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Turkey's Party System and the Paucity of Minority Policy Reform

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  • Evangelos Liaras
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    The purpose of this paper is to explore the question of small and incremental reform in Turkish minority policies over the last two decades, contrasting with the dramatic economic, social, and political changes that the country has experienced over the same period. The main focus will be on two partly overlapping groups living in Turkey (Alevis and Kurds); comparison with other Southern European countries will be made as background reference. The reason for this focus is analytical: these two groups are structurally different from minorities found in Italy or Greece in that they are both large enough to carry great electoral weight and politically salient enough to affect Turkey's EU accession prospects. Minority policy is an often overlooked realm of public policy, either because it is considered too sensitive or too case-specific, as opposed to fiscal, labor, family, and immigration policy, which, at least in the European context, are now typically examined and compared by scholars on a more transnational framework. However, minority policy broadly defined (as the recognition and treatment of sections of the population identified as belonging to a special cultural heritage) touches upon a number of diverse policy areas including civil rights, education, regional development, relations between religion and state, language, culture, and national security. In Turkey minority policy in official discourse has historically been linked to the non-Muslim minorities protected by the Treaty of Lausanne, whereas Alevis and Kurds were traditionally accorded no special recognition under the Kemalist Republic. The first part of the paper attempts to theoretically situate minority policy in the context of competitive party politics. What is puzzling about Turkey is why given a climate of increased democratization and confidence after the suppression of the PKK insurgency, the Turkish party system has not been more responsive to the long-standing grievances of Kurds and Alevis. Partly based on existing literature, the author posits that a constellation of factors is necessary for policy reform on minority issues to proceed in a democratic system: the mobilization of the minority group(s) in question and either high external pressure on the state to satisfy minority demands or significant electoral competition for the minority's votes or participation in government of a party that monopolizes the minority vote and is ideologically committed to its agenda. The second part of the paper briefly discusses the history of state attitudes towards Kurds and Alevis in Turkey, as well as more recent developments including the reforms on Kurdish language rights, the abortive Çamuroglu recommendations regarding Alevi pious foundations, DTP's entry in parliament, and the constitutional amendment process launched by AKP. The third and final part of the paper explains why Turkey's party system for a long time lacked the necessary preconditions for more groundbreaking policy changes, underlining the importance of external pressure from the EU as an engine for reform.

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    Paper provided by European University Institute (EUI), Robert Schuman Centre of Advanced Studies (RSCAS) in its series EUI-RSCAS Working Papers with number 56.

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    Date of creation: 15 Nov 2009
    Handle: RePEc:erp:euirsc:p0224
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