MESP Graduate Study Abroad Note: Aykut Ozturk in Turkey 


Aykut Ozturk  

I am a 4th year PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Syracuse University. My research revolves around the question of political cleavages. Why do some people identify themselves with a particular social movement, rather than the other? Why are some people more passionate about political parties, compared to other people? I approach these questions from several different perspectives. In my dissertation, I study effective ties to political parties through survey data and survey experiments. In addition to this, I also study the Islamist-secular cleavage in the context of Middle Eastern countries. In 2017, I applied for a Moynihan Institute Middle Eastern Studies Summer Research Grant with the goal of conducting research on the Islamist-secular cleavage in the context of Turkey. One of the central characteristics of current Middle Eastern politics is the weakness of class-based political organizations. I believe that in order to explain this process, we need to look at the discourse and policies of Islamist political movements in the region. I thought that an especially relevant organization for this research was Hak-Is, Islamist trade unions confederation of Turkey established in 1978. Thus, I applied for a summer research grant in order to conduct research on Hak-Is during the summer of 2017. Moynihan Institute generously supported my research. I flew to Turkey in June 2017. My main goal was going through periodical journals published by Hak-Is since its establishment. I especially wanted to analyze the discourse of Hak-Is about class-based movements. At Hak-Is archives located in Ankara, I went through more than 100 journals. In addition to Hak-Is archives, I also visited the National Library in Ankara. National Library includes various materials on Hak-Is published since 1970s. This material further helped me to develop and support my arguments regarding activities of Hak-Is. Not everything went as planned, however. I was planning to support my archival research with interviews of old and new Hak-Is officials. Unfortunately, my IRB application was not approved before I went to the field. Thus, I could not conduct interviews to support this research. My research on Hak-Is has been published by the journal Middle Eastern Studies in February 2018. The article is titled as “Islamists against the class cleavage: identity formation and interest representation in the case of Hak-Is in Turkey.” In the article, I first demonstrate that the identity of Hak-Is has consistently been based on a fantasy of social cohesion and aversion to class-based politics. Building on this, I detail how Hak-Is developed new economic and political practices, in a deliberate effort to overcome class-based unionism. Finally, I argue that the role of Hak-Is evolved into representing workers’ interests within the framework of the corporatist regime built by pro-Islamic AKP government. Overall, I believe that this research has contributed to our knowledge on the formation of political cleavages in Middle Eastern countries. I thank the Moynihan Institute and the Middle Eastern Studies Program for supporting my research.