Citizenship Identity in Turkey

Citizenship Identity in Turkey

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The Politics of Citizenship by Drawing Borders: Foreign Policy and the Construction of National Citizenship Identity in Turkey

As far as the transitional period from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish
Republic is concerned, one of the crucial areas in which the impact of foreign
policy has been observed is the building of national citizenship identity in
Turkey. This is in terms of its relation not only to Turkish modernity but also
to the process of nation-building that has considerable potential for producing
political change because of the disruption it introduces into the established
patterns of international relations. It is within this context that we situate the
relationship between the practices of foreign policy and the construction of
national identity in Turkey in a wider historical and structural context, in
order to see how the politics of citizenship are related to, and have emerged
from the process of nation-building. We also argue that it is important to
analyse the complexities embedded in the early construction of Republican
citizenship, not only to understand the linkages between foreign policy,
nation-building and citizenship in the context of Turkish modernity, but also
to explore the details of contemporary debates on the politics of citizenship in
Since the early 1990s, citizenship has become the key component of the
post-cold war democratization efforts to remove the defects of western liberal
democracies, and to establish complete liberal democratic institutions in the
rest of the world.1 The theoretical debate about the possibilities of democratic
transformation through a new citizenship concept has been accompanied by
rising interest in specific context-based analysis of citizenship models with
different modernization trajectories. The objective of such context-based
studies has been to reveal the historical origins of the democratic deficits and
to discuss the applicability of different transformative proposals to the
existing citizenship systems.2
It is obvious that there is not a single pattern of democratic transformation
appropriate for every social–political formation. Nor is there a single pattern
Middle Eastern Studies, Vol.40, No.6, November 2004, pp.26 – 50
ISSN 0026-3206 print/1743-7881 online
DOI: 10.1080/0026320042000282865 # 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd.
Downloaded By: [Columbia University] At: 10:23 29 October 2007
common to every liberal democracy for distinguishing citizenship. Rather,
modern societies develop the conditions of ‘proper membership’ for citizens
to nation states as a means of addressing specific problems originating from
historical ethnic, religious, linguistic, and/ or gender differentiation and/or
from the current context of mobility.3 Therefore, in order to see ‘which model
will work in different contexts’,4 it is important to analyse the evolution of
particular citizenship identities as parallel to the formation of nation(al) states
on a country by country basis.
In this framework, the evolution of the modern Turkish (national)

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citizenship as an institution of the republican regime – both as a collection
of rights and as a general framework of official identity for the members of
the ‘community inside’ – has been a subject of rising interest since the mid-
1990s. The basic features of Turkish citizenship have been described as a
civic–territorial, secular, and republican, duty-based–passive identity in
several substantive studies, which have used different analytical instruments,
such as the legal formulation of an official citizenship identity in successive
Turkish constitutions and in related laws; the content of the general
republican education system, which has aimed to create the new republican
citizen; the immigration and settlement policies, which have been an example
of spatial–temporal conditioning of self/other in the new national context;
and the effects of the republican state ideology on the evolution of Turkish
citizenship as a duty-based identity.5
An analysis of Turkish foreign policy and the interaction between its
international context and domestic social–political formations helps to
diagnose the historical impediments Turkish citizens have faced throughout
the process of developing a right-based, active, liberal identity. The general
foreign policy orientation and practices of the nationalist Ankara government
during the period of national struggle in the late 1910s and early 1920s exists
as the foundation for the emergence of the Turkish national citizenship
identity. Before the establishment of the republic, the territorial, cultural
(national) and ethical–ideological boundaries of Turkish citizenship were
drawn mainly by the foreign policy acts and decisions of the new ruling elite,
which also entailed a particular ‘politics of citizenship’ in the domestic
sphere. In other words, in each foreign policy action the nationalists
simultaneously envisaged and domesticated a particular identity for the new
‘community of citizens’. The period between 1919–1923 witnessed the first
formulations of definitive, boundary producing (both physical and ethical)
discourses of Turkish political life, such as the supreme political objective of
political unity based on territorial integrity, the Muslim majority as an
organic totality, terms of ethnic and religious differentiation, the unitydisruptive
minority rights, threats to national security and the cultural and
political meanings of Turkishness in mainly the foreign policy texts of the
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nationalist government. These discourses shaped the formation of the
domestic public sphere and featured a new citizenship identity, which was
completely different from the Ottoman imperial model of membership and
political community.
In discussing the emergence of the first credentials of modern Turkish
citizenship, this study treats foreign policy not as the external orientation of
the Turkish ruling elite, but as a collection of ‘stylized practices’ that had a
central role in the territorial, cultural (national) and political closure of
citizenship that made up the politics of citizenship of the period. Therefore,
before going into the details of the relationship between foreign policy and
the construction of the national citizenship identity in Turkey, a conceptual
clarification is necessary in order to understand the functioning of foreign
policy as a boundary-drawing and identity-generating activity.
In the conventional–realist approach to the study and practice of
international relations – which has been the hegemonic school of thought,
especially in the practice of state-centered international politics since the
second world war, foreign policy is the external orientation of states which
have fixed and stable identities.6 The spatial–temporal conditioning of state
and society against the outside world, and against the ‘other,’ is momentary,
and completed at a particular historical juncture, which then remains
unchanged. The foreign policy of a particular state is formulated to defend
the pre-defined interests and security of that particular identity. Therefore, the
conventional foreign policy analysis has been an extremely state-centric field
since it assumes that the state is the only actor representing and perfectly
coinciding with an unproblematic, undifferentiated, unitary and temporarily
fixed identity for the political ‘community inside’, which makes up the
community of citizens.
It is with the introduction of the interpretative approach to the study of
international relations that the identity of the state and of the political
community it represents, the state–society relations with respect to the
conduct of international relations, that the problems with identity-constructing
and reinforcing effects of foreign policy acts and decisions, and
particularly the relationship between national security policy and the
reproduction of national identity have become more clear.7 The interpretative
approach views the international system and foreign relations as an arena of
practices that constitute the ‘subjects’ of the field, that is the individual states,
their domestic political communities, international organizations and regional
alliances. The reciprocal positions of these subjects are sustained by foreign
policy discourses and practices which establish and maintain the physical–
territorial, cultural–national and ethical–ideological boundaries which
altogether constitute the essence of the politics of inside/outside, which is
the politics of citizenship.
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