Dr. Evren Altınkaş graduated from the International Relations Department of Dokuz Eylül University. Healtınkas received postgraduate degrees from King’s College London in 2000 and Dokuz Eylül University in 2003 where he studied on the issue of Cyprus. He obtained his doctoral degree from Dokuz Eylül University in 2011 based on his dissertation comparing the development of the concept of intellectuals in Europe and in Turkey. He worked as an Assistant Professor in Avrasya University (2012-2013), Artvin Coruh University (2013-2014) and Girne American University (2014-2015). Altınkaş has several published articles in academic journals and book chapters. His research areas are Middle Eastern History, Turkish Politics, Comparative History, International Law, Cyprus problem and Intellectual History. He is currently continuing his academic research as an independent scholar.

CHANGINGTURKEY: Could you inform our readers about your recent and forthcoming publications? What are the main arguments that you defend in your recent works?

My recent work concentrates on the role of social media in the development of new politics. One of the objectives of this study is to develop a theory of “social media as a fifth force in politics”, by focusing on the concept of social media with an emphasis on “the sphere where public meet and organize”. The traditional conceptualization of the forces in politics is counted as “legislative, executive and judiciary”, with a popular addition of “media” as the fourth force, since it serves mainly as a mediator between the government and the people. Etymologically, it is easier to describe televisions, newspapers and radios as “mediators” between the people and the government as they transmit messages from one to the other. People use media as a channel to reach out to the government and express their demands, views and comments about governmental policies. Also, the government uses media to inform people about its new policies, regulations and actions. But, with the intensification of social media and Internet, we are witnessing the emergence of a new sphere where people from different parts of the country and the world can interact and even develop a general and shared attitude. This is something completely different from “public sphere” or “public opinion” in its nature. New media, social media and online networking services like Twitter and Facebook for instance have allowed a big number of individuals to organize and discuss social change completely outside the borders of a nation. Just like Gutenberg’s Bible first brought literacy to the masses, social media has brought the power of self-organization to people on a transnational basis.

I discussed the main tenets of social media emerging as a new force in domestic and international politics in my opinion paper published by the 21st Century Turkey Institute. For instance, the Immigration Law issued in France and in some other EU countries have gradually caused a decrease in the amount of skilled migrants from North Africa to EU countries, and those skilled university graduates who have organized through social media were actually the main dynamics behind the Arab Spring.

The Occupy movement is another example. What began in New York City has spread to cities across the United States and to the rest of the world. While protests against monetary policy spring up from time to time, the fact that these spread out movements have all decided to unite under the banner of the “Occupy” movement speaks volumes for the effects of social media and the Internet. In fact, many in the Occupy movement point to Egypt as their inspiration, which is even more astonishing for a number of reasons. One is the massive income disparity among protestors in Cairo and those in New York. While relative income in these nations is vastly different, citizens in both Egypt and the United States similarly protest their national elites in their respective nations. Another obvious reason that such a connection is astounding is because of the very nature of having protests in countries that are so far away from each other. It can easily be said that this is not the first time citizens in one locale, having heard of protests in another land, have been inspired to do the same, but in no other time in history, can such communication of revolution be accessed instantly by both parties.  Now, as Embassies across the world are monitoring Twitter accounts and informing one another of various calls for protest, the power (at least the power of first-access to information) has shifted in favor of the people. The important distinctive character of social media from public sphere and public opinion is the possibility of participation in social media from all parts of a society, including even the government officials. A very recent example in Turkey, the Gezi Park Protests showed us that social media was able to cause a lot of problems for national government. Turkish Prime Minister named social media as a “trouble” while criticizing its role in the organization of protests. But, interestingly, the Turkish Prime Minister, the Mayor of the Istanbul, the Mayor of Ankara and many officials from the government have all used social media as a tool to eradicate the effects of Gezi Park protests on public opinion.

It is very important to analyze the role of social media as a political force in society, which helps to improve the democracy. As Aristotle put it thousands of years ago, “democracy” is the corrupt form of the “polity”. Aristotle said that people who cannot rule themselves directly consider “democracy” as the only viable form of governance, which in turn leads to corrupt forms of leadership and government. In our modern world, direct democracy is almost impossible with some exceptions in certain Swiss cantons. Yet, with the help of social media and its role in letting people express their ideas directly to their peers and to officials who are also members of this huge network; it may be possible for people to have a chance to rule themselves directly. This process may start with criticizing some negative aspects about parliamentarian democracy and end with criticizing the “elected” parliamentarians who content themselves by voting for the Bills according to the will of their party leaders instead of the people.

Overall, my research aims to underline the importance of “people” in politics, with a specific reference to the rising role of social media both in society and in political life. The project has two dimensions: One is a comparison among Egypt, Turkey and other parts of the world where social media was used as a very effective tool to organize social movements, and the second dimension of my research is a historical comparison between the rise of “public sphere” as an area of social involvement – and inclusion into the political system with a chance of directly affecting the decision-makers – and the current role of social media which has the same effect in a direct or indirect manner.

CHANGINGTURKEY: What are the potential limitations of the existing analyses on Turkish politics and society, in your opinion? Could you suggest any gaps in the literature or any potential pitfalls?

In my opinion, one of the most important limitations we face while studying Turkish politics and society is a lack of objectivity. Competing tendencies that either accept or reject the Ottoman tradition in Turkish politics and history bring a huge problem. Turkish academia is highly polarized. For instance, in one of my publications, namely, “Intellectuals in the Early Republican Era: Elites of the Founding Ideology” (Article published at the refereed journal of CTAD, Year 7, Issue 14, Fall 2011) I used the term of “Kemalism” to define the ideology which predominated the early Republican era. Because of this, I have received criticisms from some prominent academics that using that term was too ideological. On the other hand, when I published another article on Ottoman intellectuals claiming that the intellectual tradition of the Ottoman era had huge impacts on Turkish intellectuals, a new set of criticisms I received was mainly about my emphasis on Ottoman intellectuals, which was seen by some other prominent academics as a praise to Ottomans and therefore unacceptable. When we look at the literature, the gap can be summarized as the combination of such disagreements I have tried to explain above. A detailed research on the sociological structure of Turkey needs to be conducted as we generally do not have much idea about sociology, traditions, family relations of Turkish “gemeinschaft” –following the conceptualization of Tönnies.

CHANGINGTURKEY: What is the best manuscript(s) you’ve read on Turkish politics and society so far? Could you suggest our readers any Turkey-focused research you have found valuable?

As a scholar of Turkish politics and history, I consider two manuscripts as particularly important. These may sound very familiar to your readers: Feroz Ahmad’s “The Making of Modern Turkey”, and Erik J. Zürcher’s “Turkey: A Modern History”.

Following the ‘Changing Turkey in a Changing World’ initiative of sharing historical documents with our readers, we are delighted to publish below a confidential correspondence authored by the British ambassador to the Ottoman empire (Sir Gerard Lowther) in 1908 about the latest developments in Anatolia with a special emphasis on the rise of tensions among Kurds, Armenians and Turks in various cities, including, Van, Bitlis, Konya, Kayseri, Adana.

The tensions were particularly linked to the municipal elections in Kayseri which resulted in the election of eight Armenians to two Turks. “This happened by the massing of the Armenian vote, given through the council of the church, for certain particular people, while the Turks, who have 400 votes to 180, spread their votes over a greater number of candidates and, as an absolute majority elects, were largely defeated”.

The report was sent to the British Foreign Secretary of the time, Sir Edward Grey. 

Source:  British National Archives

Document Reference: CAB-37-96-146





Excerpt from Mehmet Ozkan & Serhat Orakci (2015) ‘Viewpoint: Turkey as a “political” actor in Africa – an assessment of Turkish involvement in Somalia’, Journal of Eastern African Studies, 9:2, 343-352, DOI: 10.1080/17531055.2015.1042629

The crisis of food security in Somalia in 2011 prompted an increase in Turkish involvement in Eastern AfricanRJEA_I_09_02_COVER_RJEA_I_09_02 politics. Initially started as a humanitarian response, Ankara’s policy has evolved into a fully fledged Somalia policy with political and social dimensions. This article discusses the role and influence of Turkey in efforts bringing stability to Somalia. It is argued that Turkey’s Somalia policy, as far as it has succeeded in short term, has not only located Turkey as a “political” actor in Africa but also expanded Turkey’s Africa policy into a more complex and multifaceted one. As such, Turkey’s experience in Somalia will have significant implications for its broader African agenda.

Between 2002 and 2014, Turkey increased the number of Turkish embassies on the continent from 12 to 39. Turkey’s official aid for Africa’s regional development surpassed increased from $3.8 million in 2004 to nearly $250 million in 2012.12 The growing presence of Turkish NGOs contributed to these improvements and has paved the way for Turkey’s future commitment to the continent. However, some view Turkey as concerned mostly with its own economy and industries, and many associate Turkey with a selfinterested approach to trade.13 For this reason, many African countries have been suspicious of Ankara’s maneuvers over the past decade.14 However, developments in recent years have signaled a new phase in the Turkish–African relationship, characterized by enhanced collaboration not only in Africa but also in the global arena.15 For example, South Africa and Turkey recently developed a relationship of close cooperation and introduced new dialogue mechanisms.16

The following recent developments further illustrate the depth of Turkish involvement in Africa. Turkey–Africa trade volume increased sixfold, from $3 billion dollars in 2000 to almost $23 billion dollars in 2012.17 The Turkish state organization Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) opened offices in Ethiopia, Sudan, Senegal, Somalia, Kenya, and Tunisia. Turkish Airlines introduced new flights to destinations in Africa, including Accra, Darussalam, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Khartoum, Addis Ababa, Lagos, and Mogadishu. Official Turkish delegations continue to visit Africa, and Turkey has hosted a variety of African delegations. Business unions have visited African countries and established new trade links. The Directorate for Religious Affairs (Diyanet) invites Muslim religious leaders from Africa to Istanbul for consultation every four years, and recently many Turkish universities have launched African research departments. It seems likely that Turkey’s involvement in Somalia will bolster its cooperation with other African countries and institutions…

Turkey has delivered around $500 million in aid to Somalia through its developmental and humanitarian projects.35 About 500 Turks are estimated to be based in Somalia. Turkey has reconstructed the Mogadishu airport, built schools, and constructed a 200-bed hospital in the capital. The Turkish General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works (DSI) has been digging wells, while TIKA renovated the old parliament building and constructed a road between the Mogadishu Airport and the city center. Turkey has also donated garbage trucks for Somalia’s waste management project. The Turkish Red Crescent (KIZILAY) has been supporting a refugee camp for 15,000 people. Some 1600 Somali students of different ages have received scholarships to attend Turkish schools.36

Diyanet is distributing copies of the Quran, sending local Imams to Turkey for training, and repairing ruined Somali mosques. In the capital, the Turkish Ministry of Health in cooperation with TIKA now runs the biggest hospital complex of Somalia, and Turkish health professionals and surgeons visit Mogadishu on rotation to train the Somalis in medical practice. Turkish Airlines (THY) has introduced direct flights from Istanbul to Mogadishu, in an effort to connect Somalia more closely with Turkey and the rest of the world. The Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) coordinates transportation of construction and humanitarian materials between Istanbul and Mogadishu.

Many Turkish NGOs have been active in the country, especially in central and southern Somalia. Turkish NGOs have circumvented restrictions on foreign organizations by working with local Somalia NGOs to deliver aid and implement their projects in distressed areas, or in some cases coordinated their projects from their headquarters in Turkey. Doctors Worldwide took over operations at a new, advanced hospital in Mogadishu.37 The IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation is in the process of building the biggest orphanage complex on the Horn of Africa. The IHH has taken up the cause of Somali agriculture, and it has built wells and constructed irrigation channels to provide clean drinking water and increase agricultural capacity.38 Yardım Eli is building a 100-bed children’s hospital39 in Mogadishu, while Deniz Feneri runs another 10-bed hospital40 in the capital and is constructing an education center for women. Cansuyu offers projects for orphaned Somalis and is constructing a school.41 The Islamic identity of Turkish NGOs was essential to their ability to deliver humanitarian aid in 2011. On several occasions, Imams affiliated with al-Shabaab have criticized Turks as Western invaders in disguise, and the group has attacked Turkish interests multiple times since 2011.42 However, Turks have only rarely been targeted in violence by other Somali groups.43 Moreover, while al-Shabaab forbids foreign groups entry into its domains under militia control, it did permit Turkish NGOs to provide humanitarian relief through their local Somali partners. This privilege enhanced the status of Turkish NGOs in Somalia and may have indicated improvement in al-Shabaab’s attitude toward Turkey.44 As a result, Turkey was able to coordinate humanitarian projects with greater success than other countries.


  1. See Hasimi, “Turkey’s Humanitarian Diplomacy and Development Cooperation”.
  2. See Farrell, “Understanding Turkish involvement in Somalia”.
  3. See Ozkan, “A Post-2014 Vision for Turkey-Africa Relations”.
  4. Especially development of relations between Turkey and South Africa can be considered as this sort since 2010.
  1. “Güney Afrika vizesi kalkıyor”, Al-Jazeera Turk, 20 September 2011.
  2. See the Turkish Ministry of Economy website for trade figures.

  1. See Abukar Arman, “Erdogan: The Hero of Somalia”, 21 January 2015, Al-Jazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/01/visit-erdogan-somalia-2015121124331818818.html
  1. See Aynte, “Turkey’s Increasing Role in Somalia”.
  2. See Richard Lough, “Turkey tries out soft power in Somalia”, Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/03/somalia-turkey-idUSL5E8GP2LP20120603 (accessed 15 December 2012).
  1. See “Somali halkına nitelikli tarım öğretiliyor”, İHH website, 6 June 2014, http://www.ihh.org.tr/tr/main/news/0/somali-halkina-nitelikli-tarim-ogretiliyor/2362 (accessed 6 April 2015).
  1. See “Somali hastanemizin kolonları bağlandı”, 26 February 2013, Yardımeli Derneği, http://www.yardimeli.org.tr/h=18601?somali-hastanemizin-kolonlari-baglandi#.VSOhdNysXQQ (accessed 6 April 2015).
  1. See “Deniz Feneri Somali’de kalıcı işler yapıyor”, Deniz Feneri Derneği, http://www.denizfeneri.org.tr/bagisci/afrika_137/somali_58/ (accessed 6 April 2015).
  1. See “Cansuyu Derneği Somali’ye okul yaptıracak”, 30 July 2012, Haberler.com, http://www.haberler.com/cansuyu-dernegi-somali-ye-okul-yaptiracak-3824336-haberi/ (accessed 6 April 2015).
  1. See Farrell, “Understanding Turkish Involvement in Somalia”.
  2. See “Somali’de bir Türk yaralandı”, Sabah, http://www.sabah.com.tr/Dunya/2012/10/03/somalide-bir-turk-yaralandi (accessed 09 April 2015).
  1. See Orakçı, “Somali’nin geleceği ve 2015 hedefleri”.

logoIPSA 24th World Congress of Political Science: “Politics in a World of Inequality”

Date and Place: 23-26 July 2016 Istanbul

Proposed Panel theme: “Politics of International Migration”

We now know that large-scale mobility of people across international borders is not only a one-time movement from country A to country B. It is a phenomenon that creates different levels of transnational spaces, where not only the people, but also the sending and receiving societies and governments are largely involved and affected. Thus, the panel is looking for those papers that are integrating different perspectives of the wide variety of fields that are interested in the study of migration, such as political science, sociology, economics, and anthropology. We welcome studies on human migration with different indications, and mainly research that focus on comparative findings with significance beyond a single case study; novel methodological techniques; and innovative theoretical contributions on the various dimensions and effects of international migration. We argue that migration molds not only societies, but also has important policy consequences, all of which largely fit the special focus of the 2016 conference Politics in a World of Inequality. Accordingly, we are interested in papers exploring –but not limited to– the following main themes:

  • Policy responses to international migration on different levels, i.e., international, national, local
  • Debates on diversity and citizenship
  • Migration and mobility nexus

Language: English

Chairs: Dr. Deniz Sert & Derya Ozkul

Discussant: Dr. Dogus Simsek

Deadline for paper submission: 7 OCT 2015

You will find all the details about the congress and guidelines for submissions on the conference website https://istanbul2016.ipsa.org/events/congress/istanbul2016/home

Excerpt from Faruk Yalvaç (2014) “Approaches to Turkish Foreign Policy: A Critical Realist Analysis”, Turkish Studies, 15:1, 117-138, DOI: 10.1080/14683849.2014.892238

Umut Uzer argues in his Identity and Turkish Foreign Policy that identities and ideologies as well as national interests are important in determining state behaviour (2011, p.9). Uzer states that the approach which he adopts is Turkish_Studiesan “eclectic” one whose argument falls somewhere between an identity-based constructivist analysis and a realist analysis. However, the argument suffers from trying to combine two diametrically opposed positions, namely, the rationalist epistemology of conventional constructivism (which provides a “framework of prediction for future Turkish behavior” Uzer 2011, p. 184, 186) and the subjectivist ontology of constructivism.

Criticizing Wendt’s model for failing to analyze the actors before interaction, Yucel Bozdaglıoglu (2003) offers another constructivist analysis of TFP that emphasizes the importance of the domestic construction of identities in explaining FP preferences and interests. Bozdaglıoglu stresses that identities are constructed before states interact with each other, explaining different foreign-policy stances by referencing differences in perceptions of Turkish identity among Turkey’s Kemalists, Islamists and Nationalists. He combines his analysis with a liberal–pluralist understanding of society, suggesting that “the state’s identity will emerge as a result of domestic struggles among various groups—each pressing for an identity that would conform to their identity conceptions;” however, he does not elaborate on the nature of these domestic struggles or how they relate to wider social relations. Similar to Uzer’s analysis, a state-centric constructivism is combined with a liberal understanding of the state as the arena where different group conflicts are solved, and foreign policy is explained by the “different cultural backgrounds and identity conceptions” of different groups and institutions (Uzer 2011, p. 7, 27, 25). However identity formation is defined in culturalist terms, without an explanation of how identities are related to concrete social power relations.

One problem that all these constructivist accounts share is that they fail to discuss how identities are translated into state power, nor is it so clear that identity-based foreign policy is based less on geopolitical considerations leading, for instance, to different policies when and if security of a state is at stake. Can Turkey be said to be following a less state-interested policy today due to its changing social identity?… Similar to constructivists, poststructuralists see the world in terms of inter-subjective praxes and human actions and understandings, rather than objective material social relations…

The poststructuralist discourse in TFP analysis focuses on how different foreign policy practices are constructed through different discourses. The emphasis is on the deconstruction of different discursive structures, challenging binary oppositions and demonstrating the instability of meanings attached to the discourses. In one example of a poststructuralist analysis of TFP, Senem Aydın Duzgit, in her analysis of European Union (EU)–Turkish relations, defines foreign policy “as a discursive practice,” (2011) arguing along the lines of Roxanne Doty (1993; Laffey 2000) that foreign-policy actors “produce meanings” through discourse and “actively construct the reality on which foreign policy is based.”(Doty 1993, p.52).

Other scholars have also attempted to use post-structural approaches to understand how the discourses against Turkey’s membership of the EU are constructed (Tekin 2008; see also Yilmaz 2007). In an analysis bringing together post-structural and post-colonial approaches, Bahar Rumelili discusses the construction of “Turkey as a liminal subject” “which eludes the identity categories constituted by discourses on international politics, such as, Western/non-Western, developed/under-developed, democratic/ non-democratic.” (Rumelili 2012, p. 496). Turkey’s liminal status is described as “being in but not of Europe.” This is meant to demonstrate “how social categories constituted by the discourses of international politics are inevitably negotiated, contested and ultimately transversed by actors positioned in liminal spaces.” (Rumelili 2012, p. 500).

Similarly, Lerna Yanık analyses the “discursive formation of exceptionalism” in TFP and “illustrate[s] how historical and geographical features of a country are used discursively to construct an exceptional identity that in turn justifies and rationalizes foreign policy actions.” (2011, p. 82, 87). Despite its radical claims, this form of analysis is based on an acceptance of the traditional domestic/international distinction, replicating this in a discursive analysis. Thus, Yanık notes a contradiction between the discourse on exceptionalism in foreign policy and the domestic Kemalist nation-building project based on the “idea of purity” of a nation. From the emergent perspective of critical realism, this contradiction between domestic and foreign-policy practices can be traced back to the same social relations and processes without being reduced to them and therefore they stop appearing to be contradictory. Therefore, the contradiction can be resolved if the domestic and the international “levels” can be seen to arise from similar social processes and conditions. This, however, would imply a different ontological starting point, that of social relations rather than the discursive practices that are rooted in those relations.

Ali Balcı’s analysis of TFP most closely follows a “poststructuralist line”(2010). As is often the case in post-structural writings that criticize modernist approaches to the state and foreign policy, his analysis is based on a criticism of the internal/external divide. Similar to other poststructuralists such as Walker and Weber, he deconstructs this as a myth whereby the state “imposes specific meanings” on who is inside and who is outside. Foreign policy “does not have an a priori reality, but is a constructed myth;” it is a “strategy” that involves “internal power relations” (p. 87, 88, 89, 91). As with Yucel, Balcı takes the construction of identities as dependent upon different power relations inside; however, what these power relations are and how they are constructed is not clearly analyzed. Despite their different starting points, both Balcı and Yucel possess a liberal–pluralist understanding of the state as an arena of power struggle without relating power relations to a structural context of state–society relations. If foreign policy is a myth, then the circumstances that “produce” this myth need to be understood. Moreover, although Balcı underlines the importance of power relations in the formation of identities, he ignores more concrete social relations such as the relations of property and production out of which these power relations emerge and how they are translated into state policies. Thus, as Joseph might argue, Balcı’s “critique is deconstructive but not ontological,” (2004, p. 150, 158) ignoring how power relations emerge and are formed within a structural context and as an outcome of social processes. In contrast, Balcı’s analysis reduces power to a performative strategy (Ashley 1987, p. 51) or to its exercise. This argument lacks “an adequate notion of social stratification and hierarchy,” and assumes “a flat ontology that remains at the level of the surface play of power relations” (2004, p. 154, 159).


Ashley, Richard K. “Foreign Policy as Political Performance.” International Studies Notes 13 (1987): 51–54.

Balcı, Ali. “1990 Sonrası Turk Dıs¸ Politikası Uzerine Bazı Notlar: Avrupa Birligi ve Kıbrıs Ornegi.” In Turkiye’nin Degisen Dıs Politikası, edited by Cuneyt Yenigun and Ertan Efegil, 87–99. Istanbul: Nobel Yayın Dagıtım, 2010.

Bozdaglıoglu, Yucel. Turkish Foreign Policy and Turkish Identity: A Constructive Approach. New York and London: Routledge, 2003.

Doty, Roxanne L. “Foreign Policy as a Social Construction: A Post-Positivist Analysis of US Counterinsurgency Policy in the Philippines.” International Studies Quarterly 37, no. 3 (1993): 297–320.

Duzgit, Senem A. “Avrupa Birligi-Turkiye Iliskilerine Postyapısalcı Yaklasım: Almanya Orneginde Dıs Politika ve Soylem Analiz.” Uluslararası Iliskiler 8, no. 29 (2011): 49–70.

Joseph, Jonathan. “Foucault and Reality.” Capital and Class 28, no. 1 (2004): 143–165.

Laffey, Mark. “Locating Identity: Performativity, Foreign Policy and State Action.” Review of International Studies 26, no. 3 (2000): 429–444.

Rumelili, Bahar. “Liminal Identities and Processes of Domestication and Subversion in International Relations.” Review of International Studies 38 (2012): 495–508.

Tekin, Beyza Çagatay. “The Construction of Turkey’s Possible EU Membership in French Political Discourse.” Discourse and Society 19, no. 6 (2008): 727–763.

Uzer, Umit. Identity and Turkish Foreign Policy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Yanık, Lerna K. “Constructing Turkish ‘Exceptionalism’: Discourses of Liminality and Hybridity in Post-Cold War Turkish Foreign Policy.” Political Geography 30, no. 2 (2011): 59–114.

Yılmaz, Hakan. “Turkish Identity on the Road to the EU: Basic Elements of French and German Oppositional Discourses.” Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans 9, no. 3 (2007): 293–305.

Documentary Title: “Voices of the Unheard” by Assoc. Prof. Alper Kaliber

Length: 44 minutes

Language: Turkish with English subtitles

“Europeanisation of Public Debates and Civil Society in Turkey” (EUROCIV), financially supported by the European Commission, was conducted by Assoc. Prof. Alper Kaliber at Istanbul Bilgi University European Union Institute from 1 September 2012 to 31 August 2014. Activists from more than 35 civil society organisations in Istanbul, Ankara and Diyarbakir were interviewed within the scope of this research. This short documentary features selected civil society organisations, which could not make their voices heard due to different reasons, yet which have carried out vital works on the economic, social and cultural aspects of the Kurdish issue.

originally published in the 23rd issue ofG20 and BRICS Updateof the Heinrich Böll Foundation – North America

Dr Sevil Acar is an assistant professor at Istanbul Kemerburgaz University. Her research is on environmental and resource economics, particularly natural capitdrsevilacaral accounting, sustainability indicators, and the resource curse. Her undergraduate, masters and Ph.D. degrees are from Bogazici University, Istanbul Technical University, and Marmara University, respectively. During her Ph.D. studies, she was awarded a scholarship to conduct research at the Centre for Environmental and Resource Economics (CERE, Sweden) involving the analysis of Swedish sustainable savings and carbon convergence across countries, among other things.

In 2009, G20 Leaders committed to “rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption”. The ongoing G20 agenda and the upcoming G20 summit in Antalya stand as unique opportunities to realize that pledge.  For more background information on the G20’s track record on eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, see the publications by the Global Subsidies Initiative and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), including the report co-authored by Acar, and  “The Fossil Fuel Bailout: G20 subsidies for oil, gas and coal explorationby ODI and Oil Change International (November 2014).

As a developing country, Turkey is facing increased demand for utilization of electricity and primary energy sources. At the same time, it is grappling with the challenges of realizing its emissions abatement needs and ensuring a cost-competitive energy supply. According to UNFCC, Turkey’s total greenhouse gas emissions reached 439.9 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) in 2012, which represents an increase of 133.4% above 1990 levels. The current situation of coal subsidies in Turkey, which is summarized below, counters potential abatement efforts.

In order to sustain a  cost-competitive and secure energy supply, Turkey set the following objectives in its Comprehensive Growth Strategy document prepared as part of the G20 Growth Strategy documents in 2014 (p. 16):

  • to increase the ratio of domestic resources in energy production;
  • to diversify the origins of energy supply in terms of countries, regions, and sources;
  • to increase the share of renewables, lignite coal-fired power plants and include the nuclear in energy mix; and
  • to take significant steps to increase energy efficiency.

As importing the majority of its energy supply (more than 75%) imposes a heavy burden on its balance of payments, Turkey has a definite priority to reduce import dependency in energy. Recently, there has been a rapid expansion of coal exploration and coal-fired power generation throughout the country. Although it also has ambitious plans for deployment of renewable energy, these are likely to be compromised by the continued existence of subsidies to coal-fired power generation and coal mining, including the recently introduced regional development package with investment support and loan guarantees. However, debate over subsidy reform is hindered by lack of transparent data about the magnitude and impacts of these subsidies.

A recent report developed by the Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI) and their partners in Turkey (Acar, Kitson and Bridle, 2015) establishes a detailed account of the current level of knowledge around the role of subsidies to coal and identifies particular subsidies for which direct cost estimates are not available. To begin with, the government provides generous support to the hard coal sector via direct transfers from the Treasury. The summary table below displays how these transfers reached a level of around US$300 million in 2013. Besides, consumer subsidies (coal aid to poor families) amounted up to more than US$390 million in the same year. Additionally, the coal sector is supported via the following measures and regulations):

  • In 2012, Turkey introduced the New Investment Incentive Scheme, which is comprised of various instruments to promote different industries. Coal exploration and production as well as investments in coal-fired power plants are categorized as “priority investments” and receive subsidies in the form of Customs Duty Exemptions, Value Added Tax Exemptions, Tax Reductions, Social Security Premium Support (Employer’s Share), Land Allocation and Interest Support, with the terms and rates of support depending on the region .
  • R&D expenditure: The government supports the fossil fuel sector with R&D expenditures. Among various fuels, coal receives the highest level of expenditures for this purpose. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that 2.6 million Turkish lira (TL) was spent on coal R&D by the government in 2009. (No data was available after this year.)
  • Rehabilitation Support: As part of the privatization process, the Turkish government funded the rehabilitation of hard coal mines and coal power stations.
  • Government support for exploration: The Strategic Plan 2010-2014 of the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MENR, 2010, p. 41) documents its coal, oil and gas exploration budgets as displayed in the table below. The annual budget varied between 35 million and 51 million TL (approximately US$23 million to US$34 million) in the plan period.
  • Government expenditure on coal-fired power stations: Planned budgetary expenditure for new coal power plants was calculated as 28 million TL (~US$15 million) for 2013 and estimated at 31 million TL (~US$14 million) for 2014. These include the new domestic coal thermal plants of 3,500 MW to be completed by the end of 2013 (MENR, 2010).
  • Investment guarantees to coal power plants over 15-20 years of their operational life (e.g., Cayirhan and Iskenderun thermal plants).
  • Guaranteed price and purchase of electricity for certain periods of time are offered by the government to projects including investments in lignite coal-fired power generation.
  • Exemptions from environmental regulation: There are several reported examples of lax environmental regulations or straight-out failure to enforce the existing regulations and standards.

The report further highlights that the quantifiable subsidies to the coal sector result in a per-kWh subsidy of around US$0.01, which increases to US$0.02 per kWh when consumer subsidies are included. A total of US$730 million accrued to the coal sector in the form of subsidies in 2013 (Acar, Kitson and Bridle, 2015, p. 10). Needless to say, this number demonstrates an underestimation of the total subsidy amount since it excludes investment guarantees, the regional incentive scheme measures, price and purchase guarantees, permissive environmental impact assessment (EIA) procedures, etc. When remaining informational barriers are addressed, it will prove easier to show that these subsidies cannot be justified in financial, social or environmental terms.

Subsidies applicable to the coal sector in Turkey


Source: Acar, S., Kitson, L. and Bridle, R. (2015) Subsidies to Coal and Renewable Energy in Turkey. International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)-Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI) Report, p. 11).


* Coal exploration, production and investments in coal-fired power plants are subsidized within the Regional Investment Incentive Scheme, which offers subsidies in the form of Customs Duty Exemption, VAT Exemption, Tax Reduction, Social Security Premium Support (Employer’s Share), Land Allocation and Interest Support.

** The numbers include estimated coal, oil and gas exploration budgets of the MENR from 2010 to 2014 as recorded in the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources Strategic Plan 2010–2014.

*** The numbers represent planned budgetary expenditures for coal power plants for 2010– 2014 as stated in Target 1.2: New domestic coal thermal plants of 3,500 MW will be completed by the end of 2013 (MENR, 2010). The amount of subsidy within these budgets is not known.

Measures by other G20 countries

On the other hand, energy and energy subsidy policies of the other G20 members widely vary. For instance, Germany has committed to increase the share of renewable energy sources to 40-45% in 2025 and 80% in 2050 as well as to enhance energy efficiency. Besides, it aims to lessen its dependence on imports of oil and gas. However, the country still remains the biggest supporter of coal in Europe having spent €3 billion for coal production in 2012. In comparison, the United States focuses more on energy productivity and innovation. In its new policy actions, it pledges to eliminate $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies to the oil, gas and other fuel producers while extending the renewable electricity production tax credit permanently.

China’s growth strategy (2014) anticipated that energy consumption per unit of GDP would decline by more than 3% in 2014 and energy savings would be encouraged. The country intends to “promote the development of the green industry and provide more support to new energy, energy-saving and environmentally friendly technologies and products; actively carry forward pilot projects on the using and trading of emission rights, encourage energy saving and emission reduction” (p. 4). India takes similar steps towards promoting clean and efficient energy by promoting ultra mega solar power projects in different regions. However, the Indian government continues to provide substantive subsidies to the electricity sector and petroleum products, which are hard to estimate as electricity policies and tariff rates vary among states and consumer groups. Finally, South Africa has plans to reform the energy sector via ensuring security of electricity supply to support economic growth and development and the formulation of legislation allowing exploratory drilling for coal seam and shale gas reserves and draft regulations and other legislation for utilization of shale gas.. The country’s growth strategy does not articulate any attempts to depart from fossil fuel dependence apart from increasing the share of gas and renewables in the energy mix.

Concluding remarks

Fossil fuel subsidies have the potential to compromise the environment, disrupt the development of low carbon technologies, and undermine public finances. In 2009, the G20 leaders committed to “rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient FFS that encourage wasteful consumption”. The ongoing G20 agenda and the upcoming G20 summit in Antalya stand as unique opportunities to act on this promise, beginning with solid definitions of fossil fuel subsidies; comprehensive data collection; and vigorous peer review of subsidy cuts, including penalties for non-compliance.


Acar, S., Kitson, L. and Bridle, R. 2015. Subsidies to Coal and Renewable Energy in Turkey. International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)-Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI) Report. Available at http://www.iisd.org/gsi/subsidies-coal-and-renewable-energy-turkey

G20. 2009. Leaders Statement of G20 Pittsburgh Summit, September 24-25, Pittsburgh. Available at: https://www.g20.org/official_resources/leadersE28099_statement_pittsburgh_summit

G20. 2014. G20 Growth Strategies 2014 – Country Strategy Reports. Available at https://g20.org/resources/current-presidency/g20-growth-strategy-2014/

Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MENR). 2010. Institutional Strategic Plan 2010–2014.


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