Under the Shadow of Civilizationist Populist Discourses: Political Debates on Refugees in Turkey
by Zeynep Yanaşmayan (Department of Law and Anthropology, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle), Ayşen Üstübici (Koç University, Istanbul) and Zeynep Kaşlı (Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam)
This article explores the extent and limits of anti-immigration discourse in recent political debates in Turkey. Anti-immigrant discourses have been at the heart of exclusionary populisms, where right-wing political actors present immigrants as economic, social and security threats. It is remarkable that this is not yet the case in Turkey, one of the world’s major refugee-receiving countries. Using an original dataset, composed of party programmes, parliamentary records and public statements by presidential candidates in the last two rounds of general and presidential elections between 2014 and 2018, we argue that politicians from both incumbent and opposition parties in Turkey have used the ‘refugee card’ to appeal to the growing social, economic and cultural grievances of their voters but in a rather limited and divergent manner. Debates over migration have oscillated between the Western European right-wing populist perception of ‘threat’ and the pro-Syrian and civilizationist populism of the ruling party that relies on a transnational notion of ‘ummah’.