Construction of Ethnicity in Turkey

The Influende of the State on the Kurdish Issue

Masterarbeit, 2011

73 Seiten



List of Tables

List of Figures

List of Abbreviations

1 Introduction

2 Theories of Ethnicity
2.1 Etymology of the Term
2.2 Primordialism
2.3 Social Constructivism
2.3.1 Individual and Society: Negotiations
2.3.2 State: Constraints on Identity
2.3.3 Ethnic Groups: Sentiments Through Opposition .
2.3.4 Contents of Ethnicity
2.4 Ethnicity and Nationality
2.5 Ethnicity and Politics

3 Ethnic Policies in Turkey
3.1 Foundation of the Republic
3.2 Phases in the Relations of Turks and Kurds
3.2.1 Phase 0: Establishment of State Ideology
3.2.2 Phase 1: Division of Society
3.2.3 Phase 2: Mutual Perception
3.2.4 Phase 3: Interference and Mobilization
3.2.5 Phase 4: Interaction
3.2.6 Phase 5: Conflict
3.3 Turkey’s Changing Antiethnic Regime

4 Conclusion


List of Tables

1 Ethnic Group Configurations in Nation-States

2 Phases in the Relations of Turks and Kurds

3 Attempts to Change the Antiethnic Regime of Turkey

List of Figures

1 Social Constructive Model of Ethnicity in Modern States

2 Oppositional Model of Ethnic Identification

3 Techniques of Cultural Construction in Ethnic Groups

4 Per Capita Regional Incomes in Turkey

5 Argumentation of the Turkish Constitutional Court in Party Bans

6 Regimes of Ethnicity According to Membership and Expression

List of Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1 Introduction

Although the recognition of their identity has been a taboo for a long time, a significant minority of Turkish citizens is of Kurdish origin. Since the last national census asking for ethnicity took place in 1965, estimations of the contemporary proportion of Kurds in the country have to rely on such factors as self-ascription of Kurdishness or the native language being a Kurdish dialect. On these grounds, contemporary surveys agree on about 15% of the population of Turkey being in some way Kurdish. About two-thirds of this group are located in the eastern parts of the country, where they are met by only about 8% of the Turks (Dixon and Ergin 2010; ESS Round 2: European Social Survey Round 2 Data 2004; Koc et al. 2008; Mutlu 1996).

Despite this significant size of the part of the population calling themselves Kurdish, the recognition of Kurdish ethnicity in Turkey is a contested issue. Since the establishment of the Republic in 1923 and until the 1980s, people speaking openly about the existence of Kurds in Turkey could be punished for the support of separatism and terrorism. Official state publications until recently depicted Kurds as “mountain Turks”, who had forgotten their native mother language and their origins (Banton 2000, p. 483). The denial of Kur- dishness found its peak in the definition of the term Kurd by the military junta ruling the country after its coup d’état in 1980. It argued in its “White Book” (Dündar 2009):

In the heights of the mountains, there was snow that was melting neither during the winter nor summer. When the sun shined, its face was veiled with a glassy sparkling coat of frozen snow; its upside became rough, while the bottom was soft. When walking on this snow, the place where the foot trod irrupted, and made a noise like “kırt-kürt”. That was the reason why Turkmen from the east were called “Kürt”. What the separatists called “Kurd” [Kürt] was actually the word for a noise that came from the feet of Turks living on high hills in snowy regions while walking on snow.

Another evident manifestation of the denial of ethnicity by the Turkish state are the cases of party bans by the Constitutional Court. The dissolution of the Democratic Soci- ety Party (DTP) in December 2009 brought about the 25th party ban since 1978. Only six of them were closed according to formal procedures, in the other cases the parties were accused by the Chief Public Prosecutor of divisive behavior or action against the secular character of the Republic (Aykol 2009, p. 25-26). This rejection of ethnic diversity had important consequences for people identifying as Kurds. Not only was it forbidden for them to politically represent any claims connected to ethnicity, but the usage of and ed- ucation in Kurdish was forbidden for a long time and to a certain amount still is today. This problematic relationship between the Turkish state and the Kurds culminated in the establishment of the Kurdish terror organization PKK by Abdullah Öcalan in 1983. Ac- cording to different sources, this conflict caused between 30.000 and 50.000 victims until today (“Bir dönemin acı bilançosu” 2008; “Kurdish rebels kill Turkey troops” 2007).

It is only since the 1980s that the dominant state approach to ethnicity in Turkey seems to change slowly. Former Prime Minister Turgut Özal of the Motherland Party (ANAP) in the early 1990s spoke about the “different origins” of the citizens of Turkey and re- jected the perception that “there are only Turks” in the country (Ataman 2002, p. 129). And at the beginning of the new century, current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) openly stated: “If we desperately need to give it a name, we have to solve the Kurdish problem” (“Erdoğan: Kürt sorunu daha çok demokrasi ve daha çok refahla çözülecek” 2005). In June 2004, the state television chan- nel TRT started broadcasting in minority languages including Kurdish and in 2009 even established TRT 6, a channel broadcasting only in Kurdish. But despite this increase in public recognition, between 2002 and 2005, about 66% of the people in Turkey that define themselves as Turks stated that Kurds have a “very bad” or “somewhat bad” influence on the country (Dixon and Ergin 2010; KONDA 2006). Coinciding with this is an increase in tensions in the society between Turks and Kurds and an intensification of the violent conflict between the state and the PKK (Agence France-Press 2011; “Ethnic tension flares in Turkey after police killings” 2010).

Based on this seemingly paradoxical developments of conciliation and conflict, the present work asks for the factors that have an influence on the Kurdish issue in Turkey. It focuses on the construction of ethnicity by the state and analyzes its impact on the ethnic identification and mobilization of Kurds. If the last decades brought an increased recognition of Kurdish ethnicity, broadcasting in Kurdish and other improvements on the field of ethnicity, why did the relations between the Turkish state, Turks and Kurds deteriorate? As this thesis will argue, the history of the relations between the state, Turks and Kurds in the country consists of six distinctive phases that led from a division and non-interference of Turks and Kurds in the first half of the century to mutual recognition and interaction towards the end of it.

Yet before analyzing the case of Kurdish ethnicity in Turkey in detail, it must be clar- ified what ethnicity actually is. Therefore, first part of the present work reviews theories of ethnicity and introduces the two major schools of thought: ethnicity as primordial ties and ethnicity as a social construct (Chap. 2). After this theoretical part, the Turkish is- sue will be examined and the argument presented that, in accordance with the theory of Scott (1990), who argues that the perception of opposition on parts of a minority group will lead to an increase in its ethnic identification, the growing interaction between Turks and Kurds seems to have increased the opposition felt by Kurds to the Turkish state and intensified the defense of their own ethnicity.

Finally it must be noted, that there are also many other ethnic groups than Turks and Kurds in Turkey. As Mutlu quotes a Turkish saying: Türkiye ’ de yetmisikibuçuk millet var - there are 75,5 peoples in Turkey (1996, p. 517).1 But the Kurds by far represent the biggest ethnic minority group and the recognition of their identity is linked to a violent fight between the state and the PKK and also led to tensions in the society. Ultimately, the Kurdish issue represents the most important obstacle in the country’s accession to the European Union (Önis 2004).

2 Theories of Ethnicity

Although the term ethnicity is of a newer date, the social phenomenon of a sense of kinship, group solidarity and a common culture it describes has always been a part of human history. Ethnic communities have existed at every time and in every part of the world and, to varying degrees, have always represented one of the basic modes of human association. Consequently, ethnicity has always been and still is a source of individual identity (Hutchinson and Smith 1996, p. 3).

This chapter will investigate the concept of ethnicity. An important aspect of this topic is the commonsense understanding of ethnicity as an attribute of ethnic groups. Brubaker explains why we should begin the investigations on a more fundamental level: “‘Group’ functions as a seemingly unproblematic, taken-for-granted concept, apparently in no need of particular scrutiny or explication. As a result, we tend to take for granted not only the concept ‘group’, but also ‘groups’ - the putative things-in-the-world to which the concept refers” (2004, p. 7). This results in the problematic tendency of “groupism”, the tendency to view bounded and discrete groups as basic constituents of such social phenomena as ethnicity. He further specifies this (ibid., p. 8):

I mean the tendency to treat ethnic groups, nations, and races as substantial entities to which interests and agency can be attributed. I mean the tendency to reify such groups, speaking of Serbs, Croats, Muslims, and Albanians in the former Yugoslavia, of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, of Jews and Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, of Turks and Kurds in Turkey, or of Blacks, Whites, Asians, Hispanics, and Native Amer- icans in the United States as if they were internally homogeneous, externally bounded groups, even unitary collective actors with common purposes. I mean the tendency to represent the social and cultural world as a multichrome mosaic of monochrome ethnic, racial, or cultural blocs.

Research and developments in social theory show how problematic a treatment of groups as real, substantial social actors is, and that groupness is no stable entity (ibid.). The commonsense understanding of ethnic conflict as a conflict between ethnic groups seems logical. But it is exactly this commonsense, the process of dividing the social world into supposed constitutive, natural entities, that seeks explanation. It should not inform the theory, but the empirical data. Groupism, in this case ethnic groupism, represents the explanandum, not the explanans (Hempel and Oppenheim 1948).

Nevertheless, groupism still informs a lot of research on the topic of ethnicity. Social constructive approaches are a solution to this problem. Yet everyday language and inter- action, politics and the media all too often speak of ethnic, national and racial conflicts in a groupist approach as the battle “of” ethnic groups, nations and races: “Somehow, when we talk about ethnicity, and even more when we talk about ethnic conflict, we almost automatically find ourselves talking about ethnic groups” (Brubaker 2004, p. 9).

This is the reason for the choice of a social constructive approach in the present work to understand and explain ethnicity. Since these approaches are partly based on and of- ten share commonalities with substantialist - or, as they will be called here, primordial - approaches, these will be introduced first, led by an etymological introduction to the term ethnicity. Only after that will the social constructive approach be presented and extended towards a model of ethnicity that allows a broader, deeper and more comprehensive understanding of ethnicity as a social phenomenon. Afterwards, the differences between ethnicity and the concept of nationality and the connections between ethnicity and politics will be investigated.

2.1 Etymology of the Term

Ethnicity is a fairly new term and was first used by the American sociologist David Reis- man in 1953. The Oxford English Dictionary first listed it in 1972 (Eriksen 1993). The adjective ethnic, from which it derived, is older. Both terms are hard to define since the noun from which they originate, the Greek ethnos, does not exist in English. In its earliest recorded usage by Homer it is “used, rather, to describe large, undifferentiated groups of either animals or warriors” (Tonkin et al. 1989, p. 12) and draws attention to such charac- teristics of great size, amorphous structure and threatening mobility of the group. Later, Aristotle used it for foreign, non-Hellenic - barbarous, that is - nations and the Romans described areas outside Rome with it. “Aspects of naturality, of non-legitimate social or- ganization, of disorganization, and of animality, are strong in ethnos” (ibid., p. 13; emph. in orig.) and in opposition to the Greek term genos, used by the Greeks to describe them- selves, ethnos seems to have commonly been used to differentiate between a duality of “us” and “them”. In the Greek New Testament, for example, it was used to describe non- Christian and non-Jewish people. While the term had a pejorative, exclusive meaning in classical Greek, an inversion happened during the Ottoman period. In the Ottoman Empire, Orthodox Christians constituted the major religious other to the Muslims and thus the Turkish term millet, describing religious non-Muslim communities, was proba- bly translated to Greek as ethnos: “The Greeks may, then, have been referring to them- selves as the ethnos (that is, the Orthodox millet) from the fifteenth century onwards” (ibid., p. 14; emph. in orig.). The term then saw political nuances when it was used by the Greeks during their nationalistic uprising in the early 19th century to describe themselves as self-realizing, self-defining entity.

From the mid-19th century on, western scholarship understood the term as describing a group with shared characteristics. Remarkably is that the term did not find its way into the intellectual discourse at that time but only derived terms like ethnology, ethnography, ethnic, ethnocentric and ethnicity. Instead, all these terms were understood as being con- cerned with race, for which ethnos was seen as a synonym (Eriksen 1993). In the 19th century understanding of race, the contemporary biological aspect was only one compo- nent of a complex usage. In fact, it could be used as a synonym for such terms as society, nation, language, and culture. Only in the 20th century, race became “studiously avoided by the academic proponents of ethnicity” (Just 1978, p. 84). Since the widespread em- ployment of the term ethnic in its modern sense began in the post-war period, Tonkin et al. conclude: “There can be little doubt that the reason for this studious avoidance is a sense of revulsion and shame at the events that racial doctrines, and specifically Nazi racial doctrines, brought about in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s” (1989, p. 15).

Today, the term ethnicity is used frequently by western social anthropology but is de- fined rarely. It seems to resemble the meaning of race very closely but excludes the bio- logical factor. Despite the popularity of ethnicity, the term race lost its analytical power at least in the natural sciences since modern genetics avoid the term for two reasons: first, human populations have always interbred to such a great extend that it would be nonsense to speak of different races. Second, the distribution of hereditary physical traits does not resemble clear boundaries. “In other words, there is often greater variation within a ‘racial’ group than there is systematic variation between two groups” (Eriksen 1993, p. 4). This, of course, does not mean that social sciences are no longer concerned with races as cultural constructs. As the phenomenon of racism shows, the concept of race im- pedes sociological importance even if it lacks objective existence. As Eriksen argues, the distinction between race and ethnicity is difficult, since the latter includes a (presumed) kinship that may be based on biology. He suggests to study the concept of race as an instance of ethnicity.

Ethnicity itself is an abstract noun describing the constituent characteristic of an ethnic group. The modern, everyday usage of the term seems to have reintroduced the earlier “us” versus “them” duality: “Within the discourse of race, everybody had one, everybody belonged to one. In actual use, however, not everybody belongs to an ‘ethnic group’, or has an ‘ethnicity’” (Tonkin et al. 1989, p. 15). That is why the concept is criticized as been understood by anthropology as a means to differentiate the (western) researcher from the object under investigation. The modern usage of the term ethnicity in the public discourse is described as follows:

The adjective ‘ethnic’, in common usage within say, England, has no obvi- ous point of application within the indigenous patterns of social structure, or of geographical subordination and superordination, inclusion and exclusion.

The adjective, however, is readily applied to groups of relatively recent immigrants who are perceived to be sufficiently different, and indeed one measure of perceived difference would be the ease with which the adjective ‘ethnic’ could be employed (Tonkin et al. 1989, p. 15).

This everyday usage of ethnicity will be important to our understanding of the construc- tion of ethnicity in Turkey. Given the criticism on the substance of ethnos, Tonkin et al. conclude: “‘Ethnicity’, then, is an abstract noun, derived by non-vernacular morphologi- cal processes from a substantive that does not exist. ‘Ethnic group’ is a collocation often used in covert synonymy for another term, ‘race’, which has been morally and politically disallowed in many areas” (ibid., p. 16). They conclude that the term ethnicity only carries a meaning in contexts of relative identifications. The term targets at describing phenom- ena of everybody but at the same time includes connotations of strangeness and duality. Given this, the term unveils less as an analytical concept of social sciences but more as as a political means of ideology. What is needed, thus, is a critical analysis of the concept of ethnicity before it can be used to describe social phenomena.

2.2 Primordialism

Primordialism describes a category of approaches to ethnicity that see it as an ancient, primeval or natural phenomenon. Classical theoreticians of this category are Weber and Geertz, whose theories will be introduced below. The concept was severely criticized for various reasons, that will be introduced later.

In one of the basic works on the concept, Weber defines ethnic groups as follows (1978, p. 389):

We shall call “ethnic groups” those human groups that entertain a subjective belief in their common descent because of similarities of physical type or of customs or both, or because of memories of colonization and migration; this belief must be important for the propagation of group formation; conversely, it does not matter whether or not an objective blood relationship exists.

So, according to one of the founding fathers of modern sociology, ethnic groups are characterized by the assumption of the same ancestry by all group members. This assumption rests upon one or more characteristics of the group:

− Shared memories: common memories about a shared history as a group that stood in sharp distinction of one or more other groups, such as in situations of colonization and migration. These memories can be supported by common prescription to old, pre-migrational cults and common structures of relationships.
− Physical characteristics: shared physical appearances of the group members that are salient and suggest common ancestry.
− Cultural characteristics: foremost a common language, which carries a cultural possession shared by the group members and is of high importance because it con- stitutes mutual understanding. Other important characteristics can be a shared re- ligion and commonalities in the conduct of daily routine, such as the “economic way of life, housing styles, food and eating habits, the division of labor between the sexes and between the free and the unfree” (Weber 1978, p. 390). All these elements influence the individual’s perception of what is right and wrong and have an impact on its sense of dignity and honor.

Weber further highlights that the objectivity of the assumptions of common descent is not relevant for the formation of an ethnic group, just as Thomas and Thomas described it in their fundamental sociological theorem: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” (1928, p. 572). Important is the members’ belief in common an- cestry. Another characteristic of ethnic groups is the belief in an honor of their members, acquired through belonging, that is not shared by outsiders of the groups. This “notion of the ‘chosen people’” (Weber 1978, p. 391) can be interpreted as a counterpart of sta- tus differentiation that is translated into the horizontal coexistence of ethnic groups. In contrast to social status, ethnic honor does not rest on any kind of subordination and can be claimed equally by every member of an ethnic group and makes it possible to base repulsion of an ethnic group by another on any characteristics of that group. This honor can be transformed into ethnic conventions like a specific hair cut or beard that acts as a symbol of ethnic membership but does not represent a core characteristic of the ethnic group in itself.

The belief in such commonalities leads on the individual level to ethnic membership, meaning the identity of a presumed belonging to an ethnic group. This individual belief in itself does not constitute the ethnic group as a social phenomenon but facilitates its formation through other means. Weber (ibid., p. 389) notes that political communities, especially in cases of a general lack of rationalization,2 are a frequent source of ethnic membership.

Geertz proposes an extended understanding of ethnicity. For him, ethnic groups are constituted by so-called primordial attachments, the basic identity and the very tie of hu- mans towards their fellows. The primordial quality of attachments was first described by Shils with regard to family relationships. According to him, attachments to kin members are motivated by their possession of specific relational qualities, which he describes as pri- mordial. This quality is not constituted by social interaction but derived from “a certain ineffable significance [...] attributed to the tie of blood” (1957, p. 142). Following him, Geertz describes the primordial attachment as an attachment “that stems from the ‘givens’ - or, more precisely, as culture is inevitably involved in such matters, the assumed ‘givens’ - of social existence: immediate contiguity and kin connection mainly, but beyond them the givenness that stems from being born into a particular religious community, speak- ing a particular language, or even a dialect of language, and following particular social practices. These congruities of blood, speech, custom, and so on, are seen to have an ineffable, and at times overpowering, coerciveness in and of themselves” (1963, p. 109). He adopts Shils’ notion of the natural givenness of those ties: “One is bound to one’s kinsman, one’s neighbor, one’s fellow believer, ipso facto; as the result not merely of per- sonal affection, practical necessity, common interest, or incurred obligation, but at least in great part by virtue of some unaccountable absolute import attributed to the very tie itself” (ibid., p. 110; emph. in orig.). Major commonalities of ethnic groups bound by a primordial attachment according to Geertz are:

− Assumed blood ties: they give the primordial attachment the character of an as- sumed kinship, but only assumed since “kin units around known biological rela- tionship (extended families, lineages, and so on) are too small for even the most tradition-bound to regard them as having more than limited significance” (ibid.,
p. 111). Thus these assumed blood ties are untraceable but have a sociological reality, as in Weber’s conception described above.
− Race: this seems similar to assumed blood ties, but acquires the importance of shared physical features in Geertz’s theory. These may include skin color, face form, body height, hair type and so on.
− Language.
− Region: especially in geographically heterogeneous areas where different regions are characterized by distinct cultures, customs and so on, they become a source of primordial attachment.
− Religion.
− Custom: differences in the conduct of everyday life may be a source for primor- dial ties especially in cases where the ethnic group features intellectual or artistic sophistication and thus sets itself off from the groups around it.

The realization and expression of primordial attachments as their primary identity is one of two basic motives of humans that Geertz describes. The second one is the desire for a modern state. While the former is the search for fellows, a personal identity, recog- nition and influence on the world, the latter represents the longing for progress, a good standard of living and social order and justice. These two motives become related because it is the state that also invents a new form of attachment: “citizenship in a truly modern state has more and more become the most broadly negotiable claim to personal signifi- cance, and because what Mazzini called the demand to exist and have a name is to such a great extent fired by a humiliating sense of exclusion from the important centers of power in world society” (Geertz 1963, p. 108). But with regard to the primordial attachment of individuals, the development of a modern state becomes a problem because it often at- tempts to replace these primordial ties with some other kind of attachment to the state. Often, as is the case in Europe and North America, this attachment is a civil one, detached from any kind of ethnic relations: “To an increasing degree national unity is maintained not by calls to blood and land but by a vague, intermittent, and routine allegiance to a civil state, supplemented to a greater or lesser extent by governmental use of political powers and ideological exhortation” (ibid., p. 110). If the tradition of civil politics is weak in a region, this kind of civil attachment can also be replaced by primordial ties, becoming the ideal type of a mono-ethnic nation-state.

Thus, the emergence or even maintenance of a modern state can imply a direct conflict between primordial and civil sentiments. This is a serious problem, since these competing notions of loyalty to the state are located on the same level: either a society bound by civil ties or by primordial attachments. According to Geertz this problem cannot, as often proposed, be solved by introducing a multi-layered conception of identity that has as its first and most important element the civil attachment to the state and only as its second, subsumed element primordial ties. By definition, primordial attachments have an overpowering coerciveness that constraints this. This is the reason for the vital danger that primordial ties may pose to a state: they do not, as do other loyalties like class, party, profession and so on, simply reject some elements of a state like its government or administration but they question the very existence of the state.

Primordialism as a theory of ethnicity was strongly criticized. Geertz defines primor- dial ties as naturally given prior all social interaction, as ineffable, overpowering and coercive emotions. Eller and Coughlan describe these features as “apriority”, “ineffabil- ity” and “affectivity” and summarize: “Thus, primordialism presents us with a picture of underived and socially-unconstructed emotions that are unanalyzable and overpower- ing and coercive yet varying” (1993, p. 187). Citing empirical work on ethnicity, they show that first, ethnic identities are not given a priori. They may be deliberately cre- ated, are an individual choice and change over time; they have to be “renewed, modified and remade in each generation. Far from being self-perpetuating, they require creative effort and investment” (Hoben and Hefner 1991, p. 18). Second, the empirical research in its thoroughness proves that such ties are neither unanalyzable nor ineffable. Third, although the authors admit that sociology in the tradition of Durkheim lacks the methods to theorize and analyze the connection of social interaction and emotions, they show that emotions also are a social phenomenon for which social psychology provides the analyt- ical instruments. They conclude their criticism of primordialism: “A more unintelligible and unsociological concept would be hard to imagine, and furthermore, from a variety of sources - including sociology, anthropology, and psychology - material has emerged in recent years that renders the concept theoretically vacuous and empirically indefensi- ble. If we look at primordialism more deeply in the light of its three aspects and of recent scholarship, we should find sufficient cause to discard the concept, at least in this primitive sense, permanently” (Eller and Coughlan 1993, p. 187). We will discard primordialism as an independent theory of ethnicity here, but reintroduce it in the next chapter to solve its theoretical flaws and use it in a combination with the social constructive approach to reach a deeper understanding of ethnicity.

2.3 Social Constructivism

Social constructivist theories stress the social production of ethnic categories. The origins of these approaches to ethnicity lie in the incapacity of primordial models to explain resur- gences of long time vanished ethnic identities and the emergence of new ethnic groups. These new approaches stress the dynamics, agency, fluidity and situational aspects that are involved in ethnic phenomena and analyze the processes of social interaction through which ethnic identities, boundaries and cultures are produced. According to these ap- proaches, the origin, form and content of ethnicity are creatively chosen by individuals and groups through definitions of themselves and the others in ethnic terms.

Nash elaborates on the social constructive character of ethnicity. Instead of adjudging an objective, primordial or biological character, he argues that ethnicity acts as a social boundary marker for groups: “Where there is a group, there is some sort of boundary, and where there are boundaries, there are mechanisms to maintain them” (1989, p. 10). He calls these boundary mechanisms cultural markers and argues that they must be easily seen, understood and reacted to by members as well as nonmembers in social situations to effectively draw boundaries between groups. Ethnicity thus denotes the cultural items that are involved in the membership in a group. The most common ethnic boundary markers according to Nash are:

− Kinship: the presumed commonality of biology and descent,
− commensality: a kind of in-group equality, peership and relatedness,
− a common cult: providing the group with an eternal and unquestionable value sys- tem and symbols.

These three markers of blood, substance and cult indicate the existence of an ethnic group. But at the same time, they constitute it: “If these boundary mechanisms were breached with regularity, the group as a differentiated entity would also cease to exist” (ibid., p. 11). Since these first-order markers may not always be visible, they may be temporarily substituted by second-order, or surface pointers. The latter bear some ref- erences to the former, but are more mutable over time and psychologically less central to group identity. Examples of surface pointers are “dress, language, and (culturally de- noted) physical features” (ibid., p. 11). The usage of more subsidiary markers of differ- ence is contingent, but they all receive their power to separate groups from their reference to the first-order markers. The distinctiveness of an ethnic group is only maintained if markers of ethnic difference are somehow related to the three “building blocks” (Nash 1989, p. 12) of ethnicity: kinship, commensality and cult. Otherwise, the markers only constitute superficial social differences.

Nagel (1994) describes a model of ethnicity as a social phenomenon in modern states. While her article focuses on explaining the influence of state policies on ethnicity and processes of cultural construction by ethnic groups, the model can easily be extended by other works to give a quite comprehensive social constructive presentation of the phenomenon of ethnicity in modern states (see Fig. 1).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Social Constructive Model of Ethnicity in Modern States (Nagel 1994)

Nagel (1994, p. 153) defines ethnicity as ethnic identity. According to her, the markers of ethnic identity are mainly language, religion, culture, appearance, ancestry, and region- ality. This conforms with the classical theories of Weber (1978), Geertz (1963) and Nash (1989) described above. The difference is that the concrete values of these markers and their configurations are no longer seen as primordially given or distinct for a specific eth- nic group. Rather, the boundaries between various ethnic identities are subject to change and the content of the identities themselves are social constructions. But, as Nagel warns: “While ethnic boundaries and the meanings attributed to them can be shown to be socially constructed, they must not, therefore, be underestimated as social forces. In fact, the con- structionist model constitutes an argument for the durability, indeed the inevitability, of ethnicity in modern societies” (1994, p. 168). Attesting the social constructive character of the identities of, for example, Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East conflict or the Turks and Kurds in Turkey does not imply a belittlement of these conflicts. Such iden- tities have an influence on the acts of individuals and groups, no matter if they are given primordially or socially constructed, and thus are an important part of the conflicts.

2.3.1 Individual and Society: Negotiations

In the social constructive model, ethnic identities are social constructs defined by both, individual agency and social structure. At any time, there exists a multitude of possible ethnic identities, changing over time. For the individual or a group, this means a layer- ing of a host of identities it can pick from while defining itself: “Since ethnicity changes situationally, the individual carries a portfolio of ethnic identities that are more or less salient in various situations and vis-à-vis various audiences. As audiences change, the socially-defined array of ethnic choices open to the individual changes” (ibid., p. 154). In the negotiation of ethnic identity between self-definition and social ascription, an im- portant factor is the individual’s perception of the following characteristics of a specific identity:

its meaning to the audience,
its salience in the social context,
its utility in the social setting.

These features underline the importance of the external validation of ethnic identities. Based on general conceptualizations of social identities, we can thus define ethnic iden- tity as a specific type of social identity that builds on such characteristics as ancestry, language, religion, and other second-order markers (cf. Capozza and Brown 2000).

2.3.2 State: Constraints on Identity

The array of available ethnic identities is defined politically and socially with varying valuations of advantage and stigma and is dependent on place and time. While the impact of informal social constraints was included in the description of individual agency above, this section focuses on political constraints.

While informal social interactions already have an effective influence on the individual or group’s ethnic identification, formal ethnic labels and policies by means of the state are even more powerful. There are several ways in which ethnicity is politically constructed (Nagel 1994, p. 157-160):

− Immigration policies: Government policies that encourage or limit the flow of im- migrants directly shape the ethnic texture of a population. While those policies might be ethnically neutral in the first place, today’s immigrants might become tomorrow’s ethnic groups as, for example, the case of Turkish and Kurdish guest workers in Germany shows (Joppke 1999). Such processes are influenced by im- migration policies to house, employ or somehow regulate or assist the immigrant groups. Finally, these policies might function as an intermediary means if domes- tic or foreign policies indirectly influence the ethnic composition of a population through immigration policies.
− Political categorization and resource distribution: Ethnic identities may also be cre- ated by the government through means of categorization like in censuses, sorting the population according to some ethnic aspects (cf. Anderson 2006), or in con- stitutions by acknowledging or protecting political rights of ethnic groups. Such measures may foster ethnic group identity when certain rewards or treatments are bound to ethnicity. Or they can reduce or otherwise, as a means of defense, rein- force ethnic consciousness when they are connected with disadvantages and repres- sion. Such political categorizations are especially powerful if belonging to a certain ethnic category gives access to vital resources like health care or social aid.
− Political categorization and political access: A special case of resource distribution along ethnic lines is the regulation of control over the state or some parts of it via ethnicity: “the state is itself the greatest prize and resource, over which groups engage in a continuing struggle” (Brass 1985, p. 29).

2.3.3 Ethnic Groups: Sentiments Through Opposition

While the concept of primordialism has been criticized, Scott (1990) revises and uses it in connection with the social constructive approach of Spicer to explain the continuity and intensity of ethnic group identities in greater depth.


1 The half people is supposed to be Sintis. For more details on the ethnic composition of Turkey, see for example Aktürk (2007), ESS Round 4: European Social Survey Round 4 Data (2008), KONDA (2006) and Mutlu (1996).

2 For Weber’s understanding and a categorization of rationalization see Weber (1948).

Ende der Leseprobe aus 73 Seiten


Construction of Ethnicity in Turkey
The Influende of the State on the Kurdish Issue
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
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631 KB
Türkei, Ethnizität, Kurden, Minderheiten, Turkey, Ethnicity, Minorities, Kurds
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Sebastian Sönksen (Autor:in), 2011, Construction of Ethnicity in Turkey, München, GRIN Verlag,


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