KONDA’s Ağırdır: Polarization in lifestyle on the rise in Turkey


Study after study indicates that political polarization has been on a gradual rise in Turkey and that there is even a chance of polarization in lifestyle, which can lead dangerously to ghettoization, says this week’s guest for Monday Talk.

“If polarization in lifestyle persists, it can lead to ghettoization. It means we might be completely detached from each other. It means that even though we live in the same cities, we live in our own neighborhoods, we send our children to different types of schools, we go to certain supermarkets and not to others, and so on,” said Bekir Ağırdır, the director of the KONDA Research and Consultancy Company based in İstanbul.

A public poll by Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) and KONDA conducted Sept. 22-23 in Turkey revealed Turkish attitudes in regards to expectations from a new constitution.

Ağırdır answered our questions on the results of that survey and other subjects.

What has been the primary issue of 2012 in your opinion?

It has been the debate around Turkey’s new constitution. It is a multifaceted issue that is not limited to the work of the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission. Politically, we cannot go any further than the current point because of outdated laws and regulations. It is not possible to achieve full freedom of thought and assembly. Secondly, whatever its name — deep state or guardianship regime — there is a regime which still has the mentality that the ownership of the regime is the state, and it is not possible to change this mentality with laws alone.

You point to a mentality rather than a schematic organization, right?

Yes, exactly. The deep state in this country is about the existence of a state of mentality rather than a schematic deep state organization. Of course there are engines of this mentality, and those engines can change in time. The most important carrier of this mentality has been the military in Turkey. But it’s a mistake to think that the military is the sole force in this regard. Apparently, the judiciary has been another carrier.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on a live TV program recently that bugging devices were found in his office at his Ankara home. Would you have ever expected that?

I certainly would have expected that considering the important international issues Turkey is involved in — Syria, Israel and Iraq as well as the Kurdish problem. There is definitely a statist mentality which tries to control everything related to the state and does not have trust in the politicians elected by the public. The government seems to be lacking an understanding that the guardianship regime is not limited to the military tutelage. When it comes to the issue of the constitution, we are talking a lot about politics but much less about our usual daily practices, which have changed a lot.

What has changed in our lives? Would you elaborate?

First of all, communication and transportation technologies have been developing very quickly. We cannot deal with the issue of copyright with old laws; it is not possible to solve the issue with bans on Internet downloads. There needs to be a new approach. It is important to note that the Turkish people have been discussing a new and reformed constitution during a period when the military tutelage has been curtailed. This has been a historic time in that regard, but it has not been used well.

‘Opportunity to change constitution not well used’

What were the developments in this time period in regards to the constitution? What has been done?

[Turkish society] has been talking about issues that have not been discussed in much detail before, but we have not been able to obtain consensus on several important issues. The most important reason for this is that almost all political actors have been concentrating on identity politics.

For example?

The CHP [Republican People’s Party] has been dealing only with issues related to the strict demands of secularists; the [ruling] AK Party [Justice and Development Party] has been dealing only with issues related to the demands of religious conservatives; and the BDP [Peace and Democracy Party] has been dealing only with issues related to demands of Kurds. This kind of politics has its place in the past, but we cannot have consensus on core issues if politics stay restricted to those issues. A new constitution needs to provide rules that can embrace all citizens. In that sense, if parties cannot go beyond party politics and adapt a language of inclusiveness, a new constitution will not be possible.

How do you see this manifested in people’s lives?

In the last 10 years, Turkey has been taking steps forward in some arenas, for example, it has been able to achieve a successful economy. However, there are social and political aspects in life as well; it will not be possible to rely on only one aspect. Historically, Turkish politics has attached great importance to economic developments while not challenging the social aspects of life. Until the elections of 2011, Turkish society had high demands for economic development, but since then the writing of a new constitution and bringing a solution to the Kurdish question have been the pressing issues. That’s why before the June 12, 2011 elections, all parties felt that they needed to commit themselves to the platform of rewriting the constitution. People will not express their wishes in terms of a new constitution — they will say that they need labor rights, that they need to speak in their mother tongue, that they need protection from discrimination based on identity, and so on. In addition, the Turkish people have been experiencing unease about the shortcomings of the country’s politics to produce solutions to problems. This is reflected in the polls KONDA conducts.

‘Society’s confidence in government decreasing’

What do you see in the polls?

People have become more uneasy and sensitive about problems that exist and have the potential to exist. When the prime minister said a couple of years ago that the global financial crisis was not going to hit Turkey, society believed him because the people at the time believed that they were being governed well. But today, Turks do not have the same confidence in the government.

In the latest poll that you conducted on public expectations for the new constitution, you’ve found that there are pessimists and optimists about the country’s future. One noticeable result was that pessimists and optimists can be identified by party affiliation. Would you talk about the relationship between political preferences and individuals’ outlook on the future?

Political polarization is gradually increasing in Turkish society. Moreover, what started as political polarization is now becoming something different — a division between lifestyles as well. This presents a more serious case because polarization in lifestyle can last much longer than political divides. If polarization in lifestyle persists, it can lead to ghettoization. It means we might be completely detached from each other. It means that even though we live in same cities, we live in our own neighborhoods, we send our children to different types of schools, we go to certain supermarkets and not to others, and so on. Unfortunately, political actors and media have been fueling this kind of polarization. Nationalist and chauvinistic attitudes and rhetoric — especially in regards to the Kurdish issue — increasingly contribute to segments of society feeling dispossessed. If this dispossession and ghettoization continue, conflict becomes increasingly possible.

‘Society has problems neither with secularism nor Atatürkism’

You wrote that one of the most important results of the poll has been that people are more tolerant, democratic and demanding and that they demand more from the state to solve problems. Do the Turkish people expect something different from the state today?

Yes. People expect the state to respond to society’s demands more and more. The state is no longer all knowing for Turks. People expect the state to be an arbiter to solve problems, not a judge.

Some of the survey results seem to be paradoxical. For example, while respondents say that they want the principle of secularism in the new constitution, they also say that they want it to be liberally interpreted. Additionally, while they say that the Religious Affairs Directorate should remain, they also say that it should be inclusive of other sects. Respondents also said they want the principle of Atatürkism to remain but that they also want universal principles. How do you interpret those responses?

The society has problems neither with secularism nor Atatürkism, but rather object to strict interpretations of the philosophies. Turkish society is not made up of only homogenous groups. Take 10 issues, for example — a person might have conservative approaches to five of those, a liberal approach to three and a nationalist attitude on the remaining two issues. Let’s not forget that the average number of years of school attended in Turkey is 7.8; those who organize politically are few in number due to all negative experiences in the past. Therefore, people are cautious. And their definitions in regards to Atatürkism often are not the same as the CHP or AK Party interpretation.

‘Key decisions of next three years to influence Turkey’s future’

What would you like to say in regards to scenarios for the future? What issues are game changers?

In the next three years, Turkey will see three elections. In local and general elections, more than half of the country’s politicians will be replaced. And of course, new governors and undersecretaries will be appointed. As a result, about 60 percent of the people who rule the country will change. We don’t know what mentality will be dominant among those new cadres. If they are more open to the world, it is possible to talk about a different Turkey. On the contrary, if they are more chauvinistic and inward-looking, then it would be difficult to speak of a new Turkey. Another issue is that of the country’s Kurds; if Turkey solves this problem, there will be another Turkey. If Turkey cannot solve this problem, then the Kurdish issue has a big potential to become a global issue. In addition, there is Turkey’s European Union adventure. Where is it going to go? Yes, the EU is weakened by fiscal problems at the moment, but it is unlikely the union will be dissolved; rather, it can emerge from the crisis as a strong political body with a looser economic union. At the end, either the EU or Turkey will have to make a definite decision about Turkey’s membership, because the current situation of uncertainty is not sustainable. Depending on that decision, a Turkey within the EU is a different Turkey than what it is outside the bloc. Moreover, even though the focus is on the Arab uprising, there might be conflicts in the Caucasus in countries where pressure is growing on dictatorial regimes. All of those will have an influence on Turkey. On top of that, in the year 2015 there will be a number of international activities for the commemoration of the centennial of the incidents in regards to Armenians. So, if Turkey turns out to be governed by democratic circles, its future will be different, and if the country is governed by chauvinistic nationalists, it will be different in other ways. As a result, the next three years are of critical importance for Turkey. Decisions made in those three years will determine Turkey’s future in the next 30-40 years.

‘Kurdish problem must be solved before it becomes global’

In the latest poll that you conducted in regards to public expectations from a new constitution, the Kurdish issue seems to be the underlying cause for many other problems in the society, right?

There are increasing expectations in regards to the Kurdish issue. In the past, the issue could have been solved only by passing a few key laws, but now the government needs to convince both Turks and Kurds to come to the table to find solutions to the problem. There are many actors who need to be satisfied. Moreover, the Kurdish problem has become a regional problem. There is a danger that the Kurdish problem might become a global problem and that Turkey might lose control of it. While the problem still belongs to Turkey, the country should use this opportunity to solve the issues. Additionally, many Turks still think that the Kurdish problem is only about the conflict between the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and the military or the KCK [Kurdistan Communities Union] arrests in relation to the BDP. However, the problem belongs to the whole of Turkey. Because of restrictions of freedom of speech and assembly, not only do Kurds suffer but many other people, for example, students who want to protest something. The problem has been affecting the quality of life for everybody, not only for Kurds.

Contentment in life

KONDA’s Bekir Ağırdır said that no matter how much people earn, a certain group will see the Turkey’s future — and their own — in a pessimistic light as opposed to a certain other group of people. The research by KONDA found that three-fifths of the optimists say they will vote for the AK Party, while two-fifths of pessimists identified by the study say they will for the CHP. The most significant of the attitudes/questions in political polarization are shown below:

–          General conditions of life have been improved in the last five years.

–          There are positive political developments in Turkey; Turkey is on a good path.

–          General conditions of life will be better in Turkey five years from now.

–          When I look at it in general, Turkey’s problems have been decreasing.

–          My quality of life has improved in the last five years.

–          My quality of life will be better five years from now.


Bekir Ağırdır

Born in Çal, Denizli province, in 1956, Ağırdır graduated from the department of business administration at Middle East Technical University (ÖDTÜ) in Ankara. He served as a manager for several industrial companies from 1979-2003. He also worked at the History Foundation of Turkey first as coordinator, then as director general between 2003 and 2005. He is now the director of the KONDA Research and Consultancy Company. He is the founder of the Democratic Republican Program, a board member of both the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) and the Turkish Social Economic Political Research Foundation (TÜSES). He writes a column for the Taraf newspaper and for website T24.

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