Recent Research Findings on Youths and Polarisation in Turkey

Author: Yıldırım ŞentürkMimar Sinan Fine Arts UniversityTurkey

Demet Lüküslü, Begüm Uzun, and Yüksel Taşkın have recently published their research findings on youths and polarisation in Turkey supported by TÜSES (Türkiye Sosyal Ekonomik ve Siyasal Araştırmalar Vakfı) and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.1 For a while, politicians and political parties have been inclined to advance political polarisation in Turkey by using polarising strategies. In this sense, pious versus secular is one of the issues forcing individuals to take a stance on it and eventually shaping individuals’ political attitudes as well as lifestyles, in a vicious circle.

The scholars investigate how young people take a position in such a polarised political atmosphere by conducting a survey with 1211 young people (ages 18-29) from 16 cities, 38 in-depth interviews in Istanbul, and 10 focus group interviews in Istanbul and Adana.

According to their findings, first of all, polarisation policy deepens the political and social distance between pious and secular youth. Especially, it has a significant influence on some areas such as voting behaviour and tolerance of different lifestyles. For instance, youths might be critical of the mainstream political parties and institutions; however, they eventually vote for the political parties which they think represent their identity. Moreover, both pious and secular youths do not have much tolerance and respect for different lifestyles. For example, religious youths acknowledge that there are different lifestyles and identities, but they also reflect their discontent with encountering them in public space. The physical intimacy of couples in the streets, alcohol consumption in public places, and the visibility of LGBT individuals are listed as among the discomforting issues. In a similar vein, secular youths consider that wearing a headscarf is a matter of individual’s choice, yet they also express their concern about public officers such as a judge and prosecutor who wears a headscarf of being incapable of being unbiased politically.

Yet, the research findings also indicate that in their everyday life youths have spheres where political polarisation has not penetrated yet. Young people form a close friendship with each other in their school or neighbourhood, even though they have an opposite political view or different religious beliefs. In such cases, to protect their relationships, youth often prefer not to talk much about politically controversial issues. Instead, they focus on their shared interests and put more emphasis on some personal characters such as “honesty” and “reliability” to build lasting relationships among themselves.

Moreover, the scholars also underline that young people whether pious or secular also share some common problems and concerns for their future: the stress of the university entrance exam, the fear of unemployment, nepotism in hiring, and the degradation of working conditions. A striking finding is that 75.9 percent of respondents state their concern on the restriction of freedom. In other words, there is intense longing for a more democratic society among young people. Women especially ask to implement policies to eliminate discrimination and violence against women.

As a result, the research suggests some well-established policies for the government, political parties as well as NGOs. First of all, it is essential to advocate interactions amongst young people by offering activities, spaces and institutions that provide more opportunities for these to take place. Therefore, they might build more common interests among themselves. Besides, young people already have crucial common problems and concerns. So, focusing more on these issues and developing new political agendas about youth without strategies which reproduce polarisation can also help to overcome the trap of polarisation.

Despite significant findings of the study, I think the research could have paid more attention to the transnational and intercultural aspect of the issue. It appears as if everything about political polarisation and youth takes place within the realm of the county as an internal affair. However, young people especially are more inclined to various transnational interactions and intercultural practices (music, movies, sports, game, literature, style, taste etc.). Indeed, they might unwittingly build and share more common interests in these spheres with other young people while being exempt from taking polarised stances against each other.


1.Lüküslü, D., Uzun, B. and Taşkın, Y. (2019) Gençler Konuşuyor: Gençlerin Gözünden Dindar-Seküler Eksenli Kutuplaşma [ Youths Speak: Pious-Secular Axis Polarisation from the Eyes of Youths], TÜSES, ISBN: 978-975-967-707-7


About the author

Yıldırım Şentürk is Associate Professor in the Sociology Department of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University (Istanbul, Turkey). He received his M.A. degree in sociology (1999) from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. degree in sociology (2004) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) respectively. He is interested in urban and space studies, neoliberalism, transnational studies, labour, and qualitative research. He has experiences of supervising and conducting collective qualitative research projects which were also supported by The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (Turkey).