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TESEV - Reconceptualizing Internal Displacement in Turkey


Kurdish Herald Vol. 1 Issue 4, August 2009 - by Natsumi Ajiki


The involvement of various well-established civil organizations in the struggle for a solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey is not frequently discussed, but nonetheless it is a significant part of the issue. One such organization involved in these efforts is the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), has worked with Kurdish internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Turkey following human rights and democratizing reforms. While TESEV is well respected among foreign think tanks, civil societies and governments – cooperating organizations include include the World Bank, the European Commission, Global Dialogue, the Brookings Institute, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and the embassies of Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands – domestic support is still modest, despite the increased urgency in the need to finding a solution to Turkey’s Kurdish question.


Dilek Kurban, JD speaks at a conference “Internal Displacement in Turkey: Government Responses” in Van organized by TESEV on 27 June 2009


TESEV is one of Turkey’s leading independent research organizations, and has published numerous policy recommendations on Turkey’s most problematic and controversial issues, including minority rights, Turkish-Armenian relations, and Cyprus, in the effort to promote the role of civil society and improve the democratic standards since 1994. After extensive two-year academic research and field works in the provinces of Diyarbakir, Batman, Istanbul and Hakkari, TESEV expanded its work on Kurdish IDPs and southeast Turkey’s socio-economic developments since 2004. TESEV is the first organization that examines the Turkish case within the global framework of internal displacement. TESEV emphasizes the importance of hearing the victims’ stories in their own words in order to find about the conditions under which millions of citizens were displaced, and IDPs’ experiences during and after the process of being displaced. Based on the evaluation of IDPs’ problems from legal, political, socioeconomic, demographic and psychological perspectives, TESEV disseminates policy alternatives.


While the exact number of internally displaced Kurds in Turkey is still a matter of serious controversy, it is fair to say that hundreds of thousands of people have lost their property and cultural homeland, both forcefully and somewhat voluntarily, as a result of the armed conflict between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Turkish forces since 1984. Many of these IDPs fled from eastern and southeastern Turkey to the western provinces of the country. Nevertheless, there is little social, economic and political support or rehabilitation service for these Kurdish migrants who now live far from their ancestral homeland.


When approaching the issue of Kurdish IDPs, one comes to realize that it cannot be adequately addressed without revising the conventional approach to identity, citizenship and democracy in Turkey. For instance, TESEV’s Program Officer, Dilek Kurban states in the TESEV publication Coming to Terms with Forced Migration that the Turkish state has knowingly minimized both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of its reports on Kurdish IDPs, and thus, the issue has received little attention. Furthermore, the same publication states that the conventional interpretation of internal displacement through official state ideology has created a great obstacle to the solution of the Kurdish question. Internal displacement in Turkey is often referred to “yerinden olma,” (the literal translation of which is “losing one’s place”) which implies to a process without an actor undertaking or causing it. Such conceptual framework about Kurdish IDPs is problematic. TESEV along with other NGOs working on the issue insists that “yerinden edilme,” (the literal translation of which is “losing one’s place due to more then a mere factor”) is the right term for the majority of cases within the Kurdish displacement because the latter term posits a social and political agent that made people displaced. Studies performed by TESEV and other human rights organizations have verified the fact that the majority of internal displacement occurred due to the Turkish military officers’ pressure on villagers to either become a village guard or abandon the village. Nevertheless, the Turkish government has long portrayed the internal displacement of Kurds as taking place for the sake of national security. Hence, the Turkish government legitimates the occurrence of internal displacement via its preferred terminology of “yerinden olma” and consistently denies the occurrence of village evictions at the hand of the Turkish military in addition to the PKK. The official manipulations of both data and discourse are built upon the perception that the state has no fault in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of citizens. TESEV urges to re-conceptualize the problem of internal displacement and IDPs’ citizenship rights and sees the government as the main political agent to tackle the issue while the civil society organizations monitor and actively participate in the process.


In addition to macro-level policy suggestions, TESEV also offers micro-scale solutions to different aspects of the Kurdish question. The majority of Kurdish IDPs suffer from psychological trauma, little access to their assets and lack of necessary skills to integrate themselves into an urban economy. In order to alleviate the conditions of IDPs, TESEV has promoted participatory models in Batman and Hakkari in conjunction with local governorships and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In each case, TESEV emphasized an interdisciplinary and locally ingrained grassroots approach to build social rehabilitation projects for both migrants and returnees. Victims of forced migrants along with local municipalities, trade unions and professionals in healthcare, law and education have worked together to improve their situations. TESEV also facilitated numerous workshops and conferences and opened new channels for policy-oriented public dialogue. Each participatory model has faced both success and failures, but has, either way, created momentum to confront its past for the improvement of the future.


TESEV’s most difficult task, according to Project Officer Serkan Yolacan, is to reach people and the bureaucratic establishment to generate sincere public debates regarding the settlement of the long-standing Kurdish question. Nevertheless, TESEV continues to strive to facilitate public and closed conferences with the participation of representatives from political parties, NGOs and local governments and the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP). TESEV also plans to hold regional meetings in western Turkey and the Black Sea region where majority of the population is secular-nationalist and nationalist. Parallel to the Kurdish initiatives from the government and other direct participants in the conflict, a civil organization like TESEV can also help reach a solution by gradually making it possible for the Kurds in Turkey to become legitimate members of the state who can work on many levels to reach a solution.

Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) -



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