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HomeExpertsCollective Violence and Multiple Equality Politics in Turkey

Collective Violence and Multiple Equality Politics in Turkey

Cuma Cicek*

Despite much discussion, the issue of violence still challenges the boundaries and scope of social research. Concurrently, in Turkey, recent years have seen an increase in various forms of violence, affecting large segments of society, due to dramatic economic and political transformations.

“Multiple Faces of Violence”

Referring to Johan Galtung’s conceptual framework, a prominent figure in conflict resolution and peacebuilding, we can argue that in recent years in Turkey, structural and cultural/symbolic violence has increased, significantly enhancing the risk of direct/physical violence causing bodily, mental, and spiritual harm. Thus, Turkey is becoming a high-risk society.

Galtung primarily associates structural violence with economic exploitation and political oppression. This form of violence, embedded in social relations, stems from regulations that create inequality among communities, religious, and social groups. It operates and reproduces through mechanisms like penetration, stratification, segregation, and marginalization.

Cultural/symbolic violence legitimizes direct and structural violence. It enables these other two forms of violence and operates through various fields and tools like ideology, religion, art, science, law, media, and language. While structural and direct violence are more visible, cultural/symbolic violence is not as apparent.

We can hypothesize a hierarchy among these three types of violence. If we liken it to a pyramid, the broad base is cultural/symbolic violence, followed by structural violence, and the top layer being direct/physical violence.

In Turkey, peace is often discussed in the context of the Kurdish conflict. Despite multiple efforts by political and civil society actors, “negative peace” – the absence of direct/physical violence – remains unattained. The direct/physical violence in the Kurdish area is largely shifted across borders. However, Turkey is on the verge of losing “negative peace” nationwide.

Galtung places power/authority at the center of the social structure that shapes economic and political violence, cultural/symbolic violence, and direct/physical violence. From this perspective, the recent political and economic crisis in Turkey can be seen as a reflection of the restructuring of power/authority.

“Law, Violence, and Sovereignty”

To understand social phenomena, besides Galtung, Walter Benjamin can provide valuable insights. To comprehend transformations, seemingly between the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court but fundamentally about the re-establishment of power/authority, we can turn to Benjamin’s concepts that enable us to consider power/authority, law, and violence together.

Responding to Carl Schmitt, who defined sovereignty as the power to declare a state of exception, Benjamin places violence at the center of sovereignty, defining two types: “law-establishing violence” and “law-preserving violence.” According to Benjamin, who radically critiqued the concept of progress, these structures operate cyclically on “rubble.” Even “revolutions” are like “emergency brakes” on the history train heading towards rubble. Benjamin urges us to distance ourselves from progress narratives, read from the periphery, and focus on the “rubble” upon which the center rises.

During social upheavals, violence “establishes law,” while in relatively stable times, “violence” protects the established law. In countries with intense social conflicts like Turkey, these two forms of violence intermingle, sometimes creating dual or multiple structures.

Turkey has many areas of rubble. One of the largest is the Kurdish area. Recent events can be seen as a transition from a dual to a singular legal or governance system. The form of sovereignty based on an “exceptional state” in the Kurdish area is expanding across the country. The centuries-old “exceptional state experience” in the Kurdish area not only paved the way for today’s “general state” but also enabled it through accumulated knowledge and experience, constructed structures and mechanisms, individual and institutional actors, and, most importantly, political and social culture.

“No justice, no peace!”

The slogan “no justice, no peace!” developed by the Black movement in America during the 1980s aptly summarizes what needs to be done. Hence, while expanding searches for new solutions, it is always beneficial to look at the experiences of different times and places.

Let’s build a bridge between this experience and Galtung’s conceptual framework to detail the issues of justice and peace. According to Galtung, what we need today is positive peace beyond negative peace. Like violence, peace has three states: structural, cultural/symbolic, and direct peace.

The most important is structural positive peace. Structural positive peace requires replacing political oppression with freedom and economic exploitation with equality. It proposes strengthening this through dialogue instead of penetration, integration instead of stratification, solidarity instead of segregation, and participation instead of marginalization. Six key concepts are freedom, equality, dialogue, integration, solidarity, and participation.

Along with structural positive peace, we need cultural/symbolic positive peace. This involves building a culture of peace and replacing the legitimacy of violence with the legitimacy of peace in religion, law, ideology; language, art, science; schools, universities, and media.

By achieving structural and cultural/symbolic peace, we can attain direct/physical peace and establish well-being for ourselves and others in body, mind, and spirit.

“Multiple Equality Politics”

Undoubtedly, achieving structural, cultural/symbolic, and direct/physical peace requires significant social struggle. This necessitates rebuilding social life step by step, patiently, without losing the long-term horizon, in contrast to the urgency dominating oppositional streets.

Here, multiple equality politics can be a good starting point. It’s an approach that doesn’t reduce equality to just the economic sphere, yet doesn’t ignore the weight of economic equality, seeing economic equality in conjunction with social, cultural, administrative, political, and environmental dynamics.

As an example, we can examine Diyarbakir in Turkey, a central focus of ethnic/national inequality protests and calls for a new social contract instead of the Turkish Contract. As I detailed in a previous article, Diyarbakir, one of Turkey’s 30 metropolitan cities, ranks 68th among 81 provinces in terms of socio-economic development.

However, as seen in the map below, Diyarbakir contains significant internal inequalities. This disparity is evident even in the city center alone. In areas like Sur, Suriçi, and old Bağlar, poverty spills onto the streets, while regions like 75 Boulevard and Silvan Road, known as “new Diyarbakir,” exhibit surprising consumption.

Map 1. SEGE-2022 District Research: Diyarbakir[2]

image 16

Looking at the districts, among the 17, Kayapinar and Yenişehir are in the 2nd tier, Sur and Bağlar in the 3rd tier of developed districts. Ergani, Bismis, and Silvan are in the 5th tier, and the remaining ten districts in the 6th tier. Kayapinar, the city’s wealthiest district, ranks 150th among 973 districts, while the poorest, Hazro, ranks 970th, Hani 965th, and Çınar 962nd.

Diyarbakir is just one example. The situation is more dire in other Kurdish cities. Nevertheless, inequality, to varying degrees, dominates all cities and neighborhoods in Turkey.

For instance, in Istanbul, 29 of the 39 districts are in the 1st tier of development, and 10 in the 2nd tier. The city, a hub of Turkish capital, hosts 7 of the top 10 developed districts. Sultanbeyli, its least developed district, ranks 183rd, while Şişli is 1st.

In contrast, in Ankara, Çankaya ranks 2nd among 973 districts, while Bala, a 5th tier developed district, is 725th. İzmir’s most developed district, Konak, is 11th, while Kiraz, a 5th tier district, is 715th.

In Turkey, identity, lifestyle, refugees, religion/sect, and gender issues, among other social fault lines, require resolving conflicts and building social peace. This necessitates a holistic approach that links all these issues and centers resource distribution.

Today, amid an economic crisis leading to massive capital transfer and impoverishment, and intensified searches for a new constitution and legal framework, progress will depend on our ability to envision a new law and build common ground around this vision.

[1] For a more detailed understanding of the invisibility and pervasiveness of cultural/symbolic violence and how it permeates social relations, readers can refer to Barış Ünlü’s “Turkish Contract.” Ünlü provides an excellent example of how cultural/symbolic violence is constructed and operates in ethnic/national and religious/sectarian contexts.

[2] SEGE-2022 District Research data is publicly available online. See Development Agencies General Directorate | Ministry of Industry and Technology of Turkey.

This article was originally published in Birikim Magazine and translated into English by Politurco.

Cuma Cicek is assistant professor in the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences at Mardin Artuklu University, Turkey. He received his PhD from Sciences Po in Paris and has published several books in Turkish.

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