The Minority Concept in the Turkish Context: Practices and Perceptions in Turkey, Greece and France, by Samim Akgönül

SA Samim Akgönül's book is a blend of sociology, history and political science.The author is a professor at the University of Strasburg and a researcher at the French National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS). In his new book, Samim Akgönül questions the term “minority”, focusing specifically on France, Greece and Turkey. This concept of minority is approached by the author very much in the same vein as the French sociologist, Marcel Mauss did, i.e., as a total ‘social fact’. ‘Socials facts’ are conceptual tools for studying different social situations. The author considers the Muslim minorities in Greece as products of the Ottoman Empire's former supremacy, and the Turkish minorities in France as the consequence of the arrival of Turkish immigration in France during the 1960s. Samim Akgönül claims that the issue of minorities in Turkey arose during the 1923 Turkish revolution, simultaneously with the state’s will to obliterate all differences between them.

According to Samim Akgönül, the notion of minority refers essentially to religion. Moreover, he assets that the concept is complementary to its opposite - the concept of majority. I agree with him on this point, because when one belongs to a minority, one must simultaneously be conscious of the opposite, i.e. belonging to the majority. One needs to be aware of the fact that this otherness defines one in certain ways.

After the French and Turkish revolutions, Catholics and Muslims respectively became the minorities in each of these countries. This entailed that the concept of "laïcité" in Turkey came to mean becoming European. Since then, Turkey has adopted Sunday as its day of rest. In addition, it adopted the Gregorian calendar without any clear idea what the celebrations exactly meant. The significance of Christmas was perceived by some urban Turkish families as being the day Santa Claus brings presents for children. Laïcization in Turkey can be correlated with Westernization. "Laïcism" means two things: first, it guarantees freedom for people to worship and practice their religion freely. At the same time, it restricts certain fundamental rights, such as wearing religiously connoted clothes and accessories. The latter has turned out to be an issue both in France and in Turkey.

Viewing "laicism" as the majority, the author holds that Sunnis, the Alevis and the Orthodox Christians are the minorities of present day Turkey. However, he doesn't take into account the size of these minorities, when the Sunnis represent 75% of the population, the Shia only 25%; Orthodox Christians are few in number, when compared with the Muslim minority.

The author considers syncretism to be negative. He explains that the latter has traditionally been seen in Turkish society as a hybrid. This is the case for the Alevis, who have been under suspicion for a very long time. Moreover, he argues that it is more difficult in general to set up an intercultural dialogue between denominations of the same religion, for instance between Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants. The author criticizes the new meaning, inspired by French history and thought, conferred on the term “nation”. The author asserts that during the Ottoman Empire, this term was used to define individual communities spatially situated within such and such a state entity. It is very interesting to see what a great influence France had on this country and how its way of thinking probably changed the Ottoman Empire’s vision of its own structures, and concepts...The “millet” system, established long before France conceived its idea of a nation-state, divided all the communities into independent entities, each under its own jurisdiction.

It seems to me that this book undertakes an exploration of the question of modernity. It reveals just how strongly the Ottoman Empire wanted to become part of this "modern world". This was manifested by its changing its alphabet, by the process of laïcization and the adoption of The French concept of the nation-state. To further pursue the author's reflections, one might wonder if modernization is something unequivocally beneficial for society, and to what a degree it may impact a given society, and probably, at least partly, transmute it. While attempting to answer the latter question, one cannot help raising further questions - such as, for instance, what the benefits for those who partake in the phenomenon of globalization may really be…