The need for a Stronger Integration Discourse in Turkey


Stronger Integration Policies to Combat Urban Tension in Turkey

Turkey and Respond Researchers

By Prof. Ayhan Kaya Bilgi University

Turkey first introduced a Temporary Protection Directive for the refugees in 2014, based on Articles 61 to 95 of the Law on Foreigners and International Protection, which came into force in April 2014. The directive grants almost the entire social and civil rights that refugees enjoy in western societies. Accordingly, Turkey has provided Syrians with temporary protection, which consists of three elements: an open-door policy for all Syrians; no forced returns to Syria (non-refoulement); and unlimited duration of stay in Turkey.

Following the implementation of the Temporary Protection regulation, which still frames the refugees with a state of temporariness, some discursive shifts were witnessed in the media about the state actors’ changing position on the permanent character of at least some of the Syrian refugees in Turkey. These discursive shifts have so far mainly emphasised the permanent nature of the issue - introduction of work permits in early 2016, incorporation of pupils into public schools, creating quotas for Syrian students in higher education institutions, granting citizenship to the Syrians, and some statements from political figures such as the President Erdoğan and the former Deputy PM Numan Kurtulmuş. Comparing the Turks living in Germany and the USA with the Syrians living in Turkey, in a meeting with the journalists, President Erdoğan referred to the need for granting citizenship to the Syrian refugees residing in Turkey:

“Today, a Turk can go to Germany and become a German citizen; [a Turk] can go to the U.S. and become an American citizen; why can’t the same be possible for people living in our country?”[1]

This statement brought about a big commotion in Turkey making the Turkish citizens to conclude that all the Syrians will be granted citizenship immediately. Due to the disturbance of the public in general, former Deputy PM Kurtulmuş had to announce that the Ministry of Interior was working on a proposal, implicitly meaning that the government considers granting citizenship to those with cultural and economic capital:

“Our citizens should be comfortable. We have not yet completed the proposal about granting citizenship to the Syrians. The Ministry of Interior is working on the proposal. There are so many skilled people [among the Syrians] who can contribute to Turkey. To this effect, we can propose some criteria. When there is nothing concrete, some oppositional groups are trying to create chaos for the sake of opposition; and these groups are gossiping about the uncertain things as if everything is clearly laid out by the government. These are all incorrect.”[2]

However, it is not still clear what the Turkish state actors mean by granting citizenship. Anecdotal evidences as well as our observations in the field indicate that those Syrians with economic and cultural capital are more likely to be granted citizenship than those precarious ones, who seem to be instrumentalized by the on-going neoliberal forms of governance for the establishment of a model of precarious work for non-citizen workers.

Based on the findings driven from the readings of the late Ottoman history, legal texts and the speeches of leading political actors, one could see that the Turkish government has reproduced an Islamist discourse in their attempts to incorporate Syrians on the basis of the principle of tolerance and benevolence of Turkish state actors, who tend to see their Sunni-Muslim brothers and sisters as the members of the same Millet, the community of faith. These acts of benevolence went in parallel with the discourse of “Ansar Spirit” reminding the leading political elite of the early Muslims of Medina welcoming the Prophet Mohammad and his entourage escaping from the atrocities of their pagan relatives in Makkah. It is this act of benevolence as well as cultural intimacy, which comforted many Syrian refugees in their neighbourhoods in Turkey. Whether, this political discourse of tolerance and cultural intimacy embodied by the Turkish government is yet positively perceived by the overall Turkish society, is another question to be answered. Growing societal tensions between native communities and Syrians show that the majority of the Turkish society that is exposed to growing socio-economic and political challenges no longer embraces the political discourse of tolerance and cultural intimacy.

There is a growing urban tension in different parts of the country, which results in conflicts between local populations and Syrian refugees. The mainstream discourses of the political parties irrespective of being in government or in opposition tend to worsen the situation. Apparently, the discourse of integration is no longer at the agenda of both government and oppositional parties. On the contrary, both sides promote a return discourse despite the fact that Syria is still far from being stable. The media announcements of the Minister of Interior every month put it very baldly who many Syrians voluntarily returned while the municipal mayors and oppositional party leaders constantly talk about the need for massive return of Syrians to their homeland. There is only one way out, that is to politically, socially and economically underline the need for a strong integration discourse, which has the potential of easing the growing societal tension in urban spaces. One should not forget that integration discourse will pay off in both cases irrespective of Syrian refugees decide to go home, or a third country, or they decide to stay in Turkey. If they  go home, or to a third country, they will become the ambassadors of Turkey remembering the good treatment and integrative efforts they received in Turkey. If they decide to stay then they will also appreciate for integration efforts of the Turkish state and society by delivering positively to the society as the constituent and welcomed individuals. In each option, there is always a win-win scenario.

[1] For news coverage about President Erdoğan’s discourse on the Syrians being granted citizenship, or dual nationality, see Hurriyet Daily News (11 July 2018),

[2] For the Deputy PM Numan Kurtulmuş’s speech on granting citizenship to the Syrians see Sabah (15 July 2016),

Thanks for the post images, the courtesy of Hüseyin Aldemir | Istanbul Bilgi University