Ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi (Turkey)

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Ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi 🇹🇷
Turkey map.png
Location: Turkey
Definition: A close fraternity entailing mutual support and exchange of favours, associated with friendship established in school, college or army
Keywords: Turkey Europe Middle East Friendship Reciprocity Favour Ties Cronyism Elite Political party Problem-solving Personal connections
Clusters: Redistribution Solidarity Lock-in effect
Author: Semih Ergelen
Affiliation: Sakarya Business School, Sakarya University, Turkey

By Semih Ergelen, Sakarya Business School, Sakarya University, Turkey

Ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi is a reliable and intimate relationship among individuals who share a common background, e.g. friendship established in school, college or army. The Arabic word ahbap means ‘beloved ones’ (Nişanyan 2009: 9) and is synonymous with pal, crony, buddy or fellow in Turkish. Çavuş refers to a military rank equivalent to sergeant but can be applied more generally, for example to refer to work supervisors Ilişki means 'relationship'. An ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi is hierarchical as well as peer-based and entails both vertical and informal exchange of favours. Although the duration of military service has been gradually reducing since 1963, Turkey continues to enlist its army through conscription. Military recruits establish strong bonds due to the considerable amount of time spent together and these bonds persist even after the recruits leave the army. They share memories and maintain relationships for the rest of their lives.

In a nutshell, ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi is best represented with the phrase: ‘He/she is one of my good friends or acquaintances, so consider it done!’ Benefits from these close relationships may include overcoming bureaucratic and legal hindrances or finding alternative solutions to problems for which those in need lack competence. Nevertheless, reciprocity, or mutual obligation, plays a pivotal role in such relationships. If an individual wants to benefit from a close tie, they should feel obliged to return the favour in the future. Ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi is similar to ‘You scratch my back, I scratch yours’. Once this relationship is established, there will be expectations of future favours, in line with individuals' abilities. There are considerable similarities between ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi in Turkey and the uses of informal networks elsewhere. Notably, ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi is similar to Chinese guanxi in that it requires mutual obligation, reciprocity and emotional attachment based on friendship (Provis 2008; Tong 2014). Just as in guanxi, a shared biographical path of attending college or army generates friends essential for a future instrumental use. The Chilean practice compadrazgo is similarly based on exchanging favours motivated by a friendship ideology, yet also instrumental. Like the acquaintance support used to avoid formal procedures of the Russian blat, ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi serves people when formal procedures do not. The differences between ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi in Turkey and analogous informal practices in other societies are likely to be based on the scale and functions in economy, politics and society on the one hand, and the degree of obligation and acceptance on the other. Such comparisons are yet to be made, to establish the ratio of sociability to instrumentality of ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi practices and to establish their context-sensitive implications (Ledeneva, 2018).

Ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi has negative connotations and is associated with corruption in Turkish politics. The term crony capitalism is translated into Turkish as ahbap-çavuş kapitalizmi. Despite being characterized as an illegal and indecent activity, ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi is widely practiced by Turkish politicians. One politician gave this statement before the 2018 local elections: ‘This election, in any manner, is not going to be a kind of “my friend, my acquaintance” election and there will be no ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi. We need to nominate candidates who are decent and principled in the eyes of the public’ (Yolculuk 2018). Yet these negative perceptions often depend on ideological stances, as well as positions of being an insider or outsider in ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi. For example, a member or proponent of the ruling party might regard ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi as highly effective and instrumental to get things done. On the contrary, their opponent will regard ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi as corruption or a violation of people’s rights. Such double standards are fundamental to partiality and particularism in politics. Reviewing public-private relationships and public procurement agreements reveals how ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi permeates the Turkish bureaucratic and political system (Buğra and Savaşkan 2015). Ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi can have terrible consequences for those outside the inner circle. Some claimed that Soma mine disaster which resulted in the death of 301 miners in 2014 was a typical example of ahbap-çavuş capitalism in Turkey. Due to close relationships between statesmen and managers, safety conditions were poor and regulations ignored, which resulted in disaster (Eğilmez, 2014).

Ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi is related to the Turkish informal social network, torpil. Some suggested that ineffective formal institutions are one of the main reasons why Turkish citizens adopt torpil (Yay 2018: 216), yet torpil could better be characterized as a consequence of ahbap-çavuş relationships. Friendships and close ties create ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi and may lead to torpil relations in a ‘knock-on effect’. In contrast, torpil relations between parties do not necessarily lead to ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi. If pushed to make a distinction, torpil may be considered as more instrumental than ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi. Social and instrumental aspects are interrelated in both torpil and ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi, and context-bound, thus making clear-cut categorisations problematic. Turkish people generally perceive ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi as a close friendship established for mutual benefits between two parties, while torpil is more likely to be seen as a one-sided benefit based on protection. An example of ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi would be a chief of police who may overlook a head physician’s traffic ticket for the sake of their warm friendship. In return, when the police chief needs a treatment in the hospital, the head physician provides whatever necessary even if that infringes on other patients’ rights. People who benefit from ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi in this kind of a situation, tend to say that ‘This is Turkey and this is how things work here’. An example of torpil would be the acquiaintance of influential people such as Members of Parliament that gives a jobseeker competitive advantage over other candidates.

In social contexts and in the private domain, there are no negative connotations of ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi. Sezen Aksu, a prominent Turkish lyricists and musical composer, draws on the positive side of the practice in her song ‘Ahbap Çavuşlar’. In a part about the intimate relationship of ahbap and çavuşlar, she sings: ‘Let them fill glasses in honour of love, heartbreaks and memories, let ahbap and çavuşlar sit in the quietest corner, and let them booze.’ The strong and affectionate relationship does not need to be negative for those outside the inner circle. Ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi is ambivalent just as other practices associated with the use of informal networks. Ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi cannot be conceptualized as good or bad in itself, it is context-bound. It is essential to assess both dark and bright sides of these practices in order to gain a better understanding of it and to explore the economic, political and normative contexts that mould such relationships. The difference of insider/outsider perspectives, and the double standards emerging from switching from one perspective to another, provide us with the key for understanding how such practices can be criticised, yet also pervasive. For insiders, ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi can be perceived as problem-solving device or a last resort, while for outsiders, it will be seen as taking advantage of this relationship, gaining access through unethical, if not corrupt, roots. In brief, ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi could be functional for problem solving processes but it could inevitably lead to corruption when misused.


Buğra, A. and Savaşkan, O. 2015. Türkiye’de Yeni Kapitalizm: Siyaset, Din ve İş Dünyası. Bülent Doğan (Çev.). İstanbul: İletişim Yayıncılık

Eğilmez, M. 2014. ‘Ahbap Çavuş Kapitalizmi’, 19 May, http://www.mahfiegilmez.com/2014/05/ahbap-cavus-kapitalizmi.html

Ledeneva, A. 2018. ‘Redistribution: The substantive ambivalence: relationships vs use of relationships’, in Ledeneva, A. (ed.), Global Encyclopaedia of Informality: Understanding Social and Cultural Complexity, Volume 1. London: UCL Press, 31-33

Nişanyan, S. 2009. Sözlerin Soyağacı: Çağdaş Türkçenin Etimolojik Sözlüğü. İstanbul: Everest Yayınları

Provis, C. 2008. ‘Guanxi and Conflicts of Interest’, Journal of Business Ethics, 79: 57-66

Tong, C.K. 2014. ‘Rethinking Chinese Business’, In Tong, C. (ed.), Chinese Business: Rethinking Guanxi and Trust in Chinese Business Networks, Singapore: Springer, 1-21

Türk Dil Kurumu. 2019. ‘Ahbap çavuş ilişkisi’, http://www.tdk.gov.tr/index.php?option=com_gts&arama=gts&kelime=ahbap%20%C3%A7avu%C5%9F%20ili%C5%9Fkisi&guid=TDK.GTS.5438527e06f3a1.04897988

Yay, O. 2018. ‘Torpil’, in Ledeneva, A. (ed.), Global Encyclopaedia of Informality: Understanding Social and Cultural Complexity, Volume 2. London: UCL Press, 213-216

Yolculuk. 2018. ‘AKP’li Numan Kurtulmuş: Bu seçim öyle ahbap-çavuş ilişkisi ile olmayacak’, 14 November, https://gazeteyolculuk.net/akpli-numan-kurtulmus-bu-secim-oyle-ahbap-cavus-iliskisi-ile-olmayacak