Torpil (Turkey)

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Torpil
Location: Turkey
Turkey map.png
Author: Onur Yay
Affiliation: alumni, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London

Original text by Onur Yay

Torpil is a widespread informal practice in Turkey which revolves around finding private solutions to the problems faced when dealing with bureaucracy. Torpil relations are formed in order to obtain benefits in a number of situations such as finding jobs for oneself or one’s relatives, avoiding queues in hospitals and even obtaining free healthcare. Achieving an objective by means of torpil is common; however to date there is a lack of systematic work which interprets how ordinary people make use of this practice in their daily lives.


There is little information on the origins of torpil exchanges. According to the most authoritative Turkish dictionary published by the Turkish Language Institute, one of the definitions of torpil is favouring someone over others (kayırmacılık or iltimas). The term, kayırmacılık derives from Arabic and originally means holding someone’s hand or the lower part of someone’s caftan, and asking for a favour or petitioning to obtain benefit.


In contemporary Turkey both torpil and kayırmacılık are widely used in the context of employment. Hiring and promotion decisions are commonly influenced by torpil networks. For example, state universities are required to announce vacancies through the state press agency Basin Ilan Kurumu. These announcements specify the ranks and the number of positions to be filled. In one reported case, a university uploaded a draft version of the required listing announcement for vacant positions which accidentally included the names of the academicians the university intended to hire (Ozgenc and Gokce 2013[1]). In another well-documented example, it was found that eighty-five close relatives of government ministers were appointed to senior posts in various ministries without being required to undergo competitive state examinations (Cumhuriyet 2015[2]). These revelations caused little comment or public discontent because most Turkish people are accustomed to the practice of torpil influencing their daily lives. The importance of knowing influential people in Turkey’s capital is further confirmed by common sayings, such as ‘do you have an uncle in Ankara?’ For example, in a popular Turkish song ‘Mamudo’, about the loneliness and desperation of a nephew who has no support in life, the poet and folk singer Asik Mahzuni Serif reminds him of the hopelessness of his situation with the words: ‘...you do not have an uncle in Ankara Mamudo, why did you come to this world?’


Torpil also implies influence and protection. The expression ‘Kart Hamili Yakınımdır’ (‘the holder of this business/calling card is my acquaintance’) is commonly used to suggest protection. In particular, before mobile phones were in common usage, businessmen and Members of Parliament would give their contacts business cards printed with the above-mentioned words and their signatures on the reverse side. This enabled the cardholders to obtain benefits by showing the signed cards during business transactions. In this way, the cardholders were able to obtain a range of benefits including price reductions, loans from banks and preferential treatment in job applications. This practice predated the practice of writing the name of a protector on examination papers. One respondent interviewed by the author took banking exams in the 1960s. As part of the recruitment process, the candidates were required to declare the names of the senior members of the bank with whom they were closely associated. The respondent’s relative was the Chief Inspector of the Bank and unsurprisingly, she got the job.


The intervention of powerful people helps facilitate desired outcomes. The close link between torpil and intervention makes this practice very similar to wasta, a practice widely employed in Arab societies (see entry on wasta in this volume). Literally, it means the middle and refers to bringing parties to ‘middle point or [a] compromise’ (Al-Rahimi 2008: 37[3]). This practice dates back to tribal times and was used as a prevention mechanism against inter-personal and inter-tribal conflicts (Cunningham and Sarayrah 1993[4]). In Jordan, for example, this practice is still a part of the legal system and is designed to bring peaceful solution to conflict. There is however a second form of wasta known as intercessory wasta, which has become more pervasive in the Arab world. It is defined as ‘the intervention of a patron in favour of a client to obtain benefits and/or resources from a third party’ (Mohammed and Hamdy 2008: 1[5]). In most situations there is more than one benefactor and therefore the strongest amongst them achieves the desired outcome for the person on behalf of whom he intervenes.


The use of torpil is widely criticised in Turkish society and the initial attitudes of respondents interviewed by the author confirmed this negative connotation. However, in spite of this, it became apparent that most respondents solved their problems efficiently and helped others through torpil networks. Some respondents, who initially were highly critical of torpil, changed their attitude towards it after realising that their life stories revealed their use of personal ties to obtain services or help relatives in need. Alena Ledeneva refers to this anomaly as ‘misrecognition’ in her study on the use of blat ties in Russia, and cites it as the reason for ‘its pervasiveness, on the one hand, and the lack of attention to it, on the other’ (Ledeneva 1998: 59[6]). Some respondents misrecognised torpil in such a way as to deny their involvement in the very practices in which they took part. They viewed their own torpil relations positively whilst being critical of the practise when describing the relationships of others. This response to torpil can be identified as ‘misrecognition as a system of denial’ (Ledeneva 1998: 60[7]).


The inefficiency of institutions is one of the main justifications Turkish citizens make for their adoption of torpil. Thus, the use of torpil is seen as a compensation for defects. Where the involvement of torpil networks is not denied, it is not uncommon among citizens to blame others. The ‘rules of the game’ make people believe that torpil serves the interests of its seekers. It should be noted that the practice of torpil contradicts Islamic religious principles related to fair treatment and hence, religious-minded people consider torpil a great sin, known as ‘kul hakkı yemek’, the violation of the equal rights granted by Allah to all humans.

Notes

  1. Ozgenc, M. and Gokce, D. 2013. ‘Universitede Skandal Ilan’, Hurriyet.com.tr, 2 August, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/universitede-skandal-ilan-24438857
  2. Cumhuriyet.com.tr. 2015. ‘CHP’li Koc Ucuncu VIP Torpil Listesini Acikladi’, 12 January, http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/183201/CHP_li_Koc_ucuncu_VIP_torpil_listesini_acikladi.html
  3. Al-Rahimi, A. 2008. ‘Wasta in Jordan: A Distinct Feature of (and Benefit For) Middle Eastern Society’, Arab Law Quarterly , 22: 35-62
  4. Cunningham, R. B. and Sarayrah, Y. K. 1993. Wasta: The Hidden Forces in Middle Eastern Society Connecticut and London: Praeger and Westport
  5. Mohammed, A. A. and Hamdy, H. 2008. ‘The Stigma of Wasta: The Effect of Wasta on Perceived Competence and Morality’, German University in Cairo Working Paper Series , no 5
  6. Ledeneva, A. 1998. Russia’s Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  7. Ledeneva, A. 1998. Russia’s Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press