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Mr Erdoğan’s second Bosphorus: somewhat crazy, somewhat disappointing

In Construction, Society on April 27, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Turkey’s prime minister, Tayyip Erdoğan, today revealed what he’s been plotting since 2008 when he first mentioned that he had a “crazy project” in mind for Istanbul. It turns out that he intends to build what in effect amounts to a second Bosphorus—a canal running north to south out on the Read the rest of this entry »

Eight ways to assess the quality of Turkish democracy

In Constitution, Democratisation, Electoral system, Kurdish question, Media, Society, Turkey, Uncategorized, Women in Turkey on November 1, 2010 at 8:29 am

What makes for a high-quality democracy? If we could answer this question satisfactorily, we would be well placed to deal systematically with some of the perennial questions of Turkish politics (what are the country’s democratic shortcomings? which reforms should it prioritise?), and to assess the various proposals for constitutional reform that will be forthcoming in the months and years ahead. Fortunately for us, there’s a growing amount of work being done in this area.

In 2003, Larry Diamond and Leonardo Morlino brought together a group of democratisation experts for a research project on the quality of democracy. The project’s aim was to identify the characteristics that distinguish high-quality from low-quality democracies. In the book that resulted from their project, Assessing the Quality of Democracy, Diamond and Morlino identify eight different dimensions on which democracies vary in quality. In this post, I’ll provide an outline Read the rest of this entry »

Turkey trails the world on social capital

In Economy, Society, Turkey on October 26, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Another week, another set of global rankings to test Turkey’s self-image. This time it’s the ‘Prosperity Index’ produced by the Legatum Institute, the 2010 edition of which was published on October 25th.

Despite the index’s name, and the fact that Legatum is a hedge fund, the rankings aren’t narrowly focused on financial performance. They are based on a wide-ranging set of indicators, which are grouped into the eight sub-indices listed in the table below.

Turkey’s overall position in the 2010 ranking is 80th out of 110 countries. This is unchanged from the position it held in 2009. On the eight sub-indices, Turkey performed as follows:

Sub-index Ranking
Economy 69th
Entrepreneurship 53rd
Governance 51st
Education 82nd Read the rest of this entry »

Is the decline in Turkey’s female labour participation rate necessarily a bad thing?

In Economy, Society, Women in Turkey on October 22, 2010 at 4:32 pm

In a recent post I noted that Turkey’s female labour participation rate (that is, the proportion of women who are in work or looking for work) has been falling since soon after TurkStat’s data series began in 1988. I highlighted the fact that this reflects the combined effects of migration and falling agricultural employment, coupled with pervasive negative attitudes to women working.

A bit of subsequent reading around makes it clear that labour force participation (on its own, at any rate) isn’t necessarily a great barometer of the socioeconomic status of Turkish women. This is because labour force data cover not just paid work, but also unpaid family work. You’ll find TurkStat’s definitions here. Look for ‘labour force’, ‘persons employed’ and ‘persons at work’. This isn’t just a Turkish sleight of hand. It reflects international definitions and is in line with, for example, the OECD’s definition, which refers to work “for family gain, in cash or in kind”.

If you have the time Read the rest of this entry »

Turkey has a Kurdish question, a headscarf question. Why no women question?

In Society, Turkey on October 20, 2010 at 5:27 pm

UPDATE: In a later post, I look a bit more closely at labour force participation rates—particularly at the implications of the fact that they include unpaid agricultural work.


Last week’s release of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap (GGG) index made for truly depressing reading from a Turkish point of view. To be placed 126th out of 134 countries on gender equality should be a source of the deepest shame for anyone involved in Turkish public life. But it probably won’t be. Complacency abounds when it comes to the role of women in Turkey.

There are deep problems in Turkish society, but not all of them manage to rise to the political surface. The country has its ‘Kurdish question’ and its ‘headscarf question’ (which is really a proxy for the ‘religion question’, albeit one which, conveniently for men, cashes out only in terms of the opportunities available to women). But there’s no ‘women question’. There Read the rest of this entry »

Headscarves and booze and a new constitution

In Society, Turkey on September 29, 2010 at 8:18 pm

It looks increasingly as if the forthcoming process of drafting a new constitution will be dominated, initially at any rate, by the headscarf question. On the government side, a series of comments, from prime minister Erdoğan and those around him, give the impression that the core objective is a reversal of current restrictions on women who wear a headscarf.

It’s pretty much inconceivable that any new draft constitution won’t facilitate such a reversal, so putting down these kinds of markers is a bit superfluous—a matter of positioning or presentation rather than of substance. This doesn’t augur well. Even with the best will in the world on all sides, it will be extremely difficult to draft a constitution with support and legitimacy across Turkey’s various divides. If the government’s view is that this isn’t about the full constitutional package, but about securing the outcome it wants on its hot-button issue, then it’s game over before the drafting has begun.

Of course, it’s not just the headscarf that divides Turks. To take an example that has been Read the rest of this entry »

Learning not to trust? The OECD on Turkish education

In Society, Turkey on September 28, 2010 at 3:20 am

Earlier this month, the OECD published its latest annual survey of educational developments across its 31 member countries, Education at a Glance 2010. There are many gaps in the data relating to Turkey, but the picture that emerges is a familiar one: gradual improvement from a very, very low base. Less familiar are numbers relating to politics and trust, which I’ll come to shortly.

A broad sense of how far Turkey lags behind in terms of education can be gleaned from a key statistic outlining differentials in the duration of the schooling that’s provided to children across the OECD. In each country, the OECD assesses how many years of formal education 90 per cent of children can be said to receive. Across the 31 countries, the average is 13 years. In Turkey it’s just seven years. This is the lowest figure in the OECD; it doesn’t even meet the eight years of schooling that’s supposed to be required by law in Turkey.

To be fair, Turkey is not alone in falling short of its own legal requirements on length of schooling. But it is alone among all the OECD members in languishing in single digits—the second-worst country in the rankings (Chile) provides Read the rest of this entry »

Religion, money and violence: the attack in Tophane

In Islam, Society, Turkey on September 27, 2010 at 4:20 pm

It seems to me that two aspects of last week’s attack on a number of galleries in Istanbul’s Tophane neighbourhood warrant attention: the reasons behind the violence and the violence itself. (For a first-hand account of the attack, see Jen Hattam’s blog, while there are some typically informative comments to be found on Jenny White’s site.)

Many of the responses to and analyses of the attack in the days that followed focused on the reasons rather than the violence. A widespread initial assumption was that the attack was a flexing of conservative religious muscle. Whether prompted by alcohol being consumed on the street, or by alleged insults directed at women from the neighbourhood, the suggestion was that the attack was a response to the galleries’ perceived disregard or disrespect for the religious sensibilities of local residents.

For many, this religious explanation for the violence was to be understood politically as much as culturally. The attack came in the wake of the government’s referendum victory, which opponents had warned would lead to increasing assertiveness on the part of the AKP and its religious constituency. Many of those who voted ‘no’ Read the rest of this entry »

Turning a blind eye to poverty in the east

In Economy, Society, Turkey on August 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I followed up my recent blog post about TurkStat’s estimates of regional poverty rates with a piece in Today’s Zaman today. The core focus remains the same: the skewing of poverty rates in eastern Turkey that results from using separate regional poverty thresholds rather than a single countrywide one.

But the TZ article has a bit more space than the blog post did to place those regional details in a bit of broader context. It looks at trends in Turkish income inequality over the past 25 years, and also highlights the sharp difference between Turkish and OECD averages when it comes to the gap between poverty rates in households with and without children.

From the article:

By any measure, Turkey is an unequal society. One commonly used metric is the ratio between the income of the quintile (or 20 percent) of society with the highest income and the quintile with the lowest. In Turkey, in 2008, the lowest quintile had an average income of TL 2,427 while the top quintile averaged TL 19,560. That’s a ratio of just more than 8:1. The OECD average is nearer Read the rest of this entry »

A snapshot of Turkey’s health system

In Society on July 10, 2010 at 12:01 am

The OECD published its annual Health Data report at the end of June, providing a broad survey of conditions in the health systems of the organisation’s 31 member countries. Turkey continues to have the lowest level of per capita health spending among these countries, at US$767 in 2008. This is well below the OECD average of US$3,060, but hardly surprising given that Turkey also has the lowest GDP per capita in the OECD. However, Turkey also underperforms in relative terms, spending just 6.0 per cent of its GDP on health each year. This compares to an OECD average of 9.0 per cent—only Mexico devotes less of its economic resources to health, with a figure of 5.9 per cent.

The lower-than-average level of health spending in Turkey feeds through, as one would expect, to lower-than-average resourcing in its health system. In 2008, Turkey had 1.5 doctors per 1,000 of population, less than half the OECD average of 3.2. This discrepancy is dwarfed by its nursing counterpart—Turkey’s 1.3 nurses per 1,000 of population compare with an average figure of 9.0 across the OECD. Read the rest of this entry »