Securatisation of sectarianism? The Turkish state and the Alevis in the post-2011 era

By Ceren Lord
Submitted to Session P4766 (Precarious Visibility as a Mode of Governance: The Case of Alevis in Turkey, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Ethnic Groups;
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This paper utilises securitisation theory to examine sectarian tensions in Turkish politics following the 2011 Middle East uprisings and its consequences for the boundaries of citizenship and national identity. Securitisation theory within the literature on Turkey has been typically employed to assert a narrative of democratisation in the AKP period. The crux of the argument has been that Europeanisation and the weakening of the military resulted in democratisation by desecuritising issues such as political Islam and the ‘Kurdish problem’. There has been little consideration however, of the parallel (re)securitisation of the ‘Alevi issue’, and its casting as a national security threat, particularly in the wake of an increasingly sectarian turn in emerging Middle East conflicts post-2011.

Prior to 2011, the AKP government was engaged with the Alevi movement as part of the so-called ‘Alevi opening’ launched in 2007, presented as part of a wider politics of ‘democratic opening.’ Alevis, estimated at 15-20% of the population, comprise the second largest faith community after Sunni Muslims in Turkey. Despite the promise of equal citizenship following the creation of the Republic, Alevis continued to face discrimination and periodic violence, often perceived as a potential fifth column. Particularly from 2011, the AKP adopted an increasingly sectarian discourse, in a manner that paralleled sectarian regime strategies in countries such as Bahrain. The AKP’s framing of the 2013 Gezi protests as an Alevi revolt, repeated reference to an alleged sectarian affinity between Alevi figures and Syrian Alawite regime actors, mark examples in which a similar ‘discourse of danger’ has been (re)constructed during the AKP era.

This paper examines these dynamics through an analytical framework that draws on securitisation studies alongside nationalism theories. It will provide an empirical study of the evolution of state policies by drawing on public statements and publications of key actors and political parties, media sources, official documentation and interviews. In sum, the paper will illuminate continuity and change in state engagement in the Alevi ‘issue’, and the ways in which foreign policy making has played a central role in the reconstitution of the boundaries of citizenship and national identity in a manner which reproduces the hegemonic status of the constructed Sunni Muslim Turkish majority bloc. More widely, this case study will contribute to the understanding of the nexus between sectarianisation of politics in the Middle East and securitisation.