A Way to Peaceful Coexistence in Turkey by Rethinking Secularism and Citizenship

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Debate over the idea of democracy has become a global concern that includes Turkey. The problem of consolidating democracy strongly affects the practice of coexistence in a society. Today, in Turkey, it seems that polarization and fragmentation within society has deepened and therefore it would be apt to concentrate on how can we ensure its ‘peaceful coexistence’.

When the Republic of Turkey was founded, it was bequeathed the heritage of Ottoman Empire as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and even multi-sectarian society. This heterogeneous structure had to be managed in order to consolidate democracy in Turkey. The Ottoman Empire managed this diversity through what is termed the millet system, which barring total religious equality, ensured the simultaneous division and integration of different communities into the state.  Although the system provided a large degree of autonomy to different communities,  the religious identity, despite being the basic concern of millet system, led to the emergence of religious-based national identities in Ottoman Empire.  Consequently, the Empire embraced various ethnicities such as that of the Turk, Kurd, Arab, Greek, Serb, Macedonian, Bosniak, Bulgarian (Pomak), Romen and Albanian. Despite community diversity decreasing with the advent of the nation based Turkish Republic, the society remained religiously and ethnically heterogeneous.
The two most important pillars ensuring this were conceptions of secularism and citizenship. Whilst secularism guaranteed the “peaceful coexistence” of different religious groups including those who did not believe in a religion or God, the notion of equal citizenship ensured the “peaceful coexistence” of different ethnic communities in a nation-state construct. The implementation of these two principles has however deepened the fragmentation and polarization in society rather than provide solidarity.  Therefore, a rethink of secularism and citizenship on the basis of equality and liberty would be an important contribution to the issue of “peaceful coexistence” in Turkey.

One of the greatest impediments for the furthering of democratization in Turkey has been increased polarization and damage to the mechanisms of solidarity in society. Ayşen Candaş and Ayşe Buğra, in their articles define two types of solidarity:  “solidarity among strangers” and other forms of solidarity informed by “group interest or ascriptive identity”.   They argue that although both kinds of solidarity include a sense of belonging, feeling of togetherness and cooperation, “solidarity among strangers” is an inclusive type of solidarity in the sense that it ensures inter-group cohesion among strangers.   Fuat Keyman also suggests that since pluralism and multi-culturalism have become characteristics social life, it is necessary to question democracy.  

This analysis basically argues that consolidation of inclusive forms of secularism and citizenship in Turkey on the basis of liberty and equality would be an important contribution in order to ensure the “solidarity among strangers” as well as the deepening of the democracy.


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