Derya Bayır. Minorities and Nationalism in Turkish Law. Farnham Surrey: Ashgate. 2013, x + 302pp., £ 67.5, 978-1-4094-2007-1.
Minorities and Nationalism in Turkish Law by Derya Bayır provides a nuanced and critical analysis of minority rights and nationalism in Turkey. It argues that the existing legal system in Turkey has failed to manage diversity due to the foundational philosophy of the country (i.e., Turkish nationalism) as nationalist political discourse has dominated the law in regard to the management of diversity. Protection as well as full recognition of minorities in Turkey carries historical anxieties and legacies. In this regard, the book demonstrates the importance of transition from the imperial-state structure of the Ottoman era to the nation-state structure of the Republican era, while emphasizing the changing perceptions of diversity amongst the ruling elites and the emerging consensus about the incompatibility of nation-state with the the notion of minority in Turkey. Most importantly, the book suggests that it is necessary to explore diversity management in Turkey within a historical context in order to uncover significant continuities in state policies towards minorities since the late Ottoman era.
The book is divided into six chapters under two main sections: historical legal developments in Turkey’s minority policies, and legal and conceptual problems of the current Turkish law in regard to minority issues. To analyze diversity and its management in Turkey, the author structures the book around such foundational concepts as nation, nationalism, minority, citizenship, culture, pluralism. Having analyzed these concepts in the introductory chapter, the author also clarifies the arguments of the book and frames the analysis.
Chapter one explores the system of diversity management in the Ottoman era by focusing on the status of minorities and the legal changes on minority rights from the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century. Acknowledging the pluralist nature of the Ottoman empire, the chapter problematizes the dominant perspective in the literature, which links the failure of the diversity management system in the Ottoman era to the challenge posed by nationalist secessionist movements. Alternatively, it suggests taking into consideration the changing mindset of the Ottoman leaders about statehood (i.e., from an empire to a modern nation statehood).
Chapter two focuses on the Independence War between 1919 and 1923. It explores how the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious population inherited from the Ottoman Empire was transformed during the Independence War into Turkish nation-state. The period is critically important due to the emergence of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty on minorities, which determines the status of minorities in Turkey. While focusing on the emergence of Turkish nation-state, the chapter argues that there was an organic connection and continuity between the Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress (Ittihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti – ITC) and Kemalist Turkey in general, as regards the management of ethno-cultural-religious diversity in particular.
Chapter three focuses on ‘the nation-state period’ between 1923 and the 1960s. It argues that similar to the previous ITC regime of the Ottoman era, the new elites of the Turkish nation-state considered diversity as a source of serious tensions and tended to understand diversity as separatism. Considering the pluralist nature of the society as incompatible with the notion of nation-state, Turkish ruling elites thus resorted to policies of Turkification in different realms, including Turkification in culture and language; Turkification of the economy; and Turkification by forced assimilation.
Chapter four examines how the ‘nation’ and ‘citizen’ are defined within the Turkish legislation, and critically analyzes to what extent the Turkish legal framework is inclusive or exclusive of minority rights. In this regard, the chapter reviews a wide range of Turkish legislation, including the current Constitution of the Turkish Republic. Most importantly, the chapter suggests that in contrast to the successive Turkish Constitutions proposing a neutral civic Turkish state equating nationality with citizenship, the current legal and political discourse associates nation and citizenship with the Turkish ethnie, without referring to diversity in the country.
Chapter five and six examine the accommodation of minorities within the Turkish legal system by analyzing the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court (AYM) as the Highest Court of the Land and other Turkish Higher Courts dealing with various issues including equality and anti-discrimination. The role of the AYM is defined as ‘guardianship’ of the Turkish constitution in general and of the principle of the state’s integrity, in particular. Chapter five studies AYM’s case law and the AYM interpretations of the key notions such as ‘nation’, ‘Turkish nation’, and ‘minority’ through various cases, including political party closure cases and the Kurdish question. Chapter six investigates the provisions on equality, non-discrimination and the prohibition of racism in Turkish legislation examining the conceptually innovative nature of these provisions within the Turkish legal discourse and their potential as protective measures for minorities.
Overall, this book provides an insightful, comprehensive and nuanced analysis of minorities and nationalism in Turkey. Its comprehensive content and richness of sources significantly inform the readers on minorities, minority rights, nationalism and most importantly the legal framework on minority rights in Turkey. Considering the limited scope and extent of the literature on minorities and minority rights in Turkey, the book fills an important gap. Yet, focusing only on the legal aspects of the issue limits the potential of an even more comprehensive analysis, which may have equally emphasized the political, economic, social, and cultural aspects of the question of minority. In sum, the book is highly recommended to students interested in minority issues, minority rights, and nationalism in Turkey and its Ottoman predecessor.