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The Conduct of Citizenship in the Case of Turkey's Jewish Minority: Legal Status, Identity, and Civic Virtue Aspects


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Contemporary liberal democracies confront governance problems elicited by the discord between the principles of equality and difference, and between the concepts of majority and minority. Citizenship came to be recognized as a vital governance tool in response to this challenge evidenced by growing academic and political interest in the concept. The basic precept that citizenship refers to is a constitutionality-based relationship between the individual and the state, implying a unique, reciprocal, and unmediated bond between the individual and the political community.

It is argued that citizenship has three main aspects. First is the legal status aspect, which enfolds citizenship in terms of civil, political, and social rights, plus duties such as obeying laws, paying taxes, and performing military service. The second aspect is the identity dimension of citizenship, which regards individuals' membership in different social and political groups in multiple categories of race, class, ethnicity, religion, gender, profession, and sexuality. The third aspect is related to citizens' capacities, responsibilities, and willingness to cooperate, in short the civic virtue that the citizens possess and perform. The sense of identity that citizens have; their maneuvers to deal with competing identities; their willingness to participate in collective decisions and access to political processes; their sense of belonging to the social, political, and economic order; and their initiative potency all refer to different features of civic virtue. All in all, modern citizenship is perceived as the combination of legal status, social roles, and moral attributes that necessitate "good citizenry."

It has been suggested that these three aspects of citizenship—legal status, identity, and civic virtue—are interrelated; as the sensitivity to identities increases, demands for legal rights increase correspondingly. It is also claimed that identity affects the way people perform their duty of civic participation and their conception of responsibility. From another point of view, it is also argued that the three components of citizenship conflict with one another under certain circumstances. For instance, claims for cultural recognition of minorities may conflict with equal citizenship status. An empirical investigation of citizenship is complementary to understanding the interaction between these three aspects. This study undertakes the crucial task of providing evidence from the field to illuminate the complex correlations and divergences within citizenship and the relational bond between the legal status, identity, and civic virtue aspects.

In this article, the results of qualitative research on a particular group of citizens—Turkish citizens with Jewish background—are discussed in the light of the parameters set above. The study provides empirical evidence to illuminate the dynamics at stake in the relationship between the legal status, identity, and civic virtue aspects in the specificity of Turkey's Jews and the conduct of Turkish citizenship. With the use of in-depth interviews conducted with the sample group of Jews, the study attempts to understand how being a non-Muslim minority group living in a Muslim-predominant society influences the perceptions and experiences regarding citizenship.

The discussion developed in the article is presented in three parts. In the first part, an overview of Turkish citizenship and the status of non-Muslim minorities per se is put forth. This part also sets forth the essentials of Turkish citizenship with its legal status, identity, and civic virtue aspects. In addition, the paradoxical consequences of the dominant paradigms inherent in citizenship in Turkey regarding non-Muslim minorities are demonstrated. The second part focuses on the field research conducted with the Jewish community in Turkey. After a brief summary of methodology and a portrayal of the general characteristics of the sample group, it discusses how members of Turkey's Jewish community experience and perceive Turkish citizenship through its aspects of legal status, identity, and civic virtue. The respondents' perceptions and experiences regarding being Turkish citizens and a non-Muslim minority are also covered. The third part offers a discussion on Turkish citizenship in the light of the research results and gives a citizen-centric account through the lenses of respondents.



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Toktaş, Şule The Conduct of Citizenship in the Case of Turkey's Jewish Minority: Legal Status, Identity, and Civic Virtue Aspects. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. 2006: 121-133.  https://archive.jpr.org.uk/object-tur8