Precarious Hope by Ayşe Parla is the outcome of fieldwork that Parla conducted over years with post-1990s Turkish migrants from Bulgaria, who were/are working in Turkey. Those migrants were undocumented, which means they worked illegally in Turkey, and yet, hoped to obtain Turkish citizenship on the grounds of their Turkish ethnicity (or, as Parla states, of their Turkish race). The author examines these Turkish migrants’ quest for Turkish citizenship within the theoretical, anthropological framework of emotion, specifically hope. In this context, hope is analyzed as a ‘structured expectation,’ which means that the author is not interested in hope as a personal experience, but rather as an emotion that pertains to a specific collective, in this case, Turkish migrants coming from Bulgaria. The migrants Parla researched believed they were in a better position than other undocumented migrants in Turkey because of their Turkish ethnicity, even though they were subjected to the same shifting legal procedure as other migrants, as well as an exploitative black market. Hence, Parla’s main research question is, “[W]hat happens when we read hope in relation to structures of privilege, while also exploring how structures of privilege are not immune to states of precariousness?” (p. 6).
Unlike similar studies that mostly focus on deprived and marginalized undocumented migrants and their struggles, Precarious Hope focuses on migrants who perceive themselves as privileged in comparison to other migrants and based on this sense of relative privilege, ‘hope’ that they will be treated differently by the Turkish state, and obtain citizenship much more quickly than other migrants. Such hope was historically and still being supported, because all the Turkish settlement laws, that form the basis of Turkish migration policies (the most recent one promulgated in 2006), stipulate that immigration and consequently citizenship will be granted primarily to people of Turkish race. However, Parla argues that due to the peculiar immigration policies of the 1990s and the Turkish state’s emerging Neo-Ottomanism, that is, the expansion of the Turkish state to the markets of the former Ottoman Empire and the promotion of Turkish interests through Turkish minorities living there, Turkish migrants coming from Bulgaria are finding it harder to obtain Turkish citizenship. Indeed, it was even hard for them to obtain residence permits, because, in order to be granted one, migrants needed to provide evidence that they had enough financial means to support their stay in Turkey.
Since Turkish migrants usually come from Bulgaria to Turkey to improve their financial situation, they often cannot obtain residence permits. In such circumstances, they reside in Turkey with tourist visas, which are valid for only three months, and which do not allow their holders to work. In this way, migrants doubly violate the Turkish system: they stay in Turkey for more than three months and work without a permit, which causes penalties and deportation. Nevertheless, Turkish migrants cherish a hope that the Turkish state will overlook their breaking of the law and eventually grant them citizenship. This is indeed the case and their hopes are met, as all Turkish migrants’ visas are extended eventually, usually during the time of the elections in Bulgaria, in which the Turkish Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP) also participate. As one migrant notes, “I have been undocumented on and off for eleven years now. I have never paid fines! I simply wait for my amnesty” (p. 85). Similar events have happened with regard to Turkish citizenship; the state has taken several ‘actions’ in which migrants of Turkish ethnicity could bypass the standard citizenship procedure and obtain Turkish citizenship.
It is remarkable how the migrants in Parla’s study were always well-informed about the state migration policies and how quickly information is shared. This suggests that migrants are in constant touch with each other; they also have migrant associations at their disposal, which seem to be acting as mediators between the state and the migrants, especially when it comes to amnesty. Therefore, it is regrettable that Parla solely focuses on migrant participants and does not deeply explore the relationship between Turkish migrants and the state, or the role that migrant associations play within it. The encounters between state officials and migrants present opportunities to investigate the interplay and negotiations between the two. Although it is evident in a few encounters that some state officials also perceive Turkish migrants as privileged in comparison to others, there were certainly other state officials who were not so supportive. Thus, it would be interesting to read about their stances as well, especially as Parla states that the state was ‘feeding’ the hopes of Turkish migrants coming from Bulgaria by granting them amnesties for their overstaying.
Another possible shortcoming of the book is the fact that Parla conducted interviews only with Turkish women coming from Bulgaria who were mostly working as nannies in Turkey; she presents the experiences of this specific group as the experience of all Turkish migrants coming from Bulgaria. Hence, the possibility that their gender played a role in the process, and that their fellow male workers were perhaps treated differently remains unexplored. Although the theoretical analysis of hope and the historical literature review that intermingles with the empirical part makes the book difficult to follow at times, all in all, Precarious Hope is aimed at a general audience, as well as to scholars interested in the anthropology of emotion, and the concept of hope. It is highly recommended for all readers interested in migration.