Betting 50 Euro on the Turkish youth

Efe Kerem SozeriIn his PhD-project “political baggage and ideological remittance” PhD student Efe Kerem Sözeri set out to explore ideological differences between Turkish migrants in Europe and their non-migrant neighbors by looking into the socio-political baggage Turkish migrants may have brought from Turkey. At the same time, he studies how ideological orientations and political attitudes are transferred back to Turkey via transnational ties. Through a comparison of migrant and non-migrant families in Turkey he aims to explore the differences between family trees which share the same roots, but grew different branches.

When we turn the satellite dish gently to the East, the anchorwoman on the official broadcasting channel of Turkey (TRT) reads the following line from the prompter: “Turkey has started a mission to get back more than 5000 children who were taken from Turkish families and given to Christian couples in European countries; the first step is the homosexual couples.” A government spokesman continues that the Turkish children should have been adopted “by parents who have a similar culture to ours and our sensitivities should have been observed”.

Then, we switch to the good old Dutch television, only to see a community worker interviewing a couple of Turkish boys, born and raised in the Netherlands. Much to our surprise, they don’t even hesitate to praise Hitler, quoting him as they express their hatred towards other human beings. Relying on their own view of freedom of expression, they bet their weekly pocket money on not to change their opinion, not even in a year.

The first incident points toward a gap between the cultural worlds of two different societies; the Turkish on the one hand and Dutch on the other. One in which homosexuality is a taboo, banned completely from public discussion, considered an illness that should be cured, and a shame for the family to bear; and one in which homosexuality  is considered an unexceptional part of daily life, achieved after a world-leading political struggle for equal rights. The second incident points toward a striking gap within one society, between neighbours. The political narratives of the Turkish boys and public discourses on the Holocaust seem to be as far apart as The Diary of Anne Frank, and Mein Kampf. The latter incident therefore seems more remarkable: How is it possible that ideological differences between neighbours are as significant, or even more significant, than the cultural distance between two countries?

With this question in mind, I started my study on Turkish migrants with the title “political baggage and ideological remittance” about a year ago. Political baggage refers to what migrants may have brought from Turkey to Europe, in their belief systems, or through their socio-political upbringing. Ideological remittance refers to what they can transfer back to Turkey, via transnational ties, after generations of exposure to European education, cultural and political context.

Most of the Turkish migrants to Western-Europe migrated in the 1960’s. Measuring the mindset of the 1960’s while simultaneously taking into account its transformations during the last 50 years requires a retrospective approach. To accomplish this we did the following: We knocked on doors in towns and villages in Turkey to find a grandfather who migrated to Europe in the 1960’s and we included his children and grandchildren in our research. Then, we knocked on the next door as well to find a non-migrant grandfather and his children and grandchildren, to compare retrospectively, what would have happened if the former grandfather would not have migrated three generations ago. Interviewing younger members in both families in the subsequent generations allows us to measure transmission of ideological orientations and political attitudes to each new generation.

By doing so, we aimed to track changes between family trees which share the same roots, but grew separate branches. When my research ends, we may not be able to explain all ideological differences between Turkish immigrant families and their neighbours, but we will certainly be a lot closer to explaining to what extent transnational roots  influence the ideas flourishing in Turkish youth in Europe today.

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