As it is known, the streets of France have been burning for the past five days. A protest and violence frenzy, similar to what has been experienced before, has taken hold of many French cities. This situation understandably worries everyone, especially those with democratic sensitivities. Numerous discussions are being held regarding the immigrants who are at the center of these events. Everyone interprets the events from their own perspective and makes inferences. There is no doubt that these events will have a negative impact on the integration of foreign-born individuals in France. Meanwhile, some in Turkey want these events to be seen as an indication of the future problems that refugees coming to Turkey will cause. They say that what is happening in France today could be even worse in Turkey if experienced by refugees. I would like to evaluate Turkey’s historical experiences and accumulation regarding the integration of disadvantaged groups through education.
In this article, I will not seek an answer to the question of whether refugees in Turkey actually pose such a risk, as we do not have enough data to analyze the refugees in Turkey. We don’t even know the exact number of refugees. However, I believe that Turkey’s previous experiences could contribute to the long-term solution of the problem in France, and I intend to examine this. No country is identical to another, and no social/historical event is repeated exactly. That is why we learn from history and make inferences. I request that you read these analyses in the light of these principles.
How was the center-periphery conflict overcome or could it be overcome in the Turkish experience?
In Turkey, a dominant ideology/partially a social class came to power and tried to consolidate it in the Republican era by adhering to certain ideological principles. This group in power has been trying to maintain its dominance through open/closed/military/civil interventions even after the transition to democracy in 1946. Throughout this process, the conservative/right-wing mass representing 70% of Turkey’s population could not find themselves in the state administration and especially in elite bureaucratic positions. Even politicians who came to power through democratic means had to submit to the dominant paradigm, and conservatives faced various obstacles in the bureaucracy. From this perspective, the social tension experienced in Turkey was a center-periphery tension but also had an ideological foundation.
Although the Republic declared that “The Peasant is the Master of the Nation,” it was not possible for the predominantly conservative/religious rural population to assume a position of mastery over the nation. Although the Republic theoretically made all citizens equal on paper, the opportunity to receive education and then rise through various public positions did not occur under equal conditions for people of conservative backgrounds. Especially after the acceleration of migration from rural areas to cities in the post-1960 period, this tension started diversifying with different names and scenarios. The main reason for the chaos was nothing more than the efforts to prevent the conservative majority from coming to power.
These obstacles were indirectly/directly continued throughout the Republican history. For many years, conservatives were hesitant to send their children to secular schools, except for compulsory education. These concerns were initially strong and continued to exist until the 1980s. After the strict secularization of education, families with religious sensitivities generally did not send even their male children to school after primary education. Female children were hardly sent to school at all. On the other hand, a significant portion of these children studying in early Republican schools adopted the dominant ideology of the state. Neither the families nor the conservative circles had organizations and opportunities to support these children. However, over time, these conditions began to change, and especially after the 1950s, children of conservative families started to be able to partially maintain.
It was a dream for young people who graduated from university as religious individuals to occupy influential positions in the public sector. For example, a Constitutional Court member with a headscarf was appointed in the early 1990s, and it caused a major uproar. Over time, the intense pressure caused by migration from rural to urban areas and other dynamics made it increasingly difficult for disadvantaged groups to be embraced by the regime’s supporters. At this stage, new barriers were created to perpetuate these exclusions.
The purging of individuals from public institutions after the ‘May 27, 1960’ coup and in the aftermath of the events, the closure of the middle sections of Imam Hatip schools following the March 12 period, arrests and detentions targeting religious individuals, the exclusion of Imam Hatip graduates from military schools, the expulsion of thousands of individuals from the military and police academies in the post-1980 period – all these can be counted among the manifestations of these exclusions. When girls started attending school, the headscarf ban was introduced as a new instrument, and a major obstruction attempt was initiated based on this.
So how did conservatives overcome these obstacles? How did those in power partially respond to this desire for change coming from the grassroots? How was this conflict, which lasted for a century and still seems unresolved, managed without escalating into violence? An important aspect here is related to the religious profile in Turkey. Religious individuals and religious movements in Turkey have never inclined towards violence or endorsed it. Islamist currents that tended towards violence, influencing religious individuals through translations after the 1970s, also failed to gain significant traction in Turkey for a long time. Therefore, conservative opposition in Turkey has always sought to assert their rights and overcome obstacles within legal boundaries and through societal dynamics. They supported various political parties and attempted to exert influence through them or by using them as a platform.
However, the most significant factor enabling conservatives to have influence in the public and social spheres in Turkey and reducing the center-periphery tension is education. On the one hand, conservative politicians who came to power through a flawed but functioning democracy tried to open the way for bureaucrats they could trust. On the other hand, efforts were made to partially implement the principle of equality of the Republic and allow some talented young people from lower classes to attain influential positions in the public sector. Of course, this was not easy, and it took more than half a century for educated generations from the periphery to reach critical positions in the public sphere. When it was accepted that this change could no longer be prevented by the status quo and the dominant elites, a new scenario emerged. This involved forming alliances with certain religious groups (especially those with political objectives) and sidelining the main players who opposed them in the bureaucracy. The events of July 15 and the subsequent purges were orchestrated for this purpose. However, since this is not the focus of our discussion, I will briefly mention it and move on.
So why did religious individuals in Turkey turn to education with such a strong inclination? Here, the Hizmet Movement appears as an important factor. After the 1980 coup, political activities lost their appeal, and everyone was in search of alternatives. During that period, the Hizmet Movement, which was experiencing rapid development, encouraged education for both men and women and provided significant scholarships and accommodation opportunities for lower-income groups, supporting talented young people in pursuing their education. Hizmet’s dormitories and homes provided a safe and protective environment for male and female students. The encouragement from Hizmet and the widespread establishment of private dormitories and schools, even in districts, also led other religious groups to focus on education. Many groups that previously only approved of religious education started by opening relatively easy and trouble-free institutions such as student dormitories and preschools, and then progressed to establishing middle schools, high schools, and even universities. Among these groups, there were some who felt significant envy and hostility towards Hizmet, but ultimately, they entered the field of education and directed their own bases towards it. Despite the attempts of certain centers within the state who believed they had control, in collaboration with Islamist rulers, to destroy Hizmet’s educational institutions, this wave of education also reached the conservative segment. Furthermore, these activities led secular elites to show special interest in the education of children from lower-income groups.
In the past decade, Turkey has experienced significant setbacks in all areas, including education, and everything has become intertwined, making it difficult to analyze the shifts in social classes. However, considering the period before 2015, Turkey had managed to significantly reduce the center-periphery tension through education and successfully integrated talented young people from lower and lower-middle classes into education and production, contributing to the country’s progress in all fields. Unlike other Muslim-majority countries, Turkey succeeded in raising a generation that was religious and had received a modern education. Although some factions within the state were uncomfortable with this, thanks to perceptive politicians and bureaucrats, these processes could be managed without major crises.
When we look at France, we don’t see any voluntary group or influential social movement that seeks to reach the younger generations who are burning the streets through education. There is a need for hope to break this vicious cycle for children from foreign backgrounds, who are poor and uneducated. Education is the most crucial source of hope. A young person whose life has been changed through education becomes a role model for an entire neighborhood or village and motivates people to channel their energy in that direction. If in France, a trusted and influential group, whether religious or secular, can support the education of these young people from marginalized areas and bring a significant portion of them to universities, then these negative situations will ease and eventually lose their impact. In Turkey, especially after the 1980s, this process turned the country into a regional power and a soft power contributing to peace in the world by nurturing an educated population. Although the attempt to destroy all these educated individuals by some centers within the state was a great misfortune for the country, it should not overshadow the success of this example.
- Prof. Salih Hosoglu is a Turkish medical educator, researcher. Recipient Young Scientist award Electronic Communications Committee Congress, 1998. He is a columnist at TR724.com.