Accepted Paper:

Religious across borders: negotiating citizenship at the Turkish-Syrian border  


Secil Dagtas (University of Waterloo)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the relational construction of the categories of "refugee" and "minority" in the Middle East. It focuses on the role of religion in the relations between Syrian newcomers and Turkey's religious minorities who live along the border, specifically the Alawis and Orthodox Christians.

Paper long abstract:

Since the early days of the Syrian conflict, Turkey's border province Hatay has provided a major destination for displaced people due to its geographical proximity to Syria, established cross-border networks, and Arabic speaking demographics. Currently, there are about 15,000 Syrians registered as refugees in five camps in Hatay, while an estimated 200,000 reside in its towns and villages. Based on extended fieldwork in Hatay's administrative capital Antakya and its border town Altinozu, this paper examines the social relations between these displaced groups and Turkey's religious minorities who live along the border, specifically the Arabophone Alawis and Orthodox Christians. I use participant observation and ethnographic interviews to address the central role of religion in shaping Middle Eastern border politics in the absence of structured legal asylum mechanisms. I show how the legal categorizations of "minority" and "refugee" were produced in relation to particular conceptions of religious difference in the context of colonial relations and nation building in the Middle East. I argue that such conceptions continue to shape how both groups negotiate their citizenship in everyday realms of sociality in relation to each other. Ultimately, this paper provides an alternative account of border politics, one that approaches borders as spatiotemporal sites of negotiation not only between local communities and states, but also between people differentiated on the basis of their religion and citizenship.

Panel RM-MRB02
Disturbing the category of the "refugee": cross-border histories, hospitalities and everyday practices of sovereignty