Interview with Research Turkey
Ümit Sönmez: “Young people should be raised with hope rather than with fear”
Nazif Berat: Hello Mr. Ümit Sönmez. Could you tell us about the idea of creating/the basic concept of Research Turkey? What is the main aim of Research Turkey and who are the founders of this organization?
First of all, Analiz Türkiye was established with the name of Research Turkey located in London. The main aim behind it was to analyse Turkey’s political, economic, social and cultural dynamics and illuminate – emphasize – them within the context of global platforms, notably the United Kingdom.
We began by complaining about the apparent polarisation, which firstly only occurred in the political area, then spread to all parts of society, such as the media and business sector and its shallowing impact on discussions. For instance, we began to realize about the inaccurate ideas and misinformation established among society during our discussions with academics, students and other professionals. During those meetings, we discussed about diverse problems such as worthless newspapers and shallow political discussions which are led by popular cultural figures. Furthermore, other important topics that we discussed about were the alienation of the academic world from the society that we live in and the fact that scientists either become politicized or isolated. These complaints and problems were also being shared on social media which illustrated/proved us that they would become a common concern. As a result of these growing concerns, we decided to establish Research Turkey to present comprehensive and reliable analyses, reports and academic articles on Turkey along with input from academics, students and other professionals. Most internet blogs and websites were already attempting to demonstrate the social reality in Turkey, but we aimed to publish our Turkey related materials in English within the UK to help non-Turkish people understand about Turkey and Turkish realities. The main reasoning behind this idea was that other newspapers or institutions which were published in English were under the influence of some capital, political interest groups for propaganda purposes. We, on the other hand, desired to present analytical articles, supported by various sources and prepared in terms of academic and scientific rules, rather than column or other objective articles. More significantly, we aimed to publish all proper articles written in accordance with these rules, no matter they might contradict with other articles or offer different perspectives. Figuring out that Turkey could not be assessed independently from its surrounding countries, we then decided to publish analysis of different countries.
Nazif Berat: What type of articles do you accept for Research Turkey? Who sends you these articles?
First of all, we publish brief articles of approximately 600-2000 words which evaluate the political, economic, social and cultural dynamics of several countries, particularly Turkey. We publish these articles due to the fact that they can be read easily and mention about significant contemporary events Apart from these articles, we publish other discussion articles and travel pieces to examine social reality and to open a new door for the following scientific debates. Furthermore, we publish academic articles, research reports and conference papers that are between 2000 and 10,000 words. Currently, we are working on an academic journal and we aim to publish articles on this journal. Our writers consist of academics, students and other professionals, but we also accept papers from interested and willing people other than our staff. Indeed we try to encourage all people who like to read and write, be they are students, academics, journalists or specialists in the private or public sector, to send their articles to Research Turkey. We would accept all papers as long as they comply with our requirements. Every article is evaluated by our editorial boards as if they are academic works. They present a report about each article. Accordingly, some articles need to be revised by the author according to our rules and referee reports. We consider every article as an academic publication and adherence to our guidelines is thus important. However, we do not interfere with the content of articles but we expect analytic articles from authors while supporting their ideas.
Nazif Berat: Will you publish articles or papers about other countries’ analyses on your website?
Initially we discussed about this question in detail. While preferring to focus solely on Turkey, we also discussed about the fact that Turkey could not be analyzed as isolated from the external world. Most of the time, events in a specific country are affected and developed by other countries’ ideas and events. This interaction might sometimes occur as a result of pressure, unlike voluntarily therefore we are going to publish other countries’ analyses and researches. We believe that understanding Turkey from a broad perspective also requires learning from other countries’ experiences and make comparisons with them.
Nazif Berat: Unlike other think-thanks you publish your articles both in English and Turkish. Why does that matter?
First of all, we aimed to establish this platform to understand and learn about Turkey with all its dynamics. Therefore, issuing our publications in English has been important for us. Academics, students, internal or external media institutions / fprums and research institutions benefit from our analyses and find information about Turkey that is rarely written in English. Considering the weakened and influenced political environment and media, we also intend to reach out our people, read by them, make an impact on them and encourage them to think. As a result, we publish all our works both in English and Turkish, though it requires great effort and time. In line with this, we prepared our website so that these articles could be easily read in both languages.
Nazif Berat: Why should a university student follow Research Turkey?
Everyone who pays attention to understand the reasons of happenings in Turkey and other countries and tries to analyze them should follow Research Turkey. Our main aim is to contribute to readers’ knowledge and perspective. University students, regardless of what they major, should be interested in social events. They are the ones who will take part in the future of social and political dimension of the country no matter where they work thanks to the education that they receive and high level of self-confidence. As the meaning of the name “university” urges, university students can no longer be trapped but constantly open to analytically thinking, questioning and improving their self. University students are essential for us, thus we publish announcements of useful events, educational programmes, scholarships and projects for them on our webpage. We intend to become a broad reference point for them.
Nazif Berat: What are the long term goals of Research Turkey?
One of our primary long term goals is to publish an academic journal. Furthermore, we want to compile analysis of our authors within the appropriate format of our journal and present them to our readers. We intend to organize international conferences. Additionally, we aim to organize and coordinate broad participatory projects and share the project results with the public. We will not only publish political analysis, but also provide suggestions and solutions as Research Turkey. It is commonly said in Turkey that criticizing is much easier. On the contrary, we will diversify our research and work to contribute with suggestions. For this reason, we intend to employ new staff, particularly among university students. I kindly want to reach out them about these opportunities via your channel.
Nazif Berat: What are the main problems according to you that young people face in Turkey?
Indeed the answer to this question is too broad. We can tear problems into little pieces, nevertheless they should not be considered as the main issue. As far as I remember, CHP found out that youngsters have 41 problems before the election. AKP could not be firm about this issue, since they did not want to present this phenomenon as an unsolved problem. Other parties attribute to other problems of the youth in terms of their political line. It is easy to list problems, rather we should talk about effective solutions to them and while doing that we should look at conditions that the youth live through rather than the youth is the problem itself.. Everyone seeks to find aware young people, but their perception of “awareness” must mean that the youth who embrace those specific party ideologies and political agendas The biggest problem of the youth in Turkey is that they do not see the future as hopeful in Turkey in which the problems or solutions are marginalized within the ethnic, political, religious or gender taboos. Eventually, young people are affected by their environment, home or country within this structure. As a result, problems for the youth become more and more proliferated, thus, a young person prioritize the problem that bothers him most. Sometimes, these priorities among problems do not comply with other youngsters Unemployment, ineffective education system, high costs of living, inadequate government projects that have to incite and train the young people for better employment and education are some of the problems that most of the youth suffer from along with the political conflicts and the suppression. Students who cannot find what they expect from the university, a rich family’s child who gets depressed in big cities, the young who face various difficulties in suburban areas, children who throw stones at the police for their freedom of language, ethnicity or the rule of law are the examples of all problematic youth in Turkey. They all need to get good education, good jobs, good opportunities as well as Internet facilities in their lives. However, we must examine all of these problems within the integrated perspective rather than through patronizing ideas.
Nazif Berat: What needs to be done to activate and sensitize young people? What are the responsibilities of Research Turkey at this point?
The primary way is to raise young people with hopes rather than with fear. We should explain that their ideas and thoughts are important and they are responsible to all humanity from their actions. Moreover, we should teach them the importance of questioning and assure them that they will not be punished for it. After the devastating World War II, well-educated, hopeful and idealist youth emerged. However, we provoked these people in terms of their religion, nation or language and created tension among them. After the 1980 military coup, we created an apolitical youth and urged them: “Do not question, do not take initiative, do not bother etc.”. It turned out to be disaster which we still try to overcome. Everyone blames the youth to be ignorant and tries to make them more religious, nationalist or internationalist. On the contrary, what we should do is to encourage them to think independently and improve themselves. It was a great mistake to put pressure on youth in our education and social institutions to raise them in a single form. If we had attempted to raise our young people as thinking and questioning youth people, we would have got better results. We have to convert our secondary and university education system to activate them. This fact is commonly said but so far we haven’t had any achievement through it. High schools died due to the impact of private teaching institutions. Young people only memorize instead of critically think and do not concentrate on anything apart from multiple choice exams that they have to take not only for the university entrance exam but also after university years. Although Internet and social media to some extent alleviate, young people still do not have interest in political and social events as they do not have faith in those movements would change their lives for good. We should break this prejudice and believe in them. To show interest to politics, joining or working for a political party is not a must.. As Research Turkey; we prioritize to activate the youth; for this aim we are working with young people in preparing articles, seminars or projects. While we are offering them qualified analysis, we also invite and provoke them to engage in writing and thinking.Everyday, we come across young people thinking that their articles would become important only if they specialize on a certain subject or do phd or engage in politics. I always tell them “No, it is not the case at all. It is enough if you think and share what you think. Be critical and at the same time open to criticisms. This is what will lead the society move forward.” and try to encourage them. We aim to publish articles of students doing Master’s and PhD as we believe that students do not necessarily have to wait until they become academics to submit their academic works. By reading and thinking about these issues we will better understand the problems of others as well as better tell about our own problems. As long as we do not fear, be open to criticisms, do not consider every opposing idea or person as an enemy we will achieve this. As Research Turkey, we believe in the power of youth. As a result, we gave them the keys of our kitchen which is the heart of our organization.
This interview was performed between Nazif Berat of Gelecex.com and Ümit Sonmez, Editor-in-Chief of Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey) on 17 June 2012.