Ankara’s Long Arm: Notes on the Amsterdam Anthropology Lecture Series (AALS)

aals-sunierBy Matthias Teeuwen            Last Thursday Professor Thijl Sunier gave a lecture on the backlash in the Netherlands of the coup attempt in Turkey in July. The room was packed with students, faculty members and other people interested in the subject. What Sunier particularly succeeded in, was challenging and debunking the assumption that the concern Turkish-Dutch citizens showed with the coup and its consequences was an indication of failed integration on the part of these Turkish-Dutch citizens. Sunier argued that this is not a case of failed integration; instead, this is a case of the complex and transnational interplay between religion, citizenship and politics.

Once people migrate they build up communities in their host country. This community will not be an exact copy of the community in the country of origin. So too are the social dynamics in the Turkish-Dutch community in the Netherlands different from the social dynamics in Turkey due to the interaction with the host country. Sunier noted that the very fact that the Turkish government has set up institutions to deal with Turkish communities in foreign countries is an indication that these Turkish communities develop independently of the government in Turkey. These institutions are thus an attempt on the part of the Turkish government to guide Turkish communities in other countries. It does so by employing religion and nationalism.

However, the Turkish government is not alone in doing so. Sunier reminded us that to hold on to emigrants is part of the logic of the nation-state. He extended to us the example of the Dutch government. The Dutch government obliges a person who wants to settle in the Netherlands to follow an integration programme at the Dutch embassy in the country of origin. The Dutch government also has a long arm. What makes the Turkish case different is the extent and the strength of this long arm.

Transnational contact with Turkey on the part of Turkish-Dutch citizens is an aspect of their lifestyle. It would be absurd to think that they would completely forget Turkey once they live in the Netherlands. Turkey is still very much on their minds and on their hearts and what happens there is of concern to them. Does this mean that they have not integrated properly? No. Research has shown that concern with events in the country of origin go hand in hand with an orientation toward the host country. This is called simultaneity and it means that Turkish-Dutch citizens can be both integrated in the Netherlands and transnationally active between Turkey and the Netherlands.

But, if the backlash of the coup-attempt, which was felt here in the Netherlands, cannot be understood as a case of failed integration, how can it be understood then? This was the question raised by the audience: What is the proper attitude towards the long arm of Ankara?

Matthias Teeuwen is student of theology and cultural anthropology.

The Amsterdam Anthropology Lecture Series (AALS) is a year-long event organised by the department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. It involves public lectures for the academia and the wider public and it means to connect current affairs with anthropology. The series is linked to the new research theme of the department entitled ‘Mobilities, Belonging and Beliefs’ (MOBB).

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