Hate festers within Turkish identity politics

Based on a recent research from the German Marshall Fund and Bilgi University, which sampled 4,006 individuals representing a section of Turkey’s electorate, it is clear that Turkey’s societal relations have birthed political identities built on feelings of hostility, envy, and defamation. By sifting through the data, perhaps we can gain a better understanding of how such a politically-polarized chasm came to be.

Recently, there has been research conducted in Turkey that indicates that it is not shared beliefs, but rather shared obligations that hold our society together. However, this compulsory togetherness is not as simple as it seems. Such relations birth new political identities built on feelings of hostility, envy, and defamation.

It is impossible to determine whether social polarization has been created by the government or is the result of the government reflecting an already existing social polarization. Most likely it is both. Thus, society, like the government, cannot be acquitted.

The research titled, “Dimensions of Polarization in Turkey 2020” conducted by Bilgi University faculty Professor Pınar Uyan Semerci and Professor Emre Erdoğan (see the research here) reveals the extent of society’s shift toward becoming an ordinary crowd.

Research conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Istanbul Bilgi University's Center for Migration Research (see this link for the project team) was completed in 29 cities at 500 sample points, using multi-layered samples with 4,006 people representing Turkey’s electorate. Therefore, it is possible to statistically generalize the results of the research to Turkey’s population at large.
Political distance

Of those surveyed, 34 percent felt ‘close’ to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), while 22 percent felt close to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), 11 percent to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and 9 percent to the İYİ Party. These respondents make up 85 percent of the total. The percentage of those who felt distant from the supporters of the Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was 55 in 2015. This figure was 53 percent in 2017 and 40 percent in the recent 2020 research.

The proportion of those who felt the most distant from AKP supporters is 23 percent. The same figure but with regard to CHP supporters is 13 percent and only 8 percent with regard to MHP supporters. Which means that 92 percent of respondents did not feel distant from the MHP.
For AKP supporters, it is the HDP and CHP supporters that they feel most distant from, while for CHP supporters, it is the AKP and HDP supporters. For HDP supporters, the most distant party supporters are AKP and MHP. For İYİ Party supporters, it is AKP and HDP supporters, while for MHP supporters, it is HDP and CHP supporters.

We can also interpret this data as indicating that the most common denominator among AKP, MHP, CHP, and İYİ Party supporters is their opposition to HDP.

Guilty by association

Some 75 percent of participants stated that they would not want their son or daughter to marry supporters of those parties, from which they feel most distant. The rate of those who would not want to do business with a supporter of that political party is 72 percent. Those who would not want children of those party supporters to be friends with their children is 67 percent. Some 61 percent would not want to be neighbors with them.

In other words, the majority of society does not want to cohabit with the ‘enemy.’

Moral superiority complex

Participants of the survey regard their own party’s supporters as perfect, while those from the other parties as evil, cruel, and a threat to the country. Respondents view those on their side as patriotic (87 percent), working for the benefit of the country (86 percent), honorable (85 percent), open-minded (84 percent), intelligent (83 percent), and generous (80 percent).

They view the ‘other side’ as hypocritical (86 percent), selfish (85 percent), arrogant (82 percent), cruel (79 percent), a threat to the country (78 percent), and bigoted (77 percent).

In other words, they view everyone as bad, save themselves.

Political intolerance

Some 41 percent of participants do not think that the political party supporters they perceive as the most distant should be allowed to organize a rally in their province. Some 37 percent do not think that those same supporters should be allowed to make a press release, or organize a meeting. Those who do not think that they should allowed to get an education in accordance with their needs make up 35 percent of respondents. Some 34 percent are against their undertaking political roles. Those who believe that ‘their’ phones could be tapped or recorded was 48 percent.

Identity politics

There is another section of data which allows us to measure how relevant the above trends are to ideological affiliations. When asked the question, “Which identity do you feel closest to?” being an ethnic Turk was the answer for 18 percent, being a Kemalist for 11 percent, conservative for 10 percent, being educated for 10 percent, and being Kurdish also for 10 percent.

Those who say being religious and nationalist are their closest identity traits are 8 percent each, followed by modernist at 6 percent, ultranationalist at 3 percent, and secular at 3 percent.

AKP and MHP supporters believe that their groups are in a superior position in society, that the government respects them more, that the financial situation of people from their groups has improved in the past five years, and that their chances of finding a job have improved.
This is not simply an opinion; it is more of an ‘impression.’
Group superiority

The research also indicates that those who are most suppressed are aware that they are being suppressed and that they are subjected to discrimination.

Accordingly, HDP supporters comprise the majority of the percentage that claims to be least superior. Among HDP supporters, only 5 per cent claim that their group has become more influential in the past five years, the government respects them, the financial situation of their group has improved, and that their chances of finding a job have improved.
Some 55 percent of HDP supporters (many of whom are Kurds) say that they have been “treated worse” in job application processes, 54 percent in police stations, 50 percent in government offices, 40 percent in universities, 38 percent in hospitals, 38 percent in luxury stores, and 32 percent on the street.

The places where CHP supporters say they are treated worse than others are 22 percent in job applications, 18 percent in police stations, and 17 percent in government offices.

Only 13 percent of İYİ Party supporters think they have been treated worse in job application processes compared to individuals from other groups.

Among AKP and MHP supporters, the proportion of people who think they are being mistreated in those same places is almost zero. Well, are they not correct?

Issue-based polarization

Those who support primary education being made available via the mother tongue of children who speak a language other than Turkish are 91 percent of HDP supporters.

This rate is only around 30 percent among AKP, CHP, and İYİ Party supporters and even lower at 21 percent among MHP supporters.
Those who are opposed to revenue guarantees being given to companies that build bridges and highways is 44 percent among AKP supporters and 39 percent among MHP supporters.

Those who are opposed to the removal of mayors and the appointment of trustees to replace them among AKP supporters are 27 percent and among MHP supporters are 20 percent. If we use another perspective, this means that 73 percent of AKP supporters and 80 percent of MHP supporters are in favor of the appointment of trustees.

Our country is on the right track according to 57 percent of AKP supporters and 37 percent of MHP supporters, compared to 5 percent of HDP supporters and 10 percent of CHP supporters who believe the same.
When considering the next year, 44 percent of AKP supporters believe Turkey’s financial situation will be better, while 39 percent believe their families will be better off. This optimism exists for 23 percent of MHP supporters, but it drops to 6 to 7 percent among CHP, İYİ Party, and HDP supporters.

Of AKP supporters, 71 percent and of MHP supporters, 51 percent believe that the opposition parties intervene in the tasks of the government too much resulting in the slowdown of progress.

Some 77 percent of AKP supporters and 60 percent of MHP supporters think elections are free and fair in Turkey, while 90 percent of HDP supporters, 80 percent of CHP supporters, and 69 percent of İYİ Party supporters think the opposite.

Violence against women

Out of all the respondents, 88 percent agree that violence against women is widespread in Turkey. One can say that there is a consensus in this regard. However, there are differing views among party supporters about where the responsibility to mitigate violence against women lies.
Some 85 percent of HDP supporters, 74 percent of CHP supporters and 77 percent of İYİ Party supporters think it is the government’s responsibility to prevent violence against women. Among AKP and MHP supporters, 60 percent of each see the government as having a major responsibility.
However, 59 percent of AKP supporters and 44 percent of MHP supporters believe that individuals and institutions currently exert sufficient effort to mitigate violence against women.

According to 86 percent of HDP supporters, 85 percent of CHP supporters, and 82 percent of İYİ Party supporters, individuals and institutions currently do not exert sufficient effort to mitigate violence against women.

Science and religion

According to 85 percent of AKP supporters and 77 percent of MHP supporters, religion courses should be compulsory at primary and secondary education institutions. This rate ranges from 50 to 60 percent within the other parties.

The opinion of 71 percent of AKP supporters is that “religion is always right even if it contradicts science.” Sharing the same belief are 51 percent of MHP supporters and 31 percent of CHP supporters.
According to 62 percent of AKP supporters, “If a person is religious, s/he is ethical, as well.” This rate is 27 percent among CHP supporters.

Jobs for men only

The rate of AKP supporters who agree that “if the mother works, the children will suffer” is 61 percent. This figure is 39 percent among İYİ Party supporters. For CHP supporters, it is 35 percent.

According to 57 percent of AKP supporters, “If it is not easy to find jobs in Turkey, then men deserve to work more than the women.” Those that agree with this statement within the CHP and İYİ Party are 31 percent each.

Those who plan to live in a country other than Turkey in the near future make up 22 percent of all participants. This rate is 44 percent among HDP supporters, 31 percent among CHP supporters, 9 percent among AKP supporters, and 14 percent among MHP supporters.  

Those who think Azerbaijan is Turkey’s most important partner make up 55 percent of AKP supporters and 64 percent of MHP supporters, with the second most important partner being Russia at 11 percent.
Believing that the biggest threat to Turkey is the U.S. has an overall average of 48 percent, while believing it is Israel is at 12 percent.
Those who agree that Turkey might use military force outside of the country when it is necessary to protect its interests in the international arena are 64 percent of AKP supporters and 71 percent of MHP supporters. This rate among CHP and HDP supporters is 36 percent.
While 43 percent of AKP supporters and 51 percent of MHP supporters believe that securing peace is most effective through military force, about the same percentage of these two parties’ supporters say they would vote “no” if a referendum was held for full membership into the EU.

According to 79 percent of all participants, Europe has assisted separationist organizations like the PKK in becoming stronger in Turkey and the European countries want to dissolve and disintegrate Turkey. Those who believe that the “crusader spirit” lies beneath European attitudes towards Turkey is 67 percent.

Silence out of fear

Those who say they should take part in discussions about the government’s legal practices only during a family dinner at home is 50 percent. Those who say they would join such discussions at a neighborhood meeting is 38 percent, at a workplace or school are 30 percent each.

Those who say they would join these discussions on Twitter and on Facebook are 19 percent and 22 percent respectively.
In other words, 80 percent of participants say they would not discuss a political matter in a public domain.

Perhaps one can say that our silence is not due to our graciousness, but that it is the result of sheer fear. So, how do you explain our hatred toward one another?  

At last, the final blow: According to the same research findings, the rate of participants who consider the reforms implemented for accession into the European Union as not being any different than Ottoman era capitulations is 64 percent.

One cannot stop the mind from wandering to writer Tezer Özlü’s renowned pessimistic sentence. Unfortunately, that sentence was considered terrorist propaganda in 2017.