the city after the mid-1980s" (p. 25). Saraçoglu has conducted 90 interviews with middle-class Izmirlis who hold anti- Kurdish sentiments and developed the concept of exclusive recognition based on four common features in their discourse: Anti- Kurdish discourse acknowledges Kurds as a distinct and homogeneous group of people, recognizes the Kurdish migrants as "Kurds" through the interactions in the urban space, excludes them through negative stereotypes and labels, and attaches these stereotypes and labels exclusively to the Kurdish migrants. Saraçoglu argues that exclusive recognition is not a product of discourses on Kurds employed by the state or the media. He also argues that the anti-Kurdish sentiments among middle-class Izmir residents is not a burst of Turkish nationalism or a sudden reaction to macro political developments. It is produced and reproduced at the micro level through social contact and interaction in everyday life, the locus of exclusive recognition.

What has produced the social context that has brought middle-class Izmirlis and migrants together in a way that the everyday contact between the two yielded such social exclusion? The book analyzes three post- 1980 macro developments that transformed urban life and facilitated the emergence of exclusive recognition: neoliberal economic transformation, armed conflict between the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the state, and voluntary or forced migration associated with this conflict. The neoliberal reforms employed in 1980 transformed the Turkish economy in a way that disadvantaged the fixed-wage-earning middle-class, deepened social inequalities, and expanded the informal sector. Urban residents in western Turkey could ignore the conflict in the East in the 1980s; however, the Kurdish question became a part of their political reality as Kurds formed political parties and started engaging in politics through electoral competition in the 1990s.

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