Discovering Immigration into Turkey: The Emergence of a Dynamic Field

AuthorJuliette Tolay
Published date01 December 2015
Date01 December 2015
Discovering Immigration into Turkey: The
Emergence of a Dynamic Field
Juliette Tolay*
In the last couple of decades, Turkey has become an important country of immigration.
In parallel, a new scholarly f‌ield has developed to study this largely unrecognized phe-
nomenon. In this paper, I take stock of this new literature. I f‌irst show how students of
immigration into Turkey had to def‌ine the f‌ield in relation to the powerful existing f‌ields
studying emigration from Turkey and internal migration in Turkey, as well as how they
distinguished between ‘‘old’’ and ‘‘new’’ immigration. I then study the emergence of this
f‌ield under the lead of Ahmet _
Ic¸ duygu and Kemal Kiris¸ ci. Later, with the establishment
of two central research centres (CARIM and MiReKoc¸ ), the f‌ield gained important insti-
tutional anchors and attracted many new scholars. Today, the f‌ield is characterized by a
strong dynamism, a plurality of talented scholars and a diversity of concerns and
approaches. Even though the f‌ield is still at an early stage, it is bound to grow rapidly,
as the phenomenon of migration into Turkey remains a highly strategic and lasting phe-
nomenon. It is therefore crucial for the f‌ield to become self-aware of its strength and
weaknesses. Consequently, in the f‌inal section, I identify important future directions for
the f‌ield, especially the need for scholars to better understand the diverse political ramif‌i-
cations (foreign and domestic politics) associated with immigration into Turkey.
The migration literature that developed in Europe and North America is heavily focused on
immigration. In the ‘‘West’’ – that is, North America and Europe – immigration represents a
specif‌ic ‘‘problem’’: a problem regarding how to control inf‌lows of migrants, and a problem
around the issue of integration. Because the migration scholarship is largely problem-driven
– as is most of social science – immigration represents the main subject of interest. Conse-
quently, other migration topics, such as emigration or internal migration, are considered as
topics of secondary importance.
For similar reasons, a reverse argument can be made about Turkey: the migration litera-
ture regarding Turkey is heavily focused on emigration. Internal migration in Turkey remains
an important topic as well, but mainly within Turkish scholarship, and the question of immi-
gration to Turkey has received relatively little attention. This pattern ref‌lects the perception
of the migration realities affecting Turkey: Turkey is mainly a country of emigration, with
* Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Delaware, Newark.
2012 The Author
International Migration 2012 IOM
International Migration Vol. 53 (6) 2015
Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. ISSN 0020-7985
substantial f‌lows of internal migration and only marginal f‌lows of immigration. However,
both these realities and their perceptions are changing: Turkey is increasingly becoming a
country of immigration and a dynamic migration scholarship is currently catching up to
study and understand this new reality.
As stated by Kemal Kiris¸ ci in different articles, the Republic of Turkey has been subject to
new forms of immigration f‌lows since the 1980s (Kiris¸ ci, 2003b). From the very f‌irst waves of
Iranians (after the 1979 revolution) and Iraqis (in 1988 and 1991) to the much diversif‌ied
migratory f‌ield of the early twenty-f‌irst century (refugees, illegal migrants, circular migrants,
transit migrants of different origins), Turkey has become a country of large-scale, continuous
and complex immigration. If this new phenomenon has not immediately been perceived by
academia, the last decade has witnessed the impressive development of a Turkish immigra-
tion-centred scholarship. It is therefore a good time to review and assess the state of the aca-
demic literature on immigration to Turkey, so as to shed light on the progress accomplished
and the works that lies ahead.
Therefore, in this paper I attempt to achieve three related goals. First, I trace back the his-
torical evolution of the f‌ield, as well as the most recent developments. Second, I list and
review the main contributions in the f‌ield, focusing exclusively on the literature on immigra-
tion into Turkey. Finally, I identify areas where further studies and research would be
The study of ‘‘Turkey and migration’’ is obviously not limited to the study of immigra-
tion to Turkey. On the contrary, most of the studies of migratory patterns associated
with Turkey focus on ‘‘emigration from’’ Turkey, or ‘‘internal migration within’’ Turkey.
Both emigration and internal migration have been related phenomena with deep transfor-
mative effects for Turkey that have had – and continue to have – major social, economic
and political consequences. By the 1940s and 1950s, Turkey had undergone a rapid and
uprooting process of economic modernization, industrialization and urbanization. As mil-
lions of Turkish peasants became surplus to requirements on farms and in the f‌ields, they
left their villages to f‌ind work in developing urban poles. Later on, in the 1970s and the
1980s, the movement of internal migration evolved from a rural–urban migration to
migration from small urban areas to larger urban areas. Most of this migration ended up
in the Turkish cities of the west, such as Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara or even Adana. But a
signif‌icant portion of this liberated workforce went further west and arrived in the Euro-
pean industrial cities of the ‘‘Trente glorieuses’’. By the 1980s, signif‌icant numbers of
Turkish workers had also gone to the burgeoning Gulf economies (Kiris¸ ci, 2008: 189–
Later on, in the 1980s and 1990s, when the migration caused by economic transformation
started to slow down, a new form of migration developed, engendered by the conf‌lict with
Kurdish rebels in the south-east of the country. The conf‌lict between the Turkish security
forces and the PKK (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party), as well as
the practice of destruction of villages by the Turkish military, caused large-scale forced
migration westward (Kiris¸ ci, 2008: 184–185). Here again, most of these migrants settled in
western Turkey, but many of them also went on to Europe as asylum seekers. By doing so,
they joined other Turkish migrants who were going to Europe through family reunif‌ication
with migrants from earlier waves.
58 Tolay
2012 The Author. International Migration 2012 IOM

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