Welcoming Syrian Refugees in Turkey: The Role of Religious Discourse in the Case of Diyanet

By Aysenur Sonmez Kara
Submitted to Session P5027 (Islamism, Liberalism, and Beyond in Turkish Politics, 2017 Annual Meeting
Syria; Turkey;
Diaspora/Refugee Studies; Islamic Studies; Middle East/Near East Studies; Minorities; Turkish Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Over 2.7 million Syrians have entered Turkey since 2011 through an open-door policy, making Turkey the country with the largest Syrian refugee population worldwide. This paper investigates the role of religion and religiosity by focusing on the role of Diyanet (The Directorate of Religious Affairs) in the formation of a positive public opinion toward the refugees and facilitation of their integration to the society in Turkey since 2011. Several studies have examined the Syrian refugee issue in Turkey in recent years; however, the literature does not address the role of religious discourse in the case of Diyanet. I argue that religion and religiosity have played the key role in the integration of Syrian refugees into the Turkish society.

Diyanet is an official state institution that carries out religious affairs pertaining to faith, worship and moral principles in Turkey. The role played by Diyanet in the case of Syrian refugees has multiple dimensions. For example, Diyanet used religious discourse to motivate Turkish Muslims to help the refugees by using the extensive network of mosques across Turkey, all of which operated by Diyanet. Additionally, Diyanet contributes to the education of the Syrian refugees in Turkey by providing scholarships, workshops and summer schools besides providing humanitarian aid.

In this paper, I investigate the role of Diyanet in shaping public opinion toward Syrian refugees and their integration in Turkey by reviewing Diyanet’s reports, conducting interviews with Diyanet officials, and analyzing data from various public surveys on Syrian refugees. I will also analyze interviews and reports that appeared in the Turkish media outlets. When we consider the fact that forced and voluntary migration due to political and economic instability has become a major issue around the world, this study is relevant for our understanding of the refugee crisis in other countries as well.