Between September 2015 and May 2016, PODEM carried out a two-phase field research in six European countries with large populations of immigrants from Turkey. The aim of the study was to understand the needs, demands, and expectations of the immigrant communities from Turkey in Europe and address the gap in research towards policy-making.
The first phase of the field research that looks into European states’ immigrant policies, as well as socio-economic structures and policy demands of immigrant groups, was conducted by Ayşe Yırcalı and Etyen Mahçupyan. The full report of this research was published in Turkish as “Avrupa’da ‘Türkiyeli’ Olmak: Kimlikler, Bireyler, Vatandaşlar” and can be reached at http://podem.org.tr/yayinlar/raporlar/avrupadaturkiyeliolmak/.
The second phase of the research focused on young people from Alevi and Sunni communities in the above-listed countries. A total of 428 young people took part in in-depth interviews about their experiences in acculturating, developing individual personalities and forming their identities, as well as in their social and economic lives. The second phase of the research was conducted by Ahmet Taşğın, Aybars Görgülü, Berat Özipek, Beril Bahadır,
İbrahim Bahadır and Vahap Coşkun and their report, titled “Avrupa’da Yaşayan Türkiye Kökenli Gençler: Alevilik/Sünnilik Temelinde Kimlik, Aidiyet, Sosyal Hayat, Siyaset”, can be found at http://podem.org.tr/yayinlar/raporlar/avrupada-yasayan-turkiye-kokenli-gencler-pdf/.
The report at hand presents the evaluation chapters of the two research reports, which summarize the findings of the research and policy proposals. Both chapters are authored by Etyen Mahçupyan.
We hope the insights and proposals presented in this report will be useful not only for policy- making but also for academic and civil society fields both in Turkey and Europe.
The systematic and organized migration of citizens from Turkey to Europe began with Germany and Turkey signing the 1961 Labor Force Migration Agreement, and the moving of 7.116 workers from Turkey to Germany that same year. Migration from Turkey then spread to other European countries through the signing of labor agreements with Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands in 1964, and with France in 1965. In the 1980s, in addition to existing economic motivations, political developments in Turkey also became cause to thousands of people migrating to Europe. Political asylum cases became a significant part of migration from Turkey throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
According to data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, there is currently a population of 4.6 million people with roots in Turkey in Western Europe, with an unofficial figure estimated on the order of 6 million. As widely known, issues like assimilation and integration, discrimination and xenophobia, national migrant politics and multiculturalist policies have been at the center of public debate and relations between Turkey and European countries.
Despite the large numbers and the centrality of the issues, in the last 55 years, few rigorous public opinion research has been conducted on subjects such as the migration experience of people from Turkey in Europe, their status and quality of life in their countries of residence, the difficulties they face in their daily lives and, most important of all, the distance travelled between generations. Aside from sporadic “guest worker” stories and anecdotal accounts of the immigrant experience, a comprehensive picture of migration to Europe has yet to be written. At present, it is also evident that findings of current academic research on people from Turkey in Europe have not yet had a significant impact on political structures.
On the other hand, over the last decade the intensity of contacts between Turkey and its Diaspora in Europe has shown a noticeable increase. As politicians and government bodies from Turkey began visiting Europe more frequently, the Diaspora simultaneously developed more concrete social and political expectations from Turkey itself. As the findings of this research demonstrate, contact and services provided by Turkey’s consulates to this community are viewed to show positive developments. State institutions of Turkey have recently taken great effort to move away from the discriminatory and supercilious approach of previous decades, and to move in the direction of a more egalitarian and inclusive connection with all groups that constitute the Diaspora.
In addition to changing the approach and terminology used in the past by state institutions and politicians, it will be necessary to take certain critical steps in order to formalize and sustain the positive developments noted above. Foremost among these, the notion that the Diaspora in Europe constitute a single homogenous group, with all the corresponding policies that entails, must be put definitively to rest. Turkey must pragmatically study the differences of belief and cultural varieties present in the European Turkey community, describe them accurately, and develop policies that treat every segment of that population as equal in the eyes of the state.
An accurate, comprehensive understanding of this community with all its diversity is not only pressing for Turkey, but for Europe as well. First, the Diaspora may act as an important bridge-builder between Turkey and respective European states. The similarities and differences within the Diasporic groups, varied demands and expectations offer a lens to evaluate the inner dynamics of these communities and their interactions, and also their views to the developments in their countries of origin. Therefore, a holistic, multi-layered understanding of Turkey’s Diaspora in Europe seems vital for European policy-makers in advancing and maintaining relations with these communities, their future generations, and also with Turkey.
In the light of this background, PODEM carried out a two-phase field research between September 2015 and May 2016 in six European countries with large populations of immigrants from Turkey: Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Britain, France, and Sweden. The aim of the study was to understand the needs, demands, and expectations of the immigrant communities from Turkey in Europe and address the gap in research towards policy-making.
Both phases of research focus on the Alevi and Sunni communities of the population from Turkey, and take a close look at their socio-economic conditions and expectations as well as identity issues in Europe. In addition to this, the research aims to correct common misconceptions in public opinions of both Turkey and Europe regarding the social interactions between groups such as Turks, Kurds, other ethnic groups, and religious congregations, and clarify the demands and expectations in these communities that tie them together and reflect the differences between them.
The first phase of the field research consisted of in-depth interviews a total of 109 professionals and experts (academics, researchers, journalists, business people, civil society representatives, artists, politicians and aides, bureaucrats, government officials, tradespeople, and managers) as close observers of the immigrant experience in the countries mentioned above. The objective of this phase was to gain the perspective of those most directly observing, researching, and studying the experience of “being from Turkey in Europe.”
The resulting research report looks into state policies regarding immigrants, citizenship requirements, areas of discrimination, and integration. Furthermore it examines social structures, civil society activities, and their relation to state institutions in countries where communities from Turkey are located. Third, focusing on the level of the individual, the report discusses social and economic life, family relationships, youth issues, and inter- generational ties. Finally, it evaluates the dominant views and expectations shared by the communities from Turkey in Europe towards their country of origin.
The second phase of the field research focuses on young people aged 18-32 from Alevi and Sunni communities in the above-mentioned countries. A total of 428 (184 Alevi – 244 Sunni) young people took part in in-depth interviews about their experiences in acculturating, developing individual personalities and forming their identities, as well as in their social and economic lives. Additionally, the study reflects the expectations and needs both groups of young people feel towards Turkey and their own futures. Beyond merely casting light on the differences between these groups, the report also examines ways in which Alevi and Sunni youth interact with and influence one another.
The resulting report also includes the views of association heads, community leaders, and relevant experts on top of youth interviews. Youth interviews were conducted in association offices, workplaces, universities, and social meeting areas. It was possible to meet with additional young people upon the recommendation of our interviewees through the snowballing method. Interviews were held in both large and small cities in most of the countries involved, taking care to reflect a gender balance as well as different levels of socio- economic and educational attainment.
How to read this report
The report at hand presents the evaluation chapters, both authored by Etyen Mahçupyan, of the two research reports.
The first chapter of the report at hand evaluates the commonalities as well as the distinguishing features of the migrant experience in the six European countries covered. The policy proposal section includes a range of expectations and requests brought up during the interviews with the opinion leaders in the first phase of the research.1
The second chapter of the report presents an evaluation of the diverging, commingling, and interactive aspects of the relationship between Alevi and Sunni youth in the six countries. It concludes with policy proposals, as well as a range of the perspectives and expectations that came up during interviews with young people in the second phase of the research.2
We hope the insights and proposals presented in this report will be useful not only for policy- making but also for academic and civil society fields both in Turkey and Europe.
The first phase of the research with “opinion leaders” was conducted by Ayşe Yırcalı and Etyen Mahçupyan, who are also the authors of the report.
The second phase of the research among Sunni youth was conducted by Vahap Coşkun and Berat Özipek, and among Alevi youth by İbrahim Bahadır, Ahmet Taşğın, and Beril Bahadır. Aybars Görgülü took part in both parts of the field research. The same team authored the youth research report.
We would like to thank civil society organizations and/or academics/students, writers, researchers and public officials in their assistance towards the field work, as well as all interviewees who took part in this research.
1 – For the full report (available only in Turkish): Avrupa’da ‘Türkiyeli’ Olmak: Kimlikler, Bireyler, Vatandaşlar. Istanbul: PODEM,
2 – For the full report (available only in Turkish): Avrupa’da Yaşayan Türkiye Kökenli Gençler: Alevilik/Sünnilik Temelinde Kimlik, Aidiyet, Sosyal Hayat, Siyaset. Istanbul: PODEM,
European Citizenship through the Lens of Alevi and Sunni Communities from Turkey
First among all the clear findings of the field work, which took care to encapsulate the whole range of identity and political conditions in six European countries, was that although all the participants were originally from Turkey, they had very different experiences as immigrants and as Europeans. While there are many reasons for this, chief among them is the governing attitude and administrative methods of the state in each country.
As can be understood from both the statements and the moods of immigrants, general satisfaction increases as one moves out from the center of Continental Europe to the north. There is an understanding of the state in Continental Europe which displays itself through action, uses those displays of power as a management tool, is rigorously attentive to legislating over minute details, and does not refrain from interfering in relations between immigrants or developing different policies towards different identity groups. On the other hand, moving towards the European periphery, one encounters a state that conceals itself, values traditional practices, permits social dynamics to generate their own solutions, and while keeping track of immigrant communities, still leaves them to their own devices.
Despite the fact that there are arguably no differences in the fundamental understanding of equality, freedom, and justice between these countries, and that essentially the same citizenship status exists on paper, immigrants from Turkey feel more free and equal in countries like Britain and Sweden. By contrast, France, Germany, and Austria represent Continental Europe, while the Netherlands shifted gradually from the first group to the second after the collapse of its multicultural policy.
It is clear that immigrants perceive the Continental European model, which emphasizes legality and explicit citizenship rights, as positive. However, deviations in the application of these standards become even more noticeable and objectionable. By contrast, Sweden’s strategy for building a democratic social system and Britain’s traditionally “relaxed” management style have provided a more comfortable environment in which the immigrants can “breathe.” From this it can be said that the most important issue for immigrants is to guarantee the foundation of a state of law while still accommodating the community’s public exercise of free will to the greatest possible extent.
In addition to this, the culture of the host society is also a critical factor. Our field work showed that some segments of these societies had problems with confronting history and with creating a sense of identity. It can be said that if the current geographical borders and political power of the society do not match up with imagined past glories, then the society exhibits a kind of “unsatisfied” psychology. Indeed, this is the case in Continental Europe, where racist reactions have increased the most. On the other hand, despite the fact that the histories of Britain and Sweden are almost diametrically opposite, both are confident and at peace with themselves to a remarkable degree. Again, while it is for very different reasons, we can state that these two countries stand at a far remove from Continental Europe in regard to their familiarity with and sense of responsibility towards foreigners.
Some of the factors differentiating the “immigrant” and “European” modes of immigrants from Turkey stem directly from themselves. Five elements stand out in this regard.
The first relates to the distribution of identities in the immigrant population. Which immigrant community constitutes the majority of the overall immigrant population in a country is an extremely important factor in this. On the one hand, this community becomes the visible face of all immigrants, and the host society perceives and reacts to all immigrants regardless of their diversity according to that stereotype. In countries where Sunni immigrants predominate, the status of immigration has been inextricable from the perception of Muslims and Islam. The emergence and increasing conspicuousness of ISIS has resulted in the concept of “foreigner” becoming entirely Muslim-focused. This, on the one hand, causes the Sunni community to become closed and reactive, and on the other hand incentivizes other communities to distinguish themselves from the Sunnis. If on the other hand, Alevis or Kurds are the majority, the result is that immigrants from Turkey are kept low on the priority scale of foreigners, and are not understood to be a cause for “concern.”
An interesting facet to this is that Sunnis have settled mostly in Continental Europe, with its more “restrictive” systems, while Alevis and Kurds have settled mostly in peripheral Europe with its already more “relaxed” countries. France is an exception with its high Kurdish population and so is something of an intermediate case. Thus, while the Sunni community, characterized by greater inwardness and isolation from society, settled in countries that struggled to integrate them, somewhat ironically Alevi and Kurdish immigrants, who were more open to their surroundings and therefore relatively unproblematic, settled in societies that had a more open view of foreigners to begin with.
The second element is the period in which the immigrants arrived in their host countries. Immigration from Turkey to Europe occurred in several waves between 1960-85. The first immigrants exhibited the same tendencies across different countries: they spent their days between the factory and the home and did not learn the local language. Integration into society began with the second generation, where contacts in school and in the street transformed the concept of “foreign workers” into the issue of immigrant families. The third and subsequent generations are now born to permanent immigrant families and are creating their own place in the culture of the host society. It is important to determine which point that process has reached in a given setting: immigrants’ views and behaviors change according to the generation they are a part of. For example, in France, the difficulties in integrating that exist there can be said to be a product of this process still being in its early stages, whereas in Germany, where there is a fourth generation of Germans with origins from Turkey, the community is assured enough of its place in society that a protest culture has already emerged.
Third, we see that the immigrants’ reasons for coming to a country also affects their general attitude there. Those with predominately economic concerns came as workers and generally exhibit more passive behavior. When scarcity and limited horizons force the first generation to focus solely on saving money, this effect endures in the culture of the family. On the other hand, those who fled oppression in Turkey, including those who were formally accepted in their host countries as political refugees, are understood from the beginning as political subjects, which in turn leads to a more open existence in the public sphere. The overlap of this distinction with identity-based differences can become another area of conflict: the vast majority of Sunnis migrate for economic reasons, while most Alevis and Kurds are asylum seekers. This directly affects social dynamics such as relations with the host society, integration, and ghettoization.
Fourthly, the locality in which the immigrants settle, whether or not they arrive en masse, and the local culture they bring with them are also important. Central and East Anatolians are arguably more culturally conservative in comparison to emigrants from other regions with broader cultural perspectives. Whether or not their region of origin is agricultural or urban also has an effect.
Naturally, a rural background can also delay integration to the same degree that it increases cultural conservatism. But perhaps the main criterion is whether or not they come in high numbers from the same place. When all or most of a community comes from just a few cities or towns, they essentially rebuild the life they had in Turkey, and a new public space is created inside the confines of the immigrant community. When in contrast a particular community settles over a dispersed area, this implies that by necessity they form relationships with other groups of immigrants and members of the host culture, which in turn facilitates individual integration.
Finally, the goal of the immigrant in migrating is decisive. There are two basic positions: those who will return and those who have come to stay. Those who plan to return in a sense never fully settle in their new country, to the extent that their dreams remain in Turkey, and so they do not make an effort to integrate. And if the host government also assumes the immigrants will return, that attitude becomes normalized. Despite this, nearly all of those who plan to return eventually discover that they will not be able to return or in fact that they do not quite want to return. This can lead to additional traumas and difficulties in integration. To a large degree, this is the case in the Sunni community. For those whose Alevi or Kurd identities are paramount, however, they either have no intention of returning or cannot return, and so for this type of immigrant it is natural to see the host country as a patron and to take those steps necessary to ensure they are able to remain.
Viewed relative to the Sunnis, Alevis and politicized Kurds are adapting more easily and faster in all host countries. In this, the facilitation of the host country plays as much of a role as the desire of the community to adapt. The main dynamic that creates this difference is firstly the similarity of the community’s lifestyle to the norm in the host country, and secondly women’s role in family, social life, and business. In contrast to Sunnis’ conservative behavior, Alevis are much more susceptible to a European lifestyle and cultural stance, which has a clear reflection in public life. As a result, the relative proportion of Alevis in media and politics is much higher in all countries.
In light of these five elements, it is possible to think of immigrants from Turkey as being an axis with Sunnis on one end and Alevis on the other. Kurds can be found on both sides. The Sunnis came in the context of waves of migration that began earlier and were for economic reasons, from specific regions, and in specific periods. They have wanted to preserve their cultural conservatism as an identity, and have withdrawn into themselves because of the increasing Salafi threat in the last ten years. Alevis came during a shorter time period, for political reasons, from certain cities and mostly all at once. While the Sunnis came with the intention of returning one day, the Alevis came to stay, and both communities still bear the traces of that difference. The distribution of the Kurds along this axis can vary depending on their political identification and where they came from. However, reflecting politics in Turkey, regardless of the original political dynamics behind Kurdish migration, it appears moving forward that Kurds are putting their political identities in the forefront, are staying in Europe, and see themselves as constituting a community separate from Sunni Turks.
- Almost all of our interview subjects stated that while there may be no obvious, crude discrimination on the part of the state or general society, there is nevertheless a subtle, hidden discrimination present in state bureaucracy and the judiciary. There is also an obstructive attitude in the education system and in private sector applications, and in some countries participants report sensing a widespread desire not to interact with foreigners, especially Muslims. This general impression is shared by most immigrants. As immigrants remain in their host countries and start to become citizens, this sense of discrimination leads to increasing frustration.
- Whatever a particular country’s perception of immigrants and especially Muslims, there is a broad consensus in all countries that after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the treatment of foreigners experienced a change “for the worse.” This situation has rapidly deteriorated afterthe emergence of ISIS, and led to undisguised unease and reaction. Public concerns over state security have led to new laws and policies that restrict immigrants’ freedom of movement, make the citizenship process more difficult, and reduce immigrants’ desire to integrate.
- All these immigrants from Turkey face a common problem in that their religious difference and/or deficient language skills result in their being seen as more foreign than other immigrants. When they realize they are likely to remain permanently in Europe, they start to feel they must struggle to stay in their host countries, especially for their children. However, the feeling of foreignness increases the deeper they enter the host society, because while immigrants who close themselves off from the culture of the host society in a sense take their foreignness for granted and are not concerned by it, once they attempt to adapt, if they feel that they are being tacitly rejected, this sense of exclusion can become even more hurtful than their earlier de facto exclusion. This both increases individual isolation and creates an obstacle to exercising legal rights. We should add that Sunni Muslims are often “different” in appearance from their host society and, predicting the likely reactions they will encounter, show a preference for isolating themselves instead.
- The greatest fear of immigrants from Turkey is that they will be assimilated and completely lose their culture and identity. This fear of being assimilated is often a factor undermining integration. This is also true of groups that adapt more easily to Europe and Europeans. No matter how well they adapt individually, in all but a small minority there was still a strong feeling of being a foreigner. On the other hand, with every new generation there is an increasing number who feel a desire to rise and succeed in the society in which they live. At every step along the way, immigrants are faced with the dilemma of whether to accept or reject either parts of themselves or of their host societies.
- Whatever country and identity group we discuss, there are consistent differences and special attitudes distinguishing each generation from the others. The first generation is overly isolated, living in such a way as to protect itself and hold back the host society to the greatest extent. Their inability to adequately understand the language and as a result the local cultural and legal structure plays a large role in this. In the second generation, there is a distinct sense of being suspended in between. They have learned the language and as a result have been given the unusual responsibility of being a guide for the family. Parenting their own parents, they are left as the bridge between their family and society. However, inadequate education prevents them from properly serving this function, which increases their sense of failure. The third generation, although it considers itself a part of the country it finds itself in, is angry, irresponsible, and inclined to protest. They are driven more to a lifestyle determined by the street than by the family. While the second generation feels itself left stuck between the family and general society, the third generation goes off in search of a new subculture.
- There is a clear gap between the Sunni and Alevi communities. While individuals have few problems interacting, institutional ties between the communities are practically nonexistent. The greatest contributing factor to this are centuries-old habits of mutual non- recognition, indifference, and exclusion, which are all refracted through the new context of European immigration. In recent years politics has also functioned to polarize the communities. Cultural and political identities have gradually coalesced, and this has deepened the gulf between the communities.
- The communities themselves are not monolithic. There are sub-identities that further divide each community, especially between countries. Although in recent years Sunni institutions have moved closer to one another, there is also subtle competition between them. The Alevis on the other hand are split in two between those who focus on their faith and those who prioritize politics, with visible tension between the two camps. This situation weakens all immigrants’ efforts to exercise their rights vis-à-vis their host countries, as their representative institutions fail to work together. That being said, no matter the community, each institution we studied does do good work to serve immigrant needs and they do receive praise. The bottom line, however, is that the current behavior of these institutions still reinforces discriminatory and exclusionary behavior, which limits opportunities for integration.
- In the recent past, there has been a tendency for less devout Alevis and Kurds to begin to come together. It might be said that Alevis are putting aside their religious identities and choosing to identify as Kurds, or instead transforming “Alevism” into an ethnic identity of its own. This phenomenon can occur when the Alevi population is relatively small. A larger anxiety against becoming or being seen as Sunni can draw Alevis closer to an ethnic Kurdish identity.
- Community institutions come under the effect of politics of Turkey in every country, regardless of their religious or ethnic affiliation. The tensions and conflicts in Turkey are reflected abroad and result in associations defining themselves according to these same cleavages. Even if this is not the intent, public perception and other difficulties end up politicizing the institutions, and by creating partisan administration of activities it disrupts the provision of social services. Moreover, their preoccupation with Turkey prevents these organizations from participating effectively in the politics and public sphere of their host countries.
- In community associations and NGOs, a generally narrow understanding of service, a refusal to hand over authority to young people, and arbitrary personnel management is very common. These organizational failures have caused even the members of the communities the associations serve to stay away from them. Young people in particular are not drawn to an institutional mindset that they see as failing both in its content and its approach to address their concerns as immigrants.
- Young people everywhere are searching for identity. In a world where every home, school, and street belongs to a different subculture, young people too are trying to generate their own way to live. The hybridizations created by interacting with other immigrants distance them both from their families and also from the commonly accepted life-paths in the societies they live in. As their family environments are not attractive to them, the desire to be as “outside of it” as possible is very common. Because of a lack of role models, they want to leave home as soon as possible, set up their own lives and get rich as quickly as possible. The majority cut their education halfway and shift to start their work and family lives. However, the feeling of dissatisfaction and failure is very common, which in turn fosters a reactionary attitude and nationalism, preventing young people from truly integrating into society. This alienation is also the reason why young people who have never even seen Turkey use an even more radical nationalist language than in Turkey itself.
- The majority of women are stuck in the home. As most of them do not know the local language, their contacts with life outside the home are very limited and monotonous. Even among Alevis with their relative advantage in integration, most women, apart from the highly educated, live similarly circumscribed lives. Women do not work, they do not form connections to the outside world, and they are expected to raise children. However, mothers who do cannot understand the society around them are incapable of adequately supporting their children’s education. As a result, the children are eventually completely uninformed and helpless in determining their own future.
- As for men, they bear the expectation of achieving success in a foreign culture. At the same time, they are reduced to a kind of uninformed helplessness in trying to solve the problems they face in their host countries, and most of them lack the conceptual tools to deal with the tension between this feeling of helplessness and their bruised sense of manhood. The family heads work too hard to be very involved in their family life, and think of success only as earning money, providing for their families, and saving money. However, if they feel their control over their children slipping, or sense themselves as inferior or insufficiently successful in their host societies, they can easily become violent. Their children’s demands for a freedom that does not exist in the traditional family culture reinforces this tension and further alienates family members from one another.
- Marriages are still mainly within religious and ethnic communities. Marriage across ethnic and religious boundaries are low but increasing in every country. The previously popular practice of “mail order brides and grooms” has declined, and the marriage age has increased. The increasing level of education plays a large role in these changes.
- Divorces have risen rapidly in recent years, approaching the rates of host communities. Young people especially divorce much more readily. The main cause of family breakup is domestic violence. Men want to live in Europe, but they do not want their wives to act “too European” themselves. As women earn economic and social rights, they become much more courageous, and the vast majority of divorces take place on women’s initiative.
- In the business world, immigrants from Turkey “are considered successful, entrepreneurial and bold. However, the third generation is more conservative than the older generations in terms of starting a business, a stance which more closely resembles the attitude of European youth, in that they prefer security rather than take risks. Private businesses are very common, but are not amenable to expansion at scale. There is a narrow vision of business life as being to make as much money in as short a time as possible, and to display success through conspicuous consumption. The discriminatory attitude and fundamentally insufficient education in host countries has brought unemployment to very high rates among immigrants. This is somewhat ameliorated by the capacity to create jobs within the community, but it is clearly a growing problem.
- In European countries, education is the most important means of social mobility for immigrants. A child’s education both enable him as an individual to jump to a higher social class and also directly affects the standard of living of his family. There is no more effective way to adapt and integrate into the host country. However, taking advantage of the education system requires that the parents inform themselves, take an active interest in the child’s education, and to assume the role of their child’s advocate in the school. Parents mostly do not know the language well enough and do not understand the seriousness of this responsibility. Thus the destiny of the child is left in the hands of the teachers, and it is at this point that a discriminatory attitude, which is understood to permeate education systems throughout Europe, has its most pernicious effect. The system sees immigrants as belonging to a lower class and considers it appropriate to direct them to blue-collar jobs.
- Crime rates are relatively low among immigrants from Turkey. Community structure, a neighborly attitude and the family structure all have a positive effect in this respect. However, it is also true that in Germany, where immigrants from Turkey have become an important social force, criminal organizations in some areas are run by them, and in England criminal networks like this are beginning to form. These networks use young people who have drifted away from education and their families and give them a career. Additionally, immigrants do have a tendency to be involved in street crime and gang activity, albeit at very low rates.
- Mental health is a fundamental and widespread problem that has not been adequately addressed and is often totally ignored. The difficulties immigrants from Turkey have adapting to European society, their failure to cope with cultural differences, the discriminatory approach of the host society, and their inability to overcome these problems, are all causes of depression. Moreover, children’s failures are attributed directly to the family. Their often delayed realization that they are going to stay in their host countries, and the subsequent knowledge that they will not be able to simply escape this difficult environment, also reinforce the pessimistic emotional outlook many people have.
- Ties to the motherland are still strong in all demographics, but it appears this no longer reflects a real sense of belonging and has shifted to more of an abstract or ideological bond. The likelihood that any of these people, looking back at Turkey, would return because of a sense of political identity, is essentially zero. Many others do imagine going back after retirement, or for part of the year. Even those who do not feel at home in their countries of residence, who feel something missing spiritually in their lives, nevertheless find the social facilities and quality of life in Europe too attractive to want to return to Turkey. Unanswerable yearning thus becomes a fact of life for these people… but in spite of this, criticisms directed at Turkey are widespread. Even among Sunnis, Turkey’s socio-economic development is a source of pride but does not discount their impression that their homeland is lagging behind in terms of the rule of law. In fact, the level of approval is extremely brittle and unstable across demographics, as the democratization process in Turkey has been extremely turbulent.
- The majority of immigrants from Turkey, independent of their group identity, find the manner of behavior exhibited by politicians from Turkey visiting Europe to be inappropriate and annoying. Raised in Europe, they have developed European political norms, and when they evaluate politicians from Turkey in light of those norms, most agree that the officials’ performance is inadequate. There is a view that politicians from Turkey have been too transactional in their dealings with communities from Turkey in Europe, and this approach is backfiring.
- Turkey’s consulates are distinctly praised for the services they provide. No matter which community, no matter the country, consulates are uniformly described as improving and providing more and better services at all levels of the communities they serve. For this reason, respondents prefer that any new services be delivered through the consulates.
Proposals regarding policy development
It is possible to summarize our proposals in the following manner:
In a strategic perspective…
- To develop a joint vision for Europeans with origins in Turkey, and clarify the goals, means, and applications of cooperation between communities across all countries.
- To revive functioning, reciprocal relations between Turkey and European countries.
- To develop and adhere to confidence-building policies directed towards Alevis, and Europeans more generally.
- To be facilitative towards Europeans with origins in Turkey, not oppressive and overbearing. To recognize that the goal is not to serve Turkey’s aims but rather immigrants’ needs and interests.
- To open the way to formally constituting Europe as a parliamentary constituency of Turkey, and collect the votes of Europeans with origins in Turkey there to directly elect representatives to the parliament in Turkey.
Regarding social/cultural practices…
- To produce joint projects, with European institutions, especially those active in the field of visual media and film, aimed at strengthening immigrants’ cultural bond with Turkey.
- To invest in strengthening immigrant institutions in Europe in the areas of education, sport, and media, and to allow these institutions to operate independently.
- To found a Turkey Institute to conduct socio-cultural and socio-economic research.
- To appoint a social attaché to direct coordinated consular activities.
- To open, under the leadership of the consulates, “Family Support Centers” composed of Europeans with origins in Turkey and local experts to provide information and give guidance to families.
- To ensure that immigrants from Turkey born and educated in Europe, who understand the language and system in their country of birth, are appointed to every bureaucratic ministry in Turkey, including the Directorate of Religious Affairs.
Regarding youth and education…
- To develop a mentorship program to help young people evaluate and make correct choices about the opportunities in their professional and social lives.
- To produce social programs directed at youths that help them deepen their relationship to Turkey as well as their host country, as well as nurture a sense of cooperation between them.
- To create short term programs to incentivize young people to work in public and private sector industries in Turkey.
- To use high quality instructors in Turkish language and cultural education in Europe.
- To open bilingual elementary and primary schools and employ European-raised, pedagogically sound experts.
- To develop “Parental Guidance Institutes” to advise families in their children’s education, composed of experts raised in Europe who understand the local system.
In the field of health…
- To develop a network of institutions staffed with experienced professionals in order to analyze, track and where necessary direct families regarding their health needs.
- To open “Psychological Support Clinics” to provide services to immigrants from Turkey in need of mental health assistance.
Regarding professional life…
- To create an institution composed of Europeans that can provide support to immigrants from Turkey regarding investing and starting businesses.
- To develop entities offering services to immigrants seeking business and investment opportunities in Turkey.
- To form entities that can provide guidance and application information to people seeking employment in Turkey.
Youth from Europe with Origins in Turkey: Identities, Belonging, Social Life, Politics
When observing the state of “being from Turkey” in Europe, most of the time, without realizing it, we are searching for Turks who happen to live in Europe. That is to say, it is as though “immigrants from Turkey” have remained the same and the question is one of what mechanism they created to get by in foreign lands… Whereas in fact, immigrants from Turkey do not themselves remain the same… They change, transcending mere adaptation to become something new, such that people from Turkey living in Europe eventually distance themselves in various ways from the conditions of life they had in Turkey, and they thus become something entirely “other.” The Zeitgeist, social conditions, and reactions and interactions of individuals and communities attempting to chart their own course together compose what we might call “being from Turkey” in Europe today.
When we take the conditions immigrants lived in while in Turkey as data, we are essentially in search of differences with their lives abroad. We think that the differences “here” must
naturally apply “there” as well, and we rest our analysis on this assumption. This point of view is not entirely wrong; indeed, Turkey is still an important touchstone and reference point for immigrants. The distance from and perception of Turkey and political actors from Turkey often coincide with the identity and cultural and political stances of immigrants from Turkey in Europe.
There are differences between Alevi and Sunni youth that must be considered in this context. The relative positions of these identities in Turkey, with different areas of rights and freedoms granted to each, and resulting cultural and political cleavages, cause Alevis and Sunnis to see themselves as each in conflict with the other. The continuation of various inequalities in Turkey keeps this mutual antagonism alive.
To the extent that the distinction between identities becomes ideological and politicized, immigrants become particularly vulnerable to influence by policies in their countries of residence. As their host country’s behavior and view of them become politicized, the cleavages between immigrant groups from Turkey grow and emerge to the same degree. In European states that conduct identity politics, immigrants also operationalize their identities and convert (cultural) difference into a political discourse.
This has an interesting result. In Germany and France, two of the founding members of the European Union and located in the heart of Europe, the different politics of identity applied have caused differences in the way that Sunnis and Alevis identify themselves. This is not merely a matter of perception; the problems faced by Alevis and Sunnis in these countries are also different… The feeling of mutual antagonism is decreasing in Austria and the Netherlands, which are bound tightly to Europe. The historical approach of these two countries towards both communities has allowed the state to follow a more flexible policy, which has been able to bring Alevis and Sunnis together. In Britain and Sweden, on the periphery of the European Union and with flexible ties to a feeling of “European” identity, we see not only that problems between communities are low, but that the main issues of concern are shared and so present areas for collaboration.
On the other hand, there is a very strong trend for European immigrants to become increasingly similar to one another. Countries with successful immigration policies are more likely to influence others. Arguably, the recent rise in racist movements has also brought immigrants together. As a general finding, in cases where the objective conditions of life are similar, the similarities between Alevi and Sunni youth can be expected to grow much more important than their differences. An even more fundamental factor is undoubtedly being born and raised “there:” Alevi and Sunni youth face the same concrete economic, social, and cultural setting and experience the problems of immigration in a very similar way. Both groups moreover have very similar norms and value judgments in regard to today’s global environment. It is therefore possible to state that since the first generation immigrants,
the differences have consistently decreased and the similarities increased between these communities, and it would not be surprising for this trend to continue and indeed intensify in the future.
For a sound assessment, the differences and similarities between Alevi and Sunni youth must be considered together, and the fieldwork provides this framework quite clearly.
We can address differences between Alevi and Sunni youth under the following six headings:
Conditions of arrival
Families arriving in their host countries generally faced discrimination based on their identity. The Sunni segment of the immigrant population arrived for predominantly economic reasons and often after explicit preparation of the conditions under which they would work. By contrast, Alevis primarily went abroad for political reasons without knowing beforehand how they would cope. It should be noted too that Sunni migration was sustained and consistent, while Alevis flooded into countries in discrete periods of time. As a result, the family types found on both sides differ considerably in terms of the problems they faced and the kinds of solutions they found. Sunnis were able to adapt to their new lives as a community, while Alevis were generally forced to produce solutions individually. While the lives of the Sunnis were relatively predictable and safe, the Alevis felt deprived of this protection. These different conditions influenced the family environment and culture while simultaneously affecting the perspective of the host culture toward the immigrants. This difference in understanding between families
has produced very different patterns of behavior among their children, whether in the street, at school, and in society at large, so that Sunnis are more cautious, distant, and suspicious, while Alevis are more gregarious and sociable. It can be said that Sunni families are still more closed off, while Alevi parents have been more accepting and adaptable to the host culture, though this distinction is likely weakening with the passage of time.
There is a distinct difference between the young Sunnis and Alevis in the matter of what their identities mean, what lifestyle they necessitate, and now appropriate it is to open them up “to the outside.” For Sunnis youth this is quite clear: they emphasize their ethnic and Muslim identities, and most of the time conceive of them as being inextricable from one another. The meaning this takes in practice is reflected in the shape taken by their familial and religious values. It appears that Sunni youth are confident in the identity they call their own, without being mentally preoccupied by identity, but that they still prefer to live inside their community rather than the foreign society around them.
Young people in Alevi families are affected by a sense of being trapped between belief and politics. Rather than concentrate on the needs and desires of the young people themselves, many families tend either to try to hide their Alevism or to try to harmonize their identities with modern values. Families belonging to an Alevi association, by contrast, display a tendency to emphasize their Alevism. In any case, from the perspective of youth today, Alevism is shaped more by today’s values than doctrine, and functions as a vehicle for a modern way of life. In short, Alevism is turning into an identity that its members value but not a strict behavioral guide—aside from antagonism against Sunnis, which is becoming one of its main indicators.
The young people of each group generally prefer not to marry the members of the other group, with few exceptions. From the Sunni perspective, the criterion is Alevi’s different beliefs, while Alevis are fundamentally concerned with the conservative social lives of Sunni families. In Alevi families the principle of equality inside the family is much more widespread and it is understood that women and girls will increasingly value an equal status. Therefore, an Alevi family would not go to a Sunni family to “ask for the girl.” Sunni families, stemming from their patriarchal views, would however meet with the Alevi family to “give the girl.” This is one indication of the way in which marriages are not between two people but between large families, and shows how for a variety of reasons cultural issues can maintain a gap between these communities. This “spiritual distance” can be overcome through atomization of the individuals relative to their families, and in this respect Alevi youth show much more initiative, because their families have a much weaker ability to sanction errant behavior. In many Alevi families young people can return to their families after first leaving and proving themselves independent. In Sunni families by contrast the process of carving out a personal identity in relation to the family follows a much subtler dynamic.
The most obvious difference between Alevi and Sunni youth arises from their political stances. For Sunnis, the world is simple: they take a political position in line with their identities and form a close connection to the government in Turkey. For Alevis by contrast, politics is much more fraught terrain. For one thing, Alevi identity in Turkey is considered a problem the
state has been unable to solve, and as a result Alevism has become a “radical” identity for those who identify with it. Alevis’ experiences of this attitude and their tendency for a leftist perspective further sharpen this attitude. For another, at least a part of Alevi identity is moving towards the orbit of the Kurdish identity. Thus Alevism bears a certain degree of flexibility, as an “amalgamation” that combines faith and ethnicity, and a vehicle for leftist ideology and Kurdish identity to function simultaneously.
It is easy to guess how much this situation complicates young people’s lives. The way out of the problem is through politics, and varied Alevi positions can unite in opposition to Turkey. To a large degree Alevi youth have a reactive view of Turkey, and a pessimistic outlook. Human rights violations in Turkey make it very easy to adopt a political posture centered on objection and reflexive criticism of Turkey. While Sunni youth point out all of Turkey’s successes in recent years, Alevi youth fixate on the issues that allow them to describe Turkey as “backwards.”
There is also a fundamental difference in what the two groups want from Turkey: Sunnis are satisfied with recent developments and want improvements in scope or efficiency of what they already see as successes. In contrast to this, Alevis complain of discriminatory application of policy measures and demand egalitarian reform, including reforms that emphasize individual responsibility.
Perspective on Europeans
One of the most critical ways in which Sunni and Alevi youth diverge is in their view of their host country, its citizens, and Europe in general. Our observations demonstrate that Alevis in general are much more adaptive to the requirements of modern European life, and themselves see this as a positive good: Alevi young people are zealous and enthusiastic about their European values and identity. By contrast, although Sunni youth enjoy the Western system, they put much more value in cultural difference, and even characterize some of the manifestations of this difference as examples of discrimination. The recent increase in critical accounts of Turkey in the European press has also made Sunni youth more suspicious. As a result, they nurture the conviction that their host society culture, from which they already kept their distance, is dishonest, which only strengthens the instinct to retreat further into isolation. This also increases the distance between Sunnis and Alevis, who often see themselves as on the same side as the Europeans in criticizing Turkey.
Many differences separate Alevi and Sunni youth on the subject of integration into Europe, starting with the family itself and combining to create a fundamentally different approach each take. Young Sunnis see integration as limited to staying in their host country, being professionally successful, and protecting their rights. They show a marked preference for being a minority with protected cultural rights as opposed to being fully integrated. Alevis however are very pleased their Alevism has made it so easy to adapt to European life: they believe that professing European values means that they have integrated. This is related to their relative atomization. As a result, as integration increases, Alevi youth participate in cultural associations at a lower and lower rate. By contrast, Sunni youth see religiously-based community as a fundamental element of eliminating the undesirable effects of integration.
In addition to the back and forth cultural exchange that integration implies at the societal level, it also functions to create complex challenges at the level of individual people. Sunni youth have a much more circuitous path they must follow to feel they have succeeded. Alevi youth are able to develop a more open, self-confident, pluralistic perspective because at a much younger age they feel that they have “succeeded” in integrating. It is clear that this provides an important advantage in being successful in subsequent stages in life. The fact that Sunni youth struggle more in this respect likely constitutes an additional obstacle preventing the two communities from coming together.
We can collect similarities between Alevi and Sunni youth perspectives, behavior, and values under eight categories.
Although there are many differences between the concerns and values of families in the two groups, there are very critical similarities in the dynamic between the family and young people. One of these is the sense of oppression young people have in families that do not know the local language. This can result in a feeling of starting life with a handicap, which in turn can cause children to disdain or at a minimum distance themselves from their families. Children sometimes also see the tendency for families to send them to Turkey during the summer months as a reason they are unable to sufficiently master their host country’s language. Another issue that has become increasingly important is the inability for children to have a private space to themselves at home. This can lead to children seeking to spend more time outside the home. However, in those cases where children do have a private space inside the home, some simply close themselves off inside that space and still reduce their bond with family to a minimum. In either case, the result is the fraying of the traditional sense of family unity and the reduction of the importance and even the memory of joint family life among young people. Another similarity is the significant pressure that all families place on girls, and parents’ tendency to act as if they must closely monitor their daughters’ lives.
As a general trend, the duration and level of education in both groups has increased from generation to generation as more families recognize the rule that education, starting from the cradle, is the only source of social uplift available for all immigrants. For this reason, the amount of interest and money that families devote to their children’s education is increasing. Secondly, both Sunnis and Alevis are embracing the norm that young people will study and socialize with other students with different identities and cultural backgrounds. However, students first begin to encounter racism and discrimination in the school system, which can have a pronounced negative effect on their motivation. A third point is that girls in both groups are more highly motivated to study as a means of liberating themselves from their families and neighborhoods. As a matter of fact, the number of young women with origins from Turkey in university is higher than the number of men with origins from Turkey. Fourth, professional concerns play an ambiguous role in men’s educational trajectory. Some students use state educational stipends and part-time work as a means to reduce their dependency on their families. A larger section of students leave school
in order to start working and earning as quickly as possible. Moreover, state social benefits that serve to reduce concerns about the future may encourage students to prematurely end their schooling without providing for their own futures.
Regardless of the cultural differences separating young Alevis and Sunnis, the conditions of being an immigrant produce a very similar “youth.”
The prototypical members of this generation do not see themselves as “immigrants,” but rather as bearing a multi-cultural identity: they understand the culture of their host country and value the confidence and pride citizenship gives them. Their dreams for the future are individualistic and modern, centered on status in their host society. Even if these European youth with origins from Turkey haven’t entirely escaped the sense of being squeezed between two cultures, one can say they are directing this pressure towards a cultural synthesis. Whether they are Sunni or Alevi, these young people are European, and it must be accepted that they will remain a part of Europe.
Youths from Turkey, regardless of the cultural characteristics of their families, encounter two main types of people. There is an unbridged gap between the culture and mentality in the home and those in school, in the street, or in professional life. For those families that migrate from Turkey’s large cities, or for those that have more defined political orientations, this gap is narrower. This is evident in the fact that Alevi youth encounter relatively fewer problems compared to Sunnis. However young people of both groups are more open to the external culture, and are less invested in traditional cultural values, than their parents are. Young people first perceive this as a problem when they enter high school and have to struggle to maintain a balance between what is familiar in the home and the exclusion or discrimination they experience in the education system. Through this process, though they retain their identity as Alevi or Sunni, from the standpoint of the norms and values they adopt in their daily lives, they increasingly become a part of a recognizably European whole.
In order to preserve and maintain a distinct communal character, immigrants from Turkey formed various associations. However, the membership rates of youth in these associations remains very low among both Alevis and Sunnis. The reason for this is that communal organizations are largely seen as having become restricted to idiosyncratic leadership by individuals, closed off from the community, or by contrast as too politicized. As a result, we do not observe Sunni or Alevi associations as capable of appealing to young people. A hint for a way forward lies in young people’s interest in contributing to social service projects outside of the traditional activities that the associations have had.
In the traditional associations, young people encounter a culturally homogenous body; however today their preference is fundamentally for “mixed” circles of friends. The decisive criterion in determining friendship preferences is now less a matter of ethnic or religious identity and more a reflection of class-related cultural traits. For both Alevi and Sunni,
co-religionists are certainly easier to befriend, but relationships based on characteristics like shared ethics, mutual respect, and common interests are rapidly increasing. These
relationships have the distinction of crossing the boundary between public and private, such that school and work relationships are also reflected in family life and social activities. This
is applicable for the most part in relations between Alevis and Sunnis. While both groups have held one another at a careful distance, as a result of education and later successes both communities are making progress towards decreasing the importance of sectarianism and increasing mixed families.
Parallel to the increasing diversity of friendships, relationships between men and women are also becoming more relaxed. Flirting is no longer kept secret. On the other hand, it does not appear that girls also enjoy the flexibility men have in this respect. Neither group wants marriages arranged with people from Turkey. Young people want to marry people according to their own preferences, and independent of the suggestions of the family. However, they still live with their families until marriage. In this, the desire of families to have their children stay close by is as much at issue as the economic inability of young people to move out of the home.
Finally, it should be emphasized that young people do not generally have the habit of accumulating financial savings. The confidence and outlook European youth have in the means of the state to provide for social welfare appears to have influenced immigrants from Turkey as well. One of the negative consequence of this is the presence of young people who have been unable to get their lives in order. Some young men, unable to find success in school or at any job, can slide into the world of gambling and gangs or simply cling to the family and stay at home.
First of all, it must be accepted that both Alevis and Sunnis see Europe as a much more livable environment than Turkey. The existence of a rational system without cronyism, a standard
of life that guarantees social rights, the breadth of the field of human rights and liberty, and a respectful pluralism have won the admiration of youth from Turkey. They are glad to be citizens of Europe and are fully aware of the value of their rights as citizens. However, this appreciation does not preclude objectivity. Indeed, they criticize the individualism, prejudice, and generalizing views of Europeans. There is a consensus that discrimination begins in school and that immigrants are directed away from university level education and towards a career as workers. They believe that there is a perspective, existing with some differences all across Europe, that Muslims are at the very bottom of the social hierarchy. This discrimination becomes very prevalent after school, when it comes to finding a job.
In other words, when discussing the country they live in, there is no difference between Alevi and Sunni youth, and their personal experiences are identical regardless of sect. In order to “overcome” this discrimination it is critically important to be fluent in the host country’s language and to receive a good education. For this reason, every child is now working as hard as they can to learn the language very well and to internalize local cultural characteristics. But this is simultaneously increasing the fear of becoming assimilated, and the desire to learn Turkish as the only way to avoid assimilation is consistently increasing.
The attitude of the immigrant youth from Turkey on the subject of politics is very instructive in terms of understanding the new generations. On the one hand, they are increasingly interested in politics in their host country and in Turkey. But on the other hand, politics in its current state does not appeal to them. Indeed, their relationships with political parties are very weak. In addition to not wanting to work in a hierarchic structure, they find politics inauthentic. Whether Sunni or Alevi, young people’s standards are very high and very different from older generations. The best example of this are Sunni youth demands that Alevi’s demands for rights must be met. A broad-minded, non-coercive system providing political freedom of choice is an ideal for all young people. Politics in Turkey is creating exactly the opposite impression: ethnic and sectarian identities are being constructed and reinforced as means of deepening political cleavages by overlaying political differences with sectarian identity. Young people from both communities criticize this situation.
Almost all youth with origins in Turkey identify with or relate in some way to Turkey. The environment where they live has a very large impact on this, because Europeans believe that there is such a relationship, and they talk about it at every opportunity. As a result, it becomes impossible to remain indifferent to Turkey. Additionally, these young people have an intense desire to understand Turkey. But when they go to Turkey there are difficulties in adapting and in forming friendships there, so Turkey becomes a place to visit, and they know they will not return there to live…
The “Resolution” or Peace Process carried out on the Kurdish issue has been a factor bringing Sunni and Alevi youth together. Both groups, taking a stance against violence, believe that the process is positive and important, and that it needs to be resumed. An interesting point is that during the Peace Process, young people described themselves as identifying more with Turkey, seeing Turkey as more “strong,” and that the process contributed to their own sense of confidence.
A number of both Alevi and Sunni youth argue that Turkey should not interfere in the lives of immigrants from Turkey in Europe. In contrast to this, members of both groups also believe that it would be useful to Turkey to create direct support projects, which they want to be based on local life and open to the direction and initiative of the people participating in them. In addition, young people educated in Europe, regardless of sect, share a desire for employment in Turkey.
A General Proposal
When we bring the above differences and similarities together, a strategic view emerges that can be brought to the attention of public institutions and civil-society institutions: no matter the present growth of the separation between Alevis and Sunnis, it is not permanent. Although it has been possible to create a political antagonism on the basis of this dissociation, the number of people with this attitude seem to decrease from generation to generation. The emphasis on sectarian identity also diminishes along with the mental distance young people feel between Turkey and Europe. It is important to remember that Alevi and Sunni youth will become more and more European, and the efforts of those who do not take this into account will likely backfire.
On the other hand, the contributions that public and civil actors in Turkey can make, from language learning to health, from primary schooling to adult education, also carry great importance. Even more important, it is necessary to provide peoples from Turkey in Europe with a foundation to produce shared public spaces without excluding any part of their multiple identities, to help these public spaces to integrate into the social structure of the host country, and to lay the foundation for all these people of with origins in Turkey to seek their rights and achieve success. This requires comprehensive and inclusive projects, developed democratically, open to management by those living in Europe, and with mechanisms ensuring participation.
Beyond that, the greatest service Turkey can provide to immigrants from Turkey in Europe, and especially to the young, is to solve the problems of its own democracy and allow them to feel that they come from a country they can be proud of.