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HomeThematic issues16Interview with Kemal Kirişçi

Editor's notes

At the time of the interview (February 2012), Kemal Kirisçi (from here on K.K.) was assigned to the Department of International Relations at Boğaziçi University, where he was head of the Center for European Studies. He is a specialist on migration and refugees issues. Nowadays he is based at the Brookings Institution, an American think tank located in Washington, where he is head of the Center on the United States and Europe’s Turkey Project at Brookings.
The interview was conducted by Alexandre Toumarkine (A.T.), transcribed by Christelle Chevallier and reviewed by Nikos Sigalas (N.S.). The transcript w
as reviewed by Kemal Kirişçi.

Full text

A.T. : My first question refers to the concept of demographic engineering which was developed in the United States of the 1990s. What are for you the reasons of the invention of this concept at this particular period and what is its precise meaning ?

K.K. : Let me first of all start with a confession. Engineering or demographic engineering, are two terms I personally feel somewhat uncomfortable with because these are terms that have been and continue to be used in a terribly loose manner. I have yet to come across a definition that would be operational, that would help one to identify in the real world a phenomenon that amounts to social engineering or demographic engineering. But on the other hand, these are two terms that are frequently employed and have also been employed in understanding Turkish politics as well as the politics of the later part of the Ottoman Empire.

If you ask me what I understand of it, I would prefer a much more narrow definition whereby you have state authorities that actually engage in shaping the way a population is located in a country and the actual composition of that population. I think we are familiar with the notion, especially in respect to the turn of the previous century, that is the late 19th century and the early 20th century. It seemed like it was a pretty common practice in the making of new nation states to move people around, to sometimes mix or un-mix people. I think there is a very good book with a similar title. The un-mixing of people occurring often in territories where you have populations from different ethnic and religious cultural backgrounds that become un-mixed because the leaders or the governing elite of a new nation state perceives, defines that lack of homogeneity as a source of threat and insecurity. This is something that the latter days of the Ottoman Empire as well as the early days of the Turkish Republic experienced. But I suppose one could make similar remarks about Bulgaria and Greece next door if not other parts of Europe and beyond Europe.

In your question, you were making references to how this notion of demographic engineering has been adopted by the Americans in the 1990s. I suspect Americans were involved in demographic engineering back in the 19th century as the settled population began to expand westwards in North America. As to the context in which it was used in the 1990s, there I get a little bit puzzled. I suspect it is used maybe in the context of the first half of the 1990s with the war in former Yugoslavia and then in those peace plans that meant to create relatively homogeneous cantons and little statelets within mostly Bosnia-Herzegovina. I am not very familiar with the literature in that respect but I would be tempted to say that social engineering in the way in which it was understood back a hundred years ago, or eighty years ago, has lost its significance today for two reasons : One reason is a legal reason that the kinds of social engineering that was permissible back a hundred years ago, for example exchange of population between newly established states or newly formed states, today is against international law. You can not have two states coming together and amongst themselves agreeing to move around a part of their population. It is a violation of international law. Again under law, it would be a human rights violation if nowadays you tried to move people, especially for political reasons. Yes, when you are building a dam, or roads, sometimes you end up moving villages around but there is again a body of law that governs these issues and I am vaguely familiar that in the European Court of Human Rights there are cases that deal with these issues as people have felt that their property rights or human rights have been violated. So that is the legal aspect.

The political aspect of it is that, compared to a hundred years ago, I think most countries, at least in Europe, have become accustomed to pluralist societies and the norm has become that politics takes place in a pluralistic environment. Some countries are better at this than others. This doesn’t mean that governments cease completely to be concerned about the way their population is composed in terms of national identity, cultural identity. Today in Europe, we see for example, Holland, Britain, not to mention the United States and Australia beyond Europe, adopting policies where a part of the population is required to take exams before they become citizens, or they adopt policies vis-à-vis settled migrants and even second generation migrants who have local citizenship, they introduce policies towards them to kind of nudge them in a direction that they believe would be of preference to the state in terms of security but also to the society in terms of its culture.

This is how I think I would look at this concept of social engineering and demographic engineering.

A.T. : The aspect of international law you mentioned above brings me to another question I would like to ask you. Genocide is as we know a legal concept and also ethnic cleansing acquired a legal dimension through the juridical process following the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. On the other hand, demographic engineering has not always had, as you mentioned above, a legal dimension. Could you comment on the fact that some of the notions referring to violence on populations can or even can not have a legal meaning ?

K.K. : I think there too, the problem is probably the difficulty of defining what exactly social engineering and demographic engineering are. I think genocide and ethnic cleansing are relatively easier terms to define. Or, to put it differently, consensus on what these phenomena constitute is easier to establish than on social engineering and demographic engineering. Let’s take the example of what happened in Turkey during the course of 1990s, according to governmental statistics, if I am not mistaken around 300-400.000 people or Kurds mostly in south east Anatolia were dislocated, primarily as a result of government or action by the State authorities. According to NGOs and other sources, this figure is as high as around one to three million people. Although I think the source of these figures could also point out that a good chunk of those who became dislocated were not necessarily forced or moved out of their houses by the state authorities but by the circumstances prevailing in the region at the time.

Now, the question to ask oneself is : Is this social engineering ? Is this demographic engineering ? What are the circumstances under which this is taking place ? Now if you were to ask the state authorities they would highlight, point out and argue that this is something that is taking place under the emergency rule regulations. And what these emergency rules and regulations say, is that if there is threat to law, order and security of a region the laws that come under emergency rule – and the European Human Rights Convention makes allowance for this – culminates in the suspension of certain basic rights up to a certain period and governed by very specific rules and regulations, this is what they would argue. And I think years later once this forced migration stopped, the Turkish Parliament adopted legislation with the purpose of compensating these people. Yet, there are also in Turkey many who argue that these measures were not solely taken as a function of security concerns, arising from the confrontation between the PKK and Turkish security forces, and that state authorities were also motivated with a desire to change the composition of the population of the region, but I think this is an issue born of contention. It had very important implications and ramifications in terms of politics, law, international relations, not to mention in terms of sociology. In terms of law and international relations for example, you had many people who sought asylum in western European countries, in Germany, in France, in Britain, in Denmark, in Sweden who argued that they were actually victims of persecution and repression – I don’t know if they also used ethnic cleansing – but some of these governments, in some cases did grant refugee status, often they granted refugee status on the basis of the Geneva Convention of 1951. But interestingly, some countries in Europe refrained from granting fully-fledged refugee status and argued that these people could seek protection elsewhere in the country, in Turkey, in the western part of Turkey or in Istanbul, etc. It is a very ambiguous question in Turkey ; its political consequences were that large number of people from south-eastern Anatolia ended up migrating to Adana, Mersin, Antalya, Istanbul, Izmir, impacting on the social, cultural and political composition of these areas too. And if you just look at the last electoral results it is easy to confirm this, or the election before that. Why am I raising this ? I am raising this because I suspect I am trying to put myself in the shoes of the authorities who might have introduced these measures in a manner that is similar to the 1920s and 1930s. I think I am trying to see if they may have thought along those lines when thinking about these measures and introducing these measures. If they did, I would think that they may well have fallen short of what their predecessors back in 1920s and 1930s may have wished to achieve. What was it that they had wished to achieve back in the 1920s and the 1930s : to create through this notion of social or demographic engineering a homogenous national identity for Turkey. Whereas today we look at the political scene in Turkey and it would be very difficult to argue that as a result of the forced movement of people or internal displacement in the 1990s, Turkey has become a more homogenous society. Did they wish to achieve this and ended up failing, or was this consideration only a minor aspect of what they were trying to do and their primary concern was, as they tend to claim, solely security ? Security is something very difficult to establish. The tendency, it seems, for state authorities is to argue that these measures were introduced under exceptional circumstances in an effort to ensure security in a certain region, but then there are groups, NGO’s, associations, political movements, and even political parties who argued that no, security may have been a reason but there also was the objective of social engineering, demographic engineering in inverted commas, if you like.

A.T. : By questioning the affiliation that could exist between the forced displacements that took place in Eastern Anatolia and the demographic politics that followed in the preceding decades or even earlier, you created a link to the next question I wanted to ask you. So, I would like to expand on the issue of the continuity of demographic practices. There is a tendency today, or at least a number of researchers who work on demographic practices focusing on forced population displacements towards the end of the Ottoman empire and the period of the Republic using the term demographic engineering or closely related terms, argue for the existence of an uninterrupted political will and state action that aims to homogenise the population, which is to turkify them. In other words, this group of people believes that there is a strong continuity on the level of objectives and methods from the Young Turks – to be more precise for some of them this starts from Abdülhamid – to the recent history of the Republic. In your research on the migration policies of the Turkish Republic between the 1930s and 1950s you have underlined the stark difference between discourses and practices. Do you regard this as something contradicting the above stance of continuity, at least as far as migration policy is concerned ?

K.K. : I think with some confidence one ought to be able to say that in the minds of some officials, there certainly is a continuity between the practices that you are referring to and what they may have been engaged in in the 1990s, in the sense that you may have had very specific officials, high ranking officials implicated in taking these decisions who were able in their minds, to establish a relationship between the practices of the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish Republic. And they may actually have also been thinking that the Turkish Republic was facing threats, security threats to what they called devlet’in bekası (the continuity of the state), as was the case back in the 1920s and the 1930s. I mean, I can not show the evidence for it but I am with decent probability suspecting that this would have been the case. There would also have been officials who would have been addressing the question at hand : given the circumstances, given the exigencies of the time, the legal tools and the administrative aspects of it, knowing what the Turkish law today says, knowing what the European Convention on Human Rights is saying. I suspect for example officials from the Turkish Foreign Ministry would primarily be among these people. I would think that people maybe in the judiciary may have been amongst these people while people in the military, people in the Interior Ministry may have been closer to thinking like the first group of officials. This is speculation I am doing here. I am confident – through these years, I have had occasions to refer and talk about these things – that there was also a third group consisting of officials, members of Parliament who would have been thinking in the 1990s, at a time when Turkey was aspiring to also join the European Union at some point, to improve its democracy etc, that these ‘20s and ‘30s practices somehow can not be reconciled with those goals. Think about, for example, the 1991 elections and the way in which a group of Kurdish nationalist politicians were brought on board into the Turkish Parliament. Of course things deteriorated three years later and Leyla Zana and her colleagues had their immunities suspended and ended up in jail. I would think that the people who would have opened the way for Kurdish nationalists to come into the Parliament must have been people belonging to this third group who were saying “Yes, we have a security problem here, but at the end of the day, beyond the security problem there is also a political problem ; a political problem that can no longer be addressed with the tools of the 1920s and 1930s”. These people lost in 1993. And the measure of these people loosing was Tansu Çiller basically turning around and saying to the military “This is your problem, you solve it”. From 1993 to 1995 is the period when the military mounted a major struggle against the PKK. Time precludes us from going into the stages and details of this strategy. But we must not forget that in the beginning of this period the PKK was almost ruling (controlling) the cities and the towns. There were actually cities and towns in south-eastern Anatolia were you could not for example buy Cumhuriyet or Milliyet or Hürriyet because the PKK would ban it. There were also cities and towns where the PKK was running its own courts and levying taxes. Tansu Çiller turning to the military and giving this task over to security people, I suppose may have given the upper hand to those who might have been in the first category of people who would have seen a continuity from the 1920s and 1930s.

  • 1 Türkiye’de Ülke içinde Yerinden Edilme Sorunu: Tespitler ve Çözüm Önerileri, Istanbul, TESEV, 2005 (...)

However, with the PKK being forced into northern Iraq and eventually leading up to Öcalan being caught and taken to court, the situation in Turkey began to transform itself very quickly, and by the late 1990s I am tempted to say that you began to have people who were increasingly looking at these issues from the perspective of that third group of officials and members of Parliament. And at that juncture the European Union came into the picture as well, and we entered a period of reform whereby the very legal norms and values that I made references to earlier on began to acquire a greater weight and I think roughly that has been the case so far. In that context it is very interesting that the Parliament came to adopt a piece of legislation for compensating what they called victims of terrorism but also in ensuring those who wanted to go back to their villages (köye dönüş). The Turkish think tank TESEV (Türkiye Ekonomik ve Sosyal Etüdler Vakfı) has a very good report on the implementation of this law which shows clearly that that law falls short from achieving its objectives1. You could again raise the question : “Why did the law fail to achieve its objectives ?” It may be partly because officials who belong to that first group of thinkers, those who see a threat, those who emphasize homogenisation at the bureaucratic level, at the administrative level, would have tried to hinder the implementation of that law. It is quite possible, though it is very difficult to say. And then, another reason for falling short of an ideal implementation of the law may have resulted from a complex set of reasons. One set of reasons may have had to do with administrative capacity and capability of responding to the challenge. Let’s take a step back. This is the 1990s and early 2000’s, a period when the Turkish economy is not doing particularly well, and you have a huge budget deficit and there is a competition for rare resources. As that competition unfolds itself who is going to prevail ? Is it the ones who are arguing that this law should be implemented, lock, stock and barrel the objective achieved, or is it a situation where some form of a modus vivendi, of a compromise deal is struck, where a little bit of that law is implemented and other resources go to a completely different implementation of different laws and regulations. I think one needs to take into consideration this phenomenon, that is, this competition for rare resources, and also administrative and bureaucratic difficulties, the capacity issues when one is dealing with social and demographic engineering to start with. I think this problematic or this phenomenon applied also to those officials of the 1920s and 1930s who were looking at social and demographic engineering as a tool to form a nation, to formulate a national identity, but came to realize that to advocate something is one thing and to try to implement it is another thing.

Coming back to why the law may have not been completely successful, we have also to consider the fact that once the people have moved out of their villages, a good proportion of them chose not to return, not because they were prevented or arrested, but because they became accustomed to continuing life in urban centres at a time where the world at large is urbanising, or is under a kind of ‘global demographic engineering’. Globalisation is forcing you into the cities.

A.T. : Let me address a different question to you. Our impression is that to a degree the notion of demographic engineering, whether it regards the later Ottoman Empire or the Turkish Republic, is always in a latent rapport with the Armenian genocide, which constitutes a kind of background, a paradigm let’s say, for all the research on violence on minority population.

K.K. : Yes. You know, to try to make a bridge between an attempt on my part to try to respond to what you are saying and the earlier section, let me highlight one more issue that seems very important to me. Social engineering of the kind we have in mind from the 1920s and 1930s in Turkey, and of the kind, let’s say, in Nazi Germany, in Bulgaria of the 1980s and today’s Bulgaria, Germany or Turkey, there is a huge difference. And that difference is the difference between a political system that is reasonably plural, in which there are different political parties competing with each other, composed socially, ethnically, culturally very heterogonous entities. Where I think to try to attempt such a social engineering politically would become very difficult. I try to think of the 1990s. Even in the worst days of the 1990s in Turkey in the sense of violence in south-east Anatolia and even in the worst days of the 1990s where talking about Kurds, Kurdish identity or political solution to Kurdish identity, was tantamount publicly to committing treason. We know that there were Kurdish MPs in the Turkish Parliament. They may not have been members of radical Kurdish nationalist parties but they were members of ANAP or Doğru Yol parties. And in the corridors of the Parliament, in the restaurants, wherever they are making policy, I am sure they would be bringing up the issue of, you know, “what’s going on here?, these are the laws and the regulations here, we need to be careful, we need to watch out how far we are going and what we are doing.” That is the dynamics of the 1990s which I think today in Turkey in 2007 or 2008 is much more pluralist even if we may have all kinds of problems and disputes about Turkey’s pluralism. The 1920s and 1930s are a very different environment, not only in Turkey but in Europe at large. How many countries in Europe then would be qualifying as a democracy of the kind that we have today. Turkey was a single party regime. It might not have been of the kind of regime we had in the 1930s in Germany or Hungary or in Spain after Franco, but nevertheless it is a single party regime and dominant ideology is also clearly one emphasizing homogeneity and is a regime that has come out from a certain experience as a function of the wars preceding the First World War and the war itself. So security-wise, they would be very jittery, and politically they are also an extension of what existed roughly in Europe with the exception maybe of France, Belgium, England, Denmark, the Scandinavian countries. I think we need to make this huge difference ; we need to recognize that difference.

Now, coming to your specific question, having tried to highlight this distinction, the so-called social engineering of the 1920s and 1930s, I think would have been heavily influenced by the experience of the preceding 10-15 years, which also includes the Armenian massacres or genocide, whatever you would like to call it. But one has also to recognize that what happen to the Armenians happened in the mid of the WWI, and as it was happening sometimes this seems to get forgotten, it is happening at a time when so called imperialist powers, France, Britain, the Anzacs etc. are in Gelibolu in March 1915 and are assaulting to break through to reach Istanbul, or Constantinople at the time. And their ally, Russia, is mounting an attack from the East. I think those circumstances where very exceptional circumstances and the circumstances that prevailed in the 1920s and the 1930s were different ; however, the circumstances in 1915 would have been weighing heavily on the decision makers of the 1920s and 1930s. Why ? Because I think they roughly came from a similar political movement, a movement that is highly concerned about saving the State, and building a nation state of the kind of the other nation states that would have been built in the vicinity.

Now, let me try to tie it to the remark I made earlier one that is the difference between the 1920s and 1930s in Turkey and the 1990s, not to say the Turkey of today. Just as, I think, there is a huge difference that one must acknowledge and bring into one’s analysis when one is addressing this question of social engineering, I think one has also to make a difference between the 1910s in the Ottoman Empire and the 1890s. I would argue that the Ottoman Empire, up to the 1880s, 1890s and maybe up to 1913, is not one to one similar to the 1990s but at least an imperial environment, a very heterogeneous environment where the political culture of the time is still accustomed to the fact that when they walk into the Parliament when it briefly existed in 1876 and then a little bit later on, they would have a Jewish MP next to them and on the other side an Arab Muslim or an Arab Christian and a Kurd or an Albanian, and they would be also very accustomed that in the administration they are working in there would be all kinds of cultures and identities, that is, very imperial. I think this would not have been very different in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire as well. In the minds and in the machination of these people, to think in term of genocide, I don’t know, it might not have been. I am not that much of an expert to be able to conclusively say something about it. But when you come to the First World War, I think the circumstances have changed, the political culture has changed, the leadership has changed or at least a part of the leadership has changed. And the leadership of the 1920s and 1930s is a leadership that came from those circumstances, I don’t know if some of them may have been implicated in the Armenian massacres first hand, they might have been, you know it is not my area of specialisation, but it is very clear that in the 1920s and 1930s of this region, meaning Turkey, Bulgaria, Russia, Greece, Yugoslavia, to think in terms of social engineering was not unusual. Not the Middle East interestingly, the Middle East had not gone in that area yet, but it is the world, let’s say the “modern world”. But in between laws changed, norms changed, and then the Holocaust occurred, and in 1948 was the adoption of the Convention on genocide.

A.T. : Thank you. The last question addresses whether we have to analyse the State migration policy conceived as a consistent project, or, on the contrary, to stress the plurality of state actors. Here we are referring first to the interactions within the state apparatus, but also to the discrepancy between projects, decisions and applications, and finally to another interaction, between state and society.

K.K. : Not only the interaction between state and society, but also between state and international community ; and not only the public sphere, but also the norms.

I think this pluralism issue I have made references to maybe here what I ought to address is whether Turkey of today has a migration policy. I would argue that Turkey of today has no migration policy. Did Turkey of the past have migration policy ? Yes, I think certain Turkeys of the past had migration policies, in the plural sense of the word. The Turkey of the 1920s and 1930s had a migration policy, otherwise you could not explain the 1934 İskan kanunu (Settlement Law), you would not be able to explain the law that preceded it in 1925, not to mention the one from the Ottoman times. But the circumstances were very different ; it was a time where social engineering, by design or by default, was taking place in the whole of the Balkans, not to mention Eastern Europe. In other words, by design Turkey and Greece were coming together and saying we are going to exchange population ; Turkey and Bulgaria were doing that ; Bulgaria and Greece were doing that ; Turkey and Romania were doing that ; Turkey and Yugoslavia were coming and sitting down and signing agreements. The Greek-Turkish case was a bit exceptional because it was a forced exchange, migrants did not have choice, but the other agreements made it possible to move between countries a bit more voluntarily. I believe these policies had a clear distinct social engineering dimension clearly aimed at nation-building. Actually, a close reading of the İskan kanunu and especially the debate at Turkish Parliament during the drawing up and the adoption of the İskan kanunu is, in that respect, extremely telling and revealing. For example the then-interior minister of the time, Şükrü Kaya, when tabling the draft law openly said that this law aimed to “create” a citizen that the Turkish state would not need to fear or suspect. One could not think of a more obvious effort then what such a statement captures.

However, the actual implementation of the law is an entirely other experience. Köy Hizmetleri Müdürlüğü is a fascinating bureaucracy in Turkey that, I think, now has been closed down, and is mostly remembered for building fountains and roads and bringing electricity to villages. In the past its tasks were the settling of migrants from abroad and internal resettlement. The implementation of the law and the accompanying social engineering project would very much depend on this bureaucracy’s abilities and capacity. They certainly were limited. Talking about capacity, let me give you an example that I can at least vaguely recall. In context of İskan kanunu, there was a lot of concern about bringing people, especially Turkish-speaking immigrants from the Balkans but also from within Turkey, and settling them in parts of Turkey where Turkish was not spoken or was very weak. And they would for example bring Turkish-speaking Bulgarians or groups from Yugoslavia and settle them along the Euphrates River, give them land, give them agricultural tools including seeds. The expectation was very much that the settlers would hopefully help to assimilate the Kurds of these regions into a Turkish identity, sort of make Turks out of them. That was the theory of it. Yet, the practice was somewhat different. I shall never forget, a couple of years ago, one judge or prosecutor telling me how one of his fascinating experiences in the mid-1990s working in Menemen or some Aegean town who had to deal with the case of one person who had property along the Euphrates. The judge or prosecutor told me how he could not understand the link between this person and this plot of land along the Euphrates River. It was a total revelation to him when I explained that the state back in the 1930s had this practice of locating migrants from the Balkans in this region but that often after 5-10 years these people failing to adjust to the environment would just pick up their suitcases and come and settle in western Anatolia. Where did the grander objective of social engineering to create a homogenous Turkish national identity go ? Well, if you wish, it floated down the Euphrates into the Gulf in many ways.

  • 2 The Collection of Turkish Jurisprudence on Asylum, Refugees and Migration, Geneva, UNHCR, 2000.
  • 3 Soner Çagaptay, Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is Turk?, London / New York (...)

I think this is a good example of objectives versus reality. I just gave you a book2 which has the Turkish jurisprudence on migration, and in there, there are fascinating cases of how the Turkish state is chasing after, in this case, Gypsies who were, if I remember correctly, located I think in Izmir, they settled there in Izmir, but they had run away and gone back to the Mersin-Adana region, and Ankara is sending an instruction to the valilik of Adana : “Go and find these guys, take them back by the ears (“yakalayın kulaklarından”) and take them back to Izmir.” Now imagine the valilik of the 1930s with what must have been very limited resources and capabilities and many other pressing issues having to go after these people, locate them, find the resources to put them on a train and send them back to Izmir. I would not be surprised if to do all this might have not been a major priority on their “things to do list” even if they wished it. There are a lot of such cases where objectives and implementation did not always match. Soner Çağaptay’s book3 has also very fascinating concrete examples of the Ankara Emniyeti (Security Directorate) sending instructions to distant provinces and saying “go and find this guy and bring him back”, or saying “we have just discovered that this guy has some suspect ethnic background and must be removed from his job as a teacher”. İskan kanunu has also an internal leg to it. And that part of it is about also social engineering and unmixing people and remixing them so that you generate this Turkish identity. So, to cut a long story short, I think in the 1920s and 1930s there was clearly migration policy. But when we come to the 1950s and the 1960s, I think that migration policy based on design started to take a different form and become a migration policy by default, meaning you have migration taking place and you are trying to respond to it. What is it ? It is migration from rural areas to urban areas. Was it designed ? It was not designed at all. Did the Menderes government build roads to encourage migration ? No. They built roads but they ended up with migration on their hands. The Menderes government encouraged modernization. Did they start to build tractor factories for agriculture ? They did. What was the out product of it with the arrival of tractors into the rural areas : Unemployment increased and people began to migrate into the urban centres. There is migration by default and the state tries to respond to it but from what I gather, not very successfully.

  • 4 Nermin Abadan-Unat, Turks in Europe: From Guest Worker to Transnational Citizen, Oxford / New York, (...)

In the 1960s, I would argue, here comes again migration policies by design. But this is in interaction with West Germany, with Holland, with France and a couple of other countries who say : “we have a shortage of labour, you have abundance of labour” and “not only have I had an abundance of labour, I am also undeveloped and would like to develop”. So let’s design a scheme, let’s ship these people to West Germany and let them become skilled and come back. That was the design, but that design went partly to failure because it was meant to be temporary. The so called “Gastarbeiter” were meant to go to European countries temporarily and would in due course return to Turkey. That was what Turkey, West Germany and the others expected. Instead the migration process acquired a life of its own and something completely different evolved from it as these migrants not only stayed on but also brought more and more of their families to Europe. Many became citizens while many also failed to integrate into their host societies provoking a range of societal problems4.

When we come to the 1980s and 1990s a completely different picture emerges with respect to migration. There is again massive migration that is taking place, I would say overwhelmingly by default. The old traditional type of migration is continuing for economic reasons, urbanisation and globalization as well. But on top of it there is a huge migration that is taking place as a result of security problems in south-eastern Anatolia. I would argue that part of it was by design. And that is what we talked about at the very beginning of this interview. But the two thirds of it at least was by default that these people felt insecure, the economy was not doing well and we know how migration goes by chain, one goes and the other follows. So 1990s, I would say, it is partly designed and we can argue whether it was social engineering or it was migration designed for security reasons that, at least on paper, was supposed to take place in context of norms and regulations of the European Convention on Human rights. These standards were set in the 1950s and the 1970s. How did it evolve ? It evolved in a different direction. Those norms and regulations were not respected and met. Why they were not met or respected ? I think partly because of capacity, but partly maybe – this is what I was trying to say earlier on – there were officials who were implementing that migration policy by design with the thoughts of the 1920s and 1930s with, let’s say, social engineering concerns in mind. But that one failed because of the circumstances and context of it.

Maybe lastly, there is another migration policy that is just beginning to emerge. It is there, you will also find a bit of it in Diyanet (Presidency of Religious Affairs), Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı (Ministry of Education), Başbakanlık (Prime Ministry) you will also find a bit of it in the Turkish Foreign Ministry and you find a tiny bit of it in the form of a report of the Turkish Parliament towards the Turkish migrants in western Europe, in Germany. The issue has to do with assisting their integration into their host societies in Europe, also whether they can come and vote here in Turkey, their language education…but this is not a coherent whole, it is bits and pieces there, it has not really been brought together. One may be one last very important development is the way in which Turkey in the last decade or so is increasingly transitioning from a country of emigration towards a country of immigration. It would be interesting to study whether how much of this is design and how much of it is by default and what this would mean in terms of the conscious social engineering efforts of the 1930s to construct a homogenous national identity in Turkey.

A.T. : Thanks a lot.

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1 Türkiye’de Ülke içinde Yerinden Edilme Sorunu: Tespitler ve Çözüm Önerileri, Istanbul, TESEV, 2005 (Doç. Dr. A. Tamer Aker, Yrd. Doç. Dr. A. Betül Çelik, Dilek Kurban, Doç. Dr. Turgay Ünalan ve Yrd. Doç. Dr. H. Deniz Yükseker).

2 The Collection of Turkish Jurisprudence on Asylum, Refugees and Migration, Geneva, UNHCR, 2000.

3 Soner Çagaptay, Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is Turk?, London / New York, Routledge, 2006.

4 Nermin Abadan-Unat, Turks in Europe: From Guest Worker to Transnational Citizen, Oxford / New York, Berghahn Books, 2011.

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Electronic reference

Kemal Kirişçi, « Interview with Kemal Kirişçi », European Journal of Turkish Studies [Online], 16 | 2013, Online since 10 December 2013, connection on 09 May 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Kemal Kirişçi

The Brookings Institution
Center on the United States and Europe’s Turkey Project

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