We the People
In the department of social services that belongs to one of the district municipalities of the AKP (the Justice and Development Party) in Istanbul, a friend of mine, İhsan, approached a group of party members and me with obvious excitement, holding his cell phone and apparently ready to show us something important. “I told you,” he said, “one should be careful about how to treat whom.” He was referring to an earlier conversation we had had about the status of Syrian refugees. In one of our previous discussions, İhsan had insisted that “their” party was wrong in not making necessary distinctions between refugees: “We are accepting them because they are Muslim. But are they really so?” He had tried to prove that a real Muslim would not run away from a war against infidels (i.e., Esed’s forces). “Think about the Sahabe.1 Even at the age of twelve, they were running toward the war. These [people] are running away!” Part of the group and I had been arguing that Syrian refugees were victims of the war and might not be able to resist injustices in Syria at the contemporary juncture. Some were silent, without giving any hint about what they were thinking. Only a few made gestures approving İhsan’s condemnation of Syrian refugees and his questioning about their “real” faith.
When İhsan came back with video footage from a newspaper’s website, he wanted to conclude our discussion with hard proof. The video was about a young Syrian refugee who was working in a workshop without papers and, for reasons unknown, killed his employer in cold blood. İhsan made us watch it from beginning to end, claiming that it was the proof that many Syrian refugees were not Muslims to be saved from an infidel tyrant but cowards who fled the ground of Jihad. According to his reasoning, they acted as if they were Muslim, part of the Ummah (community), but they were in fact morally corrupt and thus were corrupting the spiritual dimension of their political project. He suggested that the AKP had to find a way to determine who were real victims and who were in fact using Islam for personal gain. “If the party would not help,” he added, “then people might start separating the false from the true.” When I intervened that no one could possibly have such a right, our discussion turned to who has the right to decide who belongs to the community of Muslims. Many of our common friends concurred that their own rights were being infringed on by such impostors and that those people unfairly enjoy the same social and economic rights as Turkish citizens, such as the right to work, health care, education, and poverty relief. If refugees were to be accepted as part of the Ummah, my friends insisted, then local people have a right to take action against the impostors.
Our conversation was orbiting around concepts such as rights, citizenship, the Ummah, and morally corrupt Syrians. The Syrian refugee crisis as experienced in the poor neighborhoods of Istanbul was thus unfolding a certain set of characteristics that go far beyond the classical discussions on similar crises, complicating as it does our understanding of citizenship, human rights, political mobilization, and the everyday conceptions of sovereignty. In this article, I will examine how the question of refugee crisis emerges as a nexus between populist politics and sovereign practices, arguing that populist mobilization in Turkey, embodied by the Islamist AKP, provides large sections of society with a particular form of sovereign power: the right to suspend the rights of others. This sovereign empowerment of the masses through Islamist populism is certainly an unexpected turn of events. Most studies on populism focus on discursive articulations of popular grievances, assuming that populist politics makes promises that cannot be fulfilled. Yet the Turkish case provides a more complicated picture, showing that a form of populist politics, based on a performative distinction between “real people” and “enemies of the people,” can last for decades, endowing its supporters with a form of life within which “the majority” can enact distinctive practices and embody explicitly political identities—even at the expense of some parts of society.
This everyday life of populism can only be understood in the context of neoliberal disenfranchisement, as a result of which the figure of citizen subject is being replaced with that of the sovereign subject, whose distinctive quality is not “a right to have rights” but “a right to suspend rights.” Since the early 1980s, a set of neoliberal policies has been transforming Turkey, rendering any permanent right and entitlement as wasteful and detrimental to the economy and the country. Exactly at such a historical conjecture, populist Islamism gained a massive momentum against both secular right and secular left in Turkey, propagating that the pious masses were the real owners of the country and that their exclusion from political power and the social sphere was the root cause of economic and political crises. Their offshoot movement, the AKP (the Justice and Development Party), changed its policy toward Western institutions (the European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, World Trade Organization, etc.) but remained steadfast in its conviction that the pious masses need to be at the center of the political system (the justice part) to achieve economic advancement (the development part).
Therefore, we have a very curious case in Turkey after the AKP’s rise to power: while the party mobilized the poor, Sunni masses—through the registers of religiously oriented politics—neoliberal transformations continued to eradicate rights and entitlements in the country. Based on a continuous discursive war between pious real people and the secular selfish elite, this mobilization has had a distinctively populist character. However, the question remains: How has the AKP been able to sustain and even expand its constituency while pursuing a neoliberal agenda at full throttle? Millions of AKP sympathizers and partisans had found a form of life across the networks of the party, spending enormous amounts of time doing political, social, and economic activities. Such people find jobs in AKP municipalities and related companies, receive social assistance, go to religious talks, travel to other cities for party activities, or make home visits to discuss politics and religion. This form of life, with several alternative registers it provides—from social and economic means to religious and political engagements—is the key to solving the apparent dilemma of the AKP.
Based on forty months of multisited fieldwork between 2013 and 2017 in three adjacent districts in Istanbul (Esenler, Kucukcekmece, and Bagcilar—the political strongholds of the AKP),2 my research shows that the form of political mobilization and identification that emerged at the margins of neoliberal capitalism, what we may call “populist citizenship,” harbors destructive potentialities that graft the question of sovereignty onto everyday practices. While the AKP subsumed the damage of neoliberal havoc by religiously invested political networks, the form of life it produced at the margins of Istanbul began to assume what Ihsan calls “the right to separate the false from the true.” By making discretionary judgments, mostly in the form of moral and religious assessments, as the foundation of political decisions in everyday life, the populist Islamism of the AKP has been laying down a sociopolitical infrastructure within which partisans and sympathizers claim sovereign power to decide who belongs to the political community and thus can enjoy the rights and entitlements. This is most apparent in relation to the Syrian refugee crisis, in which political belonging takes a religious orientation under the name of the Ummah. I will explore some ethnographic examples of this popularly conceived right to decide who belongs to a polity. This right to suspend the rights of others, I argue, complicates our conceptions of citizenship and sovereignty in the age of late capitalism—two salient themes that have systematically been kept separate in social scientific analyses.
From the Citizen Subject to the Sovereign Subject
Although classical studies approach the question of citizenship as a set of civic, political, and social rights,3 the end of the Cold War revitalized the discussion, giving it more radical, progressive, and dynamic characteristics. Especially in the 1980s, scholars began to underline the significance of difference,4 inclusion,5 and multiculturalism6 in our conceptualizations of citizenship. At this historical juncture, anthropological studies engaged in a productive dialogue with such critical theories, foregrounding citizenship as a question of practice:7 biological citizens making disability claims,8 slum dwellers searching for property rearrangements,9 or minorities claiming cultural difference.10 However, most of the literature still oscillates between the Foucaultian logic of self-making11 and institutional pedagogy of subject formation.12 Only a few studies look at the interrelations between different groups of people, how people separate themselves from others, as coconstitutive of the practices of citizenship. Such exceptions mostly center their discussions on right-wing movements and their practices.
It is interesting that we have an analogous picture in the literature on sovereignty. Although Michel Foucault suggested cutting off the king’s head in political thinking, “sovereignty in practice”13 did not cease to be a central concern in everyday life or in scholarly investigations. Anthropological studies show that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the triumph of global capitalism made the question of sovereignty less centralized but more nested,14 grading,15 outsourced,16 and privatized.17 It is especially important that these studies capture the increasing significance of sovereignty in neoliberal times. However, sovereignty defined as the power to legislate and legitimize should not sideline sovereignty as the capacity to suspend rights, law, and entitlements. Postcolonial studies have been particularly important on this point, making it clear that the right to kill and punish with impunity is embedded in the (post)colonial order of things.18 Informed by this postcolonial approach, some anthropologists examine sovereignty as embodied in criminal figures,19 paramilitary organizations,20 or vigilante groups.21 In a sense, “sovereignties on the ground”22 complicate our understandings of law and legitimate order in favor of “a view of sovereignty as a tentative and always emergent form of authority.”23 However, this emergence has been conceived, almost always, as a counterpart of citizenship.24 Sovereignty violates and even denudes citizenship but remains extrinsic to it.
I claim that a more integrated and symmetrical approach would help us see whether certain forms of political belonging articulate the question of sovereignty into its own foundational gesture. I think that Étienne Balibar’s discussion of the concept of “Citizen Subject” may provide us with the necessary link between these two vectors of the political. In 1986, the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy wrote a letter of invitation to a group of the major philosophers of the time, inviting them to answer this question: What comes after the subject in the age of globalization? He wanted to anticipate a political figure that is to come when nation-states wither away. Balibar’s surprising answer is that a figure had already come after the subject, and it is none other than the citizen.25 For Balibar, the generative tension for the Western political tradition since 1789 was the aporia inherent in this concept of citizen. While the concept of the citizen shifted sovereignty from a transcendent register (God and/or the king) to the citizen, the citizen in turn became the subject of its own laws. Balibar conceptualizes this duality as “the subject’s becoming the citizen” and “the citizen’s becoming the subject.” In other words, there are two faces of the citizen subject: the citizen who makes the law and thus is “above” any law and the citizen who obeys the law and thus is “under” the law.
Although his reading provided a wide range of scholars with an acute sensibility of “citizenship as an active fault line,”26 the aporia of citizenship on the ground attracted no attention except that of a few anthropologists.27 Consequently, the question of citizenship has been mostly conceived in terms of a relationship between citizen subject and the state, confining the question of the political to the limits of institutional establishments. This is mostly because the Arendtian origins of the citizenship debate focus on the problem of statelessness and the predicament of human rights, conceiving the political as collective labor in building “webs of relationship” through which human beings emerge as interconnected and unfolding stories.28
For Arendt, human beings are existentially conditioned such that they have “a right to have rights,” a meaningful framework within which humans dwell, act, and narrate.29 A man without community, a Heimatlosen—a German word directly incorporated into Turkish (haymatlos) to designate stateless people—means the loss of home and therefore a man without human qualities. It is for this reason that Arendt insists on the relation between the state and the citizen, for a human without rights is no human at all. However perspicacious her analysis is, Arendt’s vision is invested in a conception of a political community wherein there is no place for enmity but only for collective deliberation as to what is good for the community. Not paying enough attention to the relations among citizens themselves (or between citizens and aliens), this conception of the political, I believe, still constitutes the limits of citizenship debates—a limit that fails to provide a satisfactory account of the subject of populist politics.
A Schmittian correction to Arendt’s notion of “a right to have rights” might allow us to approach the contemporary developments of the citizenship debates in Turkey from a darker but nonetheless more productive perspective. The capacity to declare a state of emergency and suspend laws remains the insignia of sovereignty.30 Many scholars refrain from such a Schmittian reading, for it seems to assume a point of absolute outside, a transcendent position, from which decisions can be made.31 However, an anthropological approach might complicate this picture. We do not need to confine sovereign power into a centralized position. We can read it as a metapragmatic performativity, a self-reflexive declaration that claims to suspend the existing rights regardless of its prospective felicity—that is, whether this claim might be successful in being accepted as a sovereign gesture. Thus we can observe many instances where sovereignty is attempted whenever ordinary people try to convince others that their declaration is valid, like an assertion that a group of people, say, fake Muslim Syrians, does not have rights. In this sense, sovereign power can take, and has already taken, the form of “a right to suspend rights,” a right to declare that a group of people does not partake in the political community whose members may enjoy certain rights and privileges.
In order to show how the figure of the Sovereign Subject emerges as a potent possibility in the contemporary world, I will focus on how people around the networks of the AKP, who self-identify as either partisans or sympathizers, conceive the Syrian refugee crisis and interact with Syrian refugees. I will start with a short history of the crisis, underlining that a religiously oriented conception of universality, the politics of the Ummah, is particularly important to appreciate how the crisis has been unfolding in Turkey. I will try to show that the politics of the Ummah, displaying a family resemblance with the logic of humanitarianism, accommodates a large scope of discretion and flexibility in dealing with Syrian refugees. In the third and fourth sections, I will turn my attention to the implications of the Ummah politics for the Turkish society at large, arguing that rather than representing a rupture, the Syrian refugee crisis foregrounds constitutive dimensions of the transformation of the Turkish social, economic, and political landscape. Thus in a sense, I will show that the failure of rights-based citizenship is closely associated with the new form of universalisms that promise solutions for long-standing problems. I argue that the neoliberal destruction over formal rights and entitlements can only be understood in tandem with such new political modalities that incorporate the discretionary aspect of the political into the heart of the social. In the last section, I will try to show that this process of mass mobilization results in a curious outcome, relegating sovereign power from state institutions to grassroots movements and their members. What is left after the neoliberal disenfranchisement of citizens is a capacity to suspend laws and regulations, a bare right to suspend the rights of the other. This is most observable in the case of the Syrian refugee crisis. Implications of this newly emergent “populist citizenship,” what I call the figure of the Sovereign Subject, are vast and have the potential to complicate our conceptions of rights, ethics, and alternative universalities.
The Successes and Failures of Islamist Universalism: The Case of the Syrian Civil War
When Tunisia faced growing popular protests in 2010, no one had any idea how much political and social power this new wave of popular expression might gain in the region. The protest waves spread across the Middle East, resulting in protracted and complicated political crises in several countries, including Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain.32 Turkey’s attitude toward the “Arab Spring” was ambivalent at the beginning.33 The government saw potential in the movements in transforming the political sphere in the Middle East in line with the Turkish experience of Islamism. The opinion leaders in the AKP see the Muslim Brotherhood as “the natural ally” and a part of “the shared sentimentality.”34 Both organizations had been seeking grassroots mobilization among the poor through religiously oriented politics. Scholars show that the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkish Islamists have been influencing each other in different directions: while Turkish Islamists first learned the significance of the Ummah in politics from Ikhwan, Ikhwan began to be on the receiving end at a later stage, when the AKP consolidated its domination over the social and political field in Turkey, moderating between Islamic ideals and global necessities.
To expand its hegemony, the government approached the protest movements in the region from a perspective supporting a gradual change, through which democratic institutions would replace authoritarian regimes. At the end of this process, it was assumed, Islamist movements like Ikhwan and Ennahda would rule their countries and a new constellation of Islamic polities would be established under the leadership of Turkey—a unity of the Ummah. Elected president in 2011, Erdoğan had this project in mind by declaring, “Believe me, Sarajevo won today as much as Istanbul, Beirut won as much as Izmir, Damascus won as much as Ankara, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, the West Bank, Jerusalem won as much as Diyarbakir.”35
Before the protests in the Syrian town of Dera, after which the civil war started, Erdoğan had been calling Bashar el-Assad “my brother Esad” and making last preparations for “Şamgen,” a regional integration strategy modeled on Schengen Visa. However, after a meeting with the director of the CIA, the AKP and Erdoğan gave up “my brother Esad” and began using “Beşşar Esed” or “murderer Esed.” The phonetic change indexed a change in policy from reform and dialogue to conquest and intervention. Nevertheless, the emphasis on a religious universality remained untouched. Turkey was about to engage in a full-on confrontation with Syria, but the conflict was to be cast in religious terms: pious Muslims fighting against “Nusayri Esed.”
The civil war escalated in Syria after 2011, and many people began to enter Turkey to escape the war’s unspeakable violence. International and national reports, scholarly articles, and journalistic pieces indicate that Turkey’s hospitality toward Syrian refugees needs to be commended.36 Not only has Turkey followed the policy of nonrefoulement, but also it has remained committed to providing basic humanitarian services to refugees. Eight years later, in April 2019, the total number of refugees exceeded 3,630,000, most of whom currently reside in urban areas. Their status is not legally categorized as refugees, but as “foreigners” in legal texts and “guests,” “Muhajirun,” or “brothers/sisters in faith” in public discussions. There are legal and political reasons behind the reluctance to accept Syrian refugees as refugees. In short, granting refugee status puts the host country in a position of obligation that has a binding nature, whereas the present legal situation allows considerable discretion that is essential for many sovereign practices.
In this sense, from the perspective of the Turkish state, the question of sovereignty as a capacity to suspend laws and rights seems definitive in the case of Syrian refugees. The first wave of refugees was delegated to the administration of the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). As was the case in the previous mass population movements in 1989 and 1991, Turkey did not grant refugee rights to Syrian people but provided social services within a similar, if not larger, scope. With international attention focusing on the situation, Turkey needed to locate the Syrian refugee crisis within a legal framework. However, the logic of humanitarian assistance was not replaced with a rights-based approach. Instead, Syrians were put under “the 2014 Temporary Protection Regulation,” which bluntly states that Temporary Protection status does not mean international protection and, what is more, prevents people under Temporary Protection from applying for refugee status.37 The temporary and exceptional character of the regulation has been emphasized widely despite the growing awareness that a rights-based solution is inevitable in the long term. Thus the social policies directed toward the Syrian refugees, from the right to work and education to the right to shelter, have retained their character of a state of emergency, if not outright illegality.38
For my purposes, the determining characteristic of the Syrian refugee crisis in Turkey is the scope of discretion and flexibility, which is related to the unprecedented number of refugees in the country. There are ramifications of this state of emergency going beyond legal status and thus transforming the popular approach to Syrian refugees. While this exceptionality is related to a religiously invested warfare in Syria, a legitimate war of pious Sunni Muslims against a murderous Nusayri organization (Shabiha and the other Assad supporters), the indeterminacy regarding the status of people coming from Syria is a topic of popular discussions. Many people frequently engage in controversies about who should be considered “our guests,” worthy of protection, and having the rights of the Ummah. I will try to show that the rise of the Ummah is in line with the confluence of morality and politics at large, but with unexpected twists. While it is generally argued that the moralization of politics results in the retreat of the political, and thus the loss of political identification in everyday life, the populist turn that we witness today articulates moral concerns at the very heart of politics. The “discretionary” aspect of moral judgments enables the masses to decide who belongs to the community of the Ummah and thereby to perform a sovereign gesture that might suspend the rights of Syrian refugees.
The Perils of Citizenship and the Virtues of the Ummah
A glance at the news cannot help but reveal the significance of the discourse of the Ummah in explaining Turkish politics toward the refugee crisis. Many newspapers associated with the AKP, as well as many Islamist writers who openly support Erdoğan and the party, do not hesitate to use the words “Erdoğan,” “the AKP,” and “the Ummah” in different combinations: “the leader of the Ummah,” “the party of the Ummah,” “the only hope of the Ummah.” This is not simply rhetoric. From the beginning of the war, nearly every humanitarian organization in Turkey framed the Syrian civil war as part of the persecutions of Muslims in the Middle East. One of the foremost Islamic humanitarian organizations in Turkey, the IHH (Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief) advertised its Syrian humanitarian assistance program through the idiom Ensar-Muhacir (from the Arabic: Ansar means “the helpers” and Muhajirun means “the emigrants”).39 In the history of Islam, the Hijrah, the migration of the prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina, occupies a central place, designating a beginning for the religion as well as an imperative dictating that Muslims should migrate in cases where they are unable to perform religious duties in their abode. The refugee crisis being translated into the idioms of religious history, the public sphere was being saturated with the coordinates of the Ummah, which places Syrians and Turkish citizens in the same mold and puts non-Muslims as the primary enemies of this popular “we.”
In April 2014, at the peak of the Syrian civil war and the refugee influx to Turkey, I was invited to a social gathering in Esenler to celebrate the birthday of the prophet, also known as Holy Birthday Week. A well-known Lebanese religious person was to give a speech. While we were making the final preparations for the evening, my close friend Salih began to talk about the significance of bringing such an important Sayyid40 to the neighborhood. For him, these kinds of social activities were crucial in reclaiming the universal Islamic community. “Nationalisms,” he confidently asserted, “were created to divide the Ummah so they could exploit us.” Salih was thinking that the AKP and Erdoğan were working toward a renewal of this Islamist universalism, and the Syrian refugee crisis was the biggest test facing the Muslims. He wanted me to find the speech Erdoğan gave the day before, claiming it was a clear declaration of this intention. I think what he had in his mind was this part of Erdoğan’s talk:
[The prophet] continued his final sermon as following: Believers, listen to me carefully. The Muslim is the brother of the Muslim. For a Muslim, neither the blood nor the property of his brother is halal. Brothers do not hurt each other, do not envy each other, and do not despise each other. They do not make discriminations between Kurds, Turks, or Lazs. Palestinians are your brothers, Syrians are your brothers, Egyptians in the person of Esma are your brothers. Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan are your brothers. Real brothers. Muslims do not betray each other. Muslims do not make complaints about each other to the Western countries. They do not carry on intrigues against each other. They do not cooperate with infidels.41
Erdoğan’s speech, according to Salih, was the only solution for the problems of the Muslim world and Turkey. Turkey was an important example of how secular governments and their tribalist (nationalist) policies wasted the great potential of their people. He insisted that the Kurdish question was related to none other than such a legacy: “If you force people to say they are Turkish, while they are not, you put a rift between people.” In his view, this was tribalism par excellence, one of the greatest challenges that Allah warned the Muslims about—the particularistic tendencies negating the Universalist potential of Islam. Consequently, Turkey paid an immense price for this antiuniversal politics and lost the power of the Ummah that once made the Ottoman Empire the world’s leading force. As part of a disingenuous scheme that the Western infidels organized, Turkey succumbed to ethnic fissures and hatred, out of which the PKK arose as a violent anti-Islamic organization. Erdoğan’s conflation of ethnic groups in Turkey with Muslim subalterns around the world, from Palestinians to Egyptian Ikhwan, was thus a similar semantic gesture. The Muslim world lost its universality and fell into particularistic struggles, a situation that many of my interlocutors conceptualized as “divide and rule.”
Islamist politics of the AKP has thus been foregrounding an identity based on religion, explicitly questioning the limits of citizenship based on ethnicity. The predecessor of the AKP, the Welfare Party, was the first political actor to appeal to the masses, especially the masses in Kurdistan, through the registers of the Ummah instead of citizenship. Surely, nationalism and Islamism in Turkey have parallel histories that cannot be conceived as mutually exclusive. However, since the early twentieth century, Islamist intellectuals and politicians have been carefully distinguishing the politics of the universalistic Ummah from that of parochial ethnicities. Consequently, Islamist politics in Turkey, from the Welfare Party to its offshoot AKP, has been enjoying mass support in Kurdistan.42 Especially for those Kurdish people who are opposed to Marxist politics, the Islamist movements have remained the sole alternative in the region.
Although nationalist sentiments still overwhelm Ummah politics, the AKP has irrevocably transformed the registers of citizenship in Turkey. Today, even the MHP (the Nationalist Movement Party), the predominant far-right political organization, uses the word “Kurdish” with little hesitation. This is certainly a great improvement, considering the violent history of the movement. Moreover, the army has also changed its attitude about the Kurdish question, although without releasing its iron grip on democratic demands. After the end of the solution process, a massive urban war ensued, but the army personnel in Kurdish cities irregularly made announcements in Kurdish—something unimaginable in the 1990s. Yet the broadcasted announcements were full of hate speech, stating that the protesters were Armenians in origin and would be destroyed root and stem.43 This message was in line with the Islamist understanding that the Kurds are the noble brothers of the Turks in the divine cause of Islam, and the separatist PKK is not a Kurdish group but an Armenian/Jewish conspiracy trying to divide the Ummah.44 In other words, while the Ummah had to be revised for nationalist sensitivities, it remained one of the powerful political registers. At this conjecture, Syrian refugees arose as part of the Ummah, fighting against the infidel Esed, and started to enjoy rights that people in Turkey have.
From the Rights of Citizens to the Morality of the People
To a certain extent, populist Islamism may have facilitated the integration of Syrian refugees into Turkish society, but the refugees continue to suffer from a certain lack of status. They were not allowed to enjoy many legal certainties and rights and were even excluded from refugee status due to legal regulations.45 Every service they get, from shelters to medicine, can be categorized as provisional and discretionary—a situation that positions Syrian refugees on the very threshold of law, turning the figure of the refugee into Agamben’s homo sacer.46 Yet a closer look discloses a far more complicated picture: the logic of Islamist universalism bears a resemblance to the contemporary situation of citizenship in Turkey, eerily accommodating the increasing uncertainty and discretion that Turkish citizens also suffer from.47 In this sense, the politics of the Ummah is not a simple aberration but signifies an attempt to address the predicaments of contemporary capitalism through alternative registers. Islamist universality is a way to subsume the crisis of citizenship when ethnicities complicate national identities, legal entitlements are subordinated to the logic of international markets, and international relations are reframed through sectarian lenses.
The major reason behind the divestiture of citizenship rights in Turkey is the ongoing neoliberal transformation initiated in the early 1980s. The AKP represents the epitome of this process, integrating the country into the global markets to an unprecedented degree. The neoliberal policies of the AKP have continuously been eroding the rights-based social policy inherited from the secular developmentalist Turkey of the previous period—a form of welfare state that redistributed resources according to one’s position in the labor market through formal codes and regulations.48 Massive privatizations of public companies, deregulation of the labor market, dismantlement of labor unions, and eradication of social rights irrevocably transformed the social and economic landscape.49 Yet there is also a striking contradiction: the degeneration of social rights has been accompanied by the increases in the state capacity through taxation and the improvements in social services.50 Despite the decimation of legal rights and entitlements pertaining to workers, the ratio of social services in the national budget increased and the total amount spent on such services displayed significant improvement. It has been widely reported that the distribution of social services has qualitatively changed from focusing on a small group of securely employed people to offering these services widely among the most impoverished sections of society.51 Being temporary, discretionary, and exceptional in conduct, social assistance has gradually been approaching the logic of humanitarianism, transforming societal life into a state of emergency.52 By subsuming the inflow of Syrian refugees into the institutional fold of existing social services, a kind of humanitarianism has been both expanded and intensified in Turkey.
A very large part of the social assistance for the poor is done by social workers employed by municipalities or governorates. They work in tandem with local humanitarian organizations, conducting similar house visits and discretionary judgments. These diverse institutions and groups are constantly in communication with each other through personal channels. Such social workers generally live in the same neighborhood; during my research, I had the chance to observe that they were all closely connected to the AKP as members or sympathizers, if not as partisans. Since the deregulation of the labor market resulted in a rather ossified informal job market for the poor, it is impossible to determine a person’s economic status through formal channels. Therefore, the assessments done by social workers have gained a central place in the social and economic life of the poor in Istanbul.
Although all the social workers I met claimed that their concerns were purely humanitarian [insani], and I find no reason to suspect otherwise, the scope of humanitarian care is anything but certain. Shifting social policies from rights to humanitarian logic is a shift from entitlement and rights to ethical judgment and values. Therefore, I was not surprised to see that social workers had a tendency to be more suspicious toward the Syrian Alawites than the Sunnites, the Turkish leftists than the AKP members, the bareheaded than the headscarfed. Although I did not witness, during my three years of fieldwork, any explicit discrimination based on sectarianism, the moralization of social obligations certainly expands the scope of discretion. For example, smoking was frequently interpreted as a sign of prodigality, a clue that the applicant was irresponsible and most likely spending his or her money on nonessential items. The relatively liberal attitude of a woman without a headscarf could be taken as an indication that she did not suffer from poverty as much as someone whose behavior was more “proper” and “solemn.”
The examples can be multiplied, but one thing remains constant: the most important part of determining which Turkish citizen or Syrian refugee is eligible for which social services is a decision based on “conscience” and “moral sensibilities.” I am not saying there is a widespread abuse of this moralization of social rights. However, there is a qualitative change in terms of political dispositions that signify a shift from rights to morality. Put another way, there is the knowledge that applicants, regardless of their citizenship/refugee status, have to convince social workers that it is really their right to claim such services and that they are not faking. This knowledge is political in nature, not only because social workers are also party members but also because social assessments take the form of determining who is “real” and “true” and who is “fake” and “lying.” In a sense, it approaches the distinction between enemies and friends; combined with party politics, it frequently takes the form of “one of us” or “one of them.”
While enjoying similar “rights” as Turkish citizens, Syrian refugees experience far more flexible conditions, as if they embody the future form of Turkish citizenship.53 But the significance of the figure of the Syrian refugee lies somewhere else. By being subjected to a purely ethical determination, as part of the Ummah, this figure has become a subject of everyday conversation. Many, but especially those who identify themselves with the party, find it necessary to decide who belongs to the Ummah and thus might enjoy the accompanying rights, and who does not. In a way, while some Turkish citizens can be subjected to discretionary judgments of social workers, Syrian refugees are all subjected to the assessments made by any Turkish citizen—most frequently those who claim to partake in the community of the Ummah.
What distinguishes Syrian refugees from Turkish citizens is this explicit metapragmatics that posits morality against rights as a social and political register. In other words, while moral judgments are conceived as an essential part of social services, it is explicitly emphasized that the Syrians have their “status” of muhacir as part of their belonging to the Ummah. Accordingly, the sovereign decision regarding one’s being worthy of social provisions, and thus having the right to claim them, is differently executed in these two social groups. If the applicant is a Turkish citizen, the ethical judgment takes the form of a discretionary decision made by a social worker, an assessment mostly closed for further inquiries. Once the social worker decides that the applicant’s claim is true, it is granted that the applicant has the right to claim those provisions. However, in the case of Syrian refugees, many people—including social workers, local party members, and sympathizers in the neighborhood—claim that it is their right to question the rights of Syrian refugees. Let me give you one such example.
During his house visits and social assessments (sosyal tespit), my friend Hakan let me accompany him many times. He was both a party member and a social worker in the municipality, working diligently to help the poor and thus prove that religious politics can transform the world. He was making frequent calls to the neighborhood leader (mahalle baskanı) of the AKP and asking for further information about the families he was assigned to investigate. In one specific case, a Syrian refugee family, we were told that the family was quite a large one, comprising sixteen people, but included five able-bodied young men. The neighborhood chief opined that he was not sure how right it would be to help those people if they could all come here, implying that the men ran away from the war and thus were morally dubious. Hakan later confirmed his hesitation, following a similar line of thinking, but also approved giving some in-kind benefits since the family had many children who were in distress. However, he was less accommodating when a similar family requested help: the male members had the names of Haydar and Ali. Hakan did not raise the question of sectarian identity, although those names are popular among the Alawites. Yet he made gestures indicating his suspicion by slightly smiling at me when the names were uttered. After our visit, he claimed that he didn’t feel right about the family and that there was something off about them without explaining what it was. He decided not to approve their application based on this inexplicable feeling.
According to my observations, the neighborhood organizations of the AKP were the major source of information besides house visits. The Ministry of Family and Social Policy calls this cooperation “community review,” but I observed that the community is primarily a political one, composed of party officers, partisans, and sympathizers. When people from the party vouch for the ethical standing of an applicant, especially if the family comes from Syria, social assistance is far more extensive and most likely guaranteed. When such a family was referred to Emin, another social worker in an adjacent municipality, he was observably more eager to pay a visit and help the family. Little did we know that we could not even enter the apartment. The woman who opened the door claimed that she could not let any men (outside of her family) in without her husband’s permission. Even though we could not conduct a household review, this attitude made Emin’s conviction even stronger. He told me that it had already been reported to him that the family was very pious, all the kids prayed with their mother five times a day, and the father was in Syria, fighting as a jihadist. There was certainly nothing to cause him to be suspicious of the family’s poverty; it was beyond doubt. But Emin’s approach was far more related to the ethical qualities of the family than to their economic situation. The woman’s refusal to let us in was confirmation of the family’s belonging to the Ummah, their reliability in their declarations, and their being worthy of assistance.
In a sense, the humanitarian logic of assistance dispersion, which is based on determination of the urgency of an applicant’s situation, attains political qualities in the form of a sovereign decision. The literature on humanitarianism shows that the emphasis on neutrality, mostly based on a generic understanding of nature (disasters, wars, or epidemics), precludes the question of the political foregrounding qualities such as emergency, indisputability, and universality.54 The figure of the starving child in Africa is a case in point—a figure who demands immediate action without wasting time on endless political and economic discussions. However, the figure of the refugee in Turkey, where Islamism and populism combined have gained significant power in the social realm, shows us a different potentiality. This potentiality indicates that alternative universalities (based on religion) and ethical assessments (parallel to humanitarianism) may end up extending the region of sovereignty, the practices that enact sovereign decisions, into the capillaries of daily life. In other words, sovereignty may be politicized in the Schmittian sense that the members of “the we” decide who belongs to the category of the friend and who belongs to that of the enemy.
We the Sovereigns
A psychologist working in a municipality run by the AKP told me about an accident she had witnessed a few days before we met in September 2018. While she was waiting in line for the bus, a woman who looked like a Syrian refugee came and took the first place in the queue. The woman behind her, who reasonably got annoyed at this behavior, tried to explain to her that she should wait in line rather than taking the first place. The Syrian woman made some gestures indicating that she couldn’t understand Turkish. After their communication attempts seemed to fail, the Turkish woman started shouting at her, saying, “Böyle mi davranıyorlar Suriye’de?” (Is this how people behave in Syria?) and then pushing the woman into the path of the oncoming bus. Luckily, the driver reacted immediately and the woman was not hurt. Strangely, no one said anything. What was gripping for me was the attitude of the Turkish woman who pushed the foreign woman into the path of the bus. As my friend described it, the Turkish woman did not show much sympathy or agitation and instead acted in a cold-blooded manner as if it was her right to put a Syrian woman’s life at risk to teach her a lesson.
This story reminded me of an account I collected in 2015 during my fieldwork in the same neighborhood. I was drinking tea and talking about politics with my interlocutors. This time there were only two persons from the AKP, Salim and Furkan, and three from another Islamist party. Although there were some topics over which they vehemently disagreed with each other, both groups were organically linked in terms of their political pedigree as well as through family connections. Salim was passionately defending the party and Erdoğan, saying that many of the non-Islamic regulations that had passed under the AKP rule were the result of global realities that demand elasticity for Muslims to survive and gather strength—except for one piece of legislation:
Salim: Brother, you know me well. Although I am a great fan of Reis [Erdoğan], this man is right about one thing [that he is critical about the party]. He is my brother. I mean, we are the followers of the same Dawa [cause]. They criticize us for some things, and sometimes they are right.
Firat: Like what?
Salim: Look, brother, adultery [zina] should be prohibited. We should not have repealed it.
Firat: But there was also adultery in the past, wasn’t there? In the Ottoman Empire, or in the Welfare Party’s time . . .
Salim: Look, brother, this is different . . .
Furkan: Look, brother, I tell you what. In Menekşe Street down there, these Syrians were selling their wives, their daughters . . . the local people suffered a lot from their immorality. We called the police; they came and did a quick investigation. Then they told us, “We cannot do anything. Adultery is not a crime anymore. There is nothing to do.” Of course, we got very tense, but one of the police officers took us aside and said, “We are bound [by the institution], but can’t you grab stones?” They went; we started to throw stones at their houses [smiling and nodding his head in a solemn manner]. Thanks to Allah, they were gone the next morning.
Both Salim and Furkan were adamant supporters of the Ummah politics of the AKP, and their story did not in any way contradict their understanding of Islamist politics in the neighborhood. Rather, their discussion focused on the limitations of formal structures like laws and regulations, revolving around the question of how to act when the demands of real people—the pious neighborhood dwellers who are disturbed by fake Muslim Syrians engaging in prostitution—cannot be met through legal channels. I analyzed the tension between the formal structures of the secular nation-state and the life politics of Islamist mobilization in another place.55 Here I am interested more in the figure of the refugee in enabling ordinary people to take actions such as putting the lives of the Syrian people at risk. Is it simple bigotry or racist blindness that endangers the lives of the refugees? Or is there something more than a mere negative disposition, something involved in a subject position that is productive and empowering on the ground, even if that position is unacceptably violent to us?
The two anecdotes above signify something profoundly implicating for our understanding of the question of the political. It is not a coincidence that citizenship, the refugee crisis, and populist Islamism are continuously concatenated whenever one of these three themes arises. The elective affinity among these terms is inherently related to the political crisis that emerged in the context of massive neoliberal disenfranchisement. In a sense, the possibility of someone’s suspending the rights of others, including very basic human rights, becomes not an aberration but an augmented potentiality. The use of this potentiality cannot be prevented except through a renewal of our notions of legality, rights, and obligations—the exact notions that the contemporary forms of economic policies aim to negate. When popular claims can be satisfied only by the will of political figures, be it Trump, the National Front, or the AKP, people find sovereignty to be the foundation of their political existence.
In this sense, these two cases can be conceptualized as examples of the figure of the Sovereign Subject, a figure that takes it as its right to decide if and when the rights of others can be suspended or even annulled.56 This figure is far from being an exception or a by-product of Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian civil war. The Sovereign Subject is located at the very heart of what we may call neoliberal processes, through which formal rights and entitlements are being attacked on behalf of market forces and through which the rights of citizenship are being subsumed under the logic of humanitarian universalism. When the rights and entitlements are taken away from the citizen in a world of deregulation and financial liberalization, what is left is not a kind of homo sacer, pace Agamben, but a Sovereign Subject whose pure capacity to revoke the rights of others is the only political register left.
Thus we do not see in the woman trying to push another woman under a bus or the partisan youth in a poor neighborhood in Istanbul a “subject” performing the rights legislated by the state. I prefer to read such cases from a disturbing perspective, contemplating the productive capacity of power relations in enlarging the sphere of sovereignty to the previously excluded sections of society, enabling some people at the expense of some others, folding the social over itself to open a space within which the Sovereign Subject can emerge. I think that by continuously dismantling the formal structures of rights and moralizing the sphere of the political, the neoliberal transformation in the Global South does not produce apolitical subjects but sovereign subjects whose right to suspend rights cannot reasonably be expected to remain exclusive to the figure of the refugee. This process may expand its scope to even larger horizons, the limits of which no one can be certain.
Firat Kurt is a postdoctoral fellow at the Sakip Sabanci Center for Turkish Studies at Columbia University. He completed his BA in political science (2005) and MA in sociology (2007) at Bogazici University and his PhD (2018) in sociocultural anthropology at Columbia University. His dissertation research, conducted during two years of fieldwork in Istanbul, Turkey, addressed the everyday life of authoritarian populism, financial capitalism, and Islamist mobilization.
I would like to thank Talat Balca Arda, Alberto Bardi, Berfe Gunduz, Magdalena Luszczynska, and Daniel Telech for reading and commenting on the drafts of this article. Thanks also to the two anonymous reviewers provided by CES and to Neda Atanasoski, Christine Hong, and Trung PQ Nguyen for their scrupulous attention and editorial interventions. Fieldwork for this article was funded by Wenner-Gren Foundation and the IRCPL Graduate Research Fellowship. Thanks to the Mellon Foundation / American Council of Learned Societies for generously funding one year of writing, to the Columbia University Department of Anthropology, and to the Polonsky Academy at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. I am also profoundly indebted to people in and around the networks of the AKP for their generosity, openness, and sincerity. Unfortunately, to protect confidentiality, I have changed all the proper names of my interlocutors and any other indicators that might be used for tracking down their identities.
1. Sahabe were those who saw the prophet in person.
2. In the context of massive political and urban upheaval, including an attempted coup d’état, I conducted my research at local municipalities, NGO offices, AKP district organizations, poverty relief centers, and local humanitarian organizations. The methods I used consisted of participant observation, in-depth interviews, archival research, and an examination of other kinds of documents and publications such as party brochures and newspapers. Assuming various active roles in social service organizations (such as assisting party members with data entry, home visits for poverty relief packages, and translating for English-speaking Syrian immigrants), I gained access to political discussions, home visits, social gatherings, and educational and religious meetings.
3. T. H. Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class (London: Pluto, 1992).
4. Iris Marion Young, “The Ideal of Community and the Politics of Difference,” Social Theory and Practice 12, no. 1 (1986): 1–26.
5. Ruth Lister, “Dialectics of Citizenship,” Hypatia 12, no. 4 (1997): 6–26.
6. Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
7. Sian Lazar, The Anthropology of Citizenship: A Reader (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).
8. Adriana Petryna, “Biological Citizenship: The Science and Politics of Chernobyl-Exposed Populations,” Osiris 19 (2004): 250–65.
9. James Holston, “Insurgent Citizenship in an Era of Global Urban Peripheries,” City & Society 21, no. 2 (2009): 245–67.
10. Renato Rosaldo, “Cultural Citizenship in San Jose, California,” PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 17, no. 2 (1994): 57–64.
11. Aihwa Ong, “Cultural Citizenship as Subject-Making: Immigrants Negotiate Racial and Cultural Boundaries in the United States,” Current Anthropology 37, no. 5 (1996): 737–62.
12. Véronique Bénéï, Schooling Passions: Nation, History, and Language in Contemporary Western India (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008).
13. Thomas Blom Hansen and Finn Stepputat, “Sovereignty Revisited,” Annual Review of Anthropology 35, no. 1 (2006): 295–315.
14. Caroline Humphrey, “Sovereignty,” in A Companion to the Anthropology of Politics, ed. David Nugent and Joan Vincent (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 418–36.
15. Aihwa Ong, Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999).
16. Lars Buur, “The Sovereign Outsourced: Local Justice and Violence in Port Elizabeth,” in Sovereign Bodies: Citizens, Migrants, and States in the Postcolonial World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).
17. Brenda Chalfin, Neoliberal Frontiers: An Ethnography of Sovereignty in West Africa, Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).
18. Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” Public Culture 15, no. 1 (2003): 11–40.
19. James T. Siegel, A New Criminal Type in Jakarta (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998).
20. Deborah Poole, “Between Threat and Guarantee: Justice and Community in the Margins of the Peruvian State,” in Anthropology in the Margins of the State, ed. Veena Das and Deborah Poole (Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 2004), 35–66.
21. Kari Telle, “Vigilante Citizenship: Sovereign Practices and the Politics of Insult in Indonesia,” Bijdragen Tot de Taal-, Land-En Volkenkunde 169, nos. 2–3 (2013): 183–212.
22. Sara L. Friedman, Introduction to Sovereignty Effects (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015).
23. Hansen and Stepputat, “Sovereignty Revisited,” 297.
24. There are a few exceptions that draw our attention to the entanglements of citizenship and sovereignty. Focusing on “the logic of securitization,” Paul Amar painstakingly documents how a new subject position is being precipitated at the center of advanced capitalism: a subject whose morality is religiously oriented and whose activities are paramilitaristic in character. He sees this new subject as antithetical to neoliberalism, thereby declaring the end of a neoliberal era whose protagonist was the figure of the calculative, rational, and entrepreneurial individual. However, as Inderpal Grewal shows, it is exactly the specificities of neoliberalism that replaced right-based citizenship with humanitarian citizenship, producing “exceptional citizens”—white, male, and Christian humans “endowed with sovereignty to target black and brown others . . . through modes of war that incorporate militarized humanitarianism and surveillance.” I want to further this discussion by moving away from the concept of race and militarism as understood in the Global North, whose exemplary figure is the lone-wolf shooter. The Turkish case provides a paradigmatic example of the entanglements of citizenship and sovereignty, employing more universalistic, explicitly political, and inclusive registers like the Ummah, Dawa (the cause), or party people. Therefore, my research indicates that the figure of Sovereign Subject is an enhanced potentiality whose emergence might take different forms according to the particular histories, geographical specificities, and political contexts. See Paul Amar, The Security Archipelago: Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics, and the End of Neoliberalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013); Inderpal Grewal, Saving the Security State: Exceptional Citizens in Twenty-First-Century America (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017).
25. Étienne Balibar, “Citizen Subject,” in Who Comes after the Subject?, ed. Étienne Balibar, Peter Connor, and Jean-Luc Nancy (New York: Routledge, 1991), 38.
26. Linda Bosniak, The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006); Margaret R. Somers, Genealogies of Citizenship: Markets, Statelessness, and the Right to Have Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Adriana Petryna and Karolina Follis, “Risks of Citizenship and Fault Lines of Survival,” Annual Review of Anthropology 44, no. 1 (2015): 401–17.
27. Teresa Pires do Rio Caldeira, City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000); James Holston, Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); Sian Lazar, El Alto, Rebel City: Self and Citizenship in Andean Bolivia (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008); Aihwa Ong, Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006).
28. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).
29. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Schocken, 2004), 376.
30. Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Carl Schmitt, Political Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
31. For one of the best articulations of this point, see Étienne Balibar, Citizenship (Malden, MA: Polity, 2015), 97.
32. Asef Bayat, Revolution without Revolutionaries: Making Sense of the Arab Spring (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017); James Gelvin, The Arab Uprisings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
33. Imran Demir, Overconfidence and Risk Taking in Foreign Policy Decision Making: The Case of Turkey’s Syria Policy (Berlin: Springer, 2017); Aaron Stein, Turkey’s New Foreign Policy: Davutoglu, the AKP and the Pursuit of Regional Order (London: Routledge, 2014); Fehim Taştekin, Suriye: Yıkıl Git, Diren Kal! (Istanbul: İletişim, 2016).
34. Edip Asaf Bekaroglu, “Justice and Development Party and Muslim Brotherhood in the ‘Arab Spring’: A Failed Post-Islamist Interaction to Transform the Middle East,” PESA 2, no. 1 (2016): 1–17; Bulut Gurpinar, “Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood: Crossing Roads in Syria,” Eurasian Journal of Social Sciences 3, no. 4 (2015): 22–36; Shaimaa Magued, “The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Transnational Advocacy in Turkey: A New Means of Political Participation,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 45, no. 3 (2018): 480–97.
35. “Turkey Election: Victorious Erdogan Pledges ‘Consensus,’” BBC News, accessed May 15, 2019, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/world-europe-13744972.
36. Kemal Kirisci, Syrian Refugees and Turkey’s Challenges: Going beyond Hospitality (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2014); Mac McClelland, “How to Build a Perfect Refugee Camp,” New York Times, February 13, 2014.
37. Republic of Turkey, Temporary Protection Regulation (Ankara: Republic of Turkey, 2014).
38. About a very similar but unexpected version of the production of illegality of migrants in France and the US, see Étienne Balibar, We, the People of Europe? (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004); Nicholas De Genova, “Spectacles of Migrant ‘Illegality’: The Scene of Exclusion, the Obscene of Inclusion,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 36, no. 7 (2013): 1180–98; Miriam Ticktin, “Where Ethics and Politics Meet,” American Ethnologist 33, no. 1 (2006): 33–49.
39. For example, “Eğitim-Der ve İHH’dan Suriyeliler için ‘Ensar Kardeşliği Gecesi,’” IHH, accessed May 15, 2019, https://www.ihh.org.tr/haber/egitimder-ve-ihhdan-suriyeliler-icin-ensar-kardesligi-gecesi-3060.
40. Sayyids are those who claim to be the descendants of the prophet Muhammad.
41. “Erdoğan: ‘Rabbim Bize Ümmet Olmayı Nasip Etsi,’” Haksoz Haber, accessed May 15, 2019, https://www.haksozhaber.net/erdogan-rabbim-bize-ummet-olmayi-nasip-etsin-47266h.htm.
42. Fehmi Çalmuk, Erbakan’ın Kürtleri: Milli Görüş’ün Güneydoğu Politikası (Istanbul: Metis, 2001); Serdar Şengül, “İslâmcılık, Kürtler ve Kürt Sorunu,” in Modern Türkiye’de Siyasi Düşünce: İslamcılık, ed. Tanıl Bora and Murat Gültekingil (Istanbul: İletişim, 2006), 525–44; Murat Somer and Evangelos Liaras, “Turkey’s New Kurdish Opening: Religious versus Secular Values,” Middle East Policy 17, no. 2 (2010): 152–65.
43. For Human Rights Watch’s report on this issue, see “Türkiye: Güvenlik Operasyonları ve Artan Ölümler,” Human Rights Watch, accessed May 15, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/tr/news/2015/12/22/284801. See also Vartan Estukyan, “Yine Ermeni’siz Yapamadilar,” AGOS, accessed May 15, 2019, http://www.agos.com.tr/tr/yazi/12772/yine-ermeni-siz-yapamadilar.
44. Tanıl Bora, Türkiye’nin Linç Rejimi (Istanbul: Birikim Yayınları, 2014).
45. Feyzi Baban, Suzan Ilcan, and Kim Rygiel, “Syrian Refugees in Turkey,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 43, no. 1 (2017): 41–57; Ahmet İçduygu and Doğuş Şimşek, “Syrian Refugees in Turkey: Towards Integration Policies,” Turkish Policy Quarterly 15, no. 3 (2016): 59; Ibrahim Kaya and Esra Yılmaz Eren, Türkiye’deki Suriyelilerin Hukuki Durumu 1 Baskı, ed. SETA Yayınları (Çankaya, Ankara: SETA, 2015), 55; Dogus Simsek, “The Politics of Syrian Refugees in Turkey: A Question of Inclusion and Exclusion through Citizenship,” Social Inclusion 6, no. 1 (2018): 176–87.
46. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998).
47. Quantitative research also shows that Turkish citizens see the question of the Syrian refugee crisis as inherently related to their citizenship rights; see “Suriyeli Sığınmacılara Bakış: KONDA Barometresi,” KONDA, 2016, https://konda.com.tr/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/1602_Barometre62_SURIYELI_SIGINMACILAR.pdf.
48. Ayşe Buğra and Çağlar Keyder, “The Turkish Welfare Regime in Transformation,” Journal of European Social Policy 16, no. 3 (2006): 211–28.
49. DİSKAR, “AKP Döneminde Emek, DİSK Raporu,” 2018, http://disk.org.tr/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/AKP-Döneminde-Emek-DISK-RAPORU.pdf.
50. World Bank, Turkey Public Finance Review: Turkey in Transition—Time for a Fiscal Policy Pivot? (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2014).
51. Bunyamin Esen, “Turkey’s Social Protection Expenditures Grow Exponentially,” Daily Sabah, May 3, 2018; World Bank, Turkey’s Transitions: Integration, Inclusion, Institutions (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2014). For a critical approach, see Senem Topuz, “General Tendency of the Social State Expenditure in Turkey: Expenditure on Education, Health, and Social Security between Years 2001–2009,” Alternative Politics 1, no. 1 (2009): 115–36.
52. Didier Fassin and Mariella Pandolfi, eds., Contemporary States of Emergency: The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010); Ilana Feldman, “Difficult Distinctions: Refugee Law, Humanitarian Practice, and Political Identification in Gaza,” Cultural Anthropology 22, no. 1 (2007): 129–69; Stanley Feldman and Marco R. Steenbergen, “The Humanitarian Foundation of Public Support for Social Welfare,” American Journal of Political Science 45, no. 3 (2001): 658–77; Miriam Iris Ticktin, “Humanitarianism as Planetary Politics,” in At the Limits of Justice, ed. Suvendrini Perera and Razack Sherene (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), 406–20.
53. Again, KONDA’s research shows that Turkish citizens are well aware of the interrelatedness of their own social and political status with that of Syrian refugees. In the conclusion, the report observes, “Nearly two and a half million refugees came to Turkey as a direct consequence of the Syrian Crisis. The discussions about their rights, future, and integration into Turkish society have been accompanied by a social discussion on how Turkish citizens conceive their own rights. The discussions of ‘the rights of others’ can frequently lead individuals to think about ‘their own rights.’ In other words, citizens contemplate the effect that the state’s relations with others may produce in their own life and space of action” (“Suriyeli Sığınmacılara Bakış,” 43).
54. Thomas Laqueur, “Mourning, Pity, and the Work of Narrative in the Making of ‘Humanity,’” in Humanitarianism and Suffering: The Mobilization of Empathy, ed. Richard A. Wilson and Richard D. Brown (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 31–58; Laura Suski, “Children, Suffering, and the Humanitarian Appeal,” in Wilson and Brown, Humanitarianism and Suffering, 202–23.
55. Firat Kurt, “Folds of Authoritarianism: Political Mobilization, Financial Capitalism, and Islamism in Turkey” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 2018).
56. It is of course not possible to definitively prove that “the right to suspend rights” is becoming a common practice among the partisans and sympathizers of the AKP. Although I have encountered many similar cases (such as holding back humanitarian assistance to punish some Syrians), I used the most conspicuous examples here. However, there are reports indicating that a culture of impunity is on the rise in Turkey: see Oznur Sevdiren, Turkiye’nin Cezasizlik Mevzuati (Istanbul: HAHM, 2015). Furthermore, in a recent study, Danis and Nazli show that Islamist NGOs are deeply engaged in illegal activities as part of their Ummah politics (Didem Danış and Dilara Nazlı, “A Faithful Alliance between the Civil Society and the State: Actors and Mechanisms of Accommodating Syrian Refugees in Istanbul,” International Migration 57, no. 2 : 143–57). In Sultanbeyli, another stronghold of the AKP, a medium-sized medical center (serving nearly two hundred Syrian patients a day) was being operated by a humanitarian agency that employed Syrian doctors without any legal registration or documentation. Regarding the question of legality of their operations, a manager of the NGO says, “Everything we do [here] is illegal. Once, the supervisors of the Public Health and Hygiene Directorate came. They told us to close the polyclinic. So I told them, ‘You, the officials, you do nothing; it is us who do the work! We did what you had to do.’ When they were told so, they closed their eyes. Why did they not close [the polyclinic]? For if they did it, who would treat the Syrians?” (Danis and Nazli, 151).