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Meet TEMA, Turkey’s fastest growing civic group

In a country where civic organizations are met with suspicion, Turkey’s environmentalist group TEMA has reached a membership of 600,000 people.
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Be it for lack of awareness or political courage, getting organized is not exactly a Turkish strong suit. With a population of 78 million people, Turkey today is an international laggard in terms of unionization and membership in civic society organizations. As of January, only 1.5 million of Turkey’s 12.7 million workers were unionized, according to the Labor Ministry, down from 2.5 million in 1980 when the population stood at 42 million. Similarly, 87% of Turks are not members of any association. About 109,800 associations are active today, in addition to some 5,000 foundations established since 1980, according to official figures.

The very act of getting organized has taken on a negative connotation, and the word “organization” has come to almost mean “illegal group,” leading many to use an alternative word that sounds more like “establishment.” What brought Turkey to this point is a history of political turmoil, marked by bloody street clashes between opposing groups and military coups, which discouraged political activism. Furthermore, the state came to view any organized activity as suspicious, and successive governments installed laws that put shackles on what was once a politically vibrant society.

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