Overwhelming majority of people see a human rights problem in Turkey

According to the most recent poll conducted by the KONDA research center, nearly three-fourths of people in Turkey believe the country has a human rights problem.

Duvar English

Nearly three-fourths of people in Turkey believe that the country under the current government struggles from a human rights problem, according to the latest polling by the research firm KONDA. Some 83% of respondents, further, believe that human rights are inherent, given from birth, Deutsche Welle's Turkish service reported.

The KONDA survey on Human Rights in Turkey, prepared in conjunction with the Swedish NGO Civil Rights Defenders was released last week, coinciding with the anniversary of the passage of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The survey, conducted with 2,402 face-to-face interviewees in 31 provinces in Turkey in September 2021, aimed to show public perceptions of the state of human rights and rule of law in the country.  

The survey showed an interesting dichotomy: While only 21% of people in Turkey were aware there was such a thing as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Turkey is a party, 83% of respondents believed that human rights are granted at birth. This is one of the central tenets of the declaration, demonstrating an inherent understanding in the country of what the charter is meant to protect. 

Some 73% of respondents, across demographic categories, believed that there is a human rights problem in Turkey. They further believe that this is acutely experienced by certain demographic groups – 45% of respondents believed that women experience the most human rights abuses, 30% believe the poor do, and 20% believe Kurdish people do.

When asked what “human rights” meant to them, 26% said it meant equality, 19% believed it meant the right to life, and 18% believed it meant freedom. This shows a stark departure from a similar study conducted in 2012 - then, 33% said it meant freedom, 12% said right to life, and 8% said equality.

Belief in the right to criticize gov't at 84 pct

The vast majority (84%) of respondents to the survey also demonstrated a belief in the inherent right to criticize the government. In line with this, 70% of respondents support the students and professors protesting at Boğazici University in Istanbul for their right to an autonomous educational institution, free of government intervention. An overwhelming 91% of respondents believed that everyone, regardless of identity, deserves a fair trial.

Some 56% of respondents hold the government most acutely responsible for human rights violations, while 32% blame the media. A further 52% of society points to a lack of education as the root cause of human rights violations. The vast majority of respondents believe that no single extant political party in Turkey can solve the human rights issue in the country, but more than half of respondents still believe that responsibility for solving these issues lies with the government. 

Speaking to Deutsche Welle Turkish, General Manager of KONDA, Bekir Ağırdır, said that in recent years many issues based on identity have transformed into ones based on class. The most potent political indicator in Turkey now, he says, is poverty.

“Especially in the last two years, identity and culture-based problems have been replaced by class problems,” Ağırdır said. 

In the lead-up to the 2023 presidential elections, then, this indicates that capturing the vote will rely on contestants’ ability to convince voters they will help to better both their economic and human rights situations. Despite widespread human rights abuses by the government, according to the survey, respondents are still looking for a political solution to these issues. 

“The demand for a solution will create serious pressure in the upcoming elections,” said Ağırdır, “I'm not just talking about changing the government or the president here.” 

Society wants leadership that wants to, once again, can re-establish communal life, rights, norms, and practices, he says. There is still political polarization – 31% of people think there is freedom of expression in Turkey, while 47% think the opposite – but across the spectrum, people are ready for change. They want to tear down the current system and re-establish a new order, but they are not yet sure who they want to do it. 

“When society finds the representative that can [establish this new order], it will strongly stand behind them,” Ağırdır said.