Migration of People, Migration of Borders

Lerna Ekmekcioglu

The Republic of Paradox: the “new” Turkey and its step-citizens

Can an Armenian be a Turk? My paper will tell the story of why the answer is “no.” My main intellectual project is to detect the borders –discursive and legal—that differentiate Turk-ness from Armenianness. Operating with the basic assumption that Armenianness and Turkness are social constructions (that there is no “race” or “ethnicity” outside of imagination), my goal is to analyze the historical processes that rendered these identities mutually exclusive.

The two critical and related moments are, first, the 1915 Armenian genocide which had divided people into perpetrators and victims/survivors, and second, the 1923 signing of the Treaty of Lausanne between Turkey and the Allied powers (mainly, the British). The paper will mostly focus on the Treaty of Lausanne, the document by which the international community recognized Turkey as a sovereign state. By this treaty, non-Muslims in Turkey, including the survivors of the wartime massacres, were officially recognized as “minorities.” But it is important to remember that during the peace negotiations in Lausanne, Turkey tried everything not to grant “minority status” to anyone within its borders because the Turkish delegates associated “minority protection” with “outside intervention” and thus saw it as the infringement of their newly-won sovereignty. This was true especially because minority protection was guaranteed by the League of Nations. In fact, Turkey was one of the fifteen countries on which (defeated during World War I, newly established, or significantly expanded) that the Allies at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference forced minority protection clauses in exchange for the acknowledgment of the state’s sovereignty. Almost all of these 15 countries resented the “minority clauses” especially because the Great Powers themselves were not bound by such obligations. During the interwar years the minorities situation did not get better not only because of the majority resentment but also because the League turned out to be ineffective in supervising the states bound with minority clauses.

With the Treaty of Lausanne, a reluctant Turkey agreed to guarantee its “non-Moslem nationals” their own family law, schools, and charitable institutions. They could practice their religion and use their languages freely, with no discrimination. Yet when the time came for the drafting of the first constitution in 1924, the Turkish political elite found ways to evade the terms of the Lausanne Treaty. For instance, they consciously left the definition of “Turk-ness” vague so as to bend that definition depending on different political, social, economic, and cultural agendas. This was because Turkey’s political elite aspired to the anti-communautarisme of French Republican citizenship and not the liberal Wilsonian version that contemporary scholars refer to as “multicultural citizenship” or “group-differentiated citizenship,” a version of which dominated the assumptions of the League’s minority regime. The long Ottoman experimentation with creating loyal citizens informed the Turkish conclusion that people should be rewarded with equality when and if they shed their particularistic identities.  But because the Lausanne Treaty gave some people rights to continue their “different” cultures, it meant that some people’s social, religious, ethnic, and other origins remained relevant in the public sphere, a condition that, according to the Turkish leaders, justified their unequal treatment, if not discrimination. But discrimination was only one dimension of the non-Muslim experience in Turkey.

The emergent categories of “Turk” and “Turkish citizen” usually excluded but sometimes included non-Muslims. On one hand, the laws banned minorities from careers in the military and civil bureaucracy, from traveling freely inside the country, and from free association. On the other hand, the new Civil Code of 1926 also applied to the minorities (thus replacing communities’ own family laws), and the new surname law of 1934 allowed—sometimes even required—everyone, including non-Muslims, to take Turkish last names. In 1933, when the Ministry of Education passed new legislation obligating primary school students to recite the “Student’s Pledge” (Andımız) every morning, it did not exempt minority schools. The Student’s Pledge read in full as follows: "I am a Turk, I am righteous, I am hardworking. My principle is to protect my juniors, to respect my elders, and to love my country and my nation better than my own self. My motto is to rise, progress, and go forward. I commit my being to the existence of Turks."

Effectively, then, Turkey forced all Turkish-citizen children to affirm their Turk-ness every day even as it denied some of these children their fundamental citizenship rights on the basis of their non-Turk-ness. This simultaneous estrangement and invitation to belong discloses a paradox: the political elite were attempting to assimilate some groups into a form of Turkness that they had a priori categorized—and legislated—as non-Turk. 


Kyoko Kusakabe

Borderland as friction of terrain: Creating spaces for social reproduction of cross-border women migrant workers in Thailand

As Donnan and Wilson (1999) said, borders define and are defined by people living along the border. In this paper, I argue the significance of international border to define social reproduction of migrant workers. Borders define migrant workers’ relations with the state, market, community and families, and how migrant workers arrange their lives and survival. Based on Katz’s (2001) feminist counter-topographies and Scott’s (2009) concept of “friction of terrain” that people at the margins use to keep state at arm’s lengths, the paper argues how women migrant workers juggle their social reproduction through, beyond, and at the border. It problematizes the differences in how migrant workers are socially constructed in borderland and centerland, how centerland instrumentally splits migrant workers into functions, and how social reproduction is excluded further as they go further away from the border. The paper is based on cases of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand. During 2006 to 2010, we have interviewed 133 (107 women, 26 men) Burmese migrant workers in-depth and conducted a questionnaire survey with 504 workers. The study was conducted in three areas in Thailand: Mae Sot, Three Pagoda Pass and Prapradaeng. The first two are border towns while the last is in the centerland, just south of the capital Bangkok. 

One of the most vivid ways the relations with borders affect migrant workers’ decisions is seen in their childcare arrangement. Those living in Mae Sot have the widest choice of childcare, since they are able to depend on their support system in the Burmese side of the border and further bring them into Thai side more easily than other places. Such arrangement is most difficult in Prapradaeng, where childcare support system is nil even for Thai citizens. It has been seen that childcare arrangements are one of the many different ways migrant workers try to create a “home” for themselves in the place of destination, most of the time by defying and avoiding state regulations and control. For example, they create and replicate Burmese communities in Mae Sot and in pockets of places in centerland, which changes the imagined border that demarcate Thailand and Myanmar from their perspective. In order to survive in the place of destinations, women migrant workers depend much on their own migrant communities. This is a double-edged strategy, since communities and families are both a source of protection and threat for women. They are able to source their support for their reproductive work, finding jobs, safety net during unemployment, but at the same time, most of the sexual assaults that women migrants experience are from their own countrymen, and women migrants are under constant surveillance of their behavior by their fellow Burmese. Women migrant workers transcend international border through their imagined border and further attempts to transform their space in Thailand to make their “home” with a delicate and tense relation with the state, but that does not ensure them freedom from patriarchal control or ease their roles in social reproduction.

Mobility across border under the present economic integration framework allows workers to move easily, but mobility is tied to employment. Mobility of social reproduction across border is systematically discouraged and the only way that migrants are able to maintain some degrees of social reproduction activities for themselves is purely by their own agencies, either by depending on their relatives and friends, or sacrificing their own safety and earnings. Border areas, with its fuzzy governance structure, enable women and men migrant workers to maneuver their social reproduction. But the instrumentality of migrant management policy cuts migrants into functional pieces: as labor power and as consumers. Borderland serves as a terrain to provide asylum for migrants not to be reduced into body parts, and it provides spaces for them to carry out their social reproduction, but with a price to pay and the price is normally paid by women. 


Heather R. Lee

Migration Oriented Businesses and the Spread of Chinese Restaurants in New York City, 1915-1943

Today, there are more Chinese restaurants than the combined total of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King outlets in the United States. My research tells the story of Chinese restaurants transforming from an ethnic enclave business into one of the largest mass-consumer industries in the United States during an era of pervasive anti-Chinese sentiment. Focusing on New York, which houses the oldest, continuously inhabited Chinatown, this conference paper explains how Chinese immigrants used restaurants to exploit a loophole in exclusionary U.S. immigration policy, which granted restaurant owners the status of merchants and thus the privilege of entering or sponsoring relatives into the United States. On the basis of that loophole, Chinese immigrants built what I call a migration oriented business strategy, through which thousands were able to defy bans on their entry into the United States. Based on archival research and interviews conducted in China, Hong Kong, and New York, my paper explores how, in circumnavigating immigration laws, the Chinese developed a sophisticated system for shuttling labor and capital across the Pacific that accounts for, among other things, the Chinese restaurant industry’s rapid growth in the early twentieth century.

While it barred the entry of Chinese laborers, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and its various amendments unintentionally stimulated the formation of ethnic businesses through a system of visa preferences. The Chinese creatively stretched the meaning of visa categories to get around restrictive immigration laws, and shepherded transpacific capital past America’s gatekeepers. This work demonstrates how immigration law and the struggle against it offer a new prism for understanding capital accumulation amongst immigrants and its relationship to the development of a consumer republic. Moreover, by focusing on immigrants’ legal gains, it establishes an alternative relationship of Asians to state development. The Chinese found greater flexibility in federals laws than one might have anticipated during a period in which expanding state power resulted in the loss of legal rights for immigrants. This research illustrates that immigration law sculpted the landscape of economic opportunities for ethnic entrepreneurs, funneling their capital resources towards finite migration chances the way, as labor scholars have argued, these same laws created a racialized, immigrant labor pool. This paper is based on qualitative and quantitative research, in which I complement my close readings of archival materials with statistical analyses.